The image of angels is often imprinted on our psyche at a very young age. My first concept of what an angel was came from my mother. I was a fraternal twin and my brother was stillborn. My mother told me he had become an angel. She bought a book called The Littlest Angel, which was illustrated, and she often read it to me often. The book was kept in a suitcase my mother had packed with photos and special mementos. She told me that in case of a fire, all she had to do was grab the suitcase and she would have all of her memories with her. The book meant a lot to her, and she would go over the illustrations with me, showing me the cherubic angel bouncing from cloud to cloud among the backdrop of the celestial heavens. He was a cute little cherub, wearing a white gown with little wings poking through. He had a plump, baby face with rosy cheeks and red lips. He was barefoot, carefree, and adorable, as would be expected of any baby angel.
My second impression of an angel came from an illustrated story Bible I had read at my doctor’s office when we visited. It was an illustration of an angel standing guard at the Garden of Eden after Adam and Eve were banished. God had sent the angel to guard the Garden and to keep Adam and Eve out. The angel looked like an adult version of the cherub, dressed the same, and holding a large double-edged sword.
Is a chapter pertaining to angels relevant to this writing? I believe it is. Many people regarded some of the entities in my home as angels, especially the one that swept past the kitchen window on a regular basis. She certainly fit the popular description of an angel. But, according to the Bible, popular belief about what and who angels are, is for the most part, almost completely wrong.
Angels play a very important role in the life of our universe and in the life of human beings. In fact, they played such an important role in the history of the world that the Bible mentions them almost 300 times. Angels are actually mentioned more than the devil or Satan. When I started studying angels, one thing I noted was on most occasions when angels appeared to people, they seemed to appear with the warning, “Fear not.” I found this very interesting as it transpired in many places in the Bible. They were angels. Why would people be afraid? Since this was the first thing they said, they must not look like what we think. This made me cautiously curious and a bit pensive. It appeared I had been duped into thinking they were something they were not. I could see them saying “Fear not” to little kids, but they said it to grown men and even to warriors! So, how could they be heavenly, flowing robed, winged women and children with perfect hair, flitting from cloud to cloud while simultaneously causing fear?
For just a moment, forget everything you know, or think you know, about angels and let us look at what the Bible says about them. Without going verse by verse, for the purpose of brevity, this is what I have gleaned about angels. Please do not take my word for it, the Bible is there for anyone to read and without a doubt there is more that I have yet to discover about angels.
Angels are not human and we do not become angels when we die. My twin brother did not become an angel when he died. My mother did not become an angel when she died. Angels are beings created by God, for God and there are a lot of them, probably millions (Revelation 5:11, Daniel 7:9-10). In the Old Testament, King David records 20,000 angels coursing through the sky (Psalm 68:17). Envision an army, God is the Commander-in-Chief and the angels are His troops, simply there to carry out orders without question. The Bible says angels were created before humans, and humans were created a little lower than the angels (Psalm 8:4-6, Hebrews 2:7-9). Angels possess supernatural abilities and I believe they possess far more wisdom than humans. It also appears that angels have supernatural mobility. Even so, while they are very powerful beings, they are not God or gods. There is no indication that they are omnipresent, being everywhere at once, but it is indicated that they can move at a supernatural speed from one place to another, even shuttling from the earth to the Heaven in the blink of an eye (Daniel 9:21). In Hebrews 1:14, it is made clear that angels do not have a physical form, but can and do take physical form. In this verse, they are referred to as “ministering spirits.” The Bible also makes it clear that angels have the ability to change their appearance and form. Angels are obviously able to speak and they seem to be capable of feeling emotion. The Bible speaks of angels rejoicing at the salvation of the human saints (Luke 15:10). Angels possess the ability to appear and disappear, as in the case of the angel appearing and disappearing when Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego were cast into the fiery furnace in an attempt to execute them (Daniel 3:26-28). While angels can appear and disappear at will, I believe we cannot see them unless they so desire and are commanded to appear by God. Just as we cannot see Wi-Fi, Ethernet, or the microwaves with which our food is cooked, so it is with angels. We may not see them, but we can see evidence of them. We were simply not created with senses allowing us to see angels unless they intentionally appear. Just as an owl was created to see things in the dark that we cannot see, and bats were created nearly blind but have built in sonar abilities that border on supernatural, we were created differently, with different gifts. Why would God make His prized creation with senses less keen than lowly animals? My theory is that the senses these animals possess are imperative to their survival. Those same senses are not imperative to our survival as human beings; therefore, it is not necessary for us to possess them. If we have a need to see an angel, God will make sure that need is fulfilled.
Much to the chagrin of popular culture, some spiritual charlatans and feminists, it appears that angels are male. There are three named angels in the Bible and they are all male (Isaiah 14:12, Jude 1:9, Luke 1:19). The word angel, as used in the Bible, is the Greek angelos, which is the masculine form. There is no place in the Bible where the word angel is used in the feminine form in its original translated language. In addition, they are described as men in both Genesis 18 and Ezekiel 9, as in many other places in the Bible where they are referred to in the masculine pronoun “he”. In Scripture, angels are only referred to using the pronouns ‘he’, ‘him’ and ‘his’. There is no record of angels being described as women or referred to in the feminine gender.
Earlier, I likened the relationship between the angels and God to be similar to that of a Commander-in-Chief and his troops. Just like the hierarchy of the military, there is also a hierarchy of angels. There is an Archangel, and there is only one; his name is Michael. He is the angel above all other angels. In God’s army, Michael is the four-star general. In fact, Michael is the angel who cast from Heaven to Earth the rebellious Lucifer and his devils.
Michael appears to be a very powerful angelic being. The Bible says during the final and epic battle of all times, Michael will lead the angelic army in the great battle against Satan and the demons (Revelation 12:7-9). The Bible also states Michael will be victorious in defeating the devil and his demons. In addition, 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 says: “For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel (emphasis mine), and with the trump of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.” My interpretation of this Holy Scripture is that God will give the command, Michael will shout, graves will be opened, and dead will rise. Michael’s vocal command will be the impetus which resurrects the dead at Christ’s Second Coming. I imagine God saying, “Ready, set…”, as He points to Michael, who is alongside Jesus Christ, and Michael shouts, “GO!” That is how I interpret this Scripture. In the realm of the heavenly host, Michael is top dog.
The angel Gabriel is another named angel and is often referred to as God’s messenger angel as when he is mentioned in the Bible, he is delivering a message. Gabriel is never referred to as an archangel, and he appears in both the Old and New Testaments. In the Old Testament, Gabriel gives Daniel visions of the future and end times, as a message (Daniel 8:16). Daniel refers to him as a man who can fly swiftly. It seems that in order for Gabriel to give his message to Daniel, he had to take the form of what Daniel would refer to as a man. Gabriel, when he appeared to deliver God’s message, always identified himself to whom he appeared. Gabriel’s most monumental appearance was the one in which he appeared and delivered a message to the Virgin Mary; the message was that she would conceive and bear the Savior of the world, Jesus Christ (Luke 1: 26-29).
The Cherubim and Seraphim appear to follow in hierarchal order after Michael and Gabriel. They, too, are very powerful. Cherubim are the angles often portrayed as my mother portrayed my twin brother; childlike, chunky, smiling with rosy cheeks and little, feathery wings popping through their angelic robes. While Cherubim seem to be the angels whose appearance is most often represented, Ezekiel 10:8-22 gives a very detailed description of them that is quite different than the image portrayed to us by not only modern media, but even by historical art in the form of paintings and sculpture:
“And there appeared in the cherubims the form of a man’s hand under their wings. And when I looked, behold the four wheels by the cherubims, one wheel by one cherub, and another wheel by another cherub: and the appearance of the wheels was as the colour of a beryl stone. And as for their appearances, they four had one likeness, as if a wheel had been in the midst of a wheel. When they went, they went upon their four sides; they turned not as they went, but to the place whither the head looked they followed it; they turned not as they went. And their whole body, and their backs, and their hands, and their wings, and the wheels, were full of eyes round about, even the wheels that they four had. As for the wheels, it was cried unto them in my hearing, O wheel. And every one had four faces: the first face was the face of a cherub, and the second face was the face of a man, and the third the face of a lion, and the fourth the face of an eagle. And the cherubims were lifted up. This is the living creature that I saw by the river of Chebar. And when the cherubims went, the wheels went by them: and when the cherubims lifted up their wings to mount up from the earth, the same wheels also turned not from beside them. When they stood, these stood; and when they were lifted up, these lifted up themselves also: for the spirit of the living creature was in them. Then the glory of the Lord departed from off the threshold of the house, and stood over the cherubims. And the cherubims lifted up their wings, and mounted up from the earth in my sight: when they went out, the wheels also were beside them, and every one stood at the door of the east gate of the Lord’s house; and the glory of the God of Israel was over them above. This is the living creature that I saw under the God of Israel by the river of Chebar; and I knew that they were the cherubims. Every one had four faces apiece, and every one four wings; and the likeness of the hands of a man was under their wings. And the likeness of their faces was the same faces which I saw by the river of Chebar, their appearances and themselves: they went every one straight forward.”
Cherubim are described as having four faces, faces of animals, wheels, and lots of eyes. They definitely do not appear as I envisioned them. In fact, if I were to see one in person, I would most assuredly faint. Many people do not realize that Lucifer, himself, is described as a Cherub (Ezekiel 28:14).
Cherubim sculptures were constructed to sit upon the lid of the Ark of the Covenant, which was the Mercy Seat of God (Hebrews 9:5). They were also portrayed beside the Throne of God (Revelation 4:6). It was the Cherubim who guarded the tree of life in the Garden of Eden after Adam and Eve were expelled. This particular cherub held a large, two-edged, sword. Cherubim appear in the Bible in several places and seem assigned guard duty on many occasions. I often think of them as the Secret Service of Heaven: powerful sentries, attendants, and defenders of the heavenly and earthly realms.
While the Cherubim sit beside the Throne of the Lord, the Seraphim are described hovering above it. The Bible references Seraphim only in Isaiah 6:2:
“In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple. Above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly. And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory. And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke. Then said I, Woe is me! For I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts. Then flew one of the seraphims unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar: And he laid it upon my mouth, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged. Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me.”And he said, Go, and tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not.
Perhaps this Scripture is the origin of the popular belief that all angels have wings. We tend to portray all angels as having wings due to the fact that the Bible states they fly and move swiftly through the air. In our minds, we cannot comprehend a living thing being able to fly without wings. However, the Seraphim described in Isaiah must have been beautiful beyond words as they had six wings: two covering their faces, two covering their feet, and two with which to fly.
Scripture points to the fact that angels exist for only one reason: to do the will of God.
Throughout the ages, we have been taught that each person has a guardian angel. From the time I can remember, my mother talked about my guardian angel keeping me alive. I would pray at night, and I was confident there were angels at my feet watching over me as I slept. Indeed, this may have been more accurate than people presume. In Matthew 18:10, Jesus specifically addressed the faith of children, and this is what He had to say about the guardianship of angels over children: “Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their (emphasis mine) angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven.” Note the verse uses the possessive pronoun, their, which indicates a belonging. God has granted the children ownership or possession over these specific angelic beings.
At the very least, it appears children have guardian angels, but I believe it is not only children who have angels protecting and ministering to them. The Bible is replete with accounts of angels protecting and saving God’s people from harm (Hebrews 1:14, Psalm 34:7, Acts 5: 19-20). Many of us have had experiences in which we had a brush with tragedy or death, and for some inexplicable reason, we were spared. It is more than plausible that God had a ministering, guardian angel protecting us at the time.
While it appears God provides guardian angels to protect His people, He also uses angels to administer judgment upon His enemies and enemies of His Kingdom. Whilst angels can be comforting and ministering, they can also be deadly. There are several accounts in the Bible which testify to the fact that God commands His angels, His troops, to destroy entire populations. Even though there are multiple Biblical accounts of angels administering God’s judgment, the most well-known account is that of the destruction of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19: 1-13). When God prepared to mete out judgment against the wicked cities, He sent two angels in the form of men to the home of Lot and his family. The Bible says their feet were washed and they ate which indicates they were in human form. The wicked and perverse men of Sodom surrounded Lot’s home and attempted to gain access to the angels in order to rape them. This is more evidence that they had taken human form since Lot responded that what they wanted to do was wicked and in turn offered his daughters up to the perverse horde. When the wicked men attempted to break down the door of Lot’s home, the angels struck them all with blindness. The next morning the angels rushed Lot and his family out of their home before God’s judgment fell. The Bible says the angels took the hands of Lot’s wife and daughters and set them outside of the city. They warned them to flee for their lives and to go up into the mountains or they would be destroyed. The angels knew in advance that complete annihilation was going to befall the cities. After the angels had performed their assigned task, fire and brimstone reigned down upon the cities and everything in them was turned to ash and dust. In fact, historians and scientists theorize The Dead Sea, the Earth’s lowest point on land, to be the location of the ancient cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.
In Hebrews 13:2 we are reminded; “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels.” It should give us comfort in knowing that every day we are surrounded by God’s heavenly host. None of us would be foolish enough to argue the existence of the wind. We cannot see it nor can we see where it begins or ends, but we can, however, see evidence of its existence in the swaying trees and we can feel its gentle kiss on our face. So it is with God’s angels. Perhaps if we are still and sober, someday we may be fortunate enough to catch a glimpse of His precious and powerful creation.