God is a master delegator as well as a master designer and creator. He has organized his vast heavenly realm as it pleases him. This diverse and awesome administration of heavenly beings is supremely functional; they have job descriptions and they do their jobs. Recall that the book of Revelation portrays twenty-four enthroned “elders” surrounding God’s heavenly throne. They are not there for looks. They offer advice and do things as do the four living creatures positioned even closer to God’s throne. This divine council ranks high among the “hosts of heaven.” God has not only delegated various and great authorities to these heavenly angelic powers, he has already begun to delegate far superior authorities to man. (Part One)
It’s only logical. Would not the One who organized the complexity of all life forms, all matter, all the billions of stars and planets in the billions of galaxies in this limitless cosmos, be himself, organized? It seems so, and the Bible is not silent about his heavenly host of super-beings. But neither do the writers of Scripture obsess over mysterious angelic matters, knowing the sparseness of God’s revelation concerning the heavenly administration. Then what insight has God allowed us to have?
The prime focus of Scripture is God’s dealing with man; mankind has a limited need to know the inner workings of God’s angelic executives, warriors, administrators, protectors, messengers, and the myriad responsibilities shouldered by “many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand” (Rev 5:11). Nevertheless, God want us to know they exist to serve him and to serve his creation–especially those created in his image. Our purpose should always be to know all we can know about God and his kingdom. Catching a glimpse of God’s glorious angelic kingdom will create awe and inspire worshipful admiration of His Majesty.
Here we carefully enter the Spirit World, an invisible, dynamic world teaming with myriad mysteries, most beyond our discovery. We can only marvel that it exists and rest confident that it is under the control of its designer, Yahweh, Lord of Creation. But one need not look to the ether world of spirit to find and marvel at complex mysteries. Our living physical world abounds in mysteries in every scrap of its God-given genetic code. Appreciating that fact may help us accept the possibility of a spirit world that also defies all explanation.
The Mysteries of Physical Life
It is futile to search for a materialistic explanation for extra-human spirit creatures. In fact, it is proving futile for the best of science to understand how material life diversifies, forms, and comes about. About 20 years ago hopes were high and science giddy that at hand was the key to understand it all: the Human Genome Project–the largest scientific enterprise in the history of mankind. Genomic science has been going wild sequencing genes and mapping the elegantly “simple” Double Helix confident of unlocking the secret of life and decoding the genetic instructions strung out along its intertwined strands and understand its programming.
Well, things have not turned out as expected. Instead of “knowing the secret of life” science is baffled. Each week, with new technology and thousands engaged in the process, genomic science generates megabytes of basic biological data. They have sequenced hundreds of genomes encompassing a full range of the diversity of life from bacteria to plants, to insects, to fish, to mammals including the chimpanzee and man. Yet genetic science now seems to know less about diverse life forms now than believed possible twenty years ago, and is more puzzled the more it discovers.
“The most obvious of those ‘puzzling questions’ …is the ‘gene number dilemma’ epitomized by the most astonishing revelation of the Human Genome Project–that we have roughly the same number of genes, a modest 20,000 as the millimeter long worm, C.elegans, that is fashioned from just 1,000 cells (compared to our 60 trillion) in all, has neither a circulatory system nor internal skeleton and a life expectancy of just two weeks. Since then every newly sequenced genome has added its own further twist to this surprising lack of any correspondence between gene numbers and organismic complexity–where flies and chickens, it emerges have a third fewer genes than the diminutive C.elegans while, at the other extreme, plants such as rice and soya bean have twice as many.”
There is an unseen complexity, a hidden code, or some mysterious something that orchestrates the same gene to form the fly’s distinctive compound type eye and for the very different mammalian a camera type eye (Speaking of eyes, speculate on the living creatures “covered with eyes all around” that are continually posted at God’s throne and travel with him on his moving throne/chariot). Humans share 99% of our genes with a mouse, yet what a difference. Scientists exclaim: “How so trivial a genetic difference can generate such diversity of form defies all explanation, other that to suppose it must be ‘something to do’ with gene regulation, ‘the turning on and off of genes at different times and places in the course of development.'” But from where such regulating instructions might come is a profound mystery.
“The implications are clear enough. Biologists could sequence every living creature on the face of the planet and find only the same core set of genes that account for the nuts and bolts of the proteins and enzymes of the cell of which all living things are made. But beyond that is the really interesting question–that of form–what it is that so readily distinguishes the elephant from the octopus, fireflies from foxes would remain as elusive as ever. …The more genomes that are sequenced, the more striking the irresoluble discrepancy between the similarity of the genetic instructions and the diversity of the living world.”
The genome exists, but how it does what it does is another matter. The secret is yet hidden. God would have us know that he presides over an invisible (to us) angelic kingdom that serves him and mankind. It too exists, but its secrets are hidden in God.
A Peek Behind the Curtain
It is perfectly logical to remain “puzzled” (as is genetic science with the genome) about how the vast spiritual kingdom God rules could exist and work. We can acknowledge it is outside our domain of knowing and its inscrutable profundity must await a future revelation from God. Nevertheless, we should consider what God has allowed us to see, as if taking a quick peek behind the curtain.
Before we begin we must acknowledge another part of the story: not all spirits in the angelic world are benign. Some are wicked and enemies to both God and man. Apparently in the primeval past some God-created angels exercised their God-given freedom and rebelled against their Maker. Their biblically recorded history is sketchy but the end results obvious and settled. The apostle Paul believed Christians needed to be aware of such evil spiritual powers.
Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Eph 6:11-12, NIV).
While wanting Christians to be aware of evil powers, so as to not be blindsided through ignorance, he was quick to add that we need not fear them. All angelic and demonic powers and authorities are subject to God’s Son who has been exalted over them (Eph 1:21; 3:10). Jesus has been made “superior to the angels” when “he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven” (Heb 1:3-4).
The apostles counsel us to “fear God” and “resist the devil.” It is disappointing to observe that most people seem to resist God and his instructions while finding it quite normal to be fear ghosts and supernatural evil–a favorite movie genre of Hollywood.
In this article we will keep our focus on God’s righteous kingdom and the hosts of heaven that aid in its administration. Behind the curtain are some strange and marvelous sights.
The “President’s” Cabinet
We more easily understand mysterious things if we compare them to known things. What would we call that group of beings that surround Yahweh’s throne as described in many places by both OT and NT prophets? Most scholars refer to them as the “Divine Council,” “Heavenly Court,” or “Divine Assembly.” Perhaps we can understand them in light of a cabinet of ministers, each entrusted with vast authority and huge departments of angelic workers to carry out assigned duties (In the USA the cabinet secretary over the Department of Health and Human Services manages 70,000 employees, the cabinet secretary over the Department of Defense, 700,000 civilian, 1,500,000 military). One can only guess at the specific authorities and staff size of these exalted members of the “heavenly cabinet.”
The prophet/apostle John got a peek behind the curtain–actually a door in his case.
“After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. …At once I was in the spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian. A rainbow, resembling an emerald, encircled the throne. Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated upon them were twenty-four elders. They were dressed in white and had crowns of gold on their heads” (Revelation 4:1-4).
The throne is a symbol of sovereignty and is a central feature of OT and NT conceptions of heaven. The “someone sitting upon it” is clearly a circumlocution for the name of God and the formula occurs twelve times with John in a variety of grammatical forms. John follows the current conventions in Judaism to avoid overusing God’s name though the context makes His identity obvious. God’s throne is here surrounded by beautiful colors and Ezekiel’s vision of the throne also speaks of the beautiful colors present.
Jasper is an opaque stone that tends to be red but is also found in yellow, green, and grayish blue. Since jasper is used as a simile for the appearance of God, it is used later in Revelation as in image for the overall appearance of New Jerusalem, which manifests the glory of God (21:11), and as the material from which its walls are constructed (21:18), as well as the first of its twelve foundations (21:19).
God is surrounded by stunning beauty. Ezekiel mentions several precious stones and metals–chrysolite, sapphire, gleaming bronze. When Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu and the seventy elders went up the mountain to eat a covenant meal before the God of Israel they saw under his feet in a sea of lapis lazuli (sapphire) crystal, blue and clear like the sky (Exodus 24:9-10). (Also revealed are yet more details of heavenly Eden, God’s “mountain,” the “ocean,” biblical zodiac, the 24 courses of musicians and singers, a river, etc., which we’ll discuss in Part 2) His angelic beings are striking in appearance and glory. Some can only be described as blazing, fiery torches (more on this in Part 2).
This mix of temple imagery, celestial symbolism, and color, music, thunder, lightning, and voices is too much to fully digest. But the sense of majesty, power, and beauty settles upon us. The words of praise sung by the seraphim (from Isaiah 6:3 and 2 Enoch 21:1) come to mind:
Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord, Lord Sabaoth,
Heaven and earth are full of his glory
The context of Isaiah 6 is Isaiah’s vision of the divine council where Yahweh in his throne-room is presiding over an assemblage of angelic beings.
Our Giving God
Why does God delegate? What does it tell us about him? About his organizational skills? We see that God’s character is manifestly full of love to overflowing with a passion to give, of wanting to bless and to share all he has and enjoys. Look what he gave to Jesus: “He has put everything under his feet,” and Jesus said: “All that belongs to the Father is mine.” Jesus promises his followers “treasures in heaven” and rulership with him as kings and priests in his Father’s kingdom: “To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne.”
Both Father and Son want to share administration of the cosmos with us–delegate to us authority to rule in Kingdom of God. That authority even extends, amazingly, to managing angels.
Jesus told his twelve disciples that he’s delegated to them authority over the twelve tribes of Israel, and in the Organizational Chart of the Universe he is now preparing there are responsibilities galore to be delegated to those who reverence and follow God. Somewhere he has a job, a crown of authority, a place planned for you.
But why does God want to share his power and delegate his authority? It is simply his nature and reflects his love for us and his desire to include us in his excitingly glorious existence. He wants our fellowship. He wants to be our God and wants us to be his people–his co-regents over all creation and participants in creative enterprises of God which so far have trillions of star and planet systems waiting for what is next in the Divine Plan: “He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son.” To know God is to love him; to love him is to want to become like him.
God delegates with purpose. He has an end in mind. He bestows honor, authority, power, and glory upon his servants for a reason–which is clearly visible in his heavenly court and entourage of angels, but especially in his Son, Jesus. For what? To provide loving service, instruction, help, healing, forgiveness, comfort, inspiration, joy, peace, happiness, and newness of life. All good and perfect gifts come “down from the Father of the heavenly lights” and his kingdom servants, you and I, will be continually giving such good and perfect gifts as well. God wants us to begin this process of doing good in there here and now, to be “an instrument for noble purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work.”
Today men and women crave power. Ostensibly this quest for power, via armed coup or the ballot box, is claimed to be for “service,” but in fact proves most often to be for enslavement of people, for personal gain, financial greed and the egoistic aphrodisiac of power for the sake of power, to be “over” other people, to “rule” them as a better over an inferior. Such is much of modern politics. Jesus addressed this perverse penchant of human nature in a dress-down discussion with his disciples.
The mother of the “sons of thunder,” James and John, took Jesus aside and on her knees pleaded that he would make her boys chiefs in his coming kingdom: “Grant that these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom” (Matthew 20:21). We must admire the realistic understanding this devoted mother held of the Kingdom. To her it was sure, real, down to earth, and she wanted her boys right up at the top. One suspects that her boys may have encouraged her to make this proposal. Jesus had a soft spot for mothers. But there were things she didn’t understand, considerations of which Jesus kindly enlightened her.
Jesus reminded the entire group of twelve that typical political governance such as is found in this present world will not be a part of his kingdom. The motivation and spirit of “rulership” will be entirely different. A new attitude must be internalized by all who aspire to eternal life. Authority is granted by God for the purpose of service.
“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant…just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve…” (vss 25-28).
We can also be assured that the celestial kingdom of righteous angels share that attitude of service on our behalf. They are called “ministering spirits”:
Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?
A Picture for Prayer
How can knowing this business of God’s heavenly court benefit us, his earth-bound servants? First, it is truth about God and his kingdom, including his heavenly court. Truth is important for it should form our understanding of the God to whom we pray. Yahweh has allowed us a glimpse of his power and authority; to see him enthroned over an assembly of sentient, living super-beings of immense abilities, knowledge and power, who serve to dispense Yahweh’s decrees, messages, and manage and protect his vast creation. This picture of God’s court “fleshes out” an important name of God: Yahweh Sebaot (hosts, armies, forces).
Secondly, this picture of an enthroned God, incomparably superior to and ruling over an administration of lesser divine beings and millions of angels, should inspire in us awe, reverence, and trust. If so mighty a God be for us, who can be against us? Can any power defeat us or separate us from the love of Christ and our God? Seeing more clearly the majesty of God and his angelic entourage should affect how we pray. The writer of Hebrews speaks of our coming before God’s throne in heavenly Jerusalem, before the company of “thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly,” and to the book of life, to Jesus, and to the living God himself, “the judge of all men.”
Holding this biblically revealed picture in mind should put some starch and substance into our prayers and meditations. It does for me. Our God is an awesome God.
Coming in Part Two:
A most amazing scene is provided in Psalm 82 where the angelic retinue is called into account. The “council of gods” is being judged. God, as we’ve seen, delegates duties and authority to do them, but he does not delegate ultimate responsibility. That responsibility is his and he will reward and punish depending on how his delegated authority has been used or misused. Some “angels” who have done injustice will be condemned, “you will die like mere men.” There is much more to the story of the Host of Heaven, the Boardroom of God, including Satan’s role and access to it.
 Le Fanu, James, The Last Days of the Facade of Knowing, Discovery Institute, Evolution News & Views, June, 2010 (www.evolutionnews.org).
 Revelation 4:8; Ezekiel 1:15-18
 Jude 6 “angels who abandoned their assigned authorities.” Presumably becoming the devil and his angels or demons. See also 2 Peter 2:4 “angels sinned,” and Gen 6:1-4.
 James 4:7; I Peter 5:8-9; Matthew 10:28.
 Ezekiel 1 & 10
 See also: I Kings 22:19-23; Jeremiah 23:18; Job 1-2; 15:8; Psalm 82 and 89:7
 Psalm 8:6; I Corinthians 15:27
 Mark 10:21; Revelation 5:10; 3:21;
 1 Corinthians 6:3
 Luke 22:29-30; John 14:2-3
 Revelation 21:7
 James 1:17
 2 Timothy 2:21
 Hebrews 1:14
 Romans 8:31
 Romans 8:35
 Hebrews 12:22-24