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IMPORTANT BIBLE TOPICS

  • Photograph by Marek Studzinski from unsplash
  • Note: Angels in the Bible record do not have wings

Who are the Angels?

The writer to the Hebrews quoted from the Psalms when he described the work of the angels: "Who makes His angels spirits, and his ministers a flame of fire"

  • Hebrews 1.7 - compare with Psalm 104.4

Such a dramatic description of angels may not reflect our own experience in every day life, but perhaps that is because we do not know who the angels are, or are even aware of their existence.

The Angels are "Elohim"

We are introduced to the angels very early on in God's Word, in the work of creation itself. The work of God in relation to His creation was carried out by His angels. The angels are a manifestation of His power, and are powerful beings who are energised by the spirit of God and carry out the Divine will. The word translated "God" in our English Bible is "Elohim" in the original Hebrew of the Old Testament and it literally means "mighty ones". It was these "Elohim" or angels who carried out God's work in the creation as recorded in the book of Genesis. The idea of many angels being involved in creation is shown in Genesis where we read that the "Elohim" said "Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness" - Genesis 1.26. We read in the book of Job that the "sons of God shouted for joy" at the creation - Job 38.7. In Psalm 8, the word "Elohim" is translated "angels": "For you have made him a little lower than the angels (Elohim)" - Psalm 8.5. This verse is quoted in the New Testament to show that it was Jesus who was made "a little lower than the angels" in status - Hebrews 2.7. Angels then, are the "Elohim" or "mighty ones", who are a manifestation of God's spirit power.

The work of the Angels

The original Bible words for angels in Hebrew "malak" and Greek "aggelos" have the same meaning - messengers or agents. In the first two chapters of the letter to the Hebrews we learn a lot about the status and nature of the angels, because the writer is arguing that Jesus, originally created on a lower status, has obtained through obedience, a superior position than the angels. But what is the work of the angels? We read in the letter to the Hebrews: ''"Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation?"'' - Hebrews 1.14. God sends out angels to do His work, just as a fountain sends out streams of water from a central source, or just like an optical fibre lamp sends out light along many tiny strands of glass, each gleaming with a spot of light at its tip.

Angels, then, are Divine messengers, spirit agents, obeying implicitly the will of God and acting on God's behalf in dealing with the affairs of this world. A special work of the angels is to look after those who are called to know the Gospel, who have believed and have been baptised by immersion in water into the saving name of Jesus Christ and who, if found worthy "will inherit salvation." In Luke we read "there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents" - Luke 15.10. Again we read in the Psalms: "The angel of the LORD encamps all around those who fear him" - Psalm 34.7. The Psalms describe vividly the work of the angels in the words

"Bless the LORD, you his angels, who excel in strength, who do his word, heeding the voice of his word. Bless the LORD all you his hosts, you ministers of his, who do his pleasure" - Psalm 103.20,21.

SPIRITS AND FLAMES OF FIRE

Two aspects of the work of the angels can be seen in the description of angels firstly as "spirits" and secondly as "a flame of fire". Often the work of these agents of the Almighty is unseen. We might view these works under the "spirits" category. The prevention of an accident, the constant provision of food and all that is necessary to sustain us in our lives. The arrangement of personal circumstances and significant events that come under the category of Divine providence in the lives of believers. All these are examples of the unseen work of angels in our lives. In relation to the nations and of Israel in particular, we are shown in the book of Daniel and in the symbolic visions of the book of Revelation, how angels supervise the outworking of God's purpose. Daniel told the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar that

"the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, Gives it to whomever he will, and sets over it the lowest of men" - Daniel 4.17.

He does this through the unseen influence of His angelic agents operating in the lives of men and women.

But not all angelic events are unseen. Some come under the "flame of fire" category. There are many examples in Scripture. Moses witnessed an angel who appeared to him in a "flame of fire" out of the middle of a bush, when he was first called by God to save His people from Egyptian slavery - Exodus 3.2. Take for example, the Law given to Moses by the mouth of angels on Mount Sinai. Angelic glory was reflected in the face of Moses when he descended from the mount. The mountain itself was quaking and there was thunder, lightning, fire and smoke

"because the LORD descended upon it in fire" - Exodus 19.18.

Such was the visible power of God manifested in His agents at that time.

Two angels appeared to Lot and his family and guided them out of Sodom before the city was destroyed by the fire of Divine judgement - Genesis 19.1-22. We should not forget that God controls the natural elements to fulfil His will even through punishment when necessary:

"I make peace and create calamity" - Isaiah 45.7.

We should note in passing that God does not create sin, though He has made sorrow and wretchedness to be the sure fruits of sin. Israel in the wilderness were lead by a pillar of fire to guide them and this was the manifestation of God's guiding angel.

The chief of the invisible angelic host who looked after Israel, was later visibly made known to Joshua at Jericho, as a man with a sword drawn in his hand. He was described as the "Commander of the army of the LORD" - Joshua 5.14.

Another example is where an angel appeared to Samson's parents before his birth and then ascended in the flame of the altar as an offering was made - Judges 13.3-21. Yes, God's ministers have been revealed as "a flame of fire"!

APPEARING AS MEN

 It is interesting to note that when angels appear to men they are often not recognised as angels,

unless of course, the angel announces his Divine message as Gabriel did to Mary the mother of Jesus - Luke 1.26-38. This is because they appear as ordinary men. Not surprising, since man was created in their image! When Abraham entertained three men as recorded in Genesis 18 he was unaware that they were angels, though from the message that they carried, it is obvious that they were messengers from God. They carried the news that Sarah, Abraham's wife, was to bear a child in her old age. The child was to be the ancestor of the descendant or "seed" that Abraham had been promised years before and for which he patiently waited in faith. That "seed" was none other than Jesus Christ!

Jacob wrestled with a man, a messenger, who was in fact an angel. He said "I have seen God (Elohim) face to face, and my life is preserved." - Genesis 32.30. The angels who appeared to the disciples after Jesus ascended into heaven are described as "two men…in white apparel" - Acts 1.10.

From the above examples, there is actually no justification from Scripture for the traditional picture of an angel with two large wings! There are, however, examples of dramatic and unmistakable appearances, such as the angel who descended from heaven and rolled away the stone from Christ's tomb. We are told that "His countenance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow" - Matthew 28.2. The shepherds witnessed a "multitude of the heavenly host" announcing the birth of Jesus - that must have been an awesome sight - Luke 2.13,14.

THE WORK OF THE ANGELS The angels are fundamental to the outworking of God’s purpose as can be seen from the following statements:

  • They gave the promises to Abraham of a "seed" that should come that descendant or seed is Jesus Christ,

the Saviour of all those who believe - Genesis 13.15 and Galatians 3.16.

  • They gave the Law to Moses (the Word spoken through angels which foreshadowed Christ) - Hebrews 2.2.
  • They announced the birth of Jesus, both to Mary and the shepherds - Luke 1.30-35; 2.8-14.
  • They rolled away the stone from the tomb at the resurrection of Jesus - Matthew 28.1-7.
  • They announced the future return of Jesus to the earth - Acts 1.11.
  • They will accompany Jesus at his return - 2 Thessalonians 1.7.

RULERSHIP OF THIS WORLD - NOT THE KINGDOM TO COME

The angels carry out God's work in overseeing the affairs of the nations and events in this world, leading to Christ's return and the establishment of God's Kingdom. They occupy an exalted position for they are immortal (they do not die). They are filled with God's spirit, being a direct manifestation or revealing of His power. Despite this, we are told that Jesus inherited a "more excellent name" than the angels because he suffered on the cross in order to destroy the power of sin. God has exalted Jesus to sit down "at the right hand of the Majesty on high" which is where he is now - Hebrews 1.3,4.

Followers of Jesus are those who accept his sacrifice as the only means of acceptable approach to God, and who become saints (called out ones), through baptism into his name. These disciples, his brothers and sisters, are related to the promised reward which Jesus has received. They are related to the promises made to Abraham, which make them heirs "of the world" - Romans 4.13. That is a place of immortal rulership with Christ in his coming kingdom. The writer to the Hebrews tells us that it is not angels who will inherit God's glorious kingdom, or rule it in these words: "For he has not put the world to come, of which we speak, in subjection to angels" - Hebrews 2.5. This is because Christ and his saints – those who have accepted him now and become "heirs" will rule together with him. Daniel the prophet wrote "the saints of the Most High shall receive the kingdom, and possess the kingdom for ever, even for ever and ever" - Daniel 7.18.

EQUAL TO THE ANGELS

The nature of angels is promised to those who accept Christ. Today, men and women are mortal, dying creatures because of sin. After Christ's return, there will be a resurrection of the "just and the unjust" - Acts 24.15. Those responsible to Christ will be judged and rewarded according to their works - Revelation 20.12. Those judged worthy of life will, in God's mercy, then attain to that state described by Jesus:

"But those who are counted worthy to attain that age, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry nor are given in marriage; nor can they die any more, for they are equal to the angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection"
 - Luke 20.35,36.

May Jesus soon come, and may you take those vital steps now to become a child of God and a brother or sister of the Lord Jesus Christ, to share the wonderful privileges now enjoyed by the angels of God.

Author Justin Giles
Country Kent, England
Source Light on a New World reprint from Volume 19.4

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