You alone are the Lord. You made the heavens, even the highest heavens, and all their starry host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to everything, and the multitudes of heaven worship you. (Neh.9:6)
Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone – while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy? (Job 38:4-7)
Whilst the idea of ‘universe’ isn’t unheard of in the Bible (e.g. Heb.1:2; 11:3) the much more common way of referring to creation is in terms of ‘the heavens and the earth’ (Dt.32:1; Is.48:13; Jer.4:23; II Pet.3:7 etc. or a variation on that theme e.g. Dt.10:14). Scripture constantly reminds us that there is far more to this world than what our senses tell us. As we confess in our creed: Creator ... of all that is: seen and unseen. Creation is richer and more complex than we are usually aware of. It is humbling to realise that the greater part of creation is beyond our empirical observation and interrogation. Because it is generally beyond the limits of our awareness there have always been those who deny its existence (Acts 23:8).
It might not have occurred to us that heaven is a part of this creation. It was created at the same time as the earth (Ex.20:11), and will need to be renewed with the rest of creation (Matt.19:28). Further, the heavens are not vacant places (Dan.7:10; Rev.5:11). They are heavily populated with a vast array of creatures, and are places of dynamic action (Eph.6:12). There seems to be a militancy to life in the heavenly realms (Josh.5:13-15; Dan.10:13&20; Rev.12:7-9), and if we are to think of angels it should generally be as elite warriors, rather than babies.
Because these arenas of creation are generally beyond our awareness, we face all kinds of problems as we think about it. We face the temptation to either ignore it (and so be functionally atheist), or to replace our lack of knowledge not with the careful study of Scripture, but with a pseudo-pagan ‘theology’ that is more akin to superstition that Christianity. Over the years we have probably all been exposed to theories about angels and demons and how they relate to the seen creation that we recognise have no foundation in the Bible. Either of these options will leave us confused about creation and our experience of it, or at best, deeply impoverished. We need to be careful too of a passivity, or laziness, or arrogance that concludes we don’t need to know about things God has been careful to reveal in His word.
The interaction between the seen and the unseen parts of creation is constant and causal. Things happen on earth because of what is decreed and enacted in the heavens. My own sense is that these things are spoken of incidentally in the Bible, and are rarely the focus of what is being revealed. We are told about angels (and demons) because they are real, not because they are to become the focus of our attention or spirituality. Angels (i.e. messengers) relentlessly and joyfully point our worship, attention and service to Jesus, who is of course, THE Angel of the Lord (I Pet.3:22; Rev.19:10; 22:7-9).
These dimensions of creation have been as deeply affected by the fall as the earth, and the creatures that inhabit it, though ‘angels’ do not have the opportunity to be redeemed. We should resist the temptation to sort the legions of angels (unfallen and fallen) into ranks; to seek to discover their names; to hunt them out; to initiate communication with them; or to deal with them directly, unless they make themselves known to us. And if this is true for those angels who serve the Lord and the Church, how much more is it the case when we are relating to those spiritual forces that are arrayed against Christ and His people (II Peter.2:11). There is a capacity to deceive and mislead that is incredibly dangerous for us as Christians (II Cor.11:14-15). The pattern in the Gospels and the Acts is to lead with the Gospel, and if there is some kind of spiritual interaction we simply deal with it and move on (Acts 13:4-12). We need to walk a careful line between awareness of the unseen parts of creation, and an interest and focus that would take us beyond what the Bible warrants.
Although ‘heaven’ needs to be redeemed, it is filled with the glory of the Lord. The heavenly host is fully and joyfully aligned with the will and purposes of God. At the moment we pray ‘You will be done on earth as it is in heaven’ (see also Ps.72:19), but the day is coming when ‘the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord’ (Hab.2:14). Creation long divided will be re-united, and heaven will come to earth (Rev.21:1-3). That is our hope.
Why do you think ‘heavens’ is so often in the plural? Why does Paul stipulate that it was the third heaven he was caught up to (II Cor.12:2)?
Read Col.1:19-20. Why do ‘things in heaven’ need to be reconciled to God? Why does there need to be a ‘new heaven’ as part of the new creation (Rev.21:1)?
Do you think it is confusing to speak of Jesus as the Angel of the Lord?
Why do you think angels won’t be redeemed?
Read II Kings 6:8-23
Do you think that there is a constant ‘fiery’ activity co-existing throughout the ‘seen’ creation, or do you think this is a rarer event, perhaps limited to times of particular crisis for the Church?
What difference did it make to Elijah’s servant (and would it make to God’s people generally) if they had an awareness of the presence and activity of the host of heaven’s armies?
If awareness of them would have a beneficial effect, why do you think they are hidden from us so much of the time?
Can you think of other passages where the Church is made aware of the unseen dimensions of creation? What effect – if any – does it have?
Can you think of times in the life of Jesus when angels minister to Him? Do you think Christians can expect similar attendance? How would that manifest itself?
What do you think Hebrews 13:2 means when it talks of Christians showing ‘hospitality to angels without knowing it’?
Given that so much of this aspect of reality goes on without our knowing it, how much should our faith in it affect our day to day lives?
Praise be to you, Lord, the God of our father Israel, from everlasting to everlasting. Yours, Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendour, for everything in heaven and earth is yours. Yours, Lord, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all. Wealth and honour come from you; you are the ruler of all things. In your hands are strength and power to exalt and give strength to all. Now, our God, we give you thanks, and praise your glorious name.
I Chron. 29:10-13
For further reflection:
The uniqueness of humanity in this respect is that we are the one point of creation where the seen and unseen live in a single reality. We are created from the dust of the earth. In that sense we belong very much to the earth. In fact the name ‘Adam’ derives from the Hebrew word meaning ‘ground, earth or soil’. This is so fundamental to his created-ness, that Paul simply designates him ‘the earthly man’ (I Cor.15:47-48). But our existence cannot be reduced to the earthly. We are also heavenly – or at least we were before the fall. Since then we have been locked into an earthly existence, exiled from heavenly realities.
But if we are now united with Christ, the Heavenly Man, then in our spirits are already ‘raised … with Christ and seated with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus’ (Eph.2:6, also Col.3:1-3 etc). If you go back to the plan of the Tabernacle in last week’s study, you’ll notice a fourth article of furniture that we didn’t refer to: the Altar of Incense. It is tucked in right next to the curtain that separates heaven (the Most Holy Place, where the Father is enthroned), from earth (the Holy Place). Here is the Church in her characteristic posture of prayer (see Rev.5:8; 8:4). We are close to the heavenly reality as we can get while still in these ‘lowly bodies that are subject to death’ (Phil.3:21 & Rom.7:24). The great hope of the Church is for the day when that curtain is torn down completely, and the full reality of our existence as the Church is available to us. We will be then as heavenly as we are earthly now…and as earthly as we are heavenly now!
It is to the creation of humanity ‘in the image of God’ that we shall turn to next in our studies together.