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AngelsThe Strange and Mysterious Truth
By David Jeremiah
Multnomah PublishersCopyright © 1996 David P. Jeremiah, Trustee of the David P. Jeremiah Family Trust
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWhat in the World are Angels Doing?
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In a doctor's office one fall day a decade ago, I was told I had cancer. I'm sure you'll understand when I say I was fearful. It was one of those times when I would have cherished having an angel with me in the room, assuring me everything would be okay.
In the months that followed I felt the same fear when I prepared to have surgery on two occasions. An angel's hand holding mine as I was wheeled into the operating room would have been treasured comfort.
But as far as I knew, I'd never seen an angel. Never. Did that mean something was wrong with me? Why did only other people have that privilege? Wasn't I spiritual enough?
Maybe you've asked the same questions. And maybe you're dissatisfied with the answers you've received. The widespread interest in angels has thrown a lot of information your way-but also confusion and contradiction and flimsy speculation. Where can you go for solid, meaningful information? How can you gain a balanced and accurate perspective that's built on God's reality and eternal truth?
That's what this book is all about.
Welcome Wonders, or a Waste of Time?
Eversince the 1990s, angels are everywhere-or rather we find them talked about everywhere, from major magazines and bestselling books and popular TV shows to kitchen conversations and university seminars. Lots of people say they have actually seen or felt the presence of an angel. Never in history, I suppose, has so much attention been directed at these heavenly beings as in our day.
So what's the significance of it all? Is the Lord delighted by this burst of curiosity and belief? And does he want you and me to join in the fun-or at least to take a bit more notice of angels than past generations did? Should we be looking around on earth for these heavenly beings? Should we be confident of daily care and protection from angel guardians?
Or is all this a waste of time? Maybe the angel craze that peaked in the 90s was at best just another trivial fad, and at worst a deceptive tactic of Satan's to divert people's spiritual attention away from real truth. Like young children at the Grand Canyon who can't see beyond the spoiled chipmunks darting along the rim seeking tourist handouts, if we start focusing on angels, we might miss the grand, sweeping view of God.
On the other hand, could more attention on angels actually be God's desire and plan for his people at this moment in history? Is it perhaps a clue and signal that we're on the threshold of something bigger in God's timetable for the world? Is the present age about to end? In God's mercy and love for sinners, has he caused a belief in spiritual angels to be more respectable so people can better accept the spiritual message of the gospel-before it's too late?
Or as some highly respected Bible teachers say, is there no such thing as angelic activity in our world anymore, since the close of Bible times?
The questions go on and on. (I wonder if the angels are asking them too.)
Probably no major theological issue has received as much secular attention in modern times as the doctrine of angels has in our day. You would expect Christians to be delighted at this, and start rushing in to make the most of this fresh opportunity for spiritual dialogue with the non-Christian world. But a good many Christians don't know what (if anything) to think about angels.
At least when the "God is dead" notion grabbed headlines a few decades ago, Christians were united in their response: No, they proclaimed, God is alive! But when headlines along the grocery checkout lane talk about widespread angel activity and belief in personal angels, the typical Christian reaction is: Well, maybe-or maybe not.
The angel craze seemed to trigger a major shift in thinking for our culture. What had once been mostly a myth to previouis generations became a fascinating reality in the popular mind. For example, more than a million people worldwide read the bimonthly Guideposts magazine Angels on Earth, in which each issue features a handfull of stories about people who believe they've encountered angels.
This all seems to fit into a greater openness to spirituality that's been building for years. Few people think anymore that all of life's important answers can be found in science and rational thought and reasonable logic. They know reality has another dimension-a spiritual dimension beyond science and reason. And this "other" side of reality keeps growing bigger in popular thought.
What does all this mean? Is it good or bad?
The biggest danger may well be greater susceptibility to spirituality's dark side. Mankind's mental doorway may be open wider to thinking about religion and eternity, but it's probably also open wider to Satan's influence.
Scripture warns us that "Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light" (2 Corinthians 11:14). Perhaps this strategy of deception wasn't so effective in the generations just before us. People weren't as open to believing in angels then, and if you talked about seeing one or wanting to, you might have been called flighty or foolish or weird.
Now the situation has changed. It's acceptable and even fashionable to believe in angels, and millions around the world are looking for angelic activity as never before.
But a stronger belief in angels is no guarantee of greater understanding of God's truth. The devil can ensnare us as much through "angelism" as he can through materialism or sexual lust or power-hunger. In fact he has scored some of his greatest triumphs in the disguise of angels. In the year 610 the oppressive religion of Islam was born when Muhammed received the contents of the Koran in a series of visions from someone he believed to be the angel Gabriel. Twelve centuries later, the deceptive cult of Mormonism supposedly arose when an angelic being called Moroni got Joseph Smith connected with the Book of Mormon.
Is Satan doing the same thing again? Or instead of launching a big new anti-Christian religion or cult, perhaps he and his demons are simply using angelic disguise-a little here and a little there-to flirt with people's fascinations and to create a curiosity and craving for angelic presence. By influencing the right people with the right connections to get the right books and magazine articles published and the right TV shows on the air, he can lure millions into a false sense of spiritual experience and security. The syrupy-sweet, spirit-tingling taste of a little angelism can ruin people's appetite for the good, solid food of God's Word and his gospel of grace and truth.
Even secular publications recognized at least partly this aspect of angel-mania. They noted the easy lure of preferring angels over God and describe how angels offer a form of spirituality devoid of Jesus and God. Because belief in God is no longer "popular" in America, it is possible to believe in anything. People are searching for spirituality-but not if it involves God. Time magazine insightfully stated, "angels are the handy compromise, all fluff and meringue, kind, nonjudgmental. They are available to everyone, like aspirin."
Life magazine attached the label "God Lite" to the angelism movement. The magazine's reporter visited a conference of angel enthusiasts. Unlike the mighty heavenly beings described in the Bible, the reporter said the angels described to him at the conference were
a more benign and bite-size species, cuddly as a lap dog, conscientious as a school crossing guard. I heard angels likened to spiritual kissing cousins, flower delivery messengers ... and just a nice feeling of warmth and love that washes all over you. Today's angels seem to spend a lot less time praising God than serving us. While they are still making super-hero, nick-of-time rescues, they are also showing up in less dire emergencies to track down a set of lost keys or make a chicken casserole more flavorful. Indeed, nearly all the angel believers I met got around to mentioning their parking space angel whom they call upon while cruising crowded city streets.
If some of your neighbors or friends or family members become attracted to an empty and frivolous but potentially dangerous angelism, will you be able to steer them out by showing them God's truth about angels? It's my prayer that this book will help you do just that. There's nothing that deals with error like a good dose of truth.
Meanwhile let's remember God is sovereign. He's shown in history that he uses even the mistakes and tragedies and follies of mankind to accomplish his higher will. Could it be that in our day he's using angelmania-even though it's often excessive and eccentric-to give his people a certain push? Does he want to sharpen our sensitivity toward spiritual realities? After all, it looks as if angels will be a big part of our eternal environment, which will be far more substantial than our short and shadowy presence on this earth. Being eternal themselves, angels have a greater claim to "reality" than our homes and jobs and hobbies. And unlike our homes and jobs and hobbies, the holy angels are always pointing us in the right direction: toward God.
Just thinking about angels can give us a fresh reminder that there's another world besides this one that clings so closely all around us. Angels already experience the fullness of that other world-God's eternal, heavenly kingdom-where God's rule goes entirely unopposed and unquestioned. Someday we'll experience it with them.
Jesus was turning our eyes toward this other, unseen world when he taught us to pray, "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." Hearing those words, we easily assume that right now in heaven angels are doing God's will perfectly and gladly. So we ask the same for us, here and now. And when we sincerely pray "Thy kingdom come" to our heavenly Father, we show him that we long for something better than the enemy territory which our world is today, infested by sin and filled with deceptions from the fallen angel Satan.
The Real Thing
Before preaching and writing on this subject I read hundreds of stories describing angel sightings and encounters. Many are far-fetched and go beyond the bounds of what Scripture allows as being reliable. For example, the Bible gives no indication angels will respond if we pray directly to them for help. In fact in Scripture we don't find any instances of people even asking God to send them an angel's protection. And the only person in Scripture who tried persuading someone else to seek help from an angel was Satan, who quoted an Old Testament verse about angelic protection while tempting Jesus in the wilderness (Matthew 4:6).
More importantly, Scripture gives no basis for assuming angels will serve and help non-Christians. The Bible describes angels as "ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation" (Hebrews 1:14). Who are these people destined to "inherit salvation"? The Bible makes it clear that this refers only to those who come to know Christ as Savior. It's to serve only them that angels are sent. If someone claims to have seen an angel yet that person professes no allegiance to Jesus Christ, it's likely that any angel he saw (if he truly saw one at all) was a fallen one-one of the devil's messengers, not the Lord's. Not every angel is from God.
A book far larger than the one in your hands would be needed to discuss all the circulated opinions and beliefs about angels which down through history have either been highly questionable or in flat opposition to biblical truth. But what about angel stories that fit within Bible parameters and which are reported by trustworthy sources, by people we would never expect to make things up? Should we believe them?
In his landmark 1975 book Angels (which has sold more than two and a half million copies and continues as a bestseller), Billy Graham collected and retold many reputable stories of experiences with angels, including this family account of his maternal grandmother's death:
The room seemed to fill with a heavenly light. She sat up in bed and almost laughingly said, "I see Jesus. He has his arms outstretched toward me. I see Ben [her husband who had died some years earlier] and I see the angels." Then she slumped over, absent from the body but present with the Lord.
Billy Graham said he believed in angels not only because of the Bible's testimony about them, but also "because I have sensed their presence in my life on special occasions." He wrote:
As an evangelist, I have often felt too far spent to minister from the pulpit to men and women who have filled stadiums to hear a message from the Lord. Yet again and again my weakness has vanished, and my strength has been renewed. I have been filled with God's power not only in my soul but physically. On many occasions, God has become especially real, and has sent his unseen angelic visitors to touch my body and let me be his messenger for heaven, speaking as a dying man to dying men.
He also recounted such exciting stories as this one from pioneer missionary John G. Paton in the New Hebrides Islands, in the South Pacific:
Hostile natives surrounded his mission headquarters one night, intent on burning the Patons out and killing them. John Paton and his wife prayed all during that terror-filled night that God would deliver them. When daylight came they were amazed to see that, unaccountably, the attackers had left. They thanked God for delivering them.
A year later, the chief of the tribe was converted to Jesus Christ, and Mr. Paton, remembering what had happened, asked the chief what had kept him and his men from burning down the house and killing them. The chief replied in surprise, "Who were all those men you had with you there?" The missionary answered, "There were no men there; just my wife and I." The chief argued that they had seen many men standing guard-hundreds of big men in shining garments with drawn swords in their hands. They seemed to circle the mission station so that the natives were afraid to attack. Only then did Mr. Paton realize that God had sent his angels to protect them. The chief agreed that there was no other explanation.
One of the most popular angel stories of this century happened in a gruesome Nazi prison camp in the Second World War, as told by Corrie ten Boom in A Prisoner-And Yet. She and her sister Betsie had just arrived at Ravensbruck, where new prisoners were being searched. Corrie was hiding a Bible under her dress.
It did bulge out obviously through my dress; but I prayed, "Lord, cause now Thine angels to surround me; and let them not be transparent today, for the guards must not see me." I felt perfectly at ease. Calmly I passed the guards. Everyone was checked, from the front, the sides, the back. Not a bulge escaped the eyes of the guard. The woman just in front of me had hidden a woolen vest under her dress; it was taken from her. They let me pass, for they did not see me. Betsie, right behind me, was searched.
But outside awaited another danger. On each side of the door were women who looked everyone over for a second time. They felt over the body of each one who passed. I knew they would not see me, for the angels were still surrounding me. I was not even surprised when they passed me by; but within me rose the jubilant cry, "O Lord, if Thou dost so answer prayer, I can face even Ravensbruck unafraid."
Christianity Today reported a story of angelic intervention told by the editor of Leadership, a magazine for church leaders. One night the editor's young daughter was in a coma and near death. A hospital staff worker looked into the girl's room and witnessed an astonishing sight: Angels were hovering over the girl's bed.
Excerpted from Angels by David Jeremiah Copyright © 1996 by David P. Jeremiah, Trustee of the David P. Jeremiah Family Trust. Excerpted by permission.
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