“I only know the names of two angels–Hark and Harold.” Gregory, 5 “Angels talk all the way while they’re flying you up to heaven. The basic message is where you went wrong before you got dead.” Daniel, 7 “Everybody’s got it all wrong. Angels don’t wear halos anymore. I forget why but scientists are working on it. Olive, 7
“Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive.” Superman? No, angels!
Our first encounter–the annual Sunday School Christmas pageant. Our vocabulary is sprinkled with angel talk: angel food cake, angel’s hair, angel’s dust, angel fish, the City of the Angels, the California Angels. 275 Bible references suggest their importance. Let’s brush up on angelology!
These superhuman beings, glorious and terrible, share God’s joy when sinners repent and wipe out a third of the earth’s population near the end of time. They join with the archangel Michael in warring with the dragon and his angels, some of whom are in chains (Jude 6) but most on the loose. Not bound by time or space as earthbound creatures, one moment before the throne, the next moment announcing the birth of God’s Son, they travel faster than the speed of light. Are they omnipresent? No, but they can get 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. Scripture says that when the announcement to the shepherds was finished, “a great company of the heavenly host appeared” in a chorus of praise (Luke 2:13). The word “host” means “army.” The “Lord of hosts” is the General of the heavenly army.
If heaven includes an innumerable company, any one of which could clean up on the US Marines in seconds, you begin to appreciate the awesome power of these amazing creatures—hardly the Christmas pageant variety. One can also understand that when an angel appeared to Zechariah, “he was startled and was gripped with fear” (Luke 1:12), a common response to a visit from an angel. We have emasculated these glorious creatures, genderless but not powerless. These immortal beings serve God and help in the administration of His universe.They figure prominently in the Old Testament, often as instruments of judgment. They destroyed Sodom and rescued Lot. An angel led Israel through the wilderness and gave them the law. One angel demolished the Assyrian army of 185,000 soldiers. An angel saved Daniel from the lions. God allowed Elisha to see an invisible host of fighters. Angels paid visits to Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, Gideon, David, Elijah, Zechariah, Joseph, Mary and Peter.
Angels appeared to Jesus at important points. He spoke often about them, indicating that little children have guardian angels (maybe adults, too), that angels cannot die, that they will separate the righteous from the wicked on the final day. They dictated the last book of the Bible to John, and they play a prominent role in it. They are 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 fallen angels, as heaven is inhabited by an innumerable host of angels.
They do not originate any plans; they carry out God’s. They do not marry or procreate. The Apostle Paul says, “In him (Christ) all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities…” (Col. 1:16). God’s creation includes a realm on earth where visible beings exist and a heavenly sphere invisible to us. Angels appear to have ranks, just as armies do. The book of Daniel tells us that the archangel Michael serves as the prince of Israel, overseeing its affairs and standing in defiance of powers arrayed against it.
Satan, formerly Lucifer, apparently chief-of-staff in Yahweh’s army, imitated God’s pattern of government when he was thrown out of heaven. There exists a great ongoing cosmic conflict, not star wars, but angel wars, not World War III but a titanic struggle of far greater magnitude and with much more at stake—the armies of God and Satan in constant battle over the lives of people on earth, the planet visited by a Babe. St. Paul tells us mortals that “we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12). Destinies of nations are in the heavens, not ultimately in legislative assemblies or on thrones or in an oval office.
Heaven was never more excited than with the birth of God’s Son. Now they wait for the next big day, the return and the marriage of that Son, the desire of the ages. They are not given the full picture. They love probing the depths of the Gospel to find further clues of God’s outrageous love for humans (I Pe. 1:12). They will never call God Father as the redeemed are privileged to. Jesus did not become an angel. He was born into the race of humans to rescue us from the clutches of an angel once close to God. The Child came, according to John, “to destroy the works of the devil” (I John 3:8).
Gabriel (“God is my strength”) appeared to Mary in Nazareth to announce how God was going to use her to activate this plan. The visit proved more pleasant than the one five months before in Judea with a doubting priest. An unnamed angel appeared to Joseph in a dream to give him the go-ahead with his betrothed. The star that led the wise men to the Child could very well have been an angel ((Jude 13, Rev 1:16, Rev. 9:1, 12:4). When they left, “an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream” to save Jesus from the slaughter of infants by Herod. When he died, an angel guided the family back to Israel. And yet another dream (and perhaps an angel) warned Joseph not to live in Judea. How remarkable are these servants of God, who figure often in stories surrounding births, and especially in the birth of the ages. How reverently they carry out the will of the Most High God. 9-1-1 prayers are often answered by angels.
The mysterious invisible realm is no less real than the visible realm. Ceaseless activity of good and evil surrounds us and is only apprehended through faith. We focus on what they focus on, the God of glory and the Lamb! May we join them in giving praise to the Savior of the world, and may we, like these ministering spirits, serve as dutifully and as accurately as they. And maybe you, like the servant of Elisha, will at some time have your eyes opened to see one or more of them!