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Angels and Demons

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
February 18, 2023 12:01 am

Angels and Demons

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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February 18, 2023 12:01 am

If we claim to believe what the Bible teaches, then we must take the existence of angels and demons seriously. Today, R.C. Sproul turns to the teaching of Scripture on the role of these spirits and the reality of Satan.

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Renewing Your Mind
R.C. Sproul

Coming up next on Renewing Your Mind… What do you believe about angels and demons? And how did you form your opinions about them?

Unfortunately, many of us have been influenced by popular culture when it comes to this subject, what we've read in books, seen in the movies, or in popular television shows. The R.C. Sproul turns to the only source that counts. I remember when I was a graduate student at the Free University of Amsterdam back in the decade of the sixties where my professor, G.C. Berkhauer, made the following observation that has stuck in my mind ever since, and I'll write it on the board. He made this comment, there can be no theology… I should add here biblical because that was tacit in what he was saying. There can be no biblical theology without demonology.

It may be a strange statement, but let's take a few moments to explore the significance of this observation. What Berkhauer was responding to in that comment was part of the critique that had been leveled against orthodox Christianity by perhaps the most famous New Testament scholar of the twentieth century, the German scholar Rudolf Bultmann. Rudolf Bultmann had argued that if the Bible, written so many centuries ago, is to have any relevance to a modern person, that the Bible must first be demythologized, and it must be approached asking the questions that are made possible by first adopting a modern existential philosophy. What Bultmann said in his skepticism was this, one cannot avail themselves of the use of modern inventions such as electricity, atomic energy, microbiology, and all of that sort of thing using televisions and radios, and believe in the mythical worldview that underlies the Scriptures. We can't believe in a three-storied universe with heaven up there, earth here, and hell down below. And particularly problematic, according to Bultmann, was this idea that we live in a universe inhabited by creatures who are altogether wicked, such as the devil and his legion of demons, or of benevolent supernatural creatures such as angels. That is, Bultmann was saying that the world that the New Testament describes is a world that is filled with angels and demons, and that just simply doesn't correspond to our experience as 20th century people. I can remember in a class that I was teaching in a college on one occasion, I asked the people how many of them believed in a devil, and only a couple of kids in the class raised their hand.

The rest of them didn't. And I said, how many of you believe in the existence of God? And everybody put their hand up. And that was surprising to me, but in any case, I said, okay, let me define God as a supernatural being who has the ability to influence people for good. Would you accept that definition? And they said yes. And I said, okay, let me define Satan then, or the devil, as a supernatural being who has the ability to influence people for evil. How many of you believe in that?

And again, only two. I said, what is it about Satan that makes him so unbelievable given the pervasive presence of evil in the universe? And as I probed this with the students, what I was getting from them was that their understanding of Satan was that it was right next to goblins and witches and things that go bump in the night.

And one student even said it. He said, I don't believe in some ridiculous-looking creature with horns, cloven feet, and a tail who runs around in a red union suit causing people to do bad things. And I smiled, and I said, well, where did you ever get the idea or the image that Satan was so ludicrous in his manifestation that he looks like a guy with hooves and a pitchfork and all the rest? And they said, well, that's what you see in the pictures and in the Halloween costumes and all the rest.

I said, let me tell you where that came from. During the Middle Ages, the church was acutely conscious of the reality of Satan, and people were very much concerned about finding ways to resist the evil impulses of the devil. And the theologians of the church had said that Satan was once a good angel who fell, and that his sin in his particular fall was that of pride, and that his Achilles' heel, even to this day, is found in his pride. And so one of the methods that the church taught people to use to resist Satan and to make him flee was to mock him. And so they would intentionally come up with the most ludicrous portrayals of Satan that they could in order to make fun of him to attack his pride that he would depart from them. And what I was saying was that nobody really believed that he carried a pitchfork and had horns and cloven feet and ran around this red monkey suit that he's depicted as being.

But then the next generation thought that the former generation actually believed in a creature like that. Well, again, we have to come back to this whole question of angels and demons and say that if we are going to be biblical in our theology, Rudolf Bultmann notwithstanding, and if we are confident that the Bible is not simply a source book of mythology but represents the sober, revealed truth of God, then we're going to have to take seriously what the Scripture says about angels, good and fallen, angels and demons, and so on. Now, one of the things that may come as a surprise to you that though concern for angels is not usually at the center of concern of people's religious life in our day, though in recent years there's been this interesting revival of preoccupation with angels, usually promulgated through New Age thinking more than sober Christianity, nevertheless there is this interest nowadays in angels. When we go to the New Testament and we read the New Testament, here's a strange phenomenon that you will find, that the word for angel, angelos, in the New Testament occurs more often than the word harmartia, which is the New Testament word for sin, and the word for sin, and the word for angel, angelos, occurs more often in the New Testament than the word agape, the word for love. Now, just in terms of numerical frequency, it may be surprising to you to know that the New Testament speaks more frequently about angels than it does about sin or about love.

If this book spends this much time talking about things as angels, then I think it behooves us to take them seriously. And concern with the nature of angels and the function of angels became a matter of great urgency in the early church because of an early heresy that arose in which some people assumed that Jesus was an angel, that He was more than a man but less than God, that He was a supernatural being, indeed an angel. And at the very beginning of the book of Hebrews, the author of Hebrews challenges this assumption about Jesus. Let me read the beginning of the first chapter of Hebrews to you. God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom He made the world, who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had sat Himself down, purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become so much better than the angels, as He had by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they. And then the argument proceeds, For to which of the angels did God ever say, You are My Son, today I have begotten you, and again I will be to Him a Father, and He shall be to Me a Son. But when He again brings the firstborn into the world, God says, Let all the angels of God worship Him. And so what the author of Hebrews is saying here is that far from being an angel, even the angels are commanded by God to give worship to Christ.

And he goes on and still makes further comparisons and contrasts in verse 13, To which of the angels did He ever say, Sit at My right hand, till I make your enemies your footstool? Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation? Now here we get a clue into the nature of angels and to their vocation. They are defined here by the author of Hebrews as ministering spirits. That is, they are creative beings, but they are created spirits, which means they don't have a natural body, or at least whatever their substance is would be more ethereal than the density of flesh that we enjoy as human beings.

Because sometimes when the Bible speaks of spirit, it doesn't mean necessarily that which is totally unphysical, but rather smoke and wind and things like that that we know have participation in physical particles nevertheless are so lacking in density that they could be called spirits. But in any case, they are creatures, angels and devils alike, created beings. They are not equal with God, and their first task is to minister. Now we see several ways in which the angels function as ministers in Scripture. First of all, there are those angels who are especially created for the purpose of ministering in the immediate presence of God. We encounter, for example, in the sixth chapter of Isaiah the descriptive event of the seraphim who surround the throne of God and who sing the antiphonal response, holy, holy, holy.

And we are even given a description of their makeup that they have three sets of wings, two wings of which are used to cover their eyes, two of which cover their feet, and two of which are used to fly. But their function is to be part of the heavenly court to attend the heavenly host, of which we hear of angels and archangels, which indicates a hierarchy, an order of authority within the angelic world. But in any case, we find the seraphim ministering in the immediate presence of God, being able to behold His presence daily. Secondly, we find a flurry of activities with respect to angels in the New Testament with specific reference to Christ. It is the angels who first announce the impending birth of Jesus. The angel Gabriel is sent to announce the birth first of John the Baptist and then to Mary to announce the birth of Jesus.

It is the angels in the field outside of Bethlehem that announce glory to God in the highest and on earth, peace and goodwill to men, and so on, again announcing the birth of Jesus to the shepherds outside of Bethlehem. Then we see angels appearing to minister to Jesus after He endures His 40 days of temptation by Satan in the wilderness. And one of the ironies about that passage was that one of the temptations that Satan brought to Jesus on that occasion was this. He said, go and jump from the pinnacle of the temple because the Bible says with respect to the Son of God or to the Messiah that God would give His angels charge over this one lest He dash His foot against the stone. And so Satan is saying to Jesus, let's see if you really are the Son of God. Jump off the temple and see if the angels catch you. And Jesus said, but the Scriptures also say, thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God. And God has given me a message.

God has given me a vocation. I don't have to be jumping off of the pinnacles of the temple in order to put that to the test. And so the point is, is that Satan challenged Jesus regarding the truthfulness of the Word of God concerning the angelic care that would be given to Him. And Jesus would not respond to that temptation. And yet what was the first thing that happened to Jesus after He successfully thwarted the temptation of Satan and Satan left Him? We're told in the gospels that immediately the angels appeared and ministered to Jesus after His ordeal. During His earthly ministry, when He was taken to be arrested and to be crucified, He made the observation that He had the authority to call upon legions of angels who could come down and rescue Him, reminiscent of the Old Testament's narrative of the case of Elijah's disciple who was at Dothan, if you recall, when the enemies sent chariots against Him.

And behold, the skies were filled with chariots surrounding Elijah who would rescue Him from these enemies. Again, the angels were invisible to the naked eye. As He said in His prayer about His servant, open His eyes that He might see, and behold, round about Him were these legions of angels. So for the most part, angels are invisible, but they can become manifest, as they were from time to time to time during the earthly ministry of Jesus. And in that earthly ministry, again, Jesus' resurrection was heralded by the angels at the tomb. Jesus' ascension into heaven were heralded by the presence of angels, and we are told that at the return of Christ that He will come with His angels in glory. And so we find angels all through the Scriptures ministering to the saints of God, but particularly to Jesus. And thirdly, the third function of their ministry I've already hinted at is that they are messengers.

Indeed, the word ongolos itself means messenger, because the primary function that we see angels performing in the New Testament is to come bringing tidings from God and making announcements to the world about these marvelous events that are about to take place. Also, we're told that some have entertained angels unaware, so that angels, as they have showed up in the Old Testament in the form of men, were not recognized immediately as visitors from the angelic realm or as messengers of God, but they continue even to this day to minister to the saints in times of great jeopardy. Now beyond the realm of angels, we have to look specifically at the realm of fallen angels, because as Adam and Eve were created originally in goodness and in holiness, so the angels were created good, but a portion of the angelic realm fell with Lucifer, and Lucifer became the supreme archangel of this whole company of fallen angels, and the demonic world, the world of demons, is the world of lesser angels who are under the authority of the chief fallen angel, Satan himself. Now, one of the things that it's critical for Christians to understand is that Satan is not God.

We are not dualists who believe in two equal and opposite powers, one good, one evil, one light, one darkness. Satan is a creature. He does not have the power of God. He cannot do things that only God can do, but he has more power and more slyness and craftiness than humans have, so he's stronger than we are but far weaker than God himself.

That's why one who is indwelt by the Holy Spirit, for example, does not have to fear being inhabited by a demon or possessed by a demon, because greater is he who is in you than he who is in the world. We're warned against the crafty power of Satan, just as Peter in his arrogance assumed that he would withstand any temptation when Jesus announced to him that he would soon deny him. Peter said, never, I'll never do such a thing.

And what did Jesus say? Simon, Simon, Satan would have you and sift you like wheat, but I've prayed for you. In other words, you are no obstacle. You are no problem to Satan. Satan is so much more powerful than you are, Simon. He can sift you like wheat.

You're a piece of cake to him. Yet at the same time, the Scriptures tell us, if we resist Satan, he will flee from us. And again, that greater is he who is in us than he who is in the world. Different images are used for Satan. We are told that he goes about as a roaring lion seeking to devour those whom he will. And I see these twin pictures in my mind, this roaring lion, fierce.

It's terrifying. And I see that same lion running down the path with his tail between his legs when he has been resisted by one who possesses God the Holy Spirit. So one of the great mistakes that is made in our day is attributing far too much power to Satan as if he were God himself.

But rather, his activity is known both through a study of his names and through his activity in Scripture. He is the tempter. He is the deceiver.

He is the accuser. And we need to be aware of that because though we're all aware that one of Satan's favorite things is to be the tempter, to entice people to sin, even as he sought to cause Christ to fall during the wilderness temptation. But in the life of the Christian, there's another activity that Satan employs that perhaps is even more frequent than that of temptation, and that is of accusation, where Satan comes and accuses you of your sin, where you may even indeed be guilty, but he tries to drive you to despair rather than to repentance because even though we are guilty of the sin Satan may call attention to, the answer to our guilt is always hidden by Satan. He would have us destroy ourselves where Christ calls us to forgiveness and to redemption.

One last thing I want to say about Satan by way of warning. His character is metamorphic according to the New Testament. That is, he has the ability to appear, what we say in philosophy, subspecies boni, under the auspices of the good. I think we need to get away from thinking of him as this diabolically ridiculous figure that we see because Satan has the ability to transform himself into an angel of light. That's his deceptiveness, that he won't come on to us in an ugly state, but he will come on quoting Scripture, appearing pious, seemingly pure, causing us to go against the Word of God. That makes him dangerous, a real foe, and an enemy to every believer.

As R.C. Sproul has reminded us, the devil is devious and crafty, and Scripture compares him to a prowling lion. Thankfully, though, we're told in 1 John that he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. We've heard another message from Dr. Sproul's series, Foundations, an overview of systematic theology, and you're listening to Renewing Your Mind on this Saturday. Thank you for being with us.

I'm Lee Webb. In 60 Lessons, this series covers the important aspects of Christian doctrine, from our understanding of Christ to the Holy Spirit, the sacraments, and the end times. When you request this series today, we will add a PDF of the study guide to your online learning library. So contact us today with a donation of any amount, and we will send you the DVDs.

You can make your request online at Let me also recommend that you take advantage of the free resources available on our app. You can download messages from our past national conferences, read articles on topics that pique your interest, and find daily guided Bible studies.

Just search for Ligonier in your app store. And before we go today, let me thank you for your generous support of the ongoing outreach that God has entrusted to Ligonier Ministries. By His grace, we continue to reach more and more people each year, and it is your financial support that is fueling those efforts. So we are grateful. I hope you make plans to be with us next Saturday as Dr. Sproul addresses this question, Since the fall, do we still have the image of God? Or was that image not only marred, but was it obliterated by the fall so that we are no longer the image bearers of God? That's next week here on Renewing Your Mind.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-02-22 13:33:21 / 2023-02-22 13:41:44 / 8

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