4. The Court of Heaven
We are obviously treading on Holy ground in trying to understand how God's work is organized in Heaven, and yet we believe there are enough hints for us to make some broad suggestions which hopefully will help us appreciate more how God is working in our lives.
Rev. 14:17,18 describe an Angel coming out of "The temple which is in Heaven" and another coming out of the Altar (Christ). Does this imply that although all Angels are subject to Christ in rank, some are in His control and others in the Father's ? Jesus will return with "His Holy Angels". Presumably when He returns not every single Angel in Heaven will return with Him. The Father's Angels will remain. As Jesus is in control of our daily lives through our guardian Angels, it would seem a fair assumption that the guardian Angels of the saints of all ages are in the specific control of Jesus, and these are the "reapers" of the spiritual harvest which will return with Him to judge us. If we are judged by our guardian Angels (see Chapter 8-1), then they must be Christ's own Angels which return with Him.
The court of Heaven
The notion of a court of Heaven is a major Biblical theme. The visions of 1 Kings 22:19-23, Isaiah 6 and Rev. 4 show God seated on a throne with Angels before Him, bringing information and requests to Him and departing with commands to obey; the idea of a council in Heaven is clearly hinted at in Job 1; Gen. 1:26; Ps. 89:7. God sitting on a throne implies that each request or piece of information presented is 'judged' and an appropriate decision made. The 'case' of the adversaries to God is presented by a 'satan' Angel. Ps. 11:4,5 describes the scene: "The Lord's throne is in Heaven (mirrored by the Mighty Angel of Israel being enthroned over the Mercy Seat in the temple): His eyes (Angels) behold, His eyelids try, the children of men. The Lord trieth the righteous (who are in His presence by their Angel), but the wicked and him that loveth violence His soul hateth". Rev. 12:10 may be understood in this context: "The accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night". When we read that Enoch “had witness borne to him that he had been well pleasing unto God” (Heb. 11:6 RV), this is courtroom language. Could it not be that his representative / guardian Angel in the court of Heaven had made this testimony to God Almighty? Likewise Lk. 21:13 speaks of how when a believer is persecuted, “it shall turn to you for a testimony”. What does this really mean? For me, the most satisfactory explanation would be that the Angels give a positive testimony of the faithful believer in the court of Heaven.
Once one starts reading Scripture looking for these allusions to the court of Heaven, evidence multiplies. Take, from many possible examples:
- Mt. 18:14 RVmg.: “It is not a thing willed before your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish”.
- The Angels were given “charge concerning thee” (Jesus)- in the court of Heaven, God’s purpose was declared and His charge made clear concerning His Son (Lk. 4:10 RVmg.)
- "Elohim has taken his place in the divine council
In the midst of the elohim he holds judgment" (Ps. 82:1).
"Let the heavens praise your wonders, O Yahweh,
Your faithfulness in the assembly of the holy ones
For who in the skies can be compared to Yahweh?
Who among the sons of God is like Yahweh,
A God greatly feared in the council of the holy ones
Great and awesome above all that are around him?" (Ps. 89: 5-7)
"The heavenly host bows down before you" (Neh. 9:6)
- “Dost thou hearken in the council of God?” (Job 15:8 RVmg.)- note how this is said in the context of Job, where we have the most classic statement of the operation of the court of heaven in the opening chapters.
- The sparrows are represented in the presence of God (Lk. 12:6 Gk.); even animals have their representative Angels there. This is ‘how’ in one sense a personal God sees and knows all things; because His Spirit / Angels are in His presence reporting all things to Him. At least this is how we are invited to perceive it. The sparrows aren’t forgotten in the presence of God, and we are of more value than many sparrows (Lk. 12:6,7); Matthew has: ‘Your Father feeds the sparrows; are you not of more value [same Greek as in Luke] than many sparrows?’ ; ‘no sparrow falls to the ground without your Father knowing...you are of more value than many sparrows” (Mt. 6:26; 10:29,31). The sparrows being in God’s presence is paralleled with His feeding them [Gk. ‘to bring them up’] and being aware of what is happening to them on earth. God feeds / raises the sparrows through His Angelic messengers.
Nebuchadnezzar was told that the destruction of his power was a “matter by the decree of the watchers [i.e. Angels, the eyes of the Lord], and the demand by the word of the holy ones” (Dan. 4:17). The Chaldee words translated “matter, “decree” and “demand” are all legal terms, implying a legal answer / response, “a judicial decision” as Strong defines “the demand”. Something came before the court of Heaven- presumably the matter in question was Nebuchadnezzar’s pride and his position on the Jews (Daniel’s advice in 4:27 to shew mercy to the poor may be a reference to what the King should’ve been doing to the Jews- perhaps by enabling their return to their land?). And a ‘judicial decision’ was made and “a watcher and a Holy One came down from Heaven” to operationalize it (Dan. 4:13). If this is the extent of Angelic attention to the heart of a Gentile king- how much more earnestly are they debating the states of our hearts and our actions, and issuing decrees for action accordingly?
- The members of this court of Heaven have various names- Holy ones (Hos 12:1; Zech 14:5); spirits (1 Kgs 22:21-23; Ps 104:4); messengers/angels (Ps 91:11; 103:20); ministers (Ps 103:21; 104:4); servants (Job 4:18); those on high (Job
21:22); princes (Jos 5:14; Dan 10:13). Supremely, Is. 9:5 LXX speaks of Messiah as "the Messenger of the Great Council" [megales boules angelos].
- "Let us make man" (Gen. 1:26), "Behold, the man has become like one of us" (Gen. 3:22) and "Come, let us go down" (Gen. 11:7) are examples from early Genesis. Franz Delitzsch (1) analyzes the Hebrew constructions here at great length, concluding that these verses manifest a "communicative plural", implying God conferring with His council.
The idea of Angels being sent out from this council to operationalize Divine commissions opens up so many Scriptures. An Angel was sent before Israel to keep them in the way (Ex. 23:30)- an evident allusion to the Angel-cherubim keeping the way to the tree of life. But did all Israel remain “in the way” whilst in the wilderness? Evidently not. Did the Angel fail? No. The Angel was given power and strength in order to potentially enable Israel to remain “in the way”, just as our Angels are given that same power. But Israel refused to work with the Angel; they didn’t make use of the Angel’s efforts to keep them in the way.
What is so awesome is that the Hebrew word sod, 'council' or 'court', is something open to us as mortals. In Biblical times, Kings had their sod, their gathering of intimate advisors and ministers. But we, mere mortals on earth, are invited to be part of the sod of God Almighty, having His purpose and plans revealed to us (Ps. 25:14; Job 29:4). But sod members weren't passive listeners; they gave their advice and requests, and the King factored that into His decision making. This is a picture of the power of prayer from those who have understood the way and essence of the King of Heaven.
There is evidently a hierarchy amongst the Angels as there will be among us in the age to come. It is interesting to see how the Angels relate to each other, and how their actions complement each other in order to bring about the trials of our lives. Once we grasp this idea, we can try to analyse the Angelic action in our lives and imagine all the different parts played by various Angels to bring it about. This system is maybe hinted at in Ecc. 5:8, where the hierarchy of corrupt human rulers and judges is contrasted with the righteous hierarchy of Heaven: "If thou seest the oppression of the poor, and violent perverting of judgement and justice in a province, marvel not at the matter: for He that is higher that the high ones (A. V. "highest" is plural) regardeth; and there be higher than they" (the high ones). Thus:
- The Most High One
- The Higher than the High Ones
- The High Ones
The "high ones" referring to Angels, it may be that the phrase "Most High" also refers sometimes to God manifested through an Angel who is higher than all the others, perhaps foreshadowing Christ, who was also made higher than the Angels. The idea of the Heavenly organization being like a court is often developed in other references to the Angels- e. g. there appear to be accusing and defending Angels who stand around the throne of God and obey His judgements (2). A close study of the record of Sodom's destruction will reveal that the 'Lord' spoken of there was one of the Angels who arranged the judgements on Sodom. "The Lord said, Because the cry (NIV 'Outcry') of Sodom. . is great. . I will go down now" (Gen. 18:20,21). Perhaps this outcry of Sodom was from the Angels who were shocked at its sinfulness, whose concern prompted the senior Angel into 'coming down' in judgement. It may be that 1 Cor. 6:3,5 refers to this idea of different levels amongst the Angels. We are to “judge” our brethren, not in condemning them but in discerning between them, in the same way as we will “judge Angels” in the future. Then, we will not condemn them, but perceive / discern the differences between them.
It was Rudolf Rijkeboer who drew my attention to the significant difference between representation and symbolization in Revelation (3). The 24 elders of Rev. 4:5 represent rather than symbolize the believers, whose guardians they are. These Angels represent the saints in the court of Heaven. In this lies the practical meaning of all this; that we, our 'case', our thoughts and deeds, are represented in none less than the court of Heaven; and there they are judged, discussed, and responded to.
(1) Franz Delitzsch, A New Commentary on Genesis (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1888), pp.98,99.
(2) This is the thesis of David Kingston Angels and the Court of Heaven (1988).
(3) Rudolf Rijkeboer, Jesus' Last Message (Voorburg, Holland: De Broeders In Christus, 1998) p. 36.