I don’t know what made me change my airplane ticket. I didn’t have a reason to make that last minute change of flight. Something just told me to do it. It must have been an angel who brought me that message.”
“My life was a downward vortex. I was headed for disaster. And then it was as if I felt someone tapping on my shoulder. That touch forced me to think about the wrong way I had chosen. Could that have been an angel sent to warn me?”
“The bus was really crowded, and I didn’t see an empty seat anywhere. But all of a sudden it was like someone was guiding me, and I found an open seat next to this guy. I took one look at him, and I could almost hear a voice in my head saying, ‘He’s the one.'”
Maybe you have heard people talk about experiences like these. Perhaps you have experienced something like that yourself, when you have had that unexplainable feeling that someone was looking out for you, that someone had a message for you. If you have felt that way, you are not alone. Our whole society seems fascinated with the idea that messengers from the spiritual world come to people with words of warning or comfort. Pop culture is quick to pick up on these kinds of “spiritual trends.” Recently there have been more than a few movies, television shows and merchandising gimmicks featuring angelic beings who come to deliver a message. Many in our society are convinced that they have been “touched by an angel” or at least know someone who has!
Such fascination with the idea of spiritual messengers is nothing new. Philosopher Mortimer Adler suggests that humans have always been fascinated with the thought of an intelligent life apart from a human body. (1) He suggests that in the past this quest was confined to the supernatural, while in modern times this search has led to a preoccupation with science fiction. Even among legitimate scientists, there is a great interest in receiving messages from beyond.
Much has been made of SETI, the Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence, wherein giant parabolic receivers are pointed to the heavens, scanning the skies like amateur short wave radio mavens hoping to pick up some extra-terrestrial message transmitted to us through space. The popular movie “Independence Day,” among many others, was built on such a premise. For many people, the idea of supernatural messengers is an interesting “what if…?” At least the modern media scriptwriters have one theological point of accuracy about angels—they are messengers. Both the Hebrew and Greek words for angel are best translated, “messenger.”
Those who believe the Bible insist that heavenly messengers are real and that they really do make contact with us. They’re called angels, and they exist to serve God on our behalf. Yet if we believe that angels are real, what real life messages are we to receive from these beings?
Messages of Hope
Torah relates one early encounter between an angelic messenger and a human—in this instance, the slave woman Hagar, the maidservant of Abram’s wife Sarah. (Genesis 16) God had promised Abram a destiny through a son, and for Sarah there was the promise of motherhood. Nevertheless, Sarah was well past the normal child-bearing age. She wanted to assist God in fulfilling his word to her in the only way which seemed possible. So she arranged to present Hagar as her proxy to be a surrogate mother for Abram’s promised son.
Abram assented to Sarah’s plan, and soon Hagar conceived. Now glowing with pride in her pregnancy, she showed contempt for her mistress. Stung by Hagar’s scorn, Sarah began to treat her harshly. Hagar feared Sarah’s anger and fled to the desert. Alone, exhausted, and thirsty, she sat down by a spring in the wilderness to ponder her plight. There she received a visit from an angel of the Lord. The angel brought her a message of hope: God had seen her distress. The angel told Hagar to return to her mistress and submit to her will, for God had plans to bless Hagar and give her many descendants through the child in her womb. The angel also related that though her son would have difficulties, he would dwell in the presence of all his brethren. She was to name him “Ishmael,” meaning “God hears.”
For Hagar, the visit from the angel was proof not only that God hears, but also that God sees. So she called the place, “El Roi,” meaning “You Are the God Who Sees.” The story of Hagar beside the spring reveals one of the main jobs of angels: to carry good news from heaven to earth. Angels serve as messengers from on high who convey words of encouragement from a God who cares.
Messages of Judgment
Besides bringing news of God’s compassion, angels are also messengers of God’s warning and judgment. For instance, in the period of the Kings of Israel the Hebrew Scriptures record that Ahaziah, the king of Samaria, took a terrible fall through the roof of his upper room and became desperately ill. (2 Kings 1)
Wondering if his wounds would be fatal, the king sent some of his own messengers to Baal-Zebub, the false God of Ekron, in order to divine his fate. However, the Lord God of Israel sent an angel to the Hebrew prophet Elijah with a specific message for the messengers. Elijah was told to ask them, “Is there no God in Israel, that you must go to Ekron to inquire of Baal?” Furthermore, Elijah was to tell the king’s messengers that his injuries would prove to be fatal; indeed, he would not leave his bed alive. Elijah faithfully delivered the message he had received from the angel. The authenticity of the message soon became apparent: Ahaziah died.
From this incident recorded in Scripture, we see that not every message from an angel is a word of comfort or hope. Sometimes angels bring word of terrible judgment. Yet whether conveying words of hope or of judgment, true angels will always bring true messages that are consistent with the word and character of God. After all, that is the duty of messengers: to accurately convey the message, to be faithful to the wishes of the one who sends them.
Sometimes God’s truth can be troubling, even alarming. Yet if we love God, we will want to hear the truth. Even though God’s word sometimes comes as a warning, all of God’s news is good news.
We can’t judge the truth of a message by whether or not we find it agreeable, for there are angels who bring false messages, too—messages that are intended to deceive. One of the most famous deceiving angels in the Bible is Lucifer. While there isn’t much information on him in the Scriptures (liars prefer anonymity) this chief angel of deception shows his true colors in several instances.
The most famous instance is in the Genesis account of creation. There Lucifer appears to mother Eve in the form of a snake, intent on deceiving her. He asks a devious question: “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden’?” He deliberately misrepresents the command of God. When Eve explains to him the prohibition concerning the tree “in the midst of the garden,” Lucifer denies the truth of God’s word to Adam and Eve, while at the same time questioning God’s motives. “You will not surely die,” the false angel lies, “for God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:4-5). We all know the results of Eve listening to that message; they are with us to this day.
Moreover, lies and false messages are still being circulated today. For instance, the New Age movement encourages people to seek information from “the beyond,” from a past life or from a being in the spirit world. The assumption is that such beings will tell the truth—a dangerous assumption indeed. The religion of Mormonism is based on a false message by a false prophet, Joseph Smith, who alleged to have unearthed golden tablets in 1827. He said that those tablets were inscribed with holy writings that he translated. It has been documented that these words which became the Book of Mormon were substantially gross plagiarism. Over 25,000 of the words were taken from the New Testament. (2) Smith received further “revelations” by an angel, which led him to found his new religion.
Many people genuinely believe they have received “a word” from an angel or a message from God. Whenever we hear about such a message, it is our duty to apply the truth test: does the message, however pleasing or comforting to hear, accord with God’s word? Is it consistent with God’s character? Just because the message purports to come from an angel doesn’t mean that it is true. How many serial killers have purported to receive messages to perform their heinous crimes from angels or other supernatural beings?
Messages of Salvation
There can be no doubt that when God sends an angel, the message being communicated is not only true, but of life-changing importance. Angels bring urgent messages of how to avoid death or disaster and how to find life. Angels bring messages of salvation, but they are not saviors. They are only servants, heralds of change, messengers of deliverance. Some of the most important messages ever brought by angels are recorded in the New Testament portion of the Scriptures.
Joseph was in the midst of the premarital betrothal to Miriam. Imagine his hurt when he became aware that she was bearing a child. He had not consummated the marriage with her; it was obvious to him that she had been with another man. His fiancee had promised herself, in purity, in marriage to him. Now she had broken her promise. What was he to do? For all his sense of injury, Joseph treated Miriam gently. To spare her the pain of public humiliation, the Scripture tells us that he decided to “put her away secretly”—meaning that he would provide for her but would not marry her.
He prepared his heart to accept this great disappointment, but in the night an angel was sent by God with a message: “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Miriam your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit [Ruach Ha-kodesh]. And she will bring forth a son, and you shall call his name Yeshua, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:20-21). This was a message of life. What had appeared to be a terrible and distressing situation was in fact good news, a promise of life.
Miriam, too, had received a peace-filled promise from an angel: “Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to…Miriam. And having come in, the angel said to her, ‘Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!’ But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was. Then the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Miriam, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a son, and shall call his name Yeshua. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David. And he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end'” (Luke 1:26-33).
That same message was conveyed to shepherds in the fields and to countless others who were waiting to hear good news. The message of the Messiah’s birth is a message of good news, for all people at all times.
However, God also used an angel to explain the meaning of the Messiah’s death. After Yeshua had been executed and laid in his tomb, God sent an angel to the burial site. Seated upon the huge, heavy stone which had covered the entrance to the burial cave but was now thrust aside, he had a message for the grieving women who had come to visit the tomb: “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Yeshua who was crucified. He is not here; for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. And go quickly and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead…” (Matthew 28:5-7).
He is risen from the dead. This message was not simply for the women at the tomb; it is for all those who would follow God. Messiah is risen. This was a life-changing message for those who heard the news that day, and the good news of that message can change the lives of those of us who are looking for Messiah today. The message of the angel resounds down the ages: “He is risen!” What remains for us is whether we will choose to hear this message and incorporate its meaning into our lives.
We would do well to believe the words spoken by that angel, for to those of us who believe, another angel will come someday with another message of hope. His message will not come in word or in song, but with a mighty blast of the shofar he will sound forth the call to assemble and rise. It will all come to pass “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed” (1 Corinthians 15:52).
Angels and Us
Angels are real, and true angels speak the words of the one true God. Sometimes their messages come bringing hope and comfort; other times angels bring dire messages of warning and even judgment. Most people would gladly hear the messages of hope; few are ready for the warnings. While not all can distinguish between true and false messages, we know that the message of salvation in Yeshua is the very truth of God. Even today, if we listen carefully we will hear the message of the one who has brought salvation. “You shall call his name Yeshua for he will save his people from their sins.” “He is not here; for he is risen!” Those words from the angel are still echoing in the ears of those who are open to hear the good news.
Let’s not become so fascinated by messengers that we miss this message. God may well send an angel to speak to you, but he’s already provided an angelic message that cannot be matched. Are you ready to hear from God today?
Mortimer J. Adler, The Angels and Us, New York, MacMillan Publishing, 1982, p. 4. Walter Martin, Kingdom of the Cults, Minneapolis, Bethany Fellowship, Inc., 1965, p.165.