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Works of Arthur Pink: Pink, Arthur - An Exposition of Hebrews: 006. Christ Superior to Angels. Hebrews 1:10-13
TOPIC: Pink, Arthur - An Exposition of Hebrews (Other Topics in this Collection)
SUBJECT: 006. Christ Superior to Angels. Hebrews 1:10-13
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An Exposition of Hebrews
Christ Superior to Angels.
The closing verses of Hebrews 1 present a striking climax to the apostle’s argument. They contain the most touching and also the most thrilling references to be found in this wondrous chapter. In it the Holy Spirit completes His proof for the superiority of the Mediator over the angels, proof which was all drawn from Israel’s own Scriptures. Five times He had cited passages from the Old Testament which set forth the exalted dignities and glories of the Messiah. A sixth and a seventh is now quoted from the 102nd and the 110th Psalms, to show that He who had passed through such unparalleled humiliation and suffering, had been greeted and treated by God as One who was worthy of supremest honor and reward. The details of this will come before us in the course of our exposition.
It is very striking to observe how that the character of these seven quotations made by the Holy Spirit from the Old Testament agree perfectly with the numerical position of each of them. One is the number of supremacy: see Zechariah 14:9—there will be none other in that day to dispute the Lord’s rule for Satan will be in the Pit. So the first quotation in Hebrews 1 brings out the supremacy of Christ over the angels as "Son" (verse 5). Two is the number of witness: see Revelation 11:3, etc. So the force of the second quotation in Hebrews 1 is the unique relation of the Son to the Father borne witness to. Three is the number of manifestation, and in the third quotation we see the superiority of the Mediator manifested by the angels "worshipping" Him (verse 6). Four is the number of the creature, and in the fourth quotation the Holy Spirit significantly turns from Christ, who is more than creature, and dwells upon the inferiority of the angels (verse 7) who are "made." Five is the number of grace, and the fifth quotation brings before us the "throne" of the Savior (verse 8), which is "the throne of Grace" (Heb. 4:16). Six is the number of man, and the sixth quotation (verses 10-12) contains God’s response to the plaint of the Son of Man’s being taken away "in the midst of His days." Seven is the number of completion and of rest after a finished work: see Genesis 2:3; and so the seventh quotation views Christ as now seated at God’s right hand (verse 13), as the reward of His finished work. How perfect is every detail of Holy Writ!
The final verse of Hebrews 1 furnishes the fullest demonstration of the superiority of Christianity over Judaism and the exaltation of Christ above the celestial hierarchies. So far are the angels below the Savior, they are sent forth by Him to minister unto His people. The fact of this ministry, as well as the nature and value of it, are known to but few today. The subject is a most interesting as well as important one, and will well repay much fuller study than our limited space here permits us to indulge in. May the bare outline we attempt stimulate our readers to fill it in for themselves.
"And Thou, Lord, in the beginning, hast laid the foundation of the earth" (verse 10). The opening "and" shows that the apostle is continuing to advance proof of the proposition laid down in verse 4. This proof of Christ’s excellency is taken from a work peculiar to God, creation. The argument is based upon a Divine testimony found in the Old Testament. The argument may be stated thus: The Creator is more excellent than creatures; Christ is the Creator, angels are creatures; therefore Christ is more excellent than angels. That Christ is Creator is here proved; that angels are creatures, has been shown in verse 7. This verse also completes the answer to a question which verse 4 may have raised in the minds of some, namely, what is the "more excellent name" which the Mediator has obtained? The reply is "Son" (verse 5), "God" (verse 8), "Lord" (verse 10).
"And Thou, Lord, in the beginning, hast laid the foundation of the earth." The Psalm from which this is quoted is a truly wondrous one; in some respects it is, perhaps, the most remarkable of the whole series. It lays bare before us the Savior’s very soul. Few, if any, of us would have thought of applying it to Christ, or even dared to, had not the Spirit of God done so here in Hebrews 1. This Psalm brings before us the true and perfect humanity of Christ, and depicts Him as the despised and rejected One. It reveals Him as One who felt, and felt deeply, the experiences through which He passed. It might well be termed the Psalm of the Man of Sorrows. In it He is seen opening His heart and pouring out His grief before God. We lose much if we fail to attend carefully to the context of that portion which the Spirit here quotes. Let us go back to its opening verses:
"Hear My prayer, O Lord, and let My cry come unto Thee. Hide not Thy face from Me, in the day when I am in trouble; incline Thine ear unto Me: in the day when I call answer Me speedily. For My days are consumed like smoke, and My bones are burned as an hearth. My heart is smitten, and withered like grass; so that I forget to eat My bread. By reason of the voice of My groaning My bones cleave to my skin. I am like a pelican of the wilderness; I am like an owl of the desert. I watch, and am as a sparrow alone upon the housetop, Mine enemies reproach Me all the day, and they that are mad against Me are sworn against Me. For I have eaten ashes like bread, and mingled My drink with weeping. Because of Thine indignation and Thy wrath: for Thou hast lifted Me up, and cast Me down. My days are like a shadow that declineth; and I am withered like grass" (verses 1-11).
The above quotation is a longer one than we are accustomed to make, but it seemed impossible to abbreviate without losing its pathos and its moving effects upon us. There we are permitted to behold something of the Savior’s "travail of soul." How it should bow our hearts before Him! These plaintive sentences were uttered by our blessed Redeemer either amid the dark shadows of Gethsemane, or under the more awful darkness of Calvary. But notwithstanding His awful anguish, mark the perfect confidence in God of this suffering One:
"But Thou, O Lord, shalt endure forever, and Thy remembrance unto all generations. Thou shalt arise and have mercy upon Zion: for the time to favor her, yea, the set time, is come. For Thy servants take pleasure in her stones, and favor the dust thereof. So the heathen shall fear the name of the Lord, and all the kings of the earth Thy glory. When the Lord shall build up Zion, He shall appear in His glory. He will regard the prayer of the destitute, and not despise their prayer. This shall be written for the generation to come: and the people which shall be created shall praise the Lord. For He hath looked down from the height of His sanctuary; from heaven did the Lord behold the earth; to hear the groaning of the prisoner, to loose those that are appointed to death; to declare the name of the Lord in Zion and His praise in Jerusalem; when the people are gathered together, and the kingdoms to serve the Lord" (verses 12-22). Blessed is it to behold here the Savior looking away from the things seen to the things unseen: from the dark present to the bright future.
"He weakened My strength in the way; He shortened My days. I said O My God, take Me not away in the midst of My days" (verses 23, 24). Here again we are permitted to hear the "strong crying" (verse 7) of Him who was "acquainted with grief" as none other ever was. Few things recorded in the Word are more affecting than this: that the Lord Jesus, the perfect Man, should, at the age of thirty-three, be deemed by men as unfit to live any longer. He had hardly entered upon man’s estate when they crucified Him. Do you think that was nothing to Christ? Ah, brethren, He felt it deeply. Who can doubt it in the light of this awful plaint: "He weakened My strength in the way; He shortened My days. I said, O My God, take Me not away in the midst of My days." As Man He felt acutely this "cutting off" in His very prime.
Those words of the Savior make manifest what He suffered in His soul. He was perfect Man, with all the sinless sensibilities of human nature. A very touching type of Christ’s being cut off in the early prime of manhood is found in Leviticus 2:14. Each grade of the meal-offering described in Leviticus 2 pointed to the humanity of the Redeemer. Here in verse 14 Israel was bidden to take "green ears of corn dried by the fire" and offer it to the Lord as an offering. The "green ears of corn" (compare John 12:24 where Christ speaks of Himself under this figure) had not fully ripened, and so, were "dried by the fire"—symbol of being subjected to God’s judgment. So it was with Christ. Man’s sickle went over the field of corn and He was "cut off" in the midst of His days: when He was barely half of the "three score years and ten" (Ps. 90:10).
And what was Heaven’s response to this anguished cry of the Savior? The remainder of the Psalm records God’s answer: "Thy years are throughout all generations. Of old hast Thou laid the foundation of the earth. And the heavens are the work of Thy hands. They shall perish, but Thou shalt endure, yea, all of them shall wax old like a garment; as a vesture shalt Thou change them, and they shall be changed: But Thou art the same, and Thy years shall have no end" (verses 24-27).
"How marvelous is this! How incomprehensible this union of divine and human, of eternity and time, sadness and omnipotence! Do not wonder that such language of anguish, faintness and sorrow, of agonizing faith, is attributed by the Holy Spirit to Jesus. Remember the life of Jesus was a life of faith, a real, true, and earnest conflict; and that, although He constantly took firm hold of the promises of God, yet His feelings of sorrow, His sense of utter dependence on God, His anxious looking forward to His last suffering, all this was a reality. He gained the victory by faith; He knew that He was, through suffering, returning to the Father. He knew that as Son of Man and Redeemer of His people He would be glorified with the glory which He had with the Father before the foundations of the world were laid" (Saphir).
Let us examine closely the blessed reply of the Father to the plaintive petition of His suffering Son. "And, Thou, Lord." Before His incarnation, David, by the Spirit, called Him "Lord" (Matt. 22:43). At His birth, the angels who brought the first glad tidings of His advent to this earth, hailed Him as "Christ the Lord" (Luke 2:11). During His earthly ministry the disciples owned Him as "Lord" (John 13:13). So, too, is He often referred to in the Epistles (Rom. 1:3, etc.). But here, it is none other than the Father Himself who directly addresses as "Lord" that suffering Man, as He lay on His face in the Garden, sweating as it were great drops of blood. Thus may, and thus should, every believer also say of Him, "My Lord, and my God" (John 20:28), and worship Him as such.
"Thou, Lord, in the beginning." This phrase sets forth the eternity of the being of Him who became the Mediator. If Christ "in the beginning" laid the foundation of the earth, then He must be without beginning, and thus, eternal; compare (Pro. 8:22, 23).
"Hast laid the foundation of the earth." We have been deeply impressed with the fact that God has some good reason for referring in His Word to "the foundation" and "foundations" of the earth or world more than twenty-five times. We believe it is to safeguard His people from the popular delusion of the day, namely, that the earth revolves on its axis, and that the heavenly bodies are stationary, only appearing to our sight to move, as the banks and trees seem to be doing to one seated in a rowing-boat or sailing ship. This theory was first advanced (so far as the writer is aware) by Grecian heathen philosophers, echoed by Copernicus in the fifteenth century, and re-echoed by science "falsely so called" (see 1 Timothy 6:20) today. Alas, that so many of God’s servants and people have accepted it. Such a conceit cannot be harmonized with "a foundation" so often predicated of the earth; which, necessarily, implies its fixity! Nor can such a theory be squared with the repeated statements of Holy Writ that the "sun moves" (Joshua 10:12), etc. The writer is well aware that this paragraph may evoke a pitying smile from some. But that will not move him. Let God be true and every man a liar. We are content to believe what He has said. Paul was willing to be a fool for Christ’s sake (1 Cor. 4:10), and we are willing to be thought a fool for the Scripture’s sake.
"And the heavens are the work of Thine hand" (verse 10). This seems to bring in an additional thought. In the preceding clause creation is ascribed to Christ; here the greatness of His power. The heavens being of so far vaster dimensions than the earth, suggests the omnipotency of their Maker.
"They shall perish, but Thou remainest" (verse 11). This verse makes mention of still another perfection of Christ, namely, His immutability. The earth and the heavens shall perish. The apostle John, in prophetic vision, saw "a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away" (Rev. 21:1). But Christ "remaineth." He is "the same yesterday, and today, and forever."
"And they all shall wax old as doth a garment, and as a vesture shalt Thou fold them up, and they shall be changed" (verses 11:12). This emphasizes the mutability of the creature. Two resemblances are employed: first the earth may be said to "wax old as doth a garment" in that it is not to last forever, but is appointed to an end: see 2 Peter 3:10. The longer, therefore, it has continued, the nearer it approaches to that end; as a garment, the longer it is worn, the nearer it is to its end. May not the increasing number of earthquakes evidence that "old age" is fast coming upon it? Second, the heavens may be said to be "folded up as a vesture," inasmuch as Scripture declares "the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll" (Isa. 34:4).
"Thou shall fold them up." This intimates Christ’s absolute control over all creation. He that made all hath an absolute power to preserve, alter, and destroy all, as it pleaseth Him. He is the Potter, we are but the clay, to be molded as He will. Our Lord Jesus Christ, being true God, is the Most High and supreme Sovereign over all, and He doeth all "that man may know that Thou, whose name is Jehovah, art the Most High over all the earth" (Ps. 83:18). "By the word of the Lord were the heavens made" (Ps. 33:6); by the same word shall they be folded up. The practical value of this for our hearts is plain; such a Lord may be safely trusted; such a Lord should be revered and worshipped. In what holy awe should He be held!
"But Thou art the same, and Thy years shall not fail" (verse 12). "The mutability of creatures being distinctly set out, the apostle returneth to the main point intended, which is Christ’s immutability. It was before generally set down in the phrase, ‘Thou remaineth.’ Here it is illustrated in two other branches. Though all these three phrases in general intend one and the same thing, namely, immutability, yet, to show that there is no tautology, no vain repetition, of one and the same thing, they may be distinguished one from another:
"‘Thou remaineth,’ pointeth at Christ’s eternity before all times; for it implieth his being before, in which he still abides. ‘Thou art the same’ declares Christ’s constancy. There is no variableness with him; thus, therefore, he says of himself, ‘I am the Lord, I change not’ (Malachi 3:6). ‘Thy years shall not fail’ intendeth Christ’s everlastingness; that he was before all times, and continueth in all ages, and will beyond all times so continue" (Dr. Gouge).
"But Thou art the same, and Thy years shall not fail." This was God’s answer to the plaint of Christ’s being "cut off" in the midst of His days. As man, His "years" should have no end! As God the Son He is eternal in His being; but as Man, in resurrection, He received "life for evermore" (cf. Hebrews 7:14-17). Do we really grasp this? For nineteen hundred years since the Cross, men have been born, have lived, and then died. Statesmen, emperors, kings have appeared on the scene and then passed away. But there is one glorious Man who spans the centuries, who in His own humanity bridges those nineteen hundred years. He has not died, nor even grown old; He is "the same yesterday, and today, and forever!"
"But Thou art the same, and Thy years shall not fail." What assurance was this for the believing of Israel who had been sorely perplexed at the "cutting off" of the Messiah, in the midst of His days! Humbled as He had been, yet was He the Creator. In servant form had He appeared among them, but He was and is the sovereign Disposer of all things. Died he had on the cross, but He was now "alive for evermore." Their own Scriptures bore witness to it: God Himself affirmed it!
And what is the practical application of this wondrous passage for us today! Surely this: first, such a Savior, who is none other than Him who made heaven and earth, is a mighty Redeemer, "Able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by Him." Second, such an One, who is immutable and eternal, may be safely and confidently trusted; none can pluck out of His hand! Third, such an One, who is "Lord" over all, is to be held in holy awe and given the worship, submission, and service which are His due.
"But to which of the angels said He at any time, Sit on My right hand until I make Thine enemies Thy footstool?" (verse 13). This completes the proof of what the apostle had said in verses 2, 3. The Old Testament itself witnessed to the fact that the rejected Messiah is now seated at God’s right hand, and this by the word of the Father Himself. The quotation is from the 110th Psalm, a Psalm quoted more frequently in the New Testament than any other.
Verses 13 and 14 belong together. In them another contrast is pointed between Christ and the angels. As an argument it may be stated thus: He that sitteth at God’s right hand is far more excellent than ministers: Christ sitteth at God’s right hand, and angels are "ministers;" therefore, Christ is far more excellent than they. The former part is proved in verse 13, the latter is shown in verse 14.
As D.V. the subject of verse 13 will come before us again in our studies in this Epistle, we will now offer only the briefest comment. The Speaker here is the Father; the One addressed is the Son, but in His mediatorial character, for it was as the Son of Man that God exalted Him. Further proof of this is supplied by "until I make Thine enemies Thy footstool." As mediatorial King and Priest, Christ is subservient to the Father; He is subject to Him who has "put all things under Him;’ (1 Cor. 15:27).
"Until I make." Christ is not to sit at God’s right hand forever. 1 Thessalonians 4:16 says, "The Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout," etc. He remains there throughout this present Day of Grace. Then, following a brief interval, His enemies shall be made His footstool. This will be at His return to the earth: see Revelation 19:11-21; Isaiah 63:1-3, etc. Then Christ Himself will subdue His enemies: note the "He" in 1 Corinthians 15:25; but it will be by the Father’s decree, see Psalm 2:6-9.
"Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?" (verse 14). This verse presents a fact which should awaken in every Christian varied and deep emotions. Alas that, through lack of diligence in searching the Word, so many of the Lord’s people are largely in ignorance of much that is said therein, and here referred to.
It should awaken within us a sense of wonderment. The angels are portrayed as our attendants! When we remember who and what they are—their exalted rank in the scale of being, their sinlessness, their wondrous capacities, knowledge and powers—it is surely an astonishing thing to learn that they should minister unto us. Think of it, the unfallen angels waiting upon the fallen descendants of Adam! The courtiers of Heaven ministering to worms of the earth! The mighty angels, who "excel in strength," taking notice of and serving those so far beneath them! Could you imagine the princes of the royal family seeking out dwellers in the slums and ministering to them, not once or occasionally, but constantly? But the analogy, altogether fails. The angels of God are sent forth to minister unto redeemed sinners! Marvel at it.
It should awaken within us fervent praise to God. What an evidence of His grace, what a proof of His love that He sends forth His angels to "minister" unto us! This is another of the wondrous provisions of His mercy, which none of us begin to appreciate as we should. It is another of the blessed consequences of our union with Christ. In Matthew 4:11 we read, "angels came and ministered unto Him." Therefore, because Divine grace has made us one with Him, they do so to us too. What a proof is this of our oneness with Him! Angels of God are sent forth to minister unto redeemed sinners! Bow in worship and praise.
It should deepen within us a sense of security. True, it may be abused, but rightly appropriated, how it is calculated to quiet our fears, counteract our sense of feebleness, calm our hearts in time of danger! Is it not written, "The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear Him, and delivereth them;" then why be afraid? We doubt not that every Christian has been "delivered" many more times from the jaws of death by angelic interposition, than any of us imagine. The angels of God are sent forth to minister unto redeemed sinners. Then let the realization of this deepen within us a sense of the Lord’s protecting care for entrusting us to His mighty angels.
"Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to minister for them who shall be the heirs of salvation?" (verse 14). Three things are to be considered: those to whom the angels minister, why they thus minister and the form their ministry takes.
Those to whom the angels minister are here termed "heirs of salvation," an expression denoting at least four things. There is an Estate unto which God has predestined His people, an inheritance—willed to them by God. This Estate is designated "salvation," see 1 Thessalonians 5:9, where our appointment unto it is mentioned. It is the consummation of our salvation which is in view, Hebrews 9:28; 1 Peter 1:3,4. Well may this estate or inheritance be called "Salvation," for those who enter it are forever delivered from all danger, freed from all enemies, secured from all evils. This expression "heirs of salvation" also denotes our legal rights to the inheritance: our title is an indefeasable one. Further, it presupposes the coming in of death, Christ’s death. Finally, it implies the perpetuity of it—"to him and his heirs forever."
It is to these "heirs of salvation" that the angels minister. To enable us the better to grasp the relation of angels to Christians, let us employ an illustration. Take the present household of the Duke of York. In it are many servants, honored, trusted, loved. There are titled "ladies" and "lords" of the realm, yet they are serving, "ministering," to the infant Princess Elizabeth. At present, she is inferior to them in age, strength, wisdom and attainments; yet is she superior in rank and station. She is of the royal stock, a princess, possibly heir to the throne. In like manner, the heirs of salvation are now in the stage of their infancy; they are but babes in Christ; this is the period of their minority. The angels far excel us in strength, wisdom, attainments; yet are they our servants, they "minister" unto us. Why? Because we are high above them in birth, rank, station. We are children of God, we are joint-heirs with Christ, we have been redeemed with royal blood, yea, we have been made "kings and priests unto God" (Rev. 1:6). O how wonderful is our rank—members of the Royal family of Heaven, therefore are we "ministered" unto by the holy angels. What a calling is ours! What provision has Divine love made for us!
Let us now inquire, Why do they thus "minister" unto us? For what reason or reasons has God ordained that the angels should be our attendants? All His ways are ordered by perfect wisdom. Let us then reverently inquire as to His purpose in this arrangement.
First, is it not to exercise the graces of obedience and benevolence in the angels themselves? Such a task being assigned them constitutes a real test of their fidelity to their Maker. They are bidden to leave the glories of Heaven and come down to this poor sin-cursed earth; yes, oftentimes to seek out children of God in hovels and workhouses. What a test of their loyalty to God! Not only so, but what an opportunity is thus afforded for the exercise in them of the spirit of benevolence! As the frail and suffering children of God, how their sympathies must be drawn out. There are no such objects in Heaven, there is no distress or suffering there; and me-thinks, that were the angels to be confined to that realm of unclouded bliss, they would be stoics—unable to sympathize with us poor afflicted creatures. Therefore, to cultivate both the spirit of obedience and of benevolence, God has commissioned them to "minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation."
Second, has not God assigned to them this ministry in order to give them a closer acquaintance with His own wondrous grace and matchless love for poor sinners? The angels are not simply far-distant spectators of the out-working of God’s wondrous purpose of mercy, but have been made, in part, the actual administrators of it! Thus, by virtue of this commission which they have received from Him, they learn in a practical way how much He cares for us.
Third, has not God assigned to them this ministry in order that there might be a closer bond between the different sections of His family? That word in Ephesians 3:15, refers, we believe, not only to the redeemed of Christ, but to all of Heaven’s inhabitants—"of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named." Yes, the angels are members of God’s "family" too. Note how in Hebrews 12:22, 23 the two great sections of it are placed side by side: "to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and Church of the Firstborn." Thus, the angels are commissioned to minister for those who shall be heirs of salvation in order that there may be formed a closer bond of intercourse and sympathy between the two great sections of God’s family.
Fourth, has not God assigned them this ministry in order to magnify the work of the Lord Jesus? The angels are not only subject to Christ as their Lord, are not only called on to worship Him as God, but they are also employed in watching over the safety and promoting the temporal interests of His redeemed. No doubt this fourth named reason is both the primary and ultimate one. How this magnifies the Savior! Commissioning them to "minister for those who shall be heirs of salvation" is God’s putting His imprimature upon the cross-work of Christ.
Let us now consider how the angels "minister" to us. First, in protecting from temporal dangers. A striking example of this is found in 2 Kings 6:15-17. Elisha and his servant were menaced by the king of Syria. His forces were sent out to capture them. An host compassed the city where they were. The servant was terrified; then the prophet prayed unto the Lord to open his eyes, "and the Lord opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha," which, in the light of Psalm 68:17 and Hebrews 1:7, we know were the protecting angels of God. In the sequel we learn that the enemy was smitten with blindness, and thus the servants of God escaped. This was a concrete illustration of Psalm 34:7, "The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear Him, and delivereth them."
Second, in delivering from temporal dangers. A case in point is that which is recorded of Lot: "And when the morning arose, then the angels hastened Lot, saying, Arise, take thy wife and thy two daughters which are here; lest thou be consumed in the iniquity of the city. And while he fingered, the men laid hold upon his hand, and upon the hand of his wife, and upon the hand of his two daughters; the Lord being merciful unto him, and they brought him forth, and set him without the city." How often angels have "hastened" us when in the place of danger, and "laid hold" of us while we lingered, perhaps the Day will reveal.
Another example is found in the case of Daniel. We refer to the time when he was cast into the lions’ den. All Bible readers are aware that the prophet was miraculously preserved from these wild beasts, but what is not generally known is the particular instrumentality which God employed on that occasion. This is made known in Daniel 6:22: "My God hath sent His angel, and hath shut the lions’ mouths, that they have not hurt me." What an illustration is this of Psalm 34:7, "The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear Him, and delivereth them!"
Nor is angelic deliverance of God’s people confined to Old Testament times. In Acts 5:17-19 we read, "Then the high priest rose up, and all they that were with him (which is the sect of the Sadducees) and were filled with indignation, and laid their hands on the apostles, and put them in the common prison, But the angel of the Lord by night opened the prison doors, and brought them forth." Again, in Acts 12:6-9 we read, "The same night Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains; and the keepers before the door kept the prison. And, behold, the angel of the Lord came upon him, and a light shined in the prison: and he smote Peter on the side, and raised him up, saying, Arise up quickly. And his chains fell off from his hands . . . And he went out, and followed him."
One other form which the ministry of angels takes in connection with their custody of God’s children is brought before us in Luke 16:22: "And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom." To our natural feelings, a death-bed scene is often a most painful and distressing experience. There we behold a helpless creature, emaciated by disease, convulsed with pain, panting for breath; his countenance pallid, his lips quivering, his brow bedewed with a cold sweat. But were not the spiritual world hidden from us by a veil of God’s appointing we should also see there the glorious inhabitants of Heaven surrounding the bed, waiting for God’s summons, to convoy that soul from earth, through the territory of Satan, up to the Father’s House. There they are, ready to perform their last office in ministering for those who shall be heirs of salvation. Then, Christian, why fear death?
It should be carefully noted that angels are mentioned in the plural number in Luke 16:22, so also are they in Psalm 91:11, 12: "For He shall give His angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways. They shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone." There is nothing whatever in Scripture to support the Romish tradition of a single guardian angel for each person or Christian: the plural number in the above passages make directly against it.
"Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?" (verse 14). "This text wears an interrogative form; but it is just equivalent to a strong affirmation. It is certain that no angel sits on the throne of God; it is certain that they are all ministering spirits. A minister is a servant—a person who occupies an inferior place, who acts a subordinate part, subject to the authority and regulated by the will of another. The angels are ‘ministering spirits,’ they are not governing spirits. Service, not dominion, is their province. In the first phrase there is an expression of their being God’s ministers or servants; in the second, that He sends forth, commissions these servants of His to minister to those who shall be heirs of salvation. They are His servants, and He uses their instrumentality for promoting the happiness of His peculiar people. There is a double contrast. The Son is the co-ruler—they are servants; the Son sits- they are sent forth" (Dr. J. Brown).
Finally, it should be observed that "ministering spirits" is a title or designation. Not only do the angels render service to God’s saints, but they have an office so to do. It is not simply that they "go forth" to minister for them, but they are "sent forth." They do not take this work upon themselves, but have received a definite charge or commission from their Maker. How this evidences, once more, the preciousness to Christ of those whom He purchased with His blood! O that our hearts may be bowed in wonderment and worship for this blessed provision of His love toward us while we are left in this wilderness scene. O that our fears may be removed, and our hearts strengthened by the realization that, amid the dangers and perils with which we are now surrounded, the angels of God are guarding and ministering both for and to us.