The Doctrine of Creation (part 20)

January 10, 2009     Time: 00:49:31


Angels and Demons.

We’ve been talking about the doctrine of creation. We’ve turned to the section of the doctrine of creation which deals with the subject of angels and demons. Last time we began our look at angelic beings, and we saw that this is a portion of creation which is not part of the physical, spatio-temporal realm that we are familiar with in our universe, but it is a higher spiritual dimension or aspect of creation that is populated by these spirit beings which the Bible refers to as angels. We were studying some of the reasons for which angels were created and exist, and then began to look at the nature of angels. We discussed how they are created beings, innumerable, of different orders and ranks, extremely powerful, they are not material, they are spirit beings without material bodies. We will now continue our study today about the nature of angels, and then talk a little bit about their work.

[Opening prayer]

We come now to the nature of angels. These beings, these angelic creatures, are not bound by physical limitations. If you have your New Testament with you, I encourage you to get it out because we are going to be, again, looking at a number of passages on these subjects. Acts 12:5-10. This is the story of Peter’s deliverance from prison through an angelic being.[1] We can see the way here in which the angelic being has superhuman powers over physical constraints.

So Peter was kept in prison; but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church. The very night when Herod was about to bring him out, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries before the door were guarding the prison; and behold, an angel of the Lord appeared, and a light shone in the cell; and he struck Peter on the side and woke him, saying, “Get up quickly.” And the chains fell off his hands. And the angel said to him, “Dress yourself and put on your sandals.” And he did so. And he said to him, “Wrap your mantle around you and follow me.” And he went out and followed him; he did not know that what was done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision. When they had passed the first and the second guard, they came to the iron gate leading into the city. It opened to them of its own accord, and they went out and passed on through one street; and immediately the angel left him.

Here you can see that the constraints of the prison, the chains, the iron gate were of no significance whatsoever to this angelic deliverer. He had superhuman abilities that transcended what we would know as the constraints of the laws of nature in order to deliver Peter. So angels are not bound by the same physical laws of nature and constraints that we are.

Next, they not only have great power but great wisdom. 2 Samuel 14:20. Here a woman is speaking to David concerning who it is that has been conspiring. In verse 20 she says, “In order to change the course of affairs, your servant Joab did this, but my lord has wisdom like the wisdom of the angel of God to know all things that are on the earth.” Here she praises David and his wisdom by comparing him to the wisdom of the angel of God which knows all things that are happening on earth. So angels have great intellectual abilities as well as tremendous physical abilities.

Finally, the last point, is that they are capable of assuming human form. Remember I said that angels do not have naturally physical bodies. They are spirits. But we find over and over again in Scripture that they are capable of taking on the form of human beings. One good example of this would be in Judges 13:8-20. This is an appearance of the angel to Manoah and his wife.

Then Manoah entreated the LORD, and said, “O, LORD, I pray thee, let the man of God whom thou didst send come again to us, and teach us what we are to do with the boy that will be born.” And God listened to the voice of Manoah, and the angel of God came again to the woman as she sat in the field; but Manoah her husband was not with her. And the woman ran in haste and told her husband, “Behold, the man who came to me the other day has appeared to me.” And Manoah arose and went after his wife, and came to the man and said to him, “Are you the man who spoke to this woman?” And he said, “I am.” And Manoah said, “Now when your words come true, what is to be the boy's manner of life, and what is he to do?” And the angel of the LORD said to Manoah, “Of all that I said to the woman let her beware. She may not eat of anything that comes from the vine, neither let her drink wine or strong drink, or eat any unclean thing; all that I commanded her let her observe.” Manoah said to the angel of the LORD, “Pray, let us detain you, and prepare a kid for you.” And the angel of the LORD said to Manoah, “If you detain me, I will not eat of your food; but if you make ready a burnt offering, then offer it to the LORD.” (For Manoah did not know that he was the angel of the LORD.) And Manoah said to the angel of the LORD, “What is your name, so that, when your words come true, we may honor you?” And the angel of the LORD said to him, “Why do you ask my name, seeing it is wonderful?” So Manoah took the kid with the cereal offering, and offered it upon the rock to the LORD, to him who works wonders.[2] And when the flame went up toward heaven from the altar, the angel of the LORD ascended in the flame of the altar while Manoah and his wife looked on; and they fell on their faces to the ground.

Here is a very vivid illustration of an angel appearing in human form so that the people don’t even suspect that it is an angelic being, but just some stranger, some visitor, whom they want to entertain and show hospitality toward but who very carefully and politely resists that hospitality. He won’t eat their food, won’t reveal his true name, and then ascends into heaven afterwards.

Another good example of this would be in Mark 16:5-6. Turn over to the New Testament, the Gospel of Mark. This is the empty tomb story – the women’s discovery of Jesus’ empty tomb. In Mark 16:5-6 we read,

And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe; and they were amazed. And he said to them, “Do not be amazed; you seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen, he is not here; see the place where they laid him.”

This is evidently meant to be an angelic figure as is clear from the white robe which is characteristic of angels as well as the proclamation he gives of the resurrection of Jesus – he discloses knowledge of what really has happened here. But he is referred to simply by the term “a young man” - someone who appeared in human form. The other Gospel writers – the later writers Matthew and Luke – take this figure to be an angel and they identify him as an angel. But Mark simply refers to him as a young man, but in the way he is described it is evident that he is no ordinary human figure but rather an angelic figure.

Finally, Hebrews 13:1-2 gives a sort of summary statement about this. “Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” Perhaps he is thinking here of Manoah and his wife in this passage.

So angels, though naturally spiritual beings and not possessing bodies, can take on human form and appear as just ordinary human persons.

That is something of the nature of angels in the Scriptures.


Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: I am skeptical of the view that this represents the pre-incarnate Christ. The only place that I think we have in the New Testament where it refers to some sort of a vision of Christ prior to his incarnation would be in the vision of Isaiah in the temple where he says, I saw the Lord high and lifted up and his train filled the temple. You remember that whole story in Isaiah. In the Gospel of John, John says that Isaiah saw the glory of Christ. So he does make that identification. But that is not a vision of an angel. He saw the Lord, he says, high and lifted up. So I am skeptical. I don’t see any scriptural grounds for thinking that this so-called figure “the angel of the Lord” is Christ himself. When you think about it, that would be very strange because the incarnation is something that takes place through the virgin birth at a certain time in history. It would be very odd to have Christ incarnate or appearing in this way prior to his actual incarnation in history. I do think that there is a kind of blurriness or ambiguity about this figure in that, as you rightly point out, in some ways the angel of the Lord as representing the Lord himself isn’t exactly clearly distinguished from God. There is kind of an ambiguity of blurriness there where it is almost as though God himself is present.[3] Other times it will say the angel of the Lord. I take it that this is an angelic being who is God’s representative and therefore stands in God’s place as his messenger and therefore is appropriately spoken of as “The Lord says” this or that. But I don’t see any grounds for saying that this is the second person of the Trinity, though you are right a lot of folks will say that.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: That is a great story. It describes him as the commander of the army of the Lord, which sounds like a chief angel. But as you say, Joshua’s response is worship and that seems appropriate and he quotes these words, as you say, come from the burning bush to Moses. Which is what I said before about this sort of ambiguity of this figure. In a sense it is God himself that seems to be present there, but it may be that he is present in the person of this angel of the Lord. But there is no reason to think that this is the second person of the Trinity rather than just God himself.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: Again, I think it is ambiguous in the sense that . . . say it is an angelic being but through the angelic being the very presence of God is somehow mediated there. Maybe the worship doesn’t terminate in the angelic messenger, but he is worshiping God.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: Well, there isn’t any account of that in the Scripture. In Genesis you don’t have any account of the creation of angelic beings. So we don’t know if it was prior to the creation of the spatio-temporal universe or if it was simultaneous with it. We just don’t have information about that. I think either alternative is viable. You could say that God first created the angelic spiritual realms and then he created a physical universe. Or you could just say that in the beginning he created everything all at once, both the spiritual and the physical realms. We don’t really know, I don’t think. A lot of this, as we’ll see when we talk about the origin of demons, we really just have to say we don’t know for a lot of this. It is very obscure. What we mainly have are these stories. The stories are ambiguous, as I say, because on the one hand it calls the being an angel (which means a messenger) and yet on the other hand as has been pointed out it is almost as though God himself is there and activity that is appropriate to God is going on with respect to this messenger. So it is ambiguous. I think that we have to just live with the ambiguity myself. The Scripture isn’t very clear on this.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: OK. I understand the opinion. But I don’t see any basis for thinking that this is the second person of the Trinity. In fact, I think that there are references to the angel of the Lord in the New Testament after Christ has already come. That would be really bizarre because then how could the angel of the Lord still be around doing things if Christ has already been revealed and incarnate. It doesn’t seem like it is the same person.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: That would be just one more reason that I would be suspicious of identifying this too readily with Christ. Because you continue to have the term “the angel of the Lord” used even after Christ is clearly revealed, which would make it sound like it is a different individual.


Let’s talk a little bit about the work of angels.

Angels, first of all, minister to the people of God.[4] One of their functions is to serve God’s people. Hebrews 1:14 says of angel, “Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to serve for the sake of those who are to obtain salvation?” Here angels carry out the function of serving God’s people – serving the church – those who are to have salvation.

1 Kings 19:5-8 shows an illustration in the life of Elijah of the angel ministering to Elijah.

And he lay down and slept under a broom tree; and behold, an angel touched him, and said to him, “Arise and eat.” And he looked, and behold, there was at his head a cake baked on hot stones and a jar of water. And he ate and drank, and lay down again. And the angel of the Lord came again a second time, and touched him, and said, “Arise and eat, else the journey will be too great for you.” And he arose, and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God.

So this would be an illustration of how an angel ministers to the physical needs of Elijah.

Similarly, in the life of Christ himself you have angels carrying out this function in Matthew 4:11. This is right at the end of the temptation of Jesus in the desert where, for forty days and forty nights, he has been fasting in the desert, and the devil has tempted him. Then in Matthew 4:11, “Then the devil left him, and behold angels came and ministered to him.” The word there “ministering” typically means serving food or taking care of eat and drink. In the same way the angel of the Lord ministered to Elijah, angels ministered to Christ after his temptation in the wilderness.

Luke 22:43 gives another example in the life of Jesus. This verse may not appear in the text of some of your translations but may be in the footnotes, but it is, I think, in the best manuscripts. Verse 43, in the garden of Gethsemane, says, “There appeared to him an angel from heaven strengthening him.” As Christ prays in the garden of Gethsemane, he is ministered to (or strengthened) by an angelic visitor. So angels ministered to Christ himself during his lifetime.

Psalms 91:9-12 gives a sort of summary of this.

Because you have made the Lord your refuge,
the Most High your habitation,
no evil shall befall you,
no scourge come near your tent.

For he will give his angels charge of you
to guard you in all your ways.
On their hands they will bear you up,
lest you dash your foot against a stone.

This describes, again, the way in which angels serve as ministers to the people of God. We see it illustrated in the life of Elijah as well as in the life of Jesus himself.

But in addition to ministering to God’s people, angels also seem to be, secondly, guiding the destiny of nations. There seem to be angelic beings attached to certain national entities in ways that are significant. We saw this passage before but I want to read it again in Daniel 10:10-22. This is the story of Daniel’s prayer being hindered because of conflict in the spiritual realms:[5]

And behold, a hand touched me and set me trembling on my hands and knees. And he said to me, “O Daniel, man greatly beloved, give heed to the words that I speak to you, and stand upright, for now I have been sent to you.” While he was speaking this word to me, I stood up trembling. Then he said to me, “Fear not, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your mind to understand and humbled yourself before your God, your words have been heard, and I have come because of your words. The prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days; but Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, so I left him there with the prince of the kingdom of Persia and came to make you understand what is to befall your people in the latter days. For the vision is for days yet to come.”

When he had spoken to me according to these words, I turned my face toward the ground and was dumb. And behold, one in the likeness of the sons of men touched my lips; then I opened my mouth and spoke. I said to him who stood before me, “O my lord, by reason of the vision pains have come upon me, and I retain no strength. How can my lord’s servant talk with my lord? For now no strength remains in me, and no breath is left in me.”

Again one having the appearance of a man touched me and strengthened me. And he said, “O man greatly beloved, fear not, peace be with you; be strong and of good courage.” And when he spoke to me, I was strengthened and said, “Let my lord speak, for you have strengthened me.” Then he said, “Do you know why I have come to you? But now I will return to fight against the prince of Persia; and when I am through with him, lo, the prince of Greece will come. But I will tell you what is inscribed in the book of truth: there is none who contends by my side against these except Michael, your prince.

Here you have these angelic combatants doing spiritual warfare with some sort of angelic creatures, presumably demonic creatures, who are in some way associated with nation-states. There is a prince of Persia. After he has been done with then he will go and contend with the prince of Greece. There appear to be these principalities and powers that are in some way attached to, or aligned with, nation-states. And there is spiritual warfare going on with respect to the fates of these nations. In some mysterious way it would appear that the destinies of nations are guided by or influenced by or aligned with what happens in the spiritual realms between the angelic beings and these evil powers or principalities that are associated with certain of these nation-states.

When you see something like the conflict in the Middle East right now with Lebanon, Syria, Iran, and Israel, I am sure that the authors of Scripture and persons like Daniel would see this as just a visible manifestation of a conflict going on in the spiritual realms of which we have no inkling because it is invisible to us.

Thirdly, angels serve to execute God’s justice. Let’s look at 2 Kings 19:35. This is the story of the slaughter of the Assyrians. “And that night the angel of the Lord went forth, and slew a hundred and eighty-five thousand in the camp of the Assyrians; and when men arose early in the morning, behold, these were all dead bodies.” Here you have an example of an angelic being executing God’s justice. He is not here ministering to God’s people so much as he is carrying out the judgment of God upon the enemies of God’s people.

Another example would be Acts 12:23. This is the death of Herod where he begins to be proclaimed as a god in verse 22.[6] In verse 23, “Immediately an angel of the Lord smote him, because he did not give God the glory; and he was eaten by worms and died.” A rather ignominious end for the pompous Herod. Again we see an angel of God executing God’s justice on someone.

2 Thessalonians 1:7-8 associates angels with the return of Christ and the judgment that will take place there. God will “grant rest with us to you who are afflicted, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance upon those who do not know God and upon those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.” So at the return of Christ God’s justice will be meted out by angelic beings upon those who have spurned the Gospel and rejected Christ. They will be the instruments of God’s justice.

We see this, of course, in the book of Revelation in a very graphic way in Revelation 16:1ff. John says, “Then I heard a loud voice from the temple telling the seven angels, ‘Go and pour out on the earth the seven bowls of the wrath of God.’” Then is described one angel after another pouring out this bowl of God’s vengeance upon the Earth in which God’s judgment is executed through these angels. So angels not only minister to God’s people, they not only guide and direct the destiny of nations, but they are also the executors of God’s justice.

Fourthly, angels will gather and accompany Christians at the second coming of Christ. Look at Matthew 24:29-31 where it speaks of the coming of the Son of Man. Jesus says,

Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken; then will appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory; and he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.

Here the angels returning with Christ go out and gather the elect of the Earth (that is to say, the church – God’s people) and gather them safely so that they will go to be with God, go to be with Christ.

Also turn over to Matthew 25:31 where the last judgment is described. Again, it says, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory and all the angels with him then he will sit on his glorious throne.” So angels, again, are described as having this role in the second coming of Christ.

1 Thessalonians 4:14-17 also refers to this. This describes the second coming.[7]

For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first; then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord.

Notice there the reference to the archangel’s call, which I think is indicative of the presence of the angelic beings at the time of the return of Christ when the dead in Christ are raised. Then the angels gather those who are alive at the time of Christ’s return from the four corners of the Earth to be with him.

Just to read again 2 Thessalonians 1:7-8. It says God will “grant rest with us to you who are afflicted, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance upon those who do not know God and upon those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.” Again, just reinforcing the point, angels will play a key role in the return of Christ and assembling people for the judgment seat of Christ.

Finally, the fifth point would be the role of angels in the giving of the law in the Old Testament. Psalm 68:17 refers to this. “With mighty chariotry, twice ten thousand, thousands upon thousands, the Lord came from Sinai into the holy place.” Here it refers to God on Sinai with these thousands and thousands of angels. Look over in Acts 7:53. This is from Stephen’s speech. He says, “they killed those who announced before hand the coming of the righteous one, whom you have now betrayed and murdered. You who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.” Here, again, Stephen connects the giving of the Old Testament law with angels.

Finally, Hebrews 2:2 talks about the necessity of our paying attention to God’s revelation. He says, “For if the message declared by angels was valid and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how should we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?” Here he is comparing the Old Testament covenant/law with what we received. He says if they were punished because they didn’t pay attention to this message delivered by angels, how shall we escape? This seems to hint at the role of angels in the giving of the Old Testament law to Moses.

These would all be ways in which we might describe the work of angels in our world.


Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: That is a really good point that I didn’t address. Yes, that is right. I think that they are temporal creatures. They may not be physical, but they are still temporal in the sense that they experience before and after, they would experience the lapse of time. That is very evident, as you say, by the way in which they have intercourse with human agents. He leaves the one angel there to do battle with the prince of Persia, then he goes and sees Daniel and says, Now I am going to go back and complete the job. Then I will go on to contend with the prince of Greece. So you are right, that makes it very evident that these are not timeless entities but are very much bound up in the temporal process just as we are.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: That is a really good question. I take it they wouldn’t feel physical pain in that they don’t have physical bodies so they wouldn’t have neural systems to convey pain impulses.[8] Now, I do think there is such a thing as mental anguish, though, that isn’t occasioned by just physical neural impulses. This is controversial, but in that sense I think, for example, we could say that God is pained by people’s rejection of his love. He is pained by the fact that people would doom themselves to hell forever by rejecting his love and forgiveness. So there could be that kind of anguish. But it wouldn’t be the same sort of pain as when you receive a wound to your hand or your arm or something of that sort.

How this warfare goes on, that is a really good question! We are tempted to think of it in terms of great figures battling with swords and shields, but of course that is just a human picture. If these angels are so smart, they would surely have developed better weapons than swords and shields by now! They ought to be using laser guns and all kinds of things. [laughter] That’s one of the things, by the way, I didn’t like about Star Wars. With all the advanced technology, why in the world would people fight with these lightsabers? Things like that. Why in the world would you revert to this medieval warfare instead of just zapping people with your good technology? We are apt to think of the angels (and they do appear in this way in Scripture) as having swords and things of that sort. But that can’t be the way they really fight with each other. It has got to be through some sort of like – again, this is anthropomorphic – some kind of energy conflict. Like force fields. When the electromagnetic force meets the gravitational force and one overcomes the other. That is still a physical analogy, but maybe it is closer, at least, to the kind of conflict that might go on between angels. Again, we just don’t know, but that is a very intriguing question that you’ve asked. Unfortunately, our curiosity just isn’t always satisfied on these matters.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: I hadn’t said anything about that. That is, again, something that is in popular culture – that each person has a guardian angel. The only Scriptural basis for that that I know of (unfortunately, I don’t have the verse memorized as to where it is) is when Jesus is talking about the little children and allowing them to come to him because this is the way the Kingdom of Heaven is. He says, Their angels always behold the face of my Father in heaven. That is an intriguing passage, but that is all it says. It doesn’t say whether it just means it is sort of in general there are angels that watch these children or watch out for them or what it means to say they behold my Father in heaven. It doesn’t say they are guardians. On the contrary, it says “their angels are beholding the face of the heavenly Father.” It is not that the angels are watching over the children. It is more that they are beholding God. But nevertheless it wouldn’t be a huge inference from that to say that it does seem that there are angelic beings that are somehow connected with little children.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: Yes, and certainly we said that angels do minister to the people of God. So certainly angels can guard people and protect them. Look at the way the angel helped Daniel. But I take the idea of a guardian angel (the way I’ve always understood that) is there is sort of an angel who is specifically assigned to you as your sort of life partner, and he will go with you all through life and sort of guard you and guide you. Each one of us has a particular guardian angel. That is what I’ve always understood that phrase to mean, and I don’t think that is in Scripture. As I say, the only passage that comes close to that would be this passage where Jesus says of the little children “their angels always behold the face of my Father in heaven.” Maybe there is something like that, but I don’t know beyond that.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: This is Matthew 18:10, if anybody wants to look at that context. “See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I tell you that in heaven their angels always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven.”[9]

[At this point, Dr. Craig introduces a person who is in class.]


Let’s just quickly look at a final section. I was going to say something about two angels that are named – that is Michael and Gabriel. Let me give you the passages: Daniel 10:13, 21 (we’ve already read those passages where it refers to Michael doing battle). Then Daniel 12:1-2, 1 Thessalonians 4:16, and Jude 9 mention the angel Michael who is some sort of an archangel, an especially powerful angel.

Gabriel is the other angel named in Scripture. He appears in Daniel 8:16 and Daniel 9:21. Let’s just look at those passages in the few minutes that remain. “And I heard a man’s voice between the banks of the Ulai, and it called, ‘Gabriel, make this man understand the vision.’” Then it describes this angelic appearance. Then over in Daniel 9:21 we have repeated again, “While I was speaking in prayer, the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision at the first, came to me in swift flight at the time of the evening sacrifice.” What is interesting about Gabriel is – does anybody remember where else in Scripture he appears? Right! He appears in the New Testament as the angel that gives the enunciation to Mary of her virgin conception. Luke 1:19, 26. Maybe we will turn over to Luke and read that passage. This is the appearance first to Zechariah: “And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel, who stand in the presence of God; and I was sent to speak to you, and to bring you this good news.” Here is Gabriel on the scene announcing the birth of John the Baptist to Zechariah. Then in verse 26, “In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary.” Here you have Gabriel playing the significant role in the birth of Christ. Those are the two angels mentioned in Scripture – Michael and Gabriel. They are apparently very powerful and important angels that play a role.

Angels are not the only beings that inhabit this unseen, intangible realm of spirit beings. There is also an order of angelic beings that are evil, extremely powerful, and seek to destroy the work of God. These are usually referred to as demons. Next time we will turn to a discussion of Satan and the demons. With that we’ll conclude, and we’ll see you next week.[10]

[1] 5:00

[2] 10:10

[3] 15:00

[4] 20:00

[5] 25:05

[6] 30:02

[7] 34:46

[8] 40:03

[9] 45:05

[10] Total Running Time: 49:31 (Copyright © 2009 William Lane Craig)