Angels adorn the pages of the gospel story like the illuminated letters of a medieval manuscript: perhaps they are not strictly necessary to have around, but they draw attention to the glory and beauty and importance of the story wherever they are found in it. Now that we’ve looked at angels throughout the earthly life of our Lord Jesus, I wanted to review some of the most important points we discovered about God’s holy angels along the way.
Angels love Jesus. Whether they are exploding with joy over His birth (Luke 2:13-14), spoon-feeding Him restoration after He has been fasting for over a month while dueling with the devil (Matthew 4:11), or silently holding Him while He sweats blood (Luke 22:43), they are His army-servant-friends and they are righteously obsessed with Him. In Revelation 5, we get a glimpse of the Angelic Grand Central Station, where there are “many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand (v. 11). And what are they doing? They are gathering in a circle shape around the throne of God and chanting (“in a loud voice”) a song that honors Jesus for His victorious death, calling Him “The Lamb Who Was Slain (v. 12).
Angels love Jesus’ human children/friends, too. They know what He died for: another one of heaven’s Jesus-songs says “with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:12). The angels love their job: to serve and take good care of all those humans Jesus died for (Psalm 91:11-12 , Hebrews 1:14). They see us both as we are now and as they know (spoiler alert!) we soon will be. The song goes on to say that all those diverse humans that Jesus purchased with His own blood will “be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.
If you have ever been a helpless victim in any way, I hope it will bring you hope to hear the angels’ song. Calling Jesus “the Lamb that was slain” in His coronation anthem is bizarre. A “lamb that was slain” sounds about as helpless and victimized as a living creature can be. Sheep are among the most defenseless of animals. A lamb, a baby sheep, is even more so. Usually, if we have experienced abuse, bullying, oppression, violence and/or victimization, we feel a sense of shame about those memories. Being killed by it is the worst possible result. And. Yet.
And yet, in this glowing golden God-room that is the Powerhouse at the center of the Power Source behind all of creation, the song that millions of powerful beings sing to honor the most powerful Leader of their Upside Down Kingdom is, “You became a helpless victim! You were bullied to death! You were as powerless as an abused child and as victimized as a lamb that was for lunch! You are the Murder Victim who defeated death! You died and You’re still here! You freely chose to do all that to save an abused and abusive humanity and restore their dignity, make them holy, give them back both power and the power to use power rightly.”
Therefore, sings the tremendous voice of the cosmic angel choir, “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive” everything He lost and everything that victims of injustice lose, restored in full: “power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!”
I hope you will enter Jesus’ Upside Down Kingdom by accepting the sacrifice He made to save you, and that someday you will visit that great hall in heaven and hear that song. Jesus is a survivor. And so are you. His angels have been watching over you in your worst moments and cheering for you in your greatest struggles and your bravest choices to keep breathing. When you arrive in their world, the angels will greet you with hugs all round, and the ones that were with you on your journey will give the biggest hugs of all. They will hover to assist as Jesus wipes away your earth-tears and heals your earth-wounds and turns your earth-shame and suffering into heaven-glory and honor. They will sit next to you on your first day in your new home and squeeze your hand and whisper, “That is what He suffered for. We always knew that someday we would see you looking like this! We love you so much and we are so proud of you!”
Angels are gentle, sympathetic and understanding. They have been well-briefed on what humans need and they understand us much better than we understand ourselves. Listen to the kindness and thoughtfulness of the angel who greeted the women at the tomb in Matthew 28:1-10. “Do not be afraid,” he begins, which is the most common angel-to-human word for “hello.” Angels know that just encountering them can be scary for humans who aren’t used to them, and this is the same angel who just blasted the guards out of the way. He didn’t say “do not be afraid” to them! But the angel’s assignment towards these women, Jesus’ precious grieving friends, is not to be scary, but as reassuring as possible.
The angel doesn’t make the women explain anything: “I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified.” He knows who they are, the traumatic loss they have just suffered, and what they are trying to do. He starts to break the news gently, with, “He is not here.” Then, because that by itself could sound like bad news not good news, he hastens to add, “He has risen.” Now, here the angel could have added, “You idiots, how many times did Jesus tell you He would die and rise from the dead? Why didn’t you understand? Why didn’t you believe Him? He even said it would happen on Day 3!” He does not say that. Angels do not talk like that (although the other kind of spirits do). Instead, this angel just very gently adds the four words, “just as he said,” to help these women, if they are ready, maybe start to connect the dots and put the pieces together.
The women are standing there in complete shock. The angel knows what they need. He gently invites, “Come and see the place where He lay.” I picture the angel sitting there patiently and silently as the women tentatively step forward, finally dare to walk past him, and inch towards the place where Jesus’ body used to be. He waits while they look and touch, kneel down, take in the strange details of the empty cloth being folded up neatly, finger the cloth and feel the stone slab, fully absorb the certainty that Jesus is not here. There is an urgent message to be delivered, but only after giving them this opportunity does the angel add, “Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”
Reassuring, patient, sensitive, truthful, understanding, and not condemning–these are some of the attributes of the angel-helpers Jesus sends.
Angels can appear in dreams, as they did to Joseph, or in waking life, as they did to Mary and Zecheriah. Angels can be funny, sitting triumphantly on a stone they just moved (Matthew 28:) or saying things with a dry touch of humor like “Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking into the sky?” (Acts 1:11). Angels can show off, like the angel who opened Jesus’ tomb with his lightning and earthquake or the angels that announced Jesus’ birth with brilliant light and thunderous song (Luke 2:13-14).
Angels are not racist, sexist, or classist. They show up to all kinds of humans, but they seem to be sent extra times to the underdog (shepherds, women, and later the Roman officer Cornelius, who was a gentile or non-Jewish outsider, in Acts 10:3). Sometimes angels deliver a message (Luke 1-2). Other times they meet a physical need (Matthew 4:11). Other times they just ask a question (John 20:13). Sometimes they seem to just be hanging out.
In Jesus’ life we can see that the real angels show up to bring restoration after an attack of the enemy (Matthew 4:11), and it is important that Jesus didn’t let the devil’s deceptions and fear-tactics scare Him away from the good angels, from the Real Thing. We see that sometimes the angels bring comfort and strength to go through suffering rather than a rescue from it (Luke 22:43). Sometimes they completely change the situation, and sometimes they just keep us company as we obey God. As we pray to God, angels can show up as part of His answers (both Jesus in Luke 22 and Cornelius in Acts 10 experienced that!).
It cost God a lot to send Jesus to us. Every other gift costs nothing in comparison. Romans 8:32 makes the argument that if God did not withhold “His own Son, but gave Him up for us all–how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things?” I believe that one of the many “all things” that God loves to lavish on His beloved blood-bought family of human children who believe in Jesus is the friendship and companionship of the angelic friends/servants/coworkers who attended Jesus and now attend us too. Let’s give our Father thanks for His great “indescribable gift” of Jesus (2 Corinthians 9:15) and every smaller “all things” gift as well, including the angels who thank Him along with us!