Summary: Martin Luther was an angel in the wide sense of the word: a messenger. God sends faithful messengers to his church of every age. The Reformation continues!
Complete strangers have come up to us in the mall or at the supermarket, taken a look at our baby daughter Alethia, and have said something like, “Oooh, isn’t she just an angel!” What do they mean when they say that? In what ways is she like an angel? I guess people have the idea that angels are pretty and cute, at least that’s the impression that you get if you look at angel pictures in a Christian book store. So in that sense, Ali reminds them of an angel. Maybe they say that because angels are pure and holy, and a 10 month old baby just looks so innocent, like an angel. We might call someone an angel who is unusually kind to other people (“they are such an angel!”). But you know, no one has ever come up to us in the mall and said about our daughter, “Wow, she is such a…a…messenger!” What? Messenger? That sure doesn’t make a lot of sense, to call a baby that. And yet that’s what both the Hebrew and Greek words for “angel” really mean.
The Book of Revelation, from where our text is taken, is the only book of prophecy in the New Testament. And in his vision of forthcoming events, St. John sees an angel coming in the future, the angel that we read about in the two verses of our text. Many have thought that this angel is a prophecy of Martin Luther. In fact, when Luther died in 1546, his pastor used this very text to base his funeral sermon on. Because Luther was an angel. He was a messenger of God.
But it would be wrong of us to suppose that Martin Luther is the only fulfillment of this prophecy of an angel. The reformation angel represents more than just one person. This angel has flown throughout the history of the Christian church, and it continues to soar in the air and shout its message in our day. Today we will see that The Reformation Angel Still Flutters Its Wings, (I) Resisting attacks from outside of the Church, and (II) Overcoming enemies from within the Church.
It truly is a miracle that we are here this morning. You might think, “well, not really, we come to church every Sunday…no big deal.” But if you look at the Church’s history, and see how many people over the years have tried to destroy it, how many poisonous false teachings have threatened to tear the Church apart, then you realize that it is truly a miracle of God’s grace that we are here studying the untainted Word this morning. To really understand what this flying angel in our text means, we need to go back to the previous chapter in Revelation. In chapter 13, St. John sees some of the enemies that will work to destroy Christ’s Church. These enemies are pictures as two dominating, ugly beasts. One beast comes out of the sea, and one comes out of the earth. Listen to how this first beast is described, “And I saw a beast coming out of the sea. He had ten horns and seven heads, with ten crowns on his horns.”
There is something in that last sentence that gives us a hint about what this beast represents. This beast wears crowns. In other words, it represents secular, governmental leaders. Revelation warns the church that one of its fiercest enemies will be the state, the rulers of this world. And we don’t have to think too long before we can remember instances where the government was the enemy of the church. The Roman Empire, renowned for its supposedly fair court system, put many of Jesus’ apostles to death unfairly. In fact, you remember that Jesus himself was given the death penalty by Pontius Pilate in a case where the evidence against him was sketchy at best. History is full of examples of governments ferociously attacking Jesus’ Church, burning church buildings, intimidating, torturing, and even executing people for daring to call themselves Christians.
Against this melancholy backdrop we see the Reformation angel in our text. The earthly forces will try as hard as they can to stamp out Christianity, and yet the divine messenger flies out of heaven to protect the Church from these attacks. Listen to where he is, verse 6, “then I saw another angel flying in midair…” Governmental authority is restricted to the earth. This angel, this messenger, is above the earth, flying in midair, unable to be touched by Christ’s earthly enemies. And listen to what he says, “He said in a loud voice, ‘Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of judgment has come. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and the springs of water.’” This angel shouts, “don’t worry about the powers here on earth. Instead, respect the only true source of power in the universe: the Lord, who will be the Judge of all this world!”