Heb 1:1-14 ESV; Rev 19:6-16 ESV
Whilst the activity of angels occupies a significant place in the teaching of scripture their role seems rarely understood. Churches either effectively ignore the angelic host or swing to the other extreme of an unhealthy fascination with these supernatural beings.
Recording of angelic singing have done the rounds of the churches more than once. You may have heard prayers where people ask God to send his angels for protection or intervention.
This comes close to “telling God what to do” and is a request modelled in scripture.
It’s not only today’s Christians who have been intrigued about angels, the recipients of the letter to Colossians were in danger of “the worship of angels” (Col 2:18 ESV)
This probably means joining in the worship angels perform, a sharing through some form of mystical-ascetic devotion rather than the mediation of Christ.
The readers of Hebrews needed to be convinced that Christ is superior to the angels (Heb 1:4 ESV ff.).
Confusion over angels is a symptom of a failure to subject angelology to Christology.
Paul can use the expression “the elect angels” (1 Tim 5:21 ESV) for the purpose of the angelic creation exists solely in terms of their being chosen in Christ.
This means that the majesty and glory of the angels is not static but has increased through Christ in the progress of the plan of God. Since angels are “ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation” (Heb 1:14 ESV) it is not too much to say that because of our union with Christ the angels were created to serve us in the wonder plan of redemption.
ANGELS AND THE PLAN OF GOD
The creation and election of the angelic host is contained in God’s eternal choice of his Son to be Saviour.
The angels are integral to the plan of God in Christ. In dealing with the “Colossian heresy” of elevating supernatural beings like angels into some sort of mediatorial capacity in salvation Paul is adamant about the pre-eminence of Christ, vs.15 “Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation, vs.16 for through him God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth. He made the things we can see and the things we can’t see—such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world. Everything was created through him and for him.” (Col 1:15-16 ESV)
Angels exist in the plan of God in relation to the Incarnation. Not in relation to an abstract disembodied eternal Son of God.
When Hebrews testifies that “in these last days he/God has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the ages” (Heb 1:2 ESV) it has the Word made flesh, the human Son of God in mind.
Likewise, the biblical testimony of vs.19 “the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.vs.20 …chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.” (1 Pet 1:19-20 ESV), and “the Lamb who was slain from the creation of the world” (Rev 13:8 ESV) means the eternal plan of God included a place for angels.
Whenever we encounter angelic activity throughout scriptures it must be interpreted as serving the, vs.9 “the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ vs.10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” (Eph 1:9-10 ESV).
Angels are serving a universal purpose that will unite them with us in Christ in one Body. Angels are ministers of the Word of God par excellence, coming from heaven their words are equivalent to God speaking.
Naturally then angels are keenly interested in what the Lord is doing in humanity and especially the glory of God for the human race. This would seem to be intimately related to the description of angels as “glorious ones”.
This is especially true if the original vocation of the host of heaven was to guard the glory of God in creation.
Perhaps originally not from personal evil but from cosmic disorder.
They were called to assist in bringing creation to its completion by overcoming the latent forces of chaos. The fall of the creatures we now call the devil and his angels (Matt 25:41 ESV) is beyond the scope of this teaching.
However, it must have involved a foundational rejection of the moral beauty of the plan of God.
A rejection that human beings should through redemption become more highly elevated than angels, by nature superior in strength and intelligence (Jonathan Edwards)?
ANGELS AND GLORY
As rational feeling beings from their creation the holy angels enjoyed intimate insight into the moral beauty of God and so delighted with an indescribable joy.
When present at the glory of the creation event “the sons of God” (i.e. angels , Job 1:6 ESV) “shouted for joy” (Job 38:7 ESV).
Ultimately because they discerned a happy wisdom (Prov 8:30-31 ESV) which would culminate in the perfection of the image of God in Jesus (1 Cor 1:24 ESV).
If celestial powers make up the divine council then the angels would have participated in the election of Israel as God’s human “sons… daughters… created for my glory” (Isa 43:6-7 ESV).
There is debate about whether the “let us mankind in our own image” of the creation of humanity is a dialogue between the Lord and the angels? If it is, it would indicate that angels, as sons of God, bear the image of God.
The scriptures testify that angels mediated the giving of the Law; an occasion of great glory for Israel (Ex 24:16-18 ESV).
Yahweh himself is “enthroned above the cherubim” on the ark of the covenant which is the throne of his glory.
In Ezekiel’s vision of the glory of God the cherubim take the place of the Lord’s footstool and they transport the visible glory of God away from Jerusalem.
This connection points to a relationship between angels and the return of the glory of God to Israel in Jesus.
They would have understood that the plan of God encompasses the coming of Christ for fallen humanity in a way which will lift them into a greater glory.
With the Word of God now immediately related to a creature in Christ God nearer to angels than before.
They steward the manifestation of the glory of the invisible God in the life of Christ.
Knowing that the “Son is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe”, them included, “by the word of his power” (Heb 1:3 ESV) they are intently committed to the course of Christ’s life unto glory.
It is Christ, not us, who is first of all foreknown, predestined, called, justified and glorified and requires angelic assistance.
As identifying himself as the new Jacob and the gate of heaven, Jesus defined the ministry of angels in relation to his own Person, ““Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”” (John 1:51 ESV) (citing Gen 28:16-17 ESV)
As such angels are joyfully present at the birth of Jesus (Luke 2:9-15 ESV). In strengthening him in the wilderness and at Gethsemane (Luke 22:43 ESV) their ministry confirmed Jesus in his human journey towards immortality.
Satan seems to have understood this when he quoted from Psalm 91 to test Jesus in the wilderness, ““‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”” (Matt 4:5-6 ESV).
Angels are radiant at the empty tomb and the ascension into heaven.
The most striking concentration point for the ministry of angels in relation to the glory of Christ is however his Second Coming.
Here angels are ministers of judgement:
(Matt 13:39 ESV ff) | (Matt 13:49-50 ESV) | (Matt 16:27 ESV) | (Matt 24:31 ESV) | (Matt 25:31 ESV) | (1 Thess 4:16 ESV)
““whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”” (Matt 8:38 ESV; Luke 9:26 ESV)
vs.6 “God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, vs.7 and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels vs.8 in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.” (2 Thess 1:6-8 ESV cf. Jude 1:14-15 ESV).
The book of Revelation reaches a redemptive climax with the Marriage Supper of the Lamb when Christ returns to judge the nations accompanied by “the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure… following him on white horses” (Rev 19:14 ESV).
The military imagery supports an angelic interpretation of the armies of the Lord, but the pure white robes suggests the saints of God washed in the blood of the Lamb (Rev 19:8 ESV).
Most likely we are to see that the army of the End consists of the entire holy family of God, human and angelic (Eph 3:14-15 ESV), enforcing in unison the final triumph of the Lamb.
THE CROSS AND THE ADORATION OF THE ANGELS
The cross must be a matter of sheer marvel and astonishment in the eyes of the holy angels.
That he who through whom and for whom they were created (Col 1:15-16 ESV) and who as God is their infinite superior (Heb 1:1-13 ESV) should be “made for a little while lower than the angels” (Heb 2:7 ESV) is beyond their comprehension.
Yet the path of the humbled humanity of Christ means as “crowned with honour and glory because of the suffering of death” (Heb 2:9 ESV) as a human being Jesus now reigns over both earthly and angelic realms (Heb 2:8 ESV).
To them the wisdom of God is entirely transparent and infinitely superior to all other wisdoms.
This means the Incarnation has brought a major shift to angelic identity.
They are now servants not only of the “LORD of hosts/angel armies” (Isa 6:5 ESV etc. 223 times in OT) but of “him who sits on the throne and … the Lamb” (Rev 5:13 ESV).
For “Jesus Christ… has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.” (1 Pet 3:21-22 ESV).
Their worship is now directed to God the Father through a divine-human being!
They are now subject to the authority of a fellow creature who knows what it is to live a submissive life; this Creator-creature union in Christ has brought a massive increase in angelic glory.
Their worship of God and Christ is drawn out of their very being as they are upheld by the en-fleshed Word and directed towards the goal of God’s great plan for unity in Christ (Eph 1:10 ESV).
Holy, spiritual and incorruptible as angels may be the form of angelic glory is also their limitation; the gospel preached by the Spirit contains mysteries about “the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories…. into which angels long to look” (1 Pet 1:12 ESV).
They cognitively grasp that the way of suffering is the way of glory (Luke 24:26 ESV), but as disembodied they cannot share directly in such suffering, and resurrection, unlike us!
As “ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation” (Heb 1:14 ESV) their whole being is taken up into serving the realisation of the what it means for the Church to bear the image of God in Christ as his Bride. (This is something they cannot be a part of, they cannot after all marry (Matt 22:30 ESV). Nevertheless, they are eternally content in the form of their own glory and in this way a lesson to us in the time before the End.)
ANGELS REVEAL THE LAMB TO THE BRIDE
Jesus cautioned, ““See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.” (Matt 18:10 ESV).
Those who treat lightly the sheep of God who constantly enjoy his favour will lose God’s favour towards themselves (cf. Matt 25:31-46 ESV).
Jesus’ words also imply that the angels in seeing the glory of God’s fatherly care for the precious little ones share in a reflected glory.
This must be because the vulnerable “little ones” radiate something of the image of God in Christ (cf. Col 3:10 ESV). This seems to be close to Paul’s point in Ephesians. “that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (Eph 3:10 ESV).
In the inclusive grace of God outworked in the unity of the Church as Jew and Gentile the angelic host see a prefiguration of the goal of reconciliation of the whole creation. They are surely astonished!
In context, the “rulers and authorities” here are likely demonic powers, but if they perceive the excellence of divine wisdom, so must the holy angels.
The rather obscure comment, “That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.” (1 Cor 11:10 ESV), likely means that there should be a unity between the order of worship in the church and the worship the angels offer to the Lord in heaven. In both situations awe, reverence and respect are a fitting atmosphere for ministering to God.
The author of Hebrews understands that the Church Cf. the perspective on the heavenly places in Paul. to “have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering” (Heb 12:22 ESV).
The angels are rejoicing in a heavenly festival of celebration over the the Father and Son bringing many sons to glory (Heb 2:5 ESV).
They are surely excited. Jesus’ proclamation, “there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” (Luke 15:17 ESV) must include the angels increasing delight as the plan of God moves forward to its unstoppable completion.
In ways usually veiled to us, they are working with the triumphant Christ in union with his indefectible intimacy leading the Church into the adoration of and participation in his unbreakable holiness.
This is why the liturgy is correct in proclaiming “Therefore with angels and archangels, and with all the company of heaven, we proclaim your great and glorious name, for ever praising you and saying: Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might. Heaven and earth are full of your glory. Hosanna in the highest.” “Let all God’s angels worship him” (Heb 1:6 ESV cf. Deut 32:43 ESV) is constantly obeyed above.
The bulk of evidence for the ministry of angels to the Church is found in the book of Revelation (angelos – 67 times).
In Revelation we learn that each church has an angel, “to the angel of the church in…”.
Jesus addresses the angel as somehow a custodian of the life of the congregation(s) in each city.
With no reason to suppose this arrangement has altered there is an “angel of the church in Perth”.
But why are we told about such angelic responsibilities any way?
Arguably the key to all the activities of the angels is the Marriage Supper of the Bride described in Revelation 19.
For this is the great goal of the Father, that Christ vs.26 “might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, vs.27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendour, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” (Eph 5:26-27 ESV).
The theme of the radiant Bride shines light on a strange phenomenon in Revelation.
Late in Revelation the apostle John seems irresistibly drawn to worship the angelic messenger, so compelling is his glory in testifying of the splendour of the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, in which John, and us, will take our place. vs.9 “And the angel said to me “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.” vs.10 Then I fell down at his feet to worship him,”. The angel’s reply however clarifies the true order of things, “but he said to me, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God.” For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” (Rev 19:9-10 ESV cf. Rev 22:8-9 ESV).
Angels never draw attention to themselves but only ever to the message of God. As a pure witness and worshipper, the angel faithfully testifies to Jesus, whose testimony is complete and perfected in and through the Church. Angels adore the Lamb and his Bride but stand at a distance for the ultimate of marital beauty comes only through suffering.
From the beginning (Matt 23:35 ESV) but escalating under the new covenant and coming to a crescendo as the End draws near the saints of God suffer apparent defeat for his glory.
Yet the host of heaven isn’t passive in response to the persecution of the people of God on earth. Angels are released again and again bearing dreadful retribution against those who oppose the kingdom of God and the Lamb e.g.
This is the jealous love of Christ for his Bride and in it the angels glory ever more intensely as the Judgement approaches.
This angelic ministry of retribution seems in proportion to the faithfulness of the Church under affliction according to the last days’ time-table of God. A suffering Church needs to know that she is never abandoned.
From “the beginning” (John 8:44 ESV) the moral creation has been divided, on one side are the “sons of the kingdom” and on the other “the sons of the evil one” (Matt 13:38 ESV), the “elect angels” are arrayed against “the devil and his angels”.
In this cosmic conflict the whole being of God’s faithful ministering spirits is committed to the glory of the Lamb and to bring to him a submitted, holy, glorious and beautiful Bride. Face to face with the Lordship of Christ and indwelling the wisdom of God around his heavenly throne the angels perfectly perceive the uniquely blessed state of the suffering people of God.
A weakened and confused Church today, i.e. us, needs their ministry in all the ways outlaid in scripture to keep us faithful to the great and glorious but difficult purposes of the kingdom of God.
May the Lord show us mercy by sending us these great powers, his servants and ours.
In my understanding the contemporary Church urgently needs a visitation of angels to awaken it to the essentially eschatological/end-times and apocalyptic/heavenly character of faith in Christ. Whilst we cannot direct God to send us angelic assistance we can surely petition him that the name of Jesus be made great in our midst by any means, which surely includes the ministry of angels.
MESSAGE DELIVERED: 13. December, 2018 Location: Unknown
Author: Dr. John Yates
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