Angels are a popular topic. I googled “angel” and got 2.5 billion results. People love to love angels. I have a book with dozens and dozens of stories about people meeting up with angels. Here’s an example of one told by Norma Dearing:
Some of you might remember a time when gas station attendants pumped gas for their customers. We would simply pull into a gas station and stay in the car while the attendant filled the tank. When attendants became obsolete, there was a time of transition when we had to learn how to pump our own gas.
…I didn’t know which grade of gas to use, how to turn on the pump or how to pump it…Standing beside the car, I stared at the gas pump. A panic came over me because I realized I didn’t know what to do.
Suddenly, at the height of my panic, an old rattletrap car pulled off the busy road and sidled up alongside me. A man was driving, and a young girl sat beside him. After rolling down his window, he called out, “The pump you want is that one.”
I turned around to see which pump he was pointing to and thought, How does he know what I need and why did he pull off a busy road to help me? I turned to thank him, but he was gone—along with the car and the little girl. I stood there trying to sort out what had happened. That is when I realized he was an angel sent by a loving God to help His daughter in need.1
Did an angel really help her? Or did the old man just disappear around a corner quickly? If it was an angel, why was there a young girl in the car? Why was there a car…an old rattletrap, to boot?
I am not sure what to do with these kinds of stories. Are they true? Perhaps some are and others aren’t. How do we know?
Many people today would say that we’re supposed to believe everything we hear about these kinds of things, and to not believe is to be judgmental. But the Bible wants us to be discerning. And the key to being able to discern truth from error is to know the truth well. We need to know what the Bible says about angels in order to discern what could be a true story about angels and what isn’t.
Over at least the next three lessons, we are going to delve into the biblical record about angels to build a foundation. When you have a good theological foundation, you will be able to discern if a story could be true or if it has to be false.
Let’s start with the basics:
THE BASICS OF ANGELOGY
What is an angel? Here’s a good definition:
Angels are created, spiritual beings with moral judgment and high intelligence, but without physical bodies.2
In many ways, angels are like humans, except that angels were made for Heaven and we were made for Earth. We are physical beings (albeit with a spiritual nature), they are spiritual beings.
The Bible refers to angels with other names, especially in the Old Testament. Here’s a few:
- “sons of God” (Job 1:6; 2:1)
- “holy ones” (Psalm 89:5, 7)
- “spirits” (Hebrews 1:14)
- “watchers” (Daniel 4:13, 17, 23)
- “thrones,” “dominions,” “principalities,” and “powers” (Colossians 1:16)
There are other supernatural, spiritual beings described in the Bible. Some people classify them generally as angels. Others like to be more specific and classify them as other heavenly beings than angels. These are: Seraphim (Isaiah 6:2-7); Cherubim (Genesis 3:24) and Living Creatures or Beasts (Ezekiel 1:5-14; Revelation 4:6-8).
Of course, Satan and his demons are also angels, but fallen angels. These will not come into our study except in passing.
How many angels are there? Lots!
11 And I beheld, and I heard the voice of many angels round about the throne and the beasts and the elders: and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands; (Revelation 5:11)
In other words, stop counting! There are more angels than we can even imagine. And angels do not procreate (Matthew 22:30) nor do they die, so the number of angels does not change.
The only change in the population of angels occurred when Satan fell and took with him one-third of the angel population (Revelation 12:4).
This means that there are twice as many good angels as fallen angels. It’s nice to know that, if you are a Christian, you are on the side with the most angels!
ANGELS ARE CREATED BEINGS
Angels have been around a long, long time. So long, in fact, that many people get the idea that angels have always existed. But this is not what the Bible teaches. We read in Colossians:
16 For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: (Colossians 1:16)
God—Christ—created all things, on earth and Heaven, visible and invisible. That alone should be enough to show that angels were created by God. But the apostle Paul drives it home by listing thrones, dominions, principalities, and powers—all titles that refer to angels.
We also see from this verse that all things, including angels, were created for Jesus Christ. They were created to serve and worship Him—
1 Praise ye the Lord. Praise ye the Lord from the heavens: Praise him in the heights. 2 Praise ye him, all his angels: Praise ye him, all his hosts. (Psalm 148:1–2)
Here’s a lesson from knowing that angels were created by God. Sometimes you hear someone say of a loved one who has died, “They became an angel.”
Well, sorry, no, they didn’t. All the angels who will ever exist have already been created. David Jeremiah wrote,
In a children’s book on angels is this quote: “Heaven is a place where girls get turned into angels and then God tries to do the best he can with the boys.” But actually, sweet little girls have no more chance of becoming angels than the rowdiest boys.
Likewise, imagining that a departed loved one now glides around as an angel is only a hollow comfort, and not in keeping with the pattern of God’s Word.3
This is one of my goals in this series: to understand angels strictly by what the Bible says. There are many traditions and ideas about angels that have come along that simply aren’t biblical.
It doesn’t help us to believe things about angels that aren’t true. It might give you a nice feeling that your loved one is an angel, but if it’s not true, that’s not going to be helpful in the end. It will be a “hollow comfort.”
However, if you are a Christian, what will eventually happen to you? You will be glorified and become like Christ:
2 Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:2)
So, forget becoming an angel—your destiny as a Christian is to become like Christ! Why settle for less?
When did the creation of angels take place? One thing that we know for certain is that it was before the seventh day of creation…we read in Genesis 2—
1 Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. (Genesis 2:1)
But can we narrow that down more? Henry Morris, the founder of the Institute for Creation Research, believed, based on Psalm 104, that the angels were created on Day 2 of Creation.4
But it’s also possible that the angels were created in the very first verse of the Bible.
1 In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. 2 And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. (Genesis 1:1–2)
Do you see how in the first verse, Heaven and earth were created, but in the second verse only the earth is said to be without form—incomplete? That seems to indicate that Heaven (and all that lives in Heaven) was complete. Therefore the angels, which live in Heaven, must have been created at that time.
This seems to be confirmed by Job 38:6-7—
6 Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened? Or who laid the corner stone thereof; 7 When the morning stars sang together, And all the sons of God shouted for joy? (Job 38:6–7)
The “morning stars” and the “sons of God” both refer to angels. They were singing when God laid the foundations of the earth.
A related question to this is: when did Satan and the other angels who became demons fall from Heaven? (2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6). It would have had to been after Day 6—
31 And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day. 1 Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. (Genesis 1:31–2:1)
God pronounced everything at that point as “very good.” Satan could not have rebelled at this point. Satan must have rebelled very soon after Creation, before the events of the Fall in Genesis 3. That does make sense. As prideful as Satan is, he would not have stood for staying in Heaven and worshipping God very long.
Why is it important for us to know when angels were created? Because it helps confirm in our minds that they are created beings and because they are created beings, they do not deserve our worship. Moreover, they do not want our worship. When the apostle John saw an angel, he tried to worship him and was rebuked:
10 And I fell at his feet to worship him. And he said unto me, See thou do it not: I am thy fellowservant, and of thy brethren that have the testimony of Jesus: worship God: for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy. (Revelation 19:10; cf 22:8)
The angels are not impressed or even interested in all the attention people give them. They don’t want it.
In fact, you might suspect that they are sad that the attention humans give to them takes away from the attention that we should be giving to Jesus Christ.
DESCRIPTION OF ANGELS
What do angels look like? The very first image that almost everyone has in their mind of an angel is a human figure, dressed in white, with two wings on their back.
But, contrary to popular opinion, angels are not usually depicted in the Bible as having wings. Cherubim and seraphim have wings (in Isaiah 6, the seraphim have six wings!). But if you don’t consider the cherubim and seraphim to be angels, then there are no angels in the Bible with wings.
Well, there is an odd verse in Zechariah 5:9 where two women in a vision are described as having wings like a stork.
9 Then lifted I up mine eyes, and looked, and, behold, there came out two women, and the wind was in their wings; for they had wings like the wings of a stork: and they lifted up the ephah between the earth and the heaven. 10 Then said I to the angel that talked with me, Whither do these bear the ephah? (Zechariah 5:9–10)
The women, however, are not identified as angels, even though Zechariah identifies another angel. We need to interpret this one verse in light of what the rest of the Bible says about angels. My conclusion is that they are not angels, but simply part of Zechariah’s vision.
Do angels have wings? I am going to say that, in most instances, they do not. They don’t actually need them for flying (think about Jesus ascending into Heaven—He didn’t need wings then). I won’t say it’s wrong to draw a picture of an angel with two wings, but we could probably work at changing our overly-dominant image of angels with wings.
The idea that angels have—at least sometimes—glowing white clothing has a more biblical foundation. Look at the angels that were present at Jesus’s tomb following His resurrection:
4 And it came to pass, as they were much perplexed thereabout, behold, two men stood by them in shining garments: (Luke 24:4; cf. Matthew 28:3)
11 But Mary stood without at the sepulchre weeping: and as she wept, she stooped down, and looked into the sepulchre, 12 And seeth two angels in white sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. (John 20:11–12)
We also see angels in white in Acts 1:10 just after Jesus ascended into Heaven.
However, many of the angel visitations in the Bible make no comment on the angel’s clothing or appearance. Sometimes the encounter is very ordinary. Sometimes we may not even know that the person we’ve encountered is actually an angel. The Bible says,
2 Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. (Hebrews 13:2)
This verse perhaps points back to the time that Lot, the nephew of Abraham, in Genesis 19, entertained the angels who later saved his life.
1 And there came two angels to Sodom at even; and Lot sat in the gate of Sodom: and Lot seeing them rose up to meet them; and he bowed himself with his face toward the ground; 2 And he said, Behold now, my lords, turn in, I pray you, into your servant’s house, and tarry all night, and wash your feet, and ye shall rise up early, and go on your ways. And they said, Nay; but we will abide in the street all night. 3 And he pressed upon them greatly; and they turned in unto him, and entered into his house; and he made them a feast, and did bake unleavened bread, and they did eat. (Genesis 19:1–3)
As you read through the account in Genesis 19, you get the impression that Lot may have known that they were angels. He bows before them and so forth.
But at the same time, the ancient custom of showing hospitality to strangers often meant that you treated those who came to your door as if they were royalty. Lot may have been just showing hospitality without knowing they were angels, just as Hebrews 13:2 suggests.
The question I had when I read this verse was: why would angels need to be shown hospitality? Are they really hungry?
The answer is that they are there to help in some way, such as getting Lot out of the city. That’s good to know, because if angels did get hungry, and seeing that they fly all over the place like hummingbirds, can you imagine how many calories they would need to eat!
That angels can and perhaps often appear as ordinary humans lends some credence to stories like the one of the woman at the gas pump. But, in that story, there was a man and a little girl. That leads us to our next question.
What gender do angels appear as when they do appear? Even though they do not seem to have a gender, in every case in the Bible, they appear as males.
The odd verse of Zechariah 5:9 is used to claim that angels can appear as women (remember the two women with wings like a stork?). But it would be the only verse. And, as I’ve mentioned earlier, it doesn’t seem that the women in Zechariah’s vision are even angels.
Do angels only appear in a human form?
Don Boso believed an angel was transformed into a dog and growled madly to keep him from leaving home. Later it was discovered a murderer was hiding nearby at that exact time to kill Boso as soon as he would have left the house.5
Nowhere in the Bible do we find angels taking the appearance of animals. If this story is true, which is certainly could be, we need not say anything more than God caused a dog to come and bark.
Or, it could be a situation like Balaam’s donkey, where an angel caused the donkey to balk by standing in it’s way and only the donkey could see the angel (Numbers 22). Here an angel could have caused the dog to be able to see it and that made the dog bark.
Our focus in this lesson has been on what angels are and what they look like. For some people, angels seem to be a stepping stone to God. A way of being spiritual without dealing with the true God.
For instance, angels are a part of New Age religion. Here’s an example of how New Age people view angels (none of this biblical!):
Angels are energy. Pretty awesome energy that you can call on for help, and energy you can build relationships with…
Where Angels come from nobody really knows. God, the Pleiades, Other star systems, Conscious collective thought, or maybe we even create them ourselves.
…yesterday I had a headache. I called upon Archangel Raphael (the healing Angel) to heal my head. So what’s really going on when that happens? I’m simply calling upon healing energy to help me right? Wherever that healing energy comes from is fine by me as long as it’s from the light!
[But remember that Satan masquerades as an angel of light—2 Corinthians 11:14]
…Read books and blogs but go with your gut
…When you get that little nudge to sign up for a course, talk to that person at work or stop drinking caffeine and you follow it, things get better.
However this guidance comes to you—whether it’s an Angelic whisper, a repetitive thought, hearing or seeing signs—if it feels good and it feels right (even if it feels scary or unusual!) that’s your guidance right there.6
Please, please, don’t follow any of that person’s advice!
Why do people follow non-biblical teachings about angels? Because they have a spiritual vacuum in their hearts that need filled. They know that they need something spiritual, but they are unwilling to repent and turn to the Lord Jesus Christ. Instead they seek their spiritual comfort in false religions that do not make any demands on their sinful hearts.
As one person said, “Angels are popular today because they are allegedly a means of attaining God’s help without having to deal directly with God.”7 But the Bible says…
18 Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels, intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind, (Colossians 2:18)
The unbeliever has, says the Bible…
…changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen. (Romans 1:25)
We are created to worship and we will worship something. Money, sex, power, pleasure, sports, cars, and, if we want something that feels more spiritual, angels.
But God calls us to worship Him and Him only. And the only way for that to happen is to come to Him through Jesus Christ, Who said…
…I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. (John 14:6)
Are you worshipping God through Jesus Christ today?
1 Judith MacNutt and Francis MacNutt, Angels Are for Real: Inspiring, True Stories and Biblical Answers (Grand Rapids, MI: Chosen Books, 2012).
2 Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House, 2004), 397.
3 David Jeremiah, What the Bible Says about Angels: Powerful Guardians, a Mysterious Presence, God’s Messengers (Sisters, OR: Multnomah Books, 1996), 51.
4 David Jeremiah, What the Bible Says about Angels: Powerful Guardians, a Mysterious Presence, God’s Messengers (Sisters, OR: Multnomah Books, 1996), 74.
5 Knofel Staton, Angels (Joplin, MO: College Press Publishing Company, 2005), 34.
7 Knofel Staton, Angels (Joplin, MO: College Press Publishing Company, 2005), 32.