13th September 2022
Read (Hebrews 1.14)
Message (Scott Woodburn)
Images are powerful things which have the potential to stay with us long after the event. Don't believe me? If I mention September 11th I suspect we all rapidly call to mind the images of that awful day twenty-one years ago. Equally if I asked you to imagine Jesus I suspect an image of a white man with long hair and a beard would spring to mind. We've seen these images in our churches and Sunday school colouring books and there's the problem. Remembering a historical event is one thing but we have no need of images of Christ, they are prohibited by the Lord and they cause us to imagine things which simply are not true.
The same problem is evident when we consider the angels. If we imagine an angel we picture white men in white robes with massive feathered wings and halos around their heads. Is this a Biblical image? Yes and no. It is certainly true that in Scripture the angels sometimes take the appearance of men. Angels in the form of men appeared at the empty tomb (Luke 24v4) and in the same way angels stood beside the Apostles as they watched Christ's Ascension (Acts 1v10).
It's also true that the Scriptures speak of the angels as having wings. The cherubim are said to spread out their wings over the mercy seat on the Ark of the Covenant (Exodus 25v20) and the seraphim are said to have six wings (Isaiah 6v2). So are angels flying men? Should we expect angels to drop their feathers in our worship services? No.
The Lord has graciously given us His Word and in the Bible He speaks to us in a way that helps us understand matters beyond our comprehension. He describes Himself (and angels) with language that is anthropomorphic or in simple terms, language which gives human attributes to non-human beings.
What do I mean? Here's an example. Scripture tells us that our God is spirit (John 4v24) but at the same time we read in Scripture that God has arms (Deuteronomy 33v27), can smell (Genesis 8v21), a mouth (Matthew 4v4), wings (Psalm 17v8) and can hear (Psalm 4v3). Which is it? Is God a spirit with human body parts and the wings of a mother hen? No. God does not actually have a mouth, He is spirit. Nor does our God actually have a nose, He is spirit. Instead when the Lord speaks to us about his arms and hands and wings, He is painting us a picture that we can grasp. The language helps us understand deeper truth, God is spirit and hears and sees and speaks and protects but He doesn't have or need physical ears and eyes or wings.
Now with that said we should note one area of complexity - Christ took on actual flesh and He never took it off. So while it is true that God is spirit without form, it is also true that in glory today Christ remains flesh and blood and He maintains an actual physical body. Jesus, the God-man, has eyes, ears, nose, mouth, hands and feet.
Anthropomorphic language is also used to describe the angels and unsurprisingly they don't usually have eyes or wings nor are they handsome looking white men in long robes. They can sometimes take this appearance but this is not who they truly are. The Apostle explains that angels are spirits (v14), therefore they do not have body parts and I'm sorry to say they do not drop feathers for you to pick up. They also have the wonderful purpose of ministering to God's people. They are sent out for our sake.
Isn't that an extraordinary and quite overlooked truth? I'm not saying that our focus should be on the angels instead of Christ - perish the thought. But perhaps we would do well to occasionally contemplate the work of the angelic host in this world and in our fellowships. These majestic and powerful spirits belong to Jesus and they do His work day and night. We have no clue about their activity in our day to day lives but we can be sure that they are at work and because Christ is for us, then His angels are for us too.
We thank God today for His providential care which involves the work of His angels and we are humbled by the unseen protection and service of God's host. They are not men with giant wings and halos, the reality is far more glorious and one day in heaven we will join them in praising the Lord.
Q51 What is forbidden in the second commandment? The second commandment forbiddeth the worshipping of God by images, or any other way not appointed in his Word.