THE ANGELS OF GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
EDITOR‘S NOTE: Dr. W A Criswell is now in Heaven (1909 – 2002) was the long-time pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas TX. This is a sermon he preached from that pulpit that was aired on radio and television.
You are listening to the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. And this is the pastor bringing the 11:00 o’clock morning message. This is the first Sunday of March, and March brings to us our annual revival appeal. The fifteenth day of this month the protracted period of services begin. And for two weeks they will continue through the twenty-second day of the month, through Easter Sunday, the twenty-ninth day of the month. It brings to us our annual Palace Theater services at noontide, the week before Easter.
And every organization, every member, every part, every piece, every parcel; everyone of the belongings of this church from the top to the bottom, from the middle to both sides, everything about us must now ought to be poured into this revival effort. This coming Saturday, I notice there ought to be revival retreats: our Senior Intermediate group, go; our young adults, go. In prayer, in remembrance, in visitation, in preparation, in program, everything now, let us prepare for this revival.
Now the pastor preaches at this morning hour through the Bible, and we have come to the first chapter of the Book of Hebrews. This is the fourth sermon preached on the first chapter of the Book of Hebrews. And the sermon that I deliver this morning is on a subject that I have often contemplated, but I have never spoken on it in my life. The subject is The Angels of God. And the text is the last verse of the first chapter of the Book of Hebrews, “Are they not all ministering spirits set forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?” From the fourth verse to the last verse of the first chapter of Hebrews, the author is speaking about angels. He’s speaking about our Lord and the angels. And the sermon last Sunday morning was on that: The Angels and the Son. And this morning I’ve just taken time out to prepare a message on angels themselves. I never studied it in my life. It was a marvelously revealing thing to me and I hope God will bless these words to all of our hearts.
The Angels of God: the Greek word, the Hebrew word translated “angel” mean the same—aggeloi, “the angels,” in Greek means simple, “the messengers,” angelos, “messenger.” The same way with the Hebrew word, malakim, “the angels.” Just a simple ordinary word for “messenger” and is used ordinarily, as you would use the word “a messenger.” So the word in its primary meaning, both in Hebrew and in Greek, and those words are so used in the Bible just to refer to one who is sent, a messenger: the malakim, the angeloi.
Now, in the application of that word in its use, sometimes it refers to inanimate objects that God uses as His messengers. In the one hundred [fourth] Psalm, the word translated “your angel,” the word refers to wind. God makes the wind His messengers, His angels. Sometimes the word is used to refer to God’s prophets, God’s messengers, who deliver God’s word. In the first chapter of Haggai, for example, he is called “the angel” of the Lord, the messenger of the Lord. In the second chapter of Malachi, the priest is called “the messenger of God,” “the angel of God.” In the third chapter of Malachi, in the great prophecy about John the Baptist: “Behold, I send My messenger,” you have it translated, “before My face.” “I send My angel before My face.” In the Book of the Revelation, you have the same use of that word, “To the angel of the church at Ephesus, To the angel at the church at Smyrna, at Thyatira, at Philadelphia,” to all seven of them. The Lord’s letter addressed to the angel of the church at Ephesus.
Now, that is the same use of that word, like it is in the Hebrew, like it is in ordinary Greek words. The Lord is addressing God’s servant there in the church at Ephesus, at Smyrna, Pergamos. He’s addressing His messenger. It refers to the authoritative position of the pastor of the church, his exalted responsibility, “He that hath the seven stars, to the angel at the church,” to the pastor of the church.
Most of the time however, when the word is used in the Bible, it refers to those supra-human beings, the celestial hosts of heaven. The word refers to the angels of God, who are so myriad in their vast number that God is called “the Lord of Hosts.” Whenever that expression is used, it refers to the heavenly hosts, the vast numbers of the angels of God.
Now, in those celestial hosts of the invisible world there are several orders. Most of the time, the word refers to the elect angels, the holy angels, the angels of God, the angels of light; they who look upon the face of Jehovah, and serve Him day and night. Sometimes though, the word refers to the angels of darkness, to Satan’s angels. But so far as I can find, wherever that refers to the angels of darkness, it is always with a qualifying expression. They are never called just “angels,” but they’re called “the devil’s angels,” or “the angels who sin,” or “the angels who kept not their first estate.”
Then in the Bible, and here would be a marvelous sermon, in the Bible there is one particular, unusually different angel who appears all through the Old Testament. And there are things, names, acts, reverences ascribed to Him that are ascribed to no other angel in the Bible. That’s the angel of the theophany, the angel of the Lord’s presence, the angel in whom is the name of God, the angel of the covenant.
Abraham bowed before that angel, pleading for Sodom and Gomorrah. That is the angel who appeared to Jacob and said, “I am the God of Bethel.” That is the angel with whom Jacob wrestled and after which he said, “I have seen God face to face.” That is the angel whom in later life Jacob identified with God Himself. It was the angel of the covenant, as well as God’s name, who delivered Israel out of Egypt. It was that angel that appeared to Moses in the burning bush and said, “My name is I Am That I Am.” That angel appeared to Joshua saying, “As the captain of the Lord’s hosts, am I come.” I have not time for it: that angel is different from all others in heaven and in earth. And that messenger is the logos of God. When He was incarnate, we came to know Him as Jesus the Christ.
And that use of the word angel, messenger, to refer to Jesus is the same thing as you find here in the third chapter of the Book of Hebrews where he speaks of the apostle and high priest of our profession, Christ Jesus. That is, Jesus is the anti-type, the prototype, the perfection of apostleship, of priesthood, of which all others are but poor copies. So in the Revelation of God in the Old Testament, the divine holy Messenger of heaven to sinful men, exalted above all others, is the logos; is Jesus the Christ.
But delineating it now, delineating it, delineating it, most of the times when we use the word “angel” we refer to heaven’s ministering spirits sent to minister for them who are the heirs of salvation; that great heavenly host who stand in the presence of God and do His bidding. They are a separate and created order in themselves. We do not become angels when we die and go to heaven. The Book says we shall be greater than the angels. Hard to think that could ever be. After preparing a sermon like this, that we shall judge angels, more exalted, nearer God than they. But the book says so. We are notangels; we shall not be angels. They are a created order in God’s celestial universe. The one hundred forty-eighth Psalm refers to their creation. And the thirty-eighth chapter of Job speaks of their presence at the creation of the physical universe when they looked upon it in wonder and in joy.
The angels are not all wise. The first Book of Peter: the first chapter describes angels desiring to look into the scheme of salvation and in wonderment behold it, what God is doing to save fallen man. They are not to be worshipped. The second chapter of Colossians is an interdiction against it. And in the twenty-second chapter of the Book of the Revelation, when John fell down at the feet of the angel to worship him, the angel said: “See thou do it not: for I also am a fellow servant, worship God.” So the angel is a created order in himself—is not all wise, is not to be worshipped—and is a servant, a messenger, an angelos of God.
Now, in the history of the angelic order there seems to have been one change. There was a time when all of God’s angels, all of them, were in holiness and in perfection, waiting upon the great God of the universe. But there came a time when a portion of their number fell; they rebelled with the crown prince who was exalted above all of the angelic orders and whose name is Satan, whose name is Lucifer, who was the angel in resplendent glory. And in that story, back there, back there—how far back, it is not revealed—but a part of the angelsfell and became, with Satan cast out, reserved for judgment; theangels that sinned, that left their first estate.
Now, it would seem therefore that the angels who remained true to God were somehow confirmed in their celestial felicity and their pristine holiness because they are referred to now as “the electangels” or “the holy angels” or “the angels of light.” We’re not, It is not revealed to us, we are not introduced to what happened. I can just see the results of it, in the planets that are burned out and the stars that break and the globes that are barren. All of it a mark of that vast and illimitable controversy that raged one time in glory, when Satan and his angels rebelled against the great high God and were cast out and are someday to be judged forever.
Now of the angels who are holy—elect, the angels of light, theangels of God, those who stand in His presence and serve Him day and night—there are orders in the angelic hosts. Some of them are a cherub—cherubim, the Hebrew plural is an “im” cherub, cherubim—what is a cherub and what are the cherubim? Then the same thing with regard to a seraph, a seraph and a seraphim, and the seraphim. They are somehow orders in the angelic hosts. Some of them are called archangels, “the ruler,” archangel, the ruler of an angel, archangel. The great archangel that is named in the tenth chapter of the Book of Daniel is said to be one of the chief princes of God. So there are several, from that I could know, there are several archangelsof which one is named and referred to several times in the Bible. There is, in the eighteenth chapter of the Book of Revelation, there is one of them referred to as “the mighty angel,” as though the others were not as great and strong.
Many times in the writings of Paul, you have their orders named and do not realize it. For example in the Book of Ephesians, Paul, speaking of the Lord who is set at God’s right hand in heavenly places, far above all archē, and exousias and dunamois andkuriotētos. [Ephesians 1:21] Then you have the same thing again in the third chapter of Ephesians. “To the intent that now unto the archē and the exousia in heavenly places” might be known by the church.[Ephesians 3:10] All of those things that oft times found in Paul, they refer to heavenly orders; they are angelic hosts.
Now they have names, individual names. Two of them are named: one of them is named “Gabriel,” Gabriel means the hero of God. Isn’t that a glorious name? Gabriel. What a shame to put it on Heatter. Gabriel, the hero of God, the mighty one of God. Another name is “Michael,” who is like unto God. Now those two angels that are named have altogether different assignments and tasks. And wherever they appear, they are doing the same tasks; carrying out the same commission. They never take each other’s work. Each one always is doing what he’s done before, and he’s doing in the next instance.
For example, Gabriel is always God’s announcer, always. He’s never in any other role. When Gabriel appears to Daniel he announces the famous seventy weeks and the coming of the Messiah. It is the same Gabriel at the end of that sixty-ninth week. It is the same Gabriel who announces to Zacharias, the priest, that John the Baptist, God’s forerunner, is to be born. It is the same Gabriel who announces to the virgin Jewess in Nazareth, a girl named Mary that she is to be the mother of this foreordained, foretold child. Wherever Gabriel appears, he appears always in the same role; he is the announcer of God.
Another one named is Michael. And Michael is the great warrior of the Lord. And wherever he appears, there he is championing with a drawn sword, the cause of the Almighty. He appears in Daniel as the champion of the people of Israel. He appears in Jude as disputing with Satan concerning the possession of the body of Moses. And in the twelfth chapter of the Book of Revelation, he appears with his angels as warring against the dragons and his angels.
So if we could deduct from that revelation, the angels of glory, of God, have names, each one of them has a name, each one of them is somebody. And each one of them has an assigned task, and he is always true to that commission and to that assignment.
Now, my text says that all of them, all of them—and I look particularly to see if that word “all” was emphasized, and it is—all of the angels, all of them are ministering spirits sent forth to minister for them who are the heirs of salvation. All of the angels of God are our helpers and our encouragers. They are sent by the Lord to see us through, to deliver us someday to glory. Like the old song says:
Oh, come Angel Band, come and around me stand;
When does the song say that?
My, latest sun is sinking fast, my course is nearly run;
My greatest trials now are past, my triumph is begun.
Oh, come angel band come and around me stand;
Oh, bear me away on your snowy wings to my immortal home.
[“Oh Come, Angel Band,” by Jefferson Hascall, 1860]
If you have ever been in an old-time service, you have heard them sing that old-time song. It is true to the Book. God’s angels, God’s messengers are to encourage us and to stand by us and to fight for us and someday to deliver us before the throne of glory in the presence of God Himself.
Now, when you turn through the pages of the Book, how many times will you see those angelic messengers in their assignments from glory helping God’s people? Now, let’s just take a few. Somebody said there are more than three hundred instances of this in the Bible alone. I choose just a few. Two angels took hold upon Lot, and led him out of the city of Sodom when God said, “I shall reign fire upon it.” God’s angels. When Hagar turned her face from Ishmael, her boy, lest she looked upon him as he died, an angel heard her weep and showed her a fountain of water. When Abraham drew back his hand, to thrust the knife into the heart of his only son Isaac, an angel caught it.
The angels of God blessed those patriarchs in a world found in idolatry. Abraham called his old faithful servant Eliezer and said to him, “Go back to my father’s house to find a bride for my son, Isaac. And the angel of the Lord shall go before you.” And when Eliezer found Rebecca, he said, “God hath sent His angel before me to prepare the way.”
“An angel stopped the mouths of the lions,” Daniel says. He was not hurt in their lair and in their den.
Angels ministered to Jesus in the trial of the wilderness. In Gethsemane, Luke says, when His sweat were as it were great drops of blood. In the agony of His prayer, Luke says, “and an angel appeared, strengthening Him.”
So all throughout record of the children of God, there they are giving help, and deliverance, and encouragement. “See that you despise not,” says Jesus, “these little ones.” These who trust in God; they be simple; they be lettered, though humble. “See that you despise not these little ones who trust in God. For their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven.” That doesn’t mean that each one has a designated angel just for that one. But the whole heavenly hosts, stands at the right hand of God to war in behalf of God’s little ones.
When the disciples saw their Savior taken away, in their despair and their forlornness, two angels came and spoke words of encouragement to them. When Peter was in prison to be slain the next day, an angel came and struck him on the side and awakened him. And his chains were loosed, and the iron door opened, and the angel walked with Simon Peter out into the streets of the city. When Paul thought the ship would surely go down in the storm an angel appeared to the apostle saying, “Be of good cheer, God hath given thee the souls of all them that are aboard.”
In the presence of the angels of God, there is rejoicing when somebody walks down this aisle and gives the pastor his hand and says, “Today, I give my heart to Christ.” The angels of heaven:
the angel of the Lord encompassed around about them that fear Him and delivereth them. [Psalm 34:7]
And He shall give His angels charge concerning thee,[Luke 4:10]
Are they not ministering spirits sent forth to minister to them which shall be heirs of salvation?” [Hebrews 1:14]
Many, many times, a thing that has happened that blessed your life. I’m not able to delineate it. I do not have the eye that can see God’s glory. But the Book would say, “An angel prepared the way. It was God’s ministering servant that delivered you.” I can recall instances in my own life when I came in a hair’s breath of death. Others were killed, yet I have lived, God’s angels took care of us. I cannot delineate it; it is beyond what I can see. It just says in the word that His angels camp around them that fear Him and that the angelsdeliver us in those hours of terrible disaster and death.
I suppose it is because I don’t have eyes to see that I don’t see them. I’m like that servant of Elisha. And the king who hated him and sought his life sent an army down to take him alive. When Elisha’s servant awoke the next morning, in the little town where they lived, a little town named Dothan; there was the army on every side. It meant there was no way to escape. And when Elisha’s servant came back to the prophet, he said, “Alas, my master! This is the end, this is the end, how shall we do? If we escape this way, there is the army. Or this way, there it is again. Alas, my master, how shall we do?”
And Elisha just prayed, O Lord, open the eyes of the young man that he may see.
And the Lord opened the eyes of the young man; that he could see:
and, behold, and behold, the mountains were filled with chariots of fire, round about Elisha.
I just don’t have eyes that can see; that’s what’s the matter. But God and His heavenly hosts are ever with us. Are they not ministering spirits sent forth to minister to them that are the heirs of salvation to see us through by His grace someday that we get to heaven?
Now, in the little moment that remains, may I speak of their appearance someday? We shall see them someday. The angels are two ways in this final denouement and consummation of the age. They are the Lord’s great reapers and harvesters. When the disciples asked Jesus to explain to them the parable of the tares, Jesus said, “He that soweth the good seed is the son of man. The field is the world. The good seed are the children of the kingdom. The tares are the children of the wicked one. The enemy that sowed them is Satan. The harvest is the end of the world and the reapers are the angels. The Son of man shall send forth His angels and they shall gather out of His kingdom all things that have sinned and them that do iniquity and shall cast them into a furnace of fire in wailing and madness and gnashing of teeth.” [Matthew 13]
The angels, at the end of the age, are to be commissioned to purge this world. I would call them what the Bible calls them, “destroying angels.” And they appear so many times in the Bible: destroying angels. Two of them were commissioned to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. One of them stood above Israel and Jerusalem, when David sinned in numbering the people, with a drawn sword to slay the people. One of those destroying angels just touched the army of Sennacherib and the next morning one hundred eighty-five thousand of those soldiers were corpses. Destroying angels. In the Book of Ezekiel, six of them were commissioned of God to destroy all who defile in Jerusalem. The reapers are the angels. They shall gather out of God’s kingdom all that have sinned and do iniquity, and shall cast them into a furnace of fire, the angels of judgment, of destruction, of wrath, the destroying, reaping angels at the end of the world.
The other wonderful revelation in the Book, of the angels of God, are those holy, celestial hosts whom we shall see some glorious and triumphant day. In the twenty-fifth chapter of the Book of Matthew, Jesus says, “The Son of Man cometh with all of His holyangels.” In the eighth chapter of Mark, in the [thirty]-eighth verse he says, “When He cometh with all the holy angels.” And in the first chapter of the second letter to the Thessalonians, “The Lord shall be revealed from heaven with all His mighty angels.”
Oh, oh, that I—flesh and blood and you, people who die—that we should ever look upon such an incomparably, glorious, triumphant, victorious hour when He cometh with all of His holy angels. I tried to think of it. In the Bible whenever the angels have appeared, they have appeared one, one at a time; two, two at a time; three, three at a time. One time there was a choir of them when the Lord was born, and one time seventy legions of them stood by the Lord Jesus, ready to defend and deliver Him if He called for them.
But oh, oh, oh! in that day, in that great and final day, look:
I beheld, and I heard the voice of the angels,
and the number of them was muriades muriadōn, chiliades chiliadōn,
and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousands, and thousands of thousands.
He couldn’t number them. They were there by the muriades which is a Greek word actually meaning ten-thousand, but means you couldn’t number it. And there they were by the myriads, times the myriads; times the thousands and the thousands, God’s celestial hosts. And they sang with a loud voice saying:
Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing.
And every creature that was in heaven and every creature that was on the earth, and under the earth, and all that were under the sea, and all that are in them, heard I say, Blessing, and honor, and glory, and power, be unto Him upon the throne, and to the Lamb for ever and ever.
And the four cherubim said, Amen. And the four and twenty elders fell down and worshipped Him that liveth forever and ever and ever and forever.
What a sight. Oh, my mind cannot think of it. My heart cannot conceive of it, and my tongue cannot describe it what it will be some glorious day when He comes with all of His holy angels.
We shall be resurrected, immortalized; we shall all be changed, and we shall come with that celestial number, the Lord and His saints and His holy angels by the myriads and the myriads. Oh, wonderful hope! Oh, celestial promise!
While we sing our song this morning, somebody you, to trust in Jesus as Savior. Would you come and stand by me? Somebody you to put your life in the church, would you come and stand by me? In the balcony round, that throng of people. A family you, or one you, down this stair well at the front or at the back, there or there, out of your seats down that stair case here to the front, “Today I give my heart to Jesus, I take Him as Savior.” Or, “Today I put my life in His church, here I come.” In this throng of people on this lower floor into the aisle and down to the front, “Here I come pastor; I give my heart in faith to Jesus.” Or, “I am putting my life in the fellowship of this precious church.” While we sing this hymn would you make it now while we stand and while we sing?