God’s government is both stranger and far more glorious than we realize.
I’ve reached Revelation chapter 7 in my personal reading. I decided to do a quick survey of classic commentaries to find out what others said about it. I found some interesting interpretations in those works, but no “Aha,” moment that became a “Thus saith the Lord.” One writer’s words seemed as good as another.
The more I tried to reconcile the sealing of the 144,000 (vv. 1-8), and the vision of those coming out of great tribulation (vv. 9-17), the more my eye kept returning to the numerous angels that fill the periphery of the chapter, and of the whole book of Revelation.
I am not especially intrigued with angels. In fact, due to the cultural caricatures inflicted upon them, I have paid them little attention. I’ve never watched even one episode of Highway to Heaven or Touched by an Angel. I knew Christians who collected angel figurines, and who liked to hear angel stories of mysterious strangers showing up to help in times of need (I have a few of those myself), but the Bible contains warnings about not being distracted by them. Paul goes out of his way in Hebrews to put them in a rightful and subservient place and in Colossians outright rebukes those who have strayed into worshiping them.
Whoever reads the great redemptive drama of Christ in the New Testament and comes away fixated on angels has looked at VanGogh’s “Starry Night” and walked away smitten with the wooden frame that surrounds it.
Here’s my question: In a universe governed by an omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent God, why would He need the services of some created class of spiritual beings? Could He not immediately and with greater efficiency, answer all needs Himself?
But of course, I go too far.
When God created angels, I am mistakenly assuming He needed the help, or He simply needed company. Probably not, though.
It might be wiser to affirm the fact that for whatever reason, God governs a kingdom that utilizes angels.
Nor are these beings mere window dressing. In moments of great crisis, they were either involved, or stood ready for involvement. Directly preceding Israel’s monumental return to Jerusalem, angelic combat raged for weeks. When Jesus was threatened in the garden, He told Peter that He was able to get twelve legions of angels to protect Him if He had wanted.
And Revelation? The amount of angelic activity there is nothing short of epic. In some passages we get confused about the identity of the angel because the glory belonging to it is so compelling, it sounds like Christ Himself being described.¹
The universe seems crowded and busy. Why not simplify everything down to a solitary figure on the throne, since God is more than able to control everything?
To this God may well answer me (and us), “Can I not exercise my omnipotence in whatever way I see fit? Am I not allowed to work through secondary agents? In fact, why should I bother with the church? Why should I use you at all?”
Maybe we ought to thank the Lord for not putting efficiency first.
Pragmatism, at least the mortal variety, does not bind Him. Still, his heavenly government and operations not only cascade forward, but do so with great flourish. There is nothing reductionist, nor spartan in them.
This is the way things are.
And this is why I like to read Revelation.
- In particular, Rev. 10 :1-7, 18:1, as well as passages like Rev. 8:3-5 that stress high priestly function.