In 1 Timothy 5:21 we read: “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels I charge you to keep these rules without prejudging, doing nothing from partiality.”
1) Do we know who the ‘elect’ angels are?
2) Why does Paul include the elect angels in this charge along with God and Christ Jesus?
3) Why does Paul give this strong charge right at this point in his letter. It does seem like there are instructions in the following verses that Paul could have included before the charge.
As with so many passages, the context must be carefully examined to see what the passage is referring to. This is particularly important in the passage leading up to the verse being examined in this question. The words in this verse, “these rules” show us that this charge has to do with the preceding verses. Those verses place on Timothy a most solemn responsibility. And, since we should seek to walk as Timothy walked before the Lord, these responsibilities must be felt by all of us.
Verses 17–20 give the responsibilities of an elder. This is the most important role in maintaining discipline in the local church (assembly). See, for example, 1 Peter 5:1–4. The correction of an elder is taken up in verses 19 and 20 in the passage in Timothy we are considering. This is a serious matter. So, verse 21 reminds Timothy that this responsibility is to be taken up as in the very presence of God, Christ Jesus, and also of the elect angels.
We notice first that the Lord Jesus is addressed as “Christ Jesus”. This name reminds us of two main aspects of His Person. First, Christ is “The Anointed” and reminds us that He is God’s chosen one, risen from the dead, ascended, and seated at God’s right hand. Secondly, He is “Jesus,” the one who would “save his people from their sins.” (Matt. 1:21) The appreciation of these attributes must govern us in such an action as we are considering. Angels are also observers of the order in the local assembly (Eph. 3:10; 1 Cor. 11:10) and so it is appropriate that Timothy be reminded of their interest in such an important activity. This is quite consistent with the gravity of the situation.
As to the term “elect angels”, Scripture does not give any particular angel that designation. Only two angels are mentioned by name, Michael and Gabriel, in very specific situations. (Dan. 8:6; Dan. 10:21; Jude 9; Lk. 1:26) But, there are many angels who are servant-messengers for God. (Heb. 1:7; Heb. 12:22) The term elect is applied to saints generally. So, I would think that the term would be used similarly for angels. By contrast, we know of angels who could not be considered “elect.” They are kept in chains awaiting judgment. (2 Pet. 2:4; Jude 6) To summarize, the “elect angels” then, are those who have remained faithful servants of God.
The reason angels are mentioned is because, as noted above, they are observers of God’s order in the assembly. In this way, they learn the “all various wisdom of God.” (Eph. 3:10) It also emphasizes the solemn responsibility of judging elders in verse 20—a very serious undertaking.
I want to notice further that verse 21 includes a serious warning. This action is to be taken up “without prejudging, doing nothing from partiality.” Those who judge are always in danger of being led astray by these two faults. Both prejudice and partiality must be assiduously guarded against.
I think one final comment is necessary. While I believe verse 21 most specifically refers to the immediate context, the admonition really has more general applicability. All the “rules” given by God described in this epistle and elsewhere certainly should be done as in the presence of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who is Head of the assembly.