In a previous blog, All Their Hosts, I wrote to you about angels. I would like to expand certain aspects of that discourse in this message. In particular, we focused on the fact that angels may be considered to be of the substance of the heavens. In order to come to that understanding, it was necessary to discover the greatest association that angels have in terms of three kinds of realms. The three were: Eternity (The Eternal), the Heavens, and the Earth. We all understand that “the heavens and the earth” are the main components of what I call The Creation. The two main contexts of existence are The Eternal and The Creation (heavens and earth). In that analysis, we really started with the question of whether angels should be associated with The Eternal or The Creation. The reason this analysis matters is that most Christians unthinkingly associate angels with The Eternal. In fact, though, angels are created beings. Thus, angels are associated with The Creation and not The Eternal. More specifically, we examined the relationship that angels have with the heavens, rather than with the earth. In essence, Genesis 2:1 leads to the inference that angels were created within the context of the creation of the heavens. Thus they are of the substance of the heavens. This is not a technical or theological conclusion as far as I know. It is my own, so I take responsibility for it.
In the development of that idea, we put forward the concept of three basic categories of substances: of the eternal, of the heavens, and of the earth (eternal, heavenly and earthly if you prefer). By implication; eternal substance has to do with The Eternal, heavenly substance has to do with heavenly things, and earthly substance has to do with things in the earth. The general term “of the substance of” has been adopted to refer to the fact that the existence of something can be best thought of as being primarily associated with the existence of one of the three contexts (or sources) of substance. So a phenomenon or entity that is primarily associated with earth is of the substance of earth. For example, as far as we know a volcano is a phenomenon associated only with the earth. Hence, a volcano is of the substance of earth. For that matter, volcanism (the forces inherent in the activity of volcanoes) is of the substance of the earth because it is inherent to the earthly phenomenon of volcanoes. Insofar as life is concerned, a hyena is not of the substance of the heavens, but of the substance of the earth.
When we consider angels, we might claim they are of the substance of the heavens for two primary reasons. First, we know a lot about angels in the context of heaven from the book of Revelation. They are seen ascending and descending between heaven and earth in Jacob’s dream. Scripture contains quite a few examples of angels interacting with humans in the earth, but we are always left with the feeling they don’t really belong here and are on a mission which requires them to be here for a while, and will return to the heavens upon completion of the mission. Consider, for example, Daniel’s visitor in Daniel 10. Overall, we just “know” that heaven gives meaning to angels. Second, Genesis 2:1 strongly implies my conclusion that angels are of the substance of the heavens. In All Their Hosts, we examined the fact that angels are often associated with eternal matters, but in fact their existence has to do with the heavens.
The substance of The Eternal is a different kind of discussion for us. The entity we most centrally associate with The Eternal is God Himself (or the Godhead). We cannot state definitively that God is of the substance of the eternal. To make such an ascription would seem to place some sort of limitation on God. Only God can limit God in any way. He is omnipotent, but He might place restrictions on the application of His own power. For example, one must believe in the only begotten son in order to have eternal life (John 3:16). This is in spite of the fact that God loves the world so much that He made that provision Himself. God is the one who determined that rule and enforces it. No other power can compel Him in the matter. He cannot be required to make it so except by Himself. Hence, we might as well suggest that The Eternal is of the substance of God as the other way around. It might even be that the two ideas are the same. Of the substance of the eternal might be exactly equivalent to of the substance of God in its meaning.
For all practical purposes, any given entity is of only one substance. What I mean is that an entity that is of the substance of the heavens is not also of the substance of the earth. It is one or the other. God is not of the substance of the heavens and God is not of the substance of the earth. Angels are not of the substance of the eternal and angels are not of the substance of the earth. They are only of the substance of the heavens. This is a substance of a “higher order” than the substance of the earth. I base this statement on two things. First, man is lower than angels, but only temporarily (Hebrews 2:5-8). That the inferiority of men to angels is temporary implies that men will not (do not have to) remain inferior to angels. In fact, in the age to come, Man will be superior to angels and will even judge angels (1 Corinthians 6:3). But for now, entities of the substance of earth are “lower than” entities that are of the substance of the heavens. The second argument relates to the throne of God. That throne is undoubtedly of the substance of the heavens. When Jesus taught His disciples to pray (Matthew 6:9-10), He appealed to the “quality” of the heavens in terms of the will of God, and taught us to petition the Father to ask that men be visited with such adherence to the will of God. Thus, by any reasonable inference, the heavens are “higher” than earth. Hence the substance of the heavens is higher than the substance of earth.
It seems to go without saying that entities that are of the substance of the eternal are of a higher order than those of either of the other two kinds. In fact, The Creation (heavens and earth) can be usefully thought of as being of the substance of the eternal. By definition, this makes the eternal “higher” than the others. We have this then. The substance of The Eternal is “higher” in quality than the substance of the heavens or the substance of the earth.
The Eternal – highest order of substance
The Heavens – second order of substance
The Earth – lowest order of substance
These statements indicate that, by default, an entity from any one kind of substance is either higher than or lower than an entity from another kind of substance based on the the hierarchy specified above. I have no doubt that Jacob’s wrestling “partner” (Genesis 32:24-32) could have simply overpowered Jacob at any point in the long wrestling match. He did not do so, but it appears he was there to test Jacob’s resolve to overcome leading to the receipt of the new name (Revelation 2:17).
Using the logic of this analysis, we can understand why scripture declares that Man is “for a little while lower than the angels” (Psalm 8:4-5, Hebrews 2:7, NASB). Man, as we know him in the mode of flesh, is of a substance that is lower than the substance from which an angel comes. He rules already in matters of the earth, but is lower than the angels for now.
But what about the “little while” part of the passage? A straightforward reading suggests that man is lower than the angels for a little while. This implies the “lower than” condition is temporary. Man is of a lower order of substance than angels temporarily. This suggests that after some time, or after some change in condition, Man will no longer be lower than the angels.
How can such a thing be? Man is of the substance of the earth and angels are of the substance of the heavens. So angels should always be of a higher order, and cannot be lower than Man. Logic would dictate such a concluion.
“For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22, NASB). Notice there is a change in status in this great declaration by Paul. The temporary status for all men is death when men are in Adam. But when men are in Christ they will be made alive. Let’s consider these two statements about temporary status in conjunction with one another.
Man is “for a little while lower than the angels” (Psalm 8:5, NASB) implies some future state change. Man will go from being lower than the angels (actually gods) to not being lower. “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22, NASB) implies a change in state also. In the first state Man is under a curse of death due to Adam. In the state change, Man transitions to being made alive in Christ. I propose the following:
- Man is lower than the angels as long as Man is “in Adam”. In that condition, death is the outcome.
- Man is to become not lower than the angels when Man is made to be alive in Christ. In that condition, there is no death.
The change, or transformation, from Statement 1 to Statement 2 is most interesting. The original passages are cast in different terms but our combination of them is quite reasonable and expands each of the two passages for us.
Can the state change we have just examined have anything to do with the substance of which some entity is? When we say that Man is lower than the angels, we also suggest that the substance of which man is made (of earth) is inferior to the substance of which angels are made (of the heavens). But when Man arrives at the state in which he is no longer lower than the angels, is man still of the inferior substance? To take this question further, does the change from being lower than angels to not being lower angels equivalent to a change in substance? Is changing from a state that is characterized by death to a state that is characterized by being made alive be equivalent to a change in substance as well? Can we say the two state changes (being very similar) result in a change of substance?
I propose the answers to these inquiries is that Man, alone of all creatures by the way, has available to him the possibility of actually experiencing a change in substance. Man can be of the substance of the earth and of at least one other substance (heavens or eternal). In fact, this is not as much a state change as it is a dual (possibly triple) state. Man, under certain conditions, is of the substance of earth and of the substance of the heavens and/or eternity. The distinction discussed in John 3:16-18 seems to suggest that, at the point of belief, a person transitions from being of the substance of earth to being of another substance.
But, in reality, it seems the answer is more complex than that. I suggest that we are actually of two or of all three substances, at least after believing in the only begotten Son, which is a state change. We are of both until that which is of the substance of earth passes away. But we do not have to wait until that time to be of the substance of the heavens. We are of the substance of earth from the time we are born in the flesh. In that sense, we are “in Adam.” We become of the substance of the heavens when we come to be “in Christ,” born of the spirit. Short of coming to the place that we come to be in Christ, we are always only of the substance of earth. In that way lies a priori condemnation. After coming to that place where we are in Christ, we are then of the substance of the heavens, or of the eternal.
At the time of the creation of Adam, the Creator breathed His own breath into the inert material that was substance of the earth. That “deposit” was however, of the substance of the heavens OR of the eternal. So man comes with at least two substances in him. Human life is largely about setting aside the weakness of the substance of earth (lower than angels) in favor of life in Christ which is higher than that of the angels and is of a higher substance.
In John 17:13-26 Jesus offered up a very powerful priestly prayer. I encourage you to read it. It suggests something powerful about the true substance of which you are. You will be greater than angels. It’s not just that you will not be lower – you will be greater if you are to judge the angels (1 Corinthians 6:3). There is a hint that we are of a higher order than they, at least at the time of that judgment to come. Combine that fact with the prayer of Jesus and you have a suggestion that we are of the substance of eternity due to the breath of God in us. Wow! In a dusty garment, the presence of God. My my.