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By ROBERT J. MORGAN
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2011 Robert J. Morgan
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWHAT THE BIBLE SAYS about Angels
Dr. Richard Hipps, a friend from Memphis, shared something that happened to his grandmother in 1916. She was about ten, living with her widowed father in Asheville, North Carolina. He worked in the rock quarry. "Granny's job," said Richard, "was to take lunch to her father every day, but that required crossing a long bridge over the French Broad River. Granny was terrified of that bridge, and one day she was so overcome with fear that she couldn't bring herself to cross it. Sitting at the end of the bridge, she put her head down and began to cry. Suddenly she heard a voice saying, 'Honey, if you're afraid to cross the bridge, I'll walk with you.' Looking up, she saw a blue-eyed man with a bright countenance. He was holding his horse by the reins."
The horse and its rider escorted the little girl over the bridge, and all fear left her. They talked about the beauty of the blue sky and about the Lord's protective care. He told her she didn't need to be afraid anymore.
"As they approached the end of the bridge," Richard said, "Granny turned to thank the man for his company. Before her eyes, both he and his horse vanished."
Richard's grandmother continued telling this story into her eighties, and it served to comfort her throughout her life. Now it's a treasured story that has been passed down from generation to generation.
This story sounds like so many of the Bible stories I've read since child hood. The Word of God is our primary source of information—the only authoritative and infallible one—on the intriguing subject of angels. It's easy to take flying leaps of fancy on this theme, but what does the Bible say?
That was my standard when I worked my way through every book of the Bible, tracking down each reference to angels until I came to the grand crescendo of angelic activity permeating the book of Revelation. I found 234 specific passages about angels, and another 278 times when God is referred to as the "Lord of hosts" ("hosts" being the angelic armies of heaven). Angels are referenced in thirty-nine books of the Bible—nineteen in the Old Testament and twenty in the New, and the range of angelic activity spans the Scriptures from Genesis 3:24 to Revelation 22:16. As John Hunter put it, "We can as easily think of summer without flowers as of the Bible without angels."
As I pondered these passages, I was struck with how matter-of-factly the Bible treats this topic. The Lord doesn't try to convince us of the existence of angels or persuade us of their reality; He doesn't think of them as curious or bizarre creatures as we do, but as a normal part of His created order. In His world, angels are commonplace, a natural part of the environment. The biblical writers understood that there is a spiritual zone sur rounding the earth where much unseen angelic and demonic activity exists. Famed pastor Charles Haddon Spurgeon once proclaimed, "I do not know how to explain it; I cannot tell how it is; but I believe angels have a great deal to do with the business of this world."
In biblical text, angels pop in and out of stories as naturally as we'd drop into a coffee shop or duck out of an office. They're not mentioned gratuitously, and truth be told, it seems most Bible characters never knowingly saw an angel. Nevertheless, when needed, there they were. Angels comforted Hagar in the desert, delivered Lot from Sodom, guided Israel through the wilderness, fed Elijah under the juniper tree, surrounded Elisha with chariots of fire, saved Hezekiah from Assyria's onslaught, led Isaiah to spiritual commitment, directed Ezekiel into ministry, surrounded Jesus through every phase of His work, bore Lazarus to heaven, delivered Peter from prison, comforted Paul aboard a sinking ship, and gave John a VIP tour of New Jerusalem.
To believe the Bible is to believe in angels.
Sometimes these heavenly visitants appeared in human form and sometimes in superhuman splendor. Sometimes they were recognized as supernatural, but on other occasions they appeared as run-of-the-mill strangers. Sometimes the angels appeared in ones or twos, other times in multitudes. Some had wings; others didn't. Sometimes their feet were on the ground; sometimes they hovered in the sky. Often they materialized in three-dimensional reality, but occasionally they slipped into a person's dreams. Sometimes they were visible, but often they maintained their invisibility. In Revelation 18:1, an angel descended from heaven with such sunlike brilliance that the entire earth was illumined by his splendor.
I came away from my study realizing that when God made the cosmos, He created many diverse life forms—fungi and bacteria, plants and animals, fish and birds, humans and angels. To God, angels are just as conventional as any other creature; they're part of the diversity of life that fills heaven and earth. They are interplanetary creatures who travel easily and instantly between dimensions of reality, between the spiritual and physical realms. They are virtually everywhere, even around me as I write this book and around you as you read it. They comprise our celestial family.
As we trace this theme through the Bible, we find angels treated realistically, but not paraded or flaunted. Their existence and enterprises are assumed, and we're assured of their concern for us. But they are never hyperpresented in Scripture. In fact, as my friend Dr. David Jeremiah observed, "Everything Scripture says concerning angels is in connection with something else as the main theme. There are no pages or passages whose central purpose is to spell out a doctrine of angels."
To me, this is an astounding insight that subtly demonstrates the truthfulness of Scripture. If I were composing a supernatural book like a Bible for the ages—if mere humans were putting it together—there would undoubtedly be effusive descriptions and details of these divine agents. But God's Word is written with an economy of words and a logical consistency of method. Nowhere do we find chunks of Scripture singularly devoted to angels. Every reference to angels in the Bible is incidental to a greater topic. Yet even with this observation, we don't lack for angelic material.
* Angels are active in Genesis, appearing in various forms at the gates of Eden, to Hagar, to Abraham, to Lot and the inhabitants of Sodom, and to Jacob. After Jacob, there's little mention of angels in the Penta teuch until we encounter the angel of the Lord, who accompanied Israel through the wilderness, and that "angel" was likely the preincarnate Christ Himself.
* Judges has two prominent angel stories, and in subsequent books there are a few incidents involving angels in the careers of Saul, David, and Solomon. We also have another cluster of angelic sightings during the times of Elijah and Elisha.
* The Psalms give us a handful of precious verses about angels, though there are few references to angels in Proverbs or the other poetical books in the center of the Bible. * Isaiah and Ezekiel had dramatic encounters with angels. The book of Daniel is full of angels, as is Zechariah. Few of the other Minor Prophets refer to angels.
* An explosion of angelic activity is connected with the ministry of Christ. Angels are involved in His birth, life, ministry, death, resurrection, ascension, and in the prophecies regarding His second coming.
* Angels occasionally showed up in the book of Acts with dramatic effect.
* There are sporadic references in the epistles to angels, giving us some intriguing hints and helps, yet no major passage in Paul's letters provides a systematic teaching about angels. We're given excellent information, however, in the book of Hebrews.
* The most intense concentration of angelic activity in the Bible is in the book of Revelation as it discloses their central role in heavenly worship, earthly tribulation, and in the victorious return and reign of Christ.
Of course, angelic activity didn't end with the book of Revelation, and the ministry of angels wasn't limited to the days of the Bible. Angels continue their nonstop work on behalf of the saints. Because we have biblical indications that demonic activity will increase as we draw closer to the end of the ages, it's only reasonable to assume the same of angelic enterprises.
When I was a student at Columbia International University, my next-door roommate was Terry Hammack, who, along with his wife, Sue, has faithfully served the Lord in Africa. Terry recently told me of his friend Janet Schneidermann, who labored more than forty years in northern Nigeria. She spent many of those years alone in the town of Gashua and was the only expatriate missionary within fifty miles. Much of her ministry was conducted against the backdrop of danger, and on one occasion she was warned by Nigerian colleagues to leave for a safer environment. Death threats were flying through the air like buzzards. Janet was a practitioner of Scripture memorization, and at the time she was committing Psalm 34:7 to heart: "The angel of the Lord encamps all around those who fear Him, and delivers them" (NKJV). As she meditated on that verse, she thought, Thank You, Lord, for Your promise. Your protection is good enough for me, so I'm going to bed rather than leave my station.
That night four men came from town to kill Janet. As they neared the secluded compound, they could see a tall man dressed in white with a sword in his hand guarding the front door. They were surprised and afraid because they had never seen a guard there before. They withdrew, and the next day they spied out the compound and questioned local informants. No one knew that Janet had hired a guard. That night the ruffians returned on the same mission. Again they were stopped dead in their tracks by this imposing guard.
The next day they casually "dropped by" to see Janet, feigning friendliness. In passing, they asked her about her guard. "I do not have a guard," she replied.
"We saw a huge man the last two nights with a long sword in his hand."
"Oh, him!" said Janet, laughing. "He must be the angel of the Lord that God promised to send because I fear Him." The men glanced at each other and hastily exited. No one ever approached her house again.
The nineteenth-century Boston poet Lucy Larcom put it this way:
Blest were we, When every earthly prospect is shut in, And all our mortal helpers disappear, If, with Faith's eye undimmed and opened wide, We might behold the blessed angel-troop, Which God, our God, has promised shall encamp Round those who fear his name.
Chapter TwoTHE BEST VERSE in the BIBLE about Angels
Where the young man came from I don't know, and I never saw him again, but I've often wondered if he were an angel. I was returning from Africa with my twelve-year-old daughter, Grace, and after a stopover in Paris, we were in a rush to get to Charles de Gaulle Airport. As we sped out of the city, I wasn't sure we had boarded the right train. I nervously asked everyone within sight, "Is this the train to Charles de Gaulle?" With no English speakers in earshot, I gave up, pored over my maps, and hoped for the best.
A few minutes later, the train stopped at an intermediate station and people began exiting. I glanced at my watch, worried about our tight connections and waiting for the doors to whoosh closed. Suddenly I heard a voice in perfect English: "If you're going to Charles de Gaulle Airport, you're on the wrong train." I looked up with surprise to find a young man sitting across from me. "The train you want," he said, "is there." He pointed to the other side of the platform.
With a quick "Thanks!" I leaped up and jerked Grace out the door. As we lugged our bags toward the other train, I heard his voice again. "Here!" He tossed me my backpack, which in my panic, I'd left on the seat. In it were our passports, plane tickets, identification, money, and credit cards.
Only after we collapsed on the airplane did I ponder what had happened. Where had the young man come from? Was it providential coincidence or an angelic visitation? I don't know, but I've had a nagging sense all these years that I may have encountered an angel unawares.
The Bible consistently affirms the existence of angels. They appear in its pages naturally, personally, and frequently. From Genesis to Revelation, the biblical writers weave angels in and out, and the teachings about angels are consistent and cohesive, rational, and logical.
Angelology is a therapeutic subject for our souls. The Lord must have wanted us to ponder the marvel of angels if He spoke of them so frequently. Colossians 3:2 tells us to set our minds on things above, not on things of earth. The "things above" certainly include the angelic world. Martin Luther said, "The acknowledgment of angels is needful in the church. Therefore godly preachers should teach them logically.... They should show what angels are.... They must speak touching their function.... In this sort ought we to teach with care, method, and attention, touching the sweet and loving angels."
British historian Thomas B. Macaulay described the Puritans as people "whose minds had derived a peculiar advantage from the daily contemplation of superior beings and eternal interests."
As I worked my way through the 234 passages in the Bible on this subject, one verse stood out in neon colors, providing a set of basic definitions for this strange species of creature. Hebrews 1:14 says, "Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?" In my opinion, this is the best verse about angels in the Bible.
You might want to put this book down and read the first chapter of Hebrews. You'll readily see the message that angels are subservient to Christ—made by and subject to Him.
When God the Son became human and took upon Himself the garb of flesh, He temporarily became a "little lower" than the angels He had created. Hebrews 2:9 says, "We see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death."
Following His resurrection, Jesus resumed His full position and the prerogatives of His glory as He sat on heaven's throne, and the entire first chapter of Hebrews is devoted to telling us that He is as superior to the angels as the name He has inherited is superior to theirs (v. 4).
God the Father commands all the angels to worship Him (v. 6) and describes angels as "servants," while Jesus is referred to as "God" Himself, whose throne will last forever and ever (vv. 7–8). Which of the angels did God invite to sit at His right hand and rule with Him from the throne (v. 13)? None. Instead, "are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?" (v. 14).
The idea of Hebrews 1, then, is that angels are created by and subject to Christ, who is both God and Lord. This is why angels hover worshipfully around the Lord Jesus in the biblical story, enveloping Him in His birth, during His ministry, and prophetically at His second coming. They gaze in awe at Him, and their example teaches us to love Him as well. They long to look into His work and redemption (1 Peter 1:12).
Hebrews 1:14 also describes the "physique" or substance of angels. They are "ministering spirits." This accounts for their invisibility, their ability to travel quickly, to fly between heaven and earth, to hover in the skies, to surround the throne in heaven one moment while transporting them selves to a needed spot on earth in the next. That's why they can bridge the chasm between the spiritual and physical realms in the blink of an eye.
What does the Bible mean by the phrase "ministering spirits"? This lies in the realm of mystery. Saint John of Damascus opined in the early 700s that angels were intelligent substances without matter or body. The dele gates of the Second Council of Nicaea in AD 787 avowed that angels had bodies composed of light. The Council of the Lateran in AD 1215 decided they were incorporeal, having no bodies at all. Martin Luther said in the early 1500s, "An angel is a spiritual creature created by God without a body for the service of Christendom."
Excerpted from ANGELS by ROBERT J. MORGAN Copyright © 2011 by Robert J. Morgan. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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