THE DOCTRINE OF ANGELS
It is reasonable that there should be an ascending scale of life from man upward toward God, just as there is a descending scale of life from man downward. A contemplation of the vastness and the wonder of this universe may well raise the question, Is man the only creature that "has a mind to appreciate and contemplate this workmanship of God" and to praise Him for it? Without the Bible we should be left to blind conjecture. But in the Bible we have clear revelation of an order of beings above man, existing in ascending orders and ranks, called angels.
I. THE NATURE OF ANGELS
1. They Are Created Beings.
In Psa. 148:1-5 angels are among the things exhorted to praise the Lord on the ground that "he commanded and they were created." That angels are created beings is also proved by Col. 1:16, which reads: "For in him were all things created, in the heavens and upon the earth, things visible and things invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers."
2. They Are Pure Spirits.
We do not mean to affirm here that all angels are sinless; for, as we shall see later, some are evil. We mean that the nature of angels is spirit unmixed with materiality. Angels do not possess bodies as a part of their being; even though they may assume bodies for the execution of certain purposes of God, as in Gen. 19. We affirm that angels are pure spirits because in Heb. 1:14 they are called spirits. Man is never thus unqualifiedly designated. Christ said "a spirit hath not flesh and bones" (Luke 24:39).
Of man it is said that he was "made a little lower than the angel" (Heb. 2:7). Angels are said to be greater than man in might (2 Pet. 2:11). Their superior power is also implied in Matt. 26:53; 28:2; 2 Thess. 1:7. Yet angels are ministering servants to believers (Heb. 1:14), and shall be judged by them (1 Cor. 6:3). This last fact would seem to indicate that man, though now inferior in nature to angels, shall in his glorified state, as a trophy of God's redeeming grace, be exalted with Christ far above angels (Eph. 1:20,21; Phil 2:6-9).
4. They are Sexless.
Matt. 22:30 declares that angels do not marry, which proves them sexless. "Sons of God" in Gen. 6:2 are not angels, but descendants of Seth: the true worshippers of God, as distinguished from the descendants of Cain.
Luke 20:36 declares that angels cannot die, which means they cannot cease to exist.
II CLASSES OF ANGELS
The angels consist of the elect angels and the fallen angels. The following Scriptures allude to and distinguish these two classes:
"God spared not angels when they sinned but cast them down to hell and committed them to pits of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment" (2 Peter 2:4).
The elect angels are those whom God chose to preserve in holiness. The others He permitted to fall and for them no redemption or possibility of escape has been provided.
III. ORGANIZATIONS, ORDERS, AND RANKS AMONG ANGELS
In Jude 9 we have Michael mentioned as an archangel. See also 1 Thess. 4:16. Archangel means the chief of angels. Gabriel seems also to occupy a relatively high place among the angels. See Dan. 8:16; 9:16,21; Luke 1:19.
The mention of thrones, dominions, principalities, and powers among the invisible things in Col. 1:16 implies rank and organization among the angels. And in Eph. 1:21 and 3:10 we have the mention of rule, authority, power, and dominion in the heavenly places. Of the orders named in Col. 1:16, E. C. Dargan, in his commentary, represents "thrones" as "being the highest next to God and so called either because they are near and support the throne of God, or because they themselves sit on thrones approaching nearest to God in glory and dignity; next 'dominions,' or 'lordships,' those who exercise power or lordship over the lower ones or men; then 'principalities,' or 'princedoms,' those of princely dignity; and lastly 'powers,' or 'authorities,' those who exercise power or authority in the lowest angelic order, just above men."
We consider it more satisfactory to view the "cherubim" of Genesis, Exodus, and Ezekiel with which we would identify also the "seraphim" of Isaiah and the living creatures of Revelation, not as actual beings, but as symbolic appearances, illustrating truths of divine activity and government. The "living creatures" of Revelation seem to symbolize praise arising from God's lower creation because of its being "delivered from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the children of God" (Rom 8:21). The twenty-four elders associated with the living creatures seem to represent redeemed humanity. And it is well to note that the living creatures do not include themselves among those redeemed to God. The living creatures, as representative of the lower creation giving praise to God, fulfill Psa. 145:10, which says: "All thy works shall praise thee, 0 Lord." *
IV. ANGELS ARE NOT TO BE WORSHIPPED
"And when I heard and saw, I fell down to worship before the feet of the angel that showed me these things. And he saith unto me, See thou do it not: I am a fellow-servant with thee and with thy brethren the prophets, and with them that keep the words of this book" (Rev. 22:9).
This is also condemned in Col. 2:18
V. THE EMPLOYMENT OF ANGELS
1. Of Holy Angels.
Psa. 103:20; 148:2.
(2) They rejoice in the salvation of men. Luke 15:7,10.
(3) They minister to the heirs of salvation.
Heb. 1:14; 1 Kings 19:5-8; Dan. 6:22; Psa. 84:7; 91:11,12; Acts 12:8-11.
Gen. 19:1-13; Num. 22:22-35; Matt. 1:20; 2:13, 19, 20; Luke 1:11-13, 19; Acts 8:26; 10:3-6; 27:23, 24.
2 Sam. 24:16; 2 Kings 19:35; 2 Chron. 32:21; Psa. 35:5,6; Matt. 13:41; 13:49,50; 24:31; Acts 12:23; Rev. 7:1,2; 9:15; 15:1.
Acts 7:53; Gal. 3:19; Heb. 2:2.
(7) They ministered to Christ.
Matt. 4:11; Luke 22:43.
(8) They will accompany Christ at His second coming.
(9) They are present at church services.
1 Cor. 11:10.
(10) They take a great interest in divine truth and learn through the church.
1 Pet. 1: 12; Eph. 3:10
There is nothing in the above to show that there is a constant intervention of angels between God and man. They are not in any sense regularly constituted mediators between God and man. Their intervention is occasional and exceptional. And their activity is subject to the command and permission of God.
But it is evident that the average believer has not attached sufficient importance to the ministry of angels. However, on the other hand, the notion of a special guardian angel for each individual finds no certain foundation in the Scripture. J. P. Boyce says:
"Guided by rabinical fables, and led by the peculiar views of Oriental philosophy, some have conceived that on each person in this life an angel attends to guard and protect him from evil. This theory of a guardian angel has been held in various forms. Some have confined his presence to the good; some have extended it also to the wicked; some have supposed two angels instead of one, the one good and the other bad. In like manner has the theory been held of guardian angels over nations; some confining that also to good nations, others extending it to all. That such views existed among the Jews, and that they were also prevalent among earlier Christians may be admitted; but scriptural authority for them is wanting" (Abstract of Systematic Theology, p. 179).
There are really but two passages that even suggest this doctrine of a guardian angel for each individual. These two passages are Matt. 18:10 and Acts 12:15. On Matt. 18: 10 John A. Broadus says: "There is in this no sufficient warrant for the popular notion of 'guardian angels,' one angel especially assigned to each individual; it is simply said of believers as a class that there are angels which are their angels; but there is nothing here or elsewhere to show that one angel has special charge of one believer" (Commentary on Matthew).
On Acts 12:15 H. B. Hackett says: "It was a common belief among the Jews, says Lightfoot, that every individual has a guardian angel and that this angel may assume a visible appearance resembling that of the person whose destiny is committed to him. This idea appears here, not as a doctrine of the Scriptures, but as a popular opinion that is neither affirmed nor denied" (Commentary on Acts). On this passage Broadus also says: "The disciples who were praying for Peter during his imprisonment, when the girl insisted that he was at the gate, sprang to the conclusion that he had just been put to death and this was 'his angel' (Acts 12:15), according to the notion that a man's guardian angel was apt to appear to friends just after his death, with his form and voice. But the views of these disciples were erroneous on many subjects, and are not an authority for us unless sanctioned by inspiration." We dismiss the subject with this further comment from Broadus: "It cannot be positively asserted that the idea of guardian angels is an error, but there is no Scripture which proves it true, and the passages which merely might be understood that way do not suffice as a basis of a doctrine."
2. Of Evil Angels.
The work of evil angels will be considered more extensively in the next chapter, which deals with Satan, their ruler and leader. It will suffice here to say that evil spirits or angels war against God and His saints. This is seen in Eph. 6:12 and in the demon possession of early New Testament days.
As to demon possession, it needs to be said that the record is too clear and decisive to admit of a mere accommodation on the part of Christ and the apostles to popular but erroneous notions of the Jews. It is very probable, however, that demon possession was more prevalent in the days of Christ's earthly ministry than now. We can see that, according to the record, it was more prevalent in early than in late New Testament times; yet it was not entirely absent in later New Testament times (Acts 16:16-18); and it is probably not absent now. Some physicians today believe that some experiences and actions of the insane are best explained by the supposition that the patient's mind is under the control of a foreign power. J. P. Boyce gives a good reason for the greater prevalence of demon possession in the days of Christ's earthly ministry: "The great struggle was about to take place between Christ and Satan, and uncommon freedom was doubtless granted to the Devil and his assistants."