4. Angels and Cherubim
Theme: 4. Angels and Cherubim
Summerstrand 18 August 2019 18:30
I begin with an overview of the essence and work of angels, cherubim and seraphim. Then I will focus on Acts 12 where an angel’s exceptional involvement in the life and ministry of Peter is told, as well as the manner in which an angel killed Herod because he did not honour God.
My focus is: “And the chains fell off his hands”. This story attest to the reality of angels and the power of prayer.
Video on the Angels and Cherubim
“Spiritual Beings are copyright 2019 by The Bible Project and are available for viewing at www.thebibleproject.com“.
SERMON THREE: ANGELS AND CHERUBIM
I start with the cherubim, because we read less about them in the Bible and I want to focus more on the angels. Angels are much more involved in our lives.
- We read of the cherubim – gerubs in Afrikaans – at the beginning of the Bible in the garden of Eden where they functioned as guards to the tree of life.
“He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.” (Gen 3:24)
- We read of symbols of the cherubim in the story of the tabernacle and the temple where they have a symbolic role as guardians of the ark of the covenant. There were two golden cherubim on the ark of the covenant, symbols of their guarding role toward God (Ex 25:22). The writer of Hebrews also refers back to them in the NT (Hebr 9:5).
- The first person to actually see them was the prophet Ezekiel (Ezek 10:1). He also called them living beings (Ezek 10:15). That leads to the conclusion that the four living beings we encounter in John’s apocalyptic vision, are most probably also cherubim, or maybe a combination of the cherubim and seraphim (Rev 4-5).
- Cherubim are fascinating spiritual beings, sometimes depicted with four faces – lion, ox, eagle, and man – with hands like us, but the feet of calves. It may be that they represent wild animals, tame animals, birds and men in worship before God.
- They have four wings and have the ability to move anywhere at will. They never turn but go straight forward, as do the wheels of the cherubic chariot that they carry in Ezekiel, above which is the throne of God, and they are full of eyes that are like burning coals of fire.
There are also the seraphim (fiery ones) in Isaiah 6, which seem to be similar spiritual beings. They have six wings. They could be serpent or cobra like in appearances (Numbers 21:6 – the same word seraphim is used for snakes), although they have feet like us. They are brilliant beings, like flaming fire, symbolic of the purity and power of the heavenly court of God. They carry around the live coals in the heavenly sanctuary and guard the throne of Yahweh. That is what we can deduct from Isaiah’s vision.
- The first angel we hear about in the Bible is the Angel of the Lord appearing to Hagar (Gen 16:7; also, in Gen 21:17). Also, later to Abraham (Gen 22:11). This angel would appear again and again right through the history of the people of Israel. In Midian (Ex 3:2). In Egypt (Ex 14:19). In the Wilderness (Ex 23:20). At the Conquest (Judges 2:1). In the time of the judges (Judges 6:11). Even at the judgment on Israel in the time of David (2 Sam 24:16). Also, to the prophets, e.g. Elijah (1 Kin 19:7). Next week we will focus on this wonderful Spiritual Being.
- But there are obviously more angels. At Sodom and Gomorrah, we already read about two angels that came down to deliver judgment to the unrighteous people (Gen 19:1). And Jacob saw a host of angels in the wilderness that went up and down a ladder from heaven to earth and back, a sign of their function as intermediaries between heaven and earth (Gen 28:12). Later these angels would meet Jacob again just before he got back to Canaan – he called the place Mahanaim: “God’s camp” – as an encouragement for the road ahead (Gen 32:1).
Angels are an innumerable host of heaven (Hebr 12:22): “numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands” (Rev 5:11). They also have archangels, that is chief or highly important angels, that command other angels (1 Thess 4:16).
Michael is the only archangel named in the Bible. He is the principal leader against Satan and his angels (Jude 9; Rev 12:7), also called the “prince” of Israel (Dan 10:21; 21:1). In Jewish literature we get the names of three other archangels: Gabriel, Raphael, and Phanuel/Uriel. But the Bible is silent on them. Gabriel does appear to Daniel (Dan 8:16-27; 9:21-27) and at the birth of Jesus (Luke 1:11-22, 26-38) but not specifically as an archangel.
- Angels are depicted as agents of God, sometimes helping people, even guarding them (Ps 91:11), sometimes bringing messages to them, sometimes actually fighting against God’s foes, not only in the heavens against the devil (Rev 12:9), but also here on earth. E.g. with the plagues in Egypt:
“He let loose on them his burning anger, wrath, indignation, and distress, a company of destroying angels.” (Ps 78:49)
- They are extremely powerful beings, who can control the wind or harm the earth and the sea (Rev 7:1-2). One angel is depicted as:
“wrapped in a cloud, with a rainbow over his head, and his face was like the sun, and his legs like pillars of fire.” (Rev 10:1)
- There is the tantalising idea in the Psalms that the manna in the desert was actually the “bread of angels”:
“Man ate of the bread of the angels; he sent them food in abundance.” (Ps 78:25)
- Angels actually “do his word” (Ps 103:20), oftentimes from the very presence of the throne of God (Luke 1:19; Rev 8:2).
- And they obviously praise God, as all heavenly creatures do (Ps 148:2).
They praise God at the birth of Jesus (Luke 2:13,15).
- They minister to Jesus in the wilderness (Matt 4:11).
- They are God’s reapers (Matt 13:39). They separate the evil from the righteous. They care for the dead souls (Luke 16:22). And they will come with Jesus in their full might (2 Thess 1:7).
- They have a special role with children. When Jesus put a child in the midst of his disciples, teaching about what it means to be part of the kingdom, He said:
“For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.” (Matt 18:10).
- They have joy when a sinner comes to Christ (Luke 15:10).
- They break the apostles out of jail (Acts 5:19). The same happened to Peter when Herod wanted to kill him (Acts 12:7)
- An angel was sent to give a message to Philip (Acts 8:26). The same happened to Cornelius (Acts 10:3). The same happened to Paul as he was on his way to Rome, assuring him that they will not be harmed during the shipwreck (Acts 27:23).
- And John received his revelation helped right through by an angel (Revelation).
In short, they are: “ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation.” (Hebr 1:14)
- We are called to be hospitable to strangers, for you never know who you might encounter:
“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” (Hebr 13:2)
- We become like angels in heaven (Matt 22:30), equal to them in immortality (Luke 20:36). Although we will also be their judges (1 Cor 6:3), because there is also an election from the angels (1 Tim 5:21; 2 Pet 2:4).
Context for the Scripture reading
Just to give some context.
- At Pentecost the early church grew quickly to about 5 000 members. This first phase of the preaching of the gospel was full of vibrant witnessing and wonders. But still only in Jerusalem.
- With the stoning of Stephen by the Jewish Council a big persecution broke out. But at the same time, this persecution facilitated the second phase of the preaching of the gospel, going into Judea and Samaria. Ordinary Christians spread the gospel from Jerusalem to Antioch, and even to Ethiopia in Africa. But they still only witnessed to Jews.
- Then an angel of God appeared to Cornelius, the leader of an Italian Cohort in Caesarea, and Peter was sent to bring the gospel to the God-fearing Gentiles. The third phase of the spreading of the gospel had begun, eventually taking the gospel in the fourth phase from Antioch to the ends of the earth.
Meanwhile back at Jerusalem the Jewish king, Herod – the third Herod we read of in the Bible, Agrippa I, the son of the Herod of the crucifixion, and the grandson of Herod the Great who reigned at the birth of Jesus – decided to do something about the spreading of the gospel.
He saw that the Jewish Council had failed to stop the spreading of the gospel through persecution. He decided to join the battle with more violence. We read in Acts 12:
12 About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. 2 He killed James the brother of John with the sword, 3 and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. This was during the days of Unleavened Bread. 4 And when he had seized him, he put him in prison, delivering him over to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending after the Passover to bring him out to the people. 5 So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church.
Herod’s violence against the church
So, Herod captured some of the key leaders of the congregation. He killed one of the two “sons of thunder”, James (Mark 3:17 – the nickname that Jesus gave them) with the sword and threw Peter into prison.
It was a bloody assault on the leadership of the young congregation in Jerusalem a few years after Jesus was crucified by the previous Herod and Pontius Pilate. The effect on the congregation was immense, because these two, James and Peter, were two of the first four called disciples of Jesus (Luke 5:1-11). John and Andrew were spared, but it would have been just a matter of time before they and the other apostles would be killed.
Herod cunningly chose the feast of Easter for all this, because the congregation would remember that that was the time that the authorities nailed Jesus to the cross, during the days of Unleavened Bread.
Herod’s intention was to kill Peter just after the Passover as a public spectacle before the people of Jerusalem. With his death Herod wanted to stem the tide, because Peter was beginning to set the pace for the crossing-boundaries movement of the gospel as the conversion of Cornelius had shown (Acts 10).
But we see the congregation engaging in the one thing that brings change, prayer. We read that their reaction to the violence of Herod was to make earnest prayer for him to God by the church. It is prayer that changes things, not violence. It is God that rules not Herod.
Four squads of soldiers were guarding Peter in prison. And this is where we see the first reaction of God to the prayer, the intervention of an angel of the Lord:
6 Now when Herod was about to bring him out, on that very night, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries before the door were guarding the prison. 7 And behold, an angel of the Lord stood next to him, and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him, saying, “Get up quickly.” And the chains fell off his hands. 8 And the angel said to him, “Dress yourself and put on your sandals.” And he did so. And he said to him, “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me.” 9 And he went out and followed him. He did not know that what was being done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision. 10 When they had passed the first and the second guard, they came to the iron gate leading into the city. It opened for them of its own accord, and they went out and went along one street, and immediately the angel left him. 11 When Peter came to himself, he said, “Now I am sure that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting.”
And the chains fell off his hands
What I want you to see, is two things.
1. The one is the reality of this experience. Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, he was bound with two chains, and the rest of the soldiers was posted as sentries before the door. Like Pontius Pilate before with the burial of Jesus, Herod was afraid that Peter would be delivered in some miraculous way – and that is precisely what happened.
But it is real. An angel of the Lord stood next to Peter with a light shining around them in the cell. He struck Peter on the side – quite violently one may add, it is the same word (patassō) that is used to describe the angel’s striking of Herod that will follow – and woke him. He wanted Peter to get up quickly and follow him. It would have been cold, so the angel said that he should wrap his cloak around him.
The chains fell off Peter’s hands, and they just walked out of the prison with doors opening of their own accord, one after the other. They passed the guards one by one, not one lifting a finger to stop them. And when they were out, the angel just as suddenly left Peter.
That is when Peter understood that this was not his imagination. He wasn’t dreaming this. It was real.
2. The second thing I want you to see, is the power of prayer. God works his wonders through our prayers. Herod and the sixteen soldiers guarding Peter in prison were not able to withstand the prayers of the congregation and the intervention of an angel of the Lord.
That is the message that Peter got from this real experience. God can and will intervene where the work of his kingdom is in danger. And He will use his power to intervene and rescue his people from the hand of the likes of Herod, who had been king for a very short time, but already confirmed that he was plotting against God and the spreading of his Kingdom.
And by thwarting the expectation of the Jewish people – that their leaders would erase the memory of Jesus and the mission of the church – God was confirming his blessing on their work, giving Peter back to them.
Back to Peter:
12 When he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose other name was Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying. 13 And when he knocked at the door of the gateway, a servant girl named Rhoda came to answer. 14 Recognizing Peter’s voice, in her joy she did not open the gate but ran in and reported that Peter was standing at the gate. 15 They said to her, “You are out of your mind.” But she kept insisting that it was so, and they kept saying, “It is his angel!” 16 But Peter continued knocking, and when they opened, they saw him and were amazed. 17 But motioning to them with his hand to be silent, he described to them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And he said, “Tell these things to James and to the brothers.” Then he departed and went to another place.
The effect on the congregation
Again, this as real as it gets. Peter could walk out of a prison cell through a number of gates … but Rhoda stopped him in his tracks at the door of the house of Mary, the mother of John Mark – who would still play a major role in the early church.
They even thought that Peter was an angel! But, in the end they opened for Peter and celebrated his release. They were confirmed and encouraged in their conviction to trust God, although Peter had to leave for another place.
All the people of God now knew that the gospel would not be thwarted by the likes of Herod and the Jewish people.
The effect on the soldiers
The effect on the soldiers was devastating:
18 Now when day came, there was no little disturbance among the soldiers over what had become of Peter. 19 And after Herod searched for him and did not find him, he examined the sentries and ordered that they should be put to death. Then he went down from Judea to Caesarea and spent time there.
But, the work of the angel of the Lord was not done.
The effect on Herod
Herod was in his sights:
20 Now Herod was angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon, and they came to him with one accord, and having persuaded Blastus, the king’s chamberlain, they asked for peace, because their country depended on the king’s country for food. 21 On an appointed day Herod put on his royal robes, took his seat upon the throne, and delivered an oration to them. 22 And the people were shouting, “The voice of a god, and not of a man!” 23 Immediately an angel of the Lord struck him down, because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and breathed his last.
God does not share his glory. He does not take kindly to such a sustained assault on his people. He even sees the plight of the people of Tyre and Sidon in asking peace from this warring king. And Herod was killed by God (Josephus says in 44 AD).
This is quite a disturbing event.
It reminds me of the saying: the wheels of justice turn slowly but surely. God does not let Herod mess with Him, and acts to protect His name, His kingdom and His will – just as Jesus taught us to pray in the “Our Father”.
It is also a clear indication that one should not overestimate God’s long-suffering or especially not interpret it as weakness or slowness to act. Where His glory is compromised, He acts.
The effect on the gospel
The end result of these two interventions of angels was the following two things:
24 But the word of God increased and multiplied.
25 And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem when they had completed their service, bringing with them John, whose other name was Mark.
God wanted the word to spread. And He used whatever means was necessary.
1. Here God used the prayers of the congregation. He sent two angels to pave the way for the spreading of the gospel.
We are encouraged with this message. The prayers of the righteous have great power when focused on God’s will in such situations. And remember that Barnabas and Saul were also praying together at that time. The fellowship of believers across congregation boundaries is part and parcel of this wonderful affirmation of God’s deliverance and his angelic interventions even in a political and public reality.
2. God also used this experience to call further workers for the kingdom. With this miraculous encounter God set the table for the next expansion of the kingdom that would come from Antioch, the fourth phase of the gospel. Through the work of Barnabas and Paul as well as the little-known young boy, John Mark. Between them they would take the gospel to all of the known world of that time.
BIBLE STUDY: ANGELS AND CHERUBIM
- Watch the video Angels and Cherubim – 58,7 MB. What strikes you? What questions do you have? You can read the introduction of the sermon (www.ngkerksomerstand.co.za/chris-van-wyk) to answer some of your questions.
- Read Acts 12:1-11. What does this pericope us teach about angels? About God’s protection and provision? About prayer?
- Read Acts 12:12-17. What does this pericope teach us about the church? About sharing and strategy?
- Read Acts 12:18-23. What does this pericope teach us about angels? About God’s intervention in the public sphere?
- Read Acts 12:24-25. What does this pericope teach us about the work of the church and missions?
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