Doctrine of Creation (Part 21)

February 21, 2013     Time: 00:18:09

We have been talking about angels and their nature. We shared last time that angels are created beings. They are not eternal but they are part of God’s creation, though not part of the physical world. They are multitudinous in their number. They apparently exist in different orders and ranks. They are extremely powerful beings. They are spiritual beings – beings without material bodies – though they can materialize and take on human form. They are capable of assuming human form or material form and therefore they are not bound by the same physical limitations that we are. They, as it were, can step in and out of this four-dimensional space-time manifold without traversing the distances in between. They also possess great wisdom.


Question: I just happened to notice that when you described the nature of angels that you did not mention that they have free will. When we think of Satan being an angel and chose to reject God with his followers, does that not indicate that they are not puppets? They can be messengers and they can be leaders but they still have that ability, as man does, of exercising free will. Do you agree with that?

Answer: Yes, I would. I am going to say something more about that when we get to the section on Satan and the demons. We will look at the subject of so-called fallen angels or demonic beings momentarily. But I think you are right in reminding us that these aren’t just robots or puppets. These are persons without bodies. Therefore they are endowed with self-consciousness and, I think, freedom of the will. That is a good reminder. We are not dealing here with things but with other persons like ourselves, though persons of a much higher rank and nature than we are.

Question: Is it worth mentioning, since there is so much about angels in popular culture, some things that angels are not? For example, they are not dead people turned into something else.

Answer: Right, yes. Many people think that when you die you go to heaven and become an angel. You remember It’s a Wonderful Life with Jimmy Stewart about the angel getting his wings and that sort of thing. There really is a lot of popular mythology and that is important to remember. You do not become an angel when you die and get a harp and wings and live in the clouds. These are these enormously powerful beings that have existed from the moment of the creation of the universe. They don’t even all have wings. Sometimes they appear in the Bible with wings but other times, as we saw, they could just appear as a normal human being and you would never suspect that this was an angelic being. So, yes, I think that is worth saying.

Question: I wanted to follow up on something you mentioned last time toward the end. You were talking about Jude 9 where you have the dispute between Michael and Satan.[1] I think I see that a little differently than you. I just want to get a clarification on that. You seem to indicate that Satan is more powerful than Michael but if you look at Revelation 12:7 you see where Michael is the one who kicks Satan out of heaven along with all of his demons. Another thing, too, is you don’t see Michael pulling out a sword or anything like that, he just says “The Lord rebuke you” – you have another example of this in Zachariah 3:2 where it says “And the LORD said to Satan, ‘The LORD rebuke you, O Satan! The LORD who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is not this a brand plucked from the fire?’” You see that Satan is being resisted in the same way.[2] I don’t know which person the Trinity is involved and I don’t think it really matters but my bottom line is I do believe that Michael is actually the equal of Satan and is every bit as powerful or even more so. It is quite obvious that all he has to do is speak a word and Satan is immediately vanquished.

Answer: With respect to God, himself, – the members of the Trinity – obviously yes. When you think of Satan or these angelic beings as contingent beings, God could simply annihilate them by refusing to sustain them in existence. But the question I think you raise is whether or not the passages that you mention – Revelation 12:7 and Zachariah 3 – give reason to think that Michael is as powerful as Satan. I am not sure that is true. Let’s look at Revelation 12:7. It says,

Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, but they were defeated and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world – he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.

It is not clear to me that Michael is, himself, more powerful than Satan. It says that he and his cohorts were able to cast out Satan and his cohorts. But it is not obvious to me, at least, that if they were in a one-on-one contest that Satan would not be the more powerful of the two. In the Jude passage, how would you interpret it when it says that he was “contending with the devil” and “he did not presume to pronounce a reviling judgment upon him.” That seems to me to suggest a kind of deference on Michael’s part. He wouldn’t presume to do this but instead said “The Lord rebuke you.” That is why I understood it that way. Now the Zachariah passage is very interesting, too, where you have exactly the same thing where it says “The LORD rebuke you.” That is in Zachariah 3:2. That is interesting because it has the angel of the Lord there and this could even be the passage that Jude is thinking of, I think. Oh, no, because he says he is disputing about the body of Moses, I guess. But it is very similar where you would have an angel of the Lord rebuking Satan in the name of the Lord – saying “The LORD rebuke you.” I don’t know; to me, it seems there is a kind of deferential behavior that Michael shows.

Followup: Since Jude, though, is citing an apocryphal work, do we know that that actually happened or is that simply being used as a way to describe how Satan can be resisted or should be resisted?

Answer: OK. I give you that. That is a very good point. What you are pointing out here is when you have examples of something in apocryphal literature cited by these New Testament documents, we have to be very careful in thinking that the New Testament document is committing us to the truth or the historicity of these events rather than just using them as illustrations. For example, I might say to you, “Just as his man Friday was a loyal servant to Robinson Crusoe, so John Herring has loyally served Bryant Wright in preparing for the Southern Baptist Convention.” No one would think that I am committing myself to the historicity of Robinson Crusoe and his man Friday, right? It is just an illustration. So, in that sense, I think you are making a very good point here that we can’t just automatically assume that, as you put it, this really happened and that this really is an event just because Jude refers to it. But, again, having said that, look at the context. He is talking about these unbelievers and he says they defile the flesh, they reject authority and they revile the glorious ones and then he uses Michael as a contrast to this to say Michael was deferential, I think, to Satan and didn’t reject authority, didn’t revile him, but said “The Lord rebuke you.” It does seem to say that in the mind of Jude that Satan has some sort of upper position above Michael here. But I think the point you are raising is good and worth reflecting on.[3]

Question: I was wondering, in the Jude passage, when it is talking about Michael would not presume to bring a judgment upon Satan, maybe it is not so much presuming an authority over Satan as it is God’s area and he is not presuming to take the part of God instead of presuming to have authority over Satan.

Answer: What about the context, though – the context about rejecting authority and reviling the glorious ones and not being presumptuous. Don’t all of those seem to suggest that Michael wasn’t being uppity; he wasn’t trying to do something that would be inappropriate. All of those things in the context, to me, seem to suggest this kind of deferential behavior. Then look at verse 10, too. He says, “These men, though, revile what they do not understand.” Whereas Michael, I think, is the contrast – he wouldn’t presume to revile Satan on his own. So I guess I am not persuaded that this isn’t an indication that Michael was behaving deferentially toward Satan.

Question: It is not a question of power but who is in a position of authority. It is like you honor our president even if you don’t agree with him politically; you honor the office. But an interesting question is if the princes of this world were cast out then who rules the power there now?

Answer: Satan is called the Prince of Demons in Scripture, right? So, this suggests he is the highest being, the highest authority, and that would also give reason to think that Michael is being deferential here because Satan as the Prince of Demons is the highest of these.

Followup: I agree he had that position and why Michael was honoring him. I was asking another question to ponder and that is, Christ said now the prince of this world is cast out so now who rules the power of the air now?

Answer: Don’t you think it is still Satan? He has been cast down but as we will see he still has power over this world.

Followup: But somebody is in that office.

Answer: Yes.

Question: There is a passage, 2 Peter 2:10-11, that warns against slandering celestial beings. “Bold and arrogant, these men are not afraid to slander celestial beings; yet even angels, although they are stronger and more powerful, do not bring slanderous accusations against such beings in the presence of the Lord.” So, it may be (and I don’t necessarily disagree with you about being deferential) that since they were both celestial beings, there may be a kind of code of honor among these celestial beings that it’s the Lord’s providence or the Lord’s role to judge them, even evil ones like Satan.

Answer: Yeah, maybe so. Although you do have these ranks like “archangel” compared to an ordinary angel. And notice again, this passage is very similar to the Jude passage – the people that he is rebuking in verse 10 are those who despise authority. They despise authority and they are not afraid to revile these glorious beings where angels who are “greater in might and power” than these men do not pronounce these kind of reviling judgments the way these foolish people do. They respect authority even when that authority is evil.

Followup: It may be some sort of unwritten law in heaven that these celestial beings do not slander each other but rely on the Lord to do it and that might be what he is talking about rather than deference.

Answer: That could be but there is this authority element here that is just inescapable in these passages. There is a deference, a respect, being given to those who are in authority that we shouldn’t miss out on, I think.

Question: What do you think the very general nature of the soul or the mind of an angel is? Can it take a physical form? Do they exist at all outside the space-time continuum, do they enter this world at some certain time at creation? Are they disembodied minds like we are?[4]

Answer: “Unembodied minds” is the way I would put it. It is not that they are disembodied because they never were originally bodied. We, when we die, become disembodied souls for a time until the resurrection at the end of the age. I take it that angels are just like that except that they are unembodied rather than disembodied. In the same way that our soul can be conjoined to a human body, so an angelic mind or, if you will, soul could be conjoined to a body as well. Sometimes, they do appear in bodily form. But the body is not natural to them in the way that it is to us. They are naturally unembodied spiritual beings which don’t live in this universe, though they can come into it.

Followup: So would they inhabit an existing body? Is one created for them? Is it completely physical?

Answer: It is not entirely clear. Sometimes in the Scripture, I think, what you would have is a mere vision of an angel where he wouldn’t actually be physically present. But other times it seems pretty clear that the angel is actually physically there. He could move objects and things. I remember when studying the resurrection appearances of Jesus, I found that in early Rabbinic Judaism, they actually would differentiate between an angelic vision and an angelic appearance on the basis of whether or not, for example, the food that was seen to be consumed by the angel was really gone or not after the experience was over. If it was still there then it was just a vision but if the food was gone, if it was eaten, then it was an actual bodily appearance. So, I don’t know how God would make the bodies for these angels. Obviously, Scripture doesn’t speculate on that. Does he create them ex nihilo, does he assemble material here in the room, atoms, and make a physical body? I think we have no idea at all how it is done. But it would be to, in some way, incorporate or incarnate this essentially spiritual being in a physical form.[5]

[1] “But when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, disputed about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a reviling judgment upon him, but said, ‘The Lord rebuke you’” (Jude 9).

[2] 5:01

[3] 10:10

[4] 15:18

[5] Total Running Time: 18:09 (Copyright © 2013 William Lane Craig)