Angels: God’s Prophetic Messengers
How do angels function, and what role do they play in the fulfillment of prophecy? This is one aspect of their conduct that is well documented in Scripture, but at the same time, is quite mysterious. It deals with a specific role that they have played in our past, and will complete in our future.
Concerning the nature and history of angels, much has been written in Bible commentary. First-person stories about encounters with angels are legion. In truth, we know that just beyond our sight, angels constantly circulate among us as guardians and watchmen.
But one of their leading roles has been the part they play in the judgment of mankind.
Among other things, they participated in the giving of the Law of Moses. And when the future judgment comes, they will play a major part in administering the judgments that will ultimately result from the Law. Our Lord once commented upon this fact, using a little child to illustrate His point. He said that angels, in effect, keep a record of offenses against God’s elect. They will be present in the future day of divine retribution.
And under what conditions will His judgment be meted out? The Bible explicitly states that the Tribulation period will be focused upon the Jews and meted out in accordance with their Law. Just as at Christ’s first coming, national Israel will be held up to the standard of the Mosaic Law, which they were unable to keep. Their own vaunted Law pointed the arrow of judgment straight at their hearts: Early in His earthly ministry, following His discourse on the wheat and the tares, Jesus answered a specific question about how this judgment will come. His explanation included a cast of characters … the devil, His obedient angels and He, Himself:
“37 He answered and said unto them, He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man; 38 The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one; 39 The enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels. 40 As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world. 41 The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; 42And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear” (Matt. 13:37-43).
In these words, we are given a description of the way that the ages-long work of the devil will be brought to a crashing conclusion. This momentous event unfolds as Jesus orders his angels to perform the awesome job of removing the sinful and offensive fruit of the worldly sin that has accumulated during the reign of Gentile powers.
Angelic WitnessIn Deuteronomy 19:15, we read that, “at the mouth of two witnesses, or at the mouth of three witnesses shall the matter be established.” The angels, themselves, follow this regimen in their daily pursuits.
This kind of angelic representation is seen throughout Scripture. A dramatic example is found in the two angels who acted as the Lord’s witnesses at His resurrection:
“11 But Mary stood without at the sepulchre weeping: and as she wept, she stooped down, and looked into the sepulchre, 12 And seeth two angels in white sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. 13 And they say unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? She saith unto them, Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him” (John 20:11-13).
Even at the beginning of the Bible, we find that angelic witnesses observe the Lord’s divine proclamation upon the first couple, Adam and Eve. Though their number is not given, it is likely that the guardian witnesses at the gate of Eden were two in number:
“24 So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life” (Gen. 3:24).
The assumption that they were two in number is borne out by another well-known fact. We later find that the actions of the Aaronic priesthood are also overseen by two witnesses, in the form of two “cherubims”:
“18 And thou shalt make two cherubims of gold, of beaten work shalt thou make them, in the two ends of the mercy seat. 19 And make one cherub on the one end, and the other cherub on the other end: even of the mercy seat shall ye make the cherubims on the two ends thereof. 20 And the cherubims shall stretch forth their wings on high, covering the mercy seat with their wings, and their faces shall look one to another; toward the mercy seat shall the faces of the cherubims be” (Ex. 25:18-20).
Annually, on Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement – the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies to sprinkle blood upon the Mercy Seat. At this event, his duty was symbolically overseen by the two witnessing cherubs. They were, in fact, the only “witnesses,” since only the High Priest was allowed to enter this sacred chamber.
Angelic AdministrationThe Apostle Paul devotes more attention to the Christian freedom from the Mosaic Law than any other topic. He is passionate in his zeal to teach all believers that its true purpose was to throw light upon the sin nature of man.
In his heartfelt epistle to the Galatians, he wrote of the fact that the Law was given to reveal sin, not to remove it. It was originated both as a contract of marriage between God and Israel, and as a standard that represented God’s expectations.
Of course, Israel never admitted that keeping the Law was impossible; to this day, the keeping of the Law remains a human impossibility, because of the imperfect nature of man. Paul tells us that the law was an interim approach to man’s unruly behavior, until the time that the Messiah – Jesus – would come to completely enunciate its truths:
“19 Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator. 20 Now a mediator is not a mediator of one, but God is one. 21 Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid: for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law. 22 But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe. 23 But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. 24 Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith” (Gal. 3:19-24).
Paul says that the Law was like a mirror to reflect human sin, so that it would become dramatically visible. It has been likened to the mirror that we use when we cleanse and groom our faces. It is also something like a magnifying glass, which enables us to get a closer look at the truth of a matter. But though it gives us a better view of our personal state, it has no power to save, or to change our basic nature.
The purpose of the Law was to act as a revealer, but it was not given without consent; the Israelites received the Law as a contract, which they promised to keep. Surprisingly, it was to the angels that the people made their promise!
In the passage above, the Law is said to have been “… ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator.” The mediator – Moses – acted as a go-between for God and the twelve tribes. But angels “ordained” the Law. The Greek word used for this English expression is diatasso, meaning “to administer.” To us in the twenty-first century, this is a very strange idea. We must ask, “How did the angels administer the Law?”
The Angels Sent by the JudgeFrom the verses quoted thus far, we have seen that the Law was both ordained and decreed by angels. Ultimately, that Law will be the basis of the judgment that befalls the entire world. And once again – though Christ as High Priest will perform the sacraments of the Law – the angels will be sent forth by Him for the purpose of imposing His sentence upon a disobedient world.
In the book of Revelation, when the Lord opens the Seventh Seal, seven angels go forth, each with a trumpet, destined to call forth judgment. The earth, trees, grass, the sea and its ships, the rivers and even the lights in the heavens are afflicted in the judgments of the Day of the Lord. Seven angels also carry the seven vials of wrath.
During the Tribulation period, angels will once again ordain and decree the sentence that is carried out upon a world of sin. First, they participated in the giving of the Mosaic Law. One day soon, they will oversee the Law in its final outworking. After the Lord breaks the seals upon the scroll of indictment, they will go forth to carry out His sentence of death to the world system.
In preparation for the vial judgments, three angels oversee the many events that will unfold in a very brief and intense time: “6 And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people, 7 Saying with a loud voice, Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters. 8 And there followed another angel, saying, Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city, because she made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication. 9 And the third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand, 10 The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb” (Rev. 14:6-10).
Soon afterward, as the actual vials of wrath are poured out, the Lord’s decree is fulfilled by seven angels, each with a specific mission.
Isaiah and the SeraphOne of the Bible’s major prophets is Isaiah, whose book provides the most magnificent overview of the fall and rising again of Israel. In its sixth chapter, Isaiah is commissioned by an angel whose appearance is strangely beyond our most extravagant imagination.
“2 Above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly” (Isa. 6:2).
Isaiah was given a magnificent vision of the Lord’s throne, surrounded by these seraphs, one of whom flew down to meet him:
“6 Then flew one of the seraphims unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar: 7 And he laid it upon my mouth, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged. 8 Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me. 9 And he said, Go, and tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not” (Isa. 6:6-9).
This incident makes it quite clear that the Lord appointed his angels – seraphs – to bestow the gift of prophecy upon Isaiah.
These biblical names of these strange beings suggests both fire and the general form of a serpent … fiery serpent beings with six wings!
Most importantly, this incident demonstrates how angelic beings are used of the Lord to bring spiritual gifts to His prophets. Isaiah’s prophetic panorama transcends the limitations of time.
Prophecy begins with angelic administration and ends with the angelic execution of the Lord’s commands.
Daniel and the AngelsDaniel’s prophecy, while transcending time, lays out several specific timelines. In terms of its basic information, his prophecy is perhaps the most important of the Old Testament.
His life on Earth brought forth one revelation after another. But many consider his major prophecy to be that of the “seventy weeks.” In it, he describes a series of prophetic weeks – shavuahs, or seven-year periods – that lay out the future history of Israel. From the rebuilding of the Temple after it was destroyed by the Babylonians, all the way to the coming of the Antichrist, and the anointing of the future Messiah, he plots a timeline of key events.
But before giving this prophecy, he was touched by an angel: “21 Yea, whiles I was speaking in prayer, even the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision at the beginning, being caused to fly swiftly, touched me about the time of the evening oblation. 22 And he informed me, and talked with me, and said, O Daniel, I am now come forth to give thee skill and understanding. (Dan. 9:21,22).
Daniel gave his remarkable prophecy after being empowered by the “Strong Man of God,” as Gabriel’s name is commonly interpreted.
And again, some time after that, Daniel was visited by a heavenly messenger, seen by some as an angel. Others have commented upon his resemblance to the New Testament’s view of the resurrected Christ:
“5 Then I lifted up mine eyes, and looked, and behold a certain man clothed in linen, whose loins were girded with fine gold of Uphaz: 6 His body also was like the beryl, and his face as the appearance of lightning, and his eyes as lamps of fire, and his arms and his feet like in colour to polished brass, and the voice of his words like the voice of a multitude” (Dan. 10:5,6).
Whoever this appearance represents, Daniel is told that his vision is the result of three week’s of fasting and prayer. Furthermore, the messenger tells him that he met resistance on his journey. Dark powers, called “the prince of Persia,” and “the prince of Grecia,” blocked his progress, and would continue to do so.
Then and now, there is war in heaven that has direct results among the saints upon Earth. But the messenger went on to tell Daniel exactly why he came:
“14 Now I am come to make thee understand what shall befall thy people in the latter days: for yet the vision is for many days” (Dan. 10:14).
After this, Daniel went on to explain the prophetic genealogy of the Antichrist. In Chapter Eleven of his book, he begins with Alexander the Great, then moves down through the ages, as he follows the development of the Ptolemaic and Seleucid Dynasties. They ultimately give birth to the so-called “willful king.” He is the Antichrist, whose genealogy can be traced back through Daniel’s writing to Antiochus IV, Epiphanes.
His book ends in Chapter Twelve with the “man clothed in linen” being joined by two angelic witnesses, as he describes to Daniel the elements of future timing during the Tribulation period.
Michael, Israel’s ArchangelDaniel’s concluding chapter is introduced with the idea that Israel’s angelic representative will play a major role during the Tribulation:
“1 And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people: and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book” (Dan. 12:1).
Here, we are taken into the second half of the Tribulation and onward, to the time when the books will be opened at the Great White Throne Judgment. In Revelation, we find that Michael defeats Satan, in preparation for the concluding events of the great judgment.
7 And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, 8 And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. 9 And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him” (Rev. 12:7-9).
Here, we see the turning point of the Tribulation, as Satan’s forces are grounded … restricted to planet Earth, where they are finally wiped out. At that time, Satan himself, will be imprisoned for a thousand years.
Angels, acting as intermediaries … messengers, soldiers and guardians … closely oversee the work of Christ. They oversee both the utterance of the prophets and the final disposition of their prophecies. They guard the elect, and execute judgment upon the enemy. They are all around us … all the time. One day, in amazement, we’ll see them as they are.