The Ministry of Angels Part 2: Angels are Real in the Age of Grace

In my last blog, I told you that angels have never been a focus of biblical study for me. But recently I’ve done some reading and have reflected on personal experiences throughout my life that have sparked an interest. This is the second installment of three.

Last time, I wrote about the intervention of angels in the events surrounding the conception, birth, and infancy of Jesus. The archangel Gabriel announced the coming of John the Baptist, Jesus’s forerunner, to his father Zacharias. Gabriel then appeared to Mary to announce that the Spirit was bringing the life of the Savior into her womb.

These appearances were startling and troubling to both Zacharias and Mary, but both received and believed the angel’s messages.

Mary’s husband Joseph must also have taken angelic messages seriously, even those delivered in his dreams. His obedience to what he heard was essential for the protection of the Christ child.

I think we ought to follow these examples and take angelic messengers of God seriously also, believing they exist, and that sometimes they come near.

Let me make it clear again that angels are not to be worshiped, as they apparently were at the time that the Apostle Paul wrote his letter to the Colossians:

Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you. Such a person also goes into great detail about what they have seen; they are puffed up with idle notions by their unspiritual mind (Col. 2:18).

It seems that some in the church wanted to appear spiritual with their stories of angel sightings, but ironically, Paul accuses such people of being unspiritual. Anything that distracts from the gospel of Jesus Christ is ultimately carnal and will not provide what the Spirit needs to endure and thrive in this age.

The author of Hebrews also expounds on the deep truth that there is no being, terrestrial or celestial, that should ever compete for our affection for Jesus Christ. He reigns supreme.

But because angels were assumed to be participants in God’s plans throughout the ages, in this installment, I want to look further at the roles and functions of angels during our current age of grace. When I speak of this age, I am referring to the Church age, this dispensation that was inaugurated at Pentecost with the sending of the gift of the Holy Spirit and will persist until Christ’s return to gather his bride.

Angels follow the commands of Jesus, as he now sits at the Father’s right hand. The Apostle Peter, one of that small group of disciples filled with the Spirit on that first day in Jerusalem, testified boldly that Jesus was resurrected, and ascended to heaven, “and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities, and powers in submission to him” (1 Pet. 3:22).

Hebrews 1:14 reveals their general role as sent ones under the command of Jesus. They are “ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation.” This service takes several forms, as we will see. Since we are now looking at the age of the church, Acts is the best place to start.

Angels can literally open prison doors. There are two such instances in Acts. The first involved all of the apostles when their preaching upset the Jewish leaders and they were jailed in order to silence them. The text reads,

They arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail. But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out.“Go, stand in the temple courts,” he said, “and tell the people all about this new life” (Acts 5:18-20).

This must have been incredibly validating to the apostles and confounding to the skepticism of the Jewish leaders. Surely, something supernatural was helping these simple men from Galilee.

The second instance was when Herod had killed the apostle James and, seeing it “met with approval among the Jews,” attempted to do the same to Peter. As the church prayed for Peter in his jail cell,

Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him up. “Quick, get up!” he said, and the chains fell off Peter’s wrists. (Acts 12:7).

The angel told him to get dressed and follow him. Peter wasn’t sure if it was really happening or if it was a vision, but when he came to himself and saw that he had safely walked past several guards and was back in the city, concluded with certainty, “The Lord has sent his angel and rescued me…” (v.11).

Angels give God’s people assignments and the courage to fulfill them, especially in regard to saving the lost. An angel sent Phillip down a highway toward Gaza, where he met, taught, and baptized an Ethiopian eunuch. (Acts 8:26). This opened the heart of the continent of Africa to the gospel.

An angel was used powerfully to orchestrate the meeting between Peter and the centurion Cornelius. This encounter was the beginning of the church’s inclusion of God-fearing Gentiles into its body. Perhaps the long-standing prohibitions against intermingling Jews and Gentiles warranted the dispatching of an angel who would be able to convince both, Peter, and Cornelius, that it was indeed the will of God for Gentiles to be saved and filled with the Spirit (Acts 10:3-7,22; 11:13).

An angel appeared to Paul on his long, dangerous journey to Rome. Paul had been assured by the Lord that he would appear before Caesar. This gave him confidence that he would survive the trip, whatever they might face. But to seal this confidence, Paul shares with his Gentile, unbelieving shipmates:

But now I urge you to keep up your courage, because not one of you will be lost; only the ship will be destroyed. Last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood beside me and said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar, and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.’ (Acts 27:22-24).

Angels are curious spectators of our progress even when they are not intervening. This might be my favorite picture of angels. Paul wrote that Christ-followers had become a “spectacle to the whole world universe, to angels as well as human beings” (1 Cor. 4:9). Peter wrote to the believers that it was not only the ancient prophets who foresaw in part the coming of Christ, his resurrection, and the glory to follow.  He added “Even angels long to look into these things (I Pet. 1:12).

Angels are watching. Angels are curious. Angels wait, like the saints that have gone before, to watch the glorious unfolding of God’s redemptive plan.

And that brings us to a final observation about angels in our days.

Angels deliver revelations to the saints about the future. This is seen most notably in the book of Revelation. The author of the book was Jesus Christ, who sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John” (Rev.1:1).  An angel delivered this abundance of prophecy and apocalyptic imagery so that God’s people could know “what must soon take place” (v.1:2).  

We still await the fulfillment of most of the prophesies sent by this angel, but we are wise to read and understand them as well as we can and act in accordance with the wisdom they provide.

Because angels have been so active throughout this age of grace, we can’t rule out the possibility that Jesus might send angels to help us in our time.  The wise author of Hebrews warns us, “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it” (Heb. 13:2). There could be an angel in the room where you are sitting as you read this.   

Angels might spring us from prison if we are unfairly persecuted for our faith. They might hand us assignments to expand the kingdom of Christ that we would not have endeavored without their guidance and encouragement. They may appear to inform, warn, instruct, or encourage us as we see wickedness in the world increase. They may show us the future so we can better prepare our hearts as we watch for our Lord’s return.

God can communicate with us in various ways. Sometimes he gives new light to understand the Scriptures. Sometimes the Holy Spirit provides direct revelation through a word, a vision, or a dream. And sometimes, he sends an angel.

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