“Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings with a single bound…” Who? Superman? No, angels!
They show up at Christmastime in our songs, hanging from trees or announcing concerts on billboards. Our first encounter with these heavenly creatures often comes in the annual Sunday School Christmas pageant. Angels are usually between four and eight years old, always girls, and about three feet tall. Or we are introduced to the cutie in the baby stroller appearing radiantly innocent, and we hear her called a little angel. Our vocabulary is sprinkled with angel talk: angel food cake, angel’s hair, angel’s dust, angel fish, the City of the Angels, the Anaheim Angels. But that only hinders a true understanding of their nature and purpose. If they are as important to our welfare and to God’s ongoing program as 275 Bible references suggest, we ought to brush up on our angelology!
Who are these superhuman beings, glorious and terrible, who share God’s joy when sinners repent and who wipe out a third of the earth’s population near the end of time; who gather as a 100,000,000-voice choir singing to the Lamb in the Apocalypse, and who join with the archangel Michael in warring with the dragon and his angels?
Who are these heavenly messengers, not bound by time or space as earthbound creatures, one moment before the throne, the next moment announcing the birth of God’s Son, traveling much faster than the speed of light? Are they omnipresent? No, but they can get from here to there a lot quicker than we can. Are they all-knowing? No, but they know many things we don’t. They are the army of God, the militia of the Ancient of Days. Scripture says that when the announcement to the shepherds was finished, “a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel” in a chorus of praise (Luke 2:13). The word “host” means “army.” The “Lord of hosts” is the Lord of the army.
If heaven includes an innumerable company of these warriors, any one of which could clean up the United States Marines in seconds, you begin to appreciate the awesome power of these amazing creatures—hardly the Christmas pageant variety. One can appreciate why people felt like worshipping them; they appeared like gods. One can also understand that when an angel appeared unannounced to Zechariah in the temple, he didn’t respond, “You little cutie.” Instead “he was startled and was gripped with fear” (Luke 1:12). We have effectively emasculated these glorious creatures who are genderless but far from powerless. Try saying to Brian, “Heh, guess what? You get to play an angel in the Christmas play.” The angels we envision could not take out one fifth grader, let alone an entire army. Boys should be begging, “Please, let me be one of those warrior angels.”
These immortal beings serve God and help in the administration of His universe. They figure prominently in the Old Testament, often as instruments of God’s judgment. They destroyed Sodom and rescued Lot. An angel led Israel through the wilderness and gave them the law. One angel smote the entire Assyrian army of 185,000 soldiers, and an angel saved Daniel from the lions. God allowed Elisha to see a mighty host of these invisible fighters. They often appear unannounced. They paid a visit to Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, Gideon, David, Elijah, Zechariah, Joseph, Mary and Peter.
God allows some on earth to see God’s secret service agents. One such fortunate person, the special needs daughter of a pastor friend in Norway, sees angels regularly—and thought everyone did. Once when she was traveling with a young adult group from her church, they found themselves hopelessly lost. They decided to ask her if she, perhaps, knew the way. She said, “Go left at that corner. Now go right, then go left down there.” She could see angels at these streets. This went on for some time and they wondered but kept following her directions. Then they asked her, “Are we near the building?” She said, “It’s right there.” She saw an angel sitting on top of the building. And it was the place where they were going. In heaven we will meet the beings who have been silently serving us all our lives, usually without our seeing them, like when the angels kept our loaded car from a serious accident when we began fishtailing in a snowstorm on Interstate 35-W. Angels are good at that—and in heaven we will join their ongoing celebration.
Angels appeared to Jesus at important points in His life. He spoke a good deal about them, indicating that little children have guardian angels (maybe adults do, too), that angels cannot die, and that they will separate the righteous from the wicked on the final day. They play a prominent role in the last book of the Bible. They dictated the letter to John. An angel is used in answering the prayers of the saints. An angel will bind Satan near the end of history. These servants of God will return with Jesus in flaming fire. Hell will be populated to a large extent by the devil and his angels. (Part 2 coming).