Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Angels and the Gospel

The involvement of angels with the Gospel should be better known than it is.  Yet the story of that relationship between Angels and the Gospel begins with the creation of the material universe itself.   

ANGELS were witnesses to the creation of the visible universe and rejoiced at it (Job 38.4-7).

The first two chapters of the book of Genesis give us the biblical account of the six-day creation, but Job 38 informs us of something that Moses does not mention – namely, that the creation of the material universe had witnesses.   Yes, creatures created by God prior to us, and who inhabit a world that is invisible to us, were witnesses to what we call the visible (or material) world, and, furthermore – these creatures rejoiced to observe that creation.  

In Job 38.7 God asks that ancient patriarch:

“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.  
5 Who determined its measurements- surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it?  
6 On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone,
7 when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” (Job 38:4-7)

Remember what the angels had been witnesses to so far – before they witnessed the creation of us.   Among other things, they had witnessed the banishment and eternal condemnation of those angels among them who sinned.  Everyone of them could say, as Jesus later said, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” ( Luke 10.18).

In the punishment of the rebellious angels, the loyal angels witnessed the anger of God against sin.  They were witnesses to His righteous indignation and they were witnesses to God’s implacable justice in handing down damnation against sin.  The angels had witnessed what theologians call God’s “alien work” (Lat. Opus alienum) of destroying that which is imperfect.

But where and when would the holy angels witness the work that is more proper to God? (His opus proprium)  When would they witness Him creating something?  (Like us, angels can hardly enjoy  witnessing their own creation) So when would they witness Him creating something.  And, especially, when would they see Him redeeming sinners?  How would they see Him giving grace to the unworthy?  When would they witness His forgiving love?  Where would they see a demonstration of the mercy of God that adorns the pages of Scripture?

“ Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love.  He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities under foot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea”  (Micah 7.18-19).

“Let the heavens praise your wonders, O LORD, your faithfulness in the assembly of the holy ones!  For who in the skies can be compared to the LORD? Who among the heavenly beings is like the LORD,  a God greatly to be feared in the council of the holy ones, and awesome above all who are around him?  O LORD God of hosts, who is mighty as you are, O LORD, with your faithfulness all around you?” (Psalm 89:5-8).

All of those wonderful qualities of God were aspects of His character that He wanted those angels to see!  He knew they would rejoice to see it and spend eternity worshipping Him for it.  But, in order for His angels to witness God’s creative power and redeeming love, He chose to create another world: ours.  And He would create a creature ideally suited for this particular demonstration of love: us.

“For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham.  Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people” (Hebrews 2:16-17).

HUMANS are special-featured-creatures

Now human beings, created “in the image of God” have a feature that God does not have that I would like to consider.  That feature is what I call the “double death” feature.
I find it fascinating to consider that we humans were created differently with regard to death than both animals and angels were. Animals, with no immortal souls, were created with only one death that awaited them – namely physical death.
Angels, although created to be immortal, could still face “death” if they sinned and that one death would be, although not physical, nevertheless final and eternal. That is their one and only death.  God’s word tells us that hell is

“…eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels”  (Matthew 25:41).

Yet when God created humans, unique among all His creatures, He created us with the option of not one, but two deaths. These two deaths that humans can die, both physical death and eternal death each have a certain respective finality, yet they are still not the same and it is mercifully possible to experience the one, but not the other.

“Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done.   Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire.   And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire”. (Revelation 20:13-15)
You see, the option of two deaths, that humans have, gives us a built-in advantage that is not only advantageous to us, but also to God, who planned to use our physical death as the centrepiece of a grand demonstration of His love from the very creation of our world. I refer to the atoning sacrificial death of God’s son.

For God demonstrated His love for us in this way – that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5.8).

Had humans been like the angels, with only a single kind of death that was possible for us (the eternal kind), then for Christ to demonstrate His love for us by sparing us the punishment that we deserved and substituting Himself instead under the judgment of God, God’s Son would have to endure eternal death and be permanently separated from His Father – separating the persons of the Holy Trinity forever – hardly a practical option!  But, as we humans are capable of being punished for sin with two kinds of death, Jesus could experience one of them (physical death) and His demonstration would still serve its purpose.

Because Christ’s death successfully demonstrated that God was loving and merciful enough to redeem sinners at tremendous cost, both humans and angels benefited enormously and God is glorified eternally as a direct result.

  1. Humans benefit, because we can be forgiven our sins and be spared from eternal death (a priceless benefit!).
  2. Angels benefit, because only in our redemption could the they observe God, their creator, showing mercy and forgiveness toward sinners without compromising His perfect justice – something they could never have seen had humans never been created, fallen into sin and been redeemed through the atoning sacrifice of God’s Son.
  3. And, ultimately God benefits, so to speak, because, as the result of what the crucified and risen Christ has done, both humans and angels join together to give Him endless praise for the perfect combination of righteousness and grace that the redemption of humanity displays.
St. Paul wrote,

"All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Him as a sacrifice of atonement through faith in His blood. He did this to demonstrate His justice, because in His forbearance He had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished - He did it to demonstrate His justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus" (Romans 3.23-26).

  • Consider an historic bottle of brandy. It could be kept "eternally" in a museum or it could "die" by having its cork removed and its contents poured out. Yet, how foolish it would be for that bottle to resent it's "death". It was obviously designed to have its cork removed and its contents poured out. Even after its first "death", the brandy bottle would not have to have a second death (be trashed). It could live forever in someone's prized bottle collection. God seems to have designed us well to serve the purpose of His glory.  Seeing physical death this way almost rehabilitates it, or at least recognizes that human physical death serves a higher purpose by showcasing the surpassing love of God.

SALVATION is a grand demonstration “to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places”

Part of Christian faith is recognition of the cosmic scope of GOD'S eternal love.   God asked Job the haunting question, "Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? ...when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” (38.7)

To that question we are left breathless. We have no answer because we were not there. But we are told who was there. God tells us who sang for joy to see our world created – it was His heavenly host, the “morning stars”, the “sons of God”, His holy angels!   Those same angels that are our guardians who always behold the face of our Father in Heaven  (Matthew 18.10).  Those angels who are sent to serve those who are inheriting salvation  (Hebrews 1.14).  Those same angels are watching the unfolding of our lives and the working out of God’s plan to save us through the sacrifice of His Son, ever since we were created. St. Peter tells us that “angels long to look into these things” (1 Peter 1.12).

For our salvation is

“the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the angelic authorities in the heavenly places. This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Ephesians 3:9-11).

HUMAN SALVATION is a tremendous source of delight to the angels

Scripture gives us plenty of glimpses of angels worshipping God in Heaven. But how often do we note that the worship which angels render to God is related to, among other things, their knowledge of the history of human salvation?

“…they sang a new song, saying, "Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth." Then I looked, and I heard … the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, "Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!" (Revelation 5:9-12).

Human salvation is ultimately the only salvation they have ever seen, for no salvation was offered to any fallen angel who sinned. Yet, although it is about the rescue from eternal damnation of another species (humanity), human salvation is a tremendous source of delight to the angels.  If the founding of the material universe itself made the angels shout for joy (Job 38.7), by the same token the repentance and salvation of every individual in that universe gives them great cause for rejoicing in praise of God’s love.

(Jesus said) “I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance… Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents." Luke 15:7-10

THE ANSWER to the question of why we exist – the purpose of human existence

The angels’ joy at the beginning of our world possibly suggests that the whole material universe was made as a demonstration to them of His love. (A “Grand Demonstration”, as Dr.Jay Adams called it).

Jesus Christ is “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (KJV) or, as the New Living Translation puts it. “the Lamb who was killed before the world was made”  (Revelation 13.8).

“…he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him” (Ephesians 1:4).

“you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold,  but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.  He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for your sake” (1 Peter 1:18-20)

Knowing before He created the earth that God’s beloved Son would have to die for it, why else did He proceed?  Unless it was for a greater good, no father would make something that He knew would cost him the life of his beloved son.   He wouldn’t even bother to build such a thing.  So why did God go ahead and create us?   The angels may hold the answer to this frequently asked question.  

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