Unbelievers scoff at the suggestion that angels are real. For them, angels are a holdover from the medieval mindset that debated endlessly about how many of them could dance on the head of a pin! But for the Christian who takes the Bible seriously, angels are an essential part of God’s universe and play a crucial role in the lives of believers. Here are ten things we need to keep in mind regarding who they are and what they do. Continue reading . . .
Unbelievers scoff at the suggestion that angels are real. For them, angels are a holdover from the medieval mindset that debated endlessly about how many of them could dance on the head of a pin! But for the Christian who takes the Bible seriously, angels are an essential part of God’s universe and play a crucial role in the lives of believers. Here are ten things we need to keep in mind regarding who they are and what they do.
(1) If there is any lingering doubt regarding the presence of angels in Scripture, I would simply remind you that the word “angel” (angelos) occurs in 34 of the 66 books of the Bible. Angels are mentioned 108x in OT and over 165x in NT = @ 275 x in the Bible. Although we should avoid becoming obsessed with their activity, we can’t afford to ignore or overlook the pervasive presence of the angelic hosts in Scripture.
(2) Jesus believed in and experienced the ministry of angels: his conception and birth were both announced by an angels; he was tempted by a fallen angel (Satan); he was ministered to by angels subsequent to the temptation; his teaching is filled with references to angelic beings; he experienced the ministry of angels in Gethsemane; he could have appealed to twelve legions of angels to deliver him from the cross (Matt. 26:53); angels were present at his tomb following the resurrection and they were present at his ascension. The point is that angels were an integral part of Christ's birth, life, ministry, teaching, death, resurrection, ascension, and will accompany him at his second advent.
(3) Angels, no less than humans, were created at a point in time (Ps. 148:2-5; John 1:1-3; Col. 1:16). In other words, angels are not eternal. Each angel is a direct creation: i.e., they did not descend from an original pair as we did. And they do not procreate as we do (Matt. 22:28-30). Angels must have been created righteous and upright for the simple fact that God does not directly create evil. A few texts assert or imply an original act of rebellion (Rev. 12:7-12; Col. 1).
(4) Angels possess the basic elements of personality such as intellect, emotion, will, self-consciousness, self-determination, a sense of moral obligation (i.e., conscience) and the power to pursue it, etc. Angels certainly are intelligent but not omniscient (1 Peter 1:12; Mark 13:32), experience emotion (Job 38:7; Luke 15:10; Rev. 4-5), and exercise their wills (Rev. 12).
(5) Angels are immaterial or incorporeal. They have no flesh or blood or bones; they are "ministering spirits" (Heb. 1:14). Although they are spirits, they have spatial limitations, i.e., they are not omnipresent. See Dan. 9:21-23; 10:10-14 where we find both spatial movement and temporal limitations.
In some sense of the word they have “bodies,” though not of a physical nature; i.e., they are spatially confined (their form or shape is not distributed throughout space); they are localized. Do angels have literal “wings”? A few texts would suggest that some do (Isa. 6:2,6; Ezek. 1:5-8) and Gabriel is portrayed as flying to Daniel's side (9:21; cf. Rev. 14:6-7). Lacking bodies, angels do not procreate (Matt. 22:28-30). They are always described in the masculine gender (but see Zech. 5:9).
(6) Angels are spoken of using a variety of terms in the Bible: as “angels” they are messengers; they are “ministers” who serve God (Ps. 104:4); they constitute God’s “hosts” (army). They are also called “watchers” in Daniel 4:13, 17; “sons of the Mighty” in Psalm 89:6; “sons of God” in Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7; and “holy ones” in Psalm 89:6-7.
Some are called cherubim (Gen. 3:24; Ex. 25:17-22; cf. Heb. 9:5 = “cherubim of glory”; see also Ezek. 1:1,28; 10:4,18-22) and others seraphim (Isaiah 6). The four living creatures in Revelation 4:6-9 are probably a species of angels, and the same may be true of the twenty-four Elders.
(7) Only two angels are named in the Bible: Michael = lit., "who is like God?" in Daniel 10:13,20 (cf. Jude 9; Rev. 12:7); and Gabriel = lit., "mighty one of God" in Daniel 9:21 and Luke 1:26.
(8) The number of angels is never specified in Scripture, but there are clearly a lot of them! A “multitude” announced Jesus' birth (Luke 2:13-15). God is Yahweh “of hosts” (Ps. 46:7,11, et.al), i.e., he is head over a vast army of angels. Jesus refers to “twelve legions” of angels (Matt. 26:53) and a legion = 6,000, hence 72,000 angels. Often angels are associated with the stars, leading some to suggest they are equal in number (Job 38:7; Ps. 148:1-3; Rev. 9:1-2; 12:3-4,7-9).
Regardless of how many there are, their number seems to be fixed, for they neither procreate nor die (Matt. 22:28-30; Luke 20:36). Revelation 5:11 refers to “myriads” (a myriad = 10,000), but nothing here suggests that these are all the angels there are. See Daniel 7:10 (“thousands upon thousands and myriads upon myriads”) and Deuteronomy 33:2 (“10,000 holy ones”).
(9) The ministry of angels is diverse: they worship God (Isa. 6; Rev. 4:6-11; 5:11); serve God (Ps. 103:19-21; Heb. 1:7, 14); and provide guidance and protection for God’s people (Gen. 24:7, 40; Exod. 14:19; 23:20; Num. 20:16; Acts 5:17-20; 8:26; 10:3-7,22; 16:9(?); Pss. 34:7; 78:23-25; 91:11; 1 Kings 19:5-7; Dan. 6:20-23; 12:1; Acts 12:15.
They comfort and encourage humans (Matt. 4:11; Luke 22:43; Acts 27:22-24), reveal and interpret divine revelation (Daniel 9: Gal. 3:19; Acts 7:38,52-53; Heb. 2:2; all of Revelation). They provide assistance in response to prayer (Dan. 9:20-24; Dan. 10); and are used of God to execute judgment (Gen. 18-19; Ex. 12:23,29; 2 Samuel 24:15-17; 2 Kings 19:35; Ps. 78:49; Acts 12:23; as well as countless texts in Revelation).
(10) As much as we are fascinated by angels and their ministry, we must never worship them (Rev. 22:8-9). Paul refers to heretics in Colossae who were engaged in the “worship of angels” (2:18).
On the one hand, this could refer to the worship that the angels themselves offer to God (cf. Rev. 4-5). If so, the false teachers were claiming to be extraordinarily spiritual because their worship of God was not in association with that of other, merely human, participants, but was an elevated and exceptionally unique experience in which they joined with the angelic hosts in heaven to praise God.
I'm not inclined to accept this view for two reasons. First, although it is grammatically possible it is not probable. But second, and more important, why would it be regarded as illicit for Christians to join with the angels in the worship and honor of God? On what grounds would a select few claim that they alone had this privilege? We are told in Hebrews 12:22 that we “have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering . . .” The latter may well refer to angels engaged in worship. And there is no indication in Revelation 4-5 that John was in danger of sinning were he to have praised God in the midst of the myriads of angelic hosts who were doing so. So, I find it a stretch to say that Paul was denouncing the idea of worshipping with angels. This would only be grounds for rebuke if it were a claim made by an exclusive and elitist inner circle who insisted they had an access to the heavenly celebration which other, lesser saints, did not.
Then, of course, Paul could mean that these heretics were worshiping angels, giving to them the praise and honor that only God is due (cf. Rev. 19:10; 22:8-9). However, if this were the case, why didn't Paul more severely and explicitly denounce such a practice as the blasphemous idolatry that it is?
There is another option. David Garland points out that “some have claimed that the Colossian errorists understood these angels to be involved in creation and the government of the world, and they worshipped them as their link to God. These angels could be regarded as malevolent and needing appeasement or as benevolent and bestowing blessing. Their so-called 'worship' may only have involved propitiating them to ward off their evil effects or beseeching them for protection” (177).
In other words, the word translated “worship” could well mean something more along the lines of “invoke” or “conjure.” These folk, then, are guilty of engaging in the somewhat magical solicitation of angels to ward off evil or to provide physical protection or to bestow blessing and success on their daily endeavors.
In any case, there was in Colossae (and often times in our own day) an excessive and inappropriate preoccupation with angels and their involvement in human life that Paul regarded as detracting from the centrality and supremacy of Jesus Christ. We would do well to heed his warning!