My Guardian Angel

Michael S. Heiser

“Every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings.”

These are familiar words for those of us who make a holiday tradition of watching the classic film It’s a Wonderful Life. The angel Clarence helps George Bailey discover the unseen but tremendous significance his mundane life played in the lives of others. It’s a heartwarming story, full of hope and encouragement. But what about its theology? Are guardian angels—like Clarence—really biblical?


Jesus’ words in Matthew 18:10 suggest the answer is yes: “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.” The passage affirms that children have angels who represent them before God. Where did Matthew get such an idea?

In Job 5:1, angels are presented as mediators between God and people. Job’s friend Eliphaz challenges him: “Call now; is there anyone who will answer you? To which of the holy ones will you turn?” Eliphaz presumes that angels would act as mediators between God and Job.

This understanding was common in the biblical world. Ancient Mesopotamians, for example, believed that humans had “personal gods” who could appeal for them before the assembly of gods.

We no longer need a mediator. Through His death and resurrection, Jesus now intercedes on our behalf before God (1 Tim 2:5). But the New Testament still describes angels as having an immediate ministry to believers, as demonstrated by Hebrews 1:14: “Are they [angels] not all ministering spirits, sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?”

Also, the narrative in Acts 12 shows us a continued connection between angels and people. After an angel frees Peter from prison and execution, Peter goes to the house of his fellow believers (12:6–10). Those inside don’t believe the servant girl’s report that he is at the door. They reply, “It is his angel!” (12:15). This statement testifies to the early Christian belief that humans had angels who acted as a kind of celestial double—attached to a person for their welfare.

The concept of angelic guardianship and activity in our lives is something we have often left to the imagination. Apparently, Hollywood gets some biblical things right. God’s agents are commissioned to act on our behalf, at His direction.

Biblical references are from the English Standard Version (ESV).

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 4 No. 2

It Will Eat You Alive

Ezekiel 6:1–8:18; Revelation 2:12–29; Job 33:1–7

Idolatry eats at our souls. And God puts up with it for only so long.

“And the word of Yahweh came to me, saying, ‘Son of man, set your face to the mountains of Israel and prophesy against them, and you must say, “Mountains of Israel, hear the word of the Lord Yahweh, thus says the Lord Yahweh to the mountains and to the hills, to the ravines and to the valleys: ‘Look, I am bringing upon you the sword, and I will destroy your high places, and your altars will be desolate, and your incense altars will be broken, and I will throw down your slain ones before your idols, and I will place the corpses of the children of Israel before their idols, and I will scatter your bones around your altars’ ” (Ezek 6:1–6).

Ezekiel portrays God’s view of the true nature of idolatry and the ramifications of living an idolatrous life. When people put wood and stone, or gadgets and entertainment, before their relationship with Yahweh, they are giving up the most valuable part of themselves.

Today, most people place entertainment above God. We value celebrity more than Jesus. We may deny this, but if we closely examine how we spend our time and money, we find that we love our idols as much as the ancients did.

How can we as Christians be instruments for the changes God wants to bring to the world if we conform ourselves to the expectations of our culture? Where we invest our time, assets, and attention reveals what we care about most. If we give ourselves over to worldly priorities instead of God’s, we deserve the same fate that Yahweh prophesied for the children of Israel in Ezek 6:1–6.

But our good and gracious God wants to redeem us, and we should commit ourselves to seeking His blessing instead of His judgment (John 3:16–17; Rom 8). If we follow Him with our entire being—setting aside all that stands between us and Him—the world will look different. Idolatry will be revealed for what it is: a thief and a glutton, stealing the very lives God has in store for us. If we seek God with all our being, idolatry will hold no power over us. It will die from neglect while our lives take on new vitality as we boldly proclaim the glory of our life-giving God.

What idols stand between you and the life God has for you?

This article was originally posted in Connect the Testaments: A One-Year Daily Devotional with Bible Reading Plan.

John D. Barry is the CEO and founder of Jesus’ Economy, a nonprofit dedicated to creating jobs and churches in the developing world. To empower the extreme poor, Jesus’ Economy also has an online fair trade shop. John is also the general editor of Faithlife Study Bible and the former editor-in-chief of Bible Study Magazine. Learn more about John’s work with Jesus’ Economy at

Shelf Life Book Review: Children of God Storybook Bible

Naomi Boyer

Children of God Storybook Bible
Zondervan, 2011

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Bishop Desmond Tutu enlisted the help of 20 artists from around the world to illustrate the pages of Children of God. The result is a breathtaking array of art in a “global Bible for children.” The pages reflect a spectrum of skin tones and facial features, along with this message: “We are all God’s children.”

Each of the 56 stories is written using simple language for its target audience of children ages 4–7. Each story presents an attribute of God (e.g., “God is in charge”) along with a one-sentence prayer (e.g., “Dear God, help me to trust you when I am afraid”). The book is accompanied by two CDs featuring Tutu’s grandfatherly voice and South African accent.

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 4 No. 3

Has Jesus Already Returned?

Craig S. Keener

As Jesus laments Jerusalem’s impending judgment, He connects the destruction of the “house”—the temple—with His second coming: “See, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’ ” (Matt 23:38–39). Earlier, in Matthew 23:36, Jesus warns that the judgment will come on “this generation.” His prophecy was correct: Although some of the retaining wall survived, the temple proper was completely destroyed in 70 AD. Does Jesus’ connection of these events indicate that His second coming has come and gone already?

Come and Gone

We could conclude that Jesus came back figuratively in Jerusalem’s destruction, but later verses in this context suggest that Jesus intended a literal coming.

Jesus warns His disciples to discredit prophets claiming that He was on earth; rather, His coming would be like lightning shining from east to west (24:26–27). Borrowing the language of Daniel, Jesus promises to come “on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (24:30). He notes that the tribes of earth would mourn at His coming—not just Jerusalem, but all the earth (24:30). His visible coming will affect the entire earth.

Now and Later

So, if Jesus ties these events together, what was He intending the disciples to take away from His message?

When Jesus predicts the destruction of the temple in 24:1–2, His disciples ask two questions: “When will these things (i.e. the destruction of the temple) be?” and “What will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age?” (24:3).

Jesus answers both questions, but He doesn’t distinguish which one He is answering. He states that “these things” would be fulfilled within a generation (24:34). But He specifies that no one could know the hour of His coming—“not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only” (24:36).

Signs and Non-Signs

Jesus answers the question about the sign of His coming only after He lists many non-signs. In His day, many of His contemporaries claimed that earthquakes and wars were signs of the end. Jesus warns that people will see these events long before the end—but the end is “not yet” (24:6–8).

The only explicit sign of His coming would follow a period of tribulation, when His sign would appear in the sky: At His coming He will gather His followers with the sound of a trumpet (24:29–31).

Finally, Jesus gives one prerequisite for the end that was not fulfilled within His generation: When the good news of the kingdom has been proclaimed among all peoples, then the end will come (24:14). If we live in anticipation of Jesus’ return, there’s a part we can play.

Biblical references are from the English Standard Version (ESV).

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 4 No. 2

Burying Hell

Michael S. Heiser

Trans-Jordan During Joshua’s Lifetime

“Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah!… I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt 16:17–18). The “gates of hell”? Why did Jesus respond to Peter’s confession, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” in this way? (16:16)

The Gates of Hell in Cosmic Geography

When we read “hell,” we naturally think of the realm of the unbelieving dead. But the Greek word translated “hell,” hades (ᾅδης), is also the name for the Underworld—the realm of all the dead, not just unbelievers. The Hebrew equivalent to hades is Sheol—the place “under the earth,” where all went after this life ended.

Sheol had “bars” (Job 17:16) and “cords” to tie down its inhabitants (2 Sam 22:5–6), preventing any escape (Job 7:9). Both the righteous and the unrighteous went to Sheol. The righteous believer, however, could hope for deliverance and eternity with God (Psa 49:15).

While the imagery associated with the Underworld would have unnerved the disciples, Jesus’ reference to the gates of hades would have jolted them for another reason. If they knew their Old Testament well, they understood that they were standing before those very gates as Jesus spoke.

The Gates of Hell in Terrestrial Geography

Matthew 16 takes place in Caesarea Philippi, situated near a mountainous region containing Mount Hermon. In the Old Testament, this region was known as Bashan—a place with a sinister reputation.

According to the Old Testament, Bashan was controlled by two kings—Sihon and Og—who were associated with the ancient giant clans: the Rephaim and the Anakim (Deut 2:10–12; Josh 12:1–5). The two main cities of their kingdom were Ashtaroth and Edrei, home to the Rephaim (Deut 3:1, 10–11; Josh 12:4–5).

These cities and their Rephaim inhabitants are mentioned by name in Canaanite (Ugaritic) cuneiform tablets. The people of Ugarit believed the Rephaim were the spirits of dead warrior-kings. They also believed that the cities of Ashtaroth and Edrei were the entryway to the Underworld—the gates of Sheol. Also, during Israel’s divided kingdom period, Jereboam built a pagan religious center at Dan—just south of Mount Hermon—where the Israelites worshiped Baal instead of Yahweh.

For the disciples, Bashan was an evil, otherworldly domain. But they had two other reasons to feel queasy about where they were standing. According to Jewish tradition, Mount Hermon was the location where the divine sons of God had descended from heaven—ultimately corrupting humankind via their offspring with human women (see Gen 6:1–4). These offspring were known as Nephilim, ancestors of the Anakim and the Rephaim (Num 13:30–33). In Jewish theology, the spirits of these giants were demons (1 Enoch 15:1–12).

To make the region even spookier, Caesarea Philippi had been built and dedicated to Zeus. This pagan god was worshipped at a religious center built a short distance from the more ancient one in Dan—at the foot of Mount Hermon. Aside from the brief interlude during the time of Joshua through Solomon, the gates of hell were continually open for business.

Jesus Declares War

The rock which Jesus referred to in this passage was neither Peter nor Himself; it was the rock on which they were standing—the foot of Mount Hermon, the demonic headquarters of the Old Testament and the Greek world.

We often presume that the phrase “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” describes a Church taking on the onslaught of evil. But the word “against” is not present in the Greek. Translating the phrase without it gives it a completely different connotation: “the gates of hell will not withstand it.”

It is the Church that Jesus sees as the aggressor. He was declaring war on evil and death. Jesus would build His Church atop the gates of hell—He would bury them.

Biblical references are from the English Standard Version (ESV).

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 4 No. 2