I’m sorry, but no study of this subject would be complete without a look at Isaiah 6:1-7. This is one of the most awe-inspiring passages in the Bible, but it also provides a lot of insights into a lot of subjects. For our purposes, we’re going to look at what it says about angels and what they’re doing in Heaven.
The conventional interpretation of today’s reading is that it’s Isaiah’s official calling to be a prophet. He was going to encounter a lot of opposition in his ministry, so the Lord decided right off the bat to give him a good understanding of exactly whom he was serving. So in this instance he parted the veil and let the prospective prophet see what was going on behind the scenes.
Before we get into the details, I have to provide the standard disclaimer concerning anything like this. When the Lord is trying to convey a spiritual truth to us, he uses an earthly metaphor which is something we can understand and relate to. There’s not a physical throne room up in Heaven with a literal chair made of gold or silver or wood. The Lord does not have a literal robe with literal tassels. Angels do not have wings with feathers like a bird. But they are trying to make known to us an experience which is completely alien to us by using an image that’s familiar and which has some similarity to the reality.
I’ve used this illustration before, so forgive me if it’s old hat to you, but it’s the best one I’ve found. Imagine that there's a guy in Africa in a tribe which has never had any exposure to the outside modern world. You magically transport him to a main street in a major city for one hour, then transport him back to his home. His job, once he returns, is to explain what he saw and experienced to his fellow tribesmen. Everything he saw had to be interpreted through what he'd experienced in life up to that point. He might tell them about the big metal elephants (cars) which swallowed people took them from one place to the other. However he'd interpret cell phones being held to peoples' ears, he'd have to interpret that according to what he'd known up to that point in his life in Africa.
With that said, let’s look at the story. Isaiah entered not the physical temple on earth, but had a vision of the true temple, of which the one on earth is just a poor copy. The first thing the man sees when he enters is the Lord, seated on a throne. The train of his robe, like an earthly king, filled the temple. The length of the robe is to convey majesty and sovereignty and absolute authority.
But now I want to focus on the real subject at hand. Every angel in the vision had everything he needed. He had six wings: Two with which to fly, two to cover his face, and two to cover his feet. The two wings for flying were to enable him to perform any assigned task. That fits in with the traditional image of angels with wings, right?
But the other four wings, these are new! The angels covered their face because they could not gaze directly at the face of God Almighty. They covered their feet which acknowledged their lowliness in the Presence.
My friend, I’d like to remind you that just about every time an angel appears to a person in Scripture, the first words out of the angel’s mouth is “Don’t be afraid!” The Apostle John was tempted to bow down before one and worship it and had to be restrained by the angel itself--not once, but twice! They're bursting with power and glory and light. They’ve lived for thousands if not millions of years. They’ve seen things and done things and experienced things which are totally outside our frame of reference. And they're without sin. It’s not as if they have something concrete to be ashamed about. But these angels dare not look straight at the face of our Father.
And what do they do in Heaven? What’s the greatest honor to which they aspire? To call out to one another “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” They live to proclaim to each other the holiness of God Almighty.
There are two immediate applications which come to my mind. First, I'm very thankful for the privilege of calling God my Father. One day, I’m going to do something these angels were not able to do, something they did not dare to do: I’m going to look right into the face of the Lord of the Universe and call him “Papa.” “We know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.”
Second, I think the angels here provide a wonderful corrective on our me-centered view of the Afterlife. The center of attention in Heaven is God. Everything revolves around him. That’s who’s important in the next life, and he should be my passion in this one.
Father God, I join with the angels right now: Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of your glory.