Angels, God's Invisible AgentsErwin W. Lutzer | July 15, 2012
Selected highlights from this sermon
Every single angel was individually created by God. They have intellect, emotion, and will.
By looking at a snapshot of the prophet Elisha’s life, we will learn a lot about angels—and about God. And by the end of the message, we’ll see that though God has a myriad of angels standing ready to do His bidding, He doesn’t have to use them to accomplish His will.
The invisible world! It’s out there. You can go on the Internet. You can watch television and they’ll talk about the paranormal world. They’ll speak about instances where people encounter ghosts in houses. And there are those who actually go looking for these ghosts, and in some instances find them, because there are haunted houses, after all. But the people who go looking for these spirits have no idea the kind of spirit they are looking for, and even if they find them, they have no idea regarding their origin or their intention or what they are up to. What a world we live in! People are interested in the normally unseen, and they are doing what they can to interpret it.
How different it is when we open the pages of the Bible because there we discover that in addition to God who is, of course, unseen, there are only two kinds of spirits in the world. There are angels and there are demons, and if our eyes were opened to the spirit world, I think that we would be surprised at the amount of activity around us that is taking place all the time. There is a veritable buzz, so to speak, in the spirit world. And there are, yes, only angels and demons, and today we are going to speak about angels because a couple of messages back I spoke about the occult and we spoke about the demons and Satan.
Today we speak about angels, and there is in America an angel craze. There are some places where you can go to an angel store devoted to trinkets and paraphernalia that have to do with angels, and people again don’t understand the distinctions that happen. We had a television show on angels and how the angels are able to bless people and to help people. And right now I am checking my notes to see what that television program was. Yes–Touched by an Angel. It was that good feeling program that was family-oriented of all kinds of stories of people in distress and someone comes to deliver them. What many don’t realize is that that particular series was loaded with cultural theology that is unbiblical and wrong.
For example, the idea was that there are angels floating around wanting to do nice things for almost anyone. It doesn’t matter who you are. It doesn’t matter what you believe. They will show up and they will do it. People didn’t understand that there are two different kinds of angels in the atmosphere. And there are those that are evil angels but they will be turned into angels of light and do you good, and if they can deceive you and make sure you are not afraid to die, they are willing to help along the road of life.
Well, today here are a few facts about angels before we get to an amazing story in the Bible. First of all, they were created by God. Psalm 145 lists the moon and the sun and the angels, and it says, “At thy command they were created.” I love that. “At thy command they were created.” God spoke and boom they were there. And they were there by the multiplied millions, at His Word, created by God because there are no baby angels. Jesus made this very clear. They do not procreate. They do not multiply like human beings, so they were individually created by God.
They are persons. You see, the test for personality is intellect, emotion and will, and angels have all of that very clearly. The fact that they are spirit beings doesn’t mean that they don’t have intelligence. Of course they do. Look at the Bible. Look at the messages they bring. Look at the fact that they want to look into the whole story of redemption. Clearly they have intelligence. They have emotions. There are things that cause them joy. There are things that cause them sadness, and they have a will. After all, a third of them, according to Revelation 12, fell with Lucifer, so they chose against God (the one-third did), so they have wills. They are personalities.
They are also all originally holy. Here’s the verse I ought to preach on some time. It says in Mark 8 that when Jesus comes, “Those who are ashamed,” Jesus said, “of me and my words in this adulterous generation, of that person I shall be ashamed when I come with my Father’s glory with the holy angels.”
You know, there are some people who think that the return of Jesus is going to be a happy experience for everyone. Well, Jesus said, “If you are ashamed of me, I’ll be ashamed of you.” Think about that for a moment. “But when I come with the holy angels,” he said. Originally all of them were holy because they were created by God, and of course, they were all holy. And they have rank and organization. You have Michael, for example, who is the chief angel–Michael, the Archangel.
You know, when Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 4 that when the Lord comes in the Rapture, He shall come in the clouds and the voice of the Archangel is going to be giving the charge. He doesn’t even have to name him because everybody knows based on other passages in Scripture that that’s Michael who is going to be giving the charge. He is in charge of the host of angels.
And then you have some angels like Gabriel whose main responsibility is to communicate messages. According to the book of Daniel there are also angels that are chief princes, which means that there is a whole category that has a great deal of influence, and a great deal of relationship, and beyond that you have principalities and powers, all organized very, very well, just like the demonic side of the spirit world is also well organized. And so that’s what the Bible says about angels.
And in Hebrews 1:14 it says that they are sent to be ministers to those who are heirs of salvation, namely believers.
When you think of angels in relationship to the unconverted, read the book of Revelation, and there you see them heaping judgment on the world. You know, I was thinking about this. When John fell before an angel in the book of Revelation, the angel said, “No, don’t fall before me.” Obviously you never want to worship an angel. He said, “Don’t fall before me,” and then the angel said, “I am a fellow servant.” Isn’t that beautiful? Angels are fellow servants. They are there to help us and to minister to those who are heirs of salvation, and what that means will become a little clearer as this message proceeds.
But now for the story! And you have to see this in your Bibles so that you know that I am not making this story up. This is in 2 Kings 6. Let me just tell the whole story to you, and then what we’re going to do is go back and try to grasp why this message and this story should be life-transforming for all of us, and why we should leave, studying God’s Word differently than when we began because the power of the Word transforms us. It’s overwhelming.
So with that background, here’s what happened. The king of Syria (and this is not modern Syria as such) is warring with the king of Israel. And the king of Syria says, “You know I’m going to bring my troops over here.” And he’s plotting that, and lo and behold, it’s very clear that the king of Israel knows exactly what’s going to happen because then he withdraws the troops from the area. He is ready for the attack, and this happens a couple of times.
So the king of Syria is very distressed and believes that there is someone within his ranks who is a spy. But one of his servants, clearly heard of the prophet, Elisha (not Elijah–it’s easy to get them confused because they were contemporaries, but I hope that I remember today that it is Elisha). You’ll notice he says in verse 12 to one of his servants (that is, the king of Syria’s servant), “No, my Lord, oh king, but Elisha the prophet who is in Israel tells the king of Israel the words that you speak in your bedroom.” He’s saying, “Your most private conversations are known to Elisha, who then goes and tells the king of Israel what you, the king of Syria, are going to do.”
Now either Elisha had some very big ears, or more probably, God was telling Elisha exactly what the king of Syria was saying. So the king of Syria says, “Okay, where’s Elisha?” They said, “Dothan.” By the way I’ve been to Dothan many years ago. It’s about ten miles north of Samaria. But he says in verse 13, “Go and see where he is that I may send and seize him.” It was told him, “Behold he is in Dothan” so he sends horses, and chariots and a great army, and they came by night and surrounded the city. You talk about overkill. I mean, you know, if you want to get one guy, you send horses and chariots and your big army? I mean, talk about shooting a roach with a shotgun.
I think there’s somebody who wants to write a country song, and if I remember correctly, the title is, “Get the hammer, Mama. There’s a fly on Papa’s head.” (laughter) And this is a little bit of overkill actually. Maybe you don’t need exactly a hammer now but nonetheless the king says, “We’re going to get that guy,” so he sends a whole army (the Bible says a vast army) of chariots and horses to capture Elisha.
Well, what happens is this. Verse 15 says, “When the servant of the man of God (this is the servant of Elisha now) arose early in the morning and went out, behold an army with horses and chariots was all around the city, and the servant said, “Alas, my master, what shall we do?”
Put yourself in the position, as I have, of being the servant. That’s where we are. And remember the situation now. This would be, as someone said, equivalent to you waking up and finding tanks all around your house and when you look at the labels carefully you realize that it says North Korea, and you are going to have a very bad day.
Well, Elisha is speaking to the servant and he said in verse 16, “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” Let me ask you something. Would that have cut mustard with you? If you had been there would you have said, “Oh, that’s enough for me, oh man of God.”
Let’s just change the illustration a little bit. You are driving along the street. It’s midnight and you’ve just driven over a series of sharp objects. All four tires of your car are slashed. Gang members surround you. Some of them have guns. Some of them have knives. Some of them have chunks of iron and stones, and they begin breaking the windows, and you say to the person next to you, “Do not be afraid. Behold there are more with us than are with them.” And the person says, “Why, of course! Forgive me for my anxiety.” (laughter) Uh-uh, uh-uh! You need something more than just the word of a man of God at that point.
Elisha knew that and here’s the miracle that has occurred only here in the Bible, at least a miracle like this. Don’t expect one like this for yourself, but there is a reason why it happened here so that we might learn. And Elisha prayed and said in verse 17, “Oh Lord, please open his eyes that he may see.” And so the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold the mountain was full of horses and chariots and fire all around Elisha.
Wow! There’s a spirit world out there and notice it says that there was now a vast army. There are more who are with us than with them because there are myriads of angels. In fact, the Bible says 10,000 times 10,000. I haven’t figured it out but that clearly is in the multiplied millions, and there are many of them, and this army is bigger.
And let me say a word about angels. They are spirit beings but sometimes God gives them the opportunity and the ability to actually become physical. That’s why in the Old Testament there are those who entertained angels unawares, as did Abraham. There are stories even today of where people have appeared out of nowhere to help someone and when they turned around to thank them the person has disappeared. I know somebody to whom that happened and I have every reason to believe the possibility at least that this was an angel sent by God in a time of distress.
Let’s think theologically here for a moment. Even Satan must also have something like that ability because he did quote Scripture, and a spirit couldn’t quote Scripture. He’d have to have some kind of a physical form to make sure that those little puffs of air (which is the way in which we communicate words) would be given to Jesus. And in this instance God allowed these angels to somehow, whether literally or figuratively, take the form of angels, chariots, the fire (symbolic of God), and these beings are surrounding the town of Dothan, and there are, just like the man of God said, more of God’s angels than there were members of the Syrian army.
What a story! But let’s continue it. And later on it says that Elisha said that the Lord opened his eyes (verse 18) and when the Syrians came down against him, Elisha prays now a different prayer. He says, “Lord, please strike this people with blindness,” so God struck them with blindness in accordance with the prayer of Elisha. And Elisha says sarcastically (this is really funny), “This is not the way and this is not the city. Follow me and I will bring you to the man whom you seek.” (chuckles) Of course they are seeking him and he says, “Uh-uh, you don’t really want me. You want the king of Israel. Let me take you to Samaria.” Well they are blind. What are they going to do? They are going to have to follow him, and so they go the ten miles to Samaria, and the king of Israel is elated and wants to kill them. I’ll summarize the story but Elisha says, “No, don’t kill them. Let’s make a feast for them. Set bread and water before them (I’m in verse 22) that they may eat, and then go to their master. So he prepared for them a great feast and when they had eaten and drunk he sent them away and they went to their master, and the Syrians did not come again on raids into the land of Israel, at least for a time. Later on they did again, but that staved off the invasion. What a story!
What I’d like to do now is to give you four truths that I believe will be transforming for you tomorrow and in the days ahead. And whether you are here today as a student, or whether you are here today as a businessman or housewife, no matter what your profession, I want to encourage you today and I want you to leave with the confidence that God is on your side. So here are the four transforming truths.
Number one, it is important to realize that God’s Word is more powerful than the armies of the world. By the way, what I want to do in the next moments is to get you from verse 15 to verse 17. The real agenda that you and I have is how do we live in the world that you can see, which is a very real world, in such a way that we nonetheless derive our encouragement and our strength from the world that you can’t see? That’s where we are going in the next few moments.
And so first of all, please notice carefully that God’s Word is more powerful than these armies. When God wants to defend Israel, God is able to intervene and He has multiple armies and various strategies at His disposal that He can deploy at any moment to defend His people whenever He wants to defend them because God is sovereign and God is the one who rules in the affairs of men.
The best way to illustrate this is Pilate. Imagine Pilate is standing in the presence of Jesus, and he says, “Do you not know that I have power to crucify you and power to release you?” Boy, that sounds confident. Oh, imagine the words of Jesus. You know them by memory, don’t you? Jesus looks at him and calmly says, “Thou would have no power at all against me unless it were given to thee from above.” Wow!
“Pilate, don’t you know that the air that you breathe, don’t you know that the brains that I gave you, don’t you know that the position that you are now in is all because I have allowed it? It is under My hands. You can do nothing– absolutely nothing–unless I gave you the ability to do it.” And when we look at what is happening in America, and think of the designs of radical Islam and the number of Christians throughout the world that are being persecuted and killed today simply because they are Christians, and when we remember that God’s Word is more powerful than the armies and the designs of men who strut on the stage of history, believing themselves to be strong, we remember that when God wants to defend His people He has adequate resources to do it. (applause) And they can do nothing unless it is given to them from above. You need to hang on to that in a world that has lost its way. God is confidently in charge.
There’s a second lesson. The first is that God’s Word is more powerful than the armies of the world. Secondly, did you notice that Elisha’s prayer did not bring the angels? Elisha’s prayer only opened the eyes of the servant to see angels that were already there. They were already in place and Elisha knew it and whether he could see them or not at that point I don’t know, but Elisha was absolutely confident that in the midst of the situation where everyone was ganging up on him, where a whole army was sent to cut off his head, that he could stand there with utter confidence, believing without wavering that if God wanted to deliver him, He could. And also believing that at all times, when it comes to believers there are more on our side than there are on the enemy’s side because God has already won the victory. There is no use praying, “Oh God, send angels.” The angels were already there. Just open your eyes and see what God has already done. That is always my greatest need and that is your greatest need as well always, that we might be able to see what God has done.
There are so many things we pray for that really God has already accomplished. For example, we say, “Lord, defeat Satan.” Well, Satan has been crushed and defeated. Now he is out on bond. I understand that. He’s out on bail and he’s doing a lot of damage, but when we confront him our prayer should be one of thanksgiving. “Oh God, I thank you for the defeat of Satan. I thank you that that has already been accomplished and I stand now on what you’ve done, rather than asking you to do something more, except to apply what you have done to my situation,” because God is God and He is totally sovereign over your situation.
And you know we pray and say, “God bless us,” and it’s okay to pray that way. I’m sure that I pray that way many times for specific situations, but how about this verse in Ephesians? He has blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ. How about a prayer that says, “Lord, you’ve blessed me with all spiritual blessings. Help me to know what they are, and how they can be applied to my life. It’s already done. The blessing has already been given to me in Jesus.” So Elisha’s prayer didn’t bring the angels. It only revealed them.
There’s another lesson and that is that only God can open people’s eyes, and also blind them. You’ll notice that the text says very clearly here, “And the Lord opened the servant’s eyes.” Who else could do that? Could Elisha do that and say, “Well, you know what I’d like for you to do? I’d like for you to be able to appear into the spirits’ world. Here are some eye drops that will help you to do that.” Uh-uh! The spirits’ world is ultimately God’s domain even though you have angels and demons interfacing all the time in that spirit world. The fact is that only God can open our eyes to see spiritual truth. I don’t expect ever to see angels the way in which Elisha and the servant saw them. But the Bible says this in Ephesians 1. This is why Paul says, “This is the way we ought to pray for one another.” You know, sometimes we say, “Well, I don’t know how to pray for these missionaries. What are their needs?” You always know the needs of the missionaries, missionaries you’ve never met, missionaries in countries whose name you cannot pronounce. You know in advance what their need is because it’s mentioned there in Ephesians 1:19. It says, “The eyes of your heart, I’m praying that they might be enlightened, that you might know the hope of your calling, and God’s inheritance in the saints,” and then he goes on to talk about the sovereignty of Jesus who is above every principality and every power and every name that is named. And if you don’t know how to pray for a missionary, you pray that prayer, because my greatest need and your greatest need is always to see the triumph of Jesus and to have the eyes of our hearts open so that we can grasp it. Apart from the power of the Spirit we can’t.
And the Bible says this regarding faith in Hebrews 11:1. “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for.” Let’s take this slowly. “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, and the conviction of things unseen.” We are, after all, in a series of messages on the unseen world. Faith is the conviction of things unseen based on the promises of God, based on the teaching of God through His Word. And so the way in which we encounter the world is to know that that spirit world, if we are believers, is on our side in the sense that God is on our side, and nothing is happening without His permission. Satan cannot wiggle unless God says, “Okay, I’m giving you permission to wiggle.” And so, as a result of that, faith is built into our hearts–the eyes of our hearts, being enlightened that we might know the hope of our calling.
How do you know when this has happened to somebody? What’s the practical test on whether or not somebody really gets it or doesn’t get it? The way you find out is you listen to them pray. And if their prayer is just begging, begging, begging, they don’t get it. But if their prayer is, “Oh God, these are my needs (and we explain it all to God)” and we say, “Would you get it, God? Do I have to go over this again for you, maybe tomorrow?” You know, that’s the way we sometimes come to God as if we are talking to an uncle who just doesn’t understand that we need money. And so we explain it to God over and over again.
Well, we don’t have to do that, but here’s the test. Are you just simply asking God or are you thanking God? After all, if God be for us who can be against us. If you begin to thank God for situations even that are distressful, if you begin to thank God for battles that are taking place in your soul, because you see the greater glory that comes to God even when those battles are won, when you begin to live that way, then you begin to realize that God is in control, and your eyes are opened. And as for the Syrians, God blinded them, and then when they got to Samaria God opened their eyes. What a miracle that was, and they discovered that there they are in Samaria, right where the king is, the king that they were not looking for, namely the king of Israel.
Finally, it’s not necessary for us to see angels in order to appreciate them. Let me ask you a question. What would have happened if the servant had not had his eyes opened? Would the horses and chariots of fire have been around the mountain anyway? Of course! We don’t see angels, to my way of thinking. I don’t think that I have ever seen one, though I have lived with somebody who comes close to that. I’ll just let that remark float out there and you can do with it whatever you want, but we don’t see angels. In fact, here’s the interesting thing. Look at the text. God never even used these chariots of fire. They were just on call in case he needed them. I don’t see any work here on the part of the chariots of fire. The army comes toward Elisha and God blinded them. He prayed to the Lord. Obviously he didn’t pray to the angels. Don’t ever do that. But he prays to the Lord and God blinds them. And that’s the way that the battle was won, and all right angels, you can all go home now. The matter has been taken care of.
I believe that God always has angels on call because they love to serve – not because He actually needs them. But they love to be used, and sometimes He doesn’t use them when it may appear as if it is rational to do so. Here is Jesus being carried away, and what does He say? You know, Peter is taking out his sword and slapping the high priest and cutting off his ear, and Jesus said, “Could I not have called ten legions of angels to deliver me?” Wow! I forget how many ten legions are but it’s plenty. And I see these angels just hovering over Jesus and saying, “Just give us a command and we’ll take care of everybody who is crucifying you and everybody who has ever hated you and we’ll get rid of them–zap!” Jesus said, “I can call you, but I am not. I am glad they are there,” and sometimes God does not allow angels to protect us. You know that there are times when there are, I believe, guardian angels, based on Matthew 18, at least for children. Sometimes God does not have those angels protect the children, and we’ve had some terrible examples in the news recently where that has happened. The angels are on call but God has different purposes and so He may not use them. And even here the chariots of fire were more for the servant than they were because God decided to use the angels in a victory, though sometimes He does.
Now, the Bible says that the angels are ministering spirits sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation. How do they minister to us, and how do we appreciate them even if we don’t see them?
First of all, they rejoiced when you were converted. Jesus said in Luke 15, “If a woman is looking for a coin, and can’t find it, and then she rejoices when the coin is found….” A little personal word here! On Friday I made the notes for this message and then I finished them yesterday morning and suddenly the notes disappeared. I mean, I looked everywhere. Rebecca was beginning to help me look for these notes. I must have spent a half hour, and there they were. They were on my desk just moments ago. That was the unbelievable thing. I had just finished them. What happened to them?
Have you ever had the experience of losing something and you looked in a hundred places where it could never possibly be? That was me looking for these notes yesterday. I didn’t want to redo these notes and I didn’t have to. They were actually interspersed with some other sermon notes so I am glad I eventually found them. But here’s the point that Jesus is making. He’s saying if a woman with a coin rejoices when the coin is found, and if indeed somebody rejoices because some pieces of paper were found, how much more will the angels in heaven rejoice when a soul repents?
Could I ask you a question? Have you caused the angels in heaven to rejoice? Was there a cosmic celebration in heaven because you came to saving faith in Christ and you believed on Him and all of heaven said, “Wow! Another believer! Praise God! Yeah, that’s what happens at your conversion. Then, of course, they protect us during out lifetime. I already mentioned sometimes that is not an absolute kind of protection. It’s all governed by God. And then they welcome us into heaven.
You know, Luke 16 tells about the rich man who dies and goes into Hades, and then Lazarus, the poor beggar. The big contrast there is that you have a man with money who is lost, and someone who begged at his table and ate with the dogs under the table, and lo and behold because of his faith in Jesus Christ and in Jehovah he gets to go to Abraham’s bosom, and it says angels carried him into Abraham’s bosom.
As you probably know I have never died, but I suspect that when I do and you do, and when my parents did, yes, they would see Jesus in a moment of time, but even before that there may be angels that carried them to where Jesus is. Don’t ever worship those angels, but you know, I have to say this. I admire those angels for this reason. The Bible says in 1 Peter that regarding salvation in the time of Jesus Christ’s coming these were things that the angels desired to look into. They are so enamored with our redemption, and catch this, they don’t have one ounce of jealousy, even though some day we are going to be elevated above them. There is no question about it. We will be above the angels, and the reason is angels can serve God and they can do these wonderful things, but one thing an angel can never do is to be a brother of Jesus. And the Bible says that because we are brothers of Jesus, we become heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Jesus Christ. Whatever Jesus inherits, the Bible says we will inherit because of Him, and the angels know that and still love us and still rejoice in our redemption. There’s not an ounce of envy in these marvelous beings that God has created.
Well, the question is, how do we prepare for the unseen world? Well, we’ve already hinted at it, and that is this. The unseen world, the Bible says, is eternal. The seen world is temporal. Everything is going to be burned up, the Bible says. All of our sermon notes are going to be burned up, possibly before the end of time, might I say? (chuckles) Everything we’ve ever created is going to be all burned up.
What manner of people ought we to be? Well, the answer, of course, is this, that it is through faith in Jesus Christ and trusting Him as our Savior, and receiving His grace and His love. He says, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No man comes to the Father but by me. No man comes into that unseen world prepared for heaven apart from me.”
So where is your soul today? Have you trusted Christ as Savior, or are you kind of trusting the fact that you are a nice person? That might make you a good neighbor but it’ll never take you to heaven. Jesus is the way, the only way and I urge you to believe on Him and be saved. And let’s remember that we can draw strength from the invisible world, the Holy Spirit and the Father and the Son while we live in a very visible, confusing world.
Would you join me as we pray? And if you have never trusted Christ as your Savior, even while I am praying why don’t you reach out to Him and say, “Jesus, today I believe on you. I want to cause the angels in heaven to have a celebration because I receive Him as mine.”
Father, help us to be encouraged when we realize that we have more on our side than others do on theirs. And even though we may experience death and destruction, and health issues and financial issues, at the end of the day You are ready with so many options to help us, and You do help your people. Give us confidence today, oh God, we ask, and build our faith. Show us our inheritance, that we might give You praise. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.