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Monday
Mar092015

God’s Relationship with the Angels

(The following article is a chapter in the upcoming book “Hand In Hand: Deepening Your Relationship with Jesus Christ,” hopefully to be published later this year.)

Nearly every tale of fantasy has beautiful, winged creatures that we call angels making sudden appearances, flitting about and turning the ordinary into the miraculous.   They have been featured in a host of books, movies and television shows, and many people vow they have had personal visitations from angels.  Angels mystify us.  We visualize them guarding cradles at night, showing up at the wheel of an out of control car and steering it back onto the roadway, or sitting at the foot of a dying person’s bed to bring a sense of tranquility.  We also have other notions, like how many angels can dance on a pinhead, or that all of them play harps, and every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings—or so we think.  Most of this cultural mythology about angels, however, is patently false.  Angels are not female; they most likely are genderless, although the scriptures refer to them in the masculine form.  All angels seem to fly, but the scriptures confirm that only the cherubim and seraphim have wings.  Angels are not material, but spiritual entities, and they are not subject to physical laws such as gravity.  They do not marry, do not reproduce, nor do they die (Hebrews 1:14; Mark 12:25; Luke 20:36).   

God created this class of beings before He made man, and possibly before the creation of the universe.  The word, angel means messenger, a general term for these celestial beings.  More specifically, they are categorized as seraphim, cherubim and ministering spirits.  There are also specialized angels commissioned to organize, fight or sing praises to God.  Although we may think of them as robot-like beings because they were created to do the bidding of their Creator God, they obviously have certain intellectual properties as well.  We read of angels conversing, serving as guardians, carrying out missions and delivering messages to humans.  They also have an appreciation of divinity because we see them filling the heavens with adoration and praise to God, and singing mightily of the greatness of God.  “All the angels stood around the throne and the elders and the four living creatures, and fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying: ‘Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom, Thanksgiving and honor and power and might, Be to our God forever and ever. Amen.’” Revelation 7:11-12.

The sheer number of times angels are mentioned in the Bible makes angiology an important aspect of theology.  The New American Standard Bible contains 196 reference to angels, almost equally divided between the two testaments, from Genesis to Revelation.  They are deeply involved in prophetical visions, and play major roles in the events at the end of time.  The Scriptures show them to be spiritual beings whose purpose for existence is to serve God (Matthew 4:11).  We can also discern from the Bible that there are both good and bad angels (2 Peter 2:4).  The good angels remained loyal to God; the bad angels became disobedient and fell from their holy estate to become emissaries of Satan.  

The focus question for our application here is this: what is the nature of God’s relationship with the angels?  Going further, if God has a relationship with the angels, why did He create humans?  Is there a fundamental difference between these two types of creatures beyond their physical attributes?  Did angels lack something in their nature that prohibited God from having a satisfying relationship with them?  Not only are these appropriate questions, their answers will help us to understand the purpose of humanity more clearly.  A closer look at the scriptures gives us these answers.  

Present-day scholars in a field known as “Second Temple Literature” analyze academic writings of the era in which the Bible was written.  One purpose of these studies is to determine the controversies that occupied the minds of academicians in that day, discourses to which the Bible writers respond.  In other words, while we know the answers to those areas of interest because we can read them in the Bible, we do not always know what the questions were which the writers were addressing.  One example is the great Christological debate that raged throughout the first three centuries which spawned numerous ideas about the nature of the Godhead.  Religious thinkers toiled over the identity, the nature and the person of Jesus Christ.  Scholars like Tertullian, Arius, Athanasius and others had much to say about this topic. 

So, what about the nature of Jesus?  There were contemporary scholars who must have theorized that Jesus was an angel, and not a real man. Responding to this charge, the writer to the Hebrews analyzed the difference between Jesus Christ and the angels.  “God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become so much better than the angels, as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.”  Hebrews 1:1-4.  Clearly, Jesus was not cut from the fabric of angels; indeed, He was “much better than the angels.”   The writer presses on even further.

“For to which of the angels did He ever say: ‘You are My Son, Today I have begotten You’? And again: ‘I will be to Him a Father, And He shall be to Me a Son’?  But when He again brings the firstborn into the world, He says: ‘Let all the angels of God worship Him.’ And of the angels He says: ‘Who makes His angels spirits And His ministers a flame of fire.’  But to the Son He says: ‘Your throne, O God, is forever and ever; A scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your Kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness; Therefore God, Your God, has anointed You With the oil of gladness more than Your companions.’  And: ‘You, LORD, in the beginning laid the foundation of the earth, And the heavens are the work of Your hands. They will perish, but You remain; And they will all grow old like a garment; Like a cloak You will fold them up, And they will be changed. But You are the same, And Your years will not fail.’  But to which of the angels has He ever said: “Sit at My right hand, Till I make Your enemies Your footstool’?  Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation?” Hebrews 1:5-14.

This passage proves that Jesus was much different than the angels.  He was the Son of God, the fleshly incarnation of God Himself.  At His birth, angels worshipped Him.  They would not have worshipped another angel.  The angels were servants in the kingdom; Jesus had the scepter of the kingdom.  The angels were to minister to those who will inherit salvation; Jesus sits on the throne of the kingdom.  Jesus, therefore, belonged to a different class altogether than the angels.  That set of realities defined and limited the relationship between God and the angels.

This book will not exhaust the vast complexities of angels in the Bible.  The mere headlines of the books of Job, Psalms, Isaiah, Daniel, Ezekiel and Revelation show us how deep we can go in this study.  In Daniel, there is war in the heavenlies between angels.  In Ezekiel, there are angelic beings that make up large accounts of angels in prophecy.  In Isaiah, there is the story of Lucifer, the fallen angel and the angelic minions who fell with him, and there are the warrior angels at work throughout the book of Revelation.  Any one of these passages could involve us in pages of analysis.  Let us return to the question at hand.  What is the relationship between God and the angels? We are not so much concerned with God’s comparison with the angels, nor even His position with regard to angels, but rather His meaningful interaction with them.  Did God love them?  Did He find companionship with them?  How deeply did He engage the angels in intimate conversation? 

Perhaps a human analogy will help.  Presidents, Prime Ministers, royalty and others in the wealthy class have people in their employ who are hired to do certain jobs.  They have chauffeurs, valets, butlers, groundskeepers, etc. who take care of certain areas of their estates.  The relationship between the principal and the hired help is limited to the job requirements.  Even so, angels were created to be one-dimensional and job-specific.  Almost all accounts of angels in the Bible show them to be instruments of the will of God.  An angel was stationed at the Garden of Eden to keep out trespassers; angels were sent to Sodom to rescue Lot and his daughters from destruction.  Angels were given charge over Israel to keep them from harm.  In Matthew, we see them sent to mete out judgment to evildoers.  The point is that they were mediators between God and man.  They did not enter into the drama of man’s behavior; they were only the tools in the hands of God.  The one exception to this is the specific reference to “The Angel of the Lord.”  Most scholars agree that this term referred to a theophany, (some now say “Christophany”) or, God in a Body. 

Many more instances of God’s interaction with the angels could be explored, but all of them will only further illustrate our conclusion.  The angels, as powerful and gifted as they were, could not satisfy God’s need for a complete relationship with another being apart from Himself.  Evidently, God wanted more than mere obedience, more than pre-programmed submission, more than command-oriented creatures, more than extensions of His power into the cosmos.  That’s why He created mankind.  Let us now consider the fascinating world of humanity, the crown of God’s creation.

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