“Other Spiritual Beings Today”Categories: Sermons
After my sermon last week on the work of the devil today, I figured I was done with the series. However, then I got to talking after services with Wayne and Carolyn, and they mentioned that they were curious about what angels might be doing today.
I think I might have to stretch to get to 25 minutes about the things I was sure angels were doing today, but angels are far from alone in the spiritual realm. We often think of the great spiritual struggle as being between God and the devil, but in reality, things are considerably more complex than that.
There are all sorts of beings about whom we know little, and probably others about whom we know nothing. However, many of these beings either have exerted or still are exerting influence in the lives of God’s people. Let’s spend some time this evening, then, considering the work of other spiritual beings today.
The first class of such beings that I want to consider is the ANGELS. We see the classic statement of the work of angels in Hebrews 1:13-14. Contextually, the Hebrews writer is drawing a contrast between Jesus and the angels. In v. 13, he quotes from Psalm 110 to show that Jesus currently is reigning at the right hand of the throne of God in heaven. On the other hand, the angels are ministering spirits who render service to Christians. Jesus as King is thus superior to angels as servants.
Even though it’s incidental to his argument, the writer in passing also reveals a great deal about what angels are up to today. There’s no time limit on Hebrews 1:14. We’re just as much Christians as our brethren in the first century, so it follows that God sends out His angels to aid us too.
It may be, in fact, that many of the answers to prayer that we attribute to God are really the work of angels. After all, even if they aren’t the Almighty, the angels still are very powerful entities. The same heavenly messengers who slaughtered 185,000 Assyrians in the days of Hezekiah are perfectly capable of keeping us safe on our car trip!
More provocatively, there’s reason to believe that angels continue to work through dreams. I admit to being a little suspicious when people say that they are guided directly by the Holy Spirit because everybody in the New Testament who experienced similar guidance was a gifted prophet. I think promptings from the Spirit are probably associated with miraculous gifts.
However, the same thing isn’t true with respect to angelic visions. For instance, Joseph the husband of Mary had an angel speak to him in a dream, and though a righteous man, he was not a gifted one. There are many others in Scripture, some of whom weren’t even part of God’s people, who were sent true dreams. The wife of Pilate is a prominent example here. Additionally, there is no 1 Corinthians 13-like expiration date for angelic visitations.
However, before we put too much emphasis on dreams, we need to pay attention to Paul’s warning in Colossians 2:18-19. He wants us to understand that focusing on visions can lead Christians away from Christ. However else God may be working in our lives, we know for certain that He works through the gospel of Jesus, and we always must remain faithful to that!
Next, let’s consider UNCLEAN SPIRITS. Interestingly, the most revealing passage about their work today appears in the Old Testament. Turn with me to Zechariah 13:1-3. The first verse of this reading sets the stage. It tells us that everything else in the reading will happen when a fountain is opened in Jerusalem to cleanse God’s people from sin. In context with the last part of Zechariah 12, which is clearly Messianic, it’s easy for us to conclude that this is about things that will happen after Jesus completed His saving work.
In the time when the fountain will be opened, Zechariah predicts that two things will happen. First, people won’t worship idols any more in the land of Canaan. That certainly happened. To this day, all the people who live in Palestine, Jew and Muslim alike, are monotheists.
Second, God promises that He will remove both the prophet and the unclean spirit. This is a truly fascinating prediction for a number of reasons. First, the only way for God to remove prophets is to stop bestowing the gift of prophecy. Thus, along with 1 Corinthians 13, this is a text that foresees the end of miraculous spiritual gifts, and it says that their end will come close to the time of Jesus.
Also, this passage tells us why we don’t have to deal with demons and demonic possession anymore. God removed the unclean spirits at the same time as He removed the prophets. Sure, the devil still can tempt us today, but he can’t send one of his servants to take over our bodies and make us do things against our will. The unclean spirits are not working today. I, at least, find that extremely reassuring!
Finally, this passage implies an equivalency between the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the one hand and possession by unclean spirits on the other. The more of the one you have, the more of the other you have too.
Indeed, this tracks the pattern of demonic possession recorded in Scripture. During the ministry of Jesus, demons were everywhere, legions of them, because Jesus had the Holy Spirit more abundantly than anyone else ever. By contrast, even in the book of Acts, demons aren’t as prominent. This text implies that they aren’t so significant because the apostles didn’t have the Holy Spirit to the same measure that Jesus did. In short, it seems like one of the rules of the contest between God and the devil is that neither side gets to have more of a supernatural presence on earth than the other.
Finally, let’s turn our attention to THE SPIRITUAL FORCES OF EVIL. They make their appearance in Ephesians 6:11-12. Sometimes, I think we’re inclined to read this verse as being about powerful, evil people, but that doesn’t fit the text. Notice that these are cosmic powers. They are spiritual forces. They abide in the heavenly places, which is Ephesians-ese for the spiritual realm. Nonetheless, despite not being unclean spirits, apparently, these spiritual forces of wickedness cooperate with Satan in trying to overwhelm Christians. The devil has his servants too.
Note, by the way, that I think that the spiritual realm is far more complicated than any of us have any idea. In addition to the angels, the cherubim, and the seraphim, when Paul talks about Jesus creating thrones, dominions, rulers, and authorities, I think those are spiritual rather than earthly beings too. They’re part of some heavenly hierarchy that we don’t know anything about because their business does not concern us.
However, we are the business of the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. The bad news is that the devil has helpers, but the good news is that we fight those helpers in the same way that we fight the devil. In fact, the whole armor of God, which we’re so familiar with from countless sermons, is effective in defeating these bad guys too.