When the church was first established, unique events transpired as a result of the work of angels. When the apostles were imprisoned, an angel opened the doors of the prison for the apostles and instructed them to go and preach in the temple (At 5:19). Because God wanted the Ethiopian eunuch as a special evangelist to Africa, an angel was sent to Philip in order to inform Philip that the eunuch was on his way back to Africa (At 8:26). It was Philip who had the responsibility to preach the gospel to the eunuch, not the angel.
When God sought to inform the church that He wanted the gospel preached specifically to the Gentile nations, He sent an angel to Cornelius, the one who would be the example of Gentile obedience (At 10:3). Cornelius was then commanded by the angel to send for Peter who would teach him the word of the gospel by which he would be saved (At 10:22). An angel also appeared to Peter while he was in Herod’s prison, awaiting execution (At 12:7). An angel also smote Herod for his arrogant behavior, and thus, he was eaten with worms (At 12:23). An angel also appeared to Paul in a dream in order to comfort him on his journey as a prisoner to Rome (At 27:23).
What may be significant in reference to the work of angels in the first century when the church was initially established, is that there is little biblical information concerning a conclusion to the work of angels in reference to the disciples. The initial work of the Holy Spirit involved His ministry through the miraculous gifts that were given to the early disciples by the laying on of the apostles’ hands (At 8:18). But when the last Christ-sent apostle died, this ministry was eventually concluded when the last person died on whom the apostles had laid hands. In the beginning of the church, it was also the work of the Holy Spirit to reveal all truth to the apostles in reference to the gospel, and then inspire the recording of that truth as the New Testament documents. The Holy Spirit thus concluded His particular work in order that the disciples rely on the power of the word of God. He would continue His ministry in an indirect manner through this gospel dispensation. But we have no deductive conclusion for the cessation of the ministry of angels. We simply conclude that they two would carry on in some way throughout this gospel dispensation.
No reason is given in the New Testament for the cessation of the work of angels. Their ministries were specific, and often particular in reference to individuals. Though we have Holy Spirit inspired accounts of the appearance and work of angels in the first century, we do not have such inspired accounts today. We would only assume that the work of angels will not be finished until the last saint is secured in the arms of God. It is then that the angels will join with Jesus in His coming in order to collect the remaining saints who are alive at the time of the end of all things.
There is at least one final event of world history in which angels will be involved. Paul wrote, “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God” (1 Th 4:16). We know that the angels will be involved in this final coming of Jesus. Paul gave us a very specific revelation of this matter when he wrote the following:
“For it is a just thing with God to repay tribulation to those who trouble you, and to give you who are afflicted rest with us when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, taking vengeance on those who do not know God and who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Th 1:6-8).
Assuming that the parables of Jesus in Matthew 25 are pictures of the final judgment, Matthew 25:31 would be a parallel statement to the preceding revelation: “When the Son of Man will come in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory.” This revelation of the future consummation of all things is reminiscent of the consummation of the world through the flood of Noah’s day. It was then that “Enoch also, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of these, saying, ‘Behold, the Lord came with ten thousands of His saints [angels] to execute judgment on all'” (Jd 14,15).
In all the above cases of the appearance of angels, angels worked in unique situations in order to bring about the will of God for the destiny of this world. They were not sent to be preachers of the gospel to the unbelievers. They were not sent as teachers for the saved, or even judges of the saved. They were sent as special envoys of God in times of crisis for ministry to carrying out the work of God among those of this world. In the events of the end of all things, they will continue to assist in carrying out the work of God to consummate all things of this present world.
[Next in series: Nov. 12]