Angels We Have Heard On High
The Holy Angels of Christmas
An angel appeared to Mary; three times an angel spoke to Joseph and angels communicated the message of Jesus’ birth to the shepherds. Obviously, these heavenly beings did not disappear after the first century! Even those of us who have never seen an angel most probably have been helped by them since they are “ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation” (Hebrews 1:14).
There was a time when those who believed in angels were thought of as misguided souls who existed on the fringe of society. Not any more. In just a few years a fad has become what is now called a cultural phenomenon. According to some surveys, nearly 75% of Americans believe in angels. And a good percentage believe that they have had an encounter with one.
These angelic appearances are diverse. One woman says that her celestial visitor came in the form of a “huge golden being.” Others tell of spirits that come in light, bestowing inner peace or keeping them from harm. Others take on the form of a man to do their good deed and then apparently disappear. What characterizes these stories is that the “miracles” happen to people regardless of what they believe, regardless of their religion or spiritual orientation.
In the early centuries there was a movement known as Gnosticism, (from the Greek word gnosis meaning knowledge). One school of thought said God can best be contacted by association with angels, and these teachers were having an impact in the early church. Paul warned, “Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and the worship of angels, going on detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind” (Colossians 2:18).
Paul was concerned because some church members invoked angels for protection, help and assistance. The phrase “worship of angels” could be translated, “veneration of angels” that is, calling on angels in magical invocations. People called on angels as intermediaries to protect them from evil, to give them “inner light” and help them with daily affairs of daily life.
Devotees preferred angels to Christ because they could be more easily manipulated. Guardian Angels were thought of as “good luck charms” for protection and getting things done. They were perceived to be more accessible than Christ and even more friendly. Angels were called to help heal diseases and enlisted for success in business affairs. Quite literally, anyone could be ‘touched by an angel.’
We must think clearly at this point. We must realize that there are two kinds of angels in the atmosphere around us: the “elect” angels who were preserved by God from sinning and the “evil” angels who disguise themselves as messengers of light. Unfortunately, our society is ill equipped to tell the difference.
The holy angels of the Christmas story were sent by God with special assignments to special people. Satan sends his angels randomly, doing as much good as they can in order to deceive the gullible. These angels mouth good doctrine and bring light with them. But in the end, their light turns out to be darkness. At this season let us remember that angels can only share the message of the Redeemer, they cannot do the work of the Redeemer. They would be the first to decry the extraordinary attention our age gives them. Keeping angels in perspective is a part of our responsibility as God’s people.
Further Understanding Angels
Q: What do you think of the television series, “Touched by an angel”?
A: Well, I know I might get into trouble on this one. Yes, it is wonderful to have a show that is definitely family fare. But it is loaded with cultural theology that enforces the prevalent view that people are basically good rather than sinners who stand in need of saving grace. Our problem, the show teaches, is not sin but disconnectedness. What follows is the erroneous notion that God can be contacted by anyone who has the good fortune of connecting with an angel. Angels are more approachable than God, thus there is no need for a cross or Christ as mediator. Angels thus are seen as equal opportunity partners, for people of all religions or those who have no religion. All that is, of course, anti-biblical.
Q: What do evil and good angels have in common?
A: Both kinds were created by God as individual personalities with the power of travel and personal choice. Like holy angels, evil angels confess that Jesus is “the holy one of God” (Mark 1:24), and “the son of God” (Mark 5:7). Evil angels (Satan) can do miracles (2 Thessalonians 2:9). Evil angels also use super apostles to present themselves as experts in spirituality, and come as angels of light and ministers of righteousness (2 Corinthians 11:13-15).
Q: Can you give examples of those who have been deceived by evil angels?
A: Even though Paul warned that we should not accept another gospel, even if proclaimed by angels, Joseph Smith did. An angel came with a “different gospel” and Smith accepted it as authentic as do millions of Mormons today. Mohammed had similar experiences and I suppose all false religions were begun by revelations from evil angels that were thought to be of God.
Q: So how do we tell the difference?
A: For one thing, the holy angels are sent to help the people of God (Hebrews 1:14), not to serve the whole human race regardless of religion or personal belief. Their mission for the unconverted is to carry out acts of judgment as found in the book of Revelation.
Second—and this point is related to the first—holy angels rejoice in the worship of Jesus, and are fascinated by the gospel (1 Peter 1:12). Only unholy angels preach the gospel of inclusiveness.
Third, the Bible does not teach that we should contact angels. If God wants to send us an angel, that is His business, but we must never give them credit for anything… they are repeatedly presented as scandalized by human attention and adoration (Revelation 22:8-9).
The bottom line is that we can detect the evil angels by their distortions of biblical truth.
Q: A final word?
A: Let us accept the angel stories of Christmas with gladness and joy. Let us rejoice that God created these beings to help us in our time of need. Yet, some day, we shall be above them, for as brothers with Jesus, we shall be heirs and joint heirs with Him! Meanwhile, angels are with us to help us in our journey home.