The Word of God teaches us very clearly that the angels are real beings, having, each of them, a separate personal existence. This is shown by the names given to them, and by the works performed by them. But in thinking of the angels we must get away from all material modes of thinking. The angels, as our text tells us, are spiritual personalities. They have no material bodies at all, though they have often assumed a bodily form for the purpose of better impressing mankind, or to facilitate interaction with them.
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7. The Angels
To which of the angels said He at any time, Sit on my right hand until I make thine enemies thy footstool? Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation. — [Heb.] 1:13, 14.
In the first article of the Creed we say, “I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.” This is a comprehensive statement. The words “heaven and earth” include all creation. The Word of God teaches, and we believe, that every creature, animate and inanimate, was brought into being by God, the unmade maker of all things. “By Him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by Him, and for Him” (Col. 1:16).
In the explanation of the first article, as you will remember, the emphasis is put on the creation of man. This explanation starts out with the statement, “I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still preserves them.” This is correct from the viewpoint of a confession, which the Creed is. Man is here telling forth what God is to him, and what he understands that God has done especially for him, and each of his brethren of mankind.
Rightly understood, man can scarcely have too high an opinion of himself. He is now a poor sin-poisoned, corroded, deformed shadow of what he was intended to be, of what he was originally. But Christ gives us to understand that one human soul is worth more than the whole material world. Far as man has fallen, badly as he is deformed, he still retains his original essential nature. And not to appreciate it highly is to depreciate the magnitude and cost of Christ’s work for our restoration.
In our Catechism “angels and mankind” are classed together as the chief of God’s creatures. The form of the creed, and the call for self-expression it presents, necessitated, in former addresses, a somewhat extended treatment of man, his nature and relationship to the Creator, actual and possible. In view of this, the general treatment given the subject of creation in the preceding address might have been made to suffice. But there is a subject contained in it of such importance, and, to many people, of such entrancing interest, that we may well pause to give it special consideration. It is the doctrine of the angels, their nature, and their ministry.
The Nature of the Angels
The angels are spoken of in the Scriptures frequently and familiarly, but not to any great extent by way of explanation. The existence and the ministries of angels are spoken of as indisputable facts, but very little detailed information is given as to their creation, nature, rank, and the like.
In spite of the frequency with which the inspired writers speak of angels, in the face of the fact that the sacred record assigns to them a very important part in carrying out God’s plans, and a close relationship to man’s affairs, we hear but little of them in modern Christian literature. In a modern dogmatic treatise of another church, I find not a single reference to the existence or nature of the angels. In another twenty volume treatment of the leading truths of the Bible, I have looked in vain for a single, direct, explicit treatment, from any point of view, of the subject of angels. The modern mind, with its materialistic tendencies, especially where dominated by the scientific spirit of the age, seems inclined to class the Biblical doctrine of angels along with the myths and fairy tales of earlier ages. But this is, after all, not an exclusively modern attitude of mind. In the days of Christ there were those who denied the existence of angels (Acts 23:8). These Sadducees of the ancient and modern world no doubt consider belief in angels as fit only for children, and those like children who live largely in the realm of the imagination; but not worthy the serious consideration of mature minds. As for me, I pray that the Lord will ever preserve me from becoming so worldly-wise, so prosaic, so dead to conceptions of a world of life of a purely spiritual order, so unbelieving with respect to the plainest teachings of God’s Word, that I shall no longer find interest, comfort, strength, mind and soul expansion, in contemplation of the subject of angels, their nearness, their interest and cooperation in our human affairs.
That there are intelligent and powerful creatures higher than man has always been the belief of a large part of humanity. It is in such perfect accord with what we find elsewhere in the realm of nature as to be in the highest degree probable, apart from the positive declarations of Scripture. Below man in the sphere of living creatures we find a long series. And there is a gradation from the lowest to the highly developed. So far as the creatures of earth are concerned, man stands in a class by himself. He is the climax of the visible creation. That he should stand thus isolated, with no kindred nearer than the animals around him seems highly improbable from what we know of God’s workmanship in other spheres. The distance of God above man naturally inclines the mind to the belief that this distance is filled by other intelligences of a somewhat higher order and different nature than man. And this supposition is fully verified in Scripture. These creatures are the angels.
In our study of the nature of the angels, and their place in God’s great universe, there is much with respect to which we will always have to be satisfied to say, I do not know. There is no source from which to gain the knowledge. Nature gives us no known basis for investigation. And God, with respect to not a few points, has not spoken. We must, therefore, be satisfied with what has been revealed, and not be guilty of a prying, if not a profane, curiosity.
The angels, according to God’s Word, are not mere temporary manifestations of certain Divine powers. It is probable that God Himself, especially the pre-incarnate Son, has at times appeared on earth in the form of an angel. But this was only occasional. The angels are not mere influences set in operation by God. The Word of God teaches us very clearly that the angels are real beings, having, each of them, a separate personal existence. This is shown by the names given to them, and by the works performed by them. But in thinking of the angels we must get away from all material modes of thinking. The angels, as our text tells us, are spiritual personalities. They have no material bodies at all, though they have often assumed a bodily form for the purpose of better impressing mankind, or to facilitate intercourse with them.
The Angels Are Created Beings
This is definitely settled by the inspired statement of the Apostle, “By Him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in the earth, visible and invisible” (Col. 1:16). The angels did not spring forth spontaneously. They are not of the substance of God. They are creatures formed by God. The time of their creation is nowhere definitely stated. But from statements of God concerning His creative work, it is generally concluded that they were given existence some time during the period of active creative work which witnessed the genesis of all other creatures. And there is at least an intimation in the first part of the thirty-eighth chapter of Job that the angels were created some time before man. It says that the sons of God shouted for joy at the progress of God’s creative work, and the inference is that man had not yet been given his being when this took place.
The declaration of the inspired spokesman, who tells of the satisfaction of the Almighty as He beheld the results of His creative energy, is:
“And God saw everything that He had made, and, behold, it was very good.
This unquestionably applies to the angelic beings. They were pure, holy, perfect spiritual beings. In comparison with man, superior (Ps. 8:5); in relation to God reverent and obedient (Isa. 6:2, 3). They form a mighty host encircling the throne of the Most High, reflecting back His glory on Himself. But, as was the case with man, these purely spiritual beings, endowed with the ability perfectly to do the holy will of God, enjoyed a liberty which it was possible for them to abuse. And some of them, at a time not definitely known to us, but before the fall of man, did abuse this liberty. There was an apostasy, a fall, in the ranks of these heavenly creatures. Pride came, and with it rebellion, and final loss of all that was bright, and pure, and blessed. And now there are two great armies of spiritual beings in perpetual conflict; the one still in the service of God, the other opposed to Him and all His plans.
It is clear from the teaching of Scripture that the angels, both good and bad, are of different ranks; the good angels ascending, rank upon rank, as they approach, but never reach, the ineffable glory and power of the Lord of all. At the head of the fallen, but crafty and still powerful, hosts of evil spirits stands the prince of the powers of darkness, Satan, the arch enemy and seducer of mankind. Under him, subservient to and animated by his dominant will, there descends rank after rank of lesser spirits; all united, however, by the one unalterable spirit of enmity against God, and the determination to injure His handiwork, especially man, His best beloved.
The power of the angels, both good and bad, is very great. We have, probably, only the faintest conception of its extent. This is clear from the names given them, and the operations ascribed to them. Recall the exhortation in Ephesians, chapter six. After urging the children of God to “put on the whole armor of God,” the Apostle tells why, “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers.” The child of God may well tremble, and lose all false self-confidence, when he thinks of the hosts which constantly surround him, seeking his hurt. But to offset this is the assurance that the good angels are still more numerous and powerful, and that back of them, supporting them, is God Himself. And the good angels are as much interested in our welfare as the spirits of darkness are in securing our hurt.
Let us not forget that the power of all these spirit beings is limited. Theirs is not an original and unlimited, but a derived and circumscribed power. They can do only that which God commands or allows. If we are God’s children we have the assurance not only of being effectually shielded against any ultimate harm the evil spirits might wish to do us; but of having thrown around us the sheltering, protecting care of God’s army of angel warriors, all eager to defend us.
It will help us better to understand and appreciate the next division of our subject to remember that though the angels of light possess a knowledge and power far in advance of anything which man now possesses, yet, in certain respects, we, the children of men, stand in a closer relationship to God, through Christ, than do the angels. Jesus Christ, when He came to earth, took not on Him the nature of angels, but of man (Heb. 2:16). The angels are witnesses of the Divine glory, and only in an indirect way sharers of it. The only begotten Son of God has taken on Himself our nature, and with it entered into heaven. And through that nature we are capable of entering into closest union and fellowship with God. Another evidence of this closer relationship to Him is the fact that in the great day of Judgment, when all God’s creatures shall have proclaimed to them the decision as to their eternal destiny, man shall, in some way, have part in proclaiming sentence on the very angels. “Know ye not that ye shall judge angels?” (1 Cor. 6:3).
The Ministry of the Angels
The ministries of the angels is a subject which appeals strongly to the nobler sensibilities of our nature. And fortunately, to our great comfort, the fact, and in part the nature, of these ministries are not left to the flights of our imagination; they are verified in the history of God’s people, they are set forth on the pages of God’s Word. All parts of the Scriptures contain these records, but the third Gospel might not inappropriately be called the book of the angels. It gives us the realization of that most beautiful of Hebrew stories, that of “the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.”
The name angel itself is not descriptive of the nature of these heavenly beings, but of the activity by which they are distinguished. The word angel means a messenger. The Scriptures abundantly show that God has frequently so employed the angels of His presence, and unquestionably still so employs them. The angels may be described from this point of view as intermediate existences between God and man, one of whose chief functions is to be mediating agents between the spiritual and physical worlds, between God and man.
In how many instances the angels of God are mentioned in the Scriptures as the agents for carrying out His plans for the good of the children of men. We are told of their appearance to Jacob, of the deliverance they wrought for Lot, and Daniel, the three Hebrew youths, and Peter; they led Joseph and Mary to Egypt, Philip to the eunuch, and Cornelius to Peter; they were the instructors of Abraham, Joshua, Gideon, David, Elijah, Zachariah, Mary, and the Apostles.
What the angels have done for individuals they have often done for nations. When the chosen people were to be delivered from their galling bondage, the angels were their heaven-sent assistants. When the Law was given they were present to do the Lord’s bidding in the service of man. They accompanied God’s people on their way, helped them when assaulted, encamped round about them as a defense in times of danger.
When we come to the New Testament, the testimony to angel activity in man’s behalf is still more fully and definitely set forth. They foretold and celebrated the birth of Jesus. As a child they led Him out of harm’s way by warning his parents. In the ordeal of His temptation they were near at hand, and ministered to His necessities when it was at an end. In the awful agony of Gethsemane they were His unseen companions, and by one of them He was succored in His extremity. They announced His resurrection. They came to comfort his disciples after His ascension. And they shall form His court of ministering servants when He comes again to Judgment. And the evidence is abundant that the angels are just as active in our behalf.
It is a dangerous thing to forget, however, that the evil spirits are also actively engaged with the affairs of men; but to harm, to destroy. The influence of Satan, and his kindred host of perverted spirits is very real, and powerful. You remember how, in those awful last hours, Jesus turned to Simon Peter and said, “Simon, Simon, behold Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat; but I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not.” Jesus recognized better than we do the dangers threatening from this source. Many of our ills are unquestionably directly due to their malevolent activity. This activity is not merely occasional, it is often a constant pressure. And many are the times, even when we are engaged in the most holy service, that the most incongruous thoughts and desires suggest themselves. How do we account for it, not alone by psychological processes; it is some imp of darkness insinuating these thoughts and desires into our minds and hearts. And we need constantly to be on our guard, just as the Apostle, who needed Christ’s warning and help, urges: “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Pet. 5:8). For our comfort, let us remember that these malignant spirits are not all-powerful. They have their limits set, and even where they are permitted to exert themselves God keeps His hand upon their activities, and overrules it for the good of his faithful ones. The activities of the evil spirits all the more enlist the activities of our protecting angels.
What a wonderfully encouraging, sustaining thought this of our text is,
“Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?”
About the details of angel life we do not know a great deal. And it is well not to be unduly inquisitive about these things. The best things, the helpful things, it is given us to know. The Word tells us that we are directed and assisted, those who want it, over the difficult places in life’s pathway by the angels of heaven. We do not know when, or how, they come, or when they go. We cannot explain the relationship of these heavenly beings to our earthly toil and discipline; but it is very real and powerful.
Many is the time we have felt an unexplainable influence, a prompting toward that which is good, a feeling of revulsion against that which is evil. It may have been the working in us of some half-forgotten divine truth, it may have been the touch of the Spirit through such truth; it may have been, it doubtless often was, the influence of these unseen heavenly ministrants pointing the way for us; touching with spirit fingers the responsive chords of our souls. This is not a vain dream. It is not a flight of an excited imagination. It is the calm teaching of God’s Word. It is the experience of human souls attuned to catch and register Divine movements in the spiritual world. We have heard voices speaking to our souls, not through the medium of the outer ear; we have felt impalpable hands resting on us, either in restraint or urgency. Who will say that this was not the work of God, through some angel sent from His throne?
The thought of guardian angels is a fascinating and encouraging one. There are indications in God’s Word that Israel as a kingdom, and at least certain cities, enjoyed the special guardianship of certain angels. Of still more direct, personal interest is the question of angelic guardianship for individuals. And there is considerable ground for believing this, especially with respect to the children. “Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, that in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven” (St. Matt. 18:10). Does not this passage say that the little ones do have among the radiant spirits which surround the throne on high certain ones whose particular mission it is to watch over them? It does not, however, say that each child has its own particular guardian angel, though this is by no means precluded.
If we older people do not have guardian angels in the sense that some particular one, or ones, have been assigned as our special helpers, we assuredly have what amounts to the same thing; there are angels sent to serve our needs, and minister to us God’s richly provided blessings. Daniel was able to say, “My God hath sent his angel, and hath shut the lion’s mouth, that they have not hurt me” (Dan. 6:22). And David assures us that God shall give his angels charge over us, to keep us in all our ways; to uphold us in their hands, lest we dash our foot against a stone (Ps. 91:11—12). And you and I have had many gracious deliverances, and many blessings bestowed by the hands of these same heavenly ministers. Old Spenser was writing fact, not fiction, when he sang:
“How oft do they their silvery bowers leave,
And come to succor us who succor need?
How oft do they with golden pinions cleave
The flitting skies, like flying pursuivant,
Against foul fiends, to aid us militant?
They for us fight, they watch, and duly ward,
And their bright squadrons round about us plant,
And all for love, and nothing for reward!
Oh, why should heavenly God to men have such regard!”
And when the evening of life has come, and we say farewell to the things of earth, God sends a convoy of His angels to bear our ransomed spirits home. It is not a mere work of imagination that Kaulbach has depicted in his “The Angel of Peace” bearing the child to its heavenly home. Did not God send his angels to bear the soul of Lazarus to heaven?
There are not many subjects in God’s Word more charming and restful than a study of angelology. It fascinates and stimulates the imagination. It strengthens and comforts us. It is a subject, like all kindred ones, entirely too big to be fully grasped by us; but we should be very much poorer without what we do know. And all the materialism that operates to drive these solemnizing and ennobling thoughts out of our lives is the worst foe to our best education.
The closing part of one of the prayers of our early youth is still often our prayer, “Let Thy holy angel be with me, that the wicked foe may have no power over me.”
By God's grace, each week LutheranLibrary.org will present a new message on the basics of the Evangelical Christian Faith. Our guide is the Small Catechism, as expounded by Traditional Pastor Robert Golladay. May this series bless and inspire you.
- Author: “Golladay, Robert Emory”
- Title: “The Apostles’ Creed”
- Originally Published: 1917 by Lutheran Book Concern, Columbus, Ohio.
- Lutheran Library Edition: 2020
- Copyright: CC BY 4.0