Among the different categories of theology I think people (in America at least) have more unbiblical beliefs about angels than any other doctrine. In this post I will give you a clear picture of what the characteristics of angels are according to Scripture. Next week we will look at the practice and ministry of angels.[ref]Much of this blog post is based on the notes I received from J. Scott Horrell while a student at Dallas Theological Seminary. I have simplified his notes, added some things, and provided my own thoughts. The the original content and outline are his.[/ref]
Photo Credit: Waiting for the Word
The Characteristics of Angels
I. CREATED FINITE AND PERFECT
The enemy of God, Satan, was once an angel of God. Ezekiel 28[ref]While the original description refers to the ruler of Tyre, it certainly applies to the god of this age, Satan, the enemy of the LORD” (Wiersbe, Be Reverent, p. 151)[/ref] describes Satan and his status in heaven before he fell from God’s grace.[ref]Some reasons I believe Ezek 28:12-15 is talking about Satan. First, “Cherub” in v. 14 and v. 16 suggests that we are dealing with an angelic creature. Second, the description seems lofty and more like we are describing some more than merely human being. Third, Satan wants control of the nations based on 1 Chron 21; Dan 9; Matt 4:8-10. Fourth, he had acceess to the “holy mountain of God” (v. 14).[/ref]
You [Satan] were the model of perfection, full of wisdom and exquisite in beauty. You were in Eden, the garden of God. Your clothing was adorned with every precious stone— red carnelian, pale-green peridot, white moonstone, blue-green beryl, onyx, green jasper, blue lapis lazuli, turquoise, and emerald— all beautifully crafted for you and set in the finest gold. They were given to you on the day you were created. I ordained and anointed you as the mighty angelic guardian. You had access to the holy mountain of God and walked among the stones of fire. You were blameless in all you did from the day you were created until the day evil was found in you. (Ezekiel 28:12–15, NLT, emphasis added)[ref]”More than one student has identified . . . the king of Tyrie as Satan, the enemy of God and of the Jewish people, who energized the prince and used him to accomplish his own evil purposes.” (Wiersbe, Be Reverent, p. 150)[/ref]
There are a few of important points that need to be made about angels from this passage. First, angels are “created” beings (vv. 13, 15). Unlike God, they have not existed forever. In Paul’s letter to the Colossians he further clarified that God “created everything in the heavenly realms” (Col 1:16). Second, angels are limited and finite. This means that angels are “full of wisdom” (v. 12) but they are not “all-wise” like God is because God is the only oen who possess that characteristic. Third, angels are perfect.[ref]”If Ezek. 28:15 refers to Satan, as many suggest, then Satan is definately said to have been created perfect.” (Henry Thiessen, Lectures in Systematic Theology, p. 135)[/ref] God says that Satan was the “model of perfection” (v. 12) and “blameless” (v. 15) in all that he did until that day when Satan disobeyed God and left God’s presence in rebellion. While angels have a choice to rebel against God, they are perfect until they choose to disobey.
Another passage that describes angels as created beings is in Colossians,
for through him [Jesus] God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth. He made the things we can see and the things we can’t see–such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world. Everything was created through him and for him (Col 1:16, emphasis added)
This passage is talking about Jesus, but the fact that Jesus created everything means that he created angels.
Also see Job 38:4-7; Pss 148:2, 5.
II. INNUMERABLE & IMMORTAL
The Bible describes the number of angels as an uncountable amount and that they cannot die.
The book of Hebrews calls Christians to,
Come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to countless thousands of angels in a joyful gathering. (Hebrews 12:22, emphasis added)[ref]Unless otherwise noted, all translations are from the New Living Translation[/ref]
The spiritual place we go to has countless thousands of angels around it. In a similar way, Psalm 68 talks about God choosing Mt. Zion (Jerusalem) as his dwelling place which he arrived at “surrounded by unnumbered thousands of chariots” (Pss 68:17). Those chariots are his angels.
Likewise the book of Revelation talks about the throne of God with angels around it. John wrote,
Then I looked again, and I heard the voices of thousands and millions of angels around the throne and of the living beings and the elders. (Revelation 5:11, emphasis added)
John heard “thousands and millions” of angels around the throne. While numbers are given in Rev 5:11 for the amount of angels there, those numbers could just be used to say that the amount of angels is so large that it is an incalculable number. Literally, John saw so many that he could not count them all. Also see Pss 68:17
For a brief look at how Jesus Christ will return with an innumerable amount of angels in judgment of the earth, take a look at Jude 14.
Angels also are immortal spirits that do not die. Hebrews informs us of this.
Therefore, angels are only servants—spirits sent to care for people who will inherit salvation. (Hebrews 1:14, emphasis added)
According to the book of Hebrews angels are spirits that are sent to care for people. Angels do not have a physical human body like we do (but they can appear to be human at times as in Heb 13:2).[ref]”Angels are spirits and therefore don’t have bodies (Ps. 104:4; Heb 1:7). When they appear to humans, they take on temporary human form.” (Wiersbe, Be Resolute, p. 138).
In addition to being spirits, angels also do not die. When Jesus was talking about how humans live forever in heaven he said,
And they [believers] will never die again. In this respect they will be like angels. They are children of God and children of the resurrection. (Luke 20:36, emphasis added)
In light of Hebrews 1:14 and Luke 20:36 it is clear that angels are spirits that are immortal and don’t die.
III. MALE WITHOUT HALOS, HARPS, OR WINGS
When I teach new Christians that angels are described in the Bible as being male, without halos, harps, or wings, they often are very surprised. (It is likely that angels are genderless but are described with male pronouns similar to God being described as “Father” and “Son.”) Most people that don’t have a strong Bible background think angels are cute babies that have wings and halos.
The word “angel” appears about 350 times in the Bible. And in those 350 occurrences angels usually appear to be male without wings, harps, or halos. The only exception to rule is in the minor prophet book, Zechariah.
Then I looked up and saw two women[ref]Here two women appear as the agents of the LORD because the whole scene is feminine in nature. The Hebrew word for “wickedness” in v. 8 (רִשְׁעָה) is grammatically feminine, so feminine imagery is appropriate throughout. (NET Study Note)[/ref] flying toward us, gliding on the wind. They had wings like a stork, and they picked up the basket and flew into the sky. (Zechariah 5:9)
An important point here needs to be made: this passage does not say that these two women are “angels.” They might very well be but the word “angel” or derivative of angel (cheribum[ref]The cherubim angels are described as having wings. Examples are Exod 25:20; Ezek 10:5, 8, 19-21. They seem to be connected with the garden of Eden (Gen 3:24) as well as the Ark of the Covenant (Exod 25:22; Num 7:89; 1 Sam 4:4; 2 Sam 6:2; 2 Kings 19:15; Isa 37:16; Ezek 9:3; 10:1-4, 5-9, 14-16, 18, 20; 11:22).[/ref] or seraphim[ref]Seraphim are described with wings in Isa 6:2, 6.[/ref]) is not used here. I think it is safe to conclude that angels, for the most part, are male and do not have halos, harps, or wings.
IV. EXTRAORDINARY POWERS
A. Great Wisdom
Angels are God’s messengers sent with God’s knowledge, yet they are not all-knowing (Luke 1:13-17). In the book of 2 Samuel, Joab had a woman act out a plan to convey a particular message to King David, but King David discovered the woman was deceiving him. The woman responded to David, “You are as wise as an angel of God” (2 Sam 14:20).
Another example of the wisdom of angels is when Mary Magdalene and the other Mary visited the tomb of Jesus. An angel appeared to the two women and said, “I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified” (Matt 28:5). The angel didn’t have to ask the women why they were there because he knew why they were there.
When Jesus was describing his future return to earth he said that no one knew the day or hour when he would return, not even “the angels in heaven or the Son himself” (Mark 13:32). I think the implication that Jesus made here is that obviously the Son and the angels had special knowledge of things that humans did not know, yet even the angels and the Son did not know when the return of Christ would occur.
In the book of Revelation the visions John saw were given to him from angels. On one occasion John wrote, “One of the seven angels who had poured out the seven bowls came over and spoke to me [John]’. ‘Come with me,’ he said, ‘and I will show you the judgment that is going to come on the great prostitute, who rules over the man waters” (Rev 17:1). The angel had special wisdom.
B. Great Strength
When two women went out to visit the tomb of Jesus three days after Jesus’s crucifixion there was a great earthquake and an angel from heaven rolled aside the stone which was in front of Jesus’s tomb (Matt 28:2). When the guards at the tomb saw this angel they “shook with fear” and “fell into a dead faint” (Matt 28:3). Now that’s strength! What an amazing and powerful sight!
In the apostle Peter’s second letter he wrote about people who are proud and arrogant and who scoff at supernatural things. Peter then wrote that angels “are far greater in power and strength” (2 Peter 2:11) than humans.
In one of David’s psalms he called the Lord’s angels “mighty ones who carry out his [God] plans” (Pss 103:20).
C. Mediate God’s Power Over Nature & Events
Angels are God’s messengers sent to do God’s will. Warren Wiersbe describes the difference between God and angels: “God is sovereign. He commands His angels–He doesn’t consult them–and they do His will” (Delights and Disciplines of Bible Study, p. 147). One of the characteristics of angels is that they mediate God’s power over nature and events.
In the book of Exodus God was guiding his chosen people, Israel, out of Egypt and to the promised land. To help aid this journey God sent an angel ahead of Israel to drive out the people living in the land God had promised to Israel (Exod 33:2-3). God did not send the people by themselves but had an angel help make sure everything went smoothly.
Another clear example of angels mediating God’s power over nature and events is in the seven trumpets of the book of Revelation. Each angel has a trumpet and when each trumpet is blown a specific physical event happens on the earth: hail and fire (Rev 8:7), fire and chaotic seas (Rev 8:8-8), undrinkable water (Rev 8:10-11), day becomes dark (Rev 8:12), locusts sent to sting people (Rev 9:1-6, and lightening with thunder and an earthquake (Rev 11:15-19). This is just another example of how angels have power to implement God’s desire for nature and events.
Among the angels there is an organizational hierarchy that exists. I have grouped this hierarchy into archangels, principalities, and council of “gods.” Let’s look at each.
A. Archangels and Other Named Angel
The first mention of an “archangel” in the Bible is in Daniel 10 when an angel appeared to Daniel to give him a message. The angel told Daniel that he would have been there earlier but for “twenty-one days the spirit prince of the kingdom of Persia blocked my way. Then Michael, one of the archangels, came to help me” (Dan 10:13). In Jude’s letter he too described Michael as an archangel, “But even Michael, one of the mightiest of the angels, did not dare accuse the devil of blasphemy” (Jude 9). Also see Daniel 12:1 and 1 Thessalonians 4:16.[ref]While Michael is our only archangel based on the Christian Bible, some might say that Gabriel might qualify as an archangel based on the apocryphal books of Enoch 20:1-7 which lists seven “angels of power” which includes Michael and Gabriel as well as a mention in Tobit 12:15. Gabriel might also ben an archangel even though he is never specifically called one in Scripture (Dan 8:16; 9:21; Luke 1:19, 26).[/ref]
B. Principalities or Rulers
At the beginning of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians Paul wrote about the amazing plan for salvation that God had for his people, and Paul prayed that the people would have the wisdom to understand God’s plan for their lives. Paul praises God for having incredible power that raised Christ from death (Eph 1:19-20). According to Paul, that power is greater than any “ruler or authority or power or leader or anything else-not only in this world but also in the world to come” (Eph 1:21, NLT). The King James Version states that God’s power is greater than “all principality, and power, and might, and dominion (KJV). Paul acknowledged that there were other evil powers that existed at the time of his writing, and whatever powers those were did not have more power than God’s power. A similar references to “principalities” or “rulers” is is Peter’s first letter he wrote, “Now Christ has gone to heaven. He is seated in the place of honor next to God, and all the angels and authorities and powers accept his authority” (1 Peter 3:22, NLT).
C. Heavenly Court
The Bible describes a sort of heavenly court or council of God. This was first described in the book of Job, “One day the members of the heavenly court came to present themselves before the Lord” (Job 1:6). In the book of 2 Kings the prophet Micaiah saw the Lord “sitting on his throne with all the armies of heaven around him, on his right and on his left” (2 Kings 22:19). In the book of Isaiah the prophet Isaiah saw the Lord sitting on his throne (Isa 6:1) and attending to him were “mighty seraphim” (Isa 6:2). In addition to archangels and principalities/rulers, there also are members of the heavenly court.
VI. NOT WORTHY OF WORSHIP
The Bible makes it clear that we are not supposed to worship angels. Near the end of the book of Revelation the apostle John was given a vision by an angel and fell down to worship the angel. But the angel responded, “No, don’t worship me. I am a servant of God, just like you and your brothers and sisters who testify about their faith in Jesus. Worship only God” (Rev 19:10). John repeated the same phrase in Rev 22:8-9 to further clarify for his readers that humans are not supposed to worship angels.
Humans are supposed to worship God. Paul wrote something similar to John at least thirty years earlier, “Don’t let anyone condemn you by insisting on pious self-denial or the worship of angels, saying they have had visions about these things. Their sinful minds have made them proud, and they are not connected to Christ, the head of the body” (Col 2:18-19). It seems some people worshipped angels in the city of Colossae, but Paul told them not to.
VII. CONCLUSION AND APPLICATION
A. We worship Jesus, not angels.
God’s inspired Word clearly shows that humans are not supposed to worship angels. We are supposed to worship our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Angels are mighty and powerful warriors who often fight spiritual battles we never know about, but we are not supposed to worship them. They, like us, worship our Lord God.
B. We pray to Jesus, not angels.
Similar to how we are not supposed to worship angels, we also are not supposed to pray to angels. We pray directly to Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. We do not pray to angels. We pray to God.
C. We celebrate Jesus, not angels.
Angels have no place in honor or celebration during our church services or prayer time. Our sole focus and attention should be on Jesus Christ and not on angels.