Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Of Men And Angels

Biblegems #209
Question: I ‘m confused. If angels serve as messengers of God to man, as in Luke 2:9-15, how is it that man is “lower than the angels” (Heb. 2:7)?

The angels are likely the first living beings created by God. When Hebrews 2:7 (quoting Ps. 8:5) describes mankind as “lower than the angels,” a contrast is being made between angels and humanity on two levels—1) the order of creation and 2) the roles God has assigned to them. Psalm 8 views the angels as beings whose spiritual nature enables them to abide continually in God’s presence. Moving easily among the stars scattered across the night sky, the angels reflect God’s “glory in the heavens” (Ps. 8:1).

In contrast to that glory, people are mortal creatures of flesh and blood who are only able to look up in wonder and awe at that glory from the tiny environment of earth.
         Ps. 8:3 (ESV) When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?

The shepherds on the hills outside Jerusalem likely felt that same sense of awe and wonder when:
“…an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them…” and then “…suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!’” (Lk. 2:13-14).

But that same contrast in apparent beauty and glory also causes David to reflect on how God has also “crowned” humanity “with glory and honor” (Ps. 8:5b) by giving lowly mankind dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet…” (Ps. 8:6b). Even though mankind was created in one sense as “a little lower than the heavenly beings,” God has also ”crowned him with glory and honor” (Ps. 8:5) far above that of the angels.

The “dominion” David spoke of in Psalm 8 was forfeited when Adam and Eve sinned against God in Eden. All creation suffers the effects of death and decay until Jesus re-establishes complete dominion over all creation—not just the earth—, together with all the resurrected, redeemed children of God:
Rom. 8:19-21 (NIV) For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.

No angel will ever wear that crown of dominion (Heb. 2:5). Instead, even though they were created before man and have a nature seemingly superior to that of man, they are nevertheless beings who were specifically created to assist God in bringing lost human beings to a salvation through faith in Jesus Christ (Heb. 2:14) that will ultimately result in lifting humanity to an exalted position in Jesus Christ over all creation:

         2Tim. 2:12 “…if we endure, we will also reign with him…”

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Terrified By Angels

Biblegems #208
Question: I always imagined an angel encounter would be beautiful and reassuring. What was so terrifying to the shepherds about the appearance of just one angel announcing Jesus’ birth?

The “terrifying” angelic encounter is found in Luke 2:
         Luke 2:9-10 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.

Angel encounters in Scripture often (though not always) describe people being “frightened” (Gk. phobos— from which we get our word phobia). Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, unexpectedly encountered an angel while alone in the Temple:
         Luke 1:12 And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him.

Mary, the mother of Jesus, had a similar experience:
         Luke 1:30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.

The shepherds outside Bethlehem, however, were far more than simply startled or “troubled” by an unexpected angelic visitor. Their experience was probably more like that of the Old Testament prophet Ezekiel, for he witnessed more than just the sudden appearance of one angel:
         Ezek. 3:23 So I arose and went out into the valley, and behold, the glory of the LORD stood there, like the glory that I had seen jby the Chebar canal, and I fell on my face.

When Ezekiel sys, “the glory of the Lord stood there…” he is describing a heavenly being surrounded by indescribable light that flooded his senses, radiating from a non-earthly origin. This is a glimpse of the light of heaven, a slight parting of the veil separating the dimension of God’s kingdom on the spiritual plane from the dimension of the material universe.

This would be much like what the shepherds witnessed when the dark night sky gave way to the glory of “…God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see (1Tim. 6:15-16). Artistic portrayals of that scene usually depict a soft beam of light emanating from an angel hovering in midair, casting a spotlight upon the shepherds as if they were actors on a stage. But according to Luke 2, heaven’s light was so intense that the glory of the Lord shone around them” (Lk. 2:9).

The word “glory” always refers to someone or something other than itself. The corona of the sun is a radiant, beautiful powerful display of an unapproachable ball of nuclear fission. The corona is what we are able to see of the sun, without actually seeing the sun itself. It is the “glory” of the sun. The glory that flooded the shepherd’s field and dissolved the night sky into day did not radiate from the angel, rather it was “the glory of the Lord” Himself!

The shepherds got a glimpse that night of what every follower of Jesus will see one day in heaven itself:

         Rev. 21:22-23  I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

What Are Angels?

Biblegems #207
Question: Do angels really exist and, if so, do people ‘earn their wings’ to become angels when they die?

Classic Hollywood films such as “Topper” and  “It’s A Wonderful Life” have solidified the already popular idea that people who died could “earn their wings” and become angels.

The truth is that angels represent a specific order of the created universe, just as is true of humans, reptiles and birds. People don’t become angels when they die any more than dogs become fish.

In Matthew 1:18-21, an ”angel of the Lord” appeared to Joseph in a dream and passed on to him very specific instructions concerning the birth of Jesus to Joseph’s wife-to-be, the virgin Mary. Then, in Luke 1:8-20, “an angel of the Lord” appears to the priest Zechariah—who was very much awake, introduces himself as Gabriel, and informs him that he and his wife are about to become the parents of John the Baptist.

What kind of beings are these angels who can appear to human beings either in dreams or in visible, audible form?

We know from Job 38:4-7 that all the angels already existed before day three of creation (Gen. 1:9-13) because God formed the continent(s) on that day “… while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?” (Job 38:7)

Angels are spirit beings:
         Heb. 1:14   Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?

Their natural habitat is the spiritual dimension the Bible calls call “heaven”:
         Ps. 148:2   Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his heavenly hosts (i.e., armies).

There are different orders or kinds of angels, each with distinctive features and purposes. Some of these distinctions seem to be a matter of assigned positions or roles, while others seem to be different in their very make-up.

The two highest orders of angels seem to be the cherubim and the seraphim. It was the cherubim that God placed outside the Garden of Eden to prevent Adam and Eve and their descendants from gaining access to the Tree of Life (Gen. 3:24). This same order of angelic beings holds positions of honor and glory at each side of the Throne of God (Ps. 99:1; Is. 37:16). Among the cherubim at the beginning was Lucifer, who later rebelled against God and was stripped of his beauty and power and cast down to earth as Satan (Ezek. 28:14-16).

Another order of angels is called the “seraphim,” which is at least one category of angels described as having wings:
         Is. 6:2 Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying.
Is. 6:6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar.

There are even angels who appear gigantic in form (Rev. 10:1-9) and angels who appear in inanimate form:
         Heb. 1:7 In speaking of the angels he says, “He makes his angels spirits, and his servants flames of fire.

Angels—the original citizens of heaven!