Jesus says we’re to be like angels — so what do angels do?
Mark 12:24-27 Jesus said to them, “Aren’t you mistaken, because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God? When the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage. Instead, they will be like the angels in heaven. But concerning the dead rising, have you not read about the burning bush in the Book of Moses, how God told him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. You are badly mistaken!”
Today is the 4th Sunday of Advent, and we lit the Angel’s candle. So let’s talk Angels.
Who are the angels? There’s actually only four we hear about in the Bible by name. Michael; Gabriel; the angel who is King over the bottomless pit – Abaddon; and of course, the Angel of the Lord. But there are several more who are not named. In fact, every person has a guardian angel. Jesus said that every child has an angel who beholds the face of God. (Mt. 18).
Of the faithful, God says: “He shall give his angels charge over you, to keep you in all your ways.” (Ps. 34). ”The angel of the Lord encamps all around those who fear him.” (Ps. 34). And of course, you may be familiar with the old Bible saying, show hospitality to strangers, because you might be entertaining angels unaware (Heb. 1).
The Bible is full of angels – it just doesn’t tell us too much about them. The Bible likes to keep them a little mysterious. They come in many forms. Three angels appeared to Abraham in the desert, looking like men; the angel of the Lord appeared to Moses on the mountain, appearing in a burning bush. The Bible describes cherubim that look half human with four faces with the appearance of animals. A seraph appears to Ezekiel, looking almost half-machine, with wheels within wheels covered in thousands of eyes all over, all aflame and floating.
Anyone who wants to learn a bit about angelology in the Bible will be disappointed that there’s not a whole lot there. Everything that has been taught about angels is mostly from traditions that are outside the Bible, whether ancient Jewish tradition or Christian tradition. It’s a challenge for anyone who wants to stick strictly with the Bible.
And yet, angelology does matter to us, because of something important Jesus once told us: he said, “When the dead rise, they will be like the angels in heaven.”
Note that he doesn’t say, “They will become angels in heaven.” We will be like the angels in heaven.
So, does that mean we’ll become wheels within wheels with thousands of eyes, all aflame and floating? Isn’t the more traditional depiction that we get a pair of wings and a harp and float around singing in a choir?
This is about more than just speculation for what we look like when we are resurrected; it’s about our vocation. It’s about what we do, both in the Resurrection and the Now. If we’re to be like angels, then what do angels do?
St. Paul asks in Hebrews, “Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?” He asks like it’s a foregone conclusion! And so it is. Every angelic visitation in the Bible is meant to prepare the world for Christ’s salvation; from the angels in Abraham’s tent, to the angel in the desert with Moses, to the angels of the prophets up to the angels who announce Christ’s birth in Bethlehem. They are ministering spirits sent to serve those who inherit salvation. And not just these angels, but even the angel that watches over you, “always beholding the face of God” like Jesus said.
And this is what we are called to be for one another. Angels, spiritual ministers sent to serve another on the path to salvation. The word angel, malach, simply means messenger; and what are we but messengers of the Good News of Christ? And so saints are angels.
In fact, righteous angels are also saints. This is an ancient teaching of the church, and it’s why they didn’t just give the title of “saint” to holy men and women, but also to angels – St. Michael, St. Gabriel, etc. Angels and people become alike through their similar ministry and service.
And let’s go deeper into this mystery. Because, we’re not just called to be like angels, but in many ways, greater than angels. St. Paul says, “Do you not know that we will judge angels?” (1 Cor. 6). He says that Christ was made superior to the angels (Heb. 1) and John reminds us that we’re to be like Christ (1 Jn. 3:2). St. Peter said that the mysteries revealed in the Gospel were mysteries that angels longed to see and understand, but it was not given to them – it was given to humanity (1 Pt. 1).
In the beginning, when God said, “Let us make man in our image” — he was speaking with angels. Psalm 82 says that God presides over a divine council of Elohim; Elohim is the plural of El; have you noticed that the names of the angels all include the name El? Micha-El, Gabri-El, Rapha-El, etc. God created angels first, and they watched over the saints from the beginning; and yet in the end, the saints judge the angels.
This is no small thing. When people see angels, like the shepherds in Bethlehem who encountered an angel of the Lord, they’re terrified. This is the overwhelming majority of reactions to angel visitations in the Bible. And people express terror in different ways. Some take flight, others fight. Jacob fought. No doubt he was terrified, but like a Texas homeowner faced with a scary intruder, he tackled the angel and they went wrestling. Jacob got beat up pretty bad!
These are powerful spiritual beings. And let’s not forget that there are angels of darkness who are against us – and they are tricky. Satan can transform himself into an angel of light if he wishes.
But unlike the vast majority of the world’s religions – which submit humanity to the angels, or gods, or aliens as people like to call them nowadays – the Bible says, “we will judge angels”. To humankind, and not angels, was given the Gospel and the salvation that “angels longed to look into”: the Word of God, who was with God and was God — who created angels — became human flesh. The “God who presides over the divine council” made His dwelling place among men, and rules from within our hearts.
When these powerful spiritual beings, angels, cherubim, seraphim, the divine council, worship the Lord, they are worshipping someone who dwells in our hearts.
It is not by any virtue of our own that we receive this vocation and place in the cosmos, but because God ordained it in His love for us. Our job isn’t to get haughty about this, but to live it out – we’re like angels, so let’s act like it. It’s not just a high honor, it’s a job to do!
Just like the angels on Christmas Eve, give glad tidings: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men!” Share the good news of God’s love for us in the risen Lord Jesus Christ. We are here not to be served, but to serve as ministering spirits. And just as the church has taught for millennia, when this life is over, we will rise in the next, and continue our work of ministry and service in the presence of God in heaven and all of the other angels and saints, the spirits of the righteous made perfect each holding his own cup of the incense of prayer, offered up for the world we’ll be watching over.
We serve God the Father of Life, the God of Resurrection; Christ is our life, and our Resurrection. He was born in Bethlehem, baptized in the Jordan, crucified at Calvary, and raised to heaven so that we may be like the angels in heaven. So let’s hearken to that holy calling. Amen.