Blogging the Institutes | 1.14.5-6 |The Names and Actions of Angels

“Blogging the Institutes” is my on-going attempt to paraphrase John Calvin’s work, the Institutes of the Christian Religion. You can find out more about the series in the Introduction. For all the posts in this series, check out the Master List

The Names and Actions of Angels

Scripture tells us that angels are heavenly spirit. God uses them to execute all the purposes which he has decreed. Their name can be looked at as a kind of intermediary to people. They have several different names in Scripture bu the same office. They are called “hosts” because they surround their Prince. They adorn and display his majesty. they are like soldiers and always have their eyes trained on their leader’s commands. They are ready and prompt to execute his order. The moment he gives the nod, they prepare for and do the work.

The prophets, especially Daniel, give similar descriptions of angels. The angels demonstrate the magnificence of God’s rule. For example, when God stood up to judge, “Thousands upon thousands were attending Him, And myriads upon myriads were standing before Him” (Daniel 7:10). Through them, the Lord declares his power and might. 

In other Scriptures, angels are called “principalities” or “powers” or “dominions” (Colossians 1:16; Ephesians 1:21), since God exercises his government of the world through them. They are also called “thrones” since the glory of God dwells in them in some measure. I’m not dogmatic as to this interpretation, however, because other views are permissible. Excluding the terms “thrones,” the Holt Spirit employs the other names to commend the dignity of angelic service. It is not right to overlook those instruments God uses in his service. In some passages they are even called “gods” because God is in some measure represented to us through their service. 

In the passages of the Old Testament where the “angel of the Lord” appears, I am inclined to believe that this angel was Christ. Most of the time, however, when the term “angel” appears it means angel. This should be strange to us. Princes and rulers might even have the term “gods” applied to them because of their office as the vice-regents of God, the Supreme King and Judge. Much more then, it is appropriate to give the title to angels in whom the brightness of God’s glory is vividly displayed.

Scripture repeatedly insists that angels are ministers and dispensers of God’s grace toward us. We are told that they watch over us for our safety, undertake our defense, direct our path, and make sure that no evil befalls us. There are whole passages which relate the work of angels first of all to Christ, the Head of the Church. But, being in union with Christ, they relate to us as well: “For He will give His angels charge concerning you, To guard you in all your ways” (Psalm 91:11). Again, “The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear Him, And rescues them” (Psalm 34:7). 

These passages show that the Lord has given the protection of his church to angels. Accordingly, the angel of the Lord consoles Hagar on her exile and bids her to be reconciled to Sarah (Genesis 21:17). Abraham promises to his servant that an angel will be the guide of his journey. Jacob, in blessing Ephraim and Manasseh prays, “The angel of the Lord redeemed me from all evil; bless the lads” (Genesis 48:16). So also, God appointed an angel to guard the camp of the Israel. God often stirred up angels against Israel’s adversaries. Angels ministered to Christ and were present with him throughout various situations. To the women, they announced his resurrection. To the disciple, they foretold his glorious return. They war against the devil and all our enemies and execute vengeance upon those who afflict us. For example, we read about how the angel of the Lord killed one hundred eighty-five thousand men in the camp of the king of Assyria in a single night, in order to deliver Jerusalem from siege.

 Thus, in fine (not to mention more), angels ministered to Christ, and were present with him in all straits. To the women they announced his resurrection; to the disciples they foretold his glorious advent. In discharging the office of our protectors, they war against the devil and all our enemies, and execute vengeance upon those who afflict us. Thus we read that an angel of the Lord, to deliver Jerusalem from siege, slew one hundred and eighty-five thousand men in the camp of the king of Assyria in a single night (2 Kings 19:35).

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