The Nature and Work of the Angels 

Concerning the subject of de nature and work of the angels our Confession does not go into detail. It tells us briefly: 1) That the angels were created good. 2) That they were created to be God’s messengers. And, 3) that they were created to serve God’s elect

When we consult Scripture, we find that there is considerable data concerning the nature and work of the angels. It is impossible for us in the scope of this discussion to expound all that Scripture tells us; but we do wish at least to call attention to some of these things, and also to explain some of them more fully. 

From Scripture we know, in general, that the angels, in distinction from man, are created heavenly. Man is destined to have his abode in heaven; the angels have their abode in heaven from the beginning. Man is created of the earth, earthy; the angels are from the beginning with God in heavenly glory. In the second place, the angels are spirits. This is according to Scripture, Psalm 104:4, “Who maketh his angels spirits; his ministers a flaming fire.” This passage is quoted also in Hebrews 1:7. And Hebrews 1:14 again refers to the angels as “ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation.” This does not mean, remember, that the angels are not finite creatures: they are. But it refers to the fact that the angels are of a spiritual, not a material substance, just as the saints shall have “spiritual bodies” in the resurrection. In the third place, the angels, according to Scripture, are servants. Thus they always appear in Scripture. They are, of course, servants, first of all, in relation to God Himself. This is implied already in the name angel. An angel is a messenger, one who is sent. Scripture refers to them as such more than once. Thus, we read in Psalm 103:20, 21: “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.” But also in relation to God’s people, the elect, the heirs of salvation, the angels are ministers, servants. This is literally stated inHebrews 1:14, which we quoted above. And as such servants the angels very frequently appear in Scripture. One of the functions of the angels, both in the old and in the new dispensation is to make known unto God’s people the will of God, the gospel of .their salvation. Very often individual angels appear to God’s people, from the time of the patriarchs on; throughout the old dispensation, And also in connection with the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ in the fulness of time the angels make their appearance. The birth of the forerunner, John the Baptist, and also the birth of the Savior Himself was announced by the angel of Gabriel. When the Savior is born in Bethlehem, the angels of God joyously publish it to the shepherds in the fields of Bethlehem. The first resurrection gospel is preached by angels. And when the Lord of glory ascends to heaven, it is angels who proclaim to the disciples that He shall come again, in like manner as they have seen Him depart. And thus de angels shall also have a part in the final coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and in the last judgment. And when the new order of things shall be inaugurated in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ, the angels shall share in the glory and salvation of God’s people. For all things, both in heaven and on earth, shall be reconciled unto God and united in Christ, the Firstborn of every creature. Col. 1:15-20. Always, therefore, the angels are very interested in the things pertaining to de salvation of God’s people. And they are not only inquisitively interested, but they have a part in the accomplishment of the work of salvation, Cf. Genesis 18, 19Acts 7:53Galatians 3:19Ps. 68: 17; Ps. 34:7Luke 15: 10; Matthew 18:10I Corinthians 11:10Ephesians 3:10;Matthew 16:27, 24:3, 13:41, 49I Peter 1:12, and many other texts. 

We know also from Scripture that there are different kinds of angels, as well as angels mentioned by their individual names. There are cherubim and seraphim; there are thrones and dominions and principalities and powers. There is a Gabriel, that. standeth before God. There is a Michael, the archangel, who contended with the devil, disputing about the body of Moses (Jude 1:9) and who with his angels made war against the dragon and his angels (Revelation 12:7). 

Hence, it is very evident from Scripture, even though we may not be able to understand very much in detail as to the place and work of these mysterious heavenly spirits, that they play a very large and a very real part in the economy of salvation, probably a more real part than we usually conceive them to have, and certainly a function of which we are not always aware.

When we consider the nature and position of the angels, we are quite naturally inclined at once to consider their position in relation to man, and to ask the question: what is the relative position of the angels in comparison with man? 

Thus, a certain brother asked me the question not long ago whether it could also be said that the angels were created in the image of God. This is a rather intriguing question, and one which had never occurred to me before. Of man, of course, we read literally that God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” Of the angels we do not read this in Scripture. And yet, while the angels are heavenly spirits, in distinction from man, we know that also the angels are rational, moral creatures. We know, too, that they are certainly created with knowledge of God, righteousness, and holiness. And we even know from Scripture that they are called “sons of God.” Hence, from this point of view I suppose it could be said that the angels also were created in the image of God. However, I would add: 1. That the Scriptures never literally say this concerning the angels. 2. That while it is true that also the heavenly creatures are by Scripture included in the work of salvation in Christ, so that also the angels belong to the “all things” that are reconciled unto God and united in Christ, nevertheless the Scriptures concentrate not on the angels as the “sons of God,” but upon the elect church and its members. And concerning the latter they tell us that we shall be perfectly conformed to the image of Gods Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Moreover, Christ took on Himself not the nature of angels, but the flesh and blood of children. And not the angels, but elect men are called in Scripture the brethren of Christ, our elder Brother. Hence, I would certainly emphasize that this is not at all the viewpoint of Scripture, whenever it speaks of the angels. 3. In the third place, I would add that the angels, in relation to men, appear as servants. Not the angels, but the elect church and its members in Christ occupy the primary place in God’s counsel of salvation. And the angels appear as servants and adjuncts. What their precise position and work will be in the new heavens and the new earth we may not be able to say; but we may undoubtedly assume that it will not be different essentially from their present status.

This brings us to a rather interesting and also an important question concerning the relative position of the angels in comparison with man in connection withHebrews 2:5-9, as it quotes from Psalm 8. In the passage from Hebrews we read: “For unto the angels hath he not put in subjection the world to come, whereof we speak. But one in a certain place testified, saying, What is man, that thou art mindful of him? or the son of man, that thou visitest him? Thou madest him a little lower than the angels; thou crownedst him with glory and honour, and didst set him over the works of thy hands: Thou hast put all things in subjection under his feet. For in that he put all in subjection under him, he left nothing that is not put under him. But now we see not yet all things put under him. But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man.” 

On the basis of this passage some teach that God created man higher than the angels, that through sin man has come to occupy a position lower than the angels, and that in Christ the original relation is restored, so that once again man is the highest of God’s creatures. This is the explanation offered, for example, by Ds. J.G. Feenstra in his eir; planation of Article XII in his book, “Onze Geloofsbelijdenis,” pp. 135 and 136. In this view he follows Dr. K. Schilder, whose view is set forth in “Wat Is De Hemel?” on pp. 137-139, as follows: 

“Dat de mensch de meerdere is, behoeft geen breed betoog. De mensch is Gods hoqgste schepsel, vooral wanneer men hem ziet in zijn uitgebreidheid: heel de menschheid Dat bij het begin der wereld tweemenschen tegenever een ‘menigte des hemelschen heirlegers’ staan, bewijst niets tegen onze stelling; “t is in het aantal niet gelegen, al zijn er duizenden bijeen.’ Dat eene menschenpaar draagt in zich heel de menschheid; en haar ‘ziet” God in haar voltooiden bloei. Daarin is de menschheid meer dan het engelenleger. In den tijd, die voor de ‘evolutie’ der menschheid is gesteld, ontplooit deze zich in al haar heerlijkheid. En binnen den kring van het geschapene heeft zij rijkere uitdrukkingsmogelijkheid, een breeder functioneerend leven. dan de engel. De engel heetliturgische geest (Heb. 1:7, 14), tot dienst uitgezonden ter wille van menschen die de zaligheid zullen beerven. ‘Op zichzelf’ zou dit voor ons doel nog niets zeggen, indien met door den brief aan de Hebreen, in bet tweede hoofdstuk, de meerderheid van den mensch boven den engel duidelijk geleerd werd. Wij doelen bier op een plaats, die schijnbaar het tegendeel bewijst: 2:7. Daar wordt gezegd, dat God den mensch ‘een weinig minder dan de engelen gemaakt heeft.’ Evenwel, deze vergelijking wijst niet naar den oorspronkelijken toestand in den staat der rechtheid, maar op hetgeen daarna gevolgd is; de uitspraak is gedaan uit het standpunt van een gevallen wereld.Psalm 8, waaruit Hebreen 2 citeert, is uit het standpunt van een gevallen wereld geschreven. Dat bhjkt we1 uit het spreken (in verse 3) van een ‘vijand’, een ‘wraakgierige.’ Als nu in dezen psalm de mensch bijna een goddelijk wezen’ (Noordtzij ), bijna een wezen van ‘bovenaardsche’ heerlijkheid genoemd wordt, dan is deze lofverheffing op den mensch, die in een gevallen wereld leeft, nog des te meer een bewijs voor de hoogheid van den mensch in een niet-gevallen wereld. Dit ‘minder-dan-deengelen- zijn’ teekent volstrekt niet de oerverhouding van den mensch tegenover den engel. Want Prof. Grosheide merkt in zijn Kommentaar (Bottenburg, Amsterdam) hier op, dat het woord ‘mindermaken’ eigenlijk is: vernederen. De mensch isvernederd onder de engelen; en dit ireronderstelt, dat iemand uit hooger staat naar lageren wordt gebracht. Het is niet een lage plaats aanwijzen, maar vernederen, minder, lager maken.’ Bovendien kan de grieksche term, die in onze Statenvertaling is weergegeven door ‘een weinig’, niet alleen dit beteekenen, maar ook: voor korten tijd. Wij behoeven, zegt Prof. Grosheide, ‘niet zoo te beslissen, dat we een van de twee (beteekenissen) beslist uitsluiten. Nu zal hier wel allereerst korten tijd bedoeld zijn, want de schrijver maakt een tegenstelling, tusschen wat de mensch eerst is, en hetgeen hij later ontvangt.’ En wat ontvangt hij later? Een heerlijkheid, waarbij alle ding, niets uitgezonderd (vs. 8), den mensch onderworpen zal zijn. Ook de engel dus. Die heerlijkheid geldt wel van Christus ‘in de eerste plaats’ ( Grosheide), maar ‘door Gods genade straks ook van anderen’ (idem). 

“Het is waar, dat in de gevallen wereld de niet-gevallen engel over krachten beschikt, die de mensch niet de zijne noemen kan. Maar dit doet niets af van onze stelling. De. trouw gebleven knecht is er altijd ‘beter’ aan toe dan de verloren zoon, die zwijnendraf moet eten en in lompen gekleed gaat. Maar als de verloren zoon terugkomt, dan herstelt de Vader de oude dingen; en uit die herstelling kan men dan weer de oorspronkelijke orde aflezen. Welnu, gelijk de Vader van den verloren zoon, toen hij hem teruggevonden had, den zoon naast zich zette en den knecht ook hem liet dienen, zoo keert straks ook tusschen mensch en engel de oude verhouding terug.” 

The above quotation I will summarize next time, D.V.; and also criticize the view expressed in it.