The Cross and the Angels
As we come this week to celebrate afresh, in a focused way, the death and resurrection of Jesus, it will benefit us to consider the way in which the Savior's death effected much more than simply the forgiveness of our sins. Though that is certainly foremost among the benefits that we received from the Lord Jesus Christ, the cross brings about a cosmic reconciliation of things in heaven and things on earth.
When the Apostle Paul enumerated the manifold benefits of Christ and the work of redemption in Ephesians 1, he brought things to an ecstatic crescendo, when he explained that God's "plan for the fullness of time" is "to unite all things in Christ, things in heaven and things on earth" (Eph. 1:10). This is the great goal of all the work that Jesus accomplished at the cross. The Son of God became man in order to shed his blood under the wrath of God so that he might redeem a people for himself out of every tongue, tribe, nation and language (Rev. 5:9; 7:9). Even more than that, however, Christ died and rose and lives again so that he might reconcile things in heaven and on earth, in himself. Without doubt, the Scriptures are clear that "all things in heaven and on earth" excludes the host of fallen angels and the unbelieving scores of mankind. So what then is to be reconciled in heaven and on earth? Simply put, that which the Apostle has in view in his statement is unfallen Angels and the redeemed from among mankind. By his death, Jesus not only reconciles men to God (2 Cor. 5:18) and men to one another (Eph. 2:14)--he reconciles men to the unfallen angels (Eph. 1:10).
Scripture unequivocally teaches us that Jesus did not come to save fallen angels (Heb. 2:16). The fallen angels each fell on his own and will be judged and condemned without the prospect of salvation. Elect Angels stand because they are elect. They did not fall with those who rebelled against God. By way of contrast, mankind fell in Adam as our representative head. The entirety of humanity fell in Adam and are condemned in Adam. God chose this as the structure of man's relationship to Him since His eternal plan was to redeem a people out of the fallen mass of humanity by the last Adam, a new representative--the God-Man, Jesus Christ.
John Calvin wrote:
"Does not God love angels and men?...The Son is beloved by the Father, not so as to make other creatures the objects of his hatred, but so that he communicates to them what belongs to himself. There is a difference, no doubt, between our condition and that of the angels; for they never were alienated from God, and therefore needed not that he should reconcile them; while we are enemies on account of sin, till Christ procure for us his favor. Still, it is a fixed principle that God is gracious to both, only so far as he embraces us in Christ; for even the angels would not be firmly united to God if Christ were not their Head. It may also be observed that, since the Father here speaks of himself as different from the Son, there is a distinction of persons; for they are one in essence and alike in glory."
The assertion, "Even the angels would not be firmly united to God if Christ were not their Head..." is striking and one with which many would have initial reservation accepting. Is Christ truly the head of the Angels?
James Henley Thornwell noted something similar, when he said:
"In his public character as the representative of men and unfallen angels [Christ’s] mission upon earth was the redeem the seed of Abraham and confirm the angels that kept their first estate. His work was much more extensive than that of Adam. The benefits of Adam’s obedience we have no reason to believe would have transcended his own race; those of Christ’s were to extend to principalities and powers, to angels and archangels, cherubim and seraphim.”
There certainly seems to be a logical sense to what Calvin and Thornwell are suggesting. Jesus is the LORD of hosts. He is the Captain of the army of angels in Heaven. As such, he represents that majestically holy company of his creatures that are mightier in power and glory than mankind. The purpose of the Savior in coming to die for His people was to bring them to glory and usher in a New Heavens and New Earth in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, the end goal of the work of redemption brought by Jesus at Calvary was to bring all of his creation together again in holy united and glory. Christ's death on the cross, therefore, secured the unfallen angels in holiness and brought about the redemption of sinners unto holiness. Jesus' death will ultimately result in the reconciliation of angels and men in glory.
The 19th Century Scottish commentator, James Eadie, explained:
"The one Reconciler is the head of these vast dominions, and in Him meet and merge the discordant elements which sin had introduced. The breach is healed. Gabriel embraces Adam, and both enjoy a vicinity to God, which but for the reconciliation of the cross would never have been vouchsafed to either...Thus all things in heaven and earth feel the effect of man's renovation.”
So this week, as we listen to and meditate on sermons about the Son of God nailed to the tree, falling under the wrath of God for the sins of His people, let's remember the grand and glorious consummate fruit of his death. Christ's died to bring the whole host of the redeemed to glory to dwell in the presence of the whole host of the unfallen angels--where "Gabriel embraces Adam."