Ministering SpiritsAugust 26, 2019
Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?
— Hebrews 1:14
October 3, 1993. It was our wedding anniversary, and Denise and I were in Murmansk, Russia, located just north of the Arctic Circle. We had been ministering there in one of the largest churches in Russia at the time. After several days of wonderful meetings, we concluded the last evening service and returned to the apartment where we were staying. Our plan was to begin preparing for our trip home early the next morning. As we packed, we decided to turn on the television to see the late-night news.
We sat nearly frozen in disbelief as we learned that there had been a major coup in the city of Moscow! The image of the Russian Vice President appeared on the TV screen before us. Looking disheveled, this man morbidly glared into the TV camera and stated that a coup had begun in Moscow and that Russia’s newly gained democracy was about to be lost. We were stunned when we heard him “beckon” people to go into the streets to fight using whatever they could find from their homes as weapons to oppose the pro-Communist faction — especially in the area near Red Square — that was trying to seize control.
While we had been busy ministering in Murmansk, a major conflict had erupted in Moscow. There was a clash between then President Boris Yeltsin and a pro-Communist political faction that had violently seized control of the Russian White House and had barricaded themselves inside it, refusing to come out.
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The Russian White House is situated in front of the massive Novoarbatsky Bridge along the banks of the Moscow River. I found it so interesting that the entire day while we had been busy with church activities in another city, Boris Yeltsin had been busy ordering army tanks to line up on that bridge, point their cannons directly at the Russian White House, and shoot to drive those occupants out of the building! By the end of the day, those tanks had blown the top half of the structure nearly completely off. Although democratic forces shelled the White House with one bomb after another, the rebels refused to surrender their position.
It was late at night, and Denise and I sat in front of the TV dumbfounded and perplexed about what we should do. The mayhem in Moscow was spreading to other locations, and we didn’t know what Moscow airports would be like the following morning. Moscow was our only connection to Riga, Latvia, where we lived at the time. We didn’t know if flights would be canceled — or even if there would be potential attacks at the airport. And God only knew what might develop in the nighttime as we slept!
We arose early the following morning, took a car to the airport, and went inside to see if we could make our flight to Moscow en route to Riga. When the time came for passengers to board the plane, Denise and I were the only two passengers they allowed to embark. Everyone else with tickets for that flight was denied access to the plane!
The airline attendants seated us in First Class on the very front row of the plane. Denise and I were somewhat amused and discussed quietly that it looked like we had the whole plane to ourselves. That’s exactly what we thought as that large Russian aircraft took off from that runway and began to ascend — that we were the only two passengers aboard the flight.
To this day, we still don’t know why we were the only two passengers allowed to board that flight, but that is exactly what happened. We speculated that perhaps the person in charge knew us from our nationwide television program — or that we had received special treatment because of our American passports. All we could do was guess. But for the duration of that flight from Murmansk to Moscow, Denise and I sat alone on what looked to be an empty aircraft, musing over our strange situation.
That entire, very large commercial airliner was completely empty — except for us and the flight crew! At least that’s what we thought until it was time to disembark. When we arose from our seats to leave, the flight attendant abruptly pulled back the curtain that concealed the whole back half of the airplane. To our utter amazement and shock, there stood in front of us 85 Black Berets, Russia’s highest-trained land-combat soldiers!
What a scene that was! It looked like 85 “Rambos” standing there, with machine guns hanging off their shoulders, handguns strapped to their waists, strips of hundreds of rounds of ammo draped around their necks, giant knives fastened to their boots — and their faces completely smeared with greasy black “war paint”!
Denise and I stood there, nearly paralyzed, for what seemed like minutes. As much speculating as we had entertained about why we were alone on that flight, the thought never crossed our minds that we were not alone — and that we had flown all that distance to Moscow with 85 trained killers!
Sitting in the car that transported us from the plane to our terminal, we watched spellbound as those soldiers quickly disembarked that plane in unison and boarded jumbo helicopters that we later learned were assigned to fly them to the Russian White House. By the time we entered the terminal and made our way through passport control, we saw on TV monitors those same 85 soldiers being lowered by ropes onto what was left of the roof of the White House!
We later discovered that those killer troops were ordered to retake the Russian White House, arresting rebels who surrendered and shooting those who didn’t. By the end of that standoff, 124 rebel soldiers had been killed and 348 had been wounded by those Black Beret soldiers — soldiers with whom Denise and I had unknowingly flown on a plane!
At times in life, we’ve likely all been oblivious to what’s happening around us. Had Denise and I known we were flying with 85 trained killers that day, we would have experienced some apprehension about getting on that flight. But we thought we were the only two people on board. We actually enjoyed the experience, laughing and talking during the entire flight to Moscow. We only realized 85 “Rambos” were riding with us when it was time to disembark. By that time, it was too late to worry because we had already arrived safely at the airport in Moscow!
As Denise and I watched the monitors from inside the airport terminal and saw those soldiers being lowered into the remains of the White House, we hardly spoke a word. We were stunned that we had been that close to those armed and trained killers and yet completely unaware of it. As we awaited our next flight, we each sat quietly, pondering the events that had just taken place. It wasn’t until we were securely on board our flight to Riga that we finally began to talk again. Excitedly, we began talking about the situations we all find ourselves in at times, that we don’t fully comprehend until later. And we particularly talked about the ministry of angels — that just as those Russian killer soldiers had been dispatched to restore order and peace, God sends His angels on “covert missions” to oversee and protect us in times of danger and uncertainty.
Hebrews 1:14 says, “Are they not all [angels] ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?” You and I are the heirs of salvation, so this means that angels are sent forth to minister to you and me. But what exactly does the phrase “sent forth to minister for them” mean?
Notice the verse includes the word “minister” in some form twice. It says, “Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?” In both cases, the words “ministering” and “minister” are a translation of the Greek word diakonos, which depicts high-level, top-notch service of various kinds. As we look at the ministry of angels in the New Testament, we find that angels provided especially high-level, top-notch service to the saints when they experienced various types of need.
The following is a condensed list of activities that angels perform. Please keep in mind that this Sparkling Gem is about God’s care over us when we are oblivious to things that are happening around us. In such moments, angels step in to provide certain kinds of high-level, top-notch service for us — including the list of angelic assignments that follow in this teaching. Of course, angels also have other roles, but for the purposes of this discussion, we will focus on the role of angels to minister to believers — heirs of salvation.
Angels Meet Physical Needs
Matthew 4:11 and Mark 1:13 tell us that when Jesus concluded His 40-day fast in the wilderness, angels appeared to Him and ministered to Him, thereby meeting Jesus’ physical needs after that 40 days of fasting and being tempted by the devil. In both of these verses, the word “ministered” is a translation of the Greek word diakonos. Wherever this word is used in the New Testament, it pictures a servant whose chief occupation is to meet some kind of physical or tangible need.
Angels Give Strength
The Bible provides many examples of angels strengthening the weary, but the best New Testament example is found in Luke 22:43, where an angel strengthened Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane during the most difficult time of His earthly life. It says, “And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him.” This word comes from the Greek word enischuo, a compound of the words en and ischuos. The word en means in, and the word ischuos is the Greek word for might or strength. When these two words are compounded, the new word means to impart strength; to empower someone; to fill a person with physical vigor; or to give someone renewed vitality. In other words, a person may have been feeling exhausted and depleted, but suddenly he receives a robust blast of energy that instantly recharges him.
This means that when Jesus’ disciples and friends couldn’t be depended on in His hour of need, God provided an angel who empowered, recharged, and imparted strength to Jesus, thus renewing His vitality so He could victoriously face the most difficult hour of His life. Thus, Luke 22:43 provides a vivid New Testament example of how angels strengthen the weary.
Angels Can Give Supernatural Guidance
Examples of how angels provide supernatural guidance are abundant in the New Testament. Matthew 2:13 says an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream and told him to quickly take Mary and the young Christ Child into Egypt because Herod would seek to kill Jesus. Later when Herod died, an angel appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, informing him that Herod was dead and that he and his family could return to Israel (Matthew 2:19-23). In both of those instances, the supernatural angelic guidance occurred in dreams.
In Act 10:3, we find an example of angelic guidance that also changed the course of history. An angel appeared in a vision to an Italian centurion named Cornelius who lived in Caesarea.
Although Cornelius was unsaved at that moment, God heard this man’s prayers and intervened on his behalf by providing angelic guidance. The angel who appeared to Cornelius instructed him to send his servants to Joppa to summon Peter and his companions to come to him. When Peter arrived at Cornelius’ residence, the apostle preached the Gospel to those who were present. All who heard Peter repented and were filled with the Holy Spirit. At that historic moment, the door to salvation was opened to the Gentiles, and the Gospel message began to go forth into the Gentile world.
Angels Provide Protection and Deliverance
The Old and New Testaments are filled with evidence that God assigns angels to guard and protect His people. For instance, Psalm 34:7 says that angels encamp around those who fear the Lord to deliver them. Psalm 91:11 promises that God will give His angels charge over His people to keep them in all their ways. We see a New Testament example of how angels guard and protect God’s people in Acts 5:17-20. In this account, the high priest rose up against the apostles and had them arrested and thrown into prison. Verses 19 and 20 say, “But the angel of the Lord by night opened the prison doors, and brought them forth, and said, Go, stand and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this life.”
A few chapters later in Acts 12, we find the story of Peter being arrested and thrown into prison. After Herod ordered the beheading of James (see Acts 12:1,2), he saw that many Jews approved of his action. Therefore, in order to garner more support and popularity with the angry mob of Christian-haters, Herod gave the order for the apostle Peter to be arrested next. The authorities may have recalled the previous time when a group of apostles miraculously escaped from prison because this time Peter was delivered to “four quaternions of soldiers” (Acts 12:4).
A “quaternion” refers to a group of four Roman soldiers. So four quaternions — or four different groups containing four soldiers each — successively took turns guarding Peter throughout the night. Verse 6 tells us that Peter was sleeping between two guards in that prison while two other guards stood watch at the prison door. Suddenly the angel of the Lord came into the prison cell and awoke Peter from his sleep, telling him to rise up quickly and leave the prison. Instantly, the chains that held Peter were loosened and fell to the ground.
Not only did the angel of the Lord set Peter free from the chains that held him, but it seems the angel also temporarily blinded the guards so they were unaware of what was happening. Peter followed the angel through the first and second ward until he came to an iron gate, which supernaturally opened in front of him without anyone touching it. An angel delivered the apostle from the horrible destiny that had awaited him at the hands of Herod.
Angels Perform Superhuman Feats
Perhaps the best New Testament example of angels performing superhuman feats is when the angels rolled away the massive stone that lay before Jesus’ garden tomb. Matthew 28:2 says, “…the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it.” The word “stone” is the Greek word lithos, which simply means a stone. It is known, however, that the stones placed in front of such tombs were immense in their dimensions — impossible for a human being to move without the assistance of several people.
Another remarkable example of an angel’s superhuman strength is recorded in Revelation 20:1-3, where John writes: “And I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years, and cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, And set a seal upon him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years should be fulfilled: and after that he must be loosed a little season.”
At the appointed time, an unnamed angel will seize Satan, bind him with a great chain, shut him in the bottomless pit, and seal it so he can’t escape. No natural human being would ever be able to perform such a feat, but this passage of Scripture clearly states that a day is coming when an angel will single-handedly accomplish this task — scriptural proof of the great power heavenly angels possess.
And to think — such “ministering spirits” are dispatched to “minister” to those who will inherit salvation. That’s you and me! God has specifically sent angels forth to meet our physical needs, to give us strength, to supernaturally guide us at times, to provide us with protection and deliverance, and to perform superhuman feats on our behalf.
Flying from Murmansk to Moscow with 85 hidden trained killers — while Denise and I were completely oblivious to that fact — reminds me that wherever we are and whatever we’re doing, we have a group of “ministering spirits” that are assigned to watch over us and care for us. In fact, looking back on that incident, I realize that a “special-forces unit” of angels is always assigned to Denise and me! And these trained spiritual combatants pose a far more formidable threat to unseen devilish forces than the threat those 85 trained soldiers posed to rebels occupying the Russian White House that day!
If you look back over your own life, I’m sure it won’t be difficult to recall moments when you experienced angelic assistance to help you overcome in the midst of what you were enduring. You may not have seen those ministering spirits with your physical eyes or even felt their presence, but it is certain they were there, for that is God’s promise to you and to me in Hebrews 1:14!
MY PRAYER FOR TODAY
Father, I want to thank You for the many times You have given Your angels charge of me to protect, provide for, and guide me when I was confronted with difficulties or was completely unaware of the situations I had unknowingly wandered into or of the danger that surrounded me. I am reminded of how Your ministering spirits have met my needs; brought me help; strengthened me when I was exhausted both physically and emotionally; and kept me safe in the midst of circumstances that could have produced certain harm or even taken my life. Time after time, You’ve held me safe through the watchful care of Your ministering angels. Lord, I love You. You have shown me great mercy, and each day I find new reasons to praise and glorify You as a faithful Keeper of covenant in my life.
I pray this in Jesus’ name!
MY CONFESSION FOR TODAY
I confess that time after time, in ways I seldom realize, God dispatches angels to assist me. These ministering spirits surround me and keep me safe, and they never fail to step in to deliver me even when I don’t know that I am in harm’s way. Whatever my situation, and regardless of the need, angels are assigned to protect, provide, strengthen, and guide me in all my ways of obedience to the Lord.
I declare this by faith in Jesus’ name!
QUESTIONS FOR YOU TO CONSIDER
- Have you ever been in a situation in which you were oblivious to what was happening around you, but you later discovered that God had dispatched an angel or angels to protect you in some way?
- Can you recall a specific experience of God’s miraculous, delivering power in your life? When was it, and what happened? How did you respond?
- When you consider that experience, what does it reveal to you about the tenderness of God to watch over you and protect you? Have you ever told anyone about that moment of divine protection?