So much better

The writer of the book of Hebrews began his discourse with a comparison of Jesus to the angels in Heaven. He said:

God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become so much better than the angels, as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they. (Hebrews 1:1-4, NKJV)

Although Jesus existed before he was born on Earth, it says in Hebrews 1:5 that he was begotten or conceived by God through physical means. The writer of Hebrews distinguished Jesus from angels by stating “For to which of the angels did God ever say, ‘You are my Son, today I have begotten you’?” (Hebrews 1:5, ESV). Jesus’ unique nature as both God and man set him apart from any other created being.

Another distinction the writer of Hebrews made between Jesus and the angels was his position of authority at God’s right hand. In Hebrews 1:13 he asked the question, “And to which of the angels has he ever said, ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet’?” (Hebrews 1:13, ESV) and then responded, “Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?” (Hebrews 1:14). It is evident from these statements that one of the things that made Jesus so much better than the angels was his physical state. God had to take on the form of his human creatures in order to save them from the destruction that was associated with sin.

God’s plan of salvation included the necessity for a savior to die for the sins of the world. God couldn’t have fulfilled this requirement through the death of anyone other than a human being. It was Jesus’ dual nature as both God and man that uniquely qualified him to be the sacrifice that takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). It says in Hebrews 2:9, “But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.” Jesus’ experience with death consisted primarily of the separation of his physical body from his spirit which lasted only three days until he was physically resurrected.

Some people believe that humans become angels when they die. This belief might be founded on the erroneous idea that humans cannot exist without bodies. Revelation 6:9-10 makes it clear that our souls consist of matter that can be seen in the spiritual realm. It says, “And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held: and they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?” Perhaps the single most important reason Jesus’ death and resurrection made him so much better than the angels was that it made it possible for the physical and spiritual realms to be united. Even though it might seem nice to become an angel when we die, wouldn’t it be so much better to have a body like Jesus’ that can exist in both the physical and spiritual realms?

Good news

The birth of Jesus came suddenly and unexpectedly, at a time when there was little hope left that God would fulfill his promise to bring a Messiah to his chosen people, the Jews. Luke made a specific reference to a historical event, so that the date of Jesus’ birth would be accurately recorded. He said, “And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Cesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed (and this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria)” (Luke 2:1-2). The Roman government was at the height of its success in dominating the world and wanted to take advantage of its opportunity to collect taxes from every person that fell under its jurisdiction. God used the decree of a pagan emperor to fulfill an important prophecy recorded in Micah 5:2. It says, “But thou, Beth-lehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.”

The location of the Messiah’s birth wouldn’t have been as critical if the Jews had remained in the Promised Land and their population kept in tact. Because the Jews had been scattered throughout the world during their captivity, and their geographical footprint altered by Roman occupation, the only way to know for certain that Jesus was actually a descendent of King David was to have his birth occur during the Roman census. Luke recorded, “And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) to be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child” (Luke 2:4-5). Joseph’s residence in Nazareth indicated that his relationship to King David was of no benefit to him. Most likely, it was unknown to everyone around him, and perhaps even to Joseph himself, that he was of royal descent until the Roman census occurred.

The shepherds that were keeping watch over their flocks the night that Jesus was born may have been the only group of people that were collectively willing to believe the good news they were told about their Messiah’s birth. The fact that the shepherds were given a sign to assure them that what the angel said was true suggests that even they were skeptical about the message they received (Luke 2:12). After seeing and hearing “a multitude of the heavenly host praising God,” (Luke 2:13) it appears that the shepherds were still unconvinced. At the conclusion of this amazing worship event, Luke 2:15 tells us, “And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.” It wasn’t until the shepherds saw the sign promised them, the babe lying in a manger, that their belief became evident. Luke said, afterwards “the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.” (Luke 2:20).

Spiritual insight

The prophet Zachariah could be the most fortunate of all the Old Testament prophets because he was given an extremely close and in-depth look at God’s plan of salvation. There are numerous prophecies contained within Zachariah’s book that show without a doubt that Jesus was the Messiah. Although Zachariah was a contemporary of Haggai and was called to preach at almost the exact same time, the messages of these two men were very different. Haggai spoke in a very practical way about the need for God’s temple to be rebuilt, while Zachariah focused on the bigger picture and shared the spiritual insight he gained from eight visions he was given of God’s transformation of his earthly kingdom. The first thing Zachariah pointed out was that God was not finished with the Jews. They would be restored to his favor and would eventually triumph over their enemies.

Zachariah’s first interactive experience in the spiritual realm involved an interpreting angel that enabled him to understand the activities he was witnessing. The initial scene appeared to be a spiritual outpost where God’s messengers gathered to report their findings on earth. The messengers reported to a man identified as “the angel of the LORD” (Zachariah 1:11). “Traditional Christian interpretation has held that this ‘angel’ was a preincarnate manifestation of Christ as God’s Messenger-Servant” (note on Genesis 16:7). Zachariah 1:11 states, “And they answered the angel of the LORD that stood among the myrtle trees, and said, We have walked to and fro through the earth, and behold, all the earth sitteth still and is at rest.” Looking at Zachariah’s eight night visions as a progressive unfolding of future events, it is likely that the messengers’ report of stillness and rest referred to the period of time when the Medo-Persian Empire existed. For the most part, God’s people were allowed to do what they wanted to during the reigns of  kings Cyrus, Darius, Ahasuerus, and Artaxerxes (538 – 432 B.C.).

Zachariah’s second vision showed that the temporary rest God’s people enjoyed would come to an end when God began to restructure the kingdoms that existed on earth. Daniel’s prophecy revealed that the Medo-Persian Empire that had conquered the Babylonians would be replaced by the Greek Empire, and then, the Roman Empire would be established (Daniel 7:4-7). Each of these kingdoms would become more terrifying than the first, until finally, God would cut-off the Gentile kingdoms (Zachariah 1:21). Zachariah’s third vision revealed that God’s people would flood the borders of Jerusalem at the time of Christ’s birth (Zachariah 2:4-5). Apparently, God would supernaturally enable people to return to the Promised Land that had not previously done so (Zachariah 2:9). According to Zachariah’s prophecy, God’s eternal kingdom would begin to be established on earth during the ministry of Jesus; the evidence being a voluntary joining of all the nations into a single spiritual kingdom. It says in Zachariah 2:11, “And many nations shall be joined to the LORD in that day, and shall be my people: and I will dwell in the midst of thee, and thou shalt know that the LORD of hosts hath sent me unto thee.”

Trouble

Daniel’s prophecy of end times (Daniel 11) was described to him as a time of trouble. The angel Gabriel told him, “And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people: and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book” (Daniel 12:1). Some have interpreted the time of trouble to be the time when the first century church was persecuted by the Romans. The Hebrew term translated trouble, tsarah (tsaw – raw´) is also translated as tribulation. In Judges 10, the people of Israel cried to the LORD for deliverance from their enemies. His answer to them was that in spite of the many times he had delivered them in the past, “Yet ye have forsaken me, and served other gods: wherefore I will deliver you no more. Go and cry unto the gods which ye have chosen; let them deliver you in the time of your tribulation” (Judges 10:13-14).

It appears that the time of trouble Gabriel was referring to was associated with the resurrection of the dead that is mentioned in Revelation 20:12. Daniel was told, “And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever” (Daniel 12:2-3). The term “great tribulation” is used in Revelation 7:14 where John, one of the apostles of Jesus said concerning the saints he saw wearing white robes, “And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” The great tribulation is thought to be “the period of final hostility prior to Christ’s return. Some hold that the beginning of this hostility was already being experienced by the church in John’s day” (note on Revelation 7:14).

Daniel’s final encounter with heavenly beings took place on the bank of a river where Daniel posed the question, how long will it be until this is all over? (Daniel 12:5-6). Jesus’ response to Daniel’s question is recorded in Daniel 12:7. It says, “And I heard the man clothed in linen, which was upon the waters of the river, when he held up his right hand and his left hand unto heaven, and sware by him that liveth for ever that it shall be for a time, times, and a half; and when he shall have accomplished to scatter the power of the holy people, all these things shall be finished.” The period of “a time, times, and a half” are also used in Daniel 7:25 to refer to the time when the antichrist, or a world power sharing in the characteristics of the antichrist, will rule over the earth. This time of trouble or great tribulation is believed to be coming sometime in the near future. The only clue we have as to when exactly it will take place is given in Daniel 12:11, where it says, “And from the time that the daily sacrifice shall be taken away, and the abomination that maketh desolate set up, there shall be a thousand and two hundred and ninety days.”

The truth

The angel Gabriel’s second visit to Daniel was opposed by Satanic forces. Gabriel told Daniel, “Fear not, Daniel: for from the first day that thou didst set thine hart to understand, and to chasten thyself before thy God, thy words were heard, and I am come for thy words. But the prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me one and twenty days: but lo, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me; and I remained there with the kings of Persia. Now I am come to make thee understand what shall befall thy people in the latter days: for yet the vision is for many days” (Daniel 10:12-14). Gabriel described for Daniel the spiritual battle that took place as a result of his prayer to understand the vision he had. It took both Gabriel and Michael, two archangels of God, fighting against the prince of the kingdom of Persia to overcome him, and the battle lasted twenty one days.

Gabriel told Daniel he would show him what was noted in “the scripture of truth” (Daniel 10:21). The exact meaning of this phrase is unknown, but Gabriel may have been referring to the divine record of the destinies of all human beings (note on Daniel 10:21). Gabriel’s reference to the scripture of truth indicates that God keeps a record of the events in his realm in the same way that earthly kings do (note on Psalm 51:1). This record is believed to include a list of the righteous, whom God blesses with life (note on Psalm 69:28). David prayed that his enemies would be “blotted out of the book of the living, and not be written with the righteous” (Psalm 69:28). Moses interceded for God’s people and said, “Yet now, if thou wilt forgive their sin; and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written” (Exodus 32:32). Gabriel told Daniel, “there is none that holdeth with me in these things, but Michael your prince” (Daniel 10:21). Apparently, only the two archangels, Gabriel and Michael have access to this record.

Gabriel said to Daniel, “And now will I shew thee the truth” (Daniel 11:2). The Hebrew word translated truth  is emeth (571). Emeth is a shortened form or contraction of the word aman (539) which means to believe or have belief. Aman appears in Genesis 15:6 where it says that Abraham “believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.” In other words, God recorded Abraham’s belief in his book of righteousness. What Gabriel showed Daniel, was a detailed account of a conflict between the north and south that would ultimately lead to a power struggle between Jesus and the agent of Satan, Antichrist for the kingdom of God. In conclusion, Gabriel said of Antichrist, “And he shall plant the tabernacles of his palace between the seas in the glorious holy mountain; yet he shall come to his end, and none shall help him” (Daniel 11:45). Gabriel’s mention of the battle of Armageddon (Revelation 16:13-16) indicated that even before Jesus was born, it was predestined that in his first coming to the earth, he would be rejected by God’s people, and then, in his second coming be proclaimed as Savior, not only of the Israelites, but of the entire world.

Intercessory Prayer

Daniel took it upon himself to intercede for God’s people. According to Jeremiah’s prophecy, the nations would serve the king of Babylon for seventy years (Jeremiah 25:11). Daniel knew the seventy years had expired when Darius the Median conquered the Babylonian kingdom in 539 B.C. (Daniel 5:31). Therefore, Daniel prayed that God would forgive his people and return them to the Promised Land. Daniel said, “And I set my face unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes” (Daniel 9:3). Daniel did not presume that God would automatically let his people go back to their homes just because their 70 years of captivity was completed. One of the conditions of their return was that God’s people had to repent of their sins and want to restore their relationship with God. Daniel prayed, “O Lord, righteousness belongeth unto thee, but unto us confusion of faces, as at this day; to the men of Judah, and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and unto all Israel, that are near, and that are far off, through all the countries wither thou hast driven them, because of their trespass that they have trespassed against thee” (Daniel 9:7).

The phrase Daniel used “confusion of faces” (Daniel 9:7) had to do with the identity of God’s people. In part, God’s righteousness meant that he had acted consistent with his character. It was right for God’s people to be punished. They were guilty of the offences they had been accused of. Their “confusion of faces” was in essence saying God’s people had changed, they were no longer consistent with what God had made them to be. Another way of looking at it would be, that the Israelites were no longer recognizable as God’s people, their identity had been stripped from them. Due to the shame they felt, God’s people most likely did not want to return to their homeland. There was probably some feeling that they no longer deserved God’s blessing. Daniel’s intercessory prayer was a plea for God’s mercy. He said, ” Lord, according to all thy righteousness, I beseech thee, let thine anger and thy fury be turned away from thy city Jerusalem, thy holy mountain: because for our sins, and for the iniquities of our father, Jerusalem and thy people are become a reproach to all that are about us” (Daniel 9:16).

Daniel made the argument that God should forgive his people “for the Lord’s sake” (Daniel 9:17). In other words, Daniel was saying, don’t do it for us because we don’t deserve your mercy, but do it for the sake of your Messiah that is still yet to be born. Daniel’s intercessory prayer was responded to immediately. It says in Daniel 9:21, “Yea, whiles I was speaking in prayer, even the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision at the beginning, being caused to fly swiftly, touched me about the time of the evening oblation.” Gabriel told Daniel, “At the beginning of thy supplications the commandment came forth, and I am come to shew thee; for thou are greatly beloved: therefore understand the matter and consider the vision” (Daniel 9:23). Clearly, Daniel’s prayer reached God’s throne room and was consistent with God’s plan for his people. Gabriel laid out for Daniel a timeline for the Messiah’s birth and crucifixion,  and then told Daniel, there was still more to come after that. A prince would come to challenge Jesus’ authority. He would reign for seven years and would instigate the complete annihilation of the entire world (Daniel 9:27).

 

Gabriel’s explanation

Daniel’s second vision provided further details about the difficulties God’s people would experience before their Messiah was born. The location of his vision was significant. Daniel said, “And I saw in a vision; and it came to pass, when I saw, that I was at Shushan in the palace, which is in the province of Elam; and I saw in a vision, and I was by the river of Ulai” (Daniel 8:2). Shushan was the capital of Persia and it was noted several times in the book of Esther as the place where the Jews would face extermination. It could be that God chose to show Daniel the future of his people at this location because it marked a critical turning point in their deliverance from their enemies.

In his vision, Daniel saw a ram “pushing westward, and northward, and southward; so that no beasts might stand before him, neither was there any that could deliver out of his hand; but he did according to his will, and became great” (Daniel 8:4). Then, Daniel saw a goat with a notable horn between his eyes come against the ram and defeat him (Daniel 8:5-7). As a result of his victory, the goat became stronger, but eventually, his great horn was broken and out of it came up four notable horns “and out of one of them came forth a little horn, which waxed exceeding great, toward the south, and toward the east, and toward the pleasant land” (Daniel 8:8-9).

Daniel’s vision concluded with a picture of God’s temple being desecrated by the little horn. At the time of Daniel’s vision, about 551 B.C., God’s temple lay in ruins. It had already been destroyed by king Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. Daniel was confused and  needed God to help him understand what was going on in his vision. It says in Daniel 8:15-16, “And it came to pass, when I, even I Daniel, had seen the vision, and sought for the meaning, then behold, there stood before me as the appearance of a man. And I heard a man’s voice between the banks of the Ulai, which called, and said, Gabriel, make this man to understand the vision.”

The angel Gabriel is believed to be one of only three archangels identified in the Bible. The fact that he was specifically directed to explain the vision to Daniel indicated that the information was probably only available to this high ranking official in God’s kingdom. Gabriel said of himself in Luke 1:19, “I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and am sent to speak unto thee.” Unto Daniel, Gabriel said, “Understand, O son of man: for at the time of the end shall be the vision” (Daniel 8:17). What Daniel was expected to understand was that there would be a conclusion to the Israelites’ story. God would one day bring to an end the earthly kingdom that he had once inhabited.

A visit from God

Ezekiel was a priest that was taken into captivity in 597 B.C. along with king Jehoiachin and several thousand citizens of Judah and Jerusalem. At the age of 30, Ezekiel saw visions of God while he was in the land of the Chaldeans by the river Chebar (Ezekiel 1:1-3). It says in Ezekiel 1:3 that “the word of the LORD came expressly unto Ezekiel the priest…and the hand of the LORD was there upon him.” What that means is that Ezekiel’s message came directly from God; an intermediary angel was not used to deliver it.

Ezekiel described what he saw in graphic detail using words such as likeness and appearance to convey what he knew to be supernatural manifestations of spiritual beings. In his account of what took place, it is evident that Ezekiel was both awestruck and curious about the vision. The first image that was seen by Ezekiel was a giant cloud that was blown in by a stormy wind, and then four living creatures that looked like men came out of the cloud and stood before him, as if they were trying to get his attention (Ezekiel 1:4-5).

Ezekiel’s description of the four living creatures makes it clear that spiritual beings function differently than human beings and yet, there are similarities that make it possible for us to understand each other. The most obvious difference between angels and humans is that angels have wings and can move about in much more efficient ways than we can. Also, angels are able to operate in a unified manner. The four living creatures were separate individuals, but they moved in unison with one another, as if they were joined together like Siamese twins (Ezekiel 1:9).

Depending on which direction they wanted to go, each of the four living creatures faced forward toward the north, south, east, and west, and led the others to their desired destination without having to turn or go backwards. They each had four faces that enabled them to act according to their circumstances without changing their expressions. The angels’ faces and wings were designed to not only improve their mobility, but also to guarantee they would not be hindered in performing their assignments. It seems as though the four living creatures were tasked with guarding the entry way to God’s throne room, or acting as guides to direct the cloud in which the throne was located to its desired destination.

I think one of the most interesting and important aspects of Ezekiel’s vision was that it came to him while he was in exile in Babylon. The sight of his visitation, the Chebar river was no doubt a busy spot where both Babylonians and Israelites congregated to collect water. Although Ezekiel’s vision was communicated to him alone, the information was made public so that everyone would know God had visited him in Babylon. The remarkable thing about it being there was no place off limits to God, he could transport himself wherever needed to communicate with his people.

God’s authority

God’s kingdom is ordered in such a way that all spiritual activity is governed by him (Romans 13:1). Even though Satan and the angels that follow him work contrary to God’s purposes, they do not work independent of his purposes. They are accountable to God for the results of their efforts (John 19:11).

It says in Psalm 82:1, “God standeth in the congregation of the mighty; He judgeth among the gods.” God’s position of standing indicates he is exercising his authority. The gods he is judging are the principalities, and powers, the rulers of the darkness of this world, that promote evil on the earth. He asks them, “How long will ye judge unjustly, and accept the persons of the wicked?” (Psalm 82:2).

The Hebrew word translated accept in Psalm 82:2, nacah refers to the “undertaking of the responsibilities for sins of others by substitution or representation” (5375). Before Jesus died for the sins of the world, sacrifices had to be made to atone for sin. God’s accusation against these unjust judges is that they are accepting the sacrifices of the ungodly. In other words, they are answering or responding to the prayers of those that are hostile to God and his people (7563).

When God laid the foundations of the earth, everything conformed to his divinely appointed creation order. According to the LORD, “the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy” (Job 38:7). But, after sin entered the world, man was corrupted and God’s order was ignored, so much so that God declared, “all the foundations of the earth are out of course” (Psalm 82:5).

God’s authority as Creator of the Universe gives him the right to alter the course of his creation and the responsibility to correct any problems that affect its operation. Originally, angels were given eternal life and were expected to dwell in heaven forever, but the rebellion of Satan caused things to change. Eventually, the work that Jesus did on the cross will eradicate sin completely and the earth will return to its divinely appointed order.

Even though Satan and his followers are still alive and active on the earth, they have been judged and condemned to death. God’s decision is recorded in Psalm 82:6-7. “I have said, Ye are gods: and all of you are children of the most High. But ye shall die like men, and fall like one of the princes.” It’s only a matter of time until Jesus comes to claim his inheritance.

 

Pillars

Some people believe there are guardian angels that watch over people. I believe I have two angels, one that stands on my right side and one that stands on my left at all times. I believe these two angels were assigned to me at a specific time to deal with the spiritual issues of doubt and fear. The one that was given me to fight against doubt I named Tom to remind me of doubting Thomas who didn’t believe the Lord had risen until he saw him with his own eyes. The one that was given me to fight against fear I named George to remind me that I am gorgeous in the eyes of God because I am his beloved bride.

Chapter 7 of 1 Kings contains a detailed description of two pillars that stood outside the main entrance of Solomon’s temple. It says in 1 Kings 7:21, “he set up the pillars in the porch of the temple: and he set up the right pillar, and called the name thereof Jachin: and he set up the left pillar, and called the name thereof Boaz.” The significance of these pillars is unknown, but they may have embodied some symbolism. The fact that they were named indicates there was a ceremonial purpose for their existence. As worshippers approached the temple, the pillars may have appeared to be guarding the entrance. All who entered the temple had to pass through them. The word translated pillars, ammud is derived from the word amad which means to stand. “It is what a soldier does while on watch” (5975).

The unseen spiritual realm is for the most part a mystery to believers. Angels engage in spiritual warfare on our behalf and often they defeat our enemies without us being aware of it (2 Kings 6:16-17). I believe the angels that stand beside me serve several functions, one of which is to protect me and they are responsible for my safety as types of spiritual bodyguards or bouncers. When I wake up afraid in the middle of the night, I imagine them standing one on each side of my bed, clad in brass armour with their swords drawn to defend me. I immediately calm down knowing that I am in good hands.