Angels: Fact or Fiction
I've noticed that all kinds of people are interested in angels - even those who don't claim to be Christians. A Time/CNN poll showed that in the USA at least 69% of Americans believed in angelic beings/guardian angels etc. There have been many movies and TV series with angels as central characters - and no end of books and articles about angels and other celestial beings.
This interest in angels is good because it shows that people are still open to spiritual ideas, still searching for answers beyond humanistic philosophies. The danger, of course, is that without Bible knowledge, the general public can easily be misled, and no wonder
Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light.
- II Corinthians 11:14
There are some popular misconceptions being circulated about angels in these books, magazines and movies. Some of the more common ones:
- Angels showing up out of nowhere to help stranded motorists or lost children.
- Angels appearing as strangers with just the right words of encouragement or insight.
- There are countless movies where angels help politicians, baseball players, small animals and do so invisible to everyone except the recipient of the help.
- One writer, Malcom Godwin, describes an 84 year old widow named Ruth Norman, who drives an electric blue Cadillac with a flying saucer on the roof, and claims to be the archangel Uriel (mentioned in Jewish and ancient Christian folklore).
The amazing thing is that she has managed to get 400 people to believe her. That would be funny if you didn't stop to think that we don't have that many folks who come here for worship on Sunday. Her congregation is bigger than ours. On a more serious note, there are some teachings about angels that are much darker and can lead one into very serious kinds of sin and destruction.
In one book, "Ask Your Angles," the author gives instructions on communicating with angels. He gives ways for conducting "inner telephone" exercises to call up your angels when you need to talk.
Sounds good, comfy and harmless until you read Deuteronomy 18:10-12:
No one shall be found among you who..practices divination, or is a soothsayer..or who consults ghosts or spirits..For whoever does these things is abhorrent to the Lord.
So we need to measure spiritual experiences including the popular talk about angels against the standard of tested Biblical truth. This morning we'll look at some of the basic things the Bible says about angels.
Facts About Angels
There are no places in the Bible where angels themselves are described at any length. There are no personality descriptions. There are no histories or discussions between angels (other than the archangel Michael rebuking Satan in their struggle over Moses' body). There are no passages showing what they thought or their opinions on anything. The Bible refers to angels mostly by what they did and is fairly consistent in this in both the Old and New Testaments.
The word "angel" in both Hebrew and Greek writing meant - "a messenger" whether sent from God or Satan. They are referred to in other ways however throughout the Bible:
- Angel of the Lord (Jehovah) - Genesis 16:9
- Sons of the mighty - Psalms 29:1
- Holy ones; council - Psalms 89:7
- Watchers - Daniel 4:13
- Congregation - Psalms 82:1
- Losts - Psalms 89:5
- Spirits - Hebrews 1:14
- Principalities, powers, thrones, dominions - Colossians 1:16
- Archangel - I Thessalonians 4:16
- There are other references but this is to show the variety of ways they are described.
We know that they are created beings (Colossians 1:16) and that they came into existence before the world was made. Job 38:7 says than angels rejoiced when the world was created. We tend to think that they are simply higher forms of humans - like invisible supermen. This is because they often appear in Scripture in the form of men (never as women). But angels are spirit beings that are not human and, as far as we know not made in the image of God - that is why humans will, in paradise, judge the angels (I Corinthians 6:3). There is no specific count of the number of angels that exist, as a matter of fact the Bible says that their number is countless - (Daniel 7:10). Although there is no "profile" of a particular angel, in order to understand their nature better we can gain insight about them in a variety of ways. One way is by examining several angels who are identified and some of their general characteristics.
1. The Bible names only a few individual angels:
- Gabriel ("man of God") who revealed visions to Daniel 8:16.
- Michael ("who is like God") who strengthened Daniel during one of his visions - Daniel 10:13
These same angels are mentioned in the New Testament:
- Gabriel who announced to Mary that she had conceived - Luke 1:19
- Michael who struggled with Satan for Moses' body - Jude 9
Jude says that Michael was an "archangel" which means chief angel. This suggests a hierarchy of heavenly beings with greater and lesser angels, various responsibilities. In Daniel 10:20-21 there is reference to the fact that different angels served as "princes" for different countries.
2. Sometimes a non-human name is used to refer to an angel.
The angel of the Lord. The angel of Jehovah.
In Genesis 16:7 we have the first reference to this particular angel with Hagar but later in Genesis 18 this same angel appears to Abraham and Abraham appeals to him to save Sodom. In Genesis 32:24 Jacob wrestles with this angel and says "I have spoken with God face to face." This same angel is prominent in other places:
- Moses and the burning bush - Exodus 3
- Leading Israel out of Egypt - Exodus 13
- Appearing to Gideon - Judges 6
This angel is especially fascinating because it is never clear if the angel is an angel or if it's the Lord. The thinking seems to be that God has sent Jesus in the person of an angel as a forerunner to His appearance as a man - following the natural order of creation. Angels created first, then man. The Son appears in the form of an angel and then He appears in the form of a man as Jesus.
3. The angel that is most evident in the Bible is Satan. He was and is an angel.
We don't know when Satan fell or have the details about it. All we know are the results. In II Peter 2:4 and Jude 6 the writers tell us that angels, including Satan sinned and were cast down. Jude explains that their sin was that they left their "domain", or their place. Some scholars thought that this referred to angels coming to earth and having sex with women and creating half man/half devils and for which the earth was eventually destroyed by flood (Genesis 6:1-ff).
This teaching is largely based on the Apocryphal book of Enoch and a belief in medieval witchcraft that said that a devil could act as an "incubus" and lie with a woman or as a "succubus" and lie with a man. The Bible doesn't support these ideas. The only info we have is that certain angels including Satan left their positions and thus sinned and for this God: (II Peter 2:4; Jude 6)
- Removed them from their positions.
- Committed them to pits of darkness.
- Reserved them for judgment, destruction.Limited their power and influence but did not eliminate it all together.
Why we see references to Satan and his angels' effect interrupting and leading forces of evil in the world. From this we can see several things about angels and their characteristics:
- They are intelligent and can process information, but do not know when Jesus will return - Matthew 24:36
- They can communicate
- They have responsibilities (discuss later)
- There is a hierarchy of angels
- They have free-will
- They recognize each other as distinct beings (ie. Michael speaks to Satan)
- They can experience feelings (they rejoiced at the creation of the world), but have no sensuous or sexual desire.
- They have power that can be expressed in the natural world (Angel of death in Egypt)
- They are eternal now
- They can take on human forms
But these and other characteristics are all subordinated to the reason for their existence which are not the same as man. They were not created for the same reasons man was created.
The Functions of Angels
Angels have several functions which define who they are and support the purpose of their initial creation. In other words, God created them for three main reasons:
1. They are messengers and instruments of divine will
They carry God's messages to different individuals: Angels spoke to Abraham, Moses, Daniel, Mary, Peter, John (among others). They were God's messengers to man. Today they no longer fulfill this role since we have God's complete message revealed to us once and for all in the Bible - Jude 3.
2. They minister to the saints - Hebrews 1:14
Here we have little information as to how they may do so in the modern era.
- Served the Jews in protecting them from enemies in the Old Testament
- Very involved in history. An angel ministered to Jesus in the desert and in the garden. - Matthew 4; Luke 22
- An angel released Peter from prison. - Acts 5
- Angels are said to be before God on behalf of children. - Matthew 18:10
But we have no other indications of how angels minister to us today in our everyday lives. I think this is where so much speculation comes in about their activities. In the absence of information, people "make-up" things.
What the Bible does say is that angels are active in relationships to our salvation.
- They rejoice at our repentance - Luke 15:10
- They hear our confessions of faith - Luke 12:8
- They watch over the church - Revelation 1:20
Their greatest activity and presence however seems to be at the end of the world
- They accompany Jesus - Matthew 25:31
- They separate the righteous from the wicked - Matthew 13:41
- They are involved in the judgment of Satan - Revelation 20:1-3
We know this much about how angels minister to the saints today, but the Bible is silent about any more and so to speculate beyond this point is to go beyond what is written ( and the Bible says we should not do this - I Corinthians 4:6).
3. They praise the name of the Lord
David repeatedly mentions the angels as the agents of heavenly praise - Psalms 103:21; Psalms 148:1. This pattern continues throughout the Bible. Whenever the prophets and apostles would have visions of heaven, they would describe the angels continually praising and serving God. Our praise is a compliment and a reflection of the ongoing praise that takes place in heaven.
What do we know about angels in this brief review of what the Bible teaches?
1. We know that a lot of what is written about them is not based on the Bible and the only angels that exist are the ones described in the Bible. Be careful.
2. We know that they are created, spirit-beings that have a variety of characteristics, referred to in different ways and that several of them including Satan are in rebellion towards God and will ultimately be totally restrained.
3. We also understand that they have major functions and that it is through these functions that they can best be defined. We know that:
- They are messengers
- They have and continue to minister to God's people in various ways
- They continually praise God in the heavenly dimension
Final point - Is there anything we can learn from angels even if they don't teach or preach? Yes, I think there are two major things we can learn from their behavior:
There are beings that have free will, power, intelligence beyond our own but their humility precludes them from ever using these to take our attention away from God. A beautiful example of this in Judges 13 where Manoah, the mother of Samson finds out from the angel of the Lord that her prayers have been answered and she will have a son. In her joy she wants to honor the angel by offering him a meal but he refuses and tells her to take the food and sacrifice it to God instead. What great things we could accomplish and peace we could experience if we could allow God to receive the credit and the honor for all that we do (rather than craving the honor of men and feel jealous when someone else is praised).
Peter said that God did not spare angels when they sinned - II Peter 2:4.
Here are these powerful, intelligent, spirit beings who were cast down from heaven when they disobeyed. Even angels, who are in the presence of God, have to obey the Lord. This should make us think twice when we doubt God's promises to bless those who obey Him and punish those who disobey Him. Before the world was created, this primal lesson was set before us in the heavenly places - how can we ignore such a clear and frightening reality?
There are many things we do not know about angels and I look forward to seeing and hearing them and joining them in the praise of our Lord in heaven. One thing I do know however, is that the angels that are observing our assembly will rejoice if one comes forward to confess Christ today or one comes forward to repent of sin and ask for forgiveness. We will begin the singing and hear by faith the countless angels rejoicing if you respond to the invitation.
If you need to come to Jesus come now as we and the angels sing.