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God’s Word for You

Colossians 1:16 Angels

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Friday, January 5, 2018

16 For all things were created by him, things in heaven and on earth, seen and unseen, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.

“All things were created by him” is as clear as it can be put: the Son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity, took part in the creation of everything. He is not, as some heretics maintained, the first of the created things. He is the supreme being over all created things; he entered the creation to save it. He became one of us to rescue us.

As Paul describes “all things,” he places two sets of things opposite one another: things in heaven (that is, unseen things) and things on earth (that is, seen things). This is a list that encompasses everything in creation. There is nothing that was made that was not made by the Son of God: “Without him nothing was made that has been made” (John 1:3). But as long as Paul has mentioned ouranos “heaven” (from which we get the word Uranus), he finds an opportunity to show that Christ is superior even to every ranking of unseen heavenly beings as well.

A gnostic teaching (or whatever the false teaching endangering the Colossians may have been) was that angels or angelic beings (what would be the difference?) could also be worshiped. Would it be wrong, someone might ask, to give a little worship and praise to, say, Gabriel, who brought the message of God to the Virgin Mary? Couldn’t we say a prayer to Gabriel, who has the ear (so to speak) of God?

The problem with that line of reasoning is that God has invited us to pray to him, not to his angels. It’s the same with the saints who are already in heaven. We are not invited to pray to them, nor does any example of this occur in the Bible (we will talk about Luke 16:23 ff. next October when we cover it in the Gospel).

It’s not obvious to every reader, but what follows is a list of different kinds or titles of angels. Similar lists also occur in Ephesians 3, Ephesians 6, and in the apocryphal Testament of Levi (3:1-9).

Thrones (ϑρόνοι). From the name, these would appear to be angels with special authority, like the one in Daniel 10:13. “Thrones” are also mentioned in Colossians 2:15 among the disarmed demons who were subjected by Jesus in his descent into hell. There isn’t any passage in the Bible that expressly gives this title to any of the good angels, but we can’t say that there are not any good thrones.

Powers (κυριότητες). Powers are also in the list of demons who were triumphed over by Jesus in his descent into hell (Colossians 2:15). In Romans 8:38, powers might be a kind of angel mentioned alongside angels and demons. Based on Ephesians 3:10, this is a word used for certain good angels. Based on Ephesians 6:12, it must also apply to certain fallen angels (demons).

Rulers (ἀρχαί). In Romans 8:38, this word translated as “demons.” They are also grouped with the demons over which Christ triumphed in his descent into hell (Colossians 2:15). In the Greek translation of the Old Testament by Theodotian, this is the word for the “rulers” who will worship and obey God in Daniel 7:27.

Authorities (ἐξουσίαι). In the most popular Greek translation of Daniel, this is the word for “rulers” in Daniel 7:27. They also appear in other lists of angels: In Ephesians 3:10, good angels; in Ephesians 6:12, fallen angels.

Angels are spirits, created by God (“all things were created through him”) for his service. Although some rebelled and became the devil and his demons, their essence is still angelic. What does that mean?

Angels are local. They exist in a place. They can move very quickly to another place, and they can enter into the presence of God (Isaiah 6:2; Job 1:6), but they cannot be in more than one place at once (Daniel 10:13).

Angels are personal. They have personalities and peculiarities. For example, Gabriel has a usual greeting not used by other angels (cp. Daniel 9:21 with Luke 1:28). They have names, and some fell into sin. The angels have intellect and they have a personal will. Angels can study and learn (1 Peter 1:12). They can also interact with the physical world and with you and me. Lot and his daughters were physically pulled from their home by angels to escape the destruction of Sodom (Genesis 19:16), and Peter was struck in the side (kicked?) by an angel (Acts 12:7).

Angels are powerful. They excel in strength (Psalm 103:20), and are described in many different ways like that: “mighty” (2 Thessalonians 1:7), “strong” (Matthew 12:29), stronger than the ones they guard (us, Psalm 91:11-13).

Angels are immortal, but they are not eternal. If you recall your geometry, there are certain symbols used to describe the length or substance of certain lines or portions of lines. A line segment (−) is a line with both a beginning and an ending. A ray (→) is a line with a beginning but no end. A true line (↔) has no beginning or ending. All living beings can be described with these symbols in terms of lifespan:

↔ God is immortal, with no beginning or ending.

→ Angels were created, so they have a beginning, but no ending. They do not die.

−→ Human beings have a beginning and a death, but we also will be raised to life on the Last Day and live forever. We will be immortal (deathless), but not eternal, since we had a beginning point.

Animals are not as easy to categorize. Romans 8:19-23 indicates that creation (not just mankind) was subjected to frustration in the fall, and awaits liberation from bondage. Will the animals join us in paradise? This is a question we will know the answer to when we arrive there in heaven.

Angels cannot read our thoughts. Only God knows the thoughts of men; neither the angels nor the demons nor even the Devil himself can know what you are thinking. “For you alone (O Lord) know the hearts of men” (1 Kings 8:39).

Can angels perform miracles? This is a special question. I would make a distinction here that the Devil and the demons can’t perform actual miracles; nor can they make anything new (“Praise be to the LORD God, the God of Israel, who alone does marvelous things,” Psalm 72:18). But the angels under God’s command can do things that amaze human beings. Also, the Devil’s power is “displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs, and wonders” (2 Thessalonians 2:9).

We must dismiss all legends of the devils marrying or ravaging human beings. Angels do not marry, do not engage in sex, and do not have children (Matthew 22:30). This is also shown from Acts 17:26, “From one man he made every nation of men.” There is no other race, half-bred with angels. The reference in Genesis 6:2 to the “sons of God” marrying the “daughters of men” is, in context, the intermarriage of believers with unbelievers, and therefore the deterioration of the family of believers; not the creation of a super race.

The angels, finally, are messengers of God, serving God and protecting God’s people. They are under the authority of Jesus himself (John 1:61). They are not to be worshiped by us, but to help us.

I must say one more thing. Human beings do not become angels when we arrive in heaven. Where that story came from, I don’t know, but it has no basis in the Word of God. In heaven, you and I will be “like” the angels in some ways (Luke 20:35), but we will have flesh. The angels do not and will not have flesh. We should thrill, rather, that we will be like Jesus—in perfected flesh, holy, able to see, laugh, hear, sing, and be hugged by our Lord in person. He took up our flesh to rescue us, and we will reap the benefits of his work forever with him in heaven.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim SmithAbout Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. His wife, Kathryn, attended the Chapel from 1987-1990 while studying Secondary Education (Theater and Math) at UW-Madison. Kathryn’s father, John Meyer, was also the first man to serve as a Vicar at Chapel.

To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.

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