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Do you believe in angels? That question is almost sure to prompt a vigorous discussion. There is much religious uncertainty about angels, and the basic understanding of what angels are varies from generation to generation, culture to culture, and religion to religion. The major religions of the world have always had angels involved in special roles. Moslems claim that the Koran came from the angel Gabriel. Mormons believe that an angel named Moroni gave Joseph Smith the Book of Mormon. Catholics frequently speak of “guardian angels,” and the Catholic Relief Services has a guardian angel coin on a CRS card they distribute. The coin has this poem: “Angel of God, my guardian dear, to whom God's love commits me here, ever this day be at my side, to light and guard, to rule and guide. Amen.”
So what does the Bible say about angels, and what can we logically and reasonably believe about them? The New Bible Dictionary (Eerdmans Publishing) gives this definition:
This definition supports the biblical position that angels are not physical beings. We are not talking about humans with wings or people who have become better than the rest of us. If you believe in Naturalism — that all there is or will be are the physical things that we can perceive through our senses, then you will stop right here in the discussion. The logical problem with taking that position is that you also rule out most of quantum mechanics and a great deal of nuclear science. When superstring theorists proposed 11-dimensional vibrating strings, they certainly were not describing something that we could perceive through our senses. What we propose to do in this discussion is to look at what the Bible tells us about angels.
ANGELS EXIST IN AN ORDER THAT IS HIGHER THAN THAT OF HUMANS.
What that means is that angels cannot die, they do not experience time-dependent restrictions as we do, and they are unlimited in space. The Bible shows these characteristics over and over. In Numbers 22:21 – 31 we see the story of Balaam, the donkey, and the angel. The angel can control both what the donkey sees and what Balaam sees. In Daniel 3:26 – 28 Nebuchadnezzar tells us that an angel was sent to protect Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fire. The fire not only did not affect the angel, but the angel was able to shield the humans from the fire. In Acts 5:17 – 20 angels not only walked through prison walls, but they opened physical obstacles for the humans to walk through. In Matthew 1:20 and 2:13, 19, Joseph experiences an angel appearing to him in his dreams in such a way that he obeys the angel. Jesus tells us in Matthew 22:30 that we will become like angels when we die (but not become angels) when our physical existence is over.
It is also interesting to note that Satan has angels that have chosen to follow him and reject God. “For Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light” according to 2 Corinthians 11:14. Galatians 1:8 tells us that angels can “preach another gospel” and James 2:19 tells us that “even the demons believe that — and shudder.” Matthew 25:41 tells us that there is an “eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” And 2 Peter 2:4 tells us that angels have sinned, and Jude 6 adds that angels “abandoned their proper dwelling.” Revelation 12:9 adds that Satan and his angels will be cast out when judgment finally comes.
ANGELS CAN DO MANY THINGS.
Remember that the definition said that angels are familiar with God face to face. The intimacy that angels have with God allows them to take God's place in some situations. When this happens, the passages morph into God being the speaker. In Judges 6:11 – 17 Gideon starts out talking to what appears to be a physical man, but the word quickly changes from angel to Lord. In Genesis 32:24 – 32 a similar thing happens as Jacob wrestles with a physical man who morphs into God. We know that no mortal can wrestle with the Creator of the cosmos, but the angel provides the intermediary to allow God to make his point with Jacob. In Exodus 3:2 – 4 an angel of the Lord calls to Moses out of the burning bush in verse 2, but in verse 4 God is doing the calling. In Genesis 18:1 – 10 Abraham entertains three angels that appear as men, but he speaks to one of them as “LORD.” Abraham later has an angel interfere with his sacrifice of Isaac on Mount Moriah (Genesis 22:11 – 18). And Hagar has a similar experience in Genesis 16:7 – 13. Hebrew 13:2 tells us to let our love govern what we do because some have entertained angels without knowing it. Notice the enormous range of abilities and actions that angels can do.
THERE ARE ALSO THINGS ANGELS CANNOT DO.
Because they are outside of time and cannot die, angels cannot sin without eternal consequences. Both 2 Peter 2:4 and Jude 6 make it clear that there is no turning back for angels. They cannot seek forgiveness because forgiveness requires the time dimension. In this way, humans differ from angels because as long as we are in the flesh, we can seek forgiveness. If we obey God and are washed in the blood of Jesus through baptism, the blood of Christ continues to cleanse us throughout eternity. John tells us in 1 John 1:7 that ”the blood of Christ his Son cleanses us from all sin.” The verb in that passage is active, meaning it is a continuous process — it never stops.
Another thing angels cannot do is prevent the result of a promise of God from being fulfilled. All the things Jesus promised to his followers will happen, and nothing Satan and his angels can do will ever change that. Galatians 6:7 tells us, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.” We cannot sin again and again and expect God to cancel that promise. When we make a big mistake that brings consequences, we cannot be upset that God does not take those consequences away. I have often said that if there are such things as guardian angels, I want a replacement for mine. I have had a lot of bad things happen to me. My dear friend at Notre Dame (a priest) responded to that by saying “John, guardian angels don't protect you from being stupid!” That is undoubtedly true, but realize something else.
ANGELS CANNOT DO ANYTHING THAT WOULD TAKE AWAY OUR FREE WILL.
Ephesians 3:10; Ephesians 6:12; and the book of Job all tell us that we are in a battle — the battle between good and evil. Job came to understand that, and in Job 42:5 he praises God because, in spite of all that has happened to him, he knows that his life mattered in the great battle of all time — the war between good and evil. We too are in that war, and the “spiritual forces of evil” that Ephesians 3:10 and 6:12 talk about, involve angels. For God to step in and take away what was happening to Job would have been to turn Job into a mindless robot. Angels cannot defeat the purpose for which we were created. No angel can stop you from rejecting God, discarding the Bible, or refusing salvation. That is a choice you alone can make.
WHAT ANGELS DO.
What God does through angels is to provide you with a way out. First Corinthians 10:13 tells us that we all face the same temptations. Then it makes this promise from God which we know is handled by angels: “God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted,he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” The choice you make is yours alone. Angels are watching your response with eagerness and anticipation.
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