Biblical Worship

4. What Is 'Worship of Angels'?

By Dr. Paul M. Elliott
What was this first-century worship perversion, and why should it concern us today?

From the TeachingtheWord Bible Knowledgebase

Part 4 of a 20-part series. Read part 3.

What was this first-century worship perversion, and why should it concern us today?

Let no one cheat you of your reward, taking delight in false humility and worship of angels, intruding into those things which he has not seen... (Colossians 2:18)

As we continue to study Colossians 2:18-23 with a particular focus on the question of genuine and counterfeit worship, we come to words in verse 18 that require explanation

Paul describe the nature of one of the specific kinds of counterfeit worship that false teachers were seeking to impose on the Colossian church - "the worship of angels." What does he mean? If we were to look at those words in the original Greek by themselves, lifted out of context, it would be possible to translate them in two very different ways, but only one can be correct.

Alternative number one would be to translate them as "the worship given by or instituted by angels." Some commentators have tried to say that this is what Paul was speaking against. But this interpretation ignores the context. It ignores the spiritual situation that was threatening the Colossian church, and threatening other churches in that region. It also ignores what we subsequently find in the history of the church, in the decades and centuries that followed.

These factors support the other alternative for translating these words. What we find is that "the worship of angels" in context literally means "angel worship." Worshipping angels.

Why Promote Such a Thing?

We may reasonably ask, why would people promote such a thing? Why would people try to bring such a thing into the church? Once again, we need to remember the situation that the Colossian believers faced. They were a Christian minority among a pagan majority, just as we are today. One of the leading pagan influences that they faced, every day, was the religious philosophy that would later become known as Gnosticism. The Gnostics had a very confused and un-Biblical view of God and His created order, because their beliefs were rooted in pagan polytheism - a belief in many gods.

The ultimate form of God is remote, the Gnostics said. The ultimate form of God cannot not be known or accessed directly. But God has many components, the Gnostics said. God takes the form of many lower beings.

And so these people were telling the Christians, "You are wrong to think that you can worship God directly. You are wrong to think that you can access God directly in the person of Jesus Christ. That is a proud thought. No, you must be humble. You must approach God by worshipping these other lower beings, these many components and celestial servants of the great and unknowable God. You must worship angels."

This worship of angels involved an outward show of humility, an outward show of what was supposed to be a superior reverence for God. The thinking behind it was this: Oh, I can't approach God directly. I can't worship God directly. I, a mere man, must worship these lower forms. I must worship God through these intermediate beings. And perhaps, perhaps, somehow I can reach the distant and unknowable God in this way.

Angel Worship Forbidden - "Worship God!"

But what does Scripture say? The Word of God clearly and emphatically forbids the worship of angels. Let me mention three passages that deal with this.

Satan, who himself is an angel - Satan, who often comes to the church transforming himself into an angel of light, Paul tells us - tried to cause our Lord Jesus Christ to sin during the temptation in the wilderness by causing Jesus Himself to engage in angel worship.

Again, the Devil took Him [Jesus] up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to Him, "All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me" [if you will worship an angel - in this case, a fallen one]. Then Jesus said to him, "Away with you, Satan! For it is written, 'You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve.' " (Matthew 4:8-10)

Twice in the book of Revelation we see the Apostle John prevented from worshipping an angel. In both cases, John is so moved by a portion of the revelation that he has been given from the hand of an angel, that he wants to fall down and worship the messenger of God.

In Revelation chapter 18, beginning at verse 21, we find that "a mighty angel" reveals the final fall of prophetic Babylon, and the final triumph of the Lord God omnipotent who reigns forever. And then in Revelation chapter 19, verse 10 we read this:

And I [John] fell at his feet [the feet of this mighty angel] to worship him. But he said to me, "See that you do not do that! I am your fellow servant, and of your brethren who have the testimony of Jesus. Worship God! For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy."

Again in Revelation chapter 21, beginning at verse 9, an angel reveals to John a vision of the New Jerusalem. And in chapter 22, beginning at verse 8, we read this:

Now I, John, saw and heard these things. And when I heard and saw, I fell down to worship before the feet of the angel who showed me these things. Then he said to me, "See that you do not do that. For I am your fellow servant, and of your brethren the prophets, and of those who keep the words of this book. Worship God."

In the book of Hebrews, that great revelation of the significance of the Old Testament types and symbols concerning our Lord Jesus Christ, how does the writer begin? He begins, in chapter one, by declaring the superiority of the Lord Jesus Christ to the angels. He declares that the angels are not components of God, but the creations of God. They are His ministering servants. He declares that Christ came into this world, for a time made a little lower than the angels as He took on a human body, in order to suffer for sin and open the way to the very throne room of God once and for all.

"Let all the angels of God worship Him" the writer declares (Hebrews 1:6). Let us, the writer says at the end of chapter 4, come boldly, directly, before the throne of grace - not through a host of angels, not through lower beings, but through the intercession and the worship of God the Son Himself, the Lord Jesus Christ.

A Lesson We Must Learn Well

Dear friends, you may be wondering why, in our day and time, we should be concerned with this. What is the significance of it? The significance is the fact that the Colossian church was witnessing the beginning of a heresy that would plague the church from that day until the present day.

First it would plague the churches in the region of Phrygia, in which Colosse was located, for many centuries. As time went on, this heresy would spread far beyond Colosse. Christian writers of the late third and early fourth centuries, over 350 years after Paul warned the Colossians about this evil, tell us that the worship of angels was still a problem in some parts of the church.

Here is a lesson we must learn well: Once a man-made doctrine enters the church, it is difficult to stamp it out. Even when we think that a man-made doctrine has been eradicated, we must remain on our guard, because the same evil is likely to appear again - perhaps in the same part of the visible church, or perhaps in some other part of it.

Virtually all cults and false religions base their teachings on some vision or revelation that some man or woman has supposedly received. It is sufficient for us to say this one thing with certainty: All such claims are false. The claims of these intruders into the church at Colosse were false, and such claims by contemporary false teachers are lies as well.

That is what Paul tells the Colossian believers in chapter one of this same epistle. He declares that Jesus Christ is God's final and complete revelation to mankind. The doctrine of Christ is the only authoritative doctrine. Let no one cheat you with man-made doctrines, Paul says, that can lead you into such evils as counterfeit worship.

Reject self-made religion, dear Christian. Worship the Triune God as He commands.


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