Sunday, March 5, 2017

Angels: Majestic messengers of God

Valentine's Day has just passed, two weeks ago. All those chubby little Cupid cherubs flying around with stubby wings, shyly lobbing arrows to create ever more happy, lovestruck couples. Sigh. Cupid comes from Greek and Roman mythology.

The Renaissance Italians did a good job of presenting constant erroneous depictions of angels. Although initially slender, Cupid, the god of love, was increasingly shown as a chubby boy with wings. Wikipedia explains,
In classical mythology, Cupid (Latin Cupido, meaning "desire") is the god of desire, erotic love, attraction and affection. He is often portrayed as the son of the love goddess Venus and the war god Mars. He is also known in Latin as Amor ("Love"). His Greek counterpart is Eros.
Beginning in the early 1400s, Donatello began the Renaissance revival of the Middle Ages' depictions of the putto, Italian derivation of the word toddler or child. Soon, the myth of Cupid blended with the putti in art and you had infant angels flying all over the place in paintings, sculpture, and architecture. They became ubiquitous, so much so, that the biblical description of the majestic Cherubim were diminished in peoples' minds down to the infantile antics by harmless flying cherubic toddlers. This is a peeve of mine.

The picture shows an architectural detail of the Old Sacristy
in the church of San Lorenzo in Florence, by Donatello, 1428-43.


The Rustic Banquet, detail of putti making music,
from the Sala di Amore e Psiche (1528)

Cupid Riding on a Dolphin (1630), Erasmus Quellinus II

The putti and the cherubs are as far from the truth of angelic activity and majesty as the east is from the west. So what roles do angels perform for God?

First, the Bible tells us that there is a hierarchy of angels. There are thrones, and powers, and dominions. The collection of holy (and sometimes unholy) angels is called the heavenly host, the word host in this context indicating an army. God is called the Lord of Hosts. (GotQuestions, See 1 Samuel 1:3; Psalm 24:10; Isaiah 22:14; Jeremiah 2:19; Amos 4:13; Haggai 2:9; Zechariah 8:6; and Malachi 2:16.

We are more used to thinking of angels as ministering spirits, (Hebrews 1:14, Matthew 18:10), flying here and there at God's command, delivering messages and helping people. (Daniel 9:20-21, Luke 1:26-27, Luke 2:10). We see angels helping Jesus after His Temptation. (Matthew 4:11). We know that sometimes we entertain them unawares. (Hebrews 13:2).

Though angels are servants of God, ministering, helping, watching, (Daniel 4:17) and messaging, they are in fact powerful soldiers, enacting God's judgments. In Revelation we see the angels as extremely active in carrying out God's judgments. We read of one event early in the Bible of this power angels have to slay many at the same time, in 2 Chronicles 32:21, where an angel of the LORD was sent to kill 185,000 Assyrian soldiers at once.

Angels gave the LAW! (Acts 7:53, Galatians 3:19).

Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary. (Galatians 3:19).

Barnes' Notes says of the Galatians and Acts verses of the Angels giving the Law,
And it was ordained by angels - That is, the Law was ordained by angels. The word ordained here διαταγεὶς diatageis usually means to arrange; to dispose in order; and is commonly used with reference to the marshalling of an army. In regard to the sentiment here that the Law was ordained by angels, see the note at Acts 7:53. The Old Testament makes no mention of the presence of angels at the giving of the Law, but it was a common opinion among the Jews that the Law was given by the instrumentality of angels, and arranged by them; and Paul speaks in accordance with this opinion; compare Hebrews 2:2.
In Revelation, powerful angels stand on the sun, they hold back all 4 winds, they deliver the Gospel to the entire world at once...and this. Just this:

Then I looked, and behold, a white cloud, and seated on the cloud one like a son of man, with a golden crown on his head, and a sharp sickle in his hand. 15And another angel came out of the temple, calling with a loud voice to him who sat on the cloud, “Put in your sickle, and reap, for the hour to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is fully ripe.” 16So he who sat on the cloud swung his sickle across the earth, and the earth was reaped.

17Then another angel came out of the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle. 18And another angel came out from the altar, the angel who has authority over the fire, and he called with a loud voice to the one who had the sharp sickle, “Put in your sickle and gather the clusters from the vine of the earth, for its grapes are ripe.” 19So the angel swung his sickle across the earth and gathered the grape harvest of the earth and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God. 20And the winepress was trodden outside the city, and blood flowed from the winepress, as high as a horse’s bridle, for 1,600 stadia.

God's Providence is the understanding that God is in control of all things, and He commands and decrees all outcomes. Angels are important agents of providence, enacting God's will so that His decrees come to pass in His will and timing.

We do not worship angels. (Colossians 2:18, Revelation 22:8-9), but we do respect God's creation. We respect His orderly fashioning of all things, including the angelic hosts in their spheres. Angels are not winged infants full of childish antics. They are majestic beings as part of God's order who enact important tasks in worship and obedience for the LORD of Hosts.

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Further Reading

There is much on the internet about angels, most of it foolish and non-credible. Here are some good study resources about angels. The study of angels is called angelology. Always remember, no matter how interesting angels are, and when you begin studying them you'll see how often they appear in the Bible, they are servants of the Most High just as we are. They are not to be worshiped or idolized.
Every reference to angels is incidental to some other topic. They are not treated in themselves. God’s revelation never aims at informing us regarding the nature of angels. When they are mentioned, it is always in order to inform us further about God, what he does, and how he does it. Since details about angels are not significant for that purpose, they tend to be omitted. Source: Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, 1983, p. 434

Sermon: Angelic Messengers, Revelation 14:6-11

Sermon: Good Angels, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, part of the Great Biblical Doctrines series

Who are the only named angels in the Bible?

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