Angels exist. The scriptures emphasize their reality and teach us repeatedly that they work tirelessly on behalf of the Father in heaven for our benefit. Therefore it’s not all that surprising that recent polls show 77% of all Americans believe in them (a percentage that’s in a steady, albeit slow, decline). Interestingly, only 57% of those polled admitted to believing the devil is for real. Yet, despite those stats, the public’s fascination with Satan and his demons, at least in the field of entertainment, is as robust today as ever. Angels have little star power, I guess. There’s a program on television that shows only movie trailers for new films and I tune in sometimes to see what’s going on in that industry. Recently I couldn’t help but notice how many of the upcoming releases delve into the frightening arena of the occult, demonic possession and devil worship in an effort to get people to come watch awful agonies and horrors being inflicted upon unsuspecting folks going about their business. Not one of the future features even hinted they’d have anything to do with angels. That tells me the general populace finds Lucifer, his despicable minions and their dastardly schemes highly intriguing while haloed angels have been relegated to being nothing but boring, petite fairies, the kind depicted on sappy Valentine’s Day cards and gift wrap. In other words, while fewer people will confess to believing in the foul prince of darkness than angels, Beelzebub’s still a bigger draw at the box office than any of his supernatural counterparts. It makes me question what we Christians truly know about angels in general. Methinks we don’t know enough.
It seems to me that in the midst of all the strife, conflict and hatred being generated on a regular basis in this fallen world that disturbs, depresses and frustrates those of us who belong to the body of Christ we could use some positive reinforcement. Focusing on what God’s Holy Word says about angels can only serve to uplift and encourage followers of Jesus. In light of the ghastly evil that abounds on this confused planet we need to remind ourselves that no matter how he’s depicted, Satan isn’t on a par with God. His power is nothing compared to our Lord and Savior’s. Not even close. 1 John 4:4 states unequivocally, “…the one who is in you [Christ] is greater than the one who is in the world.” The devil is capable of performing astounding tricks before our eyes but he’s nonetheless on a leash that was fastened around his neck two millenniums ago and if we resist him he will flee. Our Heavenly Father has provided each of His adopted children with both offensive and defensive weapons. Therefore we’re not to live in fear of Satan. Having said that, we should never be so foolish as to let down our guard. That’s so, as Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 2:11, “…we may not be exploited by Satan for we are not ignorant of his schemes.”
One of the devil’s favorite ploys is to draw our attention away from the help God provides for us in the midst of our spiritual battles, warfare so intense it can make us feel like we’re all alone in our struggles. The Bible assures us almost 300 times that we’re surrounded by a countless number of angels our Father in heaven has commissioned to aid us in our conflicts. That means each and every one of us has a powerful army standing behind us. Psalm 91:11 says of God, “…he will order his angels to protect you in all you do.” Since I believe the scriptures to be true I harbor no doubt that those angels are nearby 24/7. I also know they exist because I’ve personally sensed their presence in my life at crucial times. But I don’t intend to base this essay on those experiences. I want to concentrate on what the Bible tells us about angels and their purpose in God’s plans. Don’t trust me; trust the Holy Word of God. Billy Graham wrote, “Angels belong to a uniquely different dimension of creation that we, limited to the natural order, can scarcely comprehend. In this angelic domain the limitations are different from those God has imposed on our natural order. He has given angels higher knowledge, power and mobility than we.”
Angels are all around us. You may ask, “Well, if they’re so dadgum numerous then why haven’t I seen one?” Not many humans have. The Bible indicates that visible appearances by angels are extremely rare so you shouldn’t feel deprived. Obviously, our inability to see them must help them to more efficiently serve the great I AM who created them. Yes, He created them. They haven’t always been flyin’ around. Keep in mind they, like you and me and every atom in the universe, were brought into existence at some point by God. Colossians 1:16 confirms, “For all things in heaven and earth were created by him – all things, whether visible or invisible, whether thrones or dominions, whether principalities or powers – all things were created through him and for him.” Yet, other than their being created, they don’t look much like us at all. They can change their appearance and they aren’t subject to the limits of time and physical space. They don’t have material bodies as such but they can appear to us as human beings when God gives them a specific task that requires it.
They’re also non-sexual entities. They can’t reproduce or marry as Jesus specifically pointed out in Mark 12:25. They’re also beyond count. Hebrews 12:22 indicates that there are “myriads” of them and that’s probably putting it mildly. David, in Psalms 68:17, wrote that “The chariots of God are twenty thousand, even thousands of angels.” When God delivered the laws of the covenant into Moses’ hands he was accompanied by a battalion of angels. Deuteronomy 33:2 reads, “The Lord came from Sinai and revealed himself to Israel from Seir. He appeared in splendor from Mount Paran, and came forth with ten thousand holy ones.” And Revelation 5:11 goes even further; “Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels in a circle around the throne, as well as the living creatures and the elders. Their number was ten thousand times ten thousand – thousands times thousands…”
It’s important to note that in the history of virtually all nations and cultures there’s been some modicum of belief in angelic beings. Ancient Egyptians built impressive tombs and filled them with elaborate furnishings because they felt angels would come to visit the deceased soul residing there and would surely want to relax. Muslim scholars have proposed that everyone’s assigned two angels to register one’s good and bad deeds. (Murderous Islamic terrorists keep one of those two guys real busy, it would seem.) American Indians believed strongly in the presence of unseen, sentient spirits. The list is long and the reason for this worldwide acceptance of angels is because they’ve always been able to do things in the material realm that humans couldn’t explain away naturally. Angels speak. They have emotions. They disappear and reappear. It’s a scientific fact that our senses are quite limited, even in contrast to the animals. Dogs have a keenness of smell we find hard to wrap our heads around. Bats have a built-in radar system we may never completely comprehend. Owls can see things in the dark we wouldn’t detect in the glaring light of the noonday sun. Pigeons possess a GPS guidance app in their tiny brains that’s downright spooky. Thus we shouldn’t think it odd that we can’t distinguish the presence of angels. Yet they’re close by, watching over us. Psalm 91:12 says, “They will lift you up in their hands, so you will not slip and fall on a stone.”
I suspect that the #1 reason angels are invisible is due to our predictable tendency to fall down and worship anything out of the ordinary. The Bible makes it clear that only the Triune God is worthy of our praise and devotion. We’re not to pray to angels and we should never mistake them for the Holy Spirit. Angels do not indwell humans but the Holy Spirit can. It comes to live in our hearts permanently once we’ve been born again. While angels are indeed stronger than any man on earth, they’re not deities. They’re limited in their powers. The Holy Spirit reveals Christ in the minds of believing men and women, transforming them day by day to better resemble Jesus in their thoughts and actions. Angels don’t do that. They’re messengers of God Almighty who serve Christians as ministering spirits. Referring to angels, Hebrews 1:14 intones, “Are they not all ministering spirits, sent out to serve those who will inherit salvation?”
The Holy Spirit is part of the Trinity so it’s everywhere at once in the universe while angels can only be in one place at a time. What both have in common, however, is their dedication to seeing to it God’s will is always accomplished. The Lord uses angels to work out the destinies of both men and nations. Because we humans are endowed with free will it becomes necessary at certain junctures for God to intervene in our affairs and on those occasions He employs His faithful angels. And when they show up they make a big impression. An angel shut the mouth of wild, hungry lions when Daniel was tossed into their den. The angel that addressed the two women who went to the tomb of Jesus was dressed in a robe so incredibly white it shined like a brilliant flash of lightning. Earlier, that same angel’s spectacular arrival had so terrified the battle-hardened Roman soldiers guarding the tomb they fainted away “like dead men” where they stood. The angel also pushed aside, as if it were a pebble, the large entrance-sealing boulder that had required several strong men to roll into place. That feat undoubtedly got their rapt attention, as well.
Abraham, Lot, Jacob and others in the Old Testament testified to having encountered angels in the flesh. And who hasn’t been captivated by the tale of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the book of Daniel? Those three courageous men refused to bow down to the king of Babylon so the petulant tyrant threw them into a blazing furnace. The angel that joined the trio inside the oven not only prevented them from being roasted alive but so shielded them from the heat that when they walked out of the inferno they didn’t even smell like smoke! That story also confirmed that angels, in some instances, can be seen by unbelievers. As he peered into the flames Nebuchadnezzar exclaimed in Daniel 3:25, “But I see four men, untied and walking around in the midst of the fire! No harm has come to them! And the appearance of the fourth is like that of a God!” Yet that miraculous intervention is the exception, not the rule. Usually angels do what’s needed without us being aware of their actions. I anticipate that when I get to heaven I’ll be shown just how many times angels stepped in to save my hide or to prevent me from causing injury to others by my carelessness. I also imagine I’ll be amazed at how beautiful and dazzling the angels are when I at last behold them. Scriptures intimate that they never die or show their age and are never “under the weather.” They’re sexless creatures but that’s probably misleading to our puny minds. It’s probable they enjoy relationships far more exciting, ecstatic and fulfilling than what we experience via carnal interaction. In other words, I doubt they envy our clumsy wranglings.
A theophany is compelling, too. “What’s that?” you inquire. A theophany is a theological term for a visible appearance of Jesus Christ in another form prior to His incarnation as the Son of Man. There are passages in the Old Testament that indicate the second person of the Trinity appeared and was called either “the Lord” or “the angel of the Lord.” It’s especially implied in the 18th chapter of Genesis when three extraordinary men showed up outside Abraham’s tent. The leader of the remarkable cadre was most likely Christ and the other two His accompanying angels. I encourage you to read it for yourself but the point is that in some exceptional cases Christ Himself appeared in human form as an angel of sorts, reinforcing the close relationship our Father in heaven has with His angels. (Some scholars are convinced the fourth “man” in Nebuchadnezzar’s furnace was none other than the Son of God. Maybe so.) It’s further proof to me that the Lord is never restricted to a certain protocol of behavior. He can and will do whatever He deems necessary to further His Father’s perfect plan.
So how do human beings differ from angels? Are we like ants to elephants? Not so much. Evidently it’s only a matter of degree. The author of Hebrews in chapter 2, borrowing from Psalms 8:4-6, wrote that God made man “a little lower than the angels.” Yet Paul exclaims to the church in 1 Corinthians 6:3, “Do you not know that we will judge angels?” That would seem to be a contradiction but remember that after Christ’s return nothing will be as it was before so expect the unexpected. As you peruse the Bible you may notice that God has made no provision for the salvation of fallen angels who now call Lucifer their king. That’s probably due to their choosing to rebel against God sans, as were Adam and Eve, being enticed. They freely opted for the “dark side.” When they fell there weren’t any sinners yet so there’s no one to blame but themselves. Thus, they’re damned without a shred of hope for redemption. Christians are joint heirs with Jesus (Romans 8:17) because of His atoning sacrifice. The holy angels who didn’t join with Satan never lost their original glory and personal relationship with the great I AM so they’re in no need of salvation. In fact, they may envy us. They’ve never known the release we sinners feel when we become born again in the Spirit. Christ said in Luke 15:10 that “…there is joy in the presence of God’s angels over one sinner who repents.” That means it never gets old to them because they know the saved person has experienced something they’ll never experience and throughout eternity that person will be able to be a first-hand witness to God’s amazing grace that rescued them from oblivion. Also, being righteous, angels don’t know what it’s like to have the Holy Spirit, an actual manifestation of God, dwell inside them, leading them step by step towards eventual perfection.
Since angels are smarter than any earth-bound human will ever be it’s fair to assume they know things about us that we aren’t even aware of ourselves. It’s reassuring to know they’ll never use that against us because they’re incapable of doing anything to harm us. They aren’t God’s eavesdroppers, in other words, out to catch backsliders. 2 Peter 2:11 says, “…yet even angels, who are much more powerful, do not bring a slanderous judgment against them before the Lord.” If anything, they’re our confidants, our trusted friends who’ll never betray us. And while the scriptures don’t specifically indicate that angels sing it’s not a huge leap to opine that they do. When they gather in front of the throne of God to worship and praise His majesty it’s inconceivable they can’t raise their voices in song. And when God’s Kingdom has come at last the angels will have their own reasons to warble of His glory. They’ll have played an important part in ushering in the new dawn of mankind. They’ll have assisted the beloved children of God in getting through hardships to achieve the ultimate victory over evil. The devil and his sadistic demons the angels had to engage in constant battle for the souls of men and women will have been conquered and vanquished forevermore.
Angels have been beside us from the beginning so our relief and exultation may be miniscule in comparison to theirs. Together we’ll witness the greatest celebration ever held and hear music so inspiring and energetic we’ll be overwhelmed with emotions so intense we’ll never fail to cherish that glorious moment a zillion years from now. Dr. Graham added: “And I believe that angels and those of us who have been redeemed will compete with each other for the endless ages of eternity to see who can best ascribe glory and praise to our wonderful God!” The thought of being on equal standing with the holy angels staggers my mind. Can’t wait.