Angels: Up Close and Personal

One very important thing I want to express is that, in talking about angels, I don’t intend to give the impression they’re some kind of abstract, off-somewhere-in-the-distance creatures. On the contrary, the Bible indicates that they minister to us one-on-one. Just because I’m unaware of their presence doesn’t mean there might not be one or more of them in the room with me as I write. Fact is, we know very little about their constant activities. Yet there will come a day when our eyes will be opened to see their beauty and so much more. 1 Corinthians 13:12 says, “For now we see in a mirror indirectly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, just as I have been fully known.” Many people will look you straight in the eye and tell you they’ve been touched by an angel. I’m one of those folks. The scriptures are clear. God has ordered the angelic host to minister to His chosen people – those who’ve been redeemed by Christ’s purifying blood.

The book of Daniel (chapter 10) describes an angelic encounter. Daniel had spent three weeks in a deep depression over what God had revealed to him. The graphic vision he’d received concerned a great spiritual war so terrifying and disturbing that Daniel’s equilibrium was totally devastated by it. All he could do was pray for some kind of comfort. He was so upset that for twenty one days he couldn’t bring himself to eat or drink. Then, while walking by the Tigris River, a man suddenly appeared wearing linen. The man was stunning to behold, with eyes “like blazing torches” and a voice that ‘thundered forth like the sound of a large crowd.” In other words, this was no ordinary dude. Other men were with Daniel and, though they didn’t see anything unusual, the look on Daniel’s face was evidently enough to scare the dickens out of them because they ran away like scared rabbits. Daniel, on the other hand, couldn’t move a muscle. He fell into a trance-like state with his face in the dirt until the man touched him and Daniel was finally able to sit up. By now he knew this was no human but an angel of God. The angel proceeded to tell Daniel he was “of great value” to the Lord and would’ve come to provide comfort sooner had he not been delayed by a demon prince who’d tried to keep him from reaching Daniel. He implied that if it hadn’t been for the Archangel Michael’s help he might still be tied up with his adversary. Evidently Satan didn’t want any more revelations to be conveyed to Daniel and did everything he could to stop it from happening. The angel revealed to Daniel what was going to happen to the world (Israel in particular) in the last days and once again Daniel’s body went slack. The angel touched his lips and his strength was restored immediately. The angel then left to resume his boxing match with the demon prince. Daniel knew this was no hallucination because of the details the angel included. What we should derive from this is that, even if the devil himself should try to intervene, God hears our every prayer and will respond according to His will. Daniel had prayed and fasted for Israel. God sent an angel to reassure him that his prayer was not in vain.

Jacob is another who had a close encounter with angels. Unlike Daniel, Jacob had some serious character defects. He was a cheat, having stolen the birthright from his brother. He lied to his blind father and intentionally deceived him. He ran like a coward from the brother he’d betrayed. He married two of his first cousins and, when things got complicated with his uncle, took his family back to Canaan. Yet despite his lack of admirable qualities, God wouldn’t turn His back on him because of the covenant He’d made with Abraham. From Jacob would come the twelve tribes of Israel and God wasn’t about to renege. Genesis 32 relates that on his way home the “angels of God” showed up en masse in front of Jacob’s entourage. One can assume that seeing God’s army like that made a lasting impression on Jacob. He realized that his brother Esau just might murder him if he came home sporting a prideful countenance so he prayed, admitting that he wasn’t worthy of God’s mercy and asking for the Lord to soften Esau’s heart. Jacob sent his clan on ahead so he was alone when a strange man appeared and challenged him to a wrestling match. This went on all night until Jacob’s hip bone slipped out of joint and he came to the realization that this was none other than an angel he was in the ring with. But Jacob wouldn’t let go of his heavenly visitor until he’d received his blessing. The angel asked him his name and when Jacob answered he got corrected on the spot. Genesis 32:28 reads, “’No longer will your name be Jacob,’ the man told him, ‘but Israel, because you have fought with God and with men and have prevailed.’” The angel wouldn’t reveal his own name but he did give Jacob his blessing. Some scholars, with good reason, suspect it was Christ. The end result was that Jacob was convinced the whole weird episode had been a case of divine intervention and because of it he was able to humbly confront his estranged brother with confidence that God was watching out for his welfare.

Angels were also very involved in the life of Moses. We all know his story to some extent. His first four decades were spent as one of Egypt’s pampered elite. His second 40 years were the extreme opposite, having to exist in exile as a lowly sheepherder due to a murder he committed. So at the age of eighty, when most men have already retired, God decided it was Moses’ moment to shine. When he spotted a bush burning that didn’t turn into ashes he took a closer look. That’s when “the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire” and then, as if that wasn’t amazing enough, “God called to him from within the bush and said, ‘Moses, Moses!’ And Moses said ‘Here I am.’” I reckon there was nothing else Moses could think to say. The great I AM then told him he’d been appointed God’s representative who’d deliver His people out of captivity. Moses was less than overjoyed at the prospect and started offering the Lord several excuses why he’d be the wrong choice for the job. God wouldn’t budge, though, and after a few startling demonstrations of His power, Moses acquiesced. He recruited Aaron to be his press secretary and went about doing what God had instructed. This story is of supreme importance, obviously, but in this discussion it reinforces the fact that God uses angels or takes on the appearance of one to make His will known and to communicate His plans to humans. We also find angels to be a significant part of the subsequent “Exodus adventure.” For instance, when the Edomites put up a roadblock on the way to the Promised Land the people cried out to the Lord and he heard them. God “sent them an angel” and, according to Isaiah 63:9, that angel “delivered them. In his love and mercy he protected them; he lifted them up and carried them throughout the ancient times.” There’s no task too big for the angels to handle.

So where are those angels now? How come they don’t appear as they used to, giving out divine instructions like before? The answer is Jesus Christ, the Son of Man. Billy Graham wrote: “God has given us the fullest revelation – Jesus Christ in the flesh – so He no longer needs to manifest Himself in the form of ‘the angel of the Lord’ in this age of grace.” That’s not to say that angels aren’t still among us, being utilized to further the kingdom of God or to announce great news as they did in a spectacular fashion just before the Messiah’s birth in Bethlehem. Thing is, the Son of God showing up in a physical and visually viable form (a theophany) isn’t called for anymore because He’s been there, done that. Since Christ’s ascension God uses angels as well as redeemed human beings to deliver His message of salvation more subtly. Angels, in a way, are a rich resource we can draw upon as we spread the Gospel. Hebrews 1:14 exclaims, “Are they not all ministering spirits, sent out to serve those who will inherit salvation?” Angels don’t preach. They don’t reach out to lost souls. They aren’t the hands and feet of Jesus. That’s our responsibility as agents of the Lord. Christians are the front line of God’s army now. We’ve been commanded to plead with our neighbors all over the planet to repent of their sins, surrender their lives to Christ and become the men and women the Creator intended them to be all along.

Again, angels are as active and involved with us as ever before. It’s just that nowadays they function more as protectors and ministers. They’ve always been efficient protectors. In the sixth chapter of 2 Kings the tale is told of the king of Syria sending his troops to Dothan to apprehend Elisha the prophet. Elisha’s assistant freaked out when he saw they were surrounded but his master calmly said to him, “Don’t be afraid, for our side outnumbers them.” The prophet prayed to God that his servant’s eyes would be opened up to the spirit world and, to the young man’s astonishment, he saw a legion of angel warriors with “horses and chariots of fire everywhere on the hills surrounding the city.” The Syrian soldiers never had a chance.

Angels also minister to God’s children in times of strife and danger. We find in Acts 27 that an angel reassured Paul when he was in dire straits. The boat he was on got caught in a ferocious storm and the crew was terrified. The Apostle was able to confidently tell them, “…I advise you to keep your courage, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only the ship will be lost. For last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve came to me and said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul! You must stand before Caesar, and God has graciously granted you the safety of all who are sailing with you.” That angel was right on the money. Not a man perished. Many think that each believer has his/her own guardian angel assigned to them from birth. That’s never stated in so many words in the Bible but Jesus did say in Matthew 18:10, “See that you do not disdain one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.” All I can say is that if I have one he’s had his hands full with my sinful nature for well over sixty years.

There have been several times in my life when I felt that angels were involved in what happened to me. One event occurred back in the 90s. To supplement my meager income I played guitar in a classic rock band that worked on weekend nights. We played pubs, corporate events and private parties regularly. At the time I had a problem with abusing alcohol and other assorted stimulants. My spiritual life was a joke. I called myself a Christian but I never read the Holy Word and I considered churches a place where hypocrites gathered to pat themselves on the back. One night I was driving home from a gig at a bar around two thirty in the morning, feeling no pain (as usual). There’s a single-lane ramp on the Dallas North Tollway that feeds traffic into the southbound lanes of Interstate 35 near downtown that I drove onto. When I got to the top of the overpass I saw that a car had spun out about a hundred yards ahead, completely blocking the road. Not wanting to be there when the police showed up because they’d surely notice my inebriated condition I decided that, since there weren’t any cars behind me, I’d back my Nissan down the ramp and take another route home. As I was doing this foolish maneuver I suddenly saw a huge Lincoln Continental speeding up the ramp towards me. He was doing at least 50 mph. In a split second I realized there was no way the driver would be able to stop in time and that a violent collision was imminent. All I knew to do was to close my eyes and brace for the impact. I didn’t even have time to utter a prayer. A moment later I heard a whoosh sound and my little car rocked slightly in the draft. I looked up and was amazed to see the Lincoln in front of me, its brake lights glaring as it screeched to a halt. My hair was standing on end. Even with my senses dulled I felt a strange presence hovering around me. Still fearing a DWI, I gathered my wits and continued to back down the ramp. No other cars came along and I made it home safely.

I’ve driven on that same freeway ramp many times since. It’s quite narrow. I find it hard to believe that two vehicles could fit between the concrete curbs side by side. I know in my heart that an angel intervened to prevent a horrible wreck that morning. I’ve replayed it in my mind hundreds of times and nothing else makes sense. That wide-body Continental didn’t even graze my driver’s side mirror. It’s as if it passed right through me. That’s what it felt like. The worst case scenario is that the impact could’ve knocked my Sentra over the railing and down onto I-35 below. Maybe the angels weren’t saving me or the other driver at all. Perhaps they were preventing my car from falling onto an innocent person or family. I guess I’ll know more about what really went down when I get to heaven. Some skeptics will chalk it up to coincidence or dumb luck and point out that it’s theoretically possible for two cars to occupy that limited space at the same time. But they weren’t there. I was. And I know something supernatural happened that miraculously spared me from serious injury or even death. The angels intervened because the Heavenly Father had other plans either for me or others who would’ve been adversely affected by my stupidity. One thing’s for sure. That memory is burned into my brain and will never fade.

You might be saying, “If that’s so then why don’t the angels step in to prevent every tragedy from happening?” Paul brought that up in Hebrews 11. He lists many men and women of faith who were delivered from disease, calamities, accidents and even death. But then, starting with verse 35, he talks about similarly dedicated, loyal followers of Christ who had to endure torture, imprisonment, and even dismemberment while the angels only stood by and watched. Why? No one but God knows for sure but we get a clue in reading about our Savior kneeling in the garden of Gethsemane. Matthew 26:39 says He prayed, “…My Father, if possible, let this cup pass from me! Yet not what I will, but what you will.” If God wouldn’t even save His only begotten Son then we must conclude that His will, while mysterious, gets carried out when we ask for it to be done whether we understand it or not. The end of Hebrews 11 indicates that those who didn’t get the help they prayed for will be rewarded in the kingdom of God because they endured hardships by faith alone. And we also know that, upon their death, the angels will escort their immortal souls to the throne of God. Our sufferings are not pointless. There’s a purpose for all of this. Jesus suffered torment and a grisly death. But then He was resurrected in a body impervious to pain or afflictions. The angels are always watching over us. Sometimes they’re allowed to step in and sometimes they’re told to stand down. Only the Father in heaven knows the reason but that’s where trust comes in. We’ve been assured that God is good all the time and Christ’s overriding message is to trust in Him with all our soul, mind and heart. Therefore I trust. So should you.

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