While playing in a brushy area near his home in southwestern Florida, twelve year old Mark Durrance was bitten by a huge rattlesnake. An extraordinarily large quantity of venom was injected directly into a vein in his foot. Losing consciousness rapidly, he knew he could never walk the 150 yards that separated him from the house. Nevertheless, his family found him on the living-room floor, unconscious. He was rushed to the hospital, where he lay in a coma for nearly three
days. On the fourth day, after Mark regained consciousness, he told the details of how he had been bitten and how he had made it to the house. A white-robed figure appeared, took him in his arms, and carried him across the field and up the steps. The man told him, in a deep voice, that he would be sick but not to worry, that he would make it. Then he went up into the sky. Mark said he knew "it was God." He has fully recovered, except for some skin grafting to restore his badly damaged foot and
The popular Christian press has given us countless stories of miraculous or near miraculous ways in which angels have come to the aid of Christians. For example, hostile savages are prevented from attacking a missionary because they are frightened by several huge bodyguards which apparently accompany the missionary. Yet, the missionary is alone, or thinks he is. In another case, a man is saved from a violent auto accident by a voice that urges him to slow down. Or, one is warned to stay off a certain airplane, which subsequently crashes with loss of all life on board. In yet another case, a woman is desperately ill and alone: her daughter, many miles away and totally unaware of her mother's condition, answers the door bell; a stranger gives her the message that her mother is ill and needs her help. No one, of course, knows who the stranger is.
A story I read many years ago is typical: it is the year 1917; a missionary and his family are somewhere in Russia, traveling by boat down a river. The Bolsheviks have overthrown the government and are speedily taking over the country. Several of them commandeer the boat and abandon the missionaries out in the wilderness, miles from a house of any kind. It is wintertime, the ground is covered with several inches of snow, and they have neither food nor supplies. In their desperate situation, they begin to pray. Suddenly, a man appears walking across the frozen wastes, carrying bowls of steaming hot porridge of some kind. After he has given it to them, he walks away and disappears. The food is sufficient to get them to a settlement.
For the Christian, these stories are simply instances of the fulfilling of the Scripture that angels are "ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation" (Heb. 1:14). Though I cannot believe everything I read, some of these stories are no doubt true, for the Bible itself records similar incidents. Surely these are some of the ways that angels minister to those of us who are heirs of salvation. Even so, I do not think this is the primary meaning of the Scripture.
Another verse concerning angels often cited is:
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 (Psa. 91:11-12).
This verse is popularly believed to guarantee us angelic protection against accidents. Again, though this Scripture may indeed apply to some of the miraculous deliverances that are reported, I do not believe that is its primary meaning. For surely many good people have been killed in accidents. Where were their guardian angels? Evidently, the angels often fail in their duties if that be the sense of this text.
No, I strongly believe that the sense of these passages of Scripture is in a different direction. There are other dangers far more serious than physical perils in which we are guaranteed angelic protection. Nor do the angels fail in their duty. To understand what I have in mind, we must take a look at the subject of "offences." Jesus warned us of offences to come. He pronounced damnation on that person from whom the offence came. To his disciples, he said that if our hand or foot or eye offended us, it were better to sever that member of our body and to go to heaven "halt and maimed" than to hell with a whole body. He then makes this interesting comment:
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 (Matt. 18:10).
Once again, we find angelic protection mentioned. This verse is often cited to support the popular belief that children have guardian angels. While that may be true, I must insist that this verse is not talking about children. His discourse on offences began with the question, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" (Matt. 18:1). Jesus answered by pointing to a child and saying, "Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 18:3). In another place, Jesus called his disciples "little children" (John 13:33). John addresses the church as "little children" nine times in his first epistle. We may assuredly state then that the "little ones" are the disciples of Jesus who have humbled themselves before God and have become as little children. These are the little ones who are under angelic protection, and woe be unto that man who "despises" them by attempting to offend them.
What does "offend" mean? It comes from an old English word that means to cause someone to stumble by placing a stone or other stumbling block in his path. Spiritually, it means causing one to sin or to lose his faith. In the parable of the sower (Matt. 13:3-23), Jesus outlined three ways in which one is offended. The first way is:
He hears the gospel but does not understand it. Then Satan comes and "catches away that which was sown in his heart." These are the seed sown by the wayside.
I call this the "intellectual" offence. It is principally the method in use in most of our seminaries and universities. Survey after survey has shown that the majority of young seminary students lose their faith during their studies of the Bible under the skeptical guidance of unbelieving professors. Such devices as the "documentary hypothesis," "form criticism," evolution, and modern archaeological theories are the tools used to cast doubt on the inspiration and authority of the Holy Bible, to discredit its miracles and its history, and to destroy the faith of the student.
A second way Jesus mentioned is:
Persecution and tribulation causes some to lose their faith. These are they who were sown on stony soil and who had no depth of root.
History relates how during the first three centuries many Christians gave up their faith to avoid Roman persecution and martyrdom.
The third way:
The deceitfulness of riches and the care of this world and other lusts cause some to give up their faith. These, being sown on arid soil, were crowded out with thorns and thistles.
Perhaps this is the most frequent cause of offences. Ancient Israel became offended time after time because of their insatiable desire for more riches. Not content with the prosperity they had under God, they worshiped strange gods, who were mostly "fertility" gods, in the hope that they would have even more wealth. Israel was covetous (Jer. 8:10), and covetousness was the "bitter root" (Deut. 29:18; Heb. 12:15,16) of their offence. It is for this reason that Paul equates covetousness with idolatry (Eph. 5:5; Co. 3:5), for covetousness is the "spirit" of idolatry.
Lastly, I want to state that our own emotions are sometimes the cause of offences. Included in the category "the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in" (Mar.4:19) are emotional attachments for things and people. For example, there are those who give up all belief in God and Christ after losing a loved one in a tragic accident or a prolonged and painful illness. How could God be good, they ask, and do this to me? There are some who are influenced by an unbelieving family or friends to forsake Christ, or at the very least, to become complacent and an easy prey to other temptations. It is for this reason that Jesus said, "If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple" (Luke 14:26).
To summarize, through our (imperfect) intellect, fear of suffering, covetousness, and emotional attachments we are vulnerable to becoming offended. Whatever the cause of the offence, the effect is to cause a believer or a potential believer in Jesus Christ to become apostate and to deny and renounce him. It is a fearful thing to deny the Lord: "For if we sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation which shall devour the adversaries" (Heb. 10:26-27). It is even worse for those who offend that disciple. If I read the Bible correctly, the very worst curses are reserved for those who, not content with sinning for themselves, must cause someone else to sin. And somehow, the angels are involved in this. A thorough discussion would take several chapters; this short essay shall comment upon only one aspect of how angels are involved in the matter of offences.
One of the most glorious promises in the Bible is this: if we trust the Lord God with all our might, if we ceaselessly meditate on his law, if we prefer his way before any other, and if we truly love our brothers, then the Scriptures guarantee that we shall not be offended. In short, to obtain the promise of spiritual safety, we must love the Lord with all our heart and our neighbor as
ourselves. I like to phrase it this way: if we truly want to be saved and to be conformed to the ideal image that God has set before us, then, regardless of our limitations and imperfections, regardless of our shortcomings in attaining that ideal, we shall be saved. All it takes is our complete trust in God; he will not betray our trust.
As a child, I overheard the discussions of the elders of our church concerning false teachers and heresies. They were extremely concerned lest some "false prophet" should slip into their midst and deceive them with false doctrine. Not really knowing what the Bible meant when it referred to "false teaching", we labeled any man who did not agree 100 percent with our interpretation of the Scriptures a false prophet.
As I began studying the Bible in depth, however, I discovered that we have nothing to worry about in regard to inadvertently being deceived by false prophets, that is, if we truly place our trust and confidence in God and walk according to his commandments. Of course, it is true that none of us are so endowed with intelligence that we could not be fooled. There are many instances when God's people are completely and totally fooled by clever charlatans. But we will not be fooled in matters that pertain to our eternal salvation. Jesus warned us there would arise false christs and false prophets who would deceive the very elect, if it were possible. Why isn't it possible? It is not because we are more intelligent than they or more versed in the
Scriptures;3 it is because we have supernatural protection. That is the subject of this essay. And now for some verses of Scripture:
Great peace have they which love thy law: and nothing shall offend them [mg. they have none occasion of stumbling] (Psa. 119:165).
My son, let not them [the commandments] depart from thine eyes: keep sound wisdom and discretion. . . .Then shalt thou walk in thy way safely, and thy foot shall not stumble (Prov. 3:21-23).
I have taught thee in the way of wisdom; I have led thee in right paths. When thou goest, thy steps shall not be straitened; and when thou runnest, thou shalt not stumble (Prov. 4:11-12).
He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him (1 John 2:10).
On the other hand, the wicked have no such guarantee. For example:
The way of the wicked is as darkness: they know not at what they stumble (Prov. 4:19).
But if a man walk in the night, he stumbleth, because there is no light in him (John 11:10).
What makes the difference? What is to prevent the righteous from stumbling, that is, being offended, whereas the wicked are inevitably going to stumble? Once again, I ask, are the righteous more intelligent than the wicked? On the contrary, Jesus said that the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light (Luke 16:8). What, then, makes the difference?
The answer is found in Psalm 91.
This is one of my favorite Psalms. It speaks mysteriously of the secret place of God, of his feathers and wings, of pestilence in darkness and destruction at noonday. In order to understand it, we must take advantage of a characteristic of Hebrew poetry, a characteristic found in practically all of the prophetic writings. That is "parallelism." There are many variations of the device but we shall limit ourselves to the most frequently used form: a thought is stated, then restated in different words. For an easy example, consider what Jesus once said:
For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? (Mark 8:36-37).
We may use parallelism to interpret mysterious figures of speech, obscure metaphors and similes, and puzzling epigrams, by comparing the two parallel phrases, or, as Paul said, by comparing spiritual things with spiritual. In the 91st Psalm, we have just such a parallel structure. Now I won't bother to quote the whole Psalm; the reader should have it present before him, however, as he reads this analysis.
The parallelism is found in the fact that the sense of verses 1-10 are repeated in the remainder of the Psalm. The first verse of the Psalm says, "He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty." The secret place refers to the Holy of Holies in the temple where stood the ark of the covenant containing the two tables of the law given to Moses. It was a secret place, because it was a room with no windows and only one door that was always covered with a curtain; only one man, the high priest, was permitted to enter it, and then, only once per year. There God met him (in the person of one of his angels) to accept the atonement and to forgive Israel's sins for another year.
Over the ark containing the ten commandments stood two carved cherubim. Each had two wings which were outstretched so that they touched the walls of the Holy of Holies and met in the center over the ark. When the high priest ministered there, the glory (sometimes called the "shekinah") of the angel of the Lord appeared between the cherubim. The ark itself was under the shadow of their wings. Hence, this text is saying that the person who dwells in the Holy of Holies is under the shadow of the wings of the cherubim. This is confirmed in verse 4: "He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust."
Now the cherub is one of the most mysterious creatures in the entire Bible. The church has traditionally claimed cherubim are a very high order of celestial beings. Based on some obscure Greek words that occur in Paul's writings, theologians distinguish first, seraphim, then cherubim, principalities, dominions, powers, archangels, and angels. However, I do not believe that seraphim and cherubim represent individual beings but are symbolic of organizations, or arrays, of angels. Years after I had come to this conclusion, I found out that Sir Isaac Newton regarded them as armies of angels. In fact, this Psalm gives me one of the best reasons for so thinking.
Here is a summary of the first 10 verses. If one dwells in the secret place of the Most High, if one trusts in God, if one makes God his refuge and his habitation, then he will be delivered from snares, arrows flying by day and destruction at noonday, terrors of the night and pestilence dwelling in darkness, all evil and all plagues.
Then follows the second parallel section beginning with verse 11, which is the text we are most interested in. If we carefully compare the two sections, we should get at least a hint of the true meaning of the Psalm.
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. Thou shalt tread upon the lion and adder: the young lion and the dragon shalt thou trample under feet (Psa. 91:11-13).
All of this "because he hath set his love upon me, therefore will I deliver him: I will set him on high, because he hath known my name" (v. 14).
The parallel to the statement in verse 4, "He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust," is the statement of verse 11, "For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways." I conclude that the wings and feathers of the cherubim are the legions of angels God has organized to protect his elect.
"Lest thou dash thy foot against a stone. . ." This tells us we are protected against stumbling over a stone, that is, becoming offended. The enemy will lay snares and stumbling blocks before our path, but the angels shall guide us around or above them. Poisonous serpents and scorpions will be rendered harmless under our feet. We are reminded of Jesus' promise that if we believe on his name, we shall take up serpents (Mark 16:18), or Paul's promise that "the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly" (Rom. 16:20). (Satan is "that old Serpent"--see Rev. 12:9.)
The angels will protect from all harm those "little ones" who have put their whole trust in God and Christ. However, I must point out that it is not necessarily physical harm that is meant, for God's people daily suffer all the misfortunes common to the world. It is rather that we shall be protected from spiritual accidents. Satan is so much wiser than we that he could easily snare us with one of his delusions; he could place a stumbling block in our path over which we would trip and fall; he could shoot us with his arrows by day and lurk for us at night (death) with unspeakable horrors.
Satan can concoct all sorts of logical and plausible arguments to deceive man into forsaking God. As I pointed out, this is indeed going on in our major universities and seminars. Professors of religion have devised many theories that rob the Bible of its supernatural origin, discredit its miracles and history, and reduce it to a mere collection of folk tales, fables, legends and "lies." The Bible's authors have been depicted as propagandists and politicians whose true goal was not to record God's word but to overthrow the government or bring about some private reform of their own. Jesus has been depicted as a "revolutionary," bent on overthrowing the Roman government. Judas Iscariot's betrayal is whitewashed. I have read extensively of their literature, and indeed some of it is quite plausible. It takes a sharp eye to detect the flaw in their closely reasoned arguments.
Permit me to inject a little bit of personal testimony at this point. There was a time several years ago that I almost succumbed to the logic of the liberal (so-called) school of thinking. For ten long years, I, who had been raised in a devout Christian home and who knew nothing but the church, became almost totally disillusioned with its doctrines. I had become "offended," in the Biblical sense, by the unchristian deeds of some of the clergy. Simultaneously, I was reading the theories of the modern liberal school of Biblical criticism with the result that the Bible itself became nothing but a confusion of legends, myths, and errors as I began to believe the skeptic's refutations.
Later, after I made peace with God, that same Bible took on a new life and a depth of meaning I had never suspected. What had been legends now became actual history, and what had been myths were now accepted for the allegories and profound spiritual truths they were intended to be. Nor had I forgotten what the liberals said; their theories and arguments were just as logical to me as before. The difference was that I began to see things from a different view point. What caused this radical transformation in my thinking?
I have never seen an angel (that I know of). Nevertheless, I fully believe that it was through their ministry that I became a believer again; I believe it was they who saved me from the snare of the fowler, and who lifted me up over all stumbling blocks.6 The theories of the liberal scholar were revealed for the lies that they are. It was not through any intelligence of my own, I must insist. No, there was something quite supernatural about the whole thing. Therefore, having been on both sides of the issue, I can speak on the matter of offences.
How the angels go about doing their job is, of course, for the most part a mystery. I do think, however, that I have a hint or two as to how they might proceed on occasion. In my case, two of the most significant events in my life occurred during and toward the close of my ten-year hiatus. The first event was the loss of a very good job, which was, I think, the most devastating event of my life. However, I quickly found another job, one that was even better than the first. It was all I asked for in a position; I felt respected for my abilities, was given good assignments that were challenging and interesting, and (this is the truth) on weekends could hardly wait for Monday to come so I could go back to work. I thoroughly enjoyed the companionship of the technical men with whom I worked. But all this came to a screeching halt as our company was bought out by another. New executives and staff members were brought in from another state to supplant many of our own, and better qualified, men who were fired. What had been the most pleasant and rewarding job of my life suddenly became the worst--I exaggerate not.
As a direct consequence of the bleakness and precariousness of my position with this company, I began a period of intensive soul-searching. I could discern quite plainly the handiwork of Satan. The result of this period of rethinking through my life was that I rededicated my life to the Lord. (He graciously accepted me!) Shortly after, I was given to know--how, I won't say, but it was very much a reality--that I must study the Bible and that the Holy Spirit himself would help me to understand it!
And then it was that I discovered how little I really knew about the Bible; new vistas and new meanings were brought to light daily. The Bible was transformed from a collection of myths and fairy tales into the most inspired book ever written. I used to say that a good text on mathematics had far more inspiration than the Bible. I have lived to retract that statement.
I am now convinced that my difficulties with those two employers were engineered by God's messengers in answer to prayer.7
How else could they get my attention? It was far better for me to lose my source of livelihood and my self esteem than to lose my soul.
I am quite persuaded that angels cause God's people to suffer loss of employment, property, health, and even loved ones, as they lead their wards along, lifting them up over stones, guiding them around snares, protecting them from flying arrows, and quelling the poison of serpents. In other words, one may have to suffer an auto accident in order to prevent a worse "spiritual accident" that may have been waiting just down the road. I am not denying that on occasion angels do indeed guard us from physical peril; but it is apparent to me that their main ministry, guarding us from spiritual peril, necessitates their causing us much grief and pain at times. This is in agreement with the epistle of Hebrews in its discourse on chastisement (Heb. 12:6-17); for notice how we are exhorted to "make straight paths for our feet," (v. 13) to avoid stumbling, and to guard against covetousness, the "root of bitterness" (v. 15), using the example of Esau selling his birthright to illustrate the point. The main point of the lesson is, the chastisement of the Lord, grievous though it may be, yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness. I am merely adding the thought that this "chastisement of the Lord" is often administered to us by the holy angels.
Now for a couple of Biblical illustrations. The first is found in Genesis 20. Abraham was wandering about in the land of Gerar. To protect himself, he had Sarah pose as his sister, for he was afraid the people would kill him and kidnap her if they knew she was his wife. However, it didn't quite work out that way: Abimelech, the king, seized Sarah for his harem anyway. God came to him in a dream at night and warned him to leave the woman alone or he would die, for she was a man's wife. Abimelech was innocent, however, and had not come near Sarah. He said,
Lord, wilt thou slay also a righteous nation? Said he not unto me, She is my sister? and she, even she herself said, He is my brother: in the integrity of my heart and innocency of my hands have I done this.
And God said unto him in a dream, Yea, I know that thou didst this in the integrity of thy heart; for I also withheld thee from sinning against me: therefore suffered I thee not to touch her (Gen. 20:5-6).
The second illustration concerns the Exodus of Israel. An angel led the Israelites out of Egypt and into Canaan (Ex. 14:19). The angel did not lead them on the shortest, most direct route to Canaan, but through a far more circuitous and tortuous route down through the Sinai peninsula.
And it came to pass, when Pharaoh had let the people go, that God led them not through the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; for God said, Lest peradventure the people repent when they see war, and they return to Egypt: but God led the people about, through the way of the wilderness of the Red sea: and the children of Israel went up harnessed out of the land of Egypt (Ex. 13:17-18).
In short, the Israelites would have been "offended" by the resistance of the Philistines and would have forsaken God by returning to Egypt. To prevent this, the angel led them through the scorchingly hot and dry desert of Sinai, a far more laborious and painful route.
We have here two examples of how the Lord led his people away from temptation and delivered them from evil. He prevented them from becoming offended, and it was through the medium of angels that this was accomplished.8
Let me insert here a comment by Isaiah concerning this very thing:
In all their affliction he [the Lord] was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them: in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; and he bare them, and carried them [over stumbling stones] all the days of old.
But they rebelled and vexed his Holy Spirit. . .
Then he remembered the days of old, Moses, and his people, saying, Where is he that brought them up out of the sea with the shepherd of his flock?. . . That led them through the deep, as an horse in the wilderness, that they should not stumble?
We now look at another class of symbols in the 91st Psalm: the weapons of combat, arrows, shields, and bucklers. Let us look once more at verses 4 and 5 of the present Psalm:
.his truth shall be thy shield and buckler. Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night; nor for the arrow that flieth by day (Psa. 91:4-5).
We are not talking about real arrows and real shields here. The words must be understood metaphorically. It is as Paul said, "Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places" (Eph. 6:11-12).
Let us first establish what arrows and swords represent. In Psalm 64, we read:
Hide me from the secret counsel of the wicked; from the insurrection of the workers of iniquity: who whet their tongue like a sword, and bend their bows to shoot their arrows, even bitter words: that they may shoot in secret at the perfect: suddenly do they shoot at him, and fear not (Psa. 64: 2-4).
Likewise, in Proverbs,
There is that speaketh like the piercings of a sword. . .
Oh that I had in the wilderness a lodging place of wayfaring men; that I might leave my people, and go from them! for they be all adulterers, an assembly of treacherous men.
And they bend their tongues like their bow for lies. .
Their tongue is as an arrow shot out; it speaketh deceit: one speaketh peaceably to his neighbour with his mouth, but in heart he layeth his wait (Jer. 9:2,3,8).
Lies and deceits, then, are the spiritual equivalent of arrows and swords. When first I began to read the literature of modern Biblical criticism, and every time I understood one of their seemingly logical and plausible explanations that detracted from the Bible's authority as the word of God, I felt as if I were bleeding to death. I couldn't understand the phenomenon except to think that everyone must undergo similar feelings when his childhood teachings were discovered to be erroneous. Later, I saw the truth. I truly was bleeding to death--not physically, of course, but spiritually, simply because I had been struck with Satan's arrows and pierced with his sword. Let me put it this way: I have heard many stories in life that I believed, only to discover that they were false. But such knowledge did not affect me emotionally at all, except in some cases, mild disappointment; it was only when I thought the Bible was false that I felt fatally wounded.
What can protect us from these weapons of Satan?
Verse 4 says God's truth "shall be thy shield and buckler." Jesus exhorted us to "Let your loins be girded about, and your lights burning" (Luke 12:35). The lights here is "the more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place" (2 Pet. 1:19). Paul said, "Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; and your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God" (Eph. 6:14-17).
These agree that our shield is truth. Paul further refines the definition to include faith. Faith is necessary for the simple reason that even the best of Christians will encounter situations in which their knowledge of the truth is simply not sufficient to expose the lies of Satan. They must at such times trust God to lead them aright. Paul also makes a statement that those who have NOT a love for the truth shall be deceived--God shall send them strong delusion, is the way he puts it, that they should believe a lie and be damned (2 Thess. 2:10-12).
When Satan tempted Jesus, he suggested that Jesus throw himself off the temple tower, quoting the verse we are studying, with the insinuation that God would send his angels to catch him. Jesus rejected this suggestion by quoting another Scripture. Three times Satan tempted him and three times Jesus rebuffed him with a suitable Scripture. That is our model. We should seek to have that kind of knowledge of the truth that we can withstand the wiles of the enemy, can see through his lies, and save ourselves out of his snares and offences.
That is the ideal for which we should strive. What I want to point out, however, is that there is not a single one of us who has so much knowledge (and faith) that Satan couldn't trip us up sooner or later. He is just too cunning for our mortal minds. That is where the angels come in. I believe they help us to counteract Satan's attacks by two general methods:
First, I believe that the Holy Angels are responsible for placing us in whatever situations are necessary to teach us principles that will enable us later on to withstand Satan's attacks. As the book of Hebrews says, "But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil" (Heb. 5:14).
Secondly, there will always be circumstances beyond our limited ability to cope with. In those times, and this is principally what I am writing about in this essay, the angels will steer you around or carry you over the trap, the stumbling block, or the ambush that Satan has prepared. "But God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it" (1 Cor. 10:13). And this may entail such unpleasantries as losing our job, our health, or a loved one in death, or some other equally grievous event. We must at such times remember what Paul said: all things work together for good to those who love God (Rom. 8:28).
If we have a love for the truth; if we truly love God and place our whole trust in him; if we have striven to obey every commandment and have studied his law--then he will send his angels to deliver us from all spiritual danger. And when we die, we will be carried by the angels directly to the throne of Christ, shielded from the terrors of the night and the pestilence that walks in darkness. What these terrors are, I can not say, but I have a feeling that they are totally demonic and dreadful in the extreme.
Jesus promised that God will avenge his elect that cry day and night unto him (Luke 18:7-8). In the parable of the wheat and tares, he also explained that in the "end of the world," the angels would "gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; and shall cast them into a furnace of fire" (Mat. 13:41-42). The same thing is recorded in more symbolic form in the Apocalypse. We see the elders with golden bowls full of odors, "which are the prayers of the saints" (Rev. 5:8). Next, we see an angel offering up incense with the prayers of the saints (Rev. 8:1-4), immediately followed by a series of "trumpet" plagues which the angels wrought upon the wicked (Rev. 8:5-11:19). Finally, we see seven angels with seven golden bowls full of the seven last plagues which they pour out upon the wicked (Rev. 15:1-16:21). With that, God has finished taking vengeance upon the wicked for the sake of his elect (Rev. 18:20). The prayers of saints have been transformed into vengeance through the agency of the holy angels.
There is another interesting correlation between the sayings of Jesus and the Apocalypse: Jesus said, "But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea" (Matt. 18:6). The Apocalypse says,
And a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone, and cast it into the sea, saying, Thus with violence shall that great city Babylon be thrown down, and shall be found no more at all (Rev. 18:21).
The millstone represents the law (the two tables of stone) which the priests, Pharisees, scribes, and elders of Israel deceptively used to turn the people against Jesus. They turned the law into a stumbling stone to the people. It is only fitting and proper that this stumbling stone be the cause of their own destruction.
I might point out that these seven angels are undoubtedly the angels of the churches which John sees at the very beginning of his visions (Rev. 1-3), and are the same as the angels of the "little ones" that Jesus mentioned in Matthew 18:10. There, he tells the would-be offender of his little ones to "take heed," for "their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven."
We now come to the last theme of this essay. The Jews were offended in Christ. Centuries before, Moses prophesied the day would come when "Jeshurun," that is, Israel the Upright One, would become prosperous and "kick," lightly esteeming the Rock of their salvation (Deut. 32:15). Isaiah is plainer: the Lord would be for a sanctuary, but also for a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence to both the houses of Israel, and for a trap and a snare to Jerusalem (Isa. 8:14). The people of Nazareth, the hometown of Jesus, were offended in him (Mat. 13:57). At the crucifixion, even the disciples momentarily became offended (Matt. 26:31). Eventually, the whole nation of Judea became offended because of the crucifixion (1 Cor. 1:23; Gal. 5:11).
Nevertheless, a few Jews accepted Jesus as the Messiah and as the Lamb of God. As I have repeatedly stated elsewhere, the real mystery is not why some have rejected Christ; the mystery is why some have not. I can easily understand why the skeptics of this world disbelieve, having been there myself. There just is no evidence of the kind that we mortals demand to prove that Jesus was who he said he was. It is so easy to rationalize away the written record of his miracles and his resurrection. That is exactly what is going on in our major universities today. No, that is not a mystery. It is just the opposite: why do some yet believe on Christ Jesus? Why are some placing their hope on his resurrection, an event that defies all our observational principles of natural science? Why are some planning on "going to heaven," a place they have never seen nor even know whether it exists? And, mystery of mysteries, why are millions of Gentiles so fanatically devoted to a Jewish Christ (who was rejected by his own people) that they gladly suffer persecution and torture in his name?
Once again, the answer is hinted at in Psalm 91. Those who place their confidence in God will be protected from such skepticism. In the gospel of John, Jesus repeatedly made statements that will somewhat explain this phenomenon. He accused the Jews of not believing Moses; therefore they could not believe on him. They did not have the love of God in them; therefore they did not love Jesus. Their deeds were evil, which is why they ran from the light. If God were truly their Father, they would have loved Jesus and believed on him.
Turning the logic around, the reason why the many did not accept Jesus is that they did not believe the Father nor love Him in the first place. Their deeds were evil; they were of their father the Devil. Nevertheless, we still raise the question: why did a few ignore the consensus, resisting the pressure of their peers, and believe on Jesus? I believe they had supernatural help. First of all, they were lovers of God and wanted the truth. If Jesus were indeed the Son of God, and it was necessary to believe in him to have eternal life, then the Father himself was obligated to convince them. As Jesus said, the Father gave his disciples to him. (Those that were not given to Jesus by the Father were not the Father's to give, since they did not honor him or love him.) That the angels were involved, there can be little doubt. For Zacharias, Elizabeth, Joseph, and Mary all had angelic visitations to allay their fears concerning their role in God's plan. Angels appeared to the shepherds to announce his birth and led the Magi to Bethlehem to worship the King.
Then it all ended tragically; the one whom these good people had accepted as the Messiah and Saviour was crucified. Not understanding the necessity of his passion, the disciples were in despair. Early on the first day of the week, the women went to the tomb, fully expecting to see his body laying there. They wondered, however, who would roll away the great stone that sealed the mouth of the tomb. And, behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it (Mat. 28:2).
What else can we make of this incident, except that an angel was instrumental in preventing the disciples from tripping over the fact of Jesus' death? To this day, orthodox Judaism rejects him as the Messiah because of their belief that their Messiah would never die. See John 12:34. For them and for many others, that stone is still standing at the mouth of the tomb. For them, Jesus has not risen from the dead. To them, that stone is a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence. But to those of us who believe, the angels have long ago rolled it away. And they are still ministering to those who shall be heirs of salvation, shoving aside any obstacle over which we might stumble and bearing us up
lest we should dash our foot against a stone.
1.Henry Hurt, "A Boy, a Snake and an Angel," Readers Digest, August 1988, p. 95.
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2.One of the dearest and saintliest persons I have ever known was killed instantly when the car her husband was driving lost its steering control and crashed into a concrete pillar on an interstate highway.
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3.It is characteristic of the false teacher to be extremely knowledgeable in the written word.
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4.This verse is John's interpretation of something he heard Jesus say as they were on their way to Bethany where Lazarus was raised from the dead. See John 11:9-10 and note that Jesus loved Lazarus (v. 3, 5, 36).
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5.It may be here that medieval artists got their inspiration for depicting angels with wings. However, there is no place in the Bible where individual angels were ever seen with wings. The wings of the cherubim (and seraphim) are symbolic, not actual.
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6.In retrospect, I can see many instances where I was prevented from indulging a sinful impulse that might have resulted in eternal damnation.
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7.My father later confessed that, as time went on and it looked like his prayers on my behalf were not being answered, he said, "Lord, whatever the hindrance is, if it be his job, take it out of the way." He said the words were hardly out of his mouth until my company was sold out and my job turned sour.
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8.I know it says that God spoke to Abimelech in a dream. But God has never been seen by any man. In most instances when an angel appeared, it was thought that he was God. Indeed, to that man or woman, he was God.
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9.The seven angels of Revelation are, if not symbolic, at least representative for all of the elect angels, for both John and Daniel estimate their number as myriads of myriads, that is, in the hundreds of millions.
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