The Smitings of God’s Angels
November 13th, 1983 @ 10:50 AM
SMITINGS OF GOD’S ANGEL
Dr. W. A. Criswell
11-13-83 10:50 a.m.
And this is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Smitings of God’s Angel. It is the sixth message in the doctrinal sectional on angelology. There is one remaining; it is entitled What Angels Learn in Church, which is a surprising revelation in the Book of God. Turn with me now to the Book of Acts, chapter 12, the Book of Acts: after the four Gospels, the Book of Acts, chapter 12. We begin at the first verse:
Now about that time Herod the king stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the church. And he killed James the brother of the sainted apostle John with the sword. And because he saw it pleased the hierarchy of the Sanhedrin he proceeded further to take Peter also…and after the Passover to execute him—
And when Herod would have brought Peter forth, the same night—
the night before he was to be executed—
Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains: and the keepers before the door kept the prison.
And, behold, the angel of the Lord came upon him, and a light shined in the prison: and he smote Peter on the side, and raised him up, saying, Arise up quickly. And immediately Simon Peter’s chains fell off from his hands at the smiting of the angel of the Lord—
now verse 21—
And upon a set day, this Herod Agrippa I arrayed in royal apparel, sat upon his throne, and made an oration unto the people.
And the people answered with a shout, saying, It is the voice of a god, and not of a man. And immediately the angel of the Lord smote him, because he accepted, persuaded himself that he was a god, and he gave not the true Lord in heaven the glory due His name, and stricken, he was eaten of worms—
Dr. Luke’s description of a loathsome disease—
and gave up the ghost.
Did you notice? You did I know; that in the reading of the Scriptures, there is the descent from heaven of an angel from God and he does the same thing in both instances. He descends from heaven and he smites Peter [Acts 12:7], and he descends from heaven and he smites Herod [Acts 12:23], but how different those smitings. And that gives rise to the message of the morning, The Smitings of the Angel of God.
Wherever in the Bible, and if I can almost say it, wherever in secular history, you read the name Herod, it means trouble, trouble, trouble. Herod the Great: in his days, he slew all the babes in Bethlehem [Matthew 2:16]. He slew practically all of his own family. Augustus Caesar said, “It would be better to be a huos in the household of Herod, than a huios.” Huos is the Greek word for a pig, a hog; and huios is the Greek word for a son. Herod killed practically all of his family: killed his beautiful Maccabean wife, Mariamne; killed Aristobulus, the father of this Herod Agrippa I. Wherever you see the name Herod, it spells trouble.
Herod Antipas, the son of Herod the Great who received the northern part of Palestine for his kingdom, called Herod Antipas, Herod the tetrarch, he’s the Herod married to Herodias—a wife he stole from his brother Philip [Mark 6:17-18]—she, the mother of Salome. And he is the Herod that slew John the Baptist; ignominiously cut off his head [Matthew 14:6-10; Mark 6:20-28]. That’s Herod.
This Herod, [Agrippa I] the grandson of Herod the Great, the nephew of Herod Antipas, he slew James, the brother of John the son of Zebedee [Acts 12:1-2], and because he saw that it pleased the hierarchy of the Sanhedrin he placed Simon Peter in prison [Acts 12:3-4]. It happened to be at the Passover time, and when the Passover was done, the next day Simon Peter was also to be executed; that’s Herod.
Herod Agrippa II appears in Acts 24 [Acts 24:24] and 25 [Acts 25:13]. He had a sister named [Bernice] who was married to a petty king, and he wooed his own sister to leave her husband and to live with him. It was the scandal of the whole Roman Empire. [Bernice] had a sister [and] Herod Agrippa II had a sister named Drusilla, and she was married to Felix, the Roman governor of Judea. And they appear all together, before whom Paul pled in Acts 24 and 25 [Acts 24:1-25:27]. Wherever in history you see the name Herod, it means trouble, and murder, and bloodshed, and violence.
So this passage begins, “Now, Herod the king” [Acts 12:1]. Do you notice in the story, “it came to pass, that Herod went down from Judea to Caesarea, and there abode?” [Acts 12:19]. That is very and most explicable; Jerusalem was a city of the temple of God, and the worship of the Lord; the singing and playing of the Levites, the gathering of the tribes for the feasts of Jehovah—a dull, dreary, dark, dismal place for Herod Agrippa. So he goes down to abide in Caesarea by the sea [Acts 12:19], the Roman-built city and capital of the Roman province of Judea. He goes down from Jerusalem to Caesarea; to Caesarea, where the lights are brighter, and the life is merrier, and the dance is dizzier, and the viands are better, and the wine is redder, and the tempo is faster. That pleases this debauched, dissipated, dissolute character of Herod Agrippa.
And while he is there, a great festival is declared. And on the second day of the festival, Herod appears in the theater [Acts 12:21-23]. That theater is there today; it has been fully restored. It is an amphitheater made out of stone. I have spoken in it. It is a magnificent place. Your voice can be easily carried to the thousands of people gathered there.
Josephus, the famous Jewish historian, not many years after Luke writes his account, Josephus has a full account of this very incident. Whereas, Dr. Luke says that at that tremendous festival, Herod Agrippa appeared in “royal apparel” [Acts 12:21], Josephus spells it out. He says that on the second day of the great festival, Herod appeared in the theater dressed in a robe, woven of solid silver. And Josephus says that when the sun struck that robe of solid silver, the dazzling and the spectacular brilliance of his appearance elicited from the people the cry, “It is the voice of a god and not of a man!”
And Josephus says, “Immediately, God struck him.” Dr. Luke says it like this, “And the angel of the Lord smote him,” and Dr. Luke says, “and he died of a loathsome disease.” This disease that Dr. Luke describes as being “eaten with worms” [Acts 12:23]. It appears every once in a while in ancient history; Sulla, the Roman dictator, died of that same loathsome disease. Herod the Great died of it. Some historians that I have read say that Antiochus the Great died of it, and that the Roman Caesar Maximinus died of it. Wherever it attacked, the people of the ancient world looked upon it as a judgment of God. And Dr. Luke so writes of it here:
When he received the obeisance, and the worship, and the cry of the people,
You are a god it and not a man,
the angel of the Lord struck him, and he died of that loathsome disease.
When Dr. Luke says that “he died of worms” [Acts 12:23], it brought to my mind the [ninth] chapter of the Book of Mark: these shall be cast into hell fire, “where the worm dieth not and the fire is not quenched” [Mark 9:44-48]. It brought to my mind, when I read it, a picture of the great final assize, the judgment day of Almighty God [Matthew 12:36]. All of us face that day, and when we face it, as Herod did, as the lost do, we face it in a terrible visitation from heaven; the smiting of the angel of God.
But the angel came down another time from heaven, descending in glory and this time, the Scriptures say the angel of the Lord “smote” Peter [Acts 12:7]. For the Bible says that Simon was sound asleep, chained to a soldier on either side, behind the iron doors of a prison [Acts 12:6], and the next morning to be executed; and Simon Peter is sound asleep. Quiet, at peace and at rest in the goodness, and grace, and care, and love, and promise of God; sound asleep, to be executed the next morning [Acts 12:6]. If he lived, he lived to the Lord; if he died, he died to the Lord. Whether he lived, whether he died, he was the Lord’s [Romans 14:8], and he was sound asleep, facing execution [Acts 12:6]. Oh, what a brilliant, and beautiful, and imposing, and impressive picture of the rest of the saints of God!
I saw a picture one time: it was entitled, Peace, that was the caption down there at the bottom of the painting, Peace. And absolutely, it was the most thundering, furious picture you could imagine. The artist had painted a tall cliff, a rock cliff, by the side of a raging sea, and as the great billows and as the great waves burst against the rocks of that cliff, and the clouds lowering and thundering, it was a scene of violence and devastation, and crash, and thunder. And I looked at that caption, Peace. And I looked closely, and you know what the artist had done? Up there toward the top of the cliff, in the cleft of the rock, he had painted a bird who had his head under his wing, sound asleep.
Peace: that’s God in the lives of His servants. Simon Peter, chained to a soldier on either side, to be executed the next morning, sound asleep—no worry, no care, no burden, no trouble—just asleep in the Lord [Acts 12:6]. Don’t you think that’s a picture of God’s people when they, as the Bible says, “fall asleep in Jesus”? [1 Thessalonians 4:14]. No care, no burden, no worry, no trouble, no heartache; just fall asleep in Jesus. Isn’t that a beautiful way for the Bible to describe how God’s saints, what the world calls “die,” they just fall asleep in the arms of Jesus, at peace? If it is God’s will that I live, may I live to the glory of the Lord. If it is God’s will that I die, may I die in the love and grace of the Lord. Whether I live, whether I die, it’s the Lord. At peace, Simon Peter sound asleep [Acts 12:6].
And an angel descended from heaven and “smote” him; struck him, the gentle vileness of waking him up [Acts 12:6-7]. Well, I think of that as a picture of what the angels shall do with us some day: it will be at the descent of the angels of God, at the sound of the trumpet, at the voice of the archangel that the Lord raises us up [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17]. And as Simon Peter was raised—was awakened by the smiting of the angel to light, a light shined around him [Acts 12:7]; and to liberty, and to freedom, and to the glorious witnessing of the grace of God [Acts 12:8-17], so the angel “smiting,” shall awaken us some day, when we fall asleep in Jesus, to the freedom, and the glory, and the liberty of the children of God [Romans 8:21]. Raised from the grave and from the dead, the shackles of sin, the chains of sin—broken, fallen away—and we live in the fullness of the glory of our Lord, a picture of our final triumph in Christ: the smiting of the angel of God.
Now to the sermon: as I said, we were going to speak of the two smitings of the angel of the Lord and how different they are: one, the smiting of Herod by the angel of God, and he died of a loathsome judgment from heaven [Acts 12:23], and the other, the smiting of the angel of the Lord—Simon Peter—and he awakened to the light and glory of our Savior [Acts 12:7-11]. The smitings of the angel of God: the same descent, the same smiting, but oh, how different! And thus it is with all of the life of the soul: the same interventions from heaven, the same providences, the same gift of life, the same days, the same generation, the same world, the same providences; but oh, how different!
I see it in the Bible: the cloud that guided the Israelites out of bondage, into the Promised Land. That cloud: on one side it was dark to the Egyptians, but on the other side, it was light to the Israelites, the same cloud—dark to those who cursed God, light to those who called upon the name of the Lord—the same cloud! [Exodus 14:19-20]. The ark of the covenant: in the hands of the Philistines it maimed their god Dagon, it cursed and decimated the people [1Samuel 5:2-5], but it blessed the house of Obed-Edom where it came to rest [2 Samuel 6:10-11]—the same ark, the same ark!
In the second Corinthian letter, chapter 2, verse 16, the apostle Paul says that our gospel, to those who believe, is the savor of life unto life, unto life, unto heaven! Then he says, but it is also the savor of death unto death, unto judgment, unto damnation unto those who do not believe—it is the same gospel, the same gospel! [2 Corinthians 2:14-17]. To someone whose heart is moved, and he listens and he believes and he accepts, the gospel is the door into glory; it’s the opening of heaven to his soul and his life. But to the man who rejects, it is the condemnation, he is sinning against light, against the grace of God—the same gospel.
And all of the experiences of life are like that, they are double, they are twofold. Death to the man who is lost is an entrance into darkness, impenetrable darkness. It’s a horror, it’s a dread, it’s a judgment—death! But death to the Christian is our translation into heaven [2 Corinthians 5:8]. The resurrection to a man who is lost is a resurrection to damnation and to hell [Revelation 20:11-15]; but the resurrection to a Christian is the fulfillment of the whole promised redemptive possession. God gives us back in the resurrection, the body glorified, immortalized, transfigured [1 Corinthians 15:52]. What a triumph!
The judgment day to the man who is lost: it is a great white throne and He that sits upon it, from His very face the heavens and the earth flee away [Revelation 20:11]. It is an awesome confrontation [Revelation 20:12-14], and these whose names are not written in the Lambs Book of Life are cast into the lake of fire [Revelation 20:15]. Hell, judgment is an awful prospect for those who are lost. But to the Christian, standing at the bema of Christ there [2 Corinthians 5:10], God has written down every kind word that he spoke, every gentle gesture that he ever made, every sweet kindness he ever showed in the name of Jesus, and it’s his reward forever, beside heaven itself. Same judgment, same eternity: he faces—the lost man—a forever and a forever, but it is one of darkness as the Bible says, “where the worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched” [Mark 9:44-48]. He faces an eternity without God and without Christ, he’s lost! But to the Christian, eternity is to be with God and with God’s saints and God’s people forever, and ever [John 14:3], and ever. Oh, what a difference!
You see it every day of your life; we live in those two smitings of the angel from heaven. Here is a man, comes to church—loves to come to church, to be in God’s house, sit down with God’s people—just come to church. We have visitors here today, they are in church; love the Lord, love the people of the Lord, they have come to church. There are other people by the thousands that look upon it as a sentence to be bored to death in church; they would rather be in the bar, they would rather be at the ball game, they would rather be in the dive, or the den, or the joint, or on the road, or in the park, a thousand other places, but not church. How different!
The same way about reading the Bible: there are those who open God’s Book, and they read this Word, and it is life to their souls, it is a light to guide them in the way, they love the Word of God. And there are those who say, “That is the dullest Book that was ever written!” What a difference; the same Book. The songs we sing: it is just heaven to me to hear the orchestra play, to hear the choir sing. And when David announces the hymn, all of us share in the song; I just love to hear the songs of Zion, never get tired of them. My father was that way. He would love to go to these singing conventions and sing all day long, all day long, singing songs of the Lord. And there are those, “Man, let’s get the jive joint heated up. Boy, this rock and roll!” To me, that is the worst beat and the worst sounding stuff in the earth! But to them, by the thousands, they love it. What a difference, what a difference.
And prayer: for us it would be unthinkable, indescribably sad for us to go through any day that we did not pray— couldn’t imagine going through a day and not praying. But they would never lift up their voices or their hearts in redemptive intercession, “Lord, remember me.” The difference, it is an amazing thing, the difference, the difference.
The smiting of God’s angel: to a Herod, death [Acts 12:23], to a Simon Peter, life, deliverance, and light [Acts 12:7]—same angel, same descent, same smiting. And I say the reaction to all of life and to all of providence and to death; all is just like that. It is twofold; it can be glorious in the Lord, or it is tragic without Him.
I see that, and am sensitive to that in English literature. You’ve heard me say many times, if I weren’t a pastor, I would love to have been a professor of English literature, I would love to have taught English literature. Let’s take these two men: Lord Byron and Robert Browning. Lord Byron lived a debauched and dissolute, disgraceful life. And do you remember his poem?
My days are in the yellow leaf;
The flowers and fruits of love are gone;
The worm, the canker, the grief,
Are mine alone!
[“On This Day I Complete My Thirty-Sixth Year,” Lord Byron, 1824]
Do you remember that? Do you remember the title of the poem? “On My Thirty-Sixth Birthday,” and he died after writing that stanza. He died a dissolute, dismal, discouraged, lost soul; Lord Byron.
Robert Browning, one of the greatest Christian poets of all time, as he lay dying, he read his “Epilogue” to his daughter-in-law and his sister. And if you ever have a book of the works of Robert Browning, the “Epilogue” will close the volume. Do you remember it?
One who never turned his back but marched breast forward,
Never doubted clouds would break,
Never dreamed, though right were worsted, wrong would triumph,
Held we fall to rise, are baffled to fight better,
Sleep to wake.
It moves in a different world.
Again, the two great Victorian poets, William Henley and Alfred, Lord Tennyson. William Henley is belligerent and defiant. His “Invictus” is like an invective:
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance,
I have never winced or cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
. . .
It matters not how strait the gate,
How full of chance, imprisonments on the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
And I am the captain of my soul.
[adapted from “Invictus,” William Henley,1875]
Shake his fist at God, and at providence, and at life.
Queen Victoria loved Alfred, Lord Tennyson, her poet laureate. Do you remember the poem that he wrote? It always closes the volume of the works of Lord Tennyson. And how sweet, and how dear, and how Christian, and how precious:
Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I set out to sea,
But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
Too full for sound or foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
Turns again home.
Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
But may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark;
For tho’ for out this bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crost the bar.
[“Crossing the Bar,” Alfred, Lord Tennyson, 1889]
Or as Paul would write in Philippians 1:21, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is a gain.” Or again, in 1 Corinthians 15:55, “O Death, where is thy sting? O Grave, where is thy victory?” Or as the hymnist writes:
O precious cross! O glorious crown!
O resurrection day!
Ye angels from the stars come down
And bear my soul away
[“Must Jesus Bear the Cross Alone?”; Thomas Shepherd,1693]
O come angel band,
Come and around me stand,
O bear me away
On your snowy wings
To my eternal home.
[“Oh, Come, Angel Band,” Jefferson Hascall, 1860]
Facing the same thing—death and God and eternity, the smiting of the angel of the Lord; but how different when one like Simon Peter places his loving trust in Jesus [Matthew 16:16]. May it be with you, with us. “Lord, Lord, to live each day in Thy loving grace; to come to the end of the way leaning on Thy kind arm; and to face the eternity beyond in God’s care,” oh, my brother, this is the way to live, to die! And it is our invitation, come and pilgrimage with us from this world to the world to come. Come, we invite you, we urge you, we plead with you. This is the way of light and glory and salvation, this is God! Come, share with us the riches of His love and the glory of His grace, come
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Bring your family. Rear those children in the love and nurture of the Lord. Invite Christ into your heart and home; make every decision in His wisdom. The greatest decision you could ever make in your life, “Pastor, I have decided for God and here I stand.”
In a moment we will sing our hymn of appeal, and if you are in the balcony, down one of those stairways with time and to spare, welcome. In the throng on this lower floor, down one of these aisles, “Pastor, I give you my hand. I have given my heart to God, and I am coming.” May the angels who take us to heaven [Luke 16:22], may the angels attend your way as you come, while we stand and while we sing.