The scripture, "He is not God of the dead, but of the living," was the springboard for the three-part sermon the beginning of which we heard last week, and the second part of which we hear today, and the third part of which we will hear next week. Last week we heard George MacDonald's comments on the sacred physical body. Today we will examine, close-up, Jesus' peripheral comment about the body after death--the "angel" body. Next week we will hear what Rudolf Steiner has to say about the subtle spiritual bodies, and the way angels help us channel divine reality into the physical dimension.
In Luke 20:36 Jesus says, "for they are equal unto the angels." I thought that looking at angels, for a bit, might give us some hint as what our equal-to-angel bodies might be like. It is hard to resist drawing parallels and comparisons between physical bodies and angel bodies. However, angels, like magic, fall into the category of the "occult" or "knowledge of the hidden", and are therefore outside the general realm of "seeable" subjects. Thinking about angels can be a mere academic exercise, they being generally unseen, and largely unfelt. Of course, if we can learn to enter into a conscious dialogue with angels (note the word "conscious"), as in prayer or meditation, then we can get a whole new slant on the thing, discover a new dynamic that drives the relationship into matters of immediate real (rather than theoretical) significance, either spiritual or mundane--you never know. However, in such ecstatic dialogues the angels rarely talk about themselves.
Hence, a discussion of angels cannot be considered "helpful" in any direct way, since any delving into occult subjects, (delving into the phenomenology of the mysteries, you might say), may only be considered to be of mere intellectual interest. We have said many times that verbal descriptions of spiritual reality can only amount, ultimately, to pretty fictions, that satisfy our inquiring minds but which do not actually convey any real truth. Occult jargon can only hint at what must REALLY be the case, by pointing our minds in the direction of the great mysteries without truly getting around them. The way we reduce the great mysteries into tales of magic must be comical to higher beings. The great thing about Jesus is that He threw away all the magic and superstition of His culture and presented a clear, practical, Earthbound philosophy of life. This is not to say that Jesus was not aware of the magic and superstition of His age, nor is it to say that something of that magic and superstition is not true--it is merely to say that Jesus was always pointing at something beyond the phenomenological baggage of the occult sciences, at something more immediate, and, ultimately more powerful.
Nevertheless, this occult discussion is interesting indeed, and is likely provoke a thought or two that may actually prove to be helpful after all--by focusing our mental attention on an issue, our hearts may follow and contribute their transcendental understanding to the problem.
For the purposes of this presentation, we don't need to repeat the complete scripture passage from last week--a short excerpt will suffice:
30For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.
31And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God:
32 'I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'? He is not God of the dead, but of the living."
33And when the crowd heard it, they were astonished at his teaching.
25For when they shall rise from the dead, they neither marry, nor are given in marriage; but are as the angels which are in heaven.
26And as touching the dead, that they rise: have ye not read in the book of Moses, how in the bush God spake unto him, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob?
27He is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living: ye therefore do greatly err.
34 And Jesus answering said unto them, The children of this world marry , and are given in marriage :
35 But they which shall be accounted worthy to obtain that world, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry, nor are given in marriage :
36 Neither can they die any more: for they are equal unto the angels; and are the children of God, being the children of the resurrection.
37 Now that the dead are raised , even Moses shewed at the bush, when he calleth the Lord the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.
38 For he is not a God of the dead, but of the living : for all live unto him.
39 Then certain of the scribes answering said , Master, thou hast well said .
40 And after that they durst not ask him any question at all.
Today's Wikipedia sampling is lengthy, and some of it is off topic, but it is all interesting--I cut quite a bit out, but there is still plenty of information here:
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Angels are spiritual beings often depicted as messengers of God in the Hebrew and Christian Bibles along with the Quran. The Hebrew and Greek words originally mean messenger, and depending on the context may refer either to a human messenger (possibly a prophet or priest, such as Malachi,) or to a supernatural messenger, such as the "Mal'akh YHWH," who (depending on interpretation) is either a messenger from God, an aspect of God (such as the Logos), or God Himself as the messenger (the "theophanic angel.")
The term "angel" has also been expanded to various notions of spiritual beings found in many other religious traditions. Other roles of angels include protecting and guiding human beings, and carrying out God's tasks. The theological study of angels is known as angelology.[Emmanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772) was the first occult writers to claim to have been in constant communication with angels. Many of his comments are worth recording; on the subject just mentioned about the different classes of angels, Swedenborg says:
"There are angels that receive more interiorly the Divine that goes forth from the Lord, and others that receive it less interiorly; the former are called celestial angels, and the latter spiritual angels."
On the subject of man's after-death angel body he says:
"In the spiritual body moreover, man appears such as he is with respect to love and faith, for everyone in the spiritual world is the effigy of his own love, not only as to the face and the body, but also as to the speech and the actions. . .
That every man after the life in the world lives to eternity, is evident from this, that man is then spiritual, and no longer natural, and that the spiritual man, separated from the natural, remains such as he is to eternity, for man's state cannot be changed after death."
On the general topic of "talking to angels" he says this:
"I am well aware that many will say that no one can possibly speak with spirits and angels so long as he lives in the body; and many will say that it is all fancy, others that I relate such things in order to gain credence, and others will make other objections.
I have often talked with angels on this subject, and they have invariably declared that in heaven they are unable to divide the Divine into three, because they know and perceive that the Divine is One and this One is in the Lord."
Philosophically, angels are "pure contingent spirits."Philo of Alexandria identifies the angel with the Logos as far as the angel is the immaterial voice of God. The angel is something different than God Himself, but is conceived just as a God's instrument. According to Aristotle, just as there is a First Mover, so, too, must there be spiritual secondary movers. Thomas Aquinas (13th century) expands upon this in his Summa contra Gentiles and Summa Theologica.
The Bible uses the terms מלאך אלהים (mal'akh Elohim; messenger of God), מלאך יהוה (mal'akh YHWH; messenger of the Lord), בני אלהים (b'nai Elohim; sons of God) and הקודשים (ha-qodeshim; the holy ones) to refer to beings traditionally interpreted as angels. Later texts use other terms, such as העליונים (ha'elyoneem; the upper ones). Scholar Michael D. Coogan notes that it is only in the late books that the terms "come to mean the benevolent semidivine beings familiar from later mythology and art. . . Coogan explains the development of this concept of angels: "In the post-exilic period, with the development of explicit monotheism, these divine beings—the 'sons of God' who were members of the divine council—were in effect demoted to what are now known as 'angels', understood as beings created by God, but immortal and thus superior to humans. . .
Medieval Jewish philosopher Maimonides explained his view of angels in his Guide for the Perplexed II:4 and II:6:...This leads Aristotle in turn to the demonstrated fact that God, glory and majesty to Him, does not do things by direct contact. God burns things by means of fire; fire is moved by the motion of the sphere; the sphere is moved by means of a disembodied intellect, these intellects being the 'angels which are near to Him', through whose mediation the spheres [planets] move... thus totally disembodied minds exist which emanate from God and are the intermediaries between God and all the bodies [objects] here in this world.
According to Kabalah, there are four worlds and our world is the last world: the world of action (Assiyah). Angels exist in the worlds above as a 'task' of God. They are an extension of God to produce effects in this world. After an angel has completed its task, it ceases to exist. The angel is in effect the task.
Famous angels and their tasks:
• Malachim (translation: messengers), general word for angel
• Michael (translation: who is like God), performs God's kindness
• Gabriel (translation: the strength of God), performs acts of justice
• Raphael (translation: God Heals), God's healing force
• Uriel (translation: God is my light), leads us to destiny
• Seraphim (translation: the burning ones), sing and praise God
• Malach HaMavet (translation: the angel of death)
• Satan (translation: the adversary), brings people's sins before them
in the heavenly court
• Chayot HaKodesh (translation: living beings)
• Ophanim (translation: arbits) Guardians of the Throne of God[Sidebar: It is an interesting idea that an angel may come into existence to deliver a message from God, and then wink out of existence once the message has been delivered. It sounds kind of like getting a letter from God, a telegram, or maybe an email that, like on Mission Impossible, self-destructs after ten seconds. I doubt that any created thing ever ceases to exist, but it is easy to imagine an angel body dissolving into the mind of God after its message has been delivered. It reminds me of something a friend of mine in L.A. said to me years ago concerning life after death; he said, "I think of us all as bits of information--you can't destroy information!" I'm sure that angel body, having served its purpose as a focus of information, does not cease to exist, but merely changes, in terms of ego resolution in the Divine Consciousness, to a different value. Might it be possible that, ultimately, when we don our own angel bodies, that they may melt into the mind of God like a bubble in a pan of boiling pudding rises to the surface, gives a cheerful "plop", and then sinks back down into the stew? The "plop" is the link between spirit and the physical world; having "plopped" do we take our little message back with us under the wave, and nestle in the bosom of the father?
Something like this idea is expressed in this quote from Emmanuel Swedenborg:
"Destruction was effected after visitation, for visitation always precedes."
On a related topic he says:
"The angels taken collectively are called heaven, for they constitute heaven; and yet that which makes heaven in general and in particular is the Divine that goes forth from the Lord and flows into the angels and is received by them. . . The Divine of the Lord in heaven is love, for the reason that love is receptive of all things of heaven, such as peace, intelligence, wisdom and happiness."]
Early Christians inherited Jewish understandings of angels, which in turn may have been partly inherited from the Egyptians. In the early stage, the Christian concept of an angel characterized the angel as a messenger of God. Angels are creatures of good, spirits of love, and messengers of the savior Jesus Christ. Later came identification of individual angelic messengers: Gabriel, Michael, Raphael, Uriel, and Satan/Lucifer. Then, in the space of little more than two centuries (from the third to the fifth) the image of angels took on definite characteristics both in theology and in art.
Many Christians regard angels as asexual and not belonging to either gender as they interpret Matthew 22:30 in this way. Angels are on the other hand usually described as looking like male human beings. Their names are also masculine. And although angels have greater knowledge than men, they are not omniscient, as Matthew 24:36 points out.
The earliest known representation of angels with wings is on the "Prince's Sarcophagus", discovered in the 1930s at Sarigüzel, near Istanbul, and attributed to the time of Theodosius I (379-395). From that period on, Christian art has represented angels mostly with wings, as in the cycle of mosaics in the Basilica of Saint Mary Major (432–440). Four- and six-winged angels, drawn from the higher grades of angels (especially cherubim and seraphim) and often showing only their faces and wings, are derived from Persian art and are usually shown only in heavenly contexts, as opposed to performing tasks on earth. They often appear in the pendentives of church domes or semi-domes. Saint John Chrysostom explained the significance of angels' wings:
"They manifest a nature's sublimity. That is why Gabriel is represented with wings. Not that angels have wings, but that you may know that they leave the heights and the most elevated dwelling to approach human nature. Accordingly, the wings attributed to these powers have no other meaning than to indicate the sublimity of their nature."
In terms of their clothing, angels, especially the Archangel Michael, were depicted as military-style agents of God and came to be shown wearing Late Antique military uniform. . . Other angels came to be conventionally depicted in long robes, and in the later Middle Ages they often wear the vestments of a deacon, a cope over a dalmatic; this costume was used especially for Gabriel in Annunciation scenes—for example the Annunciation in Washington by Jan van Eyck.
Latter Day Saints
Adherents of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (generally referred to as "Mormons") view angels as the messengers of God. They are sent to mankind to deliver messages, minister to humanity, teach doctrines of salvation, call mankind to repentance, give priesthood keys, save individuals in perilous times, and guide humankind.
Latter Day Saints believe that angels are the spirits of humans who are deceased or who have yet to be born, and accordingly Joseph Smith taught that "there are no angels who minister to this earth but those that do belong or have belonged to it." As such, Latter Day Saints also believe that Adam (the first man) is now the archangel Michael, and that Gabriel lived on the earth as Noah. Likewise the Angel Moroni first lived in a pre-Columbian American civilization as the 5th-century prophet-warrior named Moroni.
Joseph Smith, Jr. described his first angelic encounter thus:While I was thus in the act of calling upon God, I discovered a light appearing in my room, which continued to increase until the room was lighter than at noonday, when immediately a personage appeared at my bedside, standing in the air, for his feet did not touch the floor.
He had on a loose robe of most exquisite whiteness. It was a whiteness beyond anything earthly I had ever seen; nor do I believe that any earthly thing could be made to appear so exceedingly white and brilliant....
Not only was his robe exceedingly white, but his whole person was glorious beyond description, and his countenance truly like lightning. The room was exceedingly light, but not so very bright as immediately around his person. When I first looked upon him, I was afraid; but the fear soon left me.
Angels (Arabic: ملائكة , Malāʾikah; Turkish: Melek) are mentioned many times in the Qur'an and Hadith. Islam is clear on the nature of angels in that they are messengers of God. They have no free will, and can do only what God orders them to do. An example of a task they carry out is that of testing individuals by granting them abundant wealth and curing their illness. Believing in angels is one of the six Articles of Faith in Islam.
In his Book of Certitude Bahá’u’lláh, founder of the Bahá’í Faith, describes angels as people who ‘have consumed, with the fire of the love of God, all human traits and limitations’, and have ‘clothed themselves’ with angelic attributes and have become ‘endowed with the attributes of the spiritual’. 'Abdu’l-Bahá describes angels as the ‘confirmations of God and His celestial powers’ and as ‘blessed beings who have severed all ties with this nether world’ and ‘been released from the chains of self’, and ‘revealers of God’s abounding grace’. The Bahá’í writings also refer to the Concourse on High, an angelic host, and the Maid of Heaven of Bahá’u’lláh's vision.
When I saw that my angel sermon had too much material in it for a single Sunday, I was forced to ask myself, "What was the point of today's presentation?" The real stuff comes next week, with Rudolf Steiner, but so far, today, I have not made any salient points about angels, other than to describe how they are regarded by different cultures, and to suggest that, on the cosmic continuum of material density, angel bodies area a ways down the list from physical bodies. Perhaps that is the incipient message after all.
Earlier this morning, I introduced the topic of angels as an "occult" subject of "hidden knowledge", implying that there is a kind of private, exclusive quality to it that requires you to have an "Official New Age Membership Card" to understand it. Then I turn around and point out that every religion you can name, nearly every philosophy, every culture not only acknowledges the existence of angels, but has elaborate theories as to the hierarchical organization and cosmic responsibilities of angels. I can't imagine how all this information came into being, unless angels are not so hidden after all.
The way God speaks must be qualitatively different for every person, but I'm sure that every one here has had the very real experience of talking to God. Does thinking that you are never actually in DIRECT contact with God, but always going through a medium, a filter, you might say--does that thin barrier compromise the quality of the communication? Does using a telephone to reach someone far away make the communication less valid? Dare we crave a MORE DIRECT contact with the Father? Maybe--later.
For now, I suggest that angels, just like every other article of the spiritual discipline, may become a part of our lives by PAYING ATTENTION. No matter whatever else you have to say about occultists, in general, you have to grant them this: they pay attention--they seek significant knowledge in subtle disguises, they search for sign, and make much of little. To be sure, as in any field of knowledge, this kind of fussing may end up obscuring the big picture, but nobody said that detailed understanding has to be a bad thing. Many times a noticed detail can lead us around a corner into whole nother world of big pictures.
Clearly, sensitivity to angels is one more discipline we can engage in as we try to develop an overall sensitivity to the superphysical. If we are not sharpening our skills in this area every day, we cannot be properly be said to be walking the spiritual path--what must the spiritual path be if not exploring elements of spirituality, hidden or not hidden, which bring us closer to God and to our realizing our spiritual destinies as we may. If our bodies become like angel bodies after death, then that makes angels like relatives--like cousins or brothers-in-law. I'm always willing to reach out to someone, especially if it is all in the family.
Let us pray: Jesus, Lord of all, thank you for your gifts of spirit which take so many forms we cannot count them. Thank you for lending us your heavenly telegraph, also the wings. Amen.