Thursday, October 3, 2013

The angels: God's highlighters of Grace

1 Peter 1:12 It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things into which angels long to look.


The first chapter of the book of 1 Peter is a wondrous chapter that speaks about the nature and strength of God's grace in our salvation. The whole theme of 1 Peter has to do with standing firm in the grace of God, with such grace being viewed as the starting point in 1 Peter 1.1  As we consider some of these opening thoughts, our interest in today's post has to do with that curious little phrase tucked in at the end of 1 Peter 1:12 - "....things into which angels long to look."  Have you ever thought about the angels marveling and wondering about your salvation? Why does Peter tie together angels, God's Word and our salvation? Scripture reveals the relationship angels have to God's revelation of Himself in His words both spoken and written.  Additionally, angels aid us in appreciating God's might, majesty and marvelous grace. (Hebrews 1:14) The angelic realm in scripture functions like a set of highlighter markers to bring into sharp relief features pertaining to God's might, majesty and marvelous grace.  

1. The Angels communicated God's might at creation.

Like rays are to the sun or like torches are in lighting the path to a king's throne room, angels are created lights that point and communicate the glory of God. (Psalm 104:3,4) As you begin to explore the scriptures, you discover in general that angels are integrally connected to Word of God.  Billy Graham comments about angels in the episode of God appearing to Moses in the burning bush: "This again shows that God used angels (or appeared as an angel) to make His will known and communicate His decisions to men."2 As you consider both the Hebrew and Greek meanings of the word translated angel, at the heart lies the meaning of "messenger". 

So when the angels were created along with the visible creation, what was their first recorded message? God created the angels to be a sort of "welcoming committee" for his bringing about of the main features of planet earth.  Job 38:6-7 comments - “On what were its bases sunk?Or who laid its cornerstone,
7 When the morning stars sang together
And all the sons of God shouted for joy?"  The angel's first recorded message issued forth in music over the Might of God.  Why were the angels shouting for joy? They were thrilled over the Might and power of God in bringing to bear His desire for an inhabited earth that would be populated by people - beginning with his original king and queen: Adam and Eve. (Isaiah 45:18)  

God's Word brought worlds into being and through His decree, both visible and invisible realms came about. (John 1:1; Colossians 1:16-17) The angel's message then was a joyful one about God's revelation of His might.  This is why theologian Michael Horton notes: "It is interesting how frequently their (angels) work is defined in relation to the Word of God." 3 So the angels communicate God's might by virtue of their own creation, and it is His might and power that was featured in their first thoughts and communication.  However there is a second thing angels aid us in appreciating and understanding....

2. The Angels communicated God's majestic holiness by way of His law

God created the angels at the near beginning of creation, and they beheld and celebrated His might.  We know that angels were present in the revelation of God's law at Sinai to communicate a second emphasis - God's majestic holiness. Deuteronomy 33:2 states - He said, “The Lord came from Sinai, And dawned on them from Seir; He shone forth from Mount Paran, And He came from the midst of ten thousand holy ones; At His right hand there was flashing lightning for them." The Divine court of heaven came down on top of that mountain.  

So why did God include the angels in the revelation of Himself and His law? one word: highlighters.  In my Bible I frequently highlight words or phrases to help me fix my attention on key features of God's words. The highlighting does not add to the content nor to the value of the words - for they are God's Word.  Rather the highlighter serves to point out to me a key word or phrase.  Angels are God's highlighters.  His Majesty cannot be added to or improved, since He is perfect in majestic Holiness.  However in our frailty and flesh, we need the aid of His grace to explain and to appreciate His majestic holiness.  

Other passages shed light upon how the holy angels were in attendance in highlighting God's holiness during His revelation of His law.  Psalm 68:17 reveals the angels communicating by their presence the key attribute of God and the main purpose of the law: God's holiness and man's sinfulness in light of such holiness. Galatians 3:19 explains: "Why the Law then? It was added because of transgressions, having been ordained through angels by the agency of a mediator, until the seed would come to whom the promise had been made."

As theologian Charles Hodge notes: "Under the Old Testament they repeatedly appeared as servants of God to reveal His will. They smote the Egyptians; were employed in the giving of the law at Sinai; attended the Israelites during their journey; destroyed their enemies; and encamped around the people of God as their defense in hours of danger."4 So angels throughout scripture are linked to God's Word at creation to communicate His might and to God's word in the Law to highlight the majesty of His holiness.  

Peter's remarks in 1 Peter 1:12 undoubtedly would include these connections between God's Word-->Angels-->People. However there is one more truth to note about the relationship between the angels and God's revelation of Himself in His Word, namely....

3. Angels communicated, then marvel at God's marvelous grace as centered on Jesus Christ, our salvation

Those angelic hosts beheld God's might in finishing our planet and celebrated.  Likewise when God was revealing His Law on Sinai and speaking His word of Covenant over the people, the angels communicated God's majestic holiness by their presence.  However as the marvelous grace of salvation was being revealed, the angels more and more realized that this was unlike anything they had ever witnessed.  When Peter writes what he does in 1 Peter 1:12, he is no doubt thinking in his mind about truths such as the ones we have discovered.  However his main point is to show how these angels' curiosity about our salvation points to God's marvelous grace.  Exodus 25:20 gives us this insight: "The cherubim shall have their wings spread upward, covering the mercy seat with their wings and facing one another; the faces of the cherubim are to be turned toward the mercy seat."  

If Peter was indeed thinking of the cherubim, the figures of God's heavenly angels who are the guardians of his throne, then what we have then is reference to the angels beholding God's law in the ark of the covenant.  Yet atop that ark these golden representations of angels are mute witnesses to the sprinkling of blood that Israel's High Priest would had sprinkled once a year.  The name of the lid of the ark of which they were a part is called by the scriptures: "The Mercy Seat" or "the ark of testimony". (Numbers 7:89) 

Angels are are knowledgeable beings.  As Baptist theologian Augustus Strong notes: "They are possessed of superhuman intelligence and power, yet an intelligence and power that has fixed limits."5  They in many ways exceed our own.  However when it comes to God's grace in salvation, the angelic response is one of awe and wonder. They sing and exhibit joy at the announcement of the virgin birth of Christ.  Luke 2:10-14 states -
"But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; 11 for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”

Such reaction by the angels prompts the shepherds to broadcast aloud: "Christ the Savior is born." Their curiosity and wonder is explained further in 1 Timothy 3:16, which in describing Christ's incarnation states simply that He was "seen by angels". 

Conclusion The more God unfolds the wonder of His salvation, especially in the New Testament, the more awe and curiosity the angels exhibit. Ephesians 3:10 states concerning their response to Christians in the church:  "so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places." Christians are God's trophies of grace, put on display. God was so pleased to exhibit the might of His power and majesty of holiness through the angelic hosts, however it is through redeemed, believing humanity, in connection with Jesus Christ's work and Person that God puts on display His marvelous grace. Thus when we come to Peter's text, we see those beings who were created to communicate God's excellencies of might and majesty being in a position of awe over all He has done in Jesus Christ.  

End notes:
1. If we were to outline 1 Peter 1:1-12 for example, here is what we would find:

I. Four Great Truths of Salvation.  1 Peter 1:1-9
a. Basis of salvation is election.  1:1-2
b. Beginning of salvation is the New Birth. 1:3
c. Building of salvation is sanctification. 1:4
d. Blessing of salvation is security. 1:4-9

II. The Gospel revealed in Scripture. 1 Peter 1:10-12
a. Revealed in Progression. 1:10-11a
b. Revolves around the Son. 1:11b
c. Remains to be preached.  1:12

2. Billy Graham. Angels - God's Secret Agents. Bethany House. 1995. Page 78  

3. Michael Horton. The Christian Faith - A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way. Zondervan. 2011. Page 406

4. Charles Hodge. Systematic Theology - Volume 1. W.M B. Eerdmans. 1965 lithograph copy. Page 638

5. Augustus Hopkins Strong. Systematic Theology. The Judson Press. 19th priniting. 1956. Page 445.

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