DO ANGELS GET BORED?
by Roger Wyatt | 2nd November 2021 | more posts on 'Heavenly Visions'
Photograph: Roger Wyatt - Da Vinci's Annunciation taken at the Uffizi gallery in Florence.
Two passages of scripture have led to the widespread idea that all we will be doing in heaven is worshipping. They are Isaiah 6:1-5 and Revelation 4. Of course, an unbeliever will soon point out that such a destiny sounds rather boring and that they would rather not partake in it, and even those with a faith, and who love worship, may struggle at such a thought. Looking across the scriptures however, it soon becomes apparent that heavenly realities are far from dull.
The first thing to say about heaven, is that it is a place of intense activity. In numerous places in scripture angels are described as coming and going on their heavenly errands – in fact the Hebrew for angel, מַלְאָךְ (malaḵ) means ‘messenger’, as does the Greek, ἄγγελος (aggelos). Perhaps nowhere is such angelic activity illustrated more clearly than in the book of Zechariah. It is apparent in such texts that angels are not always caught up in a continual act of worship (I am interpreting worship in a very narrow sense here), but that they are about God’s business on the earth. Indeed, early in the book of Genesis Jacob has his vision of the angels of God ascending and descending from heaven to earth, and Jesus likewise declared to Nathanael that he will see the same. Moreover, contrary to popular opinion, God himself is not confined to his throne; in Genesis 18:20-21 Yahweh says: ‘The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know’. It is a curious thought perhaps, that God would leave his throne to visit earth, but scriptural precedent for such an act is not difficult to find. In Psalm 18 the LORD is described as mounting a cherub and flying on the wings of the wind, he shows up on the frontline of a battle in Joshua 5, and even makes and appearance in a fiery furnace in Daniel 3. Indeed, the very appearance of the LORD, once a year, over the lid of the ark (Leviticus 16), overshadowed by the wings of the cherubim, was a divine act of descent and encounter.
Heaven is also described as a place of conversation, deliberation, and decision. The verses found in Isaiah 6 reveal a God who wants to discover who might be willing to carry out a mission to the people of Israel, a request to which Isaiah responds. Heaven is, in that regard a place of mission and purpose. Whilst we may be looking forward to a rest when we get to heaven, in fact, what we will discover is that our purpose and work continues; those who have believed in Jesus get to rule with Jesus – in fact Paul writes that we have already been seated with Christ (Ephesians 2:6). Indeed, in his vision John sees a group of elders seated around God’s throne: ‘the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne and worship him who lives for ever and ever’ (Revelation 4:10). Again, the reader could be mistaken into thinking that all the elders do is continually fall down before the LORD, casting their crowns, before picking them up again and repeating the process, as if they are caught in some sort of eternal loop. But they are in fact there as part of God’s heavenly counsel and, as is demonstrated in his dealings with Abraham and Moses, God is open to suggestions, and likes to hear what his creations have to say. Such responsibility and divine inclusion in the matters of heaven are hard to fathom, but as Paul declares to the church at Corinth, ‘Do you not know that we will judge angels?’ (1 Corinthians 6:3).
Of course, there are moments of great gathering and worship in heaven, and it is perhaps the case that this is what the author of Hebrews is describing when he writes, ‘but you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly’ (Hebrews 12:2). Even as the Hebrew people were commanded by God, through Moses, to “go up” to Jerusalem three times a year to stand before God and worship him, it may well be that this reflects something of heavenly realities – that there is more rhythm and variety to how worship in heaven happens than we could possibly imagine. Certainly, at the renewal of all things, it is a requirement of the millennial world that an annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem is made by the nations to worship the LORD: ‘Then the survivors from all the nations that have attacked Jerusalem will go up year after year to worship the King, the LORD Almighty, and to celebrate the Festival of Tabernacles’ (Zechariah 14:16).
Of course, anyone that has experienced God in a close and powerful way, will soon tell you that there is nowhere that they would rather be than in his immediate presence, and the four living creatures that John sees in Revelation 4 appear to have ultimate proximity to God, and the specific commission of continually declaring God’s holiness:
‘Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under its wings. Day and night they never stop saying:
‘“Holy, holy, holy
is the Lord God Almighty,
who was, and is, and is to come.”’ (Revelation 4:8)
However, the suggestion of the text may be different than it first seems, and the language of ‘day and night’ is perhaps a veiled reference to the sacrifices required of the priests serving in the tabernacle: ‘Every morning and evening they present burnt offerings and fragrant incense to the LORD’ (2 Chronicles 13:11). As such it may be that John is witnessing an angelic proclamation that commenced from day one of creation when day and night came into being; it is well understood that both the tabernacle and the temple were shadows of a more perfect sanctuary: ‘the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not by a mere human being’ (Hebrews 8:2). As such, may I suggest that the rhythm and structure of the life of the Hebrew people, outlined by God at Mount Sinai, reflects something of the rhythm and structure of a future heavenly life in which times of assembly form an important part. In the end, whatever the true nature of our future existence in heaven, and our continued work and worship, we can be assured that there will be no separation from God’s presence, and that life will be lived in unimaginable harmony and peace. Do angels get bored? I do not think so, and neither shall we.