Formations 12.19.2021: Angels from the Realms of Glory

Hebrews 1:5–2:3a

Angels are everywhere.

That’s not a theological statement; it’s just an observation of life in a modern, Western culture in December. Just look around. You’ll see angels on the tops of Christmas trees, on greeting cards, in storefront windows, on suburban front lawns…everywhere.

Historically, we might ponder where the idea of angels came about. They’re barely mentioned in the Old Testament, only really coming into their own in the later books. Between the Testaments, Jews devised complex speculations about angels: their ranks, names, and nature. By the time we get to the New Testament, angels are a fixture in the biblical worldview.

We have inherited these beliefs but filtered them through 2,000 years of folklore and pagan cultural borrowings. To be honest, though, even in biblical times people sometimes went overboard on angels. It’s easy for some people to get carried away with speculations about supernatural things they think they understand.

In the first century, some people believed that angels were the key to approaching God. They hoped that by tapping into angelic wisdom, angelic power, and angelic worship before God’s heavenly throne, they could transcend their earthly limitations and experience a divine vision. Bible teachers sometimes express this in shorthand as “worship of angels.” Whatever we call it, it seems to have been a problem that some New Testament writers needed to address.

In today’s passage, the author of Hebrews draws a sharp contrast between Jesus, who is the Son of God, and the angels, who merely serve as God’s messengers. Quoting Scripture, the author heaps unprecedented praise upon Jesus while demonstrating that even the angels worship him at God’s command (1:6). Do you want to know God? Forget about angels; it’s all about Jesus.

When the angels appeared to the shepherds in a field outside of Bethlehem, it wasn’t to usher them into celestial bliss. It was to point them to Jesus. That’s what angels do. They’re go-betweens: worthy of honor, to be sure…but only a little.

Discussion

• What Christmas carols can you think of that speak of angels? Why role do angels serve in these carols?
• How prominently do angels feature in your beliefs about the world or about God? Why do you think this is?
• Why do you think some people become preoccupied with angels? What might the author of Hebrews say to them?

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.

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