Our Communion with the Angels
September 29th is the Feast Day of St. Michael and All Angels. This is an expanded version of a talk given in 2017 at St Stephen’s Anglican Church.
Tonight is the Eve of Michaelmas, tomorrow’s recognition of Michael and All Angels, and so tonight I will present a tour of the biblical role of Angels in the Christian faith. We will see that angels are messengers, worshippers, and warriors; we will discuss as well the fallen angels, spiritual warfare, and what we can learn about our relationship with God by learning about these spirit beings.
Angels are mentioned throughout the Old and New Testament, often as hosts or unnamed representatives of the Lord. For example, Revelation 5:11-2 reads, “And I beheld, and I heard the voice of many angels round about the throne and the beasts and the elders: and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands; Saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing.” The Greek word angelos means messenger, and this is the role we see given to Gabriel, who foretells the birth of Christ Luke 1:26-31 “And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be. And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus.” So important was it to God that angels be involved in the coming of Christ that Gabriel not only announced the birth of Christ but also of the prophet who made his ways straight, John the Baptist. We read of this in Luke 1:11-13, “And there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John.” And when Zachariah fails to respond with the faith which seeing an angel should inspire, we see that Gabriel renders him mute: 1:19-20: “And the angel answering said unto him, I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and am sent to speak unto thee, and to shew thee these glad tidings. And, behold, thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall be performed, because thou believest not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season.” We also see Gabriel fulfilling this role as messenger in the eighth chapter of the Book of Daniel, where he comes to interpret Daniel’s vision of the unfolding of God’s providential plan in history. So we see that at such crucial moments as the announcing of Christ’s birth and the presentation of God’s providence through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, angels are present. Their role in the Christian worldview as supernatural messengers is therefore by no means trivial.
Angels are created beings, made before man, with incorporeal, spiritual bodies, who are given a special role in testifying God’s glory as Holy and Sovereign Creator. That Angels were witnesses to creation is revealed in Job 38:7, when God asks Job if he was there at the making of the world, “When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” Angels are part of the things invisible which Paul talks of in Romans 1 and Colossians 1. Much of the angelic life is only hinted at in scripture, and although belief in them is required of the Christian, it is also wise not to place excessive emphasis on them in our thoughts, which may lead to superstition and idolatry. Paul warns us in Colossians 2:18, “Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels,” an important point which is emphasized when John bows before the angel in Revelation 22:9 and he responds, “Then saith he unto me, See thou do it not: for I am thy fellowservant, and of thy brethren the prophets, and of them which keep the sayings of this book: worship God.” The worship angels give to God is recorded for us in Psalm 103:20-21, which reads, “Bless the Lord, ye his angels, that excel in strength, that do his commandments, hearkening unto the voice of his word. Bless ye the Lord, all ye his hosts; ye ministers of his, that do his pleasure.” How fitting that we sing in the doxology, “Praise Him above ye heavenly host,” as we partake for a moment in the angelic choir of praise which never ceases before the throne of glory, as we learn from Revelation 4:8: “they rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come.” Angels, like saints, are profoundly devoted servants of the Lord, and therefore it is fitting that in our liturgy, as we stand to profess that heaven and earth are full of God’s glory, we acknowledge that we worship our Creator in communion “with Angels and Archangels, and with all the company of heaven.”
In addition to their role as worshippers of God, angels provide their presence as a comfort and encouragement to us in our Christian walk. Psalm 91:11 tells us, “For he shall give his angels charge over you, to keep you in all your ways,” and again we read in the epistle to the Hebrews, “Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?” This connects more explicitly to the idea of guardian angels in the teaching of Christ today in Matthew 18:10 which reads, “Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven.” This role of protector is seen in the archangel Michael, who is not placed simply in the role of messenger, but as a warrior. In the Book of Daniel 10:13-14, when a less powerful angel has been prevented from bringing Daniel a message, St. Michael the Archangel comes to fight the fiend off so that the message can be delivered: “But the prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me one and twenty days: but, lo, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me; and I remained there with the kings of Persia.” And it is Michael, this spiritual warrior of immense power, who leads the assault against the Dragon in the Book of Revelation 18:7: “THERE was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven.” I think one thing God is aware of is that we as humans have a hard time fathoming the immensity, the vastness of His power, and so he comforts us with the protection of creatures lesser than himself. By contemplating the wonderful truth that angels compass us round about, we are given a spiritual ladder for our minds to climb up into a vision of God’s mighty will, that even such mighty guardians as angels are, are still themselves in service to God, who is the mightiest fortress and guardian of all.
Of course, we know of fallen angels, the demons, of whom Saint Peter says in his second epistle, “God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell.” In Genesis 6, we see an egregious abuse of angelic power where angels took on human form to have children with daughters of men, and it is implied that for this reason the fallen angels lost their right to take on human semblance in Jude 6, which says, “And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day.” The leader of these is Satan the Devil, who appears three times in the Old Testament, once lying about God’s nature in the Book of Genesis, once accusing Job of being incapable of true love for God, and once accusing Joshua the high priest of being an unsuitable intercessor in the book of Zechariah. In the first recorded lie in history, through the serpent Satan said, Genesis 3:4-5 “And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.” Satan has gone from an angelic messenger to a demonic disseminator of fake news. Satan again appears, after slandering God in the Book of Genesis, to slander man’s desire to worship God in the Book of Job 1:9-11, “Then Satan answered the Lord, and said, Doth Job fear God for nought? Hast not thou made an hedge about him, and about his house, and about all that he hath on every side? thou hast blessed the work of his hands, and his substance is increased in the land. But put forth thine hand now, and touch all that he hath, and he will curse thee to thy face.” Some like to portray this as Satan making a bet with God, but it’s a lot more profound than that: it is Satan asking an ultimate existential question, about whether it is possible to love God’s goodness for its own sake, or if we only love God’s goodness for what we can get from Him. In denying that it’s possible to love God for His own sake, we learn something about Satan’s motivations, and that he has abandoned his angelic duty to worship God. In Satan’s third central appearance in the Old Testament, he stands to accuse Joshua of being unworthy of the role of High Priest in Zechariah 3:1-2: “Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right side to accuse him. The Lord said to Satan, “The Lord rebuke you, Satan! The Lord, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you!” Instead of protecting, Satan seeks to tear down this servant of the Lord. These passages typify the behavior of the fallen angels, and as such these three passages provide a directly opposite, negative, dramatically distorted and demonic view of what angels are called do: They eternally testify to the glory of God, they witness to God’s love for us and assist in our service to Him in ways unseen, and they vindicate Christ as our High Priest and Redeemer. These holy offices of the angels constitute the rationale why angels like Michael can be referred to as saints.
As recorded in Luke 4, Christ was tempted by Satan in the three ways he tempted man in the Old Testament: with food at the expense of true worship, with physical safety at the expense of an honest relationship with the Lord, and with worldly power at the expense of his rightful place as Son of God and Savior of Mankind. Mirroring his questioning of God to Adam and Eve with the fruit of the tree, he tells Christ in 4:3: “And the devil said unto him, If thou be the Son of God, command this stone that it be made bread.” Mirroring his accusation of Job that humans only worship for gain, he tells him in 4:6-7: “And the devil said unto him, All this power will I give thee, and the glory of them: for that is delivered unto me; and to whomsoever I will I give it. If thou therefore wilt worship me, all shall be thine.” And finally, in an attempt to twist his own original angelic function to tempt Christ to taint his purity as intermediary as with Joshua, Satan makes this diabolical suggestion in 4:9-11: “And he brought him to Jerusalem, and set him on a pinnacle of the temple, and said unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down from hence: For it is written, He shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee: And in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone.” Satan thus not only tempted Christ with the full means he has to tempt man, but also demonstrated in his treatment of Christ his total fall from his angelic duties. So it is fitting that after our Lord’s trial, the angels came to minister to him. In the account in Matthew 4:11 it reads, “Then the devil leaveth him, and, behold, angels came and ministered unto him.” It bears repeating that Christ used Scripture to refute the devil on all these points, and we learn that even Michael, when he debated Satan over the body of Moses in Jude 1:9, said, “The Lord rebuke thee,” so that learning and speaking the words of Scripture is a means of spiritual warfare worthy both of angels and of the Son of God.
Angels are fellow witnesses of Christ’s glory, secret helpers in our commitment to Christian service, and warriors who hold demonic forces at bay. Although they cannot provide the Redemption of Our Savior, Jesus Christ, they do provide sinless models of believers in the Lord: Like the Heavenly Host in general, we are to stand in exultant worship before the Throne of Glory. Like Gabriel, we are to testify the divinity of Christ and announce the wonderful message that he did come into the world. And like Michael, we must through grace remain steadfast and resilient in the face of adversity. With persecution of Christians on the rise in the world, we can take comfort in knowing that God equips us with the same power of the Holy Spirit that he used to create his righteous warrior and servant, Michael the Archangel, and the host of angels who follow his God-honoring lead. Our communion with the angels calls us to a bolder and more worshipful communion with our God. Amen.