Our Heavenly Brothers
A study of the angels
This is the second of three parts
of a convention discourse
In the book of Daniel the prophet (4:13,17,23), angels are called "watchers" in the sense of watching or guarding. A number of texts have led some to believe that we each have a guardian angel. There are certainly enough! As an example, Acts 12 relates Peter's release from prison (12:7-11). He goes to the home of Mark, knocks on the outer door and calls to be let in. The servant girl Rhoda is so excited to hear Peter's voice that she runs in to tell everybody, overlooking to let him in. They do not believe her and say something quite remarkable (v.15), "It is his angel."
Our Lord also said something very interesting in Matthew 18:10, pointing out the protective duties and abilities of angels to warn men against despising the little ones in His Kingdom. "See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven continually see the face of My Father who is in heaven." Beware! Jesus states. It is a remarkable thing to reveal, for such angels must be of the highest rank because they 'always behold the face of my Father'. The book of Kings (2 Kings 25:19) uses a similar expression when it speaks of certain ones having "access to the king", being close to the King, and they must therefore be of royal rank and have a degree of familiarity which even the highest state ministers dare not assume (see John 1:51; Ps. 34:5-9; Is.63:9).
And yet even though angels are so close to God, there were some things revealed only to man, even before angels, and hence Peter states that into these very things, "angels long to look into" (1 Pet.1:12 NIV). The Greek word translated "look into" is para-kupto and means 'to stoop beside', stooping down in order to scrutinise and carefully examine (see also James 1:25 where the same Greek word appears). Hence Weymouth, "Angels long to stoop and look into these things". The Modern Language Bible (New Berkeley Version), "things into which the angels long to stoop and look." Though powerful, their knowledge has limits (Matt.24:36; Mk.13:32). How much they come to know and what is revealed to them is only given to man with God's approval (see Rev.7:13; 17:6; 21:9,10; 22:1; Gal.1:8). Certainly their messages contributed to the writing of the Bible (Gal.3:19).
Angels are, then, deeply interested in man's salvation. The angel who brought the tidings of great joy at Jesus' birth (Lk.2:10) clearly felt the joy himself and the song that angels sang in praise of God was the outcome of joyous hearts. God's heavenly sons have a very great love for the Son of God and many times in the book of Revelation they are seen singing praises to God and the Lamb for the salvation of man.
It is staggering to have revealed to us that not only do angels assist us but as Paul writes (Heb.1:14) they are "sent to minister". Such is their faithfulness, humility, and self effacement, they help and assist and aid and serve those on Earth who will receive immortality (Rom.2:7; 1 Cor.15:50-54), and who will be placed over them as may be indicated when 1 Cor.6:3 states "do you not know that we shall judge angels?" That the Christian is 'in Christ' has led some to suggest this means 'above angels' (see Eph.1.22,23). God's faithful heavenly sons know that the promise given is that we will share in the likeness of Jesus Christ's resurrection with all the glory that entails, and yet angels are happy to help us attain this glory and immortality, that's humility (Rom.6:5). We've served faithfully for a fraction of time, they billions of years, and not a speck of jealousy do they have. Would we be willing to have someone 'promoted' above us who has only a fraction of the experience we have gained? Would we resent it? And that is something more we know about our heavenly brothers, that they themselves do not possess immortality, they do not possess what Jesus called 'life in itself' (John 6:53), life within life as far as we know. Angelic mortality is indicated by the fact that they can die even though they are spirit creatures (Lk.4:33,34; Jude 6).
They are mortal in their world as we are in ours. We require oxygen, water and food to sustain our lives; so also angels must take something that God has provided from their environment, as we do, to sustain their lives. (Ps.78:25 speaks of 'the bread of angels', manna provided by the angels for the Israelites. See 1 Kings 19:5-8; Matt.4:11). An immortal person does not depend on the external environment for life. Immortality is 'life within itself', life from God, God-given 'self-existence'. Angels were created, like humans, with a dependence on external means as a part of their makeup to keep them alive. Because of this, like ourselves, angels can get tired. An immortal person does not require sustenance, would not get tired, and would not need rest to recuperate. It is life on a completely different and higher plane. This is confirmed in the book of Daniel chapter 9 where Daniel prays for the release out of Babylon of his people. Verse 21 state: "while I was speaking in prayer the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision at the beginning, being caused to fly swiftly, reached me about the time of the evening offering" (NKJ).
The two Hebrew words translated "being caused to fly swiftly" may also be translated "being weary with weariness". The AV, like the NKJ translates Dan.9:21 "being caused to fly swiftly", which implies exertion, the note in the margin "Heb. 'with weariness'" (LXX, Vg. "being borne along speedily"). Of the two Hebrew words, mu'ap bi'ap, the issue is whether the verb derives from 'up ("to fly") or from y'p ("to be weary"). Most translations opt for the former whilst noting the alternative in footnotes. Perhaps this is due to the bias of translators who may not think it possible for an angel to get tired, even less exhausted. RV margin records "'being sore wearied' according to the Masoretic Hebrew text". ASV footnote 'being sore wearied'. NEB footnote Heb "thoroughly wearied". Peake's Commentary on Daniel 9:21 and the translation "in swift flight" states, "a probable translation of an obscure phrase 'in great weariness' would also be possible." Byington footnote (p.1185,1186) "lit. 'being fatigued in exhaustion'". Jamiesson, Fausset, Brown Commentary, Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible states, "literally, 'with weariness', that is, move swiftly as one breathless and wearied out with quick running [Gesenius]."
Gabriel was sent appearing in human form yet exhausted and weary. What caused the angel such tiredness? It was due to his exertion in the heavenly realm. A struggle was going on in the heavens for the release of Daniel and his people from the world power of Babylon. Babylon had to be overthrown and no doubt this would involve fighting the demon princes controlling Babylon, and possibly involved an attempt to prevent communication with Daniel so that Gabriel was sent in person. Angels exert themselves in their Fathers service, and toward humans, so much so that they can indeed and probably frequently do get exhausted. Despite Gabriel's tiredness he gives Daniel complicated yet vital prophetic information concerning the Messiah's appearance, the 70 weeks of year's prophecy, also recorded in Daniel chapter 9.
This conflict between angelic rulers of empires on Earth is also unveiled in chapter 10 of Daniel and tells us something further regarding angels. Dan.10:10‑13 (NRSV) "But then a hand touched me and roused me to my hands and knees. He said to me, 'Daniel greatly beloved, pay attention to the words that I am going to speak to you.' So while he was speaking this word to me, I stood up trembling. He said to me, 'Do not fear Daniel, for from the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words have been heard, and I have come because of your words. But the prince of the kingdom of Persia opposed me twenty-one days. So Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, and I left him here with the prince of the kingdom of Persia.'"
Here is revealed a conflict between an angel and the spirit prince of Persia, who was probably attempting to prevent the release of the rest of the Hebrew captives. The struggle was so difficult it took the intervention of "Michael one of the chief princes" (v.13) before the angel could reach Daniel, being held up for 3 weeks, 21 days, and the angel is not too proud to reveal this to Daniel. Michael intervenes, the angel was not then needed (v.14) allowing him to go to Daniel, after which, in verse 20, this angel returns to the war in the heavenly realm.
One of God's own heavenly sons had to fight to get a message to Daniel. In this account we learn that some angels are more powerful than others, Michael here having to intervene on behalf of another angel in order to restrain a demon spirit prince opposing him. This demon prince must himself have been powerful enough to restrain an angel, but not enough to stop Michael, an archangel, 'one of the foremost princes', one amongst possibly many, and possibly a high ranking seraph. Revelation 12:7 also depicts Michael and his angels battling against evil angels.
We also know that angels have great power and strength. The psalms speak of angels as 'excelling in strength' (Ps.103:20; see 2 Pet.2:11). They may appear like lightning (Matt.28:3), and have supernatural appearance (Lk.24:4). Demonstrating just how powerful angels are, was the fact that an angel merely touched the socket of Jacob's thigh putting it out of joint (Gen.32:25). Two angels restrained the men of a city in Gen.19:1,10,11 and had the power to strike them with blindness. These same two angels brought destruction upon Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen.19:13,24), and one angel single-handedly killed an army of 185,000 Assyrians (2 K.19:35). In another account Zerah, an Ethiopian, led an enormous army of one million men plus hundreds of chariots into Judah during Asa's reign. They would have made mincemeat of Judah, yet they met with complete and miraculous defeat, and in this account not a single angel is given or takes the credit (2 Ch.14:1,9-15). An unknown angel protected Daniel's three companions in a superheated furnace of fire (Dan.3:24-28; see also Dan.6:20-22). Obviously our heavenly brothers are content to serve Almighty God without any special honours.
How unlike man who has invented awards for just about every arena in life. And how also unlike man, who often relishes the thought of punishing his fellow man and likes to deal out the judgement of life or death, and cover himself with all kinds of military honours. It cannot be easy for an angel with superior moral powers to have given out punishment. Many times they have had the unpleasant duty to execute those who also had families. The psalms (78:49) inform us that angels were used to bring the plagues on Egypt and that had effects upon the Israelites. (See also 2 Sam.24:14-17; 1Chron.21:15; Ex.12:23; 1 Cor.10:10; 2 Thess.1:7,8; Heb.11:28). They are powerful, but who gives a thought for the angel that had to do it, knowing that there were perhaps grieving families left behind? It could not have been easy. Though they preside over enormous powers, never once in the billions of years they have faithfully served have they misused their powers. How unlike man who finds it difficult even to control the tongue! (See Acts 12:23)
The text at 2 Peter 2:11 indicates how respectful angels are of God, not becoming abusive even towards wicked ones (Jude 9; see Matt.5:39). How difficult this may be for us! Let us imitate angels. We can get justice in courts higher than man's. If we complain let it be to God, and with compassion, not with bitterness.
The Hebrew word elohim, 'mighty one', is also applied to angels (see Ps.8:5 Heb. 'god-like ones') in that they are in a class of being higher than man, a class of mighty ones. Psalm 29:1 has the expression in Hebrew 'sons of the mighty' (Heb. elim; see also Ps.89:6; 103:20). The expression "sons of God" (Heb. elohim) are also used of angels (Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7; Gen.6:2,4).
A name for God, Yahweh of Hosts, or of Armies (Heb. tsava) is found over 280 times in the Bible. The Hebrew word refers to a literal army or combat forces and may be used in a figurative sense (see Gen.2:1; Deut.4:19). The use of the plural form "armies" is appropriate, in that angelic forces are described as divisions of cherubs, seraphs, and angels (Is.6:2,3; 37:16; Rev.5:11), and also as forming organised groups (see Matt.26:53). The expression LORD of Hosts conveys the sense of power held at His command (Jer.32:17,18), from which we can take courage and hope in all our trials. We can take heart from recognising the majesty of Almighty God's position reflected in His control over mighty forces serving from His heavenly courts.
With regard to the number of angels, do we know how many there are? Daniel 7:10 records "a thousand thousands keep ministering to Him, ten thousand times ten thousand stand right before Him". 1,000 times 1,000 equals one million; 10,000 times 10,000 equals 100 million. Hebrews 12:22 speaks of myriads of angels, Deut.33:2 and Jude 14 of 'holy myriads', Revelation 5:11 of 'myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands'. The number one thousand was almost incomprehensible, the Egyptian hieroglyphic for thousand being a man holding up his hands in the air, as if to say 'who can count?' These numbers would have a staggering effect at the time, an amount too wonderful to comprehend (the word myriad literally means 10,000). It is also fitting, given both their number and elevated station, that angels would be called "stars", as at Judges 5:20 and Job 38:7, and also likened to "the army of the heavens" as at 1 Kings 22:19 (see also Is.14:13; Rev.12:4).
This would refer to many millions, even billions upon billions of celestial beings attending the Most High, organised according to Paul (Col.1:16; 2:15; Eph.1:21; 3:9,10; 1 Pet.3:22) into thrones, angelic dominions, governments and authorities, all installed with various delegations of authority stationed alongside God's First and Only Begotten Son. Paul may here be giving a sequence of rank or descriptions of order, 'angels' being a member of the lowest order of a ninefold celestial hierarchy, seraphim, cherubim, thrones, dominions, principalities, powers, virtues, archangels, angels (Oxford Dictionary), but without further information it is impossible to be exact. We cannot conceive the glory and majesty that is theirs serving in the very presence of God, the Almighty Originator and Fountain of life who delights in and radiates pure love, mercy, and loving kindness to all in an inimitable way. The Father of the celestial lights (Jam.1:17), radiates love which extends throughout the entire universe, not only toward the celestial beings up in heaven, but also toward God's creatures down here on Earth (Ps.89:14; Job 36:26).