Scripture Reference: Hebrews 1:14, 1 Peter 1:12, Revelation 12
The Angels We AppreciateDr. Erwin W. Lutzer | October 29, 2006
Selected highlights from this sermon
What are angels? In this message, Pastor Lutzer describes the good angels: what they are like and what they do. We learn that they are God’s messengers, who bring His Word, protect His people, and exert His judgment.
Though we may marvel at them and their abilities, we should never worship them. And, as Christians, though we are below them for the remainder of this age, the day is coming when we’ll take our place by Christ and rule over God’s creation—including the angels.
I begin today with a question: do angels exist? Yes, for sure angels exist. There are references to angels one hundred and eight times in the Old Testament and one hundred and sixty-five times in the New Testament. There are reasons why there are more references in the New Testament. And it is not just the Bible that confirms it, although that would be enough for us. It’s the fact that people have had experiences with angels. There is no doubt that they exist.
John Pighton, who was a missionary in the Heberdees, tells the story of natives who were going to kill him and his wife. They were in a hut and they prayed all night and the natives eventually left. Later on when one was converted he asked him, “What happened that night?” He said, “Your whole hut was surrounded by men with armor and shinning swords.” Yes, angels do exist.
Today we live in a day of over belief in angels. Due to the revival of ancient Gnosticism we find that people are into angels. I took time a week ago to stop at the Transitions Bookstore just to look at the shelf of books on angels. I didn’t buy any because I was just interested in the titles. For example, one title was How to Connect with Your Guardian Angel and another, How You Can Get Angels on Your Side, and others on how to access these entities. Our nation is flooded with the idea of angels.
This is a revival of ancient paganism. Paul says in the book of Colossians that those who venerate angels go into detail about experiences they have had. Doesn’t that happen today? Some of the stories we hear about dramatic rescues and so forth could be from the angels of God. That is a possibility.
But we live in a time when one of the most popular shows was “Touched by an Angel.” The basic plot line was always the same. In each show a person is in trouble and an angel comes along and helps the person resolve the crisis and everybody feels good. It is loaded with cultural theology; a non Christian view of man and God, with angels just out there trying to do all kinds of things for anybody. That is not the picture of angels in the Bible.
Today we are going to limit our discussion to what the Bible teaches about the good angels or the angels that we appreciate. The Bible also refers to them as the “elect” angels. They were persevered from falling by a divine decree. Normally I ask you to turn to various passages, but we have so many of them that I will just refer to them or quote the passage rather than having you turn to a particular passage. That is unusual because I do want you to bring your Bibles to church. But today we are looking at the whole story and we are doing it so briefly that I simply want you to follow me.
First of all, I have a couple of words about the nature of angels. What are they like? First, they are spirit beings. Do they have a body? Yes, but it is a spirit body, if I can put it that way. That means that they are not omnipresent. They can’t be everywhere at once. When the angel Gabrielle was communicating with Daniel in Babylon he could not at the same time have been in Jerusalem. Later on he shows up in Jerusalem and speaks to Zacharias and then later in Nazareth and he speaks to Mary. He can’t be in all those places simultaneously, though evidently he can fly from one place to another rather quickly. They have spirit bodies. They were created by God and they will exist forever even as we will exist forever.
The next question is do they have personality? Generally it is said that the test for personality is intelligence, emotion, and will. Do they have intelligence? Oh, yes. They can communicate and talk. We see them there on the stone that they rolled away from the sepulcher on resurrection morning communicating and talking. Of course they have intelligence! In fact, a passage that is very critical to our message today is I Peter chapter one, verse twelve, where it talks about salvation. It says, “These things the angels long to look into.” One translation says, “They desire to look into these things.” Yes, they have intelligence.
Do they have emotion? Yes! Sometimes in the Bible the angels are talked about as stars. In the thirty-eighth chapter of Job it says that at creation, “The morning stars sang together for joy.” If I could use my imagination then I would say that God lined up the hundreds of millions of angels that existed before he created the worlds and he got them all in line and said, “Watch this!” God spoke the word and the stars were created and the planets were created. No wonder they shouted for joy. Luke chapter fifteen, verse ten says that they rejoice over one sinner who repents. There is a cosmic celebration in heaven every time somebody gets saved on earth. Yes, they do have emotion.
Do they have a will? Yes, they have a will. Satan, who was the most glorious of the angels before he fell, had a will. Seven times he says, “I will.” The next message on this series on Doctrine is entitled, “The Devil Whom We Abhor.” You will want to be here for that and please invite your friends to hear the message on the devil.
But today we continue to talk about the good angels and their form of appearance. They can come in different ways, all subject to the will and purpose of God. Joseph is wondering whether or not he should marry Mary, to whom he was engaged. An angel appears to him in a dream and says, “Joseph, don’t fear to take unto you Mary as your wife.” Then the angel explains that she is of child with the Holy Spirit. They can come in a dream.
However, most often they have the ability to actualize themselves. When they do they most often look like an ordinary human being. Abraham entertains three men and they eat with him and afterwards he realizes that he has entertained angels. That’s the basis for the statement in the book of Hebrews where it says, “Don’t neglect to invite strangers in, because thereby some have entertained angels unaware.” They also come and they rescue Lot from Sodom. In fact, they look so much like men that the men of Sodom wanted to have relations with them. So that is their appearance that they often take as human beings.
What about the ministry of angels? What do they do? Well, they certainly worship God. One of the categories of angels, and there are many categories, is the seraphim. The actual word is “burning ones.” They are before the throne and they give praise to God. “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.”
The Bible says in Hebrews chapter one, verse fourteen, which would be a key text for a lot of what I have to say today, that they are ministering spirits sent forth to minister to those who are heirs of salvation. Do you realize that angels, under God’s direction, become our servants? We should not be surprised that they are frequently called messengers in the Bible. In fact, that is what the word “angel” means. God uses them to communicate and to send messages to people.
For example, we have already talked about Gabrielle going to Zacharias and later on to Mary. Then you have the story of the incarnation. An angel comes to the shepherds and they of course are terrified. He says, “Fear not, for unto you today is born in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.” They are communicating a message. The Bible says in Psalm 103 that angels are spirits who obey the voice of God’s word. Much of the book of Daniel and the book of Revelation were actually communicated to Daniel and to John by an angel. Angels are used by God to communicate messages.
What about protection? Three stories in the book of Acts talk about the work of angels. First of all, the Apostles are in jail and an angel comes and opens the door of the prison and says, “Go stand and speak in the presence of the people.” That is in Acts chapter five.
I think one of the most dramatic is in Acts chapter twelve where Peter is in prison sleeping and the angel of the Lord nudges him and wakes him up and says, “Get your clothes on.” I was reading that this week and I thought, “Of course you would have to tell him to do that because Peter was totally terrified.” If an angel came to you and you were sleeping I think he would have to tell you to put on your clothes. He says, “Put on your sandals, put on your cloak and take your robe as well.”
Then the doors open. I can visualize this. It is like shopping at Dominick’s. You’ve got your cart and you begin toward the doors and suddenly they just open. The doors of the prison open and Peter walks out. Later on he goes to where they are having a prayer meeting and a girl comes to the door and she can’t believe it. She said, “It is his angel.” The people didn’t believe that God had answered their prayers and gotten Peter out of prison.
Paul was also in a difficult dilemma. He was having a trail where his own life was at stake. He says, “An angel of the Lord came and stood by me and gave me this message.” Yes, God uses angels to connect with us, to communicate with us, and sometimes to bring messages to the human race.
They are also there at our death. As we shall see they are very interested in salvation. About thirty years ago my wife and I were coming from Canada, Rebecca was driving the car, and I was thinking that I might be having a heart attack. I didn’t really have any pain but I was suddenly finding it hard to breath. I thought, “What if I die here in the car?” The first thing I thought of was, “I will see Jesus.” But I also thought, “I will see angels.” In the sixteenth chapter of the book of Luke it says that when Lazarus died, it was angels that carried him into Abraham’s bosom. They will be there at your death.
Did you know that when the five missionaries were martyred in Central America back in the 1950’s by the Auca Indians that a whole choir of angels showed up? This of course was not discovered at the time that the murders took place.
However, when some of the murderers came to saving faith in Jesus Christ they were invited to the homes of other missionaries. These missionaries were playing records of Christian music and choirs. They said, “That is exactly what we heard when the killings were taking place. All throughout the trees we were hearing this music.” There is no doubt in my mind that angels showed up at the killing of these five young, wonderful missionaries.
I have a nephew who was killed in a car accident. He was in the back seat of a car at fifteen years old with another young woman and they are studying the book of John. They are memorizing the book of John because they are on their way to a Bible Quiz. In the front seat on the passenger side there was a young mother who was supervising the young people. There was also a young driver. They hit a patch of ice, a truck hits them, and all three are killed except the driver.
We were told that when it happened there was a man that was there at the scene of the accident but he disappeared. Nobody saw him again. We can’t be sure, but quite possibly it was an angel showing up at the scene of the accident. Perhaps angels guide people who die and take them all the way to heaven. Angels become our servants. They are ministering spirits sent forth to minister to those who shall be heirs of salvation.
They also execute judgment for God. Angels do have a ministry to the unsaved. You look at the Old Testament and see they are involved in the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. They are involved in the plagues of Egypt. They win battles against the Assyrians. One angel killed thousands in a single night. You look at the book of Revelation and discover that it is angels that are involved in judgments. They hold back the judgment and then according to God’s good timing and his will they release the judgments on the earth.
Angels will also return with Jesus when he returns. I read the passage last night in II Thessalonians. It says Jesus will come, “With his mighty angels who shall execute judgment on those who know not God and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.” No matter where Jesus goes, angels are there with him. It is all part of the works of God on this planet.
Then you have Michael. First of all, he has an argument with Satan over the body of Jesus. We are not sure exactly what that is about, but it is interesting because the Bible says that Satan had the gull to slander God’s angel, Michael. Can you imagine the nerve that he has? He is a slanderer. If you are a slanderer then you are doing Satan’s work. That is really what the word “Satan” or “Devil” means. Michael didn’t hurl an accusation at him but said, “The Lord rebuke you. I am going to let God take care of this.” This is found in the book of Jude.
Then later on in Revelation chapter twelve there is war in heaven. Michael and his angels are warring against the dragon and his angels and they are cast down. The defeated angels are very, very angry because they know that their time is short. Those angels are the ones who will be confined forever in a place called hell. The Bible says that there is torment there day and night. That is where they are headed.
Angels are also very interested in us. Paul says in I Corinthians that women should make sure that they are in subjection to men. That is the way in which we can contemporize the context. Paul then says to do it because of the angels. You read that and say, “Why would angels be interested in the way in which we worship?” Well, they have seen insubordination, they have seen rebellion, and they are very concerned that a church service be done decently and in order. I have absolutely no doubt that angels are here observing us worship God.
In fact, we have had people who are demonized, people who have evil spirits, who find it difficult to come into the church. Somebody said to me once, “I could get as far as the church steps but I couldn’t come in.” Now why would that be? Perhaps God, in his grace, gives us angels here that make this an entirely different place. It is not a substitute for the presence of God, don’t get me wrong. But angels do observe our worship.
Today we are going to be questioning a young man, Steve Mason, about his doctrine with a view to ordaining him. In light of that this morning I was reading I Timothy chapter five, verse twenty-one, where Paul is speaking to Timothy, who was younger. He says, “Timothy, be sure to keep these rules. I am charging you to do that before God and the elect angels.” So angles will be there to watch what happens.
There are two truths that should absolutely fascinate us and be transforming to us. That is what I want you to lay hold of today. The first one is our exultation as sinners. I want you to grab hold of this today and not let it go. The Bible says that we as human beings are for a little time lower than the angels but we are going to be exalted above them. We will not have their bodies or be able to fly like they do. We will have our new bodies that are given to us. The Bible says we shall see Christ like he is and we will be like him. We are going to be exalted far above them in authority.
You say, “Why is that? Why would we be above the angels?” Despite all of their advantages, there is something they do not have. I am sure we have all often thought it would be wonderful to be an angel. Yet if you are a believer in Jesus today, don’t trade places. Angels were created independently or discretely. That is to say that God created a whole host of them, hundreds of millions, which is very clear from the Scripture. Yet they have no family connections.
For example, they do not procreate, as Jesus explained. Angels have no uncles, aunts, cousins, mothers or fathers. They do not share any family relationship with Jesus Christ. No angel could ever call Jesus Christ a brother. The reason we inherit what Jesus inherits is because the Bible says we are Jesus Christ’s brother. The Scripture says, “We shall be heirs with God and joint heirs with Jesus Christ.” When the title deed of the universe is read and Jesus receives his inheritance, we participate in that inheritance.
Now if I still haven’t wrung your bell at this point, keep listening. Then the Bible says that we shall rule with Jesus Christ in the kingdom and then we will reign with him forever and ever. We will have an exultation that is above the angels. We are only for a little while lower than the angels.
The apostle Paul says in I Corinthians chapter six, “Can’t you as elders settle disputes within the church? Do you have to go outside of the church to settle those disputes? Do you not know that you shall judge angels?” I think that the word “judge” there does not mean “adjudicate” as much as it does that we will rule over angels. Angles will eventually be a part of God’s creation over which we have control.
Jesus makes an amazing statement in the book of Revelation. I wouldn’t give it to you unless he said it. He says, “To he who overcomes, to him I shall grant to sit with me on my throne, even as I overcame and sat with my Father on his throne.” If there is anything that should grip our souls today and be transforming it is the fact that we as sinners, who don’t deserve anything, are graciously going to be exalted above the angels. God says, “You are going to be on display throughout all of eternity so that angels or anyone else that is watching may behold my grace and my wisdom forever.” How could somebody who sinks so low in the end be exalted so high? That is one thing that should grip us today.
But there is something else that should stir us with equal passion and depth, which is that the angels themselves are so interested in salvation. Earlier I quoted I Peter chapter one, verse twelve, where it talks about the fact that the prophets were trying to understand who the Messiah would be and when he was going to come. They were puzzled. They made these prophesies but they couldn’t fit them in and they didn’t know the time when Jesus was coming, just like we do not know the time when he is coming again. We are trying to figure it out just like the prophets tried to figure it out the first time.
Then Peter says, “And these things the angels desire to look into.” That is interesting. The angles were on hand when Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden. In fact, when man was driven out of the Garden of Eden God protected the Garden so that they wouldn’t eat from the Tree of Life as unredeemed sinners and live forever. God says, “I am going to use death as a means to get them into my presence.”
The Bible says that God sent cherubim, which are angles, to guard the gate of the garden so that mankind could not go in. The cherubim and a flaming sword were set there because God said, “You’re not going back to Eden. You can’t recreate paradise; it’s all lost. From now on I am going to become a redeeming God, and some people are going to benefit from that redemption, but that’s the end of that particular era.” So angles were there and they saw it.
They were there when God chose Abraham. In fact, some of them showed up for lunch and Abraham fed them, as I mentioned earlier. They were also there a little later on when Jacob needed some comfort because he was going to meet Esau the next day. The Bible says, “The angels of God met him.” They were there. Angels were also on hand when the book of Daniel was written. In fact, Gabriel was sent specifically to help Daniel write his book and bring him the messages from God about the coming of Jesus Christ that would eventually happen.
Now Jesus is born in Bethlehem. They tell the shepherds, “Unto you this day is born in the city of David a Savior.” They say that and then what? “Suddenly there is with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace and goodwill among men!’” I’m saying to myself, “Why are they so excited by redemption that they themselves do not participate in?” These are the elect angels who don’t need redemption. There they are absolutely praising God and thrilled that Jesus came to save sinners who eventually are going to be exalted above them! Why all this excitement?
Then after Jesus is born he grows up and dies on a cross. He goes up to heaven from the Mount of Olives and who is there? First of all, who is there at the Resurrection? Angels are there! By the way, it says regarding one of the angels at the scene of the Resurrection, “A young man in shiny garments.” I have to smile. These angels were created hundreds of thousands of years ago and they can still look young. Doesn’t that make you long for heaven?
So the angels are there at the Resurrection and then Jesus ascends to heaven. Two angels are there saying, “‘Why are you looking steadfastly into heaven? This same Jesus who went from you into heaven will likewise come again as you have seen him go into heaven.’” Then when Jesus returns the Bible says, “The angels are there to gather the elect from the four corners of the earth and to judge those who do not obey and believe the gospel.”
And why all this happiness over a sinner that converts? Remember, we are talking about beings that derive no personal benefit at all from the plan of redemption. Yet there they are singing and giving praise to God because of God’s redeeming of sinners. Why? First of all, they are beings totally free of envy. They don’t have a single envious thought. They rejoice over our exaltation as if it were their exaltation. That’s why there is a cosmic celebration in heaven and the angels rejoice every time a sinner repents.
Why? It is because the angels understand in ways that we do not the staggering cost of our redemption. They are amazed at the humiliation of God at the incarnation. They are no doubt grieved at the pride of man. They see how far Jesus came from him glory in ways that they understand that we don’t. They see him lying there in a manger. Then they are there at the crucifixion and they see all of the ways in which Jesus Christ was misused, abused and treated unjustly. When they see all that God went through to redeem sinners, they rejoice and say, “God, how could you show that much grace? What a beautiful God we have that we serve!”
Now I want you to visualize that the curtain that divides us from heaven has been opened and split in two; eternity is beginning. You and I have died and we have redeemed bodies and we understand better now what redemption is all about. We open that curtain and what do we see?
This is what God’s word says: “‘Then I looked and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne and the beasts and the elders; and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and glory and honor and blessing.’ And every creature which is in heaven and under the earth and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them saying, ‘Blessing and glory and honor and power be unto Him that sits upon the throne and unto the lamb forever and ever.’”
They are still singing praise to God over our salvation and they are grieved how casually we take what cost God so much. There is no doubt that we are going to join the angels. People say, “Do angels sing?” I believe definitely they do. And if they only chant, they chant a song. Music is the universal language, so of course angels sing, and we are going to join them in song. But maybe there is going to be a time when the angels say, “Let us be quiet for a while and let us listen to the redeemed who know Jesus as their Savior, who know the benefits of what God did for them and who actually have it applied to them. Let’s listen to the redeemed sing.”
And so like the words of the hymn writer said, “I’m sure it will be true at that point that they will just fold their wings, because at least by experience they do not know the joy that our salvation brings.
Would you join me in prayer? Our Father we thank you today for angels. We thank you that you created them for us, but also for your glory. Thank you that you use them according to your glory and your good pleasure. Thank you for all the times we have been preserved from harm because of angels that we don’t know about that someday will be explained to us. Thank you Father that they are ministering spirits sent forth to minister to those who shall be heirs of salvation. We ask Father that in your grace and in your love you might make us even as they are, giving praise to you because of the cost of our redemption. Thank you that someday we will sing with them. But someday we will also sing alone as redeemed sinners and at that point they will have to be silent, though they rejoice with us as if our exaltation were theirs. Teach us from them we ask, in Jesus name, amen.”