In Ethiopia, and many other places, people worship angels. The conception of angelic beings may differ from place to place, but it is commonplace in many cultures for them to be worshipped.
The biblical witness suggests humans across time have engaged in the worship of angels
We might trace the idolatrous error of angel worship, at least among Christians, back to Roman Catholicism. For Roman Catholics have always seemed to revere, highly esteem, and even worship, angels.
However, the biblical witness suggests that humans across time have engaged in the worship of angels. For example, Paul opposed angel worship in the early church (Colossians 2:18). The problem of angel worship may also lie within the opening chapters of Hebrews. For the writer stresses Christ’s superiority over the angels (Hebrews 1:4; 2:2, 8).
We cannot parcel out to other beings the worship that God alone deserves
In this article I will contend that angel worship is nothing other than idolatry. If we are to be faithful to God then we cannot parcel out to other beings the worship that he alone deserves, even powerful angelic ones. Therefore Christians should never worship angels.
My argument rests on two points. Both of these come from the book of Revelation. Firstly, angels are servants of God. Secondly, they have no power to act on their own. They are messengers of God who submit to his will and carry out his purposes. Finally, I will draw out the application that God alone has the exclusive right to be worshipped.
John and The Book Of Revelation
The author of Revelation is the apostle John. He also authored the Gospel of John. In Revelation 1:9, he describes himself as the brother of the recipients, a partner in the tribulation and the kingdom. Like all Christians throughout the ages, John patiently endured while faithfully serving and witnessing to Jesus. Using a similar phrase, “those who are in Jesus” (Revelation 1:9), towards the close of the book John describes Christians as “those who keep the words of this book” (Revelation 22:9).
John was an ordinary believer writing for ordinary Christians.
Despite his extraordinary experience, recorded for us as Revelation, John was an ordinary believer writing for ordinary Christians.
Many believe that John was exiled to Patmos; very possibly for his faith. Thus he says that he was suffering “on account of the word of God” (Revelation 1:9). The book of Revelation is a vision from God for his Church (Revelation 1:1). Though some claim that the message of Revelation was historically specific, being God’s Word, it still has much to teach the Church. Specifically, in the remainder of this article, I want to unpack what Revelation has to teach us about angel worship.
Did The Apostle John Worship Angels?
Strikingly, even the Apostle John found himself almost instinctively worshipping an angel. Yet, as we will see below, the angel corrected him. John writes, “when I heard and saw them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who showed them to me, but he said to me, ‘You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers the prophets, and with those who keep the words of this book. Worship God’” (Revelation 22:8-9).
Even the Apostle John found himself almost instinctively worshipping an angel. Yet, the angel corrected him.
Elsewhere, in Revelation 19:10, John writes, “Then I fell down at [the angel’s] feet to worship, but he said to me, ‘You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God.’”
The Angel Refused To Be Worshipped
John fell at the feet of an angel in worship. He fell to the floor to pay homage. But he offered more than fearful reverence. He was tempted to worship the angel. The same word translated “worship” (Revelation 19:10; 22:8) is used to describe wise men worshipping baby Jesus (Matthew 2:11). Elsewhere it is used similarly, as people encounter Jesus in the Gospels (John 11:32; Mark 5:22; Luke 17:16). Furthermore, it is the word used by Satan in the temptation, when he invited Jesus to worship him (Matthew 4:9). Like the apostle John, many people today have fallen into the trap of worshiping angels.
Angels obey God. They are servants. Angel worship makes gods out of servants
Two Reasons Not To Worship Angels
However, the angel refuses John’s worship. He emphatically says, “you must not do that” (Revelation 22:9). Instead, he calls on John to, “worship God!” But more than merely refusing John’s worship, the angel provides two reasons for this prohibition. Many Christians would do well to hear and apply these reasons to their faith and practice.
1. Angels Are “Fellow Servants”
For one, the angel calls himself “a fellow servant.” Hebrews 1:14 actually goes further, showing that angels are servants of humanity. But, in Revelation, the angel will not receive John’s worship because – like John – he is a servant. Angels are not be worshipped because they are witnesses to Jesus (Revelation 19:10). This is repeated in Revelation 22:9. The angel says he is a fellow servant with John and the prophets. This second verse goes further, as the angel groups himself “with those who keep the words of this book” – with Christian believers.
Angels obey God. They are servants. Angel worship makes gods out of servants.
2. Angels Witness To Christ
The angel gives John a second reason why the apostle should not worship him. It is tied to the previous point. The angel says, “the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy” (Revelation 19:10). In essence, this is the “revelation of Jesus Christ” (Revelation 1:1; 19:9). God gave this to John through the sending of an angel. It is Jesus Christ who is made known in Revelation. The book reveals him in his glory. The vision centres on him being worshipped by all peoples.
The angel does not deserve to be worshipped. He is only bringing the message
The angel is only a messenger from God to witness to Jesus Christ. Jesus is the subject of John’s “revelation,” “the spirit of prophecy.” The prophecy or revelation does not belong to the angel or even John. Therefore, the angel does not deserve to be worshipped. He is only bringing the message; he is not the message but the messenger.
God’s work may be carried out by angels. However, as we see in Revelation, despite their role they do not seek reverence or worship. Their purpose is to carry out and witness to the works of God.
Worship God, Not Angels
Humans are no strangers to angel worship. Like the apostle John, at the Reformation, and in my own Ethiopia, many people throughout history have overly revered these messengers and workers of God. But the angel is only a servant of God, however mighty and magisterial. So even the angels refuse worship. In this sense, they are more like us than they are like God. He alone deserves worship. He alone is God.
God alone is the one who creates, redeems, provides, and sustains. Angels, acting as messengers of God, have only a derivative power
Because angels are not God we should heed his commands against idolatry (Exodus 20:3). “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before me” (Deuteronomy 5:6-7). God alone is the one who creates, redeems, provides, and sustains. Angels, acting as messengers of God, have only a derivative power. Therefore, worship God alone.