Do you know that we are to test every spirit? But, you ask, what if an angel appears before me? Let’s see what 1 John 4:1 says:
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.
In the book of Acts, the centurion Cornelius had a vision. Cornelius was a Godly man, however, he was a Gentile. In those days, the Jews treated Gentiles differently because they weren’t of the holy race that God had designated. Regardless, there were many proselytes, i.e. those who weren’t Jews, who desired to be part of the Jewish belief system in order to worship the One true God.
In Cornelius’ vision, we’re first told in Acts, 10:3 that an angel of God appeared to him. Subsequently, when he related his experience to Peter in Acts 10:30, we learn:
And Cornelius said, “Four days ago, about this hour, I was praying in my house at the ninth hour, and behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing… “
This was quite convincing to him, but what made him believe this was truly an angel of God? We who read this account know the truth because the text tells us so. In the case of Cornelius, how would he know?
I ask this question because the Apostle Paul warns the church at Corinth in 1 Corinthians 11:14:
And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.
Thus, what could have shown itself to Cornelius had as much possibility of being from God as opposed to being from Satan.
This becomes an interesting question – even a dilemma – based on an incident I heard about the other day. A good, solid, Christ-believing pastor was conducting a church service for his flock. Suddenly he saw an angel standing by the altar. The angel was beautiful and magnificent. Its light was bright and stunning. However, as the pastor observed this angel, he happened to let his eyes travel downward. To his surprise, the angel’s feet were dirty. How could that be? If this was truly an angel of God, there would be no spot or blemish to mar him. Yet, this angel had dirty feet!
The pastor knew this anomaly could not stand. There was a problem. Because he was discerning and knowledgeable in the Word of God, the pastor realized this apparition was not of God. Why? Because he was able to do as the verse above in 1 John demands, i.e. that we test every spirit. The test in this case was seeing the dirty feet and knowing this was an impossibility.
For Cornelius, he might not have had the background of this pastor, but what the angel told him lined up with the Word of God as he knew it. Surely he had read in the Tanakh, the Jewish Old Testament, that God honored those who honored him. Sure enough, this angel told him in Acts 10:4 that his faithfulness had come to God’s attention. For that loyalty he’d exhibited, God wanted to bless him.
Cornelius had no idea what this would look like, but he was obedient to the vision and sent for Peter. For his part, Peter likewise had a vision. It puzzled him, but the message agreed with Scripture. The Jews hadn’t been terribly obedient to God’s Word over the years, but as Peter pondered what had been told him, he knew that the Jews were to be a blessing to the world, just as Genesis 22:18 says:
“and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.”
Obediently, Peter complied with the request to go see Cornelius. He likewise had no idea what God had in mind. However, look at what happened when two people trusted the true Word of God and obeyed!
Peter went into the Gentile household, which he instinctively as a Jew could not do. He preached the Gospel to Cornelius and the others with him. This went beyond just knowing the Jewish God. This proclaimed Jesus as God and Lord.
Through the immediate belief Cornelius and the others professed, they were saved. Because they’d been prepped beforehand with the angelic visit, they were ready to receive whatever Peter said. To Peter’s astonishment, they weren’t only saved, they were Baptized in the Holy Spirit. How did he know? It was quite evident. They began speaking in tongues, a sure sign of that baptism.
From witnessing this, Peter could no longer deny that Gentiles were part of God’s plan of redemption. He said in Acts 10:47:
“Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?”
He realized that in God’s sight, these Gentiles had become as worthy of being part of this new thing God was doing in the earth through Jesus Christ as any Jew. He baptized them and remained for several days teaching them.
All this came because the experience of encountering God through His angelic messenger was true. In considering this we have to understand that discernment is a huge part of what we as followers of Christ must practice. This is vitally important in this current age.
Just as John says as noted above, the world is full of false prophets. They are sent out by spirits that are not of God, yet impersonate those that He does send.
Our warning for today is that just because a man in bright clothing may stand before us, it doesn’t necessarily follow that he is truly an angel of God. Let us discern the spirits. Does what they say and do line up with Scripture? If not, we must reject them. Let’s not be deceived.