Angels: God’s Operatives

How welcoming one should be in regards to an angel’s visit depends on what one thinks of the great I AM who sent them. If you’re on His good side by believing in His only begotten Son as your Savior then you should be thrilled by the prospect. However, if you’ve rejected His saving grace and consciously disobeyed His laws out of spiteful pride then an angel at your door is the last thing you want to see. Why? Because the Scriptures reveal that throughout history angels have been commissioned to not only carry out God’s judgments on individuals but on entire countries. Hebrews 1:7 says of the Lord, “He makes his angels spirits and his ministers a flame of fire.” (I don’t know about you but I’ve developed over the years a healthy respect for fire being an effective instigator of destruction. Yes, it can roast your marshmallows and warm your cocoa but it can also take down skyscrapers.) The gist is that angels administer God’s judgments with no questions asked. Sometimes they do it in spectacular fashion. Other times they work subtly behind the scenes. When I read about how the potent Nazi empire crumbled apart in a matter of months I have to at least entertain the thought that the regime became so evil God could no longer sit by and observe. And I suspect that angels were very involved in turning WWII in the allies’ favor. Never underestimate their ability to drastically alter destinies of people and nations when ordered to do so.

The fate of Sodom and Gomorrah is a prime example of what they’re capable of doing. S&G’s citizens were so out of control and degenerate God decided they had to be erased from the face of the earth. But, as usual, the Lord issued a warning first. In this instance He used angels to give advance notice to Abraham about what was about to come down on those two sin-filled burgs. Abraham, fearing for his nephew Lot’s lot who were residents of the twin cities, began to plead with the Heavenly Father to reconsider. He commenced to bargain with God. If the angels could identify 50 righteous folk living in Sodom would He call off the conflagration? God said, “Deal!” That emboldened Abe. “Will you cancel the bonfire if you find just 45?” God nodded. “What if there are only 30? Would that be enough to stop the wipeout?” God agreed to that number, then 20, then merely 10. Abraham whittled the Creator down to a fifth of his original minimum but that was still too many. Those nasty people were doomed. God then directed the angels to start the countdown. As a favor to Abraham He sent two of them in to fetch Lot and his family before D-day arrived. Hearing some heavenly bodies were in the area, a crowd of sex maniacs showed up and started making rude demands of them. The angels responded by blinding the horde of hooligans. Evidently, compared to those creeps, Lot was deserving of mercy so the angels led him and his flock to the suburbs. C. Leslie Miller wrote, “It’s significant that although Lot had drifted far from the holy standards of his uncle and had sought the companionship and material benefits of an unholy alliance, the angels of the Lord were there to spare his life and assist him in avoiding the consequences of his own poor judgment.” It also shows that God is amenable to changing His mind.

2 Kings 19 also highlights how God uses His angels to execute His judgments. King Hezekiah of Israel had gotten a threatening email from the head of the ruthless Assyrian forces. It frightened him so much he turned to the Lord for guidance. God responded by promising him that not one of the enemy’s arrows would fall in Jerusalem. The great I AM vowed to protect the city and hold up His end of the covenant He’d made with David. That night, employing just one single angel, God struck down 185,000 Assyrian soldiers, decimating their ranks so badly that King Sennacherib had to hightail it to Nineveh where his sons ended up assassinating him. And, speaking of David, nowhere in the Old Testament is the power God grants to His angels demonstrated as dramatically as it is in 1 Chronicles 21. David doubted the Lord’s ability to ward off invaders so he conducted a census to catch draft dodgers. As a result of his insecurity God took out 70,000 of His people via disease. Then He sent an individual angel to decimate Jerusalem and, via a vision, allowed David to see His messenger. Verse 16 says that David, “saw the angel of the Lord stand between the earth and the heaven, having a drawn sword in his hand stretched out over Jerusalem.” David fell to his knees and begged for mercy. The angel spoke to him and told him to set up an altar on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite. The subsequent sacrifice David made was sufficient to curb God’s anger so God told the angel, “That’s enough! Stop now!” (2 Samuel 24:16) One can only imagine how different history would look had the Lord not issued that order.

Then there’s the case of Herod Agrippa in Acts 12. Decked out in his royal getup he got up in front of his constituents and made a speech. When he finished his oration the excited crowd began to shout that his was “the voice of a god, not of a man!” Herod didn’t try to downplay their claim. He basked in the glow of their adulation. It was the last mistake he’d ever make. Verse 23 reads, “Immediately an angel of the Lord struck Herod down because he did not give the glory to God, and he was eaten by worms and died.” Yowza! The most famous incident, though, has to be the one that transpired in Egypt just before the Exodus. In a final demonstration of His power, God sent the destroying angel to sweep across the land, killing the firstborn in every household. Since every calamity Moses had told Pharaoh would befall his country had come to pass I’m sure even the Israelites harbored quite a bit of anxiety over this curse. They’d been told that if they dutifully offered their sacrifices and generously sprinkled the animal’s blood around their doorways the feared angel would pass them by. What happened that evening will never be forgotten. The first born child in every unbelieving Egyptian or Israeli home died according to God’s decree. Only those who obeyed by following His specific instructions were spared. It wasn’t because the people living in those abodes were such exemplary goodie two-shoes’ 24/7 that they weren’t affected, it was the faith they displayed by smearing blood over their doorstep that saved them from the angel of death that walked down their street that night.

Faith also played a huge part in the story of Abraham and Isaac found in Genesis 22. To test his mettle, God told His faithful servant to take his “son of promise” into the land of Moriah and ritually sacrifice him as proof of his uncompromised loyalty. One can only imagine the angst and heartache Abraham endured as he gathered up the things he’d need for the task and set out with Isaac to obey God’s will to the letter. The Lord had asked Abraham to do what no parent should ever have to do yet he didn’t even question God’s decision. That kind of faith is off the charts. Upon their arrival Abraham got the altar set up, put the bound Isaac in position and prepared to plunge a knife into his son’s heart. He raised his arm over the boy. “But the Lord’s angel called to him from heaven, ‘Abraham! Abraham!’ ‘Here I am!’ he answered. ‘Do not harm the boy!’ the angel said. ‘Do not do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God because you did not withhold your son, your only son, from me.” Whenever a name is repeated in the Bible it means it packs a punch and it stopped Abraham in midair. God rewarded him for his unwavering trust by providing a substitute for the sacrifice in the form of a ram who’d wandered in and gotten his horns stuck in a nearby briar patch. It’s widely believed that this was yet another theophany, meaning the angel was Christ. He assumed the role of an angel and introduced the principle of substitutionary atonement. In other words, God had indeed demanded of Abraham the demise of his son and the offering of his body up as the burnt offering necessary to cleanse him of his sins. But, at the last minute, God, in response to Abraham’s incredible faith, accepted the slaughter of the animal instead. We’re saved by the same principle. Billy Graham wrote, “True judgment demands that we die. And the judgment must be executed. But Jesus Christ Himself was the substitute offering. He died so that we do not have to die.” Our savior took our place so that those who believe in Him will live forever in paradise.

This dramatic episode raises sticky but legitimate questions. How dare God ask for a human sacrifice? Isn’t that beneath Him? How could He ask Abraham to murder Isaac when He’d specifically forbidden such an act in Genesis 9:6 when He said to Noah, “Whoever sheds human blood, by other humans must his blood be shed; for in God’s image God has made humankind.” Isn’t that contradictory? We find the answer in Romans 8:32; “…He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, freely give us all things?” God was qualified to ask Abraham to surrender Isaac because He Himself was going to let His own Son be sacrificed later on. God didn’t ask Abraham to give up anything He wasn’t willing to give up as well. And keep in mind that neither Abraham nor Isaac had to drink from the cup of tragedy. Isaac didn’t die and his dad didn’t have to kill him. In Gethsemane the same lethal cup was presented but the outcome was totally different. Jesus surrendered His life and took on the sins of the world in order to save all sinners. He accepted the punishment God’s infallible justice requires and each and every one of us deserves. Because we know not what we do Christ literally became sin for us so we can experience His matchless grace and mercy forevermore. No human or angel will ever completely understand the full implications of the cup Jesus willfully drank from that Friday on Calvary Hill for our sake.

As powerful as the angels are, not one of them could spare Christ from a nanosecond of His suffering at the hands of His tormentors before and as He hung upon the cross. It was His decision to go through with it and His alone. The sole righteous human in the history of the universe bore the guilt of the wicked and iniquitous upon His shoulders. No doubt the angel army was standing by, ready to rescue Him at a moment’s notice but He never called for their help. His love for us is so profound and real that He took the full brunt of the consequences of our sins without complaint. He knew what He was doing. He was being forsaken by mankind, by the angels (they had to avert their eyes from the ugliness of the scene) and by His Father in heaven who, because His purity prevents Him from being in the presence of sin, had to turn His back on His own Son. That explains Jesus’ excruciating cry in His last moments of, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He died more alone than any person ever has or ever will. The angels were there, but they could do nothing. Oh, how He loves us!

God’s Holy Word intimates angels are the Lord’s emissaries that carry out His judgment against those who run from the truth. Who deliberately reject Christ and the salvation He presents to them free of charge on a silver platter. All men sin and fall miles short of perfection every single day but, because of Jesus’ atoning blood, those who surrender to Him and accept His grace will avoid having to pay the debt they owe for their many trespasses against our Heavenly Father. Those who ignore Jesus will have to deal with the angels God has given the task of separating the sheep from the goats, the wheat from the tares, the justified from the damned. Those left behind to dicker with the devil won’t be able to blame the angels for their predicament. They’ll wind up in hell because they repeatedly hung up the phone when the Savior called. They’ll be lost for time immemorial because they considered the Bible to be just another old book full of superstitious nonsense. They’ll forfeit all their freedom because they refused to step out of their own jail cells and embrace God’s gift of ultimate freedom. The angels will escort them to their dark eternal residence and see to it they receive their due. In Matthew 13:49-50 Christ says, “It will be this way at the end of the age. Angels will come and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” I, for one, am elated that I’ll never have to take a step in that horrible oven.

All human beings stand in front of two doors. One leads to eternal life, the other to eternal death. We’ll all be judged for our thoughts and our actions but those of us who have Jesus as their proxy will be found “not guilty” and the angels will usher us into the kingdom of God with great fanfare. It’ll be the experience to top all experiences as we witness with our own eyes and ears the rejoicing of the angelic host gathered around the throne of the great I AM. This marvelous opportunity is extended to everyone who draws air. In Luke 16 the tale of the rich man and the beggar Lazarus is told. The latter of the two rarely had two nickels to rub together his whole life and lived in squalor but he never gave up his unwavering faith in God’s goodness and mercy. Upon his death he was “carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom.” He found himself standing in the very presence of the glorious, brilliant Heavenly Father who never abandoned him. (Wealthy Lazarus didn’t fare so well but that’s a topic for another essay.) In Acts we read of the early Christian, Stephen. He was dragged before a cadre of snooty Jewish leaders who accused him of heresy. But in 6:15 it says that “All who were sitting in the council looked intently at Stephen and saw his face was like the face of an angel.” The Holy Spirit had taken over. He then proceeded to deliver a scathing sermon in which he looked them straight in the eyes and said, “You received the law by decrees given by angels, but you did not obey it.” Outraged at his audacity, they condemned him to death. 7:55 tells us, “But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked intently toward heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.” They then cruelly stoned that brave soldier of the Lord.

The point is that the angels guided God’s faithful servant Stephen into heaven through the same pearly gates as they did poor Lazarus. While Stephen surely was heralded for being the first Christian martyr and honored for his steadfast courage I doubt that Lazarus felt he’d been snubbed. It’s hard to harbor jealousy when all the luxuries of the cosmos are yours for the taking. What I’m saying is that if you’ve given your heart to Christ then you have nothing to fear from the invisible angels that surround us on all sides. If you’re a child of the Father in heaven then they’re a present to you from above. Their aim is to assist, protect, comfort, inspire and encourage you during your life on earth. When your terrestrial days come to an end they’ll lead you into a world so gorgeous and amazing that words can’t describe it and you’ll eternally exist there in a state of perfection, serving the gracious Lord who loves you more than you’ll ever comprehend. If you haven’t chosen to follow Jesus by now, make that decision this very minute. Everything is at stake.

angel fire

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