Behind the Curtain
The cryptic words in Daniel 10.20 and 11.1 offer a fleeting backstage glimpse at a spiritual war. While some may scoff at the idea of angels and demons, these forces are clearly accepted and accounted for throughout the Bible. It begs the question -- is there something deeper going on behind the scenes? Is there a spiritual dimension to our day-to-day existence and, therefore, to history?
I am a rational man. I believe in seeking out truth through science and the laws of nature, because I believe God’s creativity is revealed through those human instruments of inquiry. But I am also not so naive as to assume that today’s scientific method can explain everything. Our best scientific minds simply cannot fathom some of the things we observe in the universe, let alone explain them. I believe there are dimensions of reality far beyond our limited human capacity to test and measure using science or philosophy. Some of our own experiences defy human explanation. Yet, I believe God has given us a peep-hole into such things. The scriptures offer us a small window through which we may observe spiritual realities that usually go undetected by our five senses.
When I was in junior high school, we put on a play in our school’s old theater. I had the job of opening the stage curtain for part of the show, and it made me very nervous. During a scene change, when the curtain was closed so that stage hands could work their “magic” and transform the set behind the scenes, I mistook a visual cue from the director to mean that I should open the curtain. Stage hands were everywhere, moving props and tables and furniture on and off stage for the coming scene. I realized my mistake when the curtain was open about a third of the way, and I scrambled to close it as fast as I could. The audience and director had a good laugh, and eventually I did too. But I wonder what the audience must have been thinking when they caught a fleeting and unexpected glimpse into the “magic” that takes place behind the scenes. That is what happens for us in today’s passage -- we get a strange and incomplete peek at an invisible war behind the curtain of our earthly existence.
“One of Satan’s chief traps is to get people to think he doesn’t exist or, if he does exist, he’s not worth worrying about.” (Warren Wiersbe, “Be Resolute”)
Glimpses: What’s behind the curtain?
In today’s text, especially in verses 10:20 and 11:1, we see what seem to be angels at war with other angels. This is strange stuff, and it defies human explanation. However, there is a whole subset of Biblical theology devoted to the study of angels and demons -- it’s called “angelology.” Angelology is speculative theology. Like all speculative theology, it is like looking at a blurry photo from a passing train. I realize that this subject is a sideline to the real message of the gospel, and that it can easily become a distraction from our real work -- following Jesus Christ in word and deed and making disciples of all nations. However, since we are here, covering this text today, I thought it would be an appropriate time to peek behind the curtain for a moment, and survey what the bible teaches us about angels and demons. I am simply going to share scripture with you, and avoid the pitfalls of man-made traditions and myths that you might encounter in cartoons and comic books and Dante’s inferno. As we go, however, I would like to remind you that the scriptures provide only a glimpse into such heavenly realities. It’s a good idea not to be too dogmatic on this subject, and we are wise if we concede that some aspects of it will always remain a mystery to our mortal minds.
Now I am going to share scriptures on three levels: types of angels, traits of angels, and the purposes of angels. Then we will finish by looking at what these things mean for us today.
Types of angels
First, let’s look at the different types of angels in scripture.
Guardian angels: both personal and territorial.
Ps 91.11: “For He shall give His angels charge over you, to keep you in all your ways.”
Mt 18.10: “Take heed that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that in heaven their angels always see the face of My Father who is in heaven.”
Dan 12.1: “At that time Michael shall stand up, the great prince who stands watch over the sons of your people; and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation.”
Zech 1.10: “And the man who stood among the myrtle trees answered and said, ‘These are the ones whom the Lord has sent to walk to and fro throughout the earth.’”
Deut 32.8: “When the Most High gave the nations their inheritance, When He separated the sons of man, He set the boundaries of the peoples According to the number of the sons of Israel.” (NASB)
Fearsome angels: Strange creatures with incredible appearances.
Is 6.1-2: “In the year of King Uzziah’s death I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew.” (NASB)
Ez 1.6,10, 13-14: 6 “Each of them had four faces and four wings…”
10 “As for the form of their faces, each had the face of a man; all four had the face of a lion on the right and the face of a bull on the left, and all four had the face of an eagle.”
13 “In the midst of the living beings there was something that looked like burning coals of fire, like torches darting back and forth among the living beings. The fire was bright, and lightning was flashing from the fire. 14 And the living beings ran to and fro like bolts of lightning.” (NASB)
Archangels: Michael commands other angels.
Rev 12.7: “And there was war in heaven, Michael and his angels waging war with the dragon. The dragon and his angels waged war...” (NASB)
1Thes 4.16: “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.” (NASB)
Jude 1.9: “But Michael the archangel, when he disputed with the devil and argued about the body of Moses, did not dare pronounce against him a railing judgment, but said, ‘The Lord rebuke you!’” (NASB)
Fallen angels: demons - rebels against God.
Jud 1.6: “And angels who did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode, He has kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day.” (NASB)
Fallen archangel: Satan, the chief fallen angel.
Gen 3.1: “Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, ‘Indeed, has God said, “You shall not eat from any tree of the garden”?’” (NASB)
Is 14.12-15: “How you have fallen from heaven, O star of the morning, son of the dawn! You have been cut down to the earth, You who have weakened the nations! But you said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God, And I will sit on the mount of assembly In the recesses of the north. I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’ Nevertheless you will be thrust down to Sheol, To the recesses of the pit.” (NASB)
1 Pet 5.8: “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.”
Rev 12.7-9: “And war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought with the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, but they did not prevail, nor was a place found for them in heaven any longer. So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.”
Traits of angels
Now let’s see what the scriptures reveal about the traits, or characteristics of angels.
Angels walk among us undetected.
Heb 13.2: “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels.”
Angels have free will.
2 Pet 2.4: “For if God did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment;”
Angels are strong, but not omnipotent, omniscient nor omnipresent.
Dan 10.13: “But the prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days; and behold, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I had been left alone there with the kings of Persia.”
Mt 24.36: “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only.”
We do not become angels when we die (they are a different kind of creature).
Ps 8.5: “For You have made him a little lower than the angels, and You have crowned him with glory and honor.”
1Cor 6.3: “Do you not know that we shall judge angels? How much more, things that pertain to this life?”
Angels are not to be worshipped or prayed to.
Rev 22.8-9: “Now I, John, saw and heard these things. And when I heard and saw, I fell down to worship before the feet of the angel who showed me these things. Then he said to me, ‘See that you do not do that. For I am your fellow servant, and of your brethren the prophets, and of those who keep the words of this book. Worship God.’”
Lk 11.2: “So He said to them, ‘When you pray, say: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.’” (Why would we pray to a middle man when we can pray directly to the Father?)
Purposes of angels
Finally, let’s see what we can learn from scripture about the purposes of angels.
Angels encourage and protect God’s people.
Ex 23.20: “Behold, I send an Angel before you to keep you in the way and to bring you into the place which I have prepared.”
Ps 34.7: “The angel of the Lord encamps all around those who fear Him, and delivers them.”
Dan 6.22a: “My God sent His angel and shut the lions’ mouths, so that they have not hurt me, because I was found innocent before Him.”
Lk 22.43: “Then an angel appeared to Him from heaven, strengthening Him.” (Jesus praying in Gethsemane)
Angels restrain evil in the world.
Dan 10.20: “Then he said, “Do you know why I have come to you? And now I must return to fight with the prince of Persia; and when I have gone forth, indeed the prince of Greece will come.”
Dan 11.1: “Also in the first year of Darius the Mede, I, even I, stood up to confirm and strengthen him.”
Angels deliver messages from God.
Josh 5.13-14: “And it came to pass, when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted his eyes and looked, and behold, a Man stood opposite him with His sword drawn in His hand. And Joshua went to Him and said to Him, ‘Are You for us or for our adversaries?’
So He said, ‘No, but as Commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.’
And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped, and said to Him, ‘What does my Lord say to His servant?’”
Lk 1.19: “And the angel answered and said to him, ‘I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and was sent to speak to you and bring you these glad tidings.’”
These verses are just the tip of the iceberg. There are many, many more scriptures on angels and demons throughout the Bible. If you are interested in reading more of them, I would encourage you to do a keyword search for “angel” at biblegateway.com. I have just one important warning: don’t get carried away -- speculative theology tends to distract us from our real work.
Now let’s talk about that -- our real work, and our role in this “invisible war.” That’s what is relevant for us today.
Your Role in the Invisible War
In Ephesians 6, Paul describes the life of a disciple as a daily battle against spiritual forces of darkness. In those verses, Paul lays out a personal strategy for each of us as we participate in the invisible, spiritual war. “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood,” Paul says, “but against spiritual forces.” That is, we are not to engage in physical warfare in the name of Jesus, but we are to engage in spiritual battle at all times.
How do we do that? Paul proceeds to lay out an invisible armory that a true believer must make use of: the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of the gospel, the helmet of salvation, the shield of faith, and the “sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” That sword is the only offensive weapon in Paul’s list, by the way, although prayer is also a key part of our offensive strategy in verse 18.
So we join the invisible war through prayer and faithfulness to God in word and deed.
That is, we put on the whole armor of God and take an offensive position by praying, learning and sharing God’s word, maintaining personal righteousness, and working to establish truth and justice in the world.
As we ponder the glimpses we -- along with Daniel -- have seen today of the heavenly invisible war, let us be mindful of the fact that there is more to life than meets the eye, and that we -- each of us -- has a part to play in this great heavenly battle for the ages.
“For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ…”
(2 Corinthians 10.3-5)