What the Bible says about
Angels as Ministering Spirits
(From Forerunner Commentary)
This was an awesome being of power, so great that ordinarily strong, valiant men were so frightened that they ran. Yet something withstood this great being to his face and kept him from getting to Daniel for three full weeks. We cannot even begin to imagine the titanic struggle that went on between, say, Gabriel and this other being. There must have been such an awesome wrestling match as men have never been witness to.
Whatever it was that withheld Gabriel from getting to Daniel must have been awfully powerful. Notice too that this great struggle was going on without Daniel even being aware of it. Somehow a malignant demon tried to thwart Daniel's prayer from being answered.
But it was answered because, in verse 13, "Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I had been left alone there with the kings of Persia." It was not until two of them ganged up on this other being—two great, mighty archangels to subdue the other. The logical conclusion would almost have to be that the king of Persia mentioned here was none other than Satan.
This section in Daniel 10 really contains a great deal of encouragement. We can understand why the apostle Paul and the psalmist wrote that the angels are ministering spirits. They are ministering to the heirs of salvation. They are protecting us! They are standing between us and possible annihilation! We do not know how many times an angel has intervened to save our lives, to deflect the power of these malignant beings from us. It has happened repeatedly in some cases, not just in dramatic interventions, but where an intervention took place of which we were not even aware.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Satan (Part 1)
Overall, the Jews generally had high regard for angels, and well they might. Part of the reason is contained in the word translated “direction” in Acts 7:53, at the end of Stephen's speech to the Sanhedrin: “. . . who have received the law by the direction of angels and have not kept it.” The underlying term in Greek is diatage, which is capable of wide usage, suggesting “put into order,” “delivered,” “given,” or “put into effect.” The King James Version translates it elsewhere as “delivered,” “given,” “put into effect,” and “through.” The Key Word Study Bible suggests, however, that since the Old Testament says nothing of angels doing anything significant except being present when the law was given, the most suitable translation would be “instrumentality” (as The Amplified Bible does).
Stephen undoubtedly refers to Deuteronomy 33:1-2:
Now this is the blessing with which Moses the man of God blessed the children of Israel before His death. And he said:
The LORD came from Sinai,
And dawned on them from Seir;
He shone forth from Mount Paran,
And He came with ten thousands of saints;
From His right hand
Came a fiery law for them.
Moses speaks of the giving of the law and the making of the Old Covenant. The term “saints” in this context is literally “holy ones.” In this circumstance, it could only be angels.
Psalm 68:17 also mentions the attendance of angels on this occasion: “The chariots of God are twenty thousand, even thousands of thousands; the LORD is among them as in Sinai, in the Holy Place.” The chariots of God, to put it in human terms, refer to angels being the chariots' drivers, manning the vehicles of God's military might.
The apostle Paul writes in Galatians 3:19:
What purpose then does the law serve? It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was appointed through angels by the hand of a mediator.
The Amplified Bible (1987 version) translates this final phrase as “arranged and ordained and appointed through the instrumentality of angels.” Remember that the holy angels were and still are sinless. In this way, we can grasp the biblical reasons why the Jews had so much respect for them.
Thus, the apostle Paul confirms that God did indeed use angels to some extent at Sinai when He gave the law, but he gives no specific details. The author of Hebrews shows that even though the Old Testament does not detail the part angels played in the giving of the law and the Old Covenant, the Old Testament does show that angels were strongly represented. Overall, angels played a prominent role in a wide variety of situations.
From these mentions and many more, the Jews esteemed angels more highly than men. This is a natural reaction to biblical revelation and a good one, yet they attracted the admiration of the Jews for other reasons too, like what Psalm 103:20 says of them: “Bless the LORD, you His angels, who excel in strength, who do His word, heeding the voice of His word.” “Strength” represents enhanced traits such as intelligence, wisdom, and the obedience that is specifically mentioned. They are not merely spiritual robots.
Psalm 104:4, quoted in Hebrews 1:7, adds, “. . . Who makes His angels spirits, His ministers a flame of fire.” They are God's ministers, who serve Him as He sees fit. They are of such quality that they occupy positions at the top of the divine, governmental hierarchy. We can easily conclude that God carries on much of the administration of the creation through them.
But as elevated as angels are in God's placement of them within His governance of creation, and as glorious as they are in their innate powers, they are nevertheless subject to the Lord Jesus, even as humans are. One who was made a little lower than angels, however, has ascended to heaven to the right hand of God the Father. There is now a glorified Man in heaven, who has attained a station exceedingly higher than any angels' position. In the end, angels are still mere created creatures, as we are, and thus He, Jesus Christ, their Creator and God, is immeasurably higher than they.
For the Jews to be told that Jesus of Nazareth was God incarnate—that is, God made flesh—and the Messiah, yet He suffered death despite possessing glory and dignity far exceeding that of anyone on earth, excelling even that of heavenly angels, was something beyond their ability to accept readily. One of the points the author of Hebrews makes, although he never states it directly, is that the Old Covenant, in reality, achieved no higher than angelic mediation, though that in itself is impressive. In the making of the New Covenant, Jesus Christ, their Creator, replaced the angels in all their covenantal activities. God Himself mediates the New Covenant, putting it on an exceedingly higher level than the Old Covenant.
Knocking down the angelic argument proved to be an excellent place for the author of Hebrews to begin. Why? Because He establishes Christ's superiority above all who might be considered in His place, including even those the Jews respected most highly, angels.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Why Hebrews Was Written (Part Nine)
The statement in verse 7 puzzles us because it is a figurative expression capable of a couple of interpretations. It is a near-quotation of Psalm 104:4, “Who makes His angels spirits, His ministers a flame of fire,” which does nothing to help our understanding. It may help to recall that angels can rightly be understood as messengers. The verse can thus be translated into a more understandable statement, that God “makes winds His messengers, flames of fire His servants.” The New International Version and other modern Bibles render it similarly.
Most expositors resolve the issue in this manner. They believe that, since the chapter's purpose is to expound and glorify Jesus as immeasurably superior to angels, the “messengers” and “servants” should both be identified as angels, not different kinds of created things. Therefore, they are both angelic creations though pictured as little more than elemental spirits that do their Creator's bidding. The Son, however, remains exceedingly higher and greater than they, for He is the One who created them and sends them on their errands.
This solution to verse 7 fits hand-in-glove with verse 8, which presents Jesus as possessing a throne and a kingdom: “But to the Son, He says: ‛Your throne, O God, is forever and ever; a scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your kingdom.'” Compared to the Son's throne, kingdom, and status as Creator, the angels are doing relatively minor work, being sent by the Son to do various chores. Jesus continues to be exalted, and the angels, though honored for faithfulness, are shown in subservient positions.
Verse 9 carries the exultant praise yet further: “You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness; therefore God, Your God, has anointed You with the oil of gladness more than Your companions.” Not only is righteousness the norm where He reigns, but He loves it, while at the same time hating sin. In terms of character, Christ is undivided. The Father then addresses His Son directly as God, stating that, because He has done this, He receives a superior anointing, marking Him as worthy of higher praise than others.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Why Hebrews Was Written (Part Eight): Hebrews 1
Verse 13 derives from Psalm 110:1, a psalm considered Messianic even by Jewish scholars. We can think of this quotation as a reverberation of verse 4, in that we need to consider it in the same way as what is written there of the eternal God, Jesus Christ: “. . . having become so much better than the angels, as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.”
The interesting phrase here is “having become.” But how can the eternal, constant God—eternally superior—change or “become so much better”? Of course, the Son was always eternally superior to the angels. That, however, is not what is in play here. The writer refers to what the Son did in becoming human and putting away the sins of men. Because He had paid the penalty for sins, He could sit down on God's throne in the place of the highest honor, and from this standpoint, He is deemed greater than any angel. No angel has ever come close to achieving that magnificent triumph.
Regarding angels, Hebrews 1:14 asks rhetorically, “Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation?” This conclusion to the chapter makes a definitive statement about angels as compared to Jesus Christ. They have a place of dignity and honor in the Kingdom of God, but they are servants. The term “all” applies to every one of the angels without distinction. Despite their uncommon excellence in many areas, they are set aside to serve, especially the saved among mankind.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Why Hebrews Was Written (Part Eight): Hebrews 1
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