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Angels: God's Messengers Bible teaching about God's ministering spirits THE story has been told of how the first Russian cosmonaut, Yuri Gagarin, was instructed by Soviet premier Khrushchev to watch
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Angels: God's Messengers Bible teaching about God's ministering spirits THE story has been told of how the first Russian cosmonaut, Yuri Gagarin, was instructed by Soviet premier Khrushchev to watch out for angels when he went into space in April, On his return he reported that he had seen no angels. Khrushchev is said to have replied, Good, I knew you wouldn t. There are no such things! It is all too easy to assume that what you do not see does not exist! Do you believe in angels? Do you know who they are, or what they do? Are they just figments of the artists imagination in religious paintings down the centuries? Is there really something out there we ought to know about? Is it important to know if they exist? Back to the Bible Positive answers to such questions are to be found only in the Bible. We have no other source of reliable information. The Bible is the inspired word of God and contains a whole library of information on the subject; so where better to look? Let us go straight to the Bible, to remarkable evidence about these heavenly beings. The example we are to look at first is not the earliest occasion when angels are mentioned, but it is a particularly illuminating one. In the days when the kingdoms of Syria and Israel were at war in the 8th century BC, the king of Syria was much frustrated by the constant discovery of the whereabouts of his advancing forces (2 Kings 6:8-11). Being told that the informer was Elisha the prophet of God, his agents tracked down Elisha and his servant to a small hill town in northern Israel. He dispatched a large army to capture the prophet, and surrounded Dothan with chariots and horsemen under cover of night. When Elisha s young servant looked out the next morning and saw this great host, he was terrified: Alas, my master! How shall we do? The man whose eyes were opened It was a natural response. Totally outnumbered by a cruel and sadistic enemy who would show no mercy, he might be excused for being terrified. Yet his master s reaction was quite different! Calm and confident, Elisha s response was: Don t be afraid! Not be afraid? Who would not be, in these circumstances? The reason was: They that be with us are more than they that be with them. What did he mean? Could Elisha see something that the servant could not? All became clear when the prophet prayed to God: Lord, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see. And the Lord opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha. (2 Kings 6:17) Elisha was a man of God, and the Lord had sent his protective forces in the service of His prophet. Elisha had already experienced a similar thing a short time before, when his predecessor Elijah was taken up from him and Elisha had cried, My father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof (2 Kings 2:12). Elisha knew from that experience that the angels were there, but the inexperienced young steward had not yet learned where true strength lies. His spiritual eyes were closed. God works through His servants The Dothan experience is an instructive revelation of how God works on man s behalf through His hosts of messenger servants. They were more numerous than the chariots of the Syrian army; they were powerful and like a consuming fire, and they were invested with the authority of the King of kings who sent them. Did their presence at Dothan achieve anything? Certainly it did, for in addition to saving the two men and the town s inhabitants, the Syrian army was neutralised, their soldiers temporarily blinded and led away from Dothan into the hands of the king of Israel. The chariots and horses revealed to Elisha s servant were the angels of God, concerned for those who feared God. The incident demonstrated what another man of God, king David, well understood and which he described in the following Psalms: The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear him, and delivereth them. (Psalm 34:7) The chariots of God are twenty thousand, even thousands of angels: the Lord is among them, as in Sinai, in the holy place. (Psalm 68:17) Bless the Lord, ye his angels, that excel in strength, that do his commandments, hearkening unto the voice of his word. Bless ye the Lord, all ye his hosts; ye ministers of his, that do his pleasure. (Psalm 103:20,21) Bless the Lord who maketh the clouds his chariot: who walketh upon the wings of the wind: who maketh his angels spirits; his ministers a flaming fire. (Psalm 104:1-4) The hosts of God Here are all the elements of the Dothan experience: the chariots, as a symbol of strength; the surrounding army, a mighty protective force around those who put their trust in God; the symbol of fire, holding back or destroying the enemy. We note the impressive numbers, telling us of the great host at God s disposal. Jesus told Peter that he could summon more than twelve legions of angels (over 72,000) to his help, against which the Roman governor s legions would have had no power at all (Matthew 26:53; John 18:10). We observe, too, that these forces are God s forces. They are his angels, his hosts, and they are his ministers, doing His pleasure. In other words, the Lord God has total control over them. They excel in strength, they have more than enough power to complete their commissions. With the evidence of this important Bible event, it is clear that there are such beings as angels, and that they have been at work on behalf of God and man. If we wish to know more about them, we must start with a simple question. Who are the angels? The English word angel comes from the Greek angelos, which means messenger. In the Old Testament, with two exceptions, the Hebrew word for angel is malak, also meaning messenger. The prophet Malachi took his name from this word. He was himself a messenger, and he prophesied about the coming of the messenger of the covenant, Jesus Christ (Malachi 3:1). Although the word angel in the Bible, meaning a messenger, nearly always applies to heavenly beings, it can occasionally apply to human messengers. Malachi himself said a priest was a messenger (malak) of the Lord of hosts (Malachi 2:7), and in the Book of Revelation the elders of the seven churches of Asia were called angels (1:20; 2:1 etc.). But when we meet messengers doing supernatural things, there is no doubt they are heavenly beings God s messengers, working for Him and for the ultimate benefit of mankind. The Creator of the universe The Lord God is the Creator of everything in the universe, and He made the angels. Of course, atheists and agnostics do not see the need for angels. If (as they believe) everything around them has come about by chance rather than by design they will be indifferent to how God works. But there is overwhelming evidence of a Supreme Designer who not only created, but is in control of a master plan for the earth and the human race. The sympathetic reader will therefore understand why the Creator will wish to explain His purpose to the intelligent beings that He has created. The Lord God has always been there, and He always will be there, so that the Bible describes Him as being from everlasting to everlasting (Psalm 90:2). He is a living God (in contrast to all other so-called gods ); the source of all power, all life and all things necessary for life to continue. In creating the galaxies, the stars, the planets and everything else in space, He singled out the earth for a special purpose, with the intention that it should become the home of a race of beings who would reflect His own glory and emulate His own characteristics. All the earth shall be filled with my glory (Numbers 14:21) is His promise. Although He is a spirit power, He is not some kind of automatic machine. God did not create robots with automated responses for life on earth; rather, He desired to generate a willing response to His will from men and women who revere and obey Him: Thus saith the Lord, The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool but to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word. (Isaiah 66:1,2) Why did God create angels? The Creator Himself is so powerful and glorious that He cannot be approached in person by human beings. He alone hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see (1 Timothy 6:16). Angels do not have man s shortcomings, and can therefore act for God and represent Him when communicating with men and women. They bridge the huge gap between the holiness and perfection of God in heaven and the shortcomings of dying people on this planet. Angels were made immortal (that is, never to die). Their eternal quality was spoken of by Jesus when he said: They which shall be accounted worthy to obtain that world, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry, nor are given in marriage: neither can they die any more: for they are equal unto the angels; and are the children of God, being the children of the resurrection. (Luke 20:35,36) Jesus was saying that, in the same way as the angels (the children or sons of God) live for ever and are of one gender, so those who will be called the sons and daughters of God when Jesus returns will also live for ever and will not marry. The sons of God Having been brought into existence by God, the angels are called the sons of God. In an example of this, God described to the patriarch Job the creation of the earth, and asks him: Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened? or who laid the corner stone thereof; when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy? (Job 38:4-7) These sons of God were there working for the Almighty. The Creator commanded, and the tasks were carried out. As Psalm 33 says, For he spake, and it was done; he commanded, and it stood fast (33:9). The Lord only had to speak the word and the angels responded; and what they did, they did well which is why the record in Genesis 1 repeatedly says that God saw that it was good. Good, because a faithful messenger refreshes the soul of the master who sends him (Proverbs 25:13). Man made lower than the angels When the first man was being created, God gave him a form resembling that of the angels: Let us make man in our image, after our likeness So God (elohim, sometimes translated angels ) created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. (Genesis 1:26,27) This does not mean that the first of the human race had exactly the same physical nature as the angels, for the angels were made to live for ever. Adam and Eve were not made neverdying; they did sin, and they suffered death as the punishment for it. That is why the whole human race has been dying ever since. The fact that man was created in the image of the angels speaks of God s ultimate intention for His creatures. Psalm 8 is a Psalm in which the creation of the earth is extolled. Here we are told that man s position is lower than the angels: What is man, that thou art mindful of him? For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour. (Psalm 8:4,5) The New Testament quotes this passage, and tells us that mankind including the Lord Jesus himself was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death (Hebrews 2:9). Angels do not die, but men and women do. Even Jesus, the Son of God, was mortal, but has now received the glory and honour which was his due when, as he said after his resurrection, all power is given unto me in heaven and in earth (Matthew 28:18). The mighty ones Psalm 8 is also very helpful because here the original word for angels is not malak ( messenger ), but elohim, a plural word meaning mighty (or powerful) ones. Elohim is the Hebrew word which is most often rendered God in the Old Testament. Although there are exceptions to this, it is useful when reading the Old Testament to note the intended connection between God and those who represent Him. This introduces an important aspect of the angels and their work. As God s representatives, they bear His name and carry out His will. They are glorious because He is glorious. The Lord is the Almighty, and the angels are the sons of the mighty (Psalm 89:6). Another of God s titles is Lord of hosts because, as we have seen, He has such extensive forces at His command. We have seen that the angels execute the Lord God s commands, they were involved at the creation of the earth, they act as messengers and they operate in the name of the Lord. We shall now look at how they guided, led and protected God s people, the nation of Israel. Angels in Old Testament history There was the notable case of Abraham, who entertained angels unawares (Hebrews 13:2). One day the Lord appeared unto him in the plains of Mamre: and he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day; and he lift up his eyes and looked, and, lo, three men stood by him (Genesis 18:1,2). The men were provided with a meal, but they turned out to be angels and they had come on a double mission: firstly to tell Sarah that she would have a son, and secondly, to talk about the fate of the evil cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. After the meal, Abraham left the tent to set the men on their way. Two of them went down to Sodom, where two angels came into the city at evening, while the other man, who is referred to as the Lord, stayed to listen to Abraham s plea for mercy on the town where his nephew Lot lived. Jacob, the grandson of Abraham, witnessed several angelic manifestations. On his flight into Padan-aram from the wrath of his brother Esau he had a dream, when he saw the angels of God ascending and descending a ladder going up from earth to heaven (Genesis 28:12). It was a dramatic representation of how communication between heaven and earth is maintained and how the angels are watchful over those who put their trust in God. Jacob returned to his homeland some 20 years later, but was fearful of meeting Esau who was approaching with 400 men. The divine encouragement and protection was there again: The angels of God met him. And when Jacob saw them, he said, This is God s host (Genesis 32:1,2). But belief in the presence and power of angels does not eliminate the need for action on our part, as Jacob found out when he wrestled with a man in a painful night-long encounter. His opponent proved to be an angel, who did Jacob the honour of changing his name to Israel, meaning a prince with God. Jacob declared, I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved (Genesis 32:24-30). The angel that bore the name of God When the Israelites were released from their slavery in Egypt and started their journey back to the land of promise, it was the angel of God who led the tribes of Israel (Exodus 14:19). Arriving at Mount Sinai some months later, the congregation of two million people gathered at the foot of the holy mountain (where Moses had seen the angel in the burning bush) and were terrified by the manifestation of divine power in the thunder and lightning, smoke, fire and earthquake. Moses was called up to Sinai to meet with God s representative in all his glory, and the tables of stone with the famous ten commandments were written with the finger of God. A rebellion by the Israelites during his absence almost brought about the breaking of the covenant that God made with this nation; but Moses interceded and pleaded with the Lord God to lead the people, personally, on their journey to Canaan. The Lord replied that He would not go in person, but: Behold, I send an Angel before thee, to keep thee in the way, and to bring thee into the place which I have prepared. Beware of him, and obey his voice, provoke him not; for he will not pardon your transgressions: for my name is in him. (Exodus 23:20,21) The angel of God s presence Observe the authority given to this angel! God had put His name into the messenger; the angel would guard them on the journey, but he must be obeyed or he would punish them. Yet the Lord Himself would not go up in the midst of thee but would allow His presence to be with them (Exodus 33:3,14). The divine power, glory and authority would be wholly vested in this angel. It does not mean that the angel would be seen by the people, but the evidence of his presence would be there in the pillar of cloud in the daytime and the pillar of fire that would be over the tabernacle at night. If they had eyes to see they would know that he was there, looking after their interests. Moses and the High Priest would be able to get closer than anyone else. But none of the people, only the High Priest on one day in the year (the Day of Atonement) was able to experience the brilliant glory which resided between the wings of the gold cherubim over the ark in the Most Holy Place in the tabernacle. The cherubim are first mentioned when Adam and Eve were driven from Eden. They guarded the way to the tree of life (Genesis 3:24), and were modelled in gold on the Ark to represent God s protection and care. Again, when Moses on Mount Sinai desired to see the face of God Himself he was not permitted to do so, only to witness the glory of the Lord passing by: Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live (Exodus 33:20). John, in the New Testament, confirmed this when he wrote, No man hath seen God at any time (John 1:18). The angels therefore brought divine information to men and women, which they could not otherwise receive because of God s holiness and man s sinfulness. Angels with names Only occasionally are the angels given names. Michael, for instance, was the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people (Israel) (Daniel 12:1). Undoubtedly, among the most significant of angelic appearances were those by the angel whose name was Gabriel. He was sent twice to the prophet Daniel. On the second occasion Daniel was at prayer, and Gabriel, being caused to fly swiftly, touched me and talked with me and proceeded to prophesy the date of the first coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ (Daniel 9:21-27). There was therefore great expectation among the Jews at the time when Jesus Christ was about to be born, and this was heightened by the personal appearance of Gabriel again, firstly to Zacharias the priest while on duty in the temple, and then to Mary, who was betrothed to Joseph. To Zacharias, the angel announced, I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and am sent to speak unto thee (Luke 1:19). We notice that angels can stand in the glorious presence of the Lord, whereas men cannot, and angels are sent to do whatever God wishes. His mission here was to announce the miraculous birth of John the Baptist. Six months later, Gabriel appeared to Mary, who was in the royal line of King David. Her prayer, said the angel, had found favour with God, and she would be the mother of the expected Messiah. Gabriel told her that she would conceive through the power of the Holy Spirit and her son would be Jesus, the Saviour, and he would be the Son of God and would occupy the royal throne of David (Luke 1:26-33). It was an extraordinary meeting because Mary was not yet married. Nothing is impossible with God! Joseph, her husband-to-be, also received angelic messages advising him what steps to take in this unique situation. When Jesus came to be born in Bethlehem, the birth was the signal for a glorious witness of divine approval, seen by shepherds: An angel of the Lord (could this have been Gabriel?) appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. And the angel said to them, Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God an
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