The God of Angels
For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father Matthew 16:27ESV
Question 16 of the Larger Catechism asks, “How did God create angels?” It gives the answer, “God created all the angels spirits, immortal, holy, excelling in knowledge, mighty in power, to execute his commandments, and to praise his name, yet subject to change.” Last week we saw that all things were created by God for His own good purposes. However, in addition to a physical universe which can be known by our senses, God has also created a spiritual realm inhabited by spiritual creatures. This week’s question focuses narrowly on the creation of those mysterious heavenly beings the Bible calls “angels.”
First, let us consider the nature of angels. The angels are spirits: “[God] makes His angels winds, His ministers a flame of fire,” (Ps. 104:4). The Hebrew word “winds” also means “spirits.” Although at times angels come in the form of men, physicality does not appear to be essential to their nature. They are able to take human form and be seen or to vanish as God pleases to allow it for His good purposes. Additionally, the angels are immortal. They do not grow old and die. They do not marry and reproduce (Matt. 22:30). The angels are not a connected race like mankind. Each angel is the direct creation of God, having no creaturely parents. Finally, the angels are holy. Like man, the angels were created good, yet they had the ability to sin. As the Catechism states it, they were “subject to change.” Each angel determined his own fate. A third of the angels followed Satan, rebelled against God, and were thrown out of heaven (Rev. 12:3-9); the rest of the angels remained perfectly holy and righteous.
If this is the nature of the angels, what are their abilities? Throughout Scripture, the angels appear to greatly excel us in all those attributes where they can be compared to men. Our culture retains a vague awareness of this biblical truth. Whether or not most people really believe it, nearly all know of the notion of the guardian angel: a spiritual being assigned by God to protect individuals, through the use of their supernatural or super human power or knowledge. The understanding of the supremacy of angels is also reflected in our language. Thus, it is common to say about someone who is very beautiful, helpful, capable, or obedient “You’re an angel!” or “She had angelic features,” or “The children were perfect angels!” These common notions, confused though they are, affirm that Angels excel human beings. The Catechism mentions four specific areas of angelic excellence: their knowledge, power, service to, and praise of God.
Angels excel in knowledge. In 2 Sam. 14:17, King David is praised for his ability to discern between good and evil, which is as “the angel of God.” Likewise, when Jesus wanted to convey a great secret that God had not chosen to reveal to men, He said to His disciples, “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only,” (Matt. 24:36). As if Jesus was saying, “The angels, who know so much more than you, do not even know this great mystery.” Likewise, Daniel, one of the wisest men in the Bible, to whom so many mysteries were revealed, was not able to comprehend the vision so God said to the angel Gabriel, “make this man understand” (Dan. 8:16).
Angels are great in power. 2 Thess. 1:7 speaks of a time when Jesus will be revealed with “His mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance” on God’s enemies. The angels are indeed mighty! One angel killed all the firstborn in Egypt on the night of the Passover. On another night an angel of the Lord killed 185,000 Assyrian warriors (2 Kings 19:35). The angels, by their great might, will execute God’s final judgment: “The angels will come and separate the evil from the righteous and [they] will cast them into the furnace of fire,” (Matt. 13:49-50).
Finally, we see the angels as the perfect servants of God and heralds of His glory. The Scripture exalts the angels as those beings who always are “obeying the voice of His word.” They fully “do His will,” (Ps. 103:20-21). When Jesus teaches us to pray “Thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven,” it reveals that the angels are perfect citizens of the kingdom of God. For this reason, the angels are privileged to be one of the primary ways God manifests His glory to us. As the Scripture at the head of this article declares, when Jesus is finally revealed in His glory, His angels will be with Him. Jesus at the head of a mighty army of tens of thousands of fiery warrior angels(!) – that will be a truly glorious and awesome sight!