Rev. Kuiper is pastor of Southeast Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
In their relation to the church
What is God’s purpose with angels in regard to His church? We read in Hebrews 1:14, “Are they (angels) not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?” Angels are the servants of the church as a whole and of the saints individually.
There are five items to be observed here.
1)Angels are messengers from God in heaven to His church on earth, appearing at the most critical points in the history of salvation. After the Fall God placed at the east of Eden cherubim to keep the way of the tree of life, for fellowship with God was no longer through the tree but through Christ typified in bloody sacrifices. God delivered the Law to Moses at Sinai by the hands of angels. The birth of Jesus Christ was announced to Mary and to Joseph by Gabriel, after he had announced the birth of John the Baptist. An angel appeared to the frightened shepherds in the fields of Bethlehem speaking of the birth of the Savior; then, a multitude of the heavenly host taught the shepherds and us to sing, “Glory to God in the Highest.” After Jesus was baptized and had been tempted in the wilderness, angels came to Him and ministered unto Him. When Jesus groveled on the ground as a worm and not a man in the Garden, an angel came to Him to strengthen Him. At the empty tomb an angel spoke the resurrection gospel to the women, “He is not here, he is risen even as he said.” On the Mount of Olives an angel asked the staring disciples, “Why stand ye gazing up into heaven?” and promised that Christ would return in like manner. And when Jesus comes at the end of time He will come with His angels in great glory. So angels are messengers, sent to reveal the will of God and to comfort both Christ and His church.
2)There are angels whose business it is to guard the people of God and their children. In Psalm 91 we find the wonderful words, “For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways. They shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone.” As parents, who cannot always have our eyes on our children, we take great comfort from the words of Jesus in Matthew 19:10, “Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, that in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven.” Little children of God have their own, personal angels, who go from the face of God in heaven to do His will, to watch over our children.
Not only is this physical protection that the angels give, but they safeguard our children from the devil and the world. We believe that God watches over us. We believe that He preserves us from the evil one. But we are not often aware of the means that God uses, those ministering spirits whom we may call guardian angels.
3)There is a sense in which the angels observe what is happening on the earth, at least in the life of the church and in the life of the saints. Jesus concluded two of His parables with the astounding words, “Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.” When there is the refusal to confess our sins to God and to one another, and to extend forgiveness to one another, we may be sure that the angels in heaven weep. But when a sinner comes to repentance, the angels rejoice before God because they understand that repentance worketh life, and repentance comes to pass only by the irresistible grace of God! Angels delight in the grace of God in Christ!
The second proof we have for the position that angels are aware of what goes on in the church below is the rather difficult passage found in Ephesians 3:10, “To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be made known by the church the manifold wisdom of God….” Paul says that he preaches among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, that he makes known the mystery which was hid from the beginning of the world, with the intent that the angels might know these things by means of the church!
When the church preaches the gospel of Jesus Christ, and when the members of the church confess and live that gospel, the wisdom of God in saving His church through Christ is made known to the angels. They are not saved by that gospel, but they are deeply interested in it, and that interest is satisfied as the angels are attuned to the life of the church.
4)The angels of God are reapers in the great harvest at the end of the world. In the parable of the tares and the wheat (Matt. 13), the field is the world, the good seed stands for the children of the kingdom, and the tares are the children of the wicked one. At the end of the world, the Son of Man shall send forth His angels, and they shall gather out of His kingdom all that do iniquity, and shall cast them into the furnace of fire.
And those same angels shall bring the righteous into the kingdom of their Father. Accordingly, Jesus teaches in Matthew 24 that He “shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together the elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.”
Angels reap, they gather, they bring together the elect unto Christ, and bring the wicked unto the flame.
5)Finally, we must notice that there is a change worked in the relationship between the angels and us due to the great victory that Christ achieved as the Captain of our salvation. According to our creation, and according to the manhood of Jesus Christ, we were both made a little lower than the angels. But because of His perfect obedience unto death, God has so highly exalted Christ that He is now higher than the angels. Thus Hebrews 1:4, “Being made so much better than the angels, as he hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.”
Because the child of God is represented by Christ, and is engrafted into Christ, we share in His exaltation and honor, and are given a place above the angels in the world to come. One of the implications of the church’s sharing in Christ’s glory is that when Christ returns to judge the quick and the dead, we are going to judge with Him, and according to I Corinthians 6:3, we are going to judge the angels.
Questions that often arise
When the subject of angels is discussed, there are particularly two questions that people seek to have answered. The first one is, Do angels appear just before a child of God dies? Or, just as a saint expires, is it possible that he sees angels?
The question is prompted by certain remarks made by people as they die. You have heard of such statements, I am sure. Although I have been at the bedside of several saints as they died, I have not heard these words firsthand; but they have been repeated to me by other family members whose parents have gone the way of all flesh. For example, “Oh, it’s very beautiful!” “I hear music!” “I see angels!” What are we to think of this?
Our response is that it is entirely possible. Who are we to say that it is not true? If we keep in mind that the soul of the redeemed child of God enters into glory at the moment of physical death, and if we keep in mind that Christ sends His angels to gather His people home, why is such an experience not possible? Although this may not be experienced in every case, we see no reason to doubt the authenticity of these remarks.
Another question that needs answering today goes something like this: “What do we say to those who claim to have seen angels in their lifetime, have had visions of angels, and have even heard angels speak?”
That is an entirely different question. Not as someone is dying, but while he is living! We do not believe it. We do not believe it because there is no longer any reason for God to send us angels, and to give us messages by angels. Not since the canon of Holy Scripture has been completed. We put such visions of angels in the same category as speaking in tongues, miracles of healing, and special revelations from God. All these were common during the days of the prophets, Jesus, and the apostles. The reason for such things was that there was no New Testament yet — no full, written Word of God. Further, these miracles and revelations had the purpose of proving that what the prophets and apostles were saying was indeed true. But there is no longer any need for that.
This all reminds one of the rich man in hell of whom we read in Luke 16. This rich man says to Abraham in heaven, “I pray thee, father, send Lazarus to my father’s house that he may testify to my five brothers, lest they also come into this place of torment.” And Abraham says to him, “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.” In other words, they have the Bible. Let them give careful heed to what God says in the Bible. But the rich man objects (implying that he was brought into torment unfairly), “Nay, father Abraham, but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent.” And the final word of Jesus in the parable is, “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.” The Scriptures are sufficient. God does not speak through other means since the time the apostle John finished Revelation, and pronounced woe upon those who added to or subtracted from the Word of God.