by William J. Stewart
Take heed that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that in heaven their angels always see the face of My Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 18:10)
Jerome, in his commentary on Matthew 18:10, stated, “how great the dignity of the soul, since each one has from his birth an angel commissioned to guard it.” Is this so? Do we all have an angel assigned to us, who is watchful over us in this life?
These Little Ones
Who are the little ones Jesus refers to? Does He mean the little children who He had set in their midst (v 2), and other young children? Or does He mean those who would become like little children, and thus enter the kingdom of heaven (v 3)? The latter would seem to be the more logical, since the child was used only for an illustration. The illustration having been established, Jesus warns about causing “one of these little ones” to sin (v 6). He is not referring to the child any longer, but to those who believe in Him—to Christians. It is reasonable to conclude likewise that the “little ones” of verse 10 are Christians.
Is there an angel who is responsible to watch over me specifically, and another which was assigned to you alone? Certainly, that is how some have understood this text. Since the Lord speaks in plural terms (these little ones / their angels), we cannot know fur sure. All we can know from the text is that there is a plurality of little ones and a plurality of angels.
In Hebrews 1:14, of the angels, it is said, “Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation?” The writer seemingly refers to the same angelic responsibility that Jesus formerly mentioned. The “little ones” are herein identified as those who will inherit salvation—again, Christians. The angels are “ministering spirits” – they are commissioned by God with responsibilities to do with God’s children. What specifically do they do? Neither Matthew 18 nor Hebrews 1 tell us, but elsewhere in the Bible, we see portions of their service.
Ministering Spirits Sent Forth
Through Hebrews 1, the writer demonstrates the superiority of the Christ over the angels. He is the “express image” of the Father (v 3), the object of worship to the angels (v 6). From the time Jesus appeared on the earth, we see the angels intently interested in Him:
- Messengers of His conception and birth (Luke 1:30-31; 2:8-14)
- Support for Him after His temptation (Matthew 4:11)
- At His beckon call, should He need them (Matthew 26:53)
- Messengers of His resurrection (Matthew 28:5-7)
- Witnesses and messengers at His ascension (Acts 1:10-11)
Not only were they ministers to the Lord, but they have been and are ministers to all who would inherit salvation. Consider:
- God used an angel to bring together Cornelius (the seeking soul) and the apostle Peter (the gospel preacher), Acts 10:1-8.
- Angel bear those who have died in Christ to paradise, Luke 16:22.
- The angel Michael stood watch over God’s people, Daniel 12:1.
- Angels brought Lot and his family out of Sodom, Genesis 19:15-17.
- An angel shut the mouth of the lions which Daniel was confined in their den, Daniel 6:22.
We could consider a number of other Bible examples where angels were used to minister to the needs of God’s people, but these will suffice. There is no doubt that God has commissioned the angels to watch over the saints, but it would be folly to conclude that since this is true, nothing bad will come. The idea that a personal guardian angel protects each of us from danger is both contrary to our personal experiences and what we read of in the Bible. No angel protected Stephen from the angry Jewish Sanhedrin (Acts 7). James was not saved from king Herod’s desire to harass the church (Acts 12). Neither do angels protect us today from all that might harm us.
Unseen and Strangers
The Hebrew writer penned, “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels” (13:2). This is quite likely a reference to Abraham, who prepared a meal for those who came to him in Genesis 18. Though we may never see an angel of God while dwelling upon the earth, the writer’s direction compels us to serve those who are strangers among us—who knows who it may be that we serve. What we know, and can be assured of is that the angels of God are watchful over us, and they are ministering spirits for us, whether we see them or not.
Recall Elisha’s servant, who was distressed at the sight of the Syrian army surrounding the city wherein he was (2 Kings 6:15-17)? Elisha did not share his fear, for he was well aware God’s angels were present. Though we may not see the angels of God about us, we can have assurance they are present, serving according to the Lord’s bidding.
There is no evidence that Jesus meant to say, nor that any Bible writer believed there to be personal guardian angels for the children of God. The word “guardian” is not once used in the Bible with reference to an angel. What we know is the angels of God (as a whole) are watchful over the people of God (as a whole). As they ministered to the faithful of times past and to the Lord Himself, they are present to minister to the children of God today. We may not see them, we may not be aware of the works which they engage in, but we can be assured that these servants of God are fulfilling their duty as ministering spirits.