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“You believe that there is one God; you do well:
the devils also believe, and tremble.” James 2:19


Searching minds come up with questions that never occur to people in the pews. Most of the time these questions are rooted in misconceptions, but those same misconceptions are held by churchgoers in very large numbers. The difference seems to be that atheists and skeptics will ask these questions, and many times people who attend church and claim they believe just sit on the questions and never express them. This failure to get answers eventually manifests itself in people either leaving the church, or becoming so apathetic about the issues facing Christianity today that they simply attend church but never get involved in doing what Christ has called us to do.

It is a fundamental principle of the gospel of Christ that we as humans can at any time turn away from the sin and neglect that is in our lives and turn to God and begin a new life in accordance with God's word. Why can Satan not do the same thing? If the “devils tremble,” why do they not just confess that Christ is Lord, turn away from their destructive course in repentance, and be baptized for the remission of their sins? Why is there even a place “prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41) if they can come back to God and be saved?

The difficulty in this question is a misunderstanding of what angels are. We have all seen works of art showing angels as beings like ourselves who have the same properties and characteristics that we have except they are actively involved as agents of God. The fact is that angels are not physical beings. They do not have wings, human features, human needs, and human weaknesses. Not all of them are agents of God as indicated in Matthew 25:41. Angels do not exist in the same physical dimensions that we do. They do not die, are not limited by time, and do not have sexual needs or involvement. Mankind has had a hard time with that concept, because it is so different from our own existence. In Matthew 22:30 Jesus was given the hypothetical situation in which a woman is married to seven brothers, one at a time, who all died. The question when she died was whose wife would she be? Jesus said, “… in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven.”

Angels seem to have been created before the world was created and were active in the process and in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:24 and Ephesians 6:12). Angels do not die and are outside of time and unlimited in space. They have had the capacity to sin (2 Peter 2:4, Jude 6). Having that capacity means that they also have the capacity to love. Love is only possible when sentient beings have the ability to choose between good and evil and since angels can sin they also can choose to love God or hate God. The difference between us as humans and angels is that angels do not have a period in which they can respond to their sin or to God’s commands. When angels choose to reject God they do so for eternity. We as humans on the other hand, have the capacity to choose and eventually turn away from those choices that would put us at odds with God.

directionBefore time was created by God and before sentient beings like ourselves who can function within time were created, angels existed. They had either a love for God and a desire to serve him or antagonism to God and a decision not to serve him. God gave freedom of choice, but once that choice was made it was in eternity. The purpose of man's existence was to allow a plan to be enacted which would show that when man's way failed and bad consequences of that failure existed, God’s superior way of love and conformity to God's word would be shown to all beings in the creation.

There are many messages here, but one of them is that when we die we will “become as angels,” meaning that we no longer have a choice as to whether we will serve or not. We will be like angels in that our choice will have been made. We will have chosen to either love and serve God and do his will or we will have chosen to reject God and live in a way that contains none of God's blessings and promises. There will be no turning back — no opportunity for a change of heart and repentance. Like Satan we will live in “a place prepared for the devil and his angels” in a timeless, eternal existence. In 2 Peter 3:10 –14 we learn that the physical world will eventually be dissolved — including time itself. We should look “forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless, and at peace with him.”

— John N. Clayton

Picture credits:
Roland Earnst