September 29, 2019 A+D
Rev. 12: 11-14
I. What are Angels
Typically, when we use the word angel, we mean the holy beings that attend God, singing His praise, and in service to Him fight for us. They are created beings but invisible to human eyes for they do not have bodies. They have, however, at times made themselves visible to men, sometimes appearing as men and sometimes not, sometimes appearing in terrifying forms and others not. They are described in the Bible with male pronouns but they seem to be sexless. Jesus says that they do not marry. From this we gather that they do not procreate. Unlike the number of human beings, the number of angels created at the beginning has remained stagnant. No new angels are ever added. We do not know what day they were created because Moses doesn’t single them out, but we expect that they were created in the first six days when everything else was created.
As created beings, they are finite. They are not omnipresent. They cannot be in more than one place at all – but we do not know what sort of space they occupy or how they occupy it, how large or small they might be. We also know that they are not all powerful. They are bound by God and are subject to His will, but compared to us they are exceedingly powerful and beautiful. They are not omniscient. They have intelligence and understanding, will and language. They can communicate with us at will with our words. They are older than we are and have observed more. They likely know far more about physics and how things actually work and have been put together than we do and probably understand us better than we understand ourselves. At the same time, they do not know the future and there is no reason to think that that they can read our silent thoughts or hear our silent prayers. They aren’t God. They are creatures that serve Him.
Some confusion can creep in because some of these beings rebelled against God at some point between the creation and before the fall of man. They are God’s enemies and our enemies. We usually call them demons but they are still angels and are sometimes called such by the Bible.
Further confusion creeps in because the word “angel” in Hebrew and Greek means messenger. In addition to being used to refer to these created spiritual beings without bodies, it can also be applied to human beings. St. John is called an angel in Malachi and Matthew quotes it. We usually translate it as messenger but the word is angel. So also in St. John’s vision, the pastors of the seven churches are called angels because they are God’s messengers to those congregations.
And finally, and most significantly, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the Son of God, is the Lord of Angels, is the Messenger of the Father, the Mediator between God and Man and is often called in the Old Testament the Angel of the Lord. Whenever a being called an angel in the Bible is worshipped or speaks and acts as God Himself we understand that this is the Pre-Incarnate Christ and not a created being.
II. Why does this matter
It matters in the first place because there is more to the world than we can see with our eyes. God is the Maker of all things visible and invisible.
It matters next because God has given those angels into our service. They are His angels, but He gives them to us. They have been set over us as guards and protectors and watchers. God has made them our brothers and though they are superior beings they are subservient to us in love. This is the wonderful order of creation under which no one chafes or complains for we all bask in the goodness of God.
The holy angels rejoice over our repentance and faith. They join their song to our as we take up their songs. We join with angels and archangels not just at the moment of Holy Communion but in the entire liturgy where heaven and earth are joined. The Gloria in Excelsis begins with their words to Shepherds in their fields. The Sanctus is taken out of the Temple in heaven and put here at our altar. For here the risen Christ, Angel of the Lord, Messenger of the Father, is present for us in His Body and Blood with the Father and the Spirit. He is the Ladder upon which the angels ascend and descend. But the language of ascend and descend is deceiving. It isn’t actually vertical movement. Rather they are penetrated the real between visible and invisible. Heaven is here for Christ is here. Heaven is Christ’s Church.
II. Life in the Church conceived of as War in Heaven
That brings us to St. John’s vision. Part of what he saw was a war in heaven where St. Michael the archangel and his angels fought against a dragon and his angels. The dragon and his angels were defeated and thrown down out of heaven. John tells us explicitly that the dragon is Satan, the deceiver of the whole world. But that is not what he saw. He didn’t see a devil. He saw a dragon.
The vision is an allegory. Think of it like a parable. What John saw represents a reality that is too complicated to simply show a picture of it. He could have simply seen a congregation gathered around the altar but that wouldn’t have conveyed the whole reality. So he was made to see a war where St. Michael and his angels fought against a dragon and his angels, but it wasn’t really happening. It was a vision, an allegory. Satan isn’t an actual dragon. He is an angel. St. Michael is a real angel, but in this allegory he represents Christ Himself. Heaven is the Church. Christ’s angels are His preachers. They fight against the devil and his demons by preaching and administering the sacraments. Our brothers, that is you and me, who were accused by Satan day and night, conquer the devil and his demons by the Blood of the Lamb and by their testimony. Satan and his demons aren’t thrown out of heaven. They are thrown out of the Church.
Woe, however, to those outside the Church. Woe to the scribes and pharisees! Woe to the unbelievers. The devil is not your friend or ally. You were not made for him. He hates you and comes in great wrath.
If it were not for the Blood of the Lamb, there would be no defense against the accusations for indeed we were guilty in our sins. There is no way to face the devil or the Law or our sins but with the Blood of the Lamb. But with the Blood of the Lamb, we not only stand, but we sing and we march and we revel in the joy of war that trounces evil. For Jesus shed His Blood for our sins. He has appeased His Father’s wrath on our behalf, made Himself our Substitute and reconciled us back to Himself by grace. We were guilty, to be sure, but there is no one left to accuse us. Satan is cast out by the Blood of the Lamb. And Mystery of mysteries, joy beyond all music or words, greatest of all gifts: Jesus gives us that same Blood, the Blood of life, the Blood of wisdom, the Blood of exorcism, the Blood of forgiveness, the Blood of peace, the Blood of God, here and now, in real time, and thereby enters into us, regenerating and renewing us, giving us His Holy Spirit.
What we are doing here this morning is fighting a war. We are at the same time the soldiers and the prize and the beneficiaries. We come to get our marching orders and our rations and our weapons. We come for the Blood of the Lamb for the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ, who was slain but who lives, who has set us into the wonderful order of angels and men, who comes here on earth for us in the Sacrament. Here is strength for the day, freedom from demons, victory over death, and plenty of reason to sing.
In Jesus’ Name. Amen.