A Little Bit of Angelology

St. Michael and All Angels (Transferred)
Daniel 10:10-14; 12:1-3
Revelation 12:7-12
September 25, 2016
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

In the name of + Jesus.

Every year the last Sunday of September is set aside for the festival of St. Michael and All Angels. It actually falls on September 29, but we transfer it to today to celebrate on a Sunday. It’s good to take some time to teach and learn about the angels, particularly because there’s so much misinformation and misunderstanding about them due to popular culture. Today we’ll take some time to review some of the biblical teaching concerning angels.

And that’s surprisingly limited. If you took all the verses about angels from the Bible, you’d maybe have a couple pages (my search program shows 281 verses with the word “angel” in it). Today we’ll start by separating myth from fact, followed by why angels are beneficial for us.

The Angels Are God’s Messengers of Salvation

I.

Angels are not little gods. They are not eternally existent beings; only God is from eternity, as St. John says; In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (Jn 1:1). In the beginning there were no angels. They are creatures, just like you and me. They had a beginning, and although we’re not told about the creation of angels, it’s reasonable to conclude that they came into being on one of the six days of creation.

They are called angels as a title, not because of their essence. Angel comes from the Greek word ἄγγελος, which means, “messenger.” Their essence is better described by the word spirit. They are creatures without tangible bodies, though they can and do assume the form of creatures. The title angel is also from time to time used to describe men who bring a message, in particular the message of God’s Word. For example, St. Matthew calls John the Baptist a messenger that goes before the face of the Lord—literally an angel who goes before the Lord.

But with respect to the creatures we commonly call angels, they are God’s ministering spirits. As spirits, they are finite, as opposed to God’s infinite Spirit that fills heaven and earth. Angels can only be in one place at one time.

Angels have an intellect and will, and all angels were originally created good, because in the beginning, God saw all that He had created and it was very good. But not all remained good. Some of the angels rebelled, chief among them the devil, who is also known as Satan. St. Jude writes in his epistle, And the angels who didn’t keep their position of authority but left their home He put in everlasting chains and gloom to be kept for the judgment of the great day (Jude 6). So even though the angels have intellect and will, they are not omniscient (only God knows all), and their wills are not free (the good are bound to God’s will; the rebellious angels are bound to their evil). No angel—good or bad—is able to read the minds and hearts of men.

Angels are powerful—more powerful than humans—but they are not all-powerful. Satan can perform mighty works, but only in mockery of God’s mighty works.

There is a myth taken from a reading early in Genesis that angels from time to time marry and procreate with humans, but that is pure make-believe. God created angels as angels and He created humans as humans. Angels don’t become human and humans don’t become angels, despite what It’s a Wonderful Life says. Furthermore, Jesus says that in the resurrection, we will become like the angels, “that neither marry nor are given in marriage” (Matt. 22:30). Angels do not procreate their race like humans; their number was set at creation.

We don’t know how many angels there are, but there are many. In the book of Daniel, just before today’s Old Testament reading, the prophet testifies to thousand and tens of thousands that minister to God. This is a way that the Old Testament says, “uncountable.” Of the host of angels there are orders and ranks. Cherubim and seraphim are named in the Old Testament. St. Paul identifies “thrones, dominion, principalities, powers,” and, “archangels.” These indicate differences of power or prominence in the heavenly courts. Likewise, the evil angels, or the demons, vary in their power and prominence. The devil is called Beelzebub, the chief devil.

The devil and his host of demons became evil at some time, though Scripture is silent on when precisely or why. Although I think it is a very reasonable conclusion that, since God had planned salvation from before the foundation of the world, the devil’s fall from grace was motivated by jealousy that God would condescend to His creation and humble Himself in human flesh. The devil knew this, he hated it, and it’s why he directed his first attack on God’s creation toward the man and the woman—the Word that was in the beginning would become flesh in time.

II.

The work of the devil is to deceive and to destroy. He was a murderer from the beginning, says Jesus, and he does not stand in the truth, because the truth is not in him. Whenever he speaks the lie, he speaks from himself because he is a liar and the father of liars (Jn 8:44). The devil is the source of evil, the source of death, the source of destruction. But that does not exonerate you from your sin. You are not a helpless victim. With the first sin, all humanity became complicit in the devil’s rebellion, and by nature you are a child of the world and under Satan’s rule. The only way to be freed of the devil’s rule is by God’s grace, and it’s the peculiar gift of Holy Baptism, as we learn from the Small Catechism, [Baptism] works forgiveness of sins, [and] rescues from death and the devil.

But that doesn’t mean that baptism and conversion free you from the devil entirely. Since the death and resurrection of Jesus, the devil is confined to the world. Jesus saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven as the disciples preached the kingdom; St. John’s Revelation pictures the devil as thrown down to the earth, and the Apostle Peter warns that the devil prowls like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. It’s even possible the devil can take control of a Christian’s body and cause him to do things against his renewed will. Luther viewed suicide in this way—he described it as the devil waiting like a robber on the road who overtakes someone unawares and kills him. This is why we shouldn’t take the devil lightly.

Although we should laugh in the devil’s face. Because despite his raging and roaring, he’s less of a threat than a declawed kitten. This world’s prince may still/Scowl fierce as he will/He can harm us none/He’s judged, the deed is done/One little word can fell him. Though the battle still wages here below, the victory is already written up above.

This is the picture that Revelation paints of the cosmic battle between Satan and his minions and Michael and the good angels. Theirs is a ward of words. The devil accuses and deceives, Michael answers with a rebuke and the Word of the cross. The Good News is that even though the devil has some manner of freedom to wreak all kinds of mischief on earth, everything he does must finally serve God’s will. And God makes all things work together for good for the sake of His elect.

III.

The Gospel, the Good Message, the εὐαγγέλιον is that the Son of God became man. He is the Angel of the Lord, to whom all created angels bow. He has brought us the message of peace and reconciliation. In the Scripture, the angels appear to announce God’s mighty acts. It was an angel by the name of Gabriel who announced Jesus’ incarnation in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It was an angel who announced Christ’s birth to shepherds in the field. It was an angel who sat at the empty tomb and told the disciples that Christ is risen. In the middle of it all is Christ crucified, the Angel of the Lord who speaks the message of forgiveness.

This is the message of salvation, which God has spoken since the first sin. It’s the message that the angels in heaven proclaim to fight for us. It’s the message that we preach in the church. Therefore with angels and archangels, and with all the company of heaven, we laud and magnify the Lord’s holy name, evermore praising Him…

In the name of + Jesus.

Jacob W Ehrhard
VD+MA