God’s invisible agents
Many think that angels are just a myth, a product of one’s imagination. However, in the bible God has explained their role as inhabitants of the unseen world. There is more to life and the universe than what the eye can see. Our eyes only sense the visible part of the electromagnetic spectrum.
Scientists use gamma rays, X rays, ultra-violet rays, infra-red waves, microwaves and radio waves to probe parts of the universe that are not visible to the eye. But even they cannot sense the presence of angels. There is more to life and the universe than what can be detected using the whole electromagnetic spectrum.
The Unseen World
The bible is the only reliable source of information about angels. It teaches that God’s creation has two components: that which is visible and that which is invisible (Col. 1:16).
The “unseen” or “invisible” part of God’s world is inhabited by personalities with intelligence, emotions and wills – not by “forces” or “influences”. These personalities comprise two categories: the divine (God); and the created, such as angels, demons and human spirits (Jn. 4:24; Rom. 8:38-39). Note that angels are not divine and they are not human spirits
What is this unseen part of the world like? In the New Testament,“spirit” is the same Greek word as “wind”. It is used for things that are invisible and powerful. Forces with these characteristics are electricity that flows through a conductor, or gravity that acts across space, or nuclear forces that hold us all together. But angels are invisible and powerful personalities, not forces. Their power is under God’s control.
The unseen world can be visualised as being like a fifth dimension to our four dimensional world of space and time. It is always present, but we can’t sense it directly and we do not know how it interacts with our physical world of space, mass and time.
The unseen world is eternal, it will never end; “what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Cor. 4:18 NIV). Angels are immortal (Lk. 20:36). Also, the two natures of good and evil, or the divine and the sinful, are both in the unseen world. The two great leaders of these domains are God and Satan, and their purposes are carried out by angels and demons.
Between the time of the Old and the New Testaments there was much speculation about angels by Persians and Greeks. Detailed hierarchies of different types of angels were constructed. They were viewed as “mediators” between God and humanity. Here we will see that “servants” is a better metaphor for the role of angels.
Although angels are always spoken of in the masculine gender, they do not marry, so it appears as though there is no equivalent to gender in the unseen world (Mt. 22:30).
The New Testament emphasises that Christ is superior to angels (Heb. 1:4-14). This passage mentions the key roles angels play: they worship Christ (v.6), they are God’s servants and ministers (v.7), and their service and ministry is directed towards believers – they are “ministering spirits sent to serve” (v.14). The same two Greek words for “service” and “ministry” are included in 2 Cor. 9:12. Consequently, there is a similarity between angels helping Christians and Christians helping each other.
We are to worship God, not angels (Col. 2:18). They do not know everything, but God does (Mt. 24:36). When John fell at an angel’s feet to worship him, the angel said “I am a fellow-servant with you … Worship God!” (Rev. 19:10; 22:8,9).
Angels are God’s invisible agents, whose mission is to help Christians (1 Pet. 3:22, Heb. 1:14). Five of their main tasks are described below.
The Greek word “angelos” means messenger. God uses angels to proclaim important messages. There are many examples of this in the Bible.
Gabriel interpreted a vision and gave insight and understanding in response to prayer (Dan. 8:16; 9:21). He also announced the conception of John the Baptist and of Christ (Lk. 1:11-20; 26-38).
Angels revealed that Mary’s baby was to be named “Jesus” and announced His birth (Mt. 1:20,21; Lk. 2:9-14). They also rolled the stone away from His tomb, and proclaimed His resurrection and His second coming (Mt. 28:2-7; Lk. 24:4-7; Acts 1:9-11). Michael, the chief angel, will announce the rapture, when Christ comes for believers (1 Th. 4:16).
Angels sent Philip to the Ethiopian treasurer and told Cornelius to send for Peter (Acts 8:26; 10:3-7). They also revealed the future to Daniel and John (Dan. 9:20-12:13; Rev. 1:1).
Angels watch eagerly as spectators of God’s drama of salvation and actually express joy when a sinner repents (1 Pet. 1:12; Lk. 15:10).
We are not alone, the angels are present with us (1 Tim. 5:21). They watch us individually and collectively. Paul felt he was on display like a spectacle to the whole universe, including angels (1 Cor. 4:9). Angels can see God’s wisdom through the church, which has unity and order although comprising different members (1 Cor. 11:10; Eph. 3:10).
Angels can be God’s agents of judgment. When two angels went to rescue Lot from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, they told him, “we are going to destroy this place” (Gen. 19:13).
After Hezekiah’s prayer, one angel killed 185,000 in the Assyrian army and delivered Judah from an enemy (2 Ki. 19:35). Another angel killed King Herod Agrippa I after he accepted worship as a god (Acts 12:23).
In the coming period of global tribulation and punishment, angels will inflict seven trumpets and seven bowls of God’s judgement on the earth (Rev. ch. 8-16). They will also accompany Christ when He is “revealed from heaven in blazing fire with His powerful angels” (2 Th. 1:8). The word “dynamite” is derived from the Greek word used here for “powerful”. This will be an awesome display of angelic power.
At the end of the tribulation, angels will separate the righteous from the wicked who will be sent to the fiery furnace where they will suffer (Mt. 13:41-50). They will also bind Satan for 1,000 years (Rev. 20:1-3).
Angels praise God. Many angels praised Him at Christ’s birth: “A great company of the heavenly host appeared … praising God and saying ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom God’s favour rests’” (Lk. 2:13-14).
After they have finished their earthly ministry, numerous angels will encircle God’s throne and sing in a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honour and praise!” Then all creatures in the physical world and the unseen world will praise the Lord, who rules and who died for the world (Rev. 5:11-14).
The climax of God’s drama of salvation involves all the angels, together with all God’s people, praising and worshipping God. Thousands of angels will share in this great celebration (Heb. 12:22; Rev. 7:9-12).
Angels are God’s security agents. They provide help and protect His people wherever they go and keep them safe (Ps. 91:11,14).
Our difficulties in life originate from the unseen world, where the angels battle against Satan and his demons (Eph. 6:12). In the final war, Satan’s forces will be defeated and cast out of heaven (Rev. 12:7-12). Angels will also protect God’s people from the coming judgement (Mt. 24:31).
An angel went ahead of Moses and guarded him as he took possession of the promised land (Ex. 23:20-23). When Elijah was in despair as he fled from Jezebel, an angel strengthened him so that he could travel for 40 days (1 Ki. 19:5-8).
Elisha, surrounded by the army of the king of Aram, said “Don’t be afraid. Those who are with us are more than those who are with them”. After praying “O Lord, open his eyes that he may see”, the protective angels were revealed as horses and chariots of fire. (2 Ki. 6:16-17).
An angel shut the lions mouths to protect Daniel, released Peter from prison, and encouraged Paul during a storm (Dan. 6:22; Acts 12:7-11; 27:23-25).
Angels helped Jesus after Satan’s temptation and as He faced His betrayal and crucifixion (Mt. 4:11; Lk. 22:43). In fact, He could have called on thousands of them (Mt. 26:53).
At death, the spirits of believers are carried by angels into God’s presence (Lk. 16:22).
The Bible seems to support the concept of specific “guardian angels” as children have “their angels in heaven” and the early church believed in them (Mt. 18:10; Acts 12:15).
Angels help Christians
Christians serve an invisible God, and angels are His invisible agents. They inhabit the eternal unseen world and are mentioned from the beginning of time in Genesis through to the end time of Revelation. Sometimes God uses them to achieve His purposes, although we are usually unaware of their work.
They are ministering spirits that serve believers. Here are five ways:
- Angels proclaim God’s messages. Are you waiting for the shout of the archangel?
- Angels are always present. We are not alone. They watch our individual and collective behaviour. Do we give them much cause for rejoicing?
- Angels execute God’s punishment with awesome power. Trust God and avoid the fiery furnace!
- Angels praise God. Will you be there to join in the heavenly choir?
- Angels protect believers. They are stronger than Satan and his demons. Like Elisha, don’t be afraid; those who are with us are more than those who are with them.
Believers have a security that is not based on things that can be taken away; “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom. 8:31). Angels can strengthen us inwardly, as they did the Lord. One day we will know the full extent of the care and protection the angels have given us (1 Cor. 13:12).
Let’s praise God as the angels do. Who knows when they protect and strengthen us?
Published, December 1999
See the other article in this series:
– The unseen world of demons
“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people” (Luke 2:10NIV)
Don’t worry, He’s returning
News stories on the internet, radio, TV and newspapers often arouse our fears of impending danger, trouble and evil. They seem to feed on the fact that we all experience anxiety and worry. For example, we can be worried or alarmed about: unemployment, money, relationships, loneliness, security, crime, terrorism, illness, aging, climate change, technological change, cultural change, moral change, our circumstances, our choices, the future, or the unknown.
About 2,000 years ago, Mary lived in Nazareth, a village about 115 km north of Jerusalem, which was more than two days of travel. She was far from the capital city of Israel. One day God sent an angel to visit her: “The angel went to her and said, ‘Greetings, you who are highly favored! God is with you.’ Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be” (Lk. 1:28-29TNIV).
Mary would have been surprised by the angel Gabriel, because she had never seen an angel before. Six months earlier the priest Zechariah was “startled and gripped with fear” when the same angel appeared in the temple in Jerusalem (Lk. 1:11-13). If an old Jewish priest was terrified by the angel, then it is understandable that a young woman would also be terrified by the appearance of the same angel. Being alone with an angel could be scary.
Mary was worried about what the angel’s message meant. She would have known that God used angels to proclaim important messages. Was it bad news? She would have also known that angels can be God’s agents of judgement. Was she feeling guilty? As this was a circumstance that she had no control over, she may have felt helpless.
Then she was told, “Don’t be afraid”. Why? Because she had found favor with God and would have a son named Jesus. “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High” (Lk. 1:30-33). God had chosen her to be the mother of the long-awaited Jewish Messiah, who would establish the kingdom of God on earth. This was a radical change in her life, because a baby changes everything, particularly the first-born. Nevertheless, her fears and anxieties were allayed and replaced with joy which she expressed in a song of praise for all that God had done (Lk. 1:46-55).
The Shepherd’s Anxiety
Nine months later the shepherds at Bethlehem had a similar experience: “they were terrified” when an angel appeared to them and God’s glory blazed around them like a supernatural search light (Lk. 2:9)! An angel appearing in the countryside during the night with a bright light would be scary. This was totally outside their experience. What was going to happen next? Were their lives in danger?
They were given the same reassurance as Mary, when the angel said, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people” (Lk. 2:10NIV). Mary’s promised baby had been born and they were told how to find Him. After seeing the baby Jesus for themselves, they also praised God “for all they had heard and seen” (Lk. 2:20).
The Disciples’ Anxiety
According to the Bible, the baby Jesus grew up to be a man who was the unique Son of God who came to take our judgement. After Jesus told His disciples that He was about to die and return to heaven, they were “filled with grief” and wept and mourned and felt abandoned (Jn. 16:6, 20TNIV). After all, they would be without the leader that they had followed for at least three years. But like Mary and the shepherds, they were told, “Do not be afraid” (Jn. 14:1, 27bNIV).
Three reasons were given for not being afraid of their new circumstances. First, they were assured of a home in heaven if they trusted Christ – because Jesus was the only way there. Jesus said, “Trust in God, trust also in Me” and “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one can come to God the Father except through me” (Jn. 14:1b, 6). That’s why the shepherds were told that the baby was a Savior; one who could rescue them. Faith in Christ is necessary for eternal life which is the ultimate cure for our anxieties and worries.Second, Jesus would return and take them to be with Him; He said “I will come back and take you to be with Me” (Jn. 14:3, 28). Although He was going away, they could look forward to a reunion with Him. Third, in the meantime the Holy Spirit would always be within them – the Holy Spirit “will be with you forever” (Jn. 14:16). They would not be like orphans (Jn. 14:15-21, 25-27). This was like having Jesus with them all the time, not just sometime!
So, they had a Savior who was going to take them to heaven and God the Holy Spirit was always going to be with them. Like Mary and the shepherds, Jesus said that their grief would be turned into lasting joy (Jn. 16:20-23). The illustration He used was how a mother’s pain turns to joy after the birth of her baby.
The First Advent
At Christmas we remember the unique birth of the Lord Jesus Christ who was both divine and human. This was His first advent. He was sent to earth by God to die for us in order to enable us to be reconciled with God. The Bible says that God so loved the people of the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life (Jn. 3:16). After His death, Jesus was buried and He rose back to life three days later.
Those who accept His free gift have peace with God and an inheritance of eternal life. We must receive what Christ has done for us before God will give us eternal life. However, those who don’t accept the gift face God’s judgment of eternal punishment; that’s what the word “perish” means in John 3:16 above.
The Second Advent
Forty days after His resurrection, Jesus ascended back to heaven by disappearing in a cloud. Then the eleven apostles were told, “This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen Him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11NIV). So, Jesus is going to return to the earth. This will be His second advent.
At Christmas we look back to the first coming of Christ and look ahead to the second coming of Christ. In His first coming He suffered and died; in His second coming He will conquer and reign. In His first coming He came as a baby and a suffering servant ((Isa. 52:13-53:12); in His second coming He will be a conquering king ( Rev. 19:16). That’s when He will be the king of the Jews. In His first coming He came to be a Savior; in His second coming He will be a Judge. The first is characterised by a cross and the second by a crown.
Did you know that all of God’s creation looks forward to the Lord’s coming reign over the earth? When the Lord returns to set up His kingdom, the creation will be released from the affects of humanity’s rebellion and re-created to be “very good” like it was in the beginning. The Garden of Eden will be restored (Acts 3:21). There will be harmony between all of God’s creatures. This is when, “The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat” (Isa. 11:6-9TNIV).
All the wrongs will be made right. All evil will be judged. Satan will be bound and unable to deceive people (Rev. 20:1-3) . All environmental problems will be solved. There will be justice and no wars. That’s when believers will be blessed materially as they rule with the Lord. In the meantime, they are already spiritually part of this new creation. Those who believe that the Savior died for them don’t have to worry, because Jesus is returning.
Between the advents
What can we learn from this as we live between the two advents of Jesus Christ? Mary and the shepherds faced supernatural circumstances and the disciples faced the loss of their Master and closest companion. We may not face supernatural circumstances, but at times we all face difficult circumstances and the loss of those who are near and dear to us. Like them, there are circumstances that we have no control over. Like them, we can experience anxiety, fear and worry, which can lead to panic and depression. But in their case, God’s solution led to joy.
Do not be afraid!
Remember the message, “Do not be afraid”. The reasons given to the disciples also apply to us. If we have trusted Jesus as our Savior our fears can be changed to joy and we can look forward to eternal life instead of eternal judgement. If we have not , then we will face Him as our judge. If we are true believers, the Holy Spirit is in us all the time. This transforms our lives. As believers we can look ahead to the second advent when the Lord Jesus will come and rule over a restored creation.
Another way to remove anxiety and fear is to “rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those that mourn” (Rom. 12:15). This involves sharing the feelings and the emotions of the good times and the bad times. This means listening to what life is like for others and validating their feelings. This means helping them realise that they are not alone. This means praying with them. This means talking about God and what He has done and what He has promised. These encouraging activities can help us get through all circumstances. He’s always with us and He’s always on our side, no matter how bad it gets. Believers are never alone; they have both spiritual and human resources to draw on.
So, don’t worry, Christ has been here once and He’s coming again to fulfill all of God’s promises.
Published, December 2011