Angels are mentioned in the Book of Genesis, so anyone who picks up a bible doesn’t have far to go before they find these elusive creatures. In all, the bible talks about angels more than three hundred times. It says they were made by God, and just like us, they depend on God’s power in order to exist. However they are not like us in a number of important ways. It seems they don’t age or marry or reproduce, and can move from one place to another in an instant and have great knowledge. Their principal occupation, according to the bible, is to offer praise to God along with all the hosts of heaven. In addition they have the function of helping us mortals. Motivated by love and their loyalty to God, their wish is to see God’s will be the foundation of our lives.
There is an interesting point made by Albert Midlane at the end of the nineteenth century in a hymn he wrote for children that goes:
There’s a song that even angels
Can never ever sing,
They know not Christ as Savior
But worship him as king.
The hymn is purportedly for children, though I think it is a concept that some adults might find problematical. In the church today there are plenty who do not think of themselves as saved, though they are well aware of Christ’s death and passion. Modern world thinking is that we are responsible for our own destinies, and the death of Jesus two millennia ago has little effect upon our consciousness. Yet I believe Christians need to rethink their position if they adopt this later worldview.
Jesus was not just a holy man going about doing good. He had a mission and the fulfillment of that mission was to take upon himself the sin of the world. We are in fact, redeemed by his blood and sacrifice. Angels, who are not directly part of the earthly scene, were not in need of redemption so Albert has a good point to make.
Of course as soon as we mention angels, we are surrounded by those who want to give us the intimate details, and I fear that what many don’t know, they make up to suit. If the big question that occupies the thoughts of many church people today is the sexuality of humans, in the period before the birth of Jesus one of the big questions that occupied the minds of the religious was the problem of evil in the world. They wanted to know what was God’s part in evil, or if he had a part and if he did, could he control it?
What we call the apocalyptic literature has this problem as an underlying theme. The conclusion that they came to was that God would get rid of the existing man-made structures of government and replace them with a heavenly set that were based on real justice and peace. Angels were part of the solution in carrying out God’s wishes.
Jesus was one who grappled with this subject of evil and became convinced that a new order was about to begin. He called it The Kingdom and he spent a ministry showing his listeners how to become citizens of this new kingdom whilst living, as they did, under the old order of suppression, violence and injustice. He probably followed what we call the Book of Jubilees, which is a rewrite of the Old Testament that shows God clearly in command and always good and always just. Another book we think he read was Enoch.
If this is so, Jesus would be familiar with the order of angels and archangels that Enoch enumerates in his first chapter. First there is Uriel who is set over the whole universe. Then there is Raphael who is in charge of the spirits of humans. Next is Raguel who is a fighter in the world of lights.
Good and bad, right and wrong was often seen in terms of light and darkness. Darkness was evil and was always trying to overcome the light. This idea is expressed at the beginning of John’s Gospel too.
Well Raguel was sent to fight on behalf of the light and keep the darkness at bay. Michael was sent as an assistant to humans, a sort of benevolent overseer whose job is to keep chaos under control. In the wording of the time, chaos was a representation of an absence of God, or as a place in which evil could exist. Hence when Christians devoted themselves to prayer they went into the desert places because deserts were synonymous with chaos.
Another archangel, one whose name is not well known is Saraqael, whose job is to oversee sinful spirits. Gabriel is one whom most people know because of the messages to Mary about the impending birth of Jesus. However Gabriel’s tasks are described as looking after Paradise, ordering the Cherubim and, an odd one this, looking after serpents. Finally we have Remiel who is over the resurrection.
It doesn’t end here of course. The Book of Daniel describes Michael as guarding the Israelites against Persian and Greek influence. As both nations ruled Israel we might assume that he was not very successful but it maybe that he didn’t get much assistance. In Jude we find him in contention with the devil for the body of Moses.
The last of the great apocalyptic documents is the Book of Revelation. Here angels are part of the call of God in the creation of a new heaven and earth.
What does all this mean to us in the twenty-first century?
Simply this, if we are to assist Christ in the establishment of the new kingdom and make it possible for God to rule in justice and truth on earth, we need the help and assistance of all the hosts of heaven, every scrap of influence that we can gain from the kingdom in which God now rules.
Thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven … we say it, but do we mean it, and if we do mean it, are we really helping to achieve it?
I hope so for it is the fundamental basis of our Christian faith.