Forgotten Facts About Angels
Everybody probably knows a story about angels, but in church we deal with facts. The church in fact has had a festival about angels since the 400's. Luther kept this feast day on the Lutheran Church calendar to keep the facts about angels before the people.
So what are angels like? They are like people but they aren't people. People who go to heaven don't become angels. Angels are personal beings. They have names; Scripture gives us two of them: Michael and Gabriel. The angels, Jesus tells us, aren't married or given in marriage, but He doesn't tell us they don't have a gender. Their names and all the pronouns referring to them are masculine not feminine. Art often pictures them as female and even anemic. Angels paintings from the 19th century often do this. But look up the Icon of Michael or a Medieval angel painting, and you'll see a rugged, masculine, sometimes fearsome image more like Conan the Barbarian than Glenda the good witch in Wizard of Oz.
And doesn't that fit what Scripture tells us? Most of the time angels appear they have to tell the person, "Don't be afraid." When Gabriel appears to Zechariah "fear fell upon him." When he appears to Mary he says, "Don't be afraid." And the shepherds were "sore afraid" when the angel appeared to them. Likewise, it was the angel of the Lord that made the mighty Roman Legionaries on guard at Jesus' tomb tremble and become like dead men. Angels are powerful, supernatural beings. One of them was able to kill 185,000 Assyrians in one night. You shouldn't picture him waving a hand or breathing out a poisonous vapor. No, picture him wading into that army slashing and stabbing.
They're not only very powerful; there are very many of them. Scripture doesn't give an exact number but uses the Greek phrase "myriads of myriads." Myriad in the singular is 10,000 but in the plural its expresses a number the Greek couldn't count. The double plural "myriads of myriads" is mind blowing.
What do angels do? Well, first I had better tell you there are bad angels. They too are numerous. Revelation 12:4 pictures the great, red dragon, which is the Devil, using his tail to sweep a 1/3 of the stars from the sky, that's a pictorial representation of the number of angels that rebelled with Satan. The good angels that fell became demons, devils, evil spirits. They too are powerful. They could drive 2,000 pigs to drown themselves. They threw people into water and fire. They bound a women with a back problem for 18 years. One of them jumped 7 men and caused them to flee naked.
The evil angels roam the earth. In Job 1 and 2 when God asked the Devil from where he had come he answered, "From roaming about on the earth and walking around on it." I Peter 5 says, "The Devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour." Good angels on the other hand aren't roaming. Jacob sees them ascending and descending on one ladder between heaven and earth; Jesus in John 1 tells us He is the ladder that angels go back and forth on. And in Matthew 18, Jesus promises that wherever the good angels are they're always seeing the face of the Father.
Scripture shows evil angels always working against God and His people, and the good angels defending His people and carrying out God's plans. We learn from Daniel that political conflicts aren't just about men and politics but about good and bad angels behind the scenes. Ephesians tells us that we "wrestle not" against flesh and blood but against rulers and principalities (ranks of fallen angels) in the highest places.
So what chance do you think we have? Perfect Adam and Eve lost their wrestling match with Satan quickly. The Devil desired to sift Peter like wheat and showed he was full of chaff fit to be burned. Satan entered into Judas with a piece of bread and look how quickly Satan pinned him in hell. Nine apostles lost a match to one evil angel at the Mount of Transfiguration. You think you're any match for one? You who think the things of God can all be measured by the science of men, do you think when your science fails you, as it surely will, you'll suddenly be able to commend yourself to the ministry of angels? You who wish to live by sight when Scripture says we live by faith not sight, can you pray the prayer of faith which says "let Thy holy angel be with me that the evil foe have no power over me?"
Your only chance is for God in His mercy to convert you, to give you faith, to put the prayer of faith in your mouth. And God will do that in Christ. Don't approach angels, think about angels, or pray for their ministry apart from Jesus. It was in Jesus' name that the demons submitted to the first 72 pastors. It was because Jesus gave them authority "to overcome all the power of the enemy" that nothing would harm them. But our power over evil angels or even what the good angels can do for us isn't to be where our joy is. No, our joy is to be in our names being written in heaven.
Live there. Why? Because you'll one day die here. The last thing your guardian angel does for you is carry your soul from here to heaven, so one day he will stand by as an accident kills you; your heart gives out; or a tragedy befalls you. The ministry of the good angels isn't focused on you living a longer, better, more prosperous life here. Haven't you ever noticed it's always a deal with the Devil, an evil angel, that promises that?
No, the good angels are focused laser-like on getting you to heaven because that's what God is focused on. After an evil angel brought sin and death into the world, God brought a good angel into the world to guard the Tree of Life so Adam and Eve couldn't get back into the garden to eat of that tree and live forever. Extended life, better life, richer life is not God's goal here. If that was the goal, He would've given them access to the Tree of Life. Instead He promised to send a Man not fathered by man to defeat the Devil, sin and death that prevented them from entering heaven.
That's what you see going on in the Epistle. You're not seeing the fall of the Devil; that took place 3 verses earlier. This is a picture of Satan and his angels being thrown out of heaven because Jesus has taken away their place. But how could they ever have had a place? In Job the Devil is in heaven in the midst of the good angels. In Zechariah Satan can stand in the presence of God accusing the high priest of being a dirty, filthy sinner.
The Devil and his angels could be as Revelation 12 says they were, "the accuser of our brothers who accuses them before our God day and night" because we really are that guilty. What gave evil angels a place in heaven was our sinfulness and God's Holy Word. God had promised that He would judge anyone who failed to keep even one of His laws. And we broke every single one of them in thought, word, and deed. "Look what they're doing," said the Devil. "They don't fear, love or trust in You above all things; they don't love their neighbor as themselves; You must punish them now and damn them eternally, or You've broken your own word."
And the Devil was right, God's Law had to be kept by man and man's sins had to be completely punished. So God became a Man in the Person of Jesus. From the womb to the tomb Jesus never sinned. The Devil had to admit every single one of God's commandments was kept by a Man. He could no longer stand in heaven accusing you of not keeping them because a Man had kept them in your place. Yet what about your sins? They had to be paid for too or the evil angels would still have a place in heaven. Jesus, guilty of no sin, but bearing the guilt of all men, women and children, suffered in time and eternity for all. The Devil cried, "Punish them you must," and punish Jesus in our place He did. Having punished Jesus for the sins of all, the Devil had no sin to point to that still needs punishing, so Michael and all Angels could hurl him and his evil angels out of heaven.
But they're down here now, and they are filled with fury, so we still need the ministry of the good angels, but where do we find them? Find Jesus and you've found good angels. The angels were there at Jesus' incarnation, birth, resurrection, and ascension. Jesus says, "Angels ascend and descend on Me." I Peter 1 pictures angels bending down to look at the things of Jesus. In Gethsemane Jesus said He could call for 12 legions of angels and the Father would give them to Him. Now that Jesus is exalted how countless are the angels at His disposal? Find Jesus; find angels.
In Baptism says Scripture you have put on Jesus. Angels, their care, help, ministry, and protection, are in your Baptism. Baptism is where the salvation Jesus won for you on Calvary is given to you. Hebrews 1 says that angels are ministering spirits sent to help the heirs of salvation. Remember your Baptism and you've returned to where angels took charge of you to keep you in all your ways.
Absolution is the Spirit of Jesus in the mouth of a man. Where Jesus is angels are. Jesus is in Absolution so are His angels. Absolution is the voice of God sending away sins that Jesus died for thousands of years ago, but behind the voice of Jesus hear the angels cheering. Scripture says angels rejoice over sinners coming to repentance.
And do I really need to tell you that angels hover about this altar where the Body and Blood of Jesus are? You sing a song every Sunday "with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven." On regular Sundays we join the angels in this very place praising Jesus the Lord God of Sabaoth, i.e. Lord of angelic armies. On special Sundays we join the "voice of many angels" right here in praising the Lamb who was slain. Find Jesus; find angels. Jesus is present in Communion, so are the angels.
The angels go where Jesus goes. Walk out of here with Jesus on your body in Baptism, with Jesus in your ears by Absolution, or with Jesus' Body and Blood in your body and blood, and you walk out with angels. And that's a fact. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
St. Michael and All Angels (20090927)