When Mary and Joseph learned that they would become the parents of the Messiah, it was by an angelic messenger. Christina Rossetti penned these familiar words:
Love came down at Christmas;
Love all lovely, love divine.
Love was born at Christmas;
Stars and angels gave the sign.
There’s been a lot written about angels, and not all from a biblical perspective. Angels figure prominently in the Christmas story, so let’s consider who they are…
Angels are immortal spirit beings, created before the world began, to serve God. They are under divine authority to “do God’s bidding and obey His word” (Psalm 103:20). While non-material, they are able to change their appearance and manifest themselves in physical form. We see them hovering around the throne of God in Isaiah 6, worshipping God, and calling to one another: “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty” (6:5).
We know angels primarily in how they relate to us. They are God’s agents of judgment, protection, information, direction, and prevention. God uses them to influence individuals and nations. The NT Greek word angelos means “messenger”; angels are divine channels of communication.
In our text, the author of Hebrews is clear that Christ is superior to the angels. We should not confuse angels with the Holy Spirit. Angels do not indwell us, and they are not gods. While God on occasion sends angels, there are no instances where people call on them in Scripture. We can ask God for angelic protection, but we don’t pray to angels or worship them. When they appeared to men, they often had to remind men of this.
When people die, they don’t become angels. Well-meaning people often say when a loved one dies, “God has a new angel in Heaven.” That’s comforting, but incorrect. Angels will escort us to God’s presence. We look to the day when God creates a New Heaven and Earth, where we will live in glorified bodies, but not as angels.
We see in Scripture how angels provided for Elijah; one stood guard with a sword at Eden; a multitude of angels announced the coming of Jesus to shepherds; they protected Daniel in the lions’ den, encouraged childless Abraham and Sarah, wrestled with Jacob, transported Phillip, killed Herod Agrippa, freed Peter from prison, and defeated the enemies of Israel. We will see them again at the Second Coming of Jesus.
Angels watch over us. I told a friend who drives too fast on the highway that his guardian angel probably has an ulcer! I remember when Gerald Ford was President, his teenage daughter Susan complained about the presence of the Secret Service, particularly when she was trying to have fun with friends, but the President’s kids need protection. We are King’s kids and we have celestial bodyguards. Psalm 34 says that angels “encamp around those who fear God.”
When we read in Scripture of “the Lord of hosts”, the “hosts” refer to God’s angelic army. This is a military term, and there appears to be some kind of military organization, a chain-of-command. Angels are warriors. At His arrest, Jesus said He could have called for 12 Legions of angels. At the top is Michael, the Archangel, the first prince of Heaven. There is Gabriel, God’s chief messenger. He appears four times in Scripture, always bearing good news…and nowhere does it say he plays a trumpet! Next, we read of the Seraphim, whose mission is to offer praise to the Almighty. Their name comes from the Hebrew word for “love.” Finally, there are Cherubim, depicted on the Ark of the Covenant. Ezekiel saw them in a vision depicting the coming destruction of Jerusalem.
And there are fallen angels. Lucifer was an angel, but due to pride he rebelled against God, along with others. He sought to exalt himself above God, to seize God’s throne. C.S. Lewis observed, “In the midst of a world of light and love, of song and feast and dance, Lucifer could find nothing to think of more interesting than his own prestige.”
It was he who tempted Adam and Eve in the Garden, and who tempted Jesus in the desert. One day he will be defeated and cast into the Lake of Fire, along with his demons. The devil is not greater than God. His doom is certain.
The so-called New Age fascination with angels is dangerous. Proponents talk about “angel oracle cards” similar to Tarot cards; “spirit guides,” and “angelic energy fields.” This is an occult practice. Satan can disguise himself as a splendid being to deceive people. The Apostle Paul warns in Galatians 1, “Even if an angel from Heaven should preach a gospel other than the one preached to you, let him be accursed.” This is something the Mormons should take note of. Beware of counterfeit angels!
The Bible says that God made us, “a little lower than the angels.” By His Incarnation, God-the-Son was made lower than the angels in His humanity. Jesus became flesh and dwelt among us. He emptied Himself of the use of His divine attributes and willingly limited Himself, in order to serve as the sinless sacrifice for our sin, in our behalf. The manger leads to a cross. Jesus did not die for angels; He died for us. And when we open our hearts to Him, the angels rejoice! Jesus say in Luke 12:8, “Whoever acknowledges Me before men, the Son of Man will also acknowledge before the angels of God.”
Angels are observing us! I read of a minister who worked late into the night, preparing a sermon for his small congregation. His wife asked why he extended such effort for so few. He replied, “You forget how large my audience will be; Heaven is looking on, and angels are in the grandstand” (Vance Havner).
“Angels are still doing what they were created to be…we are not” (David Jeremiah). It seems at times that we have more in common with the fallen angels. “We were created a little lower than the angels, and we’ve been getting lower ever since” (Josh Billings). We are defiled by sin and our fallen nature is confirmed by our destructive choices. The Fall unleashed a power that rules over all humankind. Thank God we can be forgiven. Angels do not know the joyous mercy and pardon of God. They understand how it works--the Cross--but it is apart from their experience.
Matthew 25 states: “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, He will sit on His throne in heavenly glory.” The angels who were present at the resurrection and ascension of Jesus will accompany Him to gather His people. There are angels in our future.
In his book on angels, Billy Graham cautions that, “our ability to sense reality is limited.” There’s more to our earthly existence than what we can detect with our physical senses. Angels are around us, accompanying us in our earthly pilgrimage. They are nearer than we think!