Angels in Heaven: Who Are They & What Are They Doing?
- Scot McKnight Author, One.Life
- 2017 8 Feb
There are many misconceptions about angels in heaven - do we become angels? who are the angels who have always existed? what is the purpose and role of angels? Let's look at some truths from Scripture about the purpose God has for the angels he created to exist in heaven with him.
1. Angels Are Leading Us Toward Salvation
What are angels doing in heaven with God? We need to look again at Hebrews 1:14 and take special notice of the term ministering (niv) or even better, divine service (nrsv).
"Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?"
Are not all angels spirits in the divine service, sent to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?
The word behind these two English translations commonly refers to serving in God’s temple in a priestly manner. The writer to the Hebrews knew his hearers were familiar with the work of priests in the temple. So angels are described as commissioned by God to lead us earthbound humans into worship of God. And if we push to the end of the verse, we see they are sent by God as part of our redemption. These worshiping spirits are sent by God to help in our redemption so we can join them in worshiping the God of redemption.
2. Angels Are Leading Us in Worship
So the second most important description about angels is this: they lead God’s people in redemptive worship. The last book of the Bible, the book of Revelation, makes this obvious. Angels in heaven are saturated with worship of God as a result of the Lamb’s redemptive work. Notice (and please read) these beautiful verses of angel-led worship and intercession:*
Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they were saying:
“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” . . .
All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying:
Praise and glory
and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength
be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!” . . .
Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all God’s people, on the golden altar in front of the throne. The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of God’s people, went up before God from the angel’s hand.
This is a rich idea: angels are worship leaders. Images of angels can be spotted on some altars in the great cathedrals. In this art, angels are depicted offering incense, that is, the people’s prayers. They are leaders in prayer, intercession, and worship.
Here then is my summary of our first two words: angels are God-saturated and worshiping messengers sent by God on mission with a message that can lead to our redemption. Angels are not the subject of the story. They are ministers in a story about God. Fascination with angel-messengers can inch dangerously close to idolatry.
The error of worshiping angels rather than God has emerged throughout his- tory. In fact, the apostle Paul told the Colossian church not to worship angels. The apostle John had to be told not to worship an angel when one appeared to him* Angels worship God and are sent on mission to lead us in that worship. Angels that don’t summon us to see God5 are not doing God’s work. Rather, they are the rebellious, bad angels, often called “demons” or “evil spirits.”
3. Angels are Accompanying Us to Heaven
Yes, the Bible indicates that when a believer dies, the angels will escort them safely into Heaven.
In one of His parables, for example, Jesus told about two very different men. One was a rich man, who lived only for himself and ignored both God and others. The other was a poor beggar who had nothing as far as this world’s goods were concerned, but had faith in God and His promises. When the rich man died, he received what he deserved: a life of misery, separated from God forever. But "when the poor man died, the angels accompanied him safely into God’s presence." (You can read this parable in Luke 16:19-31.)
Although we may not see them or even be aware of their presence, God’s angels are real, and when we know Christ, we know they are always with us to safeguard us from Satan’s attacks. If they safeguard us now, can’t they also be trusted to safeguard our journey to Heaven? Of course. The Bible says, "Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?" (Hebrews 1:14).”
Takeaway: Angels do God’s work, including escorting believers to heaven. We know this from Scripture. Our guardian angels protect us from Satan, and they will guide us to heaven as well. Dear God, I am in trouble. I am weary, worried, and worn out. Not knowing how to pray, I turn to the Psalms and repeat their pleas for my own heart: “O Lord, deliver me! O save me for Your mercies’ sake. Deliver me in Your righteousness. Deliver me from the hand of the enemy. Deliver me from all my troubles. Deliver me from my distress. Deliver me from all my transgressions. Be pleased, O Lord, to deliver me; O Lord, make haste to help me. I am poor and needy; yet the Lord thinks on me. You are my help and deliverer.” You have said, “Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me.” I claim that promise now. Father, You know what’s happening in my life, in my family, in my church. You know the webs of worry spinning in my mind. Lead me not into temptation but deliver me from evil; For Thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever. Amen! [excerpt from 5 Questions About Heaven Billy Graham Answered]
Excerpted from The Hum of Angels by Scot McKnight Copyright © 2017 by Scot McKnight. Excerpted by permission of WaterBrook, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Scot McKnight is the author of more than fifty books, including The Jesus Creed and The Heaven Promise. A popular speaker at events such as Catalyst and Q Conference, Scot is professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, Illinois. His blog, Jesus Creed, has 3 million page views annually. He and his wife, Kris, live in the Chicago suburbs.
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Publication date: February 8, 2017