Last week we looked at the phrase “At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by Satan”. We looked at the devil, evil and how we can resist it. This week we are going to look at the second part of that verse, “and angels attended him”. I’ve never heard someone preach on angels, though there are loads of books and study guides about them.
But before I start, I wanted to make a comment about something I said last week. I made a point about the Scriptures and used an illustration about saying something directly, and then dictating a note to someone. This gives the impression that I believe the writers of the Scriptures were merely acting as what you might describe as ‘human typewriters’. I don’t believe that. When God inspired the authors of Scripture, what they wrote WAS the inspired word of God, but He didn’t steamroll over who they were in the process.
Naked cherubs, wings, halos, and cute toddlers in the Christmas play are some of the images that come to mind when we think about angels. But God’s Word gives us an entirely different picture. Hebrews 1:7 says, “He makes his angels spirits, and his servants flames of fire.” Angels are spirits created to serve God’s purposes.
I firstly want to dispel some myths. People, especially those who are not versed in Scripture, or who would dismiss it have some really weird beliefs about angels and what they are. Such images are not really Biblical. Rather, they either originate in the Bible and have been so changed by popular culture that they are unrecognisable, or they are pure invention and speculation. Even in the Christian world, our ‘angelology’ can be influenced by Christian fiction (remember the Frank Peretti books from the early 1990s?). So let’s dispel some real beliefs about angels, which are popular but not accurate.
- Angels are not cute babies in nappies with wings flying about in the clouds playing harps.
- Angels are not dead people who have been sent back to do good works or to atone for a bad life.
- People don’t get ‘allocated’ a personal (by that I mean exclusive) guardian angel who travels with them and protects them in every moment. (though there ARE some references to angels protecting people, which we will look at in a minute).
- Angels are not all the same (we’ll look at this in a minute as well)
The second of those beliefs is very commonly expressed by people who have been recently bereaved. I have heard many times someone who has lost a loved one (especially a child who has been taken prematurely) say this or something like it, ‘my loved one has died because heaven needed another angel’. This is unbiblical nonsense, but in those moments, a pastor and not a theologian or apologist is what is needed. That is to say, our response to such a person should NOT be to correct them theologically, it should be to comfort them pastorally. However, we must get this straight in our own minds and spirits.
In encounters between humans and angels, it seems to me that one of two things happen:
- They appear to be human and are not even recognised as angels. So we have the account of the angels going to Sodom, and Lot protecting them from the men of the town (Genesis 19:1-11). It wasn’t evident they were angels at all until the men were blinded at the end of the account. Hebrews 13:2 tells us that some entertain angels unaware—which is quite believable if they appear to be
- They are so magnificent that the primary response is fear and/or worship. So, for example, shepherds at night are visited by a mighty host who announce the birth of Christ. Their reaction? Terror. Luke 2:9 “An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified”. During his vision in Revelation, John falls to worship an angel and gets told, don’t worship me! I’m a servant, just as you are! Worship God” (Revelation 19:10). We read that when Daniel encounters Gabriel, “I was terrified and fell prostrate” (Daniel 8:17).
So, on the one hand, you might encounter an angel and not even know it, on the other hand, you might do so and not possibly be able to miss it!
There are, it seems to me, several types of angel. The Bible describes:
Cherubim are specifically mentioned in Genesis 3:24; Exodus 25:18; 26:1,31; 37:7-9; Numbers 7:89; 2 Samuel 6:2; 1 Kings 6:23; 8:6-7; 2 Kings 19:15; 1 Chronicles 13:6; 28:18; 2 Chronicles 3:10; 5:7-8; Psalm 80:1; Ezekiel 1:5-12; 9:3; 10:2; 10:3-8; 10:9-17; 10:20-22; 41:18, 25. There are far too many to read them all out, but just to give you a taster: in Genesis, the Cherubim are tasked with protecting the way to the tree of life, and are described as having a flaming sword. Ezekiel contains numerous descriptions of them, and they are variously described as like wheels intersecting wheels, having four faces (cherub, man, lion, and eagle), and having wings (2 Chronicles describes multiple wings). Most notably, they figure on the Ark of the covenant, where the descriptions given to the craftsmen are quite detailed.
Isaiah describes Seraphim as being in the temple and intimately involved in the worship of God (Isaiah 6:1-3 “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne, and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.”).
Two angels are named specifically:
- Gabriel (Daniel 8:16, 9:21; Luke 1:19, 26); and
- Michael (Daniel 10:13, 10:21, 12:1; Jude 9; Revelation 12:7).
Both Michael and Gabriel are understood to be a particular type of angel called an archangel. Gabriel is not identified as an archangel in the Bible. He simply says to Zechariah, ‘I stand in the presence of God’, yet it is generally accepted that Gabriel is an archangel. Michael IS described as an archangel in Jude. Although not named, an archangel figures in the coming of the Lord. 1 Thessalonians 4:16 tells us that “the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet-call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.”.
Some people believe that there is a particular angel we might describe as a ‘guardian angel’. That is, a specific angel assigned to us to protect and defend us whenever we need it. One we carry around and ‘whip out’ whenever we need to be defended. Psalm 91 says of God, “He will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands so that you will not strike your foot against a stone” What a promise! This seems to fly in the face of the experience of the martyrs, both well-known and unknown (to man). There is Biblical evidence that suggests the nation of Israel had the archangel (Michael) assigned to it (Daniel 10:21). However, there is no Biblical evidence that this happens for individuals. It became a popular belief during the intertestamental period. So belief in guardian angels has been around for well over 2,000, but there is no explicit scriptural basis for it. However, we DO know this: God works all things together for good (Romans 8:28–30), and Jesus Christ will never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5–6). So, if we have an omniscient, omnipotent, all-loving God with us, does it really matter whether there is a guardian angel protecting us? Given a choice of the two, I’d choose God!
We know from last week that the devil was a cherub who wanted to rise above God. Revelation 12:7-9 describes the devil and the angels who supported him engaged in (and losing) a battle in heaven: “Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him”. I am not going to say any more than this about them: I believe the devil and the demonic powers in this world to be those same defeated, and consequently fallen, angels.
The Angel of the Lord.
Finally, we have a particular character who, it seems, stands apart from all other angels. He is called ‘the angel of the Lord’. The angel of the Lord is SO remarkable that whenever people encounter him, they think they are meeting God himself. In fact, this has caused some people to posit that the angel of the Lord IS God. Specifically, a pre-incarnate visitation of Christ. If you do a search for this particular angel, you will notice that the Angel of the Lord seems to align himself with God, and to exercise God’s responsibilities. For example, Genesis 16:7-12 describes him visiting Hagar, and in v10 he makes the same promise to her as God does to Abram (descendants being too numerous to count). If I were to ask who appeared to Moses in the burning bush, I would get a universal “God”! But Exodus 3:2 tells us that: “the angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush”. However, we understand this character, the references in the Bible seem to equate the angel of the Lord with a physical manifestation of God himself.
But what do angels do?
Angels are foremost spiritual beings, their primary focus and sphere of operation is the spiritual realm. Few people have any real experience of the spiritual realm. Occasionally, we get a glimpse of it, but we won’t really know it, or understand it this side of heaven. I’ve quoted Luke where Gabriel says, “I stand in the presence of God”, and I’ve referenced both Isaiah and Ezekiel where they are central to the worship of God. Job describes angels in the spiritual realm, Job 1:6-7 describes the devil accompanying them: One day the angels came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came with them. The LORD said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered the LORD, “From roaming throughout the earth, going back and forth on it.” (note that wherever the angels are presenting themselves, it is NOT the earth).
There are several things the Bible describes angels doing:
They deliver messages. The meaning of the word angel is “messenger”. In the Bible, angels often appeared as men when they delivered messages from God to people. The angel Gabriel appeared to at least three people in the Bible. He interpreted a vision for Daniel (Daniel 8:16), told Zechariah about the birth of John the Baptist (Luke 1:19), and proclaimed to Mary that she would be the mother of the Messiah (Luke 1:26). Angels in the form of men also warned Lot of God’s impending judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:1). Hebrews 2:2, calls the Mosaic Law a “message spoken through angels”.
The ultimate message anyone can deliver is the message of the Gospel, and Acts describes angels helping in the proclamation of the Gospel. Acts 8:26 tells us that it was an angel who told Philip to go to the desert road where he proclaimed the gospel to the Ethiopian eunuch and Acts 10:3 describes the angel going to Cornelius and telling him to send for Peter.
They wage spiritual battle. Another purpose of angels is to fight the forces of spiritual darkness who try to thwart God’s plans. I have already referenced Revelation, which describes the battle in heaven between Michael and the devil and their respective angels. When an angel appeared to Daniel to deliver the interpretation of a vision, the angel stated that Michael the archangel had to help him fight his way through enemy forces (Daniel 10:10–14). Jude 1:9 describes Michael the archangel and the devil disputing about the body of Moses and Ephesians 6:12 tells us that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms”. The full extent of the war in the spiritual realm is not known to us, but these few glimpses are enough for us to realise that a fierce battle rages there.
Angels worship God. Angels constantly surround the throne of God, worshiping and shouting His praises (and not just in Revelation!). So, for example, we read:
1) Psalm 148:1–2
Praise the LORD.
Praise the LORD from the heavens;
praise him in the heights above.
Praise him, all his angels;
praise him, all his heavenly hosts.
2) Isaiah 6:1-3
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another:
“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”
3) Hebrews 1:5-6
For to which of the angels did God ever say,
“You are my Son;
today I have become your Father”?
“I will be his Father,
and he will be my Son”?
And again, when God brings his firstborn into the world, he says,
“Let all God’s angels worship him.”
4) Job 38:4-7 God asks Job a question which describes the angels shouting for joy at the work of God’s hands:
“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
Tell me, if you understand.
Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
Who stretched a measuring line across it?
On what were its footings set,
or who laid its cornerstone—
while the morning stars sang together
and all the angels shouted for joy?
Ultimately though, one of the most descriptive books about angelic worship must be revelation. Here is just one passage:
And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people. And they sang a new song, saying:
“You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
and with your blood you purchased for God
persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.
You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,
and they will reign on the earth.”
Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they were saying:
“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
and honour and glory and praise!”
Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying:
“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be praise and honour and glory and power,
for ever and ever!”
We can be certain, that when we worship, angels worship with us. They rejoice when someone is saved (“there is more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine who do not need to repent” Luke 15:7).
Angels serve God. They were created and exist to do the will of their Creator. They go where God sends them, say what He gives them to say, and minister to His children on earth:
Psalm 103:20,21 “Praise the LORD, you his angels, you mighty ones who do his bidding, who obey his word. Praise the LORD, all his heavenly hosts, you his servants who do his will”.
Revelation 22:9 the angel who had shown John the scrolls describes himself like this: “I am a fellow servant with you”
Angels are not all radiance and joy, they don’t simply sit around playing harps and singing worship songs. They also carry out God’s orders for destruction. When Pharaoh refused to let the people of God leave Egypt, God sent an angel to strike down every firstborn son (Exodus 12:12, 23). Angels were involved in the death of Herod (“Immediately, because Herod did not give praise to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died”), the angel of the Lord slaughtered the Assyrian army (2 Kings 19:35 That night the angel of the LORD went out and put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand in the Assyrian camp. When the people got up the next morning—there were all the dead bodies!), and an angel was sent to accomplish the punishment of Jerusalem (1 Chronicles 21:15 And God sent an angel to destroy Jerusalem. But as the angel was doing so, the LORD saw it and relented concerning the disaster and said to the angel who was destroying the people, “Enough! Withdraw your hand”). The book of Revelation describes the many things angels will do as God wraps up human history on this planet.
Related to this: Matthew 16:27; 25:31 and Mark 8:38 both record Jesus saying angels will accompany Him when he comes in glory. In the parable of the wheat and the weeds, Jesus describes them as the harvesters tasked with separating the wheat and and throwing the weeds into the blazing furnace at the end of the age (Matthew 13:37-42). He says something similar in Matthew 24 and Mark 13: that He will send his angels to gather the elect. Sop, for example, Mark 13:26-27 says, “At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens”. angels, then, play a very significant role at the end of the age.
How do WE interact with Angels?
Finally, for US, today, how do WE interact with angels? What can we expect them to do amongst us or for us. I’ve already mentioned that it is possible to encounter an angel and not know it. So, how do we know that angels have any interest in or interaction with us?
Some Bible verses which give us information and also hope …
Hebrews 1:14 tells us that one purpose of angels is to minister to the elect of God: “Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?” (Hebrews 1:14). That’s us! In 1 Peter 3:3-6, we are told that God has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.
In Acts 27 we read that Paul experienced an angelic visitation during a storm at sea which brought him comfort (Acts 27:23–24). Jesus himself in today’s verse is described as being ‘ministered by angels’. Elijah was served by an angel at Beersheba who comes to him and encourages him to eat and rest (1 Kings 19:3–8). Peter is freed by an angel when he is in prison in Herod’s palace (Acts 12:6-10).
You can be sure that angels can and often DO bring comfort to us in hardship and suffering.
Angels bring answers to prayer. The angel tells Cornelius ‘the Lord has heard your prayer’ in Acts 10, and Daniel encounters an angel in Daniel 10 (not actually described as an angel, but as ‘one who looks like a man’. He says to Daniel, “Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them.” (Daniel 10:12). I wish my prayers would elicit that kind of response!
Angels help us to win people to Christ. Philip (Acts 8) and Cornelius (Acts 10) are just two examples. In the one, an angel tells Philip to go and stand next to a chariot and in the other, an angel tells Cornelius to send for Peter.
And as we live out our lives, we are watched in the spiritual realm:
- 1 Corinthians 4:9, For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like those condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to human beings.
- Ephesians 3:10, His (God’s) intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms,
- 1 Peter 1:10-12, Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of the Messiah and the glories that would follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things.
Jesus tells a story about a rich man and a beggar called Lazarus. He says that, The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. (Luke 16:22). There is some dispute as to whether this is a parable or whether Jesus is describing something that actually happened. In either case, this is at least a hint that angels care for the righteous at the time of death.
So, far from being the cartoon-like baby we often see depicted on greeting cards, or the angelic stylisations we might expect to see on Christmas cards and Nativity scenes, angels are far from helpless and much more present than we can imagine.
We may not see them around every corner or behind every good fortune we encounter, but neither should we simply dismiss them or their impact on our lives or the lives of people around us.
Simply trust in God and trust Him that if an angel is needed, then one will be dispatched for us!