The Angels Learn Through the Church


The Angels Learn Through the Church

January 13th, 1957 @ 7:30 PM

To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God,
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Dr. W. A. Criswell

Ephesians 3:8-21

1-13-57    7:30 p.m.



Now may all of us turn in our Bible to the third chapter of the Book of Ephesians; the third chapter of the Book of Ephesians.  Now we are going to read together beginning at the eighth verse, to the end, Ephesians, the third chapter, the third chapter of Ephesians, beginning at the eighth verse, verse number 8 and reading to the end.  Ephesians 3:8, all right, together:


Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ;

And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ: 

To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God, According to the eternal purpose which He purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord:

In whom we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of Him. 

Wherefore I desire that ye faint not at my tribulations for you, which is your glory.

For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Of whom the whole family in heaven and on earth is named,

That He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man;

That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love,

May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height;

And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fullness of God. 

Now unto Him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us,

Unto Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end.  Amen.

[Ephesians 3:8-21]


Does that sound to you like it does to me up here?  In the Bible, when Jesus was seen of John and the Lord spoke, John said, "and His voice was as the sound of many waters" [Revelation 1:15].  And that’s what you sound like to me.  Oh, what a beautiful thing to hear you read these holy words.

The text tonight is one of the most astonishing I have ever read in the Bible.  You have read it in your passage tonight.  It would hardly mean that to you in a cursory reading.  But to look at it, as we’re going to look at it tonight, will reveal, I say, an astonishing, an unimaginable, an unbelievable thing!  It’s the tenth verse that you’ve just read:  Ephesians 3:10, "To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in the heavenlies might be known by the church the manifold, the multifarious, the varied, the infinite wisdom of God."  That’s the text.

And I say, the most astonishing thing in that:  all of this was revealed, the mystery that God had hid in the counsels of the Almighty, from the beginning of time, that thing God hath made known in the church; "To the intent that now unto archai kai exousiai."  Paul means by that, "the archai and the exousiai,"  he is referring to the orders of those angelic beings that serve and minister in the presence of the throne of God.  To those archai and exousiai, to the cherubim and the seraphim and the angels and the archangels, all of the orders of the heavenly hosts, that unto them who minister in the presence of the throne of glory, that unto them, the angels in heaven, might be known by the church, through the church, in the church, the manifold, the glorious multifarious wisdom of God [Ephesians 3:10]. 

That’s an astonishing thing!  That’s an unbelievable thing!  You look at that.  More than at first you might imagine, I suppose:  these are the elder of all God’s creatures; His angels in heaven.  And it says here in this text that these glorious beings whom God hath created, the archai, the exousiai, the angels, all of the orders of the heavenly hosts, they who look with undimmed eye upon the splendors of deity, who – in the presence of the Almighty – veil their faces, crying, "Holy, holy, holy" [Isaiah 6:3], these who stand, as it were, in the very sun, who look upon God Himself, it says here in this text that there is declared unto them the manifold wisdom of God, not by virtue of their closeness to the throne in heaven, but by the church of Jesus Christ in this earth below [Ephesians 3:10].  You look at that text.  It does not say in that text that the angels who were present at the creation of the world in the beginning, they were there when God flung into space that Milky Way and lighted those stars with the flame of deity, when the morning stars sang together, and the sons of God, the angels, shouted for joy; it does not say in that text that in creation, as they looked in wonder upon what God hath wrought, not even in creation did the angels see the manifold wisdom of God [Ephesians 3:9]:  but they have learned that wisdom in the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, which is here with us below [Ephesians 3:10].

They were with God in the creation of man, God’s highest work, fearfully and wonderfully made in body, in stature, in mind, and in soul [Psalm 139:4].  And looking upon Adam and the fair consort who walked by his side, not even in the creation of man was there declared unto the angels the manifold wisdom of God.  But it was by the church that the manifold wisdom of God was made known unto the angels in glory.  In all of the providences of the Almighty, the wondrous revolution of those wheels that are filled with eyes and the presence of God, in no works or in no providence was the manifold wisdom of God declared to the angels, save in the church of the Lord Jesus Christ! [Ephesians 3:10].  I say it is an astonishing text! 

Think of what Paul is saying here about the church of the living Lord.  Paul is saying there is more of the self-revelation of God, there is more of the manifestation of God, there is more of the wisdom of God to be learned in the church of Jesus Christ than in all of the breadth of the vast creative workmanship of the Almighty.  There is more to be learned of God in the plan of salvation than in the firmament that arches over our sky or in the great temples of the heaven above.  And there is more to be learned of God, the manifold wisdom of God, in the church of the Lord Jesus Christ than in heaven itself!  To these who minister before the very throng of the Almighty, there is not to be learned of God what is manifest of God in the church of the Lord Jesus Christ.  "To the intent that now unto the archai and unto the exousiai en epouraniois, up in heaven, might be made known by the church the manifold wisdom of God" [Ephesians 3:10].  No wonder the Bible calls this thing of our church "a mystery into which angels desire to look" [1 Peter 1:12].  So we’re going to look tonight, the manifold wisdom of God revealed in the church of the Lord Jesus Christ.

What is that wisdom?  What is that marvelous thing that God hath wrought, that astonished the angels in glory; that revealed unto those heavenly hosts the wonderful works of the Almighty?  All right, here’s the first one:  the first one is a self-revelation of God in the great plan of salvation; God’s redeeming love [Romans 5:8].  Suppose we had called a parliament of all of the celestial spirits in heaven and in earth, and suppose we had given to them this task: ordain for us, prepare for us, a plan of salvation for a sinful man whereby God can be just and the justifier of the ungodly.  And prepare us that paper and deliver it in our hands that we may look upon it and see, how can God be right and save men that are wrong?  How can God be just and justify ungodly men?  How can God do right by the great laws of His universe and at the same time deliver a man who transgresses and violates those laws? 

I daresay that parliament of celestial spirits would deliver and debate forever and ever and never come forth with a plan whereby God could save a man and the same time justify His course and uphold His law.  But oh, the infinite wisdom, the manifold wisdom of God revealed in His church, in the preaching of the gospel, in the saving of souls, in the redemption of men!  Oh, the wisdom of God, as God Himself gave to us this wonderful plan of salvation.

Look upon it, look upon it: in the story of the cross, all of the virtues of God, all of them, all of the attributes of God are gloriously set forth.  In the ancient Oriental day, the crown prince would have clusters of jewels in his crown.  There on the cross, in the day of redemption, you will find as clusters in a corona all of the glorious attributes of God.  Look upon them, look upon them.  God is righteous.  God is just.  And the Lord condemns that which is evil and the violation of His law.  How those angels knew that: they had seen Lucifer thrown out of heaven and fall like lightning to the earth [Luke 10:18]; God is just.  And they had seen now the Lord God Jesus Christ die on Calvary and receive in His soul the penalty of the transgression of the law! [Romans 8:3-4]. God is just!  And how we look upon it in that awful day of atonement [Acts 2:23].  And yet, God is merciful, and He forgives the sinner [Ephesians 1:7].  God is holy, and God is pure, and God is kind, and God is good, and God pours out His life and love, even unto death [Philippians 2:8], all of it in this amazing thing that the angels have seen in the day of the cross [Acts 2:36].  "That there might be revealed unto them in heaven, the angels of glory, by the church, the wonderful wisdom of God" [Ephesians 3:10].  Oh, the astonishment of the hosts of heaven!

  Did we lose Eden in Adam? [Genesis 3:22-24].  Did we?  Then we’ve gained a better paradise in the second Adam [1 Corinthians 15:45].  Were we expelled from the garden and lost our communion with God?  Then by faith in this grace, we have a greater access and come boldly to the throne itself [Hebrews 4:14-16].  Were we cast out because of sin?  Then in Him, all of our sins are forgiven [1 John 1:9], and we are made righteous through the blood of the Lamb of God [1 John 1:7; Revelation 1:5].  Did we lose heaven itself?  We shall have a better heaven in the Lord Jesus Christ [Revelation 21-22]:  the marvelous manifold wisdom of God in the church, in the church [Ephesians 3:10].  How God turned the very sting of Satan [1 Corinthians 15:55], and the very sin of Adam [Genesis 3:1-6], how God turned it to the annihilation of sin [Romans 8:2], and Satan himself [Revelation 20:10], and to the glorious saving of the man [John 3:16].  In the thing God hath done, the dragon is stung by his own sting, Goliath is slain by his own sword.  By sin came death; by that same man who sinned came life.  The grave holding his victim, but that victim has forever conquered death and the grave.  Satan used man as an instrument for the destruction of man; and God used that same man for the salvation of his soul [1 Corinthians 15:22]; the marvelous wisdom of God manifest to the angels through the church in this glorious plan of salvation [Ephesians 3:10].

And as the angels look upon it, how they must be astonished and wonder at the mercy of God reaching down into the souls and lives of men!  Here is a proud man, uplifted and haughty, look upon him as he kneels in prayer, as he closes the bedroom door, and as he pours out his heart before God; and the angels look upon it.  The astonishment of those angels as they see a Mary Magdalene, as they see a Saul of Tarsus, as they see a pauper by the side of a king, as they see a prince, as they see a peasant woman, all of them bowed before the great high God in glory, confessing faith in the Lord, changed in their souls, new people, born again.  A king on his throne naming the name of Christ, a poor humble peasant in a cottage in the eventide opening the Book and praying on his knees before God the Father in the name of Jesus; and the angels look upon it and are astonished, "To the intent that now unto the archai, and the exousiai, en epouranioi  might be known by the church, the manifold wisdom of God, what God hath done" [Ephesians 3:10].

I have a second thing: not only in the great plan of salvation hath God manifest to the angels the glory of His person and the marvel of His wisdom, but that is revealed unto the angels in the glorious preparation and manifestation of the God Man Christ Jesus [Luke 2:14].  The angels look upon it and are astonished at what God hath done!  They were present when the Lord chose Abraham and the little, little flock.  And they looked upon Isaac and Jacob as finally they became twelve tribes.  And Moses was chosen on the holy mount.  And they looked upon it when God gave to Moses the pattern of the holy sanctuary on the holy mount, and the rites, and the rituals, and the types of all of the things of the ceremonial law.  And the angels desired to look into it [1 Peter 1:12].  Did you ever think of the symbolism of those cherubim who were on the mercy seat, whose wings covered it, and whose eyes were full upon it? [Exodus 25:16-20].  It was as though the angels in heaven, looking upon the sacrifice, and looking upon the blood, and looking upon the type, and looking upon all of the beautiful rituals of the temple and of the tabernacle, it was as though, as they looked full upon the mercy seat, they desired to look into those marvelous things that were concealed and hid under that golden lid.  And the angels looked upon it in astonishment.  And oh how must have been their astonishment and their wonder and their amazement when the fullness of time came and the God Man, the Prince of Heaven, was born in this earth and laid in a manger [Luke 2:8-16].  And they looked in wonder upon it, and they sang in glory about it [Luke 2:13-14].  And they watched the God Man grow up, and they heard His words of life, of teaching.  And they looked upon all of the deeds of His hand.  And think of the astonishment of the angels when the day of the cross came, dark and black, and it seemed as if God were defeated and the God Man died [Luke 23:44-46], and they laid Him in a tomb!  [Luke 23:50-56].  But oh, think of the astonishment of the angels when they saw that God Man raised from the dead [Luke 24:1-7].  He broke the bonds of death like Samson broke the green withes of the Philistines.  And He arose victorious and triumphant, God’s God Man, our Savior [1 Corinthians 15:55-57].  And He arose to sit down at the right hand of God [Colossians 3:1].  And in the fourth and in the fifth chapters of the Book of the Revelation, I think you have the picture of the ascension of Christ when He went back to glory and the thousands times ten thousands sang and said, "Worthy art Thou, worthy art Thou to receive honor, and glory, and power; for Thou was slain, Thou was slain, and hast redeemed His church to God out of every tribe and name and tongue on the face of the earth" [Revelation 5:9, 12],To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heaven might be known by the church, the gospel message of the church, the manifold wisdom of God," what the Lord hath done [Ephesians 3:10].

We’re not through.  We could be here all night talking about what God hath done that astonishes the angels in glory.  You think of this: think of the manifestation of the wisdom of God to those angels, those principalities, the cherubim and the seraphim and the archangels in glory, think of the amazement and astonishment that comes to them as they look upon the building of God’s church in the earth.  There is the chief cornerstone, the binding stone at the corner, Jesus Christ our Lord [1 Peter 2:6].  And then the spiritual stones leaning against that great binding stone, and it builds up, and it builds up, into the great temple, the holy house, the heavenly body, the church of the Lord Jesus Christ [1 Peter 2:5].  What kind of an architecture is in it?  Greek?  No sir.  Romanesque?  No sir.  Gothic?  No sir.  It is the architecture of the heavenly sanctuary, and it is made out of living souls and out of redeemed lives, the building up, the building up, the building up of the holy temple of God [1 Peter 2:5].  And the pinnacle of that temple is in heaven.  Some of God’s building stones are above the sky; they are in glory, and some of us are in that temple down here below.  They over there, the sermon of the morning; and we down below, but all of us a part of the great holy building we call the church, the bride of the Lord Jesus Christ [Ephesians 5:27].

And how God dwells in that habitation, how God inhabits His dwelling place:  where shall I find the revelation and the manifold wisdom of God?  "Oh," says the scientist with his telescope, and he looks, and he looks, and he looks, and he looks, and he says, "God is an infinite Almighty," as he looks through his telescope.  And then another sees the great hurricane on the bosom of the deep, and he says, "God is a mighty tower, and a fierce force."  Then another inspects a little insect and he says, "How wise is God."  But we in the church, we know His name, we know what He is like, we know how He does, we know His heart and His soul; He reveals Himself to His children.  And we bow down and pray and say, "O God, how manifold is Thy wisdom in the church that astonishes the angels in glory" [Ephesians 3:10].

Well, just one other; the manifold wisdom of God, as the angels look upon it, as they see it, God Himself unfolding Himself, revealing Himself, what God is really like.  You never know just seeing God on His throne, never know just seeing the creative works of God in the sky and the world, never know just watching the providences of God in all of His manifest glory of earth and sky, but knowing God really in His church, as He opens His heart and shows Himself in His soul to the children of men [Colossians 2:9].  And this last thing before we close, how the angels must be astonished, how they must be astonished, how they must be amazed as they look upon the daily experiences of the Christian, as God gives him daily bread, so God gives us daily experiences of grace [Lamentations 3:23].  And the angels look upon it and behold it and are astonished at it!  These things of divine holy providence that come into our hearts and our lives, our daily experiences; why, I would think it’s like the king of Babylon, who looked into the furnace that was afire and aflame, and he saw there the countenance and the form of the fourth like unto the Son of God [Daniel 3:25]; and the angels looking upon us, and there by our side is the Son of God Himself, the fourth person [Matthew 28:20].  And I think it’d be like the angels as they looked upon the wilderness wanderings of the children of Israel and saw the fire by night and the cloud by day [Exodus 13:21], and they were astonished at the providences of God among His children.  And it’s so with us.  These things that daily come into our lives, the heavenly providences of the Lord, what do they know of those things up there personally?  Only as they see them in our lives, the manifold wisdom of God through us in the church [Ephesians 3:10], as they look upon it and are astonished at the gracious presences and providences and provisions of God for us who live here as pilgrims and strangers in this earth below.  Couldn’t you name some?

If I were to turn this meeting tonight into a testimony, oh what our ears would hear, and what the angels have seen.  "Pastor, at such and such time and at such and such place, in that darkest of all dark hours, suddenly there was a light in my soul and a fire from heaven burned in my heart, and I saw the answer, and the presence, and the help and the power of God; and I rose to the task."  And, "Pastor, I, I was in the valley of the shadow of death, alone, without comfort, and I felt by my side, in step with me, that One who goes with us through the valley of the shadow of death" [Psalm 23].  And another:  "Pastor, Pastor, I was lost and without hope and couldn’t find the way, and there came into my heart and into my life a lighted path and a figure pointing out; and all of the glory of the way that I ought to follow was revealed and opened unto me, and I had strength for the hour."  And another: "I had comfort for that sorrow."  And another:  "And I had light for my way."  And another: "I had life for this death."  And another: "I had wisdom for this blindness."  Oh, we could stand and testify all night long what the Lord hath done for us.

And then that final and inevitable day always comes, always comes.  Can’t live forever, don’t want to, wouldn’t be interested in it, couldn’t be enticed, couldn’t be bribed, couldn’t be bought.  When this thing is done, and this life is lived, and this task is finished, and my life is a burden to me and those about me, O Lord, I’m interested then, I’m interested then in a long and a far away journey.  And guess who is there, looking upon one of God’s children as he comes to the end of the way?  What doth the Good Book say?  It says, "And the angels were there and carried God’s believing child to Abraham’s bosom" [Luke 16:22].  I expect them.  "Oh pastor, how naïve you are.  How simple and gullible."  But I expect them.  When the day comes and this task is ended, I expect to see the angels of God and to rise with them into the glory land where God is gathering His children home.  It’s a marvelous thing God hath done.  And the angels in heaven looking upon it are learning of the infinite love and manifold wisdom of God our Savior, in us, in our church, what God is doing through us [Ephesians 3:10].

Now let’s sing our song.  And while we sing it, somebody you, give his heart in faith to the Lord Jesus tonight, would you come?  Would you come?  Into that aisle, into that aisle, down here by my side, "Pastor, I give you my hand; my heart I give to God."  In this balcony around, down these stairwells, would you come and take this preacher by the hand?  "Tonight, my humble best, I give my soul in trust to Christ."  Would you, now?  Or into the fellowship of His church, a family, or one somebody you, while we sing this song, would you come?  Prayerfully, earnestly, just for you, would you make it now?  While we stand and while we sing.