Worshipping With Angels
When we congregate for holy worship on the Lord's Day, we are in the presence of God (cf. 1 Cor 3:16). He greets us through his servant, the minister of the Word. "Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Cor 1:3). It is his Word that is being proclaimed, and according to Christ's promise his Spirit is present (Matt 18:20). Are the angels also present?
Scripture does not tell us all that much about the angels, but there is enough to give pause for reflection. Angels are certainly interested in the gospel.
Angels are Interested in the Gospel
In his first letter, the Apostle Peter notes that the Old Testament prophets preached the gospel which Christians are privileged to know in fullness — a gospel into which "even angels long to look" (1 Pet 1:12). The verb used for "longing to look" literally means "to bend over for the purpose of looking," that is, "to bend over to get a better look." The angels want to know about the gospel in the service of which they had been messengers for so many centuries. They want to hear and learn more about it, especially in the fullness of time in which we live, when the promises of the gospel have been fulfilled in Christ's blood.
Peter's reference to the angels bending down to take a look at the gospel reminds us of the two cherubim that gazed down on the atonement cover or mercy seat of the ark where the blood of the covenant was sprinkled (Ex 25:20; Lev 16:14-16). These angels figuratively peering down on the mercy seat and seeing the blood splattered there once a year were, however, in the dark as to precisely how this sprinkling would play out. How different for angels in the New Testament fulfilment of the sacrifice of Christ!
Angels today hear the gospel through the church's proclamation. We can deduce this from Scripture. When the Apostle Paul instructs the women of the Corinthian church to honour the gender distinctions as ordained by God, which in their case meant that women should wear head coverings in worship, he gives a reason. It is necessary "because of the angels" (1 Cor 11:10). The best explanation for this rationale is that the angels were attending the worship service and that they would be offended if the gender distinctions were not honoured. Also elsewhere Scripture suggests that angels attend worship services with God's people. The Apostle Paul in his Ephesian letter notes that God's "intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms" (Eph 3:10). These rulers and authorities are angels, probably in the first place, good angels. A primary way that the manifold wisdom of God is made known is through the preaching of the gospel during the worship service (cf. Eph 3:8). And so one can assume, that also angels hear the gospel there.
Furthermore, as those charged to take care of the church (Heb 1:14), one can expect the angels to be there on Sundays to witness what is going on. This also seems to be intimated by the Apostle's charge to Timothy which he made "in the sight of God and Christ Jesus and the elect angels" (1 Tim 5:21).
From Bearers of the Gospel to Hearers of the Gospel
When one reflects on the above, then one could say that the place of angels has changed in one respect. Prior to Pentecost, angels were messengers of the gospel. After Pentecost, they became hearers of the gospel, although in the apostolic age their task as messengers was not yet completely finished (cf. Rev 1:1).
Angels "are ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation" (Heb 1:14). As the coming of the Saviour came closer, the task of the heavenly messengers to bring God's news of salvation came to the forefront. An angel announced the birth of John the Baptist to a startled and disbelieving Zechariah and the angel Gabriel visited Mary to announce the birth of the Lord Jesus (Luke 1:13, 30). After the birth a great company of the angelic army announced the good news to the shepherds outside Bethlehem (Luke 2:8-15). A heavenly messenger also announced the resurrection of Christ (Matt 28:5). Angels served as God's messengers of his salvation.
But notably at Pentecost there was no need for angels to make announcements. After all, subsequent to his resurrection, the Saviour had been teaching and telling his disciples all that was necessary for them to proclaim after his ascension (Acts 1:3-9). Equipped with Christ's teaching and empowered by the Holy Spirit, the apostles were God's messengers of Christ's accomplished work on the day of Pentecost. The task of proclaiming good news went from the angels to the church. To put it differently, the angels as God's messenger servants proclaiming his salvation must step back. The children of God take over from God's servants the beautiful responsibility to proclaim the glad tidings of Jesus Christ.
In Church with the Angels
This development does not however mean that the angels can now put the matter of the gospel out of their minds. To the contrary! They are vitally interested in the gospel and "long to look into these things" (1 Pet 1:12). They rejoice when a sinner repents (Luke 15:10) and they keep an eye on things that happen on earth (cf. 1 Cor 4:9; Heb 1:14). And as we saw, they attend worship services. This is no surprise, for they worship God in heaven. Isaiah saw them flying around God's throne and calling to one another "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory" (Isa 6:3; cf. Ps 103:20; 148:2).
All this has implications for our worship and our attitude to it today. For example, if angels, God's servants, are busy worshipping, how much more should God's children who are the direct beneficiaries of the salvation in Christi! Furthermore, would you really want to miss a worship service where the angels will be present? Their presence underlines the significance of what is happening.
In the context of this article, what is important is that during worship the gospel of the blood of reconciliation is proclaimed and applied. The sacrificial blood once splattered on the mercy seat which the cherubim gazed at so long ago has now finally been fulfilled. After many centuries of worship services of seemingly unending sacrifices, and praying for the coming of the lamb of God, we today may rejoice in the reality that he has come and that the blood of the covenant has been poured out for the forgiveness of all our sins (Matt 26:28). Small wonder that angels also rejoice in this reality and are present when we worship, longing to know as much about the gospel as possible, and therefore listening to the preaching, prayers, and singing. With the servants of the Most High present would the children of God want to be absent?