Halos, Wings, and Harps
Halos, Wings, and Harps
I want to explore another person you meet in heaven. I use the term "person" loosely because of who we're talking about today: Angels. When most people think of heaven, angels come to mind. Our passage today, Hebrews 12:14-29 is not primarily about angels—it's an exhortation to persevere in New Covenant living. Both the opening and close of the passage are calls to holiness, purity, community, and worship, and in the middle is the motivation. In verses 18-24, the writer contrasts the Old Covenant with the New Covenant. First, he talks about the Old Covenant given through Moses on Mt. Sinai—there was fire, darkness, lightening, and fear. God's people weren't even allowed to come near the mountain, or they would die. The writer of Hebrews describes the difference of the New Covenant:
But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. (Hebrews 12:22-24).
Notice the contrasts between the Old and New Covenants: The Old Covenant was gloomy; the New Covenant is joyful. The Old Covenant kept a distance from God; in the New Covenant, people come to God. The Old Covenant was characterized by the blood of Abel, which called out for wrath and revenge; the New Covenant is characterized by the blood of Christ, which welcomes with grace. The Old Covenant was at Sinai; the New Covenant is at Mt. Zion, which is used to refer to the New Jerusalem, or heaven. I chose this passage today not for its big picture message, but because of its picture of heaven and who will be there: Jesus Christ, the mediator; God, our Father and Creator; the Church of the firstborn—those who have entered by the narrow gate; and angels. "Thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly" will be in heaven (vs. 22). That's just as I imagine it. But what are angels? We all have ideas and images in our heads that may or may not be accurate, so let's see what Scripture says.
Angelology 101: Six Facts about Angels
Angels are created beings. Most of us have a wrong idea of where angels come from—take this story for example: Two men are sitting in a pub and one says to the other, "My mother-in-law is an angel." His buddy replies, "You're so lucky … mine is still alive!" Angels are not the souls of people who die; being an angel is not our next stage in life. Colossians 1:16 says, "For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him." Nehemiah 9:6 reads, "You alone are the Lord. You have made the heavens, the heaven of heavens with all their host." Angels are created beings. Because they are created, angels are not omnipresent, omniscient, or omnipotent.
Angels are spiritual beings—they don't have physical bodies. In Luke 24:39, Jesus says, "Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have." Angels can, however, appear visibly. An angel appeared to Mary and Joseph; an angel appeared to the women at Jesus' tomb; in Acts 5, the apostles were rescued from prison by an angel. I love Hebrews 13:2, which says, "Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it." So angels are spiritual beings, but they may be right here among us.
Angels are always designated by the masculine gender in Scripture. I don't know why angels are referred to as masculine in Scripture, but they are. Frogs, sponges, moths, thighs, blood clots and noise are also masculine … go figure. Though they are masculine, angels do not marry or procreate: "At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven" (Matthew 22:30).
Angels are innumerable. Hebrews 12:22 reads, "You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly." When God appeared on Mt. Sinai, he came from thousands of holy ones (Deuteronomy 33:2). Revelation 5:11 says that when John had his vision in Revelation, he saw the Lamb on the throne: "Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand." That's 100 million—the population of Mexico.
Angels are superior to humans. In Psalm 8:4-5, David says, "What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor." This superiority seems to be in their power and presence with God (2 Peter 2:11). But, according to 1 Corinthians 6:3, humans will one day take a place superior to angels.
Angels have rank. The Bible identifies several different classifications of angels. Cherubim are the highest classification, as they guard the holiness of God. We find Cherubim at the east gate of the Garden of Eden, over the Ark of the Covenant, and as witnesses to God's presence. Seraphim refers to the "burning ones"; they are the worshipping angels. We find them in Isaiah's vision of worship. Next are the Archangels. The archangel Michael is mentioned in Jude 9. Perhaps Gabriel, who announced Jesus' birth is an archangel as well. Finally, we have Guardian Angels. There are several references to guardian angels in Scripture. Psalm 91:11 says, "For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways." And in Hebrews 1:14 we read, "Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?" Guardian angels are mentioned in relation to children as well: "See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven" (Matthew 18:10). I often pray that God will send his angels to minister to my children at night. If I understand it Scripture correctly, angels are involved in our lives day to day.
Lessons from Angels
Angels remind us of unseen, spiritual realities. In the movie Horton Hears a Who, the two main characters are Horton, an elephant, and the tiny mayor of Whoville, an extremely small world contained in a small speck that Horton carries around on a flower. The mayor tries to convince the residents of Whoville that there are beings living beyond Whoville, but it seems inconceivable for the Who's to believe the existence of anything beyond their world. They didn't believe their world was merely a speck in a much larger world. Similarly, there is a spiritual world that we might find hard to believe, because we don't see it. There is a parallel spiritual dimension of good and evil. Angels remind us of that spiritual reality.
Angels remind us of eternal spiritual priorities. Angels were created with specific purposes in mind. They reflect the priorities of God. Three of these priorities we can lay hold of now. The first priority angels reflect is to sing. God designed a whole congregation that worships him continually. Rarely does an angel appear without declaring something of the excellencies of God. When you worship you live like the angels. The second priority angels reflect is to serve. Angels serve God, they served Christ when he was on the earth, and they serve people. Angels were created to contribute, and when you serve with unseen hands, you live like the angels. The third priority of God that angels reflect is to speak. The Greek word for angel is angellos, which means "one sent as a messenger" and "to proclaim." Angels don't say much, but when they do, it'd about what God is doing. When you talk to your neighbors about what God is doing in your life, you are being angelic. It's not surprising that "evangelism" has "angel" at its center.
A couple years ago, I visited my friend Keith. His son Alex was in the hospital awaiting the possibility of having a leg amputated. Right before I arrived the doctors and announced they were going to have to take the leg. Keith and his wife, Staci, grieved as they sat in the waiting room. A man approached them and sat down. Keith noticed the man had a prosthetic leg, so he went and told the man their story. This stranger assured them that Alex would be fine and would adjust to his new leg with no problem. When they asked the stranger is name, he said, "Keith!" This stranger appeared seemingly out of nowhere and brought news of peace and comfort to my friends at exactly the right time. This man was an instrument of God.
David Daniels is the lead pastor of Central Bible Church in Fort Worth, Texas.