Lesson 04: Angels; Their Nature, Power and Work

Ellet J. Waggoner

The Present Truth : July 29, 1897

Our last lesson from the first chapter of Hebrews was upon the power and greatness of Christ. He is infinitely superior to the angels,—seated on the right hand of the Majesty on high,—“being made so much better than the angels as He hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.” The study of the greatness of Christ is not for intellectual amusement, but for spiritual upbuilding; for since He has given Himself for us,—for our sins,—we know that all His power and glory are put forth for our salvation. Therefore the Apostle Paul prayed,

“That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him; the eyes of your understanding being enlightened that ye may know what is the hope of His calling, and what the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of His power to usward who believe, according to the working of His mighty power which He wrought in Christ when He raised Him from the dead, and set Him at His own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come; and hath put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be Head over all things to the church.” Ephesians 1.17-22

All Christ’s greatness and power therefore are for the benefit of the church. This is why we rejoice in His exaltation. He is far above all principality and power, so that when God brought the first begotten into the world, He said, “Let all the angels of God worship Him.” Yet of these beings, so infinitely inferior to Christ, we read that God “makes His angels winds, and His ministers a flame of fire.” Hebrews 1.7

It is astonishing what a misconception people in general have of the angels of God. There are not a few who think that they are the spirits of departed men, forgetting that angels existed before man was created. Man was made a little lower, or, for a little while lower, than the angels (Hebrews 2.7), which is sufficient evidence that angels are not dead men, and that men never become angels. When God laid the foundation of the earth, “the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy.” Job 38.7

A knowledge of this simple fact would save people from much danger; for there are “angels which kept not their first estate, but left their first habitation” (Jude 6), and these busy themselves with men, so that we must needs “try the spirits (1 John 4.1) to discern whether they are of God; for if “even Satan fashions himself into an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11.14, R.V.), “it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed into ministers of righteousness.” And since they have such power, it is no wonder that they fashion themselves into the form of the departed friends of those whom they would deceive. God’s angels are angels of light - flames of fire; but whoever speaks not according to His Word has no light. Isaiah 8.19, 20. Now God’s Word says that “the dead know not anything” (Ecclesiastes 9.5), and that when a man’s breath goes forth, “he returns to his earth,” and “in that very day his thoughts perish” (Psalm 146.4); therefore the very fact that spirits come professing to be departed friends or illustrious men, is in itself sufficient evidence that they are not angels of light, but are of the evil one.

But we will now consider only the angels who are God’s ministers. He makes them “winds.” Think what wonderful power that implies. We cannot see the wind, but we can feel it, and can see the results of its working. How the wind lashes the sea into fury, so that nothing can resist it except the barriers that God Himself has set for it, saying, “Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further; and here shall thy proud waves be stayed.” Job 38.11. How in its course the wind fells whole forests, uprooting giant trees as easily as a man would pluck up a blade of corn. Before the might of the wind, cities tumble into ruins, and the proudest structures erected by the art of man are as though they were made of straw.

“But do you mean to say that this is the work of God’s angels?”—Not by any means. The power of the winds simply shows us something of the power of those beings. Destruction and death are the work of Satan, who is “the prince of the power of the air.” Ephesians 2.2. Whenever God permits him (for he cannot go beyond God’s limit) he brings whirlwinds, and destruction. See Job 1.9, 19. In the destructive power of the wind, we see the power which angels possess even though fallen, and thus get an idea, although not perfect, of the power of the “angels that excel in strength” (Psalm 103.20), and “are greater in power and might.” 2 Peter 2.11

“His ministers a flame of fire.” The angel that came in answer to Daniel’s prayer “was like the beryl, and his face as the appearance of lightning, and his eyes as lamps of fire and his arms and his feet like in color to polished brass.” Daniel 10.6

At the resurrection of Christ, “there was a great earthquake; and the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door and sat upon it. His countenance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow; and for fear of him the keepers did shake, and became as dead men.” Matthew 28.2-4

Peter was in prison in an inner cell, “sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains; and the keepers before the door kept the prison. And, behold, the angel of the Lord came upon him, and a light shined in the prison” (Acts 12.6, 7) and Peter was instantly freed from his chains and led forth in safety, an evidence of the fact that “the angel of the Lord encamps round about them that fear Him, and delivers them.” Psalm 34.7
John in vision saw a “mighty angel come down from heaven, clothed with a cloud; and a rainbow was upon his head, and his face was as it were the sun, and his feet as pillars of fire.” Revelation 10.1. And, more wonderful still, he saw “another angel come down from heaven, having great power; and the earth was lightened with his glory.” Revelation 18.1. So mighty and glorious are the angels of God, who are nevertheless far inferior to Christ, the Saviour.

These wondrous beings, are “all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall he heirs of salvation” (Hebrews 1.14), or, as in the Revision, “sent forth to do service for the sake of them that shall inherit salvation.” An instance of their ministering we have already seen in the case of Peter. There was a time when the king of Syria sent a whole army to capture one man—Elisha the servant of God. “Therefore sent he thither horses, and chariots, and a great host: and they came by night, and compassed the city about. And when the servant of the man of God was risen early, and gone forth, behold, an host compassed the city both with horses and chariots. And his servant said unto him, Alas, my master! how shall we do? And he answered, Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them. And Elisha prayed, and said, LORD, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see. And the LORD opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha.” 2 Kings 6.14-17

The result was that the one man captured the army, because he had an invisible host with him. We are not told whether Elisha saw the angels before the young man did or not. He may have seen them, and he may not; but whether he saw them or not, he knew that they were there; and we may have the same confidence, for the Word of God assures us that these messengers of fire camp round about us, being sent to do service for us. Therefore we may say with David, “Though a host should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear.” Psalm 27.3

On another occasion Jerusalem was threatened by the Assyrian host, whose officers, sure of their prey, mocked King Hezekiah, and ridiculed his confidence in God. See Isaiah 36 and 37. But Hezekiah prayed to the Lord, whom Sennacherib and his servants had blasphemed and derided; and He promised deliverance.” Then the angel of the Lord went forth, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians a hundred and fourscore and five thousand; and when men arose in the morning, behold they were all dead corpses. So Sennacherib, king of Assyria, departed.” Isaiah 37.36, 37. A wonderful example of the power of the angel of the Lord who encamps round about His people.

Jesus was here on the earth as a man. He was “in all things” “made like unto His brethren.” Hebrews 2.17. He “was in all points tempted like as we are” (Hebrews 4.15), and since it was only for our sakes that He thus suffered temptation, we may be sure that we shall have the same help in temptation that He had. He Himself gives us the assurance that the Father loves us even as He has loved Him. John 17.23. The fact that Christ was given for us, is proof that God loves us even as He loves His only begotten Son, and that therefore He will do as much for us as for Him. When Jesus was tempted, and by the power of the Spirit resisted the devil so that he departed from Him, “behold, angels came and ministered unto Him.” Matthew 4.11

On that last night, when Jesus was betrayed, when He was tempted as never before, “there appeared an angel unto Him from heaven, strengthening Him.” Luke 22.43. Later on, when the mob had surrounded Him, and Peter zealously but vainly began to defend Him, Jesus said unto him:—
“Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword. Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He shall presently give Me more than twelve legions of angels?” Matthew 26.52, 53

Everything that the Father would do for Jesus, He is willing to do for us, for we are sons with Him, and He loves us with the same love. Therefore in any time of need we have “more than twelve legions of angels” ready to go forth to do service for us. Jesus would not call for them to deliver Him from the hands of the mob, for He came for the express purpose of suffering what was now before Him; but we have the assurance that when we put our trust in the Lord, more than twelve legions of angels stand ready, if necessary, to preserve us from anything that is contrary to His will. Let us try to get a little idea of what this means.

A legion was composed of six thousand men. Twelve legions would therefore be seventy-two thousand. There are therefore more than seventy-two thousand angels ready to do service for every oppressed child of God. How many more we have no means of knowing; we only know that “round about the throne” of God there are “ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands” of angels (Revelation 5.11), “that do His pleasure,” “hearkening unto the voice of His word” (Psalm 103.20, 21), ready to go like the lightning to the succor of those who are in need.

Think now what a host they could withstand, even at the lowest human calculation. A single angel destroyed one hundred and eighty-five thousand men of war. At the least, then, an angel is equal to so many armed men. Of course an angel has inconceivably greater power than that, but we will take that as the standard. Seventy-two thousand angels would he therefore more than a match for over thirteen thousand million armed men; and we have “more than twelve legions of angels” waiting to do service for us. Therefore when the Lord says to us, “Call upon Me in the day of trouble, and I will deliver thee” (Psalm 50.15), we know that at the very lowest calculation we have at our disposal a force more than ten times greater than all the inhabitants of this earth! Surely, “it is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man. It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in princes.” Psalm 118.8, 9

But there is yet another lesson for us to learn from the angels, besides that of confidence. Think of these glorious beings going forth to be servants of those who shall be heirs of salvation. Angels of God acting as servants, helpers, to puny men, and fallen men at that! And not only are they content to do this service, but glad to do it, because it is the will of God. There is no complaining, no proud objection that such work is beneath their dignity. No; their very power and dignity, like that of their Master, comes from their humility, and their love of service. These mighty angels see the work of the Gospel committed to men, and instead of sulking because the high honor is entrusted to such inferior beings, they gladly act as servants to men, and rejoice with unaffected joy at the honors that God bestows on them. Who that contemplates this can have any other feeling than that of humility? Who can stand on his dignity and refuse to do certain kinds of work because it is “menial”? Who can refuse to do the work of a servant, even though somebody lower in position and wealth (after the world’s standard) is in the place of honor? We may be unspeakably glad in the Lord for all the help He has provided for us, but when we truly appreciate it, we can never let pride hold us back from saying, “Here am I, send me,” because the work is menial, and the place of service so obscure that no eye but God can see it.