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]