January 29, 2017
Angels are a favorite subject of many people. They often serve as inspiration for artists, musicians, and film makers, as well as in-depth study for theologians, although the former do not often depict them as accurately as the latter. The Bible declares that angels are very real, not mythical creatures as some people believe. We know this because these celestial beings are referred to in Scripture at least 196 times, 103 times in the Old Testament and 93 times in the New Testament. These many references are scattered throughout the Bible, being found in a minimum of 34 books from the very earliest books (Job and Genesis) all the way to the last book of the Bible (Revelation). Jesus not only spoke of angels, but is the one who created them. Paul wrote, “For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities - all things have been created by Him and for Him.” (Colossians 1:16)
So what can we learn about them in the Bible? And how does what the Bible says about them differ from some common conceptions and depictions of angelic beings?
Just using the three Scripture readings you heard this morning we can gather quite a bit of information about angels. In Psalm 103 they are described as mighty, and from other verses in Scripture we can infer they do indeed possess superhuman strength. We are told they do God’s bidding and obey His Word. Of course this is not true of the fallen angels, but of the ones that did not participate in Lucifer’s revolt against, and fall from, heaven. The psalmist says they praise the Lord, and calls them ‘heavenly host’. Heaven is their primary abode, although some are sent to earth to minister to us, and others do battle in the area between heaven and earth.
From our reading in Acts 12 (vs. 5-11), we know that angels can give off light, can do miraculously works in the material world (such as loosening Peter’s chains and opening the locked cell door), and in this case did so in answer to prayer. Now, let’s read further in that chapter… “When this had dawned on him, he went to the house of Mary the mother of John, also called Mark, where many people had gathered and were praying. Peter knocked at the outer entrance, and a servant named Rhoda came to answer the door. When she recognized Peter’s voice, she was so overjoyed she ran back without opening it and exclaimed, ‘Peter is at the door!’ ‘You’re out of your mind,’ they told her. When she kept insisting that it was so, they said, ‘It must be his angel.’” (vs. 12-15) And while it was indeed Peter at the door, those last five words would seem to indicate that Christians have a personal angel! Jesus Himself confirms this in Matthew 18:10 where He says, “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.” And are we not all his little ones?
Our reading in Hebrews 1 is very important because it proves the error of a major doctrine of the Jehovah’s witnesses. They believe that Jesus Christ and Michael the archangel are one and the same. But this chapter clearly states that this is not so. Jesus is not a mere angel, but the Son of God, the second person of the Holy Trinity. Besides assuring us of this fact, Paul also tells us in verse 14, “Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation? And who are those who will inherit salvation? It is us! In Romans 8 we read, “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs - heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” And so just as angels ministered to Christ (Matthew 4:11) when He suffered, they are sent to minister to us as well. We may not see them, although at times we might and not even know it, for angels can manifest in human form. The Bible tells us to “not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” (Hebrews 13:2)
But often Christians wonder ‘what do angels usually look like, when not taking on the form of a human?’ Do they really look like the paintings we see of them? First of all, those cute little baby angels… they are not Biblical. The Bible never speaks of them in that way. Those images were more than likely the result of picturing infants who have passed from this life as becoming angels. And while I do believe that infants who perish are immediately in the presence of our Lord, neither babies, nor children or adults, become angels upon entering heaven. The Bible does say we will be like the angels in regards to no longer marrying (Matthew 22:30), but it does not say we turn into angels. What about the beautiful female angels in so many artistic renderings? There is only one passage in the entire Bible that might depict angels as female, and that is Zechariah 5:9, which reads, “Then I looked up--and there before me were two women, with the wind in their wings! They had wings like those of a stork, and they lifted up the basket between heaven and earth.” But some theologians do not believe that these women in Zechariah’s vision are in fact angels, especially since every other reference to angels in the Bible is clearly in the masculine form. What about wings? They do have wings, don’t they? Some do, although they do not need them to fly. Cherubim cover the mercy seat of Ark of the Covenant with their wings and also guard God’s throne. And while we traditionally think of angels as having two wings, the Bible says Cherubim have four of them (Ezekiel 10:21). And Seraphim have six wings (Isaiah 6:2)! But there are also many times that angels are spoken of in the Bible with no mention made of wings at all.
In addition to ministering to us here on earth, the angels are given one other very important task in regards to looking after God’s people. They escort us to heaven when our spirits leave this world (Luke 16:22). How comforting to know that not only do the holy angels watch over us during this life, but ensure our safe passage into the next. They may not look like artists have rendered them in their paintings, but we will surely rejoice to see them, and join them in praising God throughout eternity. So while we are instructed in the Bible to never worship an angel or pray to them, we can thank our heavenly Father for all they do for us. So let us raise our voices in praise to Him, just as the angels do, by singing our closing hymn, #158 - Come, Christians, Join to Sing.