King of Angels
By David Feddes
Angels get more attention than usual during the Christmas season. Some of the angels are only make-believe. Children in Christmas plays put on their wings, robes, and halos in order to play the part of angels. Christmas trees include toy angels along with lights and other ornaments. But the true stories of Christmas also remind us that real angels are alive and active.
It’s good to think about angels, to realize there’s more to life than the things we can see and touch and control, to get out of the rut of acting as though material things are the only reality, to realize that humans are not the only form of intelligent life. It’s good to think about angels, but sometimes we focus on angels as we’d like to imagine them rather than as they really are—as the Bible reveals them to be.
Our Christmas angels can be too cute and cuddly. Some folks associate angels with Jesus in much the same the same way they associate elves with Santa Claus. They see angels as just another part of the imaginary cast of characters that make the Christmas season so delightful. Picturing angels as cute, thinking of them almost as elves, makes them seem as unreal as a fairy tale, and it certainly doesn’t do justice to the splendor and importance of the angels. The Bible shows what angels are really like and tells many things that angels have done. As we meet real angels in Scripture, we find that they are sometimes comforting, sometimes frightening, always fascinating.
The real angels described in the Bible had to tell almost everyone who saw them, “Don’t be afraid.” But the cute little creatures that we put up as Christmas ornaments wouldn’t scare anybody. Let’s not make the mistake of thinking angels are cute little imaginary creatures in the same category as elves.
However, even if we don’t make that mistake, even if we think of angels as very real and very strong, we may still make the mistake of thinking their main purpose is to do whatever we want them to do. Some popular books about angels tell how handy it is to have your own angel. Your angel can rescue you from car accidents, help you win baseball games, heal you from sickness, and if you’re looking for a spiritual high, your angel can give you experiences and feelings like nothing you’ve had before. One book says that angels “pour their blessings on us overwhelmingly… always they try to give us what we want.” In other words, angels think that the customer is always right.
Who wouldn’t want angels like that? I’m sure you wouldn’t mind having a genie with magical powers who does whatever you want. If some of the popular books about angels are right, you really can have your own personal genie–an angel who considers your wish his command. But if God’s book, the Bible, is right, angels aren’t here to serve the customer. They’re here to serve God. They do many things which help people, but only at God’s command, not our demand.
Let’s explore what the Bible says about angels and their King. Let’s look first at what angels are like, then at what they do, and finally (and most importantly) let’s focus on the great King of angels, Jesus Christ.
What Angels Are Like
First, what are angels like? What are some of their characteristics? One thing we know is that angels are creatures: that is, they have been created by God. Angels have not existed from all eternity. God made them. We don’t know how or when, but we know that angels had a beginning and, like every other creature, they owe their existence to God (Nehemiah 9:6). They are God’s creatures, not his equals.
Another thing we know about angels is that they are personal beings, not impersonal forces. Each has a name, such as Michael or Gabriel. Not all angels are alike. The Bible uses various titles to describe angelic beings: angels, archangels, cherubim, seraphim, thrones, dominions, rulers, authorities, and powers. Some writers in the Middle Ages took these titles and described nine different angelic levels. That was mostly guesswork; the Bible doesn’t offer many details. But Scripture does indicate that there are different types of angels with different responsibilities, different levels of authority, different official titles, and different personal names.
Another characteristic of angels: they are spirits (Hebrews 1:14). Angels belong to a mysterious realm of beings that exist in a different dimension than we do. They are a kind of creature that is completely different from any life form on earth. You can’t see an angel with a telescope or analyze the parts of an angel in a laboratory. Most of the time their activity is inaudible to human ears and invisible to human eyes. People can’t see them or hear them unless the angels want them to. That’s because angels exist in another dimension, the spirit realm, and they are not subject to our laws of physics.
Scientists have had a project called SETI, the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence, in which a very sensitive receiver continually searches for energy emissions and radio waves from outer space that might alert us to the existence of other intelligent beings out there somewhere. But we already know about a life form that no high-tech receiver or space probe can ever discover. Angels can’t be detected by sonar or infrared or radio waves or any other scientific device.
But what science can’t tell us, the Bible does tell us: right around us, in another dimension of existence, there are countless personal beings of phenomenal intelligence and remarkable power. Angels are mighty, and they are magnificent. The Bible often portrays them as so dazzling, so stunning that even when they made friendly visits, those who saw them were overwhelmed with awe and amazement and fear.
What Angels Do
Now that we’ve had a glimpse of what angels are like, let’s take a look at what they actually do. What activities, according to the Bible, are they involved in?
The first and foremost activity of angels is to praise and worship God and bring honor to Jesus Christ. The Old Testament records visions of angels who cover their faces in God’s presence, and keep repeating, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory” (Isaiah 6:3).
Now, if angels are so strong and splendid, just how awesome is the God they worship? Just how dazzling is the One that not even angels can look upon? Angels are so overwhelming that you might be tempted to worship one if you saw one. But angels don’t want your worship; they want you to worship God. In the book of Revelation, the apostle John fell down at the feet of a splendid angel who had shown him astonishing visions. But the angel told him, “Do not do it! I am a fellow servant with you … Worship God!” (22:9) Angels know that no matter how great they may be, they are still just servants of Someone far greater. They know that all their glory comes from God and is nothing compared to the glory of God himself.
The Bible portrays the angels constantly praising the Lord of heaven, and when the Lord Jesus became a baby on earth, they continued their praise of their King. The coming of God’s Son to earth was a moment the whole universe had been waiting for, and so on the night of Jesus’ birth, the praise of the angels reached new heights. Hebrews 1:6 says, “And again, when God brings his firstborn into the world, he says, ‘Let all God’s angels worship him.” When an angel announced Jesus’ birth, “a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:13-14).
The praise of the angels for the newborn king–that’s one of the great themes of Christmas. Indeed, praising the Lord is perhaps the foremost activity of angels. It’s humbling to think that even if not a single human being ever worshipped God or believed in Jesus, the Lord would still have millions upon millions of absolutely magnificent creatures who never stop praising him. It’s humbling to know that, but it’s also thrilling to think that by faith in Jesus, we can join our voices with the all God’s angels in one great chorus of praise.
But let’s move on. In addition to praising God, what else are angels involved in? The Bible tells us that angels serve as God’s messengers. Angels spoke with Abraham, they took part in giving the law of God to Moses on Mount Sinai, they communicated with the prophet Daniel, and they announced the birth of great biblical figures such as Samson and John the Baptist.
Of course, the greatest birth announcement the angels ever made was the birth of Jesus. How did the virgin Mary first learn that she would give birth to the Savior? The angel Gabriel told her. How did Joseph find out that the baby growing inside Mary was really the Son of God? An angel told him. How did the shepherds on that first Christmas find out about the Christ child? An angel told them, backed by an entire chorus of angels.
Angels brought messages at the time of Jesus’ birth, and they continued to bring vital messages about Jesus. When Jesus rose from the dead, angels were the first to announce it. When Jesus ascended to heaven, angels appeared and told his followers that the Lord would return again someday. As the early church faced many challenges, angels continued to bring messages from God. Many of the visions recorded in the book of Revelation were communicated through an angel messenger.
Angels have communicated or confirmed many important things, but they have never brought any of these messages on their own authority. They have always spoken the message God has given them. Angels are ambassadors. They don’t speak their own opinions; they say only what their King tells them to say. Their message is the eternal gospel. It comes from God and addresses everyone on earth.
Still today angels work as messengers. Revelation 14:6 pictures an “angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on earth–to every nation, tribe, language, and people.” As God’s people on the ground share the gospel with others, angels above the ground are their partners in proclaiming the eternal gospel.
In addition to serving God as worshipers and messengers, what else do angels do? They serve as warriors. The defend and deliver God’s people from enemies. The Bible says, “The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them” (Psalm 34:7). “If you make the Most High your dwelling… he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways” (Psalm 91:9-11).
The Bible tells how the prophet Elisha and his assistant were trapped in a city, surrounded by a hostile army. When Elisha’s assistant saw all those troops, he began to panic. And what did Elisha do?
“Don’t be afraid,” the prophet answered. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”
And Elisha prayed, “O Lord, open his eyes so he may see.” Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha (2 Kings 6:16-17).
Those horses and chariots of fire represented the troops of heaven. Elisha’s prayer for help was answered when the enemy soldiers were struck blind, rendered helpless, and sent back to the land they came from. That’s the protecting power of angels. What a comfort! When God’s people are surrounded by enemies and frightening circumstances, the angels are there as guardians.
But what about all those times when trouble comes crashing in and when death strikes God’s people? Where are angels then? Have they abandoned us or failed to do their job? No, even then, the angels are busy. Jesus told about a man named Lazarus. This man suffered most of his life and then died. Did that mean the angels weren’t with Lazarus? No, Jesus says that when Lazarus died, “the angels carried him to Abraham’s bosom.” Even though the angels didn’t shield Lazarus from trouble or prevent him from dying, they were there the whole time, and the moment Lazarus died, they carried his soul to heaven. When you are a child of God facing harm, the Lord’s angels will protect you by doing one of two things: either they will rescue you and preserve your life, or else, if it is your time to die, the angels will shield your soul and bring you safe to heaven.
The angels are warriors who serve as guardians for those who love God, but there’s another side to the angels’ work as warriors. As they protect God’s friends, they also fight his enemies. There are many stories in the Bible of how God’s angels destroyed entire armies, laid waste great nations, and struck down individuals who harmed God’s people and denied God’s glory.
Do you like seeing a police officer nearby? It all depends. If you have car trouble or an accident and need help, you’re glad to see a police car pulling up. But if you drive too fast or run a red light, you’re not happy to see the police behind you. If you’re being robbed and beaten, you’re overjoyed to see an officer coming. But if you happen to be the robber, a police officer is the last person you want to see.
Angel warriors, like police, are good news for some but bad news for others. Angels are good news for oppressed people but bad news for oppressors. Angels are good news for those who trust and obey God but bad news for those who break God’s law.
It’s comforting to think angels stand up for you when you face trouble. But remember, angels stand up for others too. When you meet someone who seems weak, small or unimportant, don’t despise or harm that person. “See that you do not look down on one of these little ones,” says Jesus. “For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven” (Matthew 18:11). It is an awful crime to harm the weak or cause little ones to sin. Their angelic enforcers and their King will catch up with the guilty and punish them.
At the end of time, Jesus will return to judge the living and the dead, and his heavenly warriors will be with him. “The Son of Man will send out his angels,” says Jesus, “and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 13:41-42). It’s a great comfort to be on the side of Jesus and his angels, but if you chose another way, it will be horrible to be seized by those fierce warriors and hurled into hell.
Let’s summarize what we’ve seen so far. When it comes to the nature of angels, the Bible says they are creatures made by God, they are spirits, they are personal, and they are mighty and magnificent. When it comes to the activities and roles of angels, the Bible says they are worshipers, messengers, guardians, and warriors. Clearly, angels are impressive, and their work is important.
King of Angels
The reason the Bible tells us all this is not just so that we will be aware and amazed by angels, but so that we will stand in awe of Jesus, the King of angels. If angels are so great that a man who saw one would be tempted to worship the angel, just imagine the splendor and power of the One the angels themselves worship.
In an old episode of the comic strip Hagar the Horrible, the pudgy Viking Hagar is looking for a fight. He bangs on a castle door and shouts, “Is Og the Awful in there? Come out and face me!” The castle door opens and out steps a ferocious giant, bristling with weapons. His waist is higher than Hagar’s head. Little Hagar shrinks back in terror and gasps, “Are you Og the Awful?” “No,” replies the giant, “I’m just his butler.”
Angels are mighty and overwhelming. But great as they are, cherubim and seraphim, angels and archangels, are still only God’s butlers, his servants and throne attendants. The Lord himself is infinitely higher, greater, and more glorious than all of them combined. Make no mistake: the angels are dazzling, but that tiny baby lying in Bethlehem’s manger whom the angels announced and praised was infinitely greater. Within the form of that tiny baby was hidden all the splendor and greatness of God himself. In Hebrews 1 the Bible says of Jesus,
The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he inherited is superior to theirs.
For to which of the angels did God ever say, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father? Or again, “I will be his Father, and he will be my Son”? And again, when God brings his firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship him.”
We’ve seen how splendid angels are. But splendid as they are, the angels are still only God’s servants. Jesus is God’s only begotten Son, equal in splendor with God the Father. If even the most magnificent angels cover their faces before the Lord and devote themselves to praising and serving him, you can only imagine how great the Lord himself must be.
Jesus is immeasurably greater than the angels, and what he has accomplished is infinitely greater. The work of the angels, wonderful as it is, would be completely useless without the work of Jesus Christ to save us from our sins.
It was not an angel who became a baby in Bethlehem. It was Jesus. The angels announced it, but Jesus did it. It was not an angel, but Jesus, who lived among us, who identified with us, who took our guilt upon himself, who took the punishment for sin in our place, who suffered and died so that we could be saved. It was not an angel who entered into the grave and then rose from the dead. It was Jesus. An angel rolled away the stone and announced the victory, but it was Jesus himself who actually destroyed the power of death and crushed Satan forever.
Jesus did for us what we could never do for ourselves. And he did it all out of love. Nobody forced the Son of God to become a tiny baby. He chose to become one of us because he loved us. When Jesus was arrested and facing death, he didn’t have to go. He could have called an army of angels to rescue him, wipe out his enemies, and destroy this evil world (Luke 26:53). Even one angel is powerful enough to wipe out an entire army. And Jesus had all the hosts of heaven ready to fight for him. Those mighty warriors stood rank upon rank, poised for the order to attack. But the order never came. The angels stood back at their King’s command, and the King of angels allowed his human enemies to seize him and crucify him. He died in our place so that all who believe in him might not perish but have eternal life.
Jesus didn’t do this because anyone forced him, and he didn’t do it because he needed us. Jesus is the King of angels, after all. Even without us, he’s still got countless millions of splendid angels who love him, serve him with perfect obedience, and never stop praising him. And even without the angels, Jesus’ union with God the Father and the Holy Spirit is so full and wonderful that the Holy Trinity needs no one else to be happy. However, his love is so great that, even though he didn’t have to, even though he didn’t need us, he stooped to become a tiny baby anyway and to endure death on a cross, rather than abandon his people to hell. How could a Lord so big become so small in that manger of Bethlehem? How could a King so powerful endure such suffering on that cross? I don’t know how he did it, but I know he did it for me, and I marvel at the mystery of his love.
And as if that weren’t enough, God has chosen to give us blessings even greater than the blessings he pours out on his holy angels. People who belong to Jesus by faith have privileges that even an angel can never enjoy. The Son of God never became an angel, but he did become a man. Hebrews 2:16 says, “Surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants,” those who by faith belong to God’s family. The Lord adopts us as his sons and daughters, a privilege that he hasn’t given to the angels. The Bible says that the gospel of Jesus that has been given us is so marvelous that “even angels long to look into these things” (1 Peter 1:12). When we are born again through faith in Jesus, we know a dimension of God’s greatness and love that even angels can’t quite grasp.
These privileges don’t belong to every person, however, but only to those who trust in Jesus. The Bible says that “to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). In order to be a part of God’s family, in order to enjoy all the benefits of Jesus’ love and the protection of his angels, you must receive Jesus and believe in his name. Only then are you a child of God. So humble yourself before him. Confess to him your sin and rebellion. Trust the Savior who became a baby and died on the cross and rose again to forgive your sins and give you eternal life. Then join the angels of heaven and all the people of God in worshiping and serving this great and glorious Lord, the King of angels, the King of all creation, and the King of my heart.
By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.