“Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve those who are going to inherit salvation?” (CSB – Read the chapter)
We started talking about angels last week, but didn’t really talk about angels all that much. Instead, we talked about the author of Hebrews’ argument that Jesus is greater than the angels. Like I said then, though, angels are a definite fascination for many folks. Here we have a statement describing them and their ministry. Let’s take the opportunity to explore these mysterious creatures in a little bit more detail.
What are angels? That’s a tougher question to answer than you might think. Or maybe it’s just as tough as you think it is. I guess it depends on how much thought you’ve given to it. At the most basic level, angels are God’s messengers. The word translated “angel” into English from both ancient Greek and Hebrew means “messenger.” Angels are the beings God created to serve as His messengers or representatives in a whole variety of situations. And, true to form, when we encounter them across the Scriptures, we see them in message-delivering roles more often than not.
Across the Old Testament we see “the angel of the Lord” several different times. We also see the “angel of God.” And then there are simply angels sent by God. We see mention of cherubim and seraphim. Those are the only ones we know for sure have wings. Most of the angels we see in the Scriptures don’t. There are the wild-looking creatures that appear in Ezekiel’s collection of prophecy. No one is really sure what to do with them. Two angels appear in both the Old and the New Testaments, and these are the only named angels in the Scriptures. These are Michael and Gabriel. Gabriel is almost certainly a messenger angel. He delivers messages to Daniel, Zechariah, and Mary. Michael is specifically identified as an archangel by Jude and seems to be some sort of warrior angel. What that means exactly, we don’t know. His mentions always come in an apocalyptic context.
Some of you might be wondering why I didn’t include Lucifer here in that list of named angels. Whether or not that is the name of an angel (specifically the angel who fell from grace and became Satan) depends on the translator you ask. For my money, the best understanding of the Hebrew in Isaiah 14 is that it is not talking about the origin of Satan. Given the context of the passage, that was almost certainly not what Isaiah himself had in mind when writing it. The mythology around that chapter developed later, probably during the intertestamental period when the interest of the Jewish people in angels soared. Because this story’s being understood in this light doesn’t get even the slightest bit of mention in the New Testament, I don’t think we can put a whole lot of stock in it. This doesn’t mean I have any less of a belief in Satan, I just don’t think we actually know his origin story. Nor do I think that really matters.
There are a few other things we know about angels, but not many. One of them is what we see right here. The author of Hebrews calls them “ministering spirits sent out to serve those who are going to inherit salvation.” What this means isn’t exactly clear. It does seem to indicate that angels serve followers of Jesus. This is at God’s direction. Again, they are His servants first. Yet for our being able to say this much, this verse prompts more questions than it does answers. What kind of service is this? Does this in some way justify the culturally popular notion of “guardian angels”? Do angels serve unbelievers at all, or just believers?
And to all of these questions, the most informed answer we can give is a humble, “I don’t know.” Because we don’t. We can speculate about it – and oh, how we have speculated about it – but at the end of the day, we don’t really know.
Okay, but what does this actually mean for us? What do we know? Well, a couple of things. Number one, it means we need to remain humble in our interpretation of the Scriptures as well as humble in our estimation of what we know about the world. We understand a great deal and we know a great deal, but there are some things that God hasn’t given us all the information on yet, and there’s probably more we don’t know still than we do. Overconfidence can lead to either arrogance or heresy and often both. Such pitfalls will not help us advance the Gospel. Let us be confident where we can have confidence (and there is a great deal about which we can be supremely confident), but let us lean toward a Scripture-rooted humility where we can’t.
One other than we can know is this: Our God is committed to us. He is so committed to us that He has somehow tasked His personal servants with ministering to us. Just let that one sit on you for a while. The God who created all we see and don’t has tasked His personal servants with helping to meet our spiritual needs. That’s pretty incredible. A God who is so generous and humble as that is worthy of our devotion. Let’s be sure we are giving it. We’ll most certainly be glad we did.