WHAT ANGELS LEARN AT CHURCH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Corinthians 11:10
11-27-83 10:50 a.m.
This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas bringing the message. It is the seventh and the last in the great doctrinal section on angelology. And the title of the sermon is almost facetious, but when we study the Word of God, it moves into an altogether different world. The title of the sermon is What the Angels Learn in Church.
First of all, they learn about us. In 1 Corinthians 11:10, Paul writes, “For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels.” Is that not an amazing statement in the Bible? The first part of the eleventh chapter of 1 Corinthians concerns how we ought to dress in church. And particularly are the words addressed to the woman, how the woman is to dress in church—appropriately, acceptably, modestly—how she is to dress in church “because of the angels,” Paul says. The angels are here, they meet with us, they praise and worship God as one of us, and because of the presence of the angels, the woman is to dress in a certain way: acceptably, beautifully, modestly, appropriately.
That leads us to remark that the human species is the only one of God’s vast spectrum of creation who wears clothes. We’re the only ones who put on garments, who wear raiment. All the other things of creation that God made wear the garment that they’re born with, whether it be an insect, or a beetle, or an ant, or a fish, or a fowl, or a bird, or an animal, or a beast, or a creeping thing. Everything that God has made does not wear clothes. It lives and abides in the house or the garment in which it is born. All except the human being. It may be, for an insect, its incrustation. It may be for a bird, its feathers. It may be for a fish, its scales. It may be for an animal, its furry, hairy clothing. But we are the only ones that wear garments, that put on raiment.
It may be that we are made in the image of God as the Bible says [Genesis 1:27], and God is always pictured as clothed in a garment of glory and of light. In the one hundred-fourth Psalm and the second verse, the Lord God is described as being clothed in glory in garments of light [Psalm 104:2]. The ancient Jewish people referred to the garments of God as the shekinah glory, the light and the beauty and the splendor in which God is dressed. And our Lord Jesus Christ is no less described as being clothed in majesty—beautiful, dazzling, white, splendid. In the seventeenth chapter of the Book of Matthew, when the deity of our Lord shown through and He was transfigured on the mount, it says that His raiment became dazzlingly white as the brilliance of the sun [Matthew 17:2].
When Saul of Tarsus, the apostle Paul, met our Lord on the road to Damascus, he was blinded by the glory of the light, the shekinah majesty of the presence of Jesus [Acts 9:3-4, 22:6-7]. In the first chapter in the Book of the Apocalypse, of the Revelation, our Lord, glorified, is described. He is so splendid: His countenance and His raiment, His robe as bright as the shining sun [Revelation 1:13-16]. And John says, “When I saw Him, I fell at His feet as one dead” [Revelation 1:17]. In the Book of Daniel, our Lord is described as robed in light, in glory, in raiment of majesty [Daniel 10:5-6].
The angels also are always described in God’s Word as being clothed in white, splendid raiment. In the twenty-eighth chapter of Matthew, in the twenty-fourth chapter of Luke, in the sixteenth chapter of Mark, and in the first chapter of the Book of Acts, we have a description of the resurrection angels: the angels who were there at the tomb when Christ was raised from among the dead [Matthew 28:3; Luke 24:4; Mark 16:5; Acts 1:10]. And the ascension angels that stood by when our Lord returned to glory in heaven [Acts 1:10-11]. And without exception, the angels are described as clothed in raiment and garments of dazzling, brilliant white.
We are made like them; the eighth Psalm says, “We are made just a little lower than the angels, crowned with glory and power” [Psalm 8:5]. The Scriptures say we are made in the image of God [Genesis 1:27]. And as such, when we were created, we were created with a robe: a garment of beauty, and of light, and of glory, of holiness, and purity. The second chapter of the Book of Genesis, describing our first parents, says that “though they were naked,” they were not created with a clothing like God made all the other animals, “though they were naked, yet they were unashamed” [Genesis 2:25]. Like the angels, and like our Lord, and like the great omnipotent Creator Himself, our first parents were clothed with glory, with light, with beauty, with holiness, with purity [Genesis 2:25].
The next chapter in the Book of Genesis, chapter 3 says, “And the Lord came walking in the cool of the day” [Genesis 3:8], to visit with the man and the lovely consort by his side. And when He sought them, He could not find them. And the Lord God lifted up His voice and said, “Adam? Adam? Adam, where art thou?” And Adam cried in response, “I have hid myself, for I am naked; and I am ashamed.” And the Lord God said, “Who told thee that thou was naked? Have you eaten of the tree forbidden?” [Genesis 3:9-11, 2:17]. In sin, in transgression, we lost our garment of holiness, and purity, and light, and glory, and we found ourselves naked and ashamed.
There is no infidel that lives, there’s no unbeliever that exists, but every day bears witness to the truth of the Lord God Almighty, that we are a fallen people in sin and in transgression, and we are ashamed of our nakedness. You are no exception, no one of us is. If I invited any one of you, “Come and stand by me, and unclothe yourself and stand here before us naked,” you would of all people be ashamed.
In talking with Corrie ten Boom, I was impressed by something that I suppose no one else noticed. She said:
The most humiliating and the most devastating of all of the things that I endured in the days and the years in the Nazi concentration camp was this: the Nazi soldiers made us unrobe and paraded us in their presence, naked.
And she said, “I was indescribably ashamed.”
Sin and transgression and disobedience have taken away from us our garment, our robe, our dress of light, and majesty, and beauty, and holiness, and purity.
Then the Bible says, “The Lord God made coats of skins, and clothed the man and his wife” [Genesis 3:21] to hide their shame and their nakedness. He slew, in the garden of Eden, an innocent animal, and innocent animals, and pouring the blood out—the crimson of their life out—the earth drank up the first sacrifice for sin. And out of the sacrifice of these innocent animals, God covered the nakedness of the first man and his wife [Genesis 3:21], and that is the Hebrew word for “atonement.” Kaphar is the ordinary Hebrew word for “covering,” covering, and it is translated, “atonement.” And the Lord covered our shame, and our sin, and our transgression, and our nakedness. The Lord covered it. He made atonement for us in blood and in sacrifice in order that we might stand in His presence, forgiven and holy and pure and without shame [Romans 5:11; 1 John 2:28]. Thus God has done for us, and the sign of that is the clothing that you wear. Every day, it is another message, and another sermon, and another remembrance of what God has done for us: kaphar, “He clothes us”; translated, He makes “atonement” for us [Leviticus 16:32-33]. And He covers our sin and our shame and our nakedness that we might stand in His presence holy, undefiled, forgiven [Ephesians 5:27].
And that’s why the apostle writes in the Holy Word, when we come to church in the presence of the angels, we come dressed, clothed—in garments appropriate and acceptable to God [1 Corinthians 11:2-16]—thus the angels learn about us in church [1 Corinthians 11:10].
Number two, what angels learn in church: Ephesians, chapter 3, verses 9 and 10 [Ephesians 3:9-10]. The first part of the third chapter of Ephesians is an avowal on the part of the apostle Paul that verse 3, “By revelation, God made known unto me the mystery of the church” [Ephesians 3:3]. Verse 6, “That the Gentiles should be fellow heirs of the same body, partakers of the promise of Christ by the gospel…” [Ephesians 3:6]. Then he says, “I have been made a minister of that glorious mystery [Ephesians 3:7], a secret God kept in His heart, until He revealed it unto His holy apostles [Ephesians 3:5]. God chose me that I am to make known to all men [Ephesians 3:8], verse 9, “What is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God… [Ephesians 3:9]. To the intent that now unto the archē and unto the exousia in the heavens might be made known by the church the manifold wisdom of God” [Ephesians 3:10].
When I read that, I can hardly believe such an astonishing and amazing avowal, assertion: That “by the church is to be made known the manifold wisdom of God to the archē and the exousia” [Ephesians 3:10]. These are names that Paul gives to the hierarchy of the angels in heaven. To the angels of God is made known the wisdom of the Lord by the church, in the church [Ephesians 3:10]. I repeat, it is so astonishing as almost to be unthinkable! The angels of God, His first and primordial and pristine creation; the angels of God, as it were, stand in the sun. They look with undimmed eye upon deity itself. They fold their wings, crying: “Holy, holy, holy” [Isaiah 6:1-3]. Yet, nowhere in the Bible does it say that in their status and in their standing and in their being, in the very presence of Deity itself, do they learn the manifold wisdom of God.
Look again, in the passage in Job that we just read, it says that the angels were present when God created this visible universe—when He flung these constellations, and these Milky Ways, and these stars, and these planets out into space—when He lighted the stars with the flames of His deity, when He created all that our eyes see and wonder and glory. Job, in the passage that you read says when God did that, when He spoke by fiat these universes into creation, it says in the passage you read that the angels were present. And they shouted with joy in amazement and wonder at what God had created [Job 38:7]. But nowhere in the Bible does it say that by the wondrous omnipotent creation of Almighty God is the wisdom of the Lord made known.
And the angels, of course, were present when the Lord God recreated this earth in Eden [Job 38:7] and when the Lord created His last and most infinite wonder of being—when the Lord made the man and the beautiful fair consort by his side and created in them mind and soul and body [Genesis 1:26-27; 2:21-22]—and the angels were there in presence. And they looked upon this marvelous Edenic purity and innocence, and glory, and majesty, and wonder. But in no place in the Scriptures does it say that in the marvel of Eden and in the creation of the man and his wife, was the manifold wisdom of God made known to the angels.
And in all of the record of the generations that pass, in that mystic revolution of those wondrous wheels with their eyes and eyes and eyes [Ezekiel 1:18], and all of the things that passed before our learning and our memory and our recognizance in human history, in no place in the Bible does it say that in the development of mankind, and in the story of our forefathers, nowhere does it say that in the providences of God and of life is the manifold wisdom of God made known to the angels. But what the Book says is that in the church—in the church, in the church—is made known the manifold wisdom of God to the hierarchy of angels who look down upon us and who gather in this sacred assembly with us [Ephesians 3:10]. What a conception and what an exaltation of the assembly of God’s people!
The apostle avows that there is more to be learned of God in the church than in all of the creation of the heavens above us. There’s more to be learned of God in the church than in all of the succession of the generations and providences of life. There’s more to be learned of God in the church than everything that God has made, that presents His glory and His majesty and His wonder.
Mostly, the apostle says we learn of God in the church [Ephesians 3:10]. Oh, I can hardly think of it! This is the Lord’s own building; this is the temple of our Savior and He is raising it, day by day, with human souls and human lives. It is a building—not Grecian or Romanesque, or Gothic—but it is made out of the redeemed souls that are saved, that are regenerated, that are born again, that come to a saving faith in Christ. And the pinnacle of this temple of God, His church, reaches up into Paradise. And some of the living stones in that structure are there with Him, above the clouds, above the stars, above the third heaven where God is. Some of them are up there. And some—in that glorious building of Christ, the temple of God, the church—some of them are down here [1 Peter 2:5]. But whether some of us are down here or some of us are up there, we’re all one in the house, in the family, and in the temple of the Lord [Ephesians 4:4-6].
And God says we learn more of God, of His grace and love, of the majesty and glory, we learn more of God in the church than we do in all of the creation of God around us [Ephesians 3:10]. The Lord lives in His people [1 Corinthians 6:19]; He lives in His church [1 Corinthians 3:16], the Holy Spirit abides in the assembly of God’s saints. And in the conversion of the lost and in the building up of the household of faith, the Lord is honored and the angels rejoice [Luke 15:7]. That’s what God says, I don’t invent this message. I am a voice, an echo: I just read in the revelation of the truth of the Lord, and I bow in wonder and adoration at what God has done.
One other, what angels learn in church [Ephesians 3:10]: they learn the meaning and the story of redemption and salvation. First Peter chapter 1, beginning at verse 9; 1 Peter chapter 1, beginning at verse 9:
Receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls.
Of which salvation the prophets have inquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you:
Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow.
Unto whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto us they did minister the things, which are now reported unto you by them which have preached the gospel with the Holy Spirit sent down from heaven; which things the angels desire to look into.
[1 Peter 1:9-12]
“Which things the angels desire to look into” [1 Peter 1:12], the redemption of a fallen race, the recreation and regeneration of a transgressing, sinful, and falling world; how could such a thing be?
Now what the apostle Simon Peter writes here is this: it’s kind of like a figure. If there was a door open in heaven, how we would crowd around that door to look in. Oh, wouldn’t you love to see inside of that glorious city in heaven? And how, by the throngs, we would crowd that door to look, to peer in. “Look!” someone would say, “Look! There’s the throne of glory with the rainbow round. Look, look! There’s the glorious Son of God. Look, iridescent! Look. There’s the tree of life! Look, there’s the river of life. Look, look! Look at those streets of gold, how bright, how they shine. Look! Look at the saints.” Wouldn’t we? Wouldn’t we? Oh, if there was a door opened in heaven, how we would crowd around to peer inside, to look.
This is just the reverse; there is a door, a window, opened on this sinful earth. And the angels look down, they gather round in their multitudinous multitudes, and they look down upon this sinful earth, seeing, desiring to know how it is that God will redeem so lost and fallen of people [1 Peter 1:12].
It would be like this: suppose there was brought to an assembly of all of the aerial celestial spirits of heaven and it was brought before the assembly:
- “How can God be just and justify the ungodly? [Romans 3:26].
- How can God say, ‘The soul that sinneth shall die’ [Ezekiel 18:4], then it doesn’t die?
- What is God saying, when He writes, ‘The wages of sin is death’ [Romans 6:23], but you don’t die?
- How does God say, ‘He that transgresses the law shall die the death,’ but they don’t die the death? [Hebrews 10:28].
- How can God be just, and righteous, and uphold His law, and at the same time forgive transgressors? [Daniel 9:9]. How can He do it?
- And the assembly of God’s hierarchical angels say, “We are confused, we do not know.”
But the prophets prophesied such a miraculous thing. They couldn’t understand it, as Daniel wrote in the twelfth chapter, “I heard, but I could not understand” [Daniel 12:8]. The prophets never were able to comprehend the depths, the breadth, the height, the glory of the redemptive plan of God. They could see it in part: at one time the prophets would write about the Lord—beaten, stripes, suffering, dying [Isaiah 53:3-12]—then in the next breath, they would write about the glory of the omnipotent Lord God [Isaiah 9:6-7], but how could the two ever be together? The prophets never understood, nor did the angels.
They looked down upon this sinful, lost, condemned, dying world and wondered how it is that God would ever save us. How could the Lord ever redeem us and remain righteous and just? And when Jesus died on Calvary [Luke 23:33], I think the angels looked down upon the Son of glory, God incarnate, and I think the angels said to one another, “God Himself is defeated. Satan has triumphed. Jesus is dead; Israel has slain her own Son.”
Then the third day, the Son of God arose with healing in His wings [Malachi 4:2]. Death has destroyed death; the sting of the dragon has stung Satan himself. “As in Adam we all die, so in Christ are we all made alive” [1 Corinthians 15:22], and what we lost in Eden, we more than gain in Paradise [1 Corinthians 15:22, 45]. As by man, sin entered this world, so by Man we are delivered out of the consequences of the judgment of our transgression [Romans 5:12-17]. As by a woman deception and transgression came into this world [Genesis 3:1-6], by a woman—the Son of a woman, the fruit of the womb of a woman—we are delivered, and saved, and regenerated, and born again [Genesis 3:15].
I think that’s why it is, in the fifteenth chapter of the Book of Luke, I think that’s why it is that God says there is “more rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth” [Luke 15:7] than over a multitude of the other graces that we find in the goodness and remembrance of our Lord. The angels look upon it in wonder and in amazement; they rejoice, they are glad. With unspeakable glory, they look upon the conversion of a lost man: the change, the regeneration of a sinful man. They rejoice in the smallest child whose heart is moved in love and compassion and thanksgiving toward Jesus. They rejoice in the smallest child whose heart moves heavenward and God-ward.
The angels look down upon a proud man who, in his self-chosen way, follows a course that leads to sorrow and disappointment and sometimes disaster. And the man bows his head in a bed chamber and cries and says, “God, be merciful to me a sinner” [Luke 18:13]. The angels look upon it and rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of amazement.
And when a man stands up and preaches to thousands and thousands, or when a man in a humble cottage gets on his knees and reads the Bible and prays, they are both alike, it is a miracle in the presence of the angels of God. It’s a wonder, it’s a glory. God says, beyond the creation of His hands in the heavens is the recreation of the soul, the redemption of a man who’s brought back to God, who humbly bows at the feet of Jesus, who asks the Lord into his heart and into his house and into his home.
This is what the angels behold in church [Ephesians 3:10], and this is what we share with them who look down upon us from heaven. It’s a glory, it’s like heaven, it’s a little foretaste of “what God hath prepared for those who love Him” [1 Corinthians 2:9].
And that is our appeal to your heart today.
“Pastor, this day I open my heart heavenward and God-ward and Christ-ward, and here I stand. I am coming openly, unashamedly, gladly, triumphantly to confess Christ as my Savior, and I am coming today.” A family you, a dad and mother and the children, “Pastor we are all coming today. We are going to put our lives with you and these dear people in this wonderful church. We are all coming today.” A couple you, a man and his wife, you and your friend, or just one somebody you, “God has spoken to me this day and I am on the way. I am coming.”
Down one of these stairways if you are in the balcony round, down one of these aisles if you are in the press of people on this lower floor, “I have chosen for God, and I am coming.” Make the decision now in your heart, and in a moment when we sing our appeal, that first step will be the most blessed and meaningful you will ever make in your life.
There will be other appeals the Holy Spirit will make to your heart; you come. There are some that I know are preparing to reconsecrate and rededicate their lives and hearts and homes in behalf of a precious child, you come. As the Spirit of God shall open the door and lead the way, follow after and may the angels in heaven rejoice with you as you come [Luke 15:10]. Now may we stand for the prayer?
Our wonderful, wonderful Lord in heaven, clothed in garments of beauty and glory, an atonement, a covering that also is ours, in His grace and mercy and love, O Lord, if we were to praise Thy name forever and ever, we could never honor Thee enough. Maybe that is what assignment we will have in heaven someday, to sing the praises of God, world without end. How gloriously good the Lord hath been to us: forgiving us of our sins in the atoning grace of Christ [Ephesians 1:7], writing our names in the Lamb’s Book of Life [Revelation 17:8, 20:12, 15, 21:27], and someday opening the door of heaven for us into that upper and better world, pilgrims here, citizens there [Philippians 3:20]. O Lord, how gloriously grand, and wonderful, and great, and marvelous is the redemption that God hath planned for us [Titus 2:13; Hebrews 9:28].
And while our people pray and while we sing our song, a family you, a couple you, a one somebody you, down this aisle, down that stairway, a thousand times welcome. And thank You, Lord, for the sweet harvest You give us, in Thy saving name, amen. While we sing, come.
ANGELS LEARN AT CHURCH
I. What they learn about us
are the only earthly creatures who put on clothing
are created in the image of God(Genesis 1:27)
God always pictured as clothed in a garment of glory and light – shekinahglory(Psalm 104:2)
Lord Jesus described as being clothed in majesty, with white raiment (Matthew 17:2, Acts 9:3, 22:6-7, Revelation 1:13-17)
angels always described as being clothed in white, splendid raiment(Matthew 28:3, Mark 16:5, Luke 24:4, Acts 1:10-11)
a little lower than the angels, covered with light(Psalm
First parents clothed with glory, light, purity (Genesis
has taken away our garment of light(Genesis
a. Corrie ten Boom
slew innocent animal to make clothing for them(Genesis
a. Kaphar – Hebrew
word for “atonement”, “covering”
II. They learn the manifold wisdom of God(Ephesians 3:6-10)
Where they have not learned it
In their exalted position
With God in creation (Job 38:7)
When man was created in Eden(Genesis 1:26-28,
all the works of Providence
Where they do learn it – in the church
habitation of God through His Son and the Holy Spirit(1 Corinthians 3:16, 6:19)
III. The learn the meaning of the death of
Christ, the plan of salvation(1 Peter 1:9-12)
for us a door opened into heaven, we’d be anxious to look in
Here the reverse – angels look down upon sinful earth desiring to know how it
is God will redeem it
Prophets prophesied, but did not comprehend(Daniel
12:8, Malachi 4:2, 1 Corinthians 15:22, Romans 5:12-17, Genesis 3:1-6, 15)
Amazed at the converted sinner (Luke 15:7)