by Guest Contributor Don Brooks (bio at bottom of post)
Before diving into this topic it is important I describe some caveats or guiding principles of my approach. These caveats will describe in general terms how I understand the metanarrative of the invisible realm and its involvement in the story of what God has done and is doing in this world in Christ.
1. All passages regarding angels are taken as literally true. Although genre and the contemporary culture may have value for good interpretation, it is my conviction that what Scripture says regarding these creatures is true.
2. Ezekiel 28 and Isaiah 14 are understood as passages that describe the actual rebellion of Lucifer.
3. Not all aspects of this Metanarrative are held with equal conviction and certainty.
4. Some aspects are understood through implication. Speculation is not intended to be part of this narrative.
The Creation of the Spiritual Realm and its Beings
In eternity past the Triune God chose to create a spiritual/non-physical realm for an order of diverse and exceptional creatures. They were innumerable, beautiful and powerful—created to worship and give glory to God. (Heb 12:22, Ezekiel 1, 10, Rev 4.5:11, 7:11). Their world had special access to the presence of God (Is 14). It is not where God dwells, but rather a place where access to God’s Throne Room is granted. These wonderful creatures were given an authority structure with specific duties.
As extraordinary and diverse as these creatures are, they were not made in the image of their Maker. This distinction would be reserved for God’s later creation, humanity.
The highest created being was Lucifer, Son of the Morning Star. On the day of his creation he was anointed a guardian cherub. Lucifer, adorned in great beauty at his creation was given a place of importance before God (Ezekiel 28). He had command over a great number of the other created beings, perhaps all of them. For a time he honored God and obeyed the moral order (Ezekiel 28:15).
Then Lucifer rebelled. He determined to make himself like the Most High and ascend God’s throne (Isaiah 14). Lucifer was not in any way like the Most High God. He did not share in any measure God’s power, knowledge or authority. Most of all Lucifer lacked God’s perfect and maximal goodness. Lucifer’s coup against God failed and he was cast out of God’s presence. Many creatures God created to worship and serve Him followed Lucifer in his rebellion. They too were cast out from the presence of God. (Rev 12:4,9*)
The Creation of the Physical Universe
God now created the physical universe and all that was in it. He formed and filled the earth with all living things. The angels watched God’s creative work and celebrated with joy. (Job 38:4,7). As the pinnacle of this work God formed Adam and Eve in His image. The image-bearers were placed in a garden called Eden. The first couple was responsible to care for the Garden and give order to the animals God created. They were to bear children, build families and communities. They had work to do and commands to obey. God visited and fellowshipped with His image bearers daily (Gen 1-2).
Lucifer, having been cast from the presence of God invaded the physical realm (Rev 12). He was determined to inspire a rebellion against God and bring paradise to ruin. In the form of a serpent, Lucifer appeared to Adam and Eve challenging God’s revealed will. Adam rebelled against God. When God visited the couple they hid from Him. God judged the first couple. Sin and death entered the world. Lucifer was cursed and his future defeat and judgment were immediately made known (Gen 3:15, Matt 25:41, 2 Pe 2:4, Jude 1:6). The first couple was cast out of the Garden. Cherubim and a flaming sword prevented entrance back into the Eden (Gen 3:24).
So the Lord God expelled him from the orchard in Eden to cultivate the ground from which he had been taken. 24 When he drove the man out, he placed on the eastern side of the orchard in Eden angelic sentries who used the flame of a whirling sword to guard the way to the tree of life.
God’s Decrees and Purposes
Before God created the physical universe, the earth and humanity, He decreed that He would satisfy the just penalty for humanity’s rebellion and redeem a people for Himself. God’s plan of redemption includes the restoration and perfection of His original physical creation. At the Consummation the redeemed from all nations throughout all history will dwell in perfect and continuous fellowship with the Creator God and His heavenly creatures in the Eternal Kingdom.
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life—water as clear as crystal—pouring out from the throne of God and of the Lamb, 2 flowing down the middle of the city’s main street. On each side of the river is the tree of life producing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month of the year. Its leaves are for the healing of the nations. 3 And there will no longer be any curse, and the throne of God and the Lamb will be in the city. His servants will worship him, 4 and they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5 Night will be no more, and they will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, because the Lord God will shine on them, and they will reign forever and ever. (Rev 22)
God’s decree also demanded that The Son, the second person of the Triune God, co-equal and co-eternal with the Father, would take the form of His created image-bearers. His name would be Jesus, and He would be the long-anticipated Messiah. As the sinless Son of God He would be crucified and killed at the hands of his own image-bearers, bearing upon Himself the wrath of the Father for the sins of His people. On the third day He would then rise from the dead; conquering death and sin (Rev 13:8).
The Two Worlds Collide
Lucifer’s invasion of Eden and Adam’s resulting rebellion sets the stage for the age long conflict between God’s Kingdom and the kingdoms of this world (2 Cor 10:3-5, Eph 6:11-13). This warfare will take place in both realms. Angels and demons, involved in the affairs of humanity on earth, will also battle one another in the invisible creation (Daniel 10). The conflict in its truest sense is spiritual. Lucifer who knows he will one day be defeated will desperately try to destroy God’s image-bearers, creation and the plan for humanity’s redemption.
On this new stage Lucifer is known as Satan, Accuser and Adversary (Zech 3:1). Through his schemes and humanity’s deceitful heart, he becomes the god and prince of the physical world. The physical creation will be his realm for a time (Matt 8:29). The other beings who rebelled against God, revealed as demons, will do Lucifer’s bidding. Demons will be assigned to specific territories and nations (Daniel 10). They will have the ability to possess and harm humanity.
The beings loyal to God, angels or messengers, will also have a significant role in the physical world. They will serve God’s purposes in both the invisible and visible realm while continuing to worship and give glory to their Creator God (Ps 103:20). Angels will serve as messengers and protectors of God’s people. (Ex 23,33, 1 Kings 13:18, 2 Chron 32:21, Ps 91:11, Dan 6:22, Matt 18:10). They will exercise God’s justice at His command. (2 Sam 24:16, 1 Chron 21, Ps 78:49, Matt 16:27). Over the millennia angels will marvel at what God is doing in history with His image-bearers. They will announce the birth of the Messiah and be active in the Day of the Lord, final judgment, and the Eternal Kingdom (Matt 13).
The Fallen World
After the Fall, in a world of sin and death, humanity begins to develop the civilizations it was originally commanded to do. As humanity multiplies upon the earth, “sons of God” very possibly demons of the invisible realm (Job 1:6,2:1, 38:7) saw that the daughters of humanity were beautiful. The sons of god took the daughters of humanity as wives. This would have been accomplished through the possession of human males. At this union God declares that He will not strive with humanity anymore. Humanity is mortal and their days will be 120 years.
But as God’s fallen image-bearers grow to great numbers they rebel against their Creator, the one true God. Civilizations intended to honor God instead are corrupt and in rebellion. This rebellion leads to judgment: the worldwide flood and the confusion of language at Babel. These judgments serve as a new start for fallen humanity. Only eight were saved from the judgment of the flood. Noah’s descendants quickly demonstrated that this new beginning would end again with civilizations in rebellion against God. (Gen 6:6-8) The next judgment at the ancient city Babel would separate humanity into language groups making common cause impossible for a time. The confusion of language at Babel would lead to the diversity we are so familiar with today. Babel highlights the rebellious nature of humanity when cooperating in community. (Gen 11) Like Lucifer, humanity sought to be like the Most High. Their cooperative success and perceived mastery of their world made them feel god-like. By building a tower to the heavens fallen humanity would symbolize their ascent to self-proclaimed deity (Gen 11) This leads to yet another new start based upon God’s foundational covenant with his chosen Abraham.
Satan and his demons continued their activities in the physical realm of God’s fallen image-bearers. Satam would traverse the earth observing and influencing human activity (Job 1:7). Humanity would continue to be vulnerable to natural wisdom which is demonic at its source (James 3).
On one occasion Satan presented himself to God. God asked Satan about Job. In the conversation that followed Satan was given permission to cause great harm to Job and his family. Satan’s contention was that Job’s faithfulness to God was due to the blessings he enjoyed. Satan’s hatred for God and his people is characterized by this encounter. Job’s account is the longest ancient text on suffering and the problem of evil.
During the centuries that follow God continues to be actively involved with His people, employing His angels to serve as protectors who go before the people of God as they carry out His will amidst the nations.
God calls Abram out of the Ur of the Chaldees and establishes an unconditional covenant of promise. In this covenant God promises that all nations will be blessed by his Seed. Abram is called Abraham and the Seed is the coming Messiah. The holy angels will be active with Abraham and his descendants.
Two angels come to Lot and his family to rescue them from the pending judgment of their city (Gen 19ff).
God confirms his covenant with Jacob at Bethel through a dream of angels ascending and descending a ladder from where God Himself speaks (Gen 28 cf. 32). One day the followers of the Messiah will see angels ascend and descend upon Him. This is an indication that the Messiah would be God Himself. (Jn 1:51)
Egypt and the Exodus
God’s people, the descendants of Abraham, would go to Egypt under God’s care. Eventually, a Pharaoh would rule who did not know Joseph the youngest son of Jacob. He would enslave God’s people. After 400 years God delivers His people from Egypt and Pharaoh’s army. The angel of God positions himself between the fleeing Israelites and the Egyptian army. (Exodus 14) Following the Exodus from Egypt, God establishes a largely conditional covenant with His people through Moses. God used angels to mediate the covenant law. (Acts 7:35, Gal 3:14).
Angels would also protect and lead God’s people to victory in the promised land if they were faithful.
“I am going to send an angel before you to protect you as you journey and to bring you into the place that I have prepared. 21 Take heed because of him, and obey his voice; do not rebel against him, for he will not pardon your transgressions, for my Name is in him. 22 But if you diligently obey him and do all that I command, then I will be an enemy to your enemies, and I will be an adversary to your adversaries. 23 For my angel will go before you and bring you to the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, and I will destroy them completely
But the people sin. Israel spends forty years in the wilderness. After forty years the faithless generation is gone and the nation is ready under Joshua’s leadership to enter the promised land.
The Conquest and the Period of the Judges
In time God’s people would tire of God’s rule through appointed judges and prophets. They would ask for a king. God grants them this request. Saul, the first king fails. The Lord took His Spirit from Saul and gave him an evil spirit. This should be understood as God allowing one of Satan’s subordinates to possess or influence Saul (1 Sam 16:15,23) Following Saul’s death, David took the throne. It was through David that God would establish another covenant anchored in the Abrahamic covenant. This covenant was the unconditional promise of an Eternal King from the line of David. That King is Jesus.
Following the reigns of David and Solomon, the Kingdom is divided. The ten northern tribes are called Israel and their capital is Samaria. The two southern tribes of Judah and Benjamin form Judah. Their capital is Jerusalem. Angelic activity continues through this time period.
During the reign of Jehosophat King of Judah, there is a suggestive passage regarding the invisible realm and the ever present conflict between God’s Kingdom and the kingdom of darkness. The conflict in the visible realm involved Isreal, Judah and their shared enemy.
15 The prophet’s attendant got up early in the morning. When he went outside there was an army surrounding the city, along with horses and chariots. He said to Elisha, “Oh no, my master! What will we do?” 16 He replied, “Don’t be afraid, for our side outnumbers them.” 17 Then Elisha prayed, “O Lord, open his eyes so he can see.” The Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he saw that the hill was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha (2 Kings 6).
Centuries later, after the fall of Jerusalem, an exiled boy named Daniel rises to prominence. He would serve the kings of the greatest empires of his time: Babylon and Persia. During the reign of Cyrus the king of Persia, Daniel is burdened to pray for his city Jerusalem. Daniel waits three weeks for God’s answer and then an angel comes.
On the twenty-fourth day of the first month I was beside the great river, the Tigris. 5 I looked up and saw a man clothed in linen; around his waist was a belt made of gold from Ufaz. 6 His body resembled yellow jasper, and his face had an appearance like lightning. His eyes were like blazing torches; his arms and feet had the gleam of polished bronze. His voice thundered forth like the sound of a large crowd.
7 Only I, Daniel, saw the vision; the men who were with me did not see it. On the contrary, they were overcome with fright and ran away to hide. 8 I alone was left to see this great vision. My strength drained from me, and my vigor disappeared; I was without energy. 9 I listened to his voice, and as I did so I fell into a trance-like sleep with my face to the ground. 10 Then a hand touched me and set me on my hands and knees. 11 He said to me, “Daniel, you are of great value. Understand the words that I am about to speak to you. So stand up, for I have now been sent to you.” When he said this to me, I stood up shaking. 12 Then he said to me, “Don’t be afraid, Daniel, for from the very first day you applied your mind to understand and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard. I have come in response to your words. 13 However, the prince of the kingdom of Persia was opposing me for twenty-one days. But Michael, one of the leading princes, came to help me, because I was left there with the kings of Persia. 14 Now I have come to help you understand what will happen to your people in future days, for the vision pertains to days to come.”
The Time Between the Testaments
God’s plan and purpose to send His Son would not be thwarted by Satan’s strategies and attacks. Through prophets and angels, God told His people specific details of the Messiah’s birth, life and mission. But soon the prophecies would cease and the world would wait in silence for the coming of the Messiah.
For approximately four hundred years God would not speak to His people inscripturated Word. These years would punctuate the long wait for God’s promised Messiah who would make all things new. The prophet Malachi sets the stage with the promise of the Messiah’s forerunner.
“I am about to send my messenger, who will clear the way before me. Indeed, the Lord you are seeking will suddenly come to his temple, and the messenger of the covenant, whom you long for, is certainly coming,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. (Malachi 3:1)
When the silence breaks there will be an intensification of angelic and demonic activity. Angels will announce, prepare the way and protect the young Messiah. Satan will seek to kill the baby Messiah and then tempt Him to deny the Father and His mission. Satan’s subordinates will increase their destructive activities on God’s fallen image-bearers. The two realms of God’s creation are fully present.
Don Brooks holds a Bachelor’s in Bible from Grand Rapids Baptist College and Seminary (now Cornerstone University) as well as a Masters of Religious Education from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary. He has over 30 years of Pastoral and Ministry Experience. He has served as a Ratio Christi Chapter Director and Regional Director. Now, he lives in Newaygo, Michigan. He co-founded and teaches at Northern Discovery Academy as well as serving in his local church.