Angels of Heaven
In prayer last Friday we began to engage with an alien topic for mainstream Western Christianity. Though there are hundreds of references to angels in scripture in practical terms for most of us they may as well not exist. This article hopes to show we ignore angels to our own peril. It is not meant to encourage an interest in angels in themselves, but by investigating how they are related to Christ. If the natural domain of the angels is heaven, their existence and activity must illuminate who Jesus is as “the man from heaven”, an image which we shall come to share (1 Cor 15:47-49). We begin by seeing that the earthly realm has been created to image the heavenly realm.
WhenGod commanded Moses to build him a sanctuary for his dwelling in the midst of Israel everything had to be constructed “according to the pattern” he was shown on the mountain (Ex 25:8-9, 40). Revelation pictures a heavenly sanctuary which is the template for God’s earthly tabernacle (Rev 11:19; 15:5). It follows that as Church is the “dwelling place for God in the Spirit” the Body of Christ is essentially called to image the life of the heavenly world (Eph 2:19-22). Everything about the people of God, their thoughts, actions, relationships, finances, work life etc. is designed to reflect heavenly realities. We image such things in our union with Jesus as the true temple and dwelling of God through whom the heavenly Father was a perfectly imaged (John 2:21; 14:9-10). The Church enjoys the presence of angels in the presence of Christ.
Jesus is the “sent one” whose obedience in going means he possesses “all authority in heaven-and-earth” (Matt 28:18; John 5:23, 36-37). In being sent with authority to fulfil God’s purposes angels are “sons of God” who bear the image and likeness of the Son (Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7). In their going at the behest of Christ the angels bridge the realms of heaven and earth (Rev 22:16). Angels as pure spirits are always active, their being is in their going, worshipping, judging etc. (2 Sam 24:16; Heb 1:14; Rev 7:11). They are gifted with a share in Jesus’ authority as-they-go. This is why in Revelation the glorious Son of Man appears with “a golden sash around his chest” and the angelic host pouring out divine judgement on the earth are identically arrayed (Rev 1:13; 15:6). Participating in the perfect arrangement of heaven angels are sent to enforce divine order amongst us. As each letter to the seven churches in Revelation is addressed to one of the “angels of the churches” it would seem that the discipline Christ exerts to remedy church disorder involves angelic powers (Rev 1:20; 2:23). A more foundational text is found in 1 Corinthians. Since man is “the image and glory of God” his wife “ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.” (1 Cor 11:7-10). Angelic authority in the Church is all about restoring and revealing the true image of God, Christ.
I believe there is a specific reason why we find the biblical picture of constant angelic commerce between earth and heaven strange. Since we largely ignore the imperative of the Great Commission, “All authority in heaven and on earth… go therefore”, we have been handed over by God to a passivity that is the opposite of the dynamism of the sent state of Jesus and the angels. Our blindness to the spirit world is a sign of judgement. Since we have been happy to distort the image of God by ignoring his commands the visible angelic presence has been withdrawn from our midst.
Fellowship with Spirits
The dynamic interchange between prophets and angels in the apocalyptic sections of scripture suggest that we can enjoy rich communion with the world of spirits now (e.g. Dan 10; Rev 10). This is why Hebrews says, “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering” (12:22). This is not to suggest we should attempt to communicate with spirit world directly; such practices are occultic and demonic. A Christ-centred approach to angelology understands that as “all things” were created for Jesus angels enjoy fellowship with the humanity of the Son of God just as we do (Col 1:16). They, like us, were created to be icons of Christ. Jesus is the site of our communion with these wonderful spirits. Paul’s language about “every family in heaven and earth” and Hebrews’ testimony of a family with one Father means that through Christ we have an inheritance in the angels, and they in us (Rom 8:16-17; Eph 3:14; Heb 2:10-11). If these ideas seem “out of this world” it is because we have missed the angelic dimension of the cross.
Angels and the Cross
Angelic cherubim first appear as guardians at the borders of Eden, forbidding fallen humanity from gaining access to the tree of life (Gen 3:22 cf. Ezek 28:14). Then two golden “cherubim of glory” overshadowed the mercy seat on the ark of the covenant for it was from between the cherubim that God spoke to Israel (Ex 25:17-22; Heb 9:5). When the mercy seat was sprinkled with sacrificial blood on the Day of Atonement the cherubim were heavenly witnesses that God’s wrath had been turned away from his people (Lev 16:14). The hosts of heaven shared the peace of their warrior Lord (Isa 9:19; 22:14 etc.). All this is typological of the one true atoning sacrifice of the cross. Jesus is the true House of God and Gate of Heaven upon which angels “ascend and descend” (Gen 28:12, 17; John 1:51). At his times of greatest need in the wilderness and in Gethsemane angels appear and strengthen Christ (Matt 4:11; Luke 22:43). Yet there is no angelic glory at the cross for a specific reason. Jesus opens the Gate of Heaven through his shed blood by turning away God’s wrath, a wrath which includes the host of heaven receiving the Father’s command that they are not to ascend/descend upon the Son of Man but abandon him as a condemned sinner. By not assisting Christ the angels who perfectly behold the face of the Father in heaven communicate the limitless saving love of God for sinners (Matt 18:10). By dying in our placecut off from the glory of the Father and his angels Jesus has nullified the cherub’s guardianship of the tree of life. The gate of glory into communion with the spirit world has been thrown wide open; the host of heaven is our friend (Luke 9:26). Yet this is not our experience.
Since as a Church we are either passive or driven by fleshly activism we are not friendly towards the angels. This is why in stark contrast to the testimony of the scriptures angelic ministry is very rare in our midst. There is an answer to this sinful state. It is not prayer for angelic assistance, but to seek to image the life of the “man from heaven” at whatever cost. When we become the “going Church” Christ commanded the heavenly world of angels will become real amongst us. Through the Church the heavenly world long obscured by the evil “rulers and authorities” can be made plain to sight (Eph 3:10) We are called to live, and if necessary die, so that the world above where Christ reigns as undisputed King is revealed to those who are perishing. Surely this is how we are called to love both the Trinity and the angels of God.