Laborer For Labor

F. God raises up evangelists.

Jesus commanded that we pray for more evangelists to go into the harvest. “Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest” (Mt 9:38). In reference to his own life, Paul said, “And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has enabled me, because He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry (1 Tm 1:12).

If Jesus commanded us to pray for laborers to enter the harvest, then we must believe that in some way He can raise up the laborers. Paul was put into the ministry through the direct work of Jesus who appeared to him on the Damascus road. However, God also works in ways to raise up laborers. We subsequently witness the rise of laborers, but we do not understand exactly how God has raised them up. For this reason, therefore, Christians must have faith and pray for more laborers for the harvest.

G. God works in order that the faith of Christians not fail.

Jesus prayed for Peter that his faith not fail: “But I have prayed for you [Peter], that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren” (Lk 22:32; see 1 Co 10:13; Ps 125:3).

We do not understand how God could keep Peter’s faith from failing. However, Jesus prayed for Peter, and since Jesus made the prayer, we would assume through faith that God was able to work according to the request of Jesus that Peter’s faith not fail. In answer to this prayer, Peter, though in a moment fear denied the Lord, he later returned to be faithful unto death.

In the same manner, Epaphras prayed for the faithfulness of his Colossian brethren.

“Epaphras, who is one of you, a bondservant of Christ, greets you, always laboring fervently for you in prayers, that you may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God (Cl 4:12).

Since Epaphras prayed that the Colossian disciples would stand perfect and complete, then we would assume that in some way God could answer this prayer. God thus works in our lives in order that we stand perfect and complete. He works in order that our faith not fail. And thus it is our faith that moves us to trust in the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives.

[Next in series: Dec. 2]


D. God provides escapes from temptation.

Paul wrote to the Corinthians, 

“No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make a way of escape …” (1 Co 10:13).

We do not profess to know how God makes the way of escape from some mountain of trial we must overcome. Our lack of knowledge concerning how God provides the escape, however, does not mean that He will not so work in our lives to help us make our way over, around or through mountains.

It may be that God provides the wisdom that is necessary in order to perceive the way of escape (See Js 1:5,6). Whatever He does, we must believe that a way of escape is provided if we will ask for it, and then take the way of escape. If we are to believe what the Holy Spirit is here saying through Paul, then we must assume that God works in our lives in order to provide escapes.

E. God delivers from evil workers.

While in prison, Paul was confident that God would deliver him from evil works. He wrote to Timothy,And the Lord will deliver me from every evil work and preserve me for His heavenly kingdom (2 Tm 4:18; see Pv 2:6,8,12,16; 2 Th 3:2; 2 Tm 3:11; 4:17).

Paul believed in the power of prayer. He believed that God the Spirit could and would deliver him from prison. He wrote to Philemon, “But, meanwhile, also prepare a guest room for me, for I trust that through your prayers I shall be granted to you (Pl 22). Paul asked for the prayers of brethren for he had faith that God would work in the environment of his affairs in order to answer those prayers.

“Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead, who delivered us from so great a death, and does deliver us; in whom we trust that He will still deliver us, you also helping together in prayer for us (2 Co 1:9-11).

Peter also believed thatthe Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations and to reserve the unjust under punishment for the day of judgment” (2 Pt 2:9).

These deliverances for which Paul and Peter prayed, and for which they asked the brethren to pray, were not deliverances as Peter was immediately delivered from prison by an angel in Jerusalem (At 12:1-11). These were the works of God behind the scene, and thus, they were not perceived through the senses, but through faith. The fact that the early saints prayed for deliverance, therefore, is evidence that God works in some ways that are beyond our sense perception. Nevertheless, it is a work of God the Spirit to bring about that which is good.

[Next in series: Nov. 31]

Necessities & Evangelism

B. God provides the necessities for life.

In Matthew 6:9-13 Jesus explained those things that God does for those who have put their trust in Him. The emphasis in the context of Matthew 6 was on the fact that God will take care of those who care for Him.

“Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?” (Mt 6:30).

Jesus taught that we should pray for our daily bread (Mt 6:11). If we are to pray for such, then certainly God is able to provide that for which we make request in prayer. God is able to work in the lives of those who trust in Him to provide the necessities of life.

C. God opens doors for evangelism.

Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “For a great and effective door has opened to me, and there are many adversaries” (1 Co 16:9). When Paul came to the city of Troas he said that “a door was opened to me by the Lord (2 Co 2:12; see At 19:8-10). Paul wrote to the Thessalonians,

“Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may run swiftly and be glorified, just as it is with you, and that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men; for not all have faith (2 Th 3:1,2).

We do not know how God opens these doors in order that the gospel be preached to the lost. However, the Holy Spirit here affirmed that God is the One who is to be given credit for opening the doors. Therefore, we must conclude that God can work in ways whereby opportunities can be made available for the preaching of the gospel to the lost. Because He does this, it is imperative that Christians continually pray that doors be opened for the preaching of the gospel. Jesus thus exhorted His disciples, “Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest so that He will send laborers into His harvest (Mt 9:38).

[Next in series: Nov. 29]


A. God restores health.

2 Kings 20:1-4 records the fact that King Hezekiah was sick and near death. At the time, this was his mountain to climb. Therefore, Isaiah came to him and said, “Thus says the Lord: ‘Set your house in order, for you shall die, and not live’” (2 Kg 20:1). As a result of this pronouncement by Isaiah, Hezekiah “turned his face toward the wall, and prayed to the Lord (2 Kg 20:2).

The pronouncement of Isaiah was that Hezekiah would actually die in the near future. The message was from God, and thus, we would conclude that his death would certainly occur. However, Hezekiah prayed that he would not die. After Hezekiah’s prayer, a second proclamation came from God. God said, “Thus says the Lord, the God of David your father; ‘I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears; surely I will heal you’” (2 Kg 20:5).

God worked in the physically sick body of Hezekiah in order to restore it to health. We do not know how God did this. We simply know that God is able to work in the bodies of the physically sick in order to bring about a restoration of the body. He can do this, and yet, do it in a manner that it is not perceived through the senses as a confirming miracle. In other words, this restoration of the physical body by God would not be considered a confirming miracle simply because such was accomplished in a different manner, and for a different purpose, than the confirming miracles that were recorded to confirm the message and messengers of God in the Bible.

Nevertheless, Hezekiah’s healing was in a sense miraculous. We could say that this was a miracle simply because it was God working in the physical body of Hezekiah. Physical law was set aside in order that Hezekiah live. Since we have no other word to convey what took place gradually, and not instantaneously as in a confirming miracle, then we must believe that something “miraculous” happened. Christians must believe, therefore, that if it is according to the will of God, God can raise up the sick in answer to their prayers (See Js 5:13-16). We may not understand how this happens in reference to the hand of God, but through faith we believe that God can work wonders beyond the limits of our empirical perceptions.

We would conclude that the difference between confirming miracles, and what happened in the body of Hezekiah, was a matter of time. A confirming miracle was instantaneous. For example, Jesus said to the paralytic, “Arise, take up your bed and go to your house” (Mt 9:6). And he did so immediately.

But the “miracle” of God working in the body of Hezekiah occurred over a period of time. He did not immediately jump out of bed. Nevertheless, Hezekiah believed that he was healed because of his faith in God. But when the unbelievers encountered the healed paralytic, they immediately perceived through sight that he was healed immediately. They, as unbelievers, could not deny this confirming miracle of Jesus (See At 4:16).

In the context of Hezekiah’s “healing,” we must not forget that Paul left Trophimus sick in Miletus (2 Tm 4:20). Either Paul could not heal this brother, or the time of confirming miracles had long passed. Or, it may have been that Paul simply prayed for his healing and then went on his journey. We would assume the latter, and thus Paul prayed that Trophimus be restored from his physical affliction. But this healing took time, for indeed Trophimus was still alive when Paul wrote the 2 Timothy letter much later. So Paul’s prayer for Trophimus did result in this brother being raised up.

We must also remember Timothy who had some affliction of the stomach. Timothy was not exhorted to pray for his stomach problem, and other physical afflictions that he experienced, but to use a little wine for your stomach’s sake, and your frequent infirmities” (1 Tm 5:23). Evidently there were other infirmities than the stomach problems that Timothy suffered. In this suggestion on the part of Paul, however, Paul urged Timothy to resort to the medicinal remedies of wine, and not prayer, though we assume that Paul did indeed pray for Timothy’s physical afflictions. We would conclude from this incident, however, that when there is a medical cure for an affliction, one should go see a doctor.

And then there was the case of Epaphroditus (Ph 2:25-27). This Philippian brother was sent to be with Paul in prison. While in Rome, he too became very ill. He was so ill when he was with Paul that he almost died. This was a physical affliction that took place over a period of time because news of his sickness was able to reach back home to Philippi, where the saints in Philippi evidently joined with Paul in prayers for him. Paul did not miraculously heal him. Only through the prayers of the saints in Philipi, with Paul’s prayers, he was raised up. God worked “miraculously” in this case in order to do as He did with Hezekiah. It was not an instantaneous healing, but a healing over a period time. In answer to all their prayers, God spared his life on behalf of Paul, who was in prison at the time facing death (Ph 2:27).

We must not conclude this point without referring to Paul who could not receive an answer for his own physical affliction. He recognized that God gave him “a thorn in the flesh” (2 Co 12:7). Paul confessed, “For this thing I implored the Lord three times that it might depart from me” (2 Co 12:8). But the mountain of the thorn did not go away. And because it did not, Paul concluded,

“Therefore, I take pleasure in weaknesses, in insults, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’ sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong(2 Co 12:10).

[Next in series: Nov. 27]

Areas Of Answer

When we discuss prayer, and God’s answer to our prayers, there are key points that define the areas in which God works in the Christian’s life. These are definite areas in which the inspired writers directed the saints to pray in order to call on the intervention of God in our lives. Each re­quest for prayer that is made in the Bible is an indirect definition of how God the Spirit can and will come to our aid.

Though we may not understand the mystery of how God would bring about an answer to prayer, we must accept the fact that God works in many areas simply because of the Holy Spirit’s inspired record of these prayer requests. We should thus be encouraged to do as the Holy Spirit stated in Philippians 4:6: “Do not be anxious for anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

Not only did the in­spired writers make these prayers, but they also encour­aged others to pray to God in order to unleash the power of God in their lives.

We must remember, however, that all prayer is answered according to the will of God. When we pray concerning the changing of the normal occurrence of natural law, we must understand that God often wills that we endure our impending mountains in order that our characters be prepared for heavenly dwelling. In other words, the answer to our prayer may be that God wants us to struggle over a particular mountain in order to prepare us to be a more serviceable disciple on earth and a greater resident of heaven (See 1 Pt 1:6,7).

We must not forget this statement: “For whom the Lord loves He disciplines [with mountains to climb], and scourges every son who He receives” (Hb 12:6). The Hebrew writer continued, “If you endure discipline [mountains], God deals with you as with sons” (Hb 12:8). Therefore, “do not despise the disciplining [mountains sent forth] of the Lord” (Hb 12: 5). We must remember the following:

“Now no discipline seems to be joyous at the time, but grievous. Nevertheless, afterward it yields a peaceable fruit of righteousness” (Hb 12:11).

Our prayers may not be answered as we would want them to be answered. Therefore, if we are enduring the trial of a mountain climb, it is good to remember that God is working on our character in order to prepare us for ministry to others who are climbing the same mountain. He is also preparing us for eternal appreciation in an environment wherein …

“… God will wipe away every tear form their eyes. And there will be no more death nor sorrow nor crying. Nor will there be any more pain, for the former things [mountain climbs] have passed away” (Rv 21:4).

[Next in series: Nov. 25]

Over, Around, or Through

Mountains are difficult to climb. They were obstacles in one’s journey. Mountains on a journey are in contrast to walking across the plains. Nevertheless, when a mountain had to be climbed in order to finish one’s journey, it had to be overcome. This was the meaning of the metaphor that Jesus used in reference to the obstacles the apostles would personally encounter on their walk of faith. And since Jesus said that they needed only the faith the size of a mustard seed, then they could walk over the obstacles of mountains throughout their lives.

One of those apostles to whom Jesus made this statement was killed by Herod (At 12:1,2). Physical death, therefore was the final mountain that James had to overcome in order to be with His Lord. His faith allowed him to be the first martyr of the apostles. When stones started to be hurled at Stephen, his faith moved him to look unto heaven (At 7:59,60). Death was also his final mountain to climb. The angel to the church of Smyrna would remind all of us: “Do not fear those things [mountains] that you will suffer …. Be faithful unto death and I will give you the crown of life” (Rv 2:10). In other words, have faith, for even with a faith as a mustard seed one can conquer the fear of death (See Hb 2:14,15).

Life is one mountain after another that we must overcome. Before Paul went to the water in obedience to the gospel, Jesus revealed to him all the mountains that he would have to climb throughout his life in order to be victorious (At 9:15). Paul later listed for the Corinthians some of the mountains that he overcame through faith (See 2 Co 11:23-28). He overcame so many mountains in living the gospel of Jesus that in one of his last letters to Timothy, he wrote, “Yes and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution [mountains] (2 Tm 3:12).

Only through faith was Paul able to fight the good fight of the faith and stay the course in order to finish his final mountain of death in Rome (2 Tm 4:7). His last mountain to climb was at the hand of an executioner in Rome.

All of us have our mountains to climb. But we must be encouraged by the fact that it takes only the faith of a “mustard seed” to climb and over come these mountains. Therefore, we must not misunderstand what Jesus promised His apostles. We would not remove any physical mountains of dirt and rocks through our faith. The apostles’ faith was far beyond that of a mustard seed, but they still did not literally displace any mountains on this earth. The mountains to which Jesus referred would be those obstacles that hinder us in our gospel living. We can trust, however, that …

“… God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able to endure, but will with the temptation also make a way of escape so that you may be able to endure” (1 Co 10:13).

Think of the preceding statement in view of what Jesus promised the apostles. God will not allow any mountains to be set before us that we cannot climb. This is the first promise to remember when facing the challenge of a mountain. Second, we must remember that God will always give us a passage to walk either over, around, or just straight through any mountain that we may face. This is what James meant in James 1:3: “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the trying of your faith produces patience.”

We rejoice in our trials for two reasons: (1) We know that God will make a way up, over or around any mountain. For this reason, we can rejoice. (2) We also know that we must face the mountains in order to grow in faith. And then we must remember that Jesus said that even a “mustard seed” faith will empower us to conquer any mountain that may be in our way. Therefore, James concluded, “But someone may say, ‘You have faith and I have works. Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works (Js 2:18). We could apply this to the reality of life by saying, “I will show you my faith by the mountains that I have overcome.”

The preceding is exactly what the heroes of faith did in former times. God gave both Abel and Cain the mountain of offering blood sacrifices. But by faith, Abel climbed this mountain by raising his own blood sacrifices. This was in contrast to Cain who simply collected the fruits of his field with which he had no personal connection (Hb 11:4). By faith Enoch overcame the mountain of wickedness of the generation in which he lived (Hb 11:5). By faith Noah built an ark in view of the impending mountain of destruction that was soon to come upon the face of the earth (Hb 12:7). By faith, Abraham overcame the mountain of having to leave his lifetime friends in the Ur of the Chaldeas (Hb 11:9,10). By faith Sarah overcame the mountain of childbirth in her old age (Hb 11:11,12). All these heroes of faith overcame great mountains, and yet reminded faithful (Hb 11:13). And if we would heed these and other examples of the faith of the ancients, we too can enjoy the victory of faith (See Hb 11:13-16). We can now understand why John wrote, “And this is the victory that overcomes the world [of mountains], our faith” (1 Jn 5:4).

We visit the sick at home or in the hospital who are mentally struggling to overcome some mountain of physical affliction. We pray for them that God may raise them up (Js 5:14,15). Their healing is God’s business, which thing He will do on His own time. But it is our business to call on the Holy Spirit to bring comfort and strength into the life of the afflicted.

Physical affliction is the mountain over which the afflicted must overcome. They need emotional strength. The afflicted, by faith, are strengthened and comforted by knowing that they will mentally overcome the mountain that has been placed before them. By faith they recall that God will not allow them to be tested with a mountain they cannot overcome. By faith we understand that God the Spirit will supply comfort in times of bereavement and strength in times of trial.

We will not, therefore, leave the afflicted on their sick bed with a false expectation that they will be instantaneously healed at the time we say “amen” to our prayer for them. We will not give them a vain promise that we will meet them immediately after the prayer at the hospital office in order check them out of the hospital because they have been instantly healed. In other words, we will not make the hospital visit in order to make the afflicted feel even worse about their own faith than before we arrived. We will not give them a false expectation that they should have been healed immediately because of our prayer for them. Or, we will not make them feel that their faith is smaller than a mustard seed, because, we have assumed, that if one had at least a mustard seed faith he or she would be immediately cured of his or her affliction. Some need to ask themselves if they feel worse after the visit of the preacher than before he came and prayed for them. Did the preacher bring down judgment on them because their faith was supposedly not strong enough to be healed immediately?

Those who are afflicted feel better when someone does not judge them for their lack of faith because they were not immediately cured because prayer has been uttered for them. When the sick are trying to climb emotionally a mountain of physical affliction, they need prayer for strength and comfort, not judgment that they do not have enough faith to be restored to health immediately.

In Jesus’ promise of “moving mountains,” He was not referring to physical things. He was referring to mental victories over obstacles (mountains) that stand in our way as we live the gospel in a world of suffering and evil. Sometimes the obstacles that stand in our way might be physical. However, there must be a mental victory over the physical before any mental mountain can be removed by faith. What Jesus was promising in reference to mountain moving was in reference to minds (faith), not moving literal dirt and rock mountains.

[Next in series: Nov. 23]

Moving Mountains

When we consider God’s answer to our prayers, there is one statement that was made by Jesus that is almost always misunderstood. In order to correct this misunderstanding, we must first remember that Jesus, in His earthly ministry, ministered to the Jews in order to bring their thinking to the fact that He was the fulfillment of all prophecy in reference to the Messiah. But not only did He fulfill the prophecies, He was also the suffering Servant about whom Isaiah prophesied.

The initial disciples of Jesus were Jews. His immediate audience was made up of Jews who knew well their Old Testament prophets, though they had difficulty connecting the dots between Jesus and the prophecies of the Messiah. Nevertheless, in His private teaching of His twelve apostles there was one figure of speech that the Jews understood well because of their past history of survival:

“For truly I say to you, if you [apostles] have faith the size of a mustard seed, you [apostles] will say to this mountain, “Move from here to there,” and it will move. And nothing will be impossible to you [apostles](Mt 17:20; see Mt 21:21; Mk 11:23).

This statement was made on the occasion when the disciples’ were not able to cast out a particular demon. Because they could not cast out the demon, they came to Jesus privately, after having been embarrassed by their inability to cast out the demon. They then asked Jesus why they could not cast out the demon. After Jesus chastised them for their “little faith,” He made the preceding statement in reference to “this mountain.” The common misunderstanding of this statement of Jesus is in reference to the “mountain.”

But Jesus was not finished with the preceding exhortation in reference to “mountains.” On another occasion, Jesus cursed a fig tree because it did not produce fruit. In answer to the disciples’ marvel about the withered fig tree, He made a similar statement that He had earlier made in reference to their inability to cast out the demon: “If you [apostles] have faith and do not doubt, you [apostles] will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but also if you [apostles] will say to this mountain, ‘Be removed and cast into the sea,’ it will be done” (Mt 21:21).

The problem is not in understanding what Jesus said, but what He meant in both statements in reference to moving mountains. Some have unfortunately misunderstood what Jesus was personally saying to His apostles in reference to their faith. Some have concluded that He was referring to moving literal mountains of dirt and rocks if only they had enough faith. In other words, some assume that Jesus used a hyperbole (an exaggeration to emphasize a truth) in order to illustrate the power of faith. But if we were Jews who knew well the prophets’ use of the word “mountain,” then we would think differently.

Therefore, we question the interpretation that Jesus had in mind physical mountains of dirt and rocks. He was not using a hyperbole in reference to moving great mountains of dirt and rocks by a faith that was even as small as a mustard seed. The first indication that He did not have this in mind is in the fact that He made both statements to Jewish disciples. For this reason, we must understand what He was saying in reference to how His Jewish disciples understood the frequent use of the word “mountain” throughout the writings of the Old Testament.

The second reason we question the traditional interpretation of physically moving mountains of dirt and rocks to define one’s faith is in what Jesus said in reference to the inability of the disciples to cast out the demon. He said, “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed.” A mustard seed is not large, but small. Therefore, the reference is not to a strong faith, but a very small faith. Now consider this if Jesus used the hyperbole of moving mountains of dirt and rocks. For example, since we have no historical evidence that either Peter, James, Matthew or the other apostles literally moved any mountains of dirt and rocks, then we could suppose that their faith never grew to be at least the size of a mustard seed. But their faith did grow, and yet, we still have no evidence of them “moving mountains of dirt and rocks.”

In reference to a “mustard faith,” we need to consider the extent to which the apostles faith grew. On one occasion, the religious leaders beat the apostles, and then “commandment that they should not speak in the name of Jesus” (At 5:40). But the apostles left the presence of the Jewish council, “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name” (At 5:41). Their faith had grown far beyond a mustard seed. It grew to the point that they could mentally move the mountains of the resistance of the religious leaders of the day.

We would suggest, therefore, that Jesus was not using a hyperbole. He was using the word “mountain” as a metaphor. His audience for centuries had used the word “mountain” as a metaphor in prophetic pronouncements. Even in the personal lives of the Old Testament Israelites, the word “mountain” was used as a metaphor as it is often used today.

[Next in series: Nov. 21]

God Answers

It is in the area of prayer that we understand how God works in our lives today. An investigation of the prayers of the biblical writers de­fines areas in which God works. In other words, if a partic­ular prayer were made or requested in an inspired book of the Bible, then it is reasonable to conclude that God works in the area for which the request is made.

If by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit a writer request­ed that prayers be made for a partic­ular reason, then it is logical to conclude that God works in the area of the instructed prayer request. It is for this reason that the subject of prayer helps us to understand the areas in which God works in the lives of Christians today.

It would not be logical to say that the New Testa­ment writers asked us to pray to God for things that they knew He would not give. Neither would we conclude that God deceived the writers of the Bible documents to ask things He never intended to answer in the first place. Though we may not understand how prayers are answered, the fact is that they are. And because they are, then we can correctly assume that God the Spirit continues to work in our lives today.

It is simply not logical to believe that the things for which the biblical writers asked in prayer could not be answered. For example, Jesus instructed, “Ask, and it will be given to you” (Mt 7:7). Also, He did not give Christians a hopeless expecta­tion when He said to His disciples, “Whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them (Mk 11:24). The very fact that He asked His disciples to pray is evidence that God worked in their lives in order to answer their prayers. Therefore, we must believe that we receive the answers to our prayers when we follow Jesus’ instructions to pray.

It is essential that Christians develop a sincere life of prayer to God that is based on a belief that God truly works in our lives (Js 1:5,6). We must aspire in expectation for God’s answers to our prayers. Therefore, as we study the Bible in order to determine how God works in the life of the Christian, we must study those things for which the writ­ers of the Bible directed us to ask and pray.

[Next in series: Nov. 19]

Angels In The Epistles

Throughout the letters of the New Testament, several statements are made concerning angels. However, many of the statements are made with little explanation of who angels are. Angels just show up on the scene in the early history of the church. Why the Holy Spirit left us with little explanation is not difficult to understand. Our primary focus as Christians is on Jesus, not the Holy Spirit or angels. The Holy Spirit guided John to record the words of Jesus that when the Holy Spirit came after the ascension of Jesus, “He [the Holy Spirit],” Jesus declared,will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will declare it to you” (Jn 16:14).

The New Testament writers were inspired to mention angels in different contexts. However, at the same time, the inspired writers did not dwell on the subject of defining the character and nature of angels, nor their ministry on behalf of the saints. The Holy Spirit minimized this information in order that our focus as Christians not be diverted from the central theme of the gospel. The brevity of such information assumes that the Holy Spirit left us with our own imagination concerning the presence and ministry of angels in the lives of the New Testament characters. We would also conclude that the Spirit left us with the task of wondering how the angels would work past the close of the early beginning of the church.

Another thought for why the Holy Spirit left us with little explanation on this matter is in the fact that He wanted us to assume that God’s normal work with the saints throughout history needs no further explanation. As we study the work of angels throughout the history of man in the Bible, God assumes that we will draw the conclusion that He has not parked His angels in reserve until the final day when Jesus comes.

Angels have not gone into retirement. They continue to work on behalf of the saints, though our perception of them and their work is not through our senses. Though they are not perceived, we must not conclude that they are inactive, or are not there. What the Holy Spirit wants us to imagine is that God continues to work through angels on special occasions. They are there, though just beyond our senses. Therefore, we would not be dogmatic about them being there.

In the Colossian epistle Paul attacked the Colossian disciples’ tendency to worship angels. “Let no man disqualify you of your reward by delighting in false humility and the worship of angels” (Cl 2:18). When John fell down before an angel of God at the beginning of the visions of the book of Revelation, the angel said to him,Do not do that, for I am your fellow servant, and of your brethren the prophets, and of those who keep the sayings of this book. Worship God (Rv 22:8,9). Since no angel or man on earth has the right to receive the worship that is to be extended to God only, the angel before whom John fell quickly corrected the actions of John. The angel, under no circumstances, would accept worship from John.

From Paul’s admonition in Colossians 2:18, and the event of John falling down before an angel who rebuked him for doing such, we would conclude that angels should never be worshiped. Angels themselves understand that worship is to be directed only toward God. If they accepted worship, then they would be in danger of being cast down to darkness to await the destruction of the final day (2 Pt 2:4).

Jesus now has authority over all angelic beings. He “has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, angels and authorities and powers having been made subject to Him (1 Pt 3:22). Since Jesus is the King of kings and Lord of lords (1 Tm 6:15), then all those who are of His kingdom reign should be in submission to Him. And since we reign with our King, then in the end, angels also will be subject to us. This seems to be what Paul indicated in 1 Corinthians 6:3 when he mentioned that the saints will judge angels (See Rm 5:17). It is for this reason also that angels watch in reference to the obedience of the saints.

Some sisters among the Corinthian disciples were uncovering their heads as a show of disrespect for authority in the culture. Since angels are aware of the behavior of the saints, Paul exhorted that the sisters continue wearing the symbol of submission in the culture. They should do this for the sake of the angels. Paul wrote in reference to the head covering, “For this reason the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head because of the angels (1 Co 11:10).

Before the creation there were some angels who did not submit to the authority of their Creator. As a consequence, they were cast down from heavenly places and are now awaiting their just punishment in the fire and brimstone of hell (Mt 25:41). Paul wrote to some Corinthian sisters not to encourage any other angels to do what the rebellious angels did before the creation of the world.

Paul did not want those in Corinth, who had aligned themselves with Jesus as their King and Lord, to arrogantly rebel against the authority of God. In this sense, therefore, Paul could have been exhorting the women of Corinth to manifest continually a spirit of submission for the sake of the angels. Though the head covering in most cultures of the world today does not manifest a position of submission, such did in the culture of Corinth. The women of the time could thus reveal their submission by covering their heads. Nevertheless, in all situations today, the saints must give an example of submission as an example for angels. This thought was surely in the mind of Paul when he wrote, “… submitting to one another in the fear of God” (Ep 5:21).

Angels were often mentioned in the manifestation of the visions that came to John the apostle. Throughout the book of Revelation we are constantly reminded that angels played a key role in the Holy Spirit’s work to reveal the visions to John. It is probably a personification that the word “angel” is used in reference to there being an angel for each of the seven churches of Asia (Rv 1:20). Therefore, it is not necessary to conclude that God assigns an angel to the collective group of disciples in every city throughout the world.

In the book of Revelation, John mentions the “angel of the waters” (Rv 16:5), the angel that “has power over fire” (Rv 14:18; see 7:1; 19:17), and the “angel of the abyss” (Rv 9:11). Mention is also made that there was war in the spiritual realm between Michael and his angels against the dragon and his angelic beings (Rv 12). As previously mentioned, the result of this war was that Satan was cast down. Whether or not this was a picture of what actually happened before creation, we are not told. Nevertheless, we could assume that John was given a vision of what actually happened before the creation in order to use what happened then to illustrate what happened in the spiritual realm at the cross of Jesus when the head of Satan was crushed (See Gn 3:15).

Before the coming of Jesus as the Messiah, a unique theology developed among the Jews concerning the existence and work of angels. Since there was a lack of an intercessory being who would function as Jesus eventually would, the Jews sought for mediators between God and man. This desire for mediators or intercessors led to a concerted effort on the part of Jewish theologians to exalt the place and work of angels between God and man. This exaltation of angels is revealed in the first arguments of the Hebrew writer in order to avert an apostasy of some Jewish saints back to Judaism. In the first two chapters of Hebrews, the writer made a contrast between the place and being of Jesus and that of angels. Throughout the first two chapters, the writer affirmed the proposition that was set forth in a question: “But to which of the angels did He ever say, ‘Sit at My right hand until I make Your enemies Your footstool’”? (Hb 1:13). The fact was, at the time Hebrews was written, God had never exalted any angel, especially to a position of authority.

Though our focus as Christians is to be solely on Jesus, this does not set aside our beliefs, and often speculations, concerning the presence and work of angels in the world today. Angels are still rejoicing over the repentance of sinners. Angels are still working as ministering spirits on behalf of those who will inherit eternal salvation. They are still before the throne of God, giving glory to God.

We are limited to a very small empirical world wherein we can only perceive that which exists through our senses. However, there is a world beyond our senses that is filled with the mystery of God. In this spiritual realm are angels who go about in order to service the needs of the saints. We can speculate concerning the ministry of these angels. We can imagine their presence and being. However, the limitations of our senses frustrates us from visually encountering these heavenly beings. We even say this with caution, since the Hebrew writer indicated that some have entertained angels without their knowledge thereof: “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels(Hb 13:2).


Angels And The Early Saints

Sprinkled throughout the New Testament are several references to angels. It is not that the New Testament teaches specific things about angels in reference to their character and nature. Our information concerning angels is derived indirectly from the work that they performed in the first century, which work was recorded by the Holy Spirit. From their work, therefore, we learn much about who they were and their existence. One important point we learn about angels in the New Testament is the fact that belief in angels played a significant role in the theology of the early disciples, specifically the Jewish disciples.

During His ministry, Jesus spoke of the angels of heaven (Mt 22:30), as well as the devil and his angels (Mt 25:41). These were the two groups of angels in the spirit world. There were angels who worked on behalf of God for the sake of the disciples. And then there were those angels who were associated with Satan, and thus worked to discourage the work of God. As previously stated, we assume that those angels, or demons, who were with Satan had fallen with him after their creation, and subsequent rebellion in heavenly places.

Jesus declared that the angels of heaven were holy, that is, they were set apart for specific tasks (Mk 8:38). Though they are intellectual beings, they are not omniscient; they did not, during the ministry of Jesus, know the coming of the Lord in judgment on Jerusalem (Mt 24:36). They are beings without sex, and thus without sexual desires (Mt 22:30). Any appearance of an angel, therefore, would not be in the appearance of men with wings and halos, or women with flowing blond hair. It is difficult to extract all the imaginary portrayals of angels from our minds. But in order to be objective, we must.

Jesus was the very creator of angels, and thus it is interesting to note what He said in reference to angels during His earthly ministry. In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, Jesus taught that angels were present at the time of the death of Lazarus, for the spirit of Lazarus was carried away to Abraham’s bosom by angels (Lk 16:22). From this incident we would assume that at the point of death of the righteous, there are angels present, though we cannot perceive their presence through the senses. They are there to carry away our spirits to Abraham’s bosom, or in the case of Christians, to carry our spirit away to the care of Jesus. In this sense, therefore, when we die we are in the presence of Jesus because the angels have faithfully delivered our spirits to Him (See Ph 1:23).

Jesus used the metaphor of Abraham’s bosom in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus because He was, during His ministry, speaking primarily to the Jews (Lk 16:22). But now in reference to Christians, we would assume that we will be carried away to Jesus upon our death. We assume this because when Jesus comes again, He will “bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus” (1 Th 4:14). If we die before the final coming of Jesus, we will be one of those whom Jesus will bring with Him in order to collect the living saints.

We cannot verify the presence of an angel, or angels, through empirical senses at the time of the death of a saint. We can only assume that when a saint is near death, there are angels present who stand ready to carry away the spirit of the departing saint. We say this because we would not believe that at the point of death the spirit of the saint evaporates into the collective of oblivion, as is taught by Buddhism. On the contrary, Hebrews 1:14 states concerning the ministry of angels, “Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to minister to those who will inherit salvation?” We would assume, therefore, that one of the last tasks of the “ministering spirits” on our behalf is to carry our spirit, at the time of our death, safely into the arms of Jesus.

One of the missions of angels is to deliver God’s people. Of His own deliverance, Jesus said that twelve legions of angels could have been sent to deliver Him from the hands of His enemies (Mt 26:53). If angels could have delivered the Son of God from the cross, then certainly they will be able to deliver us from the destruction of the world that is yet to come.

In reference to the spiritual deliverance of a soul from sin, angels rejoice when just one sinner repents (Lk 15:10; see 1 Co 4:9; Ep 3:10; 1 Pt 1:12). In Luke 12:8 Jesus said, “Also I say to you, whoever will confess Me before men, him will the Son of Man also confess before the angels of God.” In this statement, Jesus wanted us to understand that the angels are sincerely interested in our repentance. They yearn that we repent and join them in eternity. No angel will have endured the suffering of living in the flesh of man on earth, and thus, we would assume that all angels honor every saint who has endured the suffering of this world. They thus rejoice when one obeys the gospel, which means that that person will be delivered from the second death when they come with Jesus.

There is little information in the Bible concerning “guardian angels.” In a single statement that is recorded in the Bible, there is an indication that there is before God “guardian angels” who minister on behalf of the saints. Jesus said, “Take heed that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that in heaven their angels continually see the face of My Father who is in heaven” (Mt 18:10). Since this is the only statement in Scripture where the concept of guardian angels is mentioned, it would be a weak argument to assume that this is a central ministry of angels. However, if the concept is true, then we must keep in mind that the angels about whom Jesus spoke, are “in heaven.” Whether collective as a group of angels, or as a designated angel for each “little one,” we do not know.

Has God assigned an angel to the “little ones”? Are the little ones represented before God with the presence of an angel? There is certainly no harm in this belief. It is an area in which one would walk by faith. Whether the Holy Spirit or angels, we would conclude from a summary of New Testament statements that God is present and working in the lives of His saints through the medium of the Holy Spirit and angels. The Father has not left us abandoned to this world. In this context of teaching concerning angels, we must remember that angels are “ministering spirits sent forth to minister to those who will inherit salvation” (Hb 1:14). When the Hebrew writer made this statement, he assumed that we would understand the statement for what it says.

Another statement that enlightens us concerning the behavior of angels is the statement of Jesus in Matthew 6:10: “Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Obedience to the will of God is carried out in heaven by those who dwell in heavenly places. Angels dwell in heavenly places, and thus, angels are obedient to the will of God in heaven. Those angels who are in the presence of God in heavenly places are behaving in obedience to the will of God. This indicates that in some way angels have free-moral choice in reference to obedience of the will of God. They are not robots. Free-moral choice indicates that they have the choice of obeying the will of God or disobeying. Those angels who are “in heaven,” therefore, are an example of obedience to the will of God. We should pray that this obedient spirit should take place on earth throughout the world.

Throughout the Bible there is also revelation concerning the fall of angelic beings (See Jb 4:18; Ez 28:12-19; Mt 25:41; 2 Pt 2:4; Rv 12:9). Dwelling in the spirit realm of existence are also the fallen angels. These are those angels who have been cast down. Peter wrote of these fallen angels: “God did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to pits of darkness and reserved them for judgment(2 Pt 2:4; Jd 6). These are those angels whom Jesus will eventually consign to eternal hell at the final judgment.

In fact, what Jesus stated in Matthew 25:41 seems to indicate that hell is specifically prepared for the devil and these fallen angels: “Depart from Me you cursed into everlasting fire that is prepared for the devil and his angels.” The fact that some angels in the past rebelled against the will of God, assumes the fact that angels are free-moral beings who have the opportunity to choose in reference to the will of God. Sometime in the past, some angels chose to rebel against the will of God, and thus, they are reserved in darkness until they are eventually cast into eternal destruction.

Since all things have been created by God the Son (Cl 1:16), then we must conclude that the Son created all angels, and subsequently, the Son has authority to take out those angels who rebelled. However, and as previously stated, we must not conclude that Satan was initially created to be evil. John wrote of God, “God is light and in Him is no darkness at all” (1 Jn 1:5). The One in whom there is no darkness cannot create that which is darkened with sin. On the contrary, all that God created was good. Nevertheless, since angels, including Satan, were created with the freedom to make choices, Satan and some angels gave up their proper dwelling. They rebelled against God. They were subsequently cast down from their dwelling in the presence of God. What Jesus seems to indicate in the Matthew 25:41 statement is the fact that destruction is waiting for these rebellious angels, including their leader, Satan. Jesus will eventually say to all the wicked, “Depart from Me you cursed into everlasting fire that is prepared for the devil and his angels.”

But before the coming condemnation of Satan and his angels, we must not assume that Satan’s demons are freely roaming about among humans cursing and indwelling whomever they so choose. Those who believe this fail to understand the authority that Jesus presently has over all things, including the demonic world (See Mt 28:18; Ep 1:20-22). Even during His earthly ministry in His lowered state in the flesh, demons were terrified of the authority of Jesus. On one occasion during His ministry, demons begged Jesus, “that He not command them to go out into the abyss” (Lk 8:30). When Jesus’ disciples returned to Him after a mission trip, they said of their experience with demons, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name” (Lk 10:17). And then Jesus said, “I saw Satan fall from heaven as lightning” (Lk 10:18).

We must not forget that when Jesus ascended to His heavenly throne in order to reign over all things with all authority, demons were greatly restricted. This is the assurance that Paul gave to the Ephesians who lived in a culture of all sorts of supposed roaming spirits of the demonic world: “He says, ‘When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive and gave gifts to men’” (Ep 4:8). So in view of His coronation at the right hand of God the Father, Jesus reminded the world, “Now will the ruler of this world be cast out” (Jn 12:31). If Jesus now exercises this authority over demons, then certainly He is in control of all angels. It is now that “angels and authorities and powers” have been made subject to Him (1 Pt 3:22).

[Next in series: Nov. 16]