Mar 15 - Angels


March 15, 2015

March 15, 2015

Throughout the church’s history, the belief in angels has varied in importance.  The famous theologian Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), for example, in his Summa Theologica, devoted no less than 118 questions and their detailed answers to the nature and condition of angels, which earned him the nickname the Angelic Doctor.

While no one ever discussed how many angels could dance on the head of a needle, Aquinas did ask the question whether several angels can be at the same place at the same time, arguing that they cannot.  

Aquinas sought to demonstrate that the existence of angels through logic, while a just a few decades later, William of Ockham (1287-1347) relegated their existence to a matter of faith.   For Ockham, truths related to the spiritual realm are due to revelation and faith, and that included the existence and attributes of angels. 

At times people can have an unhealthy fascination with spiritual powers, both good and bad.  Some elevate good angels to the realms of deity and worship, revere and pray to them as if they were God.  

Some live in abject fear and trembling at the thought of evil spirits or demons.  I remember as a young Christian being inundated with the tales of evil spiritual forces constantly and incessantly attacking me.  Maybe you have read “the Screwtape Letters” by C.S. Lewis.  It was a lot worse than that.  Satan and demons were literally behind every bush and rock, causing me to live in fear and an atmosphere of paranoia.

I’ve known Christians who are constantly binding Satan, who cast out demons from rocks, or who anoint and pray over so-called ley lines, which are supposed to be found in significant landforms and connect to form this supposed mystical network.  The theory is based in part on New Age occultism and in particular on the beliefs found in Feng Shui.  Unfortunately, it has found its way into some Christian churches. 

However, it seems to me that a lack of respect for spiritual forces is also not a good thing.  I have a friend who, after high school, dabbled extensively in the occult, eventually becoming a warlord.  The stories about the price he had to pay for his folly is nothing for the faint hearted.  I even think that calling on the spirit of an Ouija board, or seeking after spirit guides or totem guides can open people up to demonic activity.    

Some theologians point out that it is possible to maintain the Christian faith and live the Christian life without any reference to the angels or demons.  Christians can serve God and love others blissfully unaware of potential spiritual forces that may surround them.

While God is more than capable of sustaining and guiding the universe, and communicating with and speaking to people without having any need for angels.  
For some reason he decided to create angels to act within history, and to communicate with and protect human beings.   

So angels announce coming events, both good and bad.  They reveal and communicate God’s message to man.
Angels guide and instruct … for example, the Israelites believing that the Mosaic Law was delivered to Moses through the mediation of angels (Acts 7:38,53; Gal 3:19; Heb 2:2).

Angels guard and defend God’s people (Ps 91:11).  It seems that angels are specifically assigned to individuals (cf. Acts 12:15).

Angels minister in times of critical need, something was was even true of Jesus after the 40 days in the wilderness or in the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:43).  While an angel freed Peter from prison, most of their help, however, is of a spiritual nature since they take an interest in our spiritual welfare, rejoicing at their conversion (Luke 15:10).

Angels assist in judgment on the enemies of God – something that is stressed in the Book of Revelation.  The illness that killed Herod Agrippa was said to have come upon him due to the action of an angel.  

Angels continually praise and worship God.  In this they are a good example of how we are to function in our daily lives.

The word angel comes from the Greek word, angelos, which means messenger.  The corresponding word in Hebrew also means messenger, malakh.  Often the context in which these terms are used will point out if the reference is to human messengers or heavenly ones. In the NT, there is often an accompanying phrase that makes it clear that it is referring to supernatural rather than human messengers, like “angels of heaven” (Matt 24:36).  

Angels are spiritual beings who were created long before humans existed (Job 38:7).  That means that most of the time humans cannot see them.  Balaam had to have his eyes opened by God to see the angel who was standing in his way (Num 22:31).  In the same way, Elisha’s servant didn’t see that the hills were covered by a flaming angelic army until God opened his eyes (2 Kings 6:17).  

There are no indications in the Bible that angels ever appeared in female form.  Neither are common angels portrayed as winged, although they can fly (Dan 9:21; Rev 14:6).  

Often those who saw angels at first didn’t realize that they were heavenly messengers because they appeared as normal human men and are mistaken as such (Gen 18:2,16,22; 19:1,5,10,12,15,16; Josh 5:13; Judg 6:21-22; 13:6; Ezek 40:3; Dan 10:18; Zech 2:1; Mark 16:5; Luke 24:4; Heb 13:2).  They wore garments common at the time or sometimes white garments (Acts 1:10).

However at other times, the angels were recognized because they shone (Luke 2:9; 9:26) or wore brilliant white clothes (Matt 28:3; cf. Luke 24:4).

Because they are spirit beings, angels are eternal (Lk 20:36).  There is an extremely large number of angels (Deut 33:2; 2 Kings 6:17; Job 25:3; Ps 68:17; Matt 26:53; Heb 12:22 - innumberable; Rev 5:11 – 100 million).  They have the ability to move between the realm of the spirits and the realm of the physical world at will (Acts 12:7).  They have free will (Jude). They have powers that exceed those of human beings (2 Pet 2:11).  Jesus mentioned to the Sadducees that angels were asexual (Luke 20:34-36).  

Good angels are often characterized as holy (Matt 25:31; Mark 8:38; Luke 1:26; Acts 10:22; Rev 14:10).  Fallen angels, on the other hand, are consider evil.  Satan is said to be the father of lies and sinning from the beginning (John 8:44; 1 John 3:8-10).

In the OT, angels are sometimes referred to as:

“Sons of god” (Gen 6:2-4; Job 1:6; 2:1; Ps 29:1; 89:6)
“Heavenly beings” (Psalm 29:1; 89:6)
“Armies” (hosts) (1 Sam 1:11)*
“Holy ones” (Ps 89:5,7)
“Watchers” (Dan 4:13,17,23)

God is often described as YHWH of armies (LORD of hosts), found more than 60x in Isaiah alone.

In the OT, we also read of a specific type of spiritual beings called “Seraphs or Seraphim” (Isaiah 6:2,6 – only mentioned here).  Their title means “burning ones, or fiery ones.”

Above God were seraphs, each with six wings.  With two wings they covered their faces, with two wings they covered their feet, and with two they were flying.  
Isaiah 6:2

I’m not at all sure that seraphs looked like the picture next to the verse (on the overhead).  It seems to me that Isaiah tried to describe spiritual beings that somehow appear like light.  Here are some renditions of Seraphs by some artists.

Seraphs flew above God’s presents.  In Isaiah, the primary duty of the seraphim is to praise God.  They called out to each other:

Holy, holy, holy is YHWH Almighty.  The whole earth is full of His glory.                Isaiah 6:3

We also read of another specific type of angel called “Cherubs or Cherubim.” Their title or the meaning of their name is unknown.

These angels are mentioned most often in the OT book of Ezekiel and in the NT book of Revelation, although in Revelation they are simply called “living creatures” (Rev 4:6-9), an expression borrowed from Ezekiel’s description (1:5-22).  Like the seraphim they are associated with God’s presence, but unlike the Seraphim that travel above God, the cherubim travel below God’s presence (Ezek 1:25-26).  God is described as sitting or being enthroned on them (1 Sam 4:4; 2 Sam 6:2; 2 Kings 19:15; I Chron 13:5; Ps 80:1; 99:1; Isa 37:16) 

In Ezekiel and Revelation, there are four, flying with wings touching (Ezek 1:5,8).  They are described as having either two faces – that of a man and that of a lion (Ezek 41:18) – or 4 faces, that of a man, a lion, an eagle, and an ox (Ezek 1:6; 10:14,21,22).  In the book of Revelation, each of the four are described as living creatures with eyes in front and behind, one looking like a man, another like a lion, a third like an eagle in flight, and one like an ox (Rev 4:6).  

Cherubim are described as having two wings (1 Kings 6:24) or 4 wings (Ezek 1:6,11), or, in the case of the book of Revelation, six wings (Rev 4:8).  

The four-winged Cherubs flew with two wings and with the other two covered their bodies.  Their hands were human (Ezek 1:8; 10:8, 21).  Their legs were straight and their feet looked like bronzed hooves.  

They were in what appeared to be a fiery center in an immense cloud surrounded by lightning and they themselves looked like burning coals with flames of fire moving between them.  Their entire bodies, including their wings were completely full of eyes (Ezek 10:12).  At their feet were wheels, described as wheels within wheels or whirling wheels (Ezek 10:13), possibly a spinning sphere.  This wheel moved with them when they moved and the rims of these wheels were also full of eyes.

When Adam and Eve were cast out of the garden of Eden, the cherubim had to guard the tree of life (Gen 3:24).  

Two cherubim were crafted and placed on the lid of the arc of the covenant.  When Solomon built the temple in Jerusalem, he also had two large statues of Cherubim made and placed in the Holy of holies on either side of the arc of the covenant.  Their images were incorporated into the curtains and carved into the wood paneling of the temple as well.

In the book of Revelation, the primary duty of the Cherubim seems much like that of the Seraphim.  They give glory, honour, and thanks to God (4:9), never ceased saying:

Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come.        Revelation 4:8

As with Isaiah describing the Seraphim, I think Ezekiel was trying to describe spiritual creatures of immense power and light.  Definitely NOT rolly-polly, naked children with tiny wings on their backs hanging out on fluffy white clouds.  Other than the seraphims and cherubims, angels, when seen by humans, consistently appeared in human form.

Then there are one or more archangels.  In the Bible, only the angel Michael is called the archangel (Jude 9).  Arch is derived from the Greek “archo”, which means to be first in rank or power.  In the NT we only find the term archangel used twice.  In Jude 9 and 1 Thess 4:16, where the implication can be drawn that there’s only one:  “The Lord himself will come down from heaven … with the voice of the archangel.”  

However, in western church tradition there are 7 archangels, first, because of the literature at the Qumran community which lists 7,  and second because the apocryphal book of Tobit and the biblical book of Revelation speak of 7 angels who stand in God’s presence (Rev 8:2), one of whom Tobit identifies as the archangel Raphael.  

In the Book of Daniel, we find the archangel Michael referred to as “one of the chief princes’ (Dan 10:13) and in the Book of Revelation he is portrayed as the commander of God’s angels who defeated and cast out the fallen angels from heaven (Rev. 12:7,8).  

Michael is often depicted as a warrior with either sword or spear, reminiscent of the angel in Joshua 5:13-15, who appeared as a man carrying a sword and identifying himself as the “commander of the army of YHWH.”  He did not seem to look much different than any warrior of that day.

Gabriel is “an angel of the Lord” (Luke 1:11,19) who is one of those angels who stands in God’s presence (Luke 1:19).  He seems to be a messenger angel.  In the OT, he is the one who interpreted Daniels dream (Dan 8:15-16).   In the NT he announced the birth of John the Baptist to his father Zechariah (John 1:13) and Jesus to his mother Mary (Luke 1:26-27).  

Again it is unclear what Gabriel looks like.  Some think of him as something more akin to light, others as simply appearing in human form.  

It seems the latter is more likely since, apart from the cherubim and seraphim, both OT and NT, because, as I have already noted, angels are described as looking like a man or being in the appearance of a man.

In the book of Revelation (12:7-9) we hear of Satan, the great serpent called the devil, who, along with his own angels, was cast out of heaven and onto the earth by Michael and good angels.  How these evil angels rebelled against God’s rule and will we don’t know.  It seems that the fallen angels are demons, however there is a competing view about the origin of demons.

One of the stories common around the time of Jesus is that the sons of God who procreated giant children with the daughters of men (as told in Genesis 6:2) was in fact speaking of the angelic fall.  As the story goes, the fallen angels were imprisoned in a pit by God awaiting judgment, while their giant offspring, who drowned during the flood, was the source of demons.  However, that story is not reflected in the Bible except for some veiled references in 1 Peter, 2 Peter and Jude.   

The angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling ... like Sodom and Gomorrah … which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, …      Jude 6-7 

In the OT, the spirit beings who stood behind the gods and idols of the nations were often called demons, in particularly those to whom the Israelites sacrificed their children (Lev 17:7; Deut 32:12; Ps 106:37).  

What pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God.  And I do not want you to be participants with demons.                1 Corinthians 10:20

Similarly in the NT, the apostle Paul told the believers in Corinth that he didn’t want them to participate in the sacrifices at a pagan temple because demons stood behind the idols and pagan gods that were worshipped there (1 Cor 10:20-21; Rev 9:20).

In the NT we meet demons most often as evil spirits who were cast out by Jesus.  The connection between fallen angels and demons is also made in the NT because the devil is called the “prince of demons” (Matt 9:34).

Paul often uses different terms for fallen angels.  

Rom 8:38    Rulers, powers 
1 Cor 15:24    Rule, authority, power
Eph 1:21     Rule, authority, power, dominion 
Eph 6:12    Rulers, authorities, powers, spiritual forces
Col 1:16    Thrones, dominions, rulers, authorities

In each and every instance, though, the reason for these lists is to show that Jesus has triumphed over them and so believers cannot be conquered by them.

For some reason, God choses to act or speak through angels.  They are majestic spirit beings who God created (Ps 148:5; Col 1:16), although they can appear in human form when told by God to do so.  

They are to be those who praise God (Ps 148:5), messengers who speak for God to humans, who execute God’s punishment (Gen 18-19 – Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities of the plain), who protect God’s people (Acts 12:7-11).  

God will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.            Psalm 91:11

In the book of Job, angels are described as guides and intercessors for people.  They accompany people and speak to them, even intercede for them before God (cf. Job 33:23-24).

The author of Hebrews calls angels “ministering spirits,” sent forth to serve believers (Heb 1:14).   

Jesus spoke of angels that appear to be assigned to individuals, in particular children:

See that you despise not one of these little ones: for I say to you, that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.        Matthew 18:10

So the task of angels is to serve and protect human beings, although nowhere in the Bible does it say that every human has a guardian angel, in particularly evil individuals.

Of particular interest is the angel who is called “THE angel of YHWH,” as distinct from “AN angel of YHWH.”  References to this one particular angel abound in the OT where he takes on a unique and  preeminent place as God’s mouthpiece (Gen 16:7-14; 18; 22:11,14,15; 24:7,40; 32:24-30; etc.).   At times he appeared as a man and spoke with many people as any human would speak to another.  However, he could also appear as the burning bush that wasn’t burned up.  Or he could speak directly to individuals from heaven, as he did to Abraham (Gen 22:11,15f.).

The problem with this angel comes in that at times he identifies himself with YHWH while at other times he seems to distinguished himself from YHWH (Num 22:22).

The angel of YHWH appeared to Moses in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. … And he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.”            Exodus 3:2,6

The angel of YHWH went from Gilgal to Bochim and spoke to the people, “I brought you up from Egypt and into the land that I swore to give to your fathers.”
                        Judges 2:1

There are three options when it comes to the identity of the angel of YHWH.

1. He is God himself, temporarily visible to communicate with humans. The problem is that at times the angel of YHWH seems to hold a conversation with YHWH (Zech 1:12-13).

2. He is only an angel with a special commission to speak directly for God.  The problem with this view is that when the angel speaks, YHWH is said to speak (Judg 6:11,14,16), those who saw the angel of YHWH recognized that they had seen God himself (Judg 13:22), and God and the angel of YHWH are used interchangeably (Zech 12:8).

3. He is the pre-incarnate Jesus who spoke as the second person of the Trinity, one with YHWH, but yet distinct within the Godhead.  What may give some weight to this interpretation is that in the Gospel of John, Jesus is described as the pre-incarnate Word who was God and at the same time with God during the creation process.

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, after our likeness.”                Genesis 1:26

In other words, the angel of YHWH isn’t an angel at all, but a part of YHWH himself, active in the salvation of his people.  

In all their affliction, YHWH was afflicted, and the angel of His presence saved them.  In His love and in His pity He redeemed them.  He lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.                Isaiah 63:9

It should be a comfort and encouragement to us when we realize that powerful and numerous unseen spiritual beings are there to help us in times of need.  

It should be sobering to know that evil spiritual forces are real, even though they are not free to do whatever they wish, since Jesus actually defeated them in some capacity through his death and resurrection, so that our faith cannot be destroyed if we hold fast to Christ.

And then knowing about THE angel of YHWH, who guided and protected the nation of Israel at key points in their history because of God’s love and compassion, we can be encouraged that we have Jesus the Messiah who continues that ministry with us in mind.