Angels - Part 3
Many ideas abound in the religious world concerning the concept of a guardian angel. Apparently, Jews in the first century believed in a guardian angel for each person. In traditional Jewish training, children are taught that an angel accompanies them to the synagogue on the Sabbath. If the child has been good, the angel is pleased. They were, however, expected to accept this teaching as legend, not doctrine. In the second century A.D., the concept of the guardian angel was widespread among professed Christians. The non-inspired book, The Shepherd of Hermas, taught that each of us has two guardian angels, one good and other evil. In Catholicism, the doctrine of the guardian angel is taught. It is a belief that angels watch over children, protect individuals from harm, and guide them in the right way. Islam teaches that each individual has four guardian angels. Two guard the person during the day and two at night. The angel on the right records the person’s good work immediately. The one on the left writes down the evil acts a few hours later (giving time for the person to repent). In our culture, many people believe that a guardian angel functions in a role somewhat like that of a conscience and guides one away from wrong choices and evil influences.
- First, we must reject the idea that angels or an angel protects us from all harm, for very faithful people in the Bible often suffered harm (Matthew 14:10; Acts 7:58-60; 12:1-2). God has never promised us protection from suffering or hardship, in fact, we are told to expect to be persecuted (Matthew 5:10-12; Acts 14:22; 2 Timothy 3:12).
- We also must reject the idea that angels serve as a conscience or guide us in the right path. First, the vast majority of people are on the wrong path (Matthew 7:13-14, do they have second-rate guardian angels?). Secondly, even faithful Christians can be led astray(Galatians 2:11-13). Thirdly, we are constantly warned about trusting in "feelings" or what "our heart is telling us" (Proverbs 3:5; 16:25; 28:26).
"Are they not all ministering spirits, send out to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation?"
Nothing in the verse says that we have a specific angel that protects us, but the verse does offer other information. Angels have been sent out to render service to the saved.
- The Law of Moses, which benefits Christians today (Romans 15:4), was delivered to Moses through the medium of angels ("If the word spoken through angels" Hebrews 2:2; "having been ordained through angels by the agency of a mediator" Galatians 3:19; "you who received the law as ordained by angels" Acts 7:53).
- Angels intervened to guide and protect God’s people in the Old Testament (Exodus 3:2; 14:19; 23:20; Judges 6:11-40; 2 Kings 19:35).
- Angels played a major role in the birth and life of Jesus (Luke 2:9-13; Matthew 1:20-24; 2:13,19). They educated Jesus’ parents, kept Joseph from leaving Mary, warned the parents, protected Jesus from Herod, ministered to Jesus during the temptation (Mark 1:13),and also when Jesus was praying in the Garden prior to His ordeal, suffering and death (Luke 22:43 "Now an angel from heaven appeared to Him, strengthening Him").
- Angels assisted in the spread of the gospel. It was an angel that told Philip to go south to the road that descends from Jerusalem to Gaza (Acts 8:26). An angel told Cornelius to send men to Joppa and fetch Peter (Acts 10:3-7; 11:13-14). Note, in both of these instances, an angel never told a person what to do to be saved, that was always left to a human messenger.
- We tend to forget that we owe our salvation to the service provided by angels. If the nation of Israel had not been protected, Jesus could not have been born. If Jesus had died at the hands of Herod, there would be no forgiveness of sins. Angels also preserved the lives of men like Peter in Acts 12:12-16. And because of this, we have the books of First and Second Peter. Paul appears to have been protected by an angel during the storm and following shipwreck (Acts 27:23-24). As a consequence, Paul lived to writeEphesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Timothy, Philemon and Titus.
"See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you, that their angels in heaven continually behold the face of My Father who is in heaven"
"That you do not despise one of these little ones": In the context, Jesus had called a child to Himself and said, "Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like little children, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven" (18:2). In verse 6, He says, "whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to stumble". Hence, the "little ones" of Matthew 18:10, is someone old enough to believe in Jesus, i.e., obey the gospel. This could be a young new convert or someone who is old, but still a recent new convert. Hence, Jesus isn’t talking about a specific guardian angel that each new baby is given at birth. Rather, He is talking about angels and believers. Note, angels are never said to protect unbelievers.
"That their angels in heaven": Notice the plural "angels". The language that Jesus used here may suggest a collective rather than a personal and particular guardianship. Hence, corporate care, rather than specific individual care. Or, that many angels may be watching over us, instead of just one. In the Old Testament we find the "angel of the Lord" protecting God’s people as a whole. "The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear Him, and rescues them" (Psalm 34:7). We also find many angels protecting one person: "For He will give His angels charge concerning you, to guard you in all your ways. They will bear you up in their hands, lest you strike your foot against a stone" (Psalm 91:11-12).
"Continually behold the face of My Father who is in heaven": "The description of angels always seeing the face of the Father was an example of the earthly ruler who allowed those with the most influence to be in the closest proximity to the throne" (An Investigation of Angels, Wynelle F. Main, p. 178). This verse was meant to serve as a warning. Often when people become Christians, they are ridiculed by the world, at times, they are forsaken by their own friends and family. Jesus warns the world that His followers, far from being "nobodies", have access to the very throne of God! Anything that happens to them, any attempt that is made to lead them astray, to undermine their faith, to destroy their confidence in the Word of God, will be promptly reported to God Himself! Any bad example that is set before them or stumbling block that is placed in their path will be noted by heaven. If God’s highest, most glorious messengers have immediate access to the great God of heaven, and are commissioned with humble service to even the newest convert and the youngest person in the faith, then God certainly takes notice when new converts are neglected, led astray or treated as if they did not count. Notice that such angels continually behold the face of the Father, even while serving men. This appears to mean that while they execute their service they have instant and immediate audience with the Father, so that, even while ministering on earth to the little ones, they are in simultaneous communication with the throne. They are never out of "radio contact" with God.
"Now it came about that the poor man died and he was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom".
We tend to forget that this passage is also an example of angels ministering to those who will inherit salvation.
- In the past angels delivered the Word of God to individuals (Genesis 16:11-12; Judges 13:3; Luke 1:13, 28-33; 2:10-12; Matthew 2:13). We have a description of what this looked like on one occasion, "I was looking in the visions in my mind as I lay on my bed, and behold, an angelic watcher, a holy one, descended from heaven" (Daniel 4:13). The book of Revelation was communicated to John by means of an angel (Revelation 1:1).
- God has used His angels to intervene and deliver individuals from harm’s way. One writer calls this, "heavenly rescue squads",(Genesis 19:1,10-16; 2 Kings 19:35; Acts 12:6-10).
- God has also used His angels to inflict punishment and carry out His judgments (2 Samuel 24:16; 1 Chronicles 21:16; Acts 12:23 "And immediately an angel of the Lord struck him because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and died"). Be impressed that God holds people accountable for how they handle human praise. God expected Herod to rebuke the crowd for their blasphemous statements. One writer noted that Herod had enough Jewish blood in him, and enough acquaintance with the Law of Moses, that he knew better than to permit the people to do what they were doing. According to some, these worms were intestinal worms similar in size and appearance to what we call earthworms. Josephus tells how a terrible pain in the abdomen seized Herod as he addressed the crowd. He collapsed in his box at the theater, and was carried out a dying man. He lingered five days before he died (Antiquities, XVII.6.5).
- God used His angels to guide people or providentially see to it that their particular journey or endeavor was successful: "He will send His angel before you, and you will take a wife for my son from there" (Genesis 24:7); "will send His angel with you to make your journey successful" (24:40); "For My angel will go before you and bring you in to the land of the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites…and I will completely destroy them" (Exodus 23:23). Part of this job included providentially weakening the Canaanite nations socially, psychologically, and militarily (Exodus 23:27-28). We know that various rumors had weakened the resolve of the Canaanites (Joshua 2:9,11).
Mark Dunagan/Beaverton Church of Christ/(503)644-9017