I was recently asked to give a speech to a women’s group on the subject of angels. As I began to research this subject, I realized I do not remember ever hearing a sermon on angels, or being in a Bible study on the subject of angels.
While I do not remember hearing that much about angels in the church, the world at large is getting quite interested in them. Unfortunately, the portrayal of angels that we see on TV and in the movies often fall far short of the Biblical description of them. I collect angels, but I must confess the angels in my collection look nothing like the description of angels in the Bible. The angels in my collection either look like beautiful young women – gorgeous enough to be Miss America – or little, fat winged infants half-dressed.
These portrayals put them more in the category of fairy tales and fantasy than messengers of the Most High God.
No wonder they seem unbelievable to many people. On the other hand, many who are disillusioned with our modern secular world are turning to the supernatural. You can now find many who claim to have angel encounters with the angel of a tree or a flower.
To live by Scripture rather than the ideas of the world means that we have our own way of thinking about angels. The fact that we have neglected them, or been taken in by the movie, TV, greeting card or New Age version of them, tells us we had better get back to the Bible and its description of angels.
Angels are mentioned at least 108 times in the Old Testament and 165 times in the New Testament. While the Scriptures give no definite figures, we are told that the number of angels is very great. Since angels are spiritual rather than physical beings, they don’t have to be visible at all. Elisha once prayed that his servant would see the armies of angels surrounding the city, and the young man discovered that he had overlooked a lot of invisible beings. When angels do appear, they generally appear in the form of men.
In Genesis 18, Abraham welcomed three angelic guests who appeared at first to be nothing more than some travelers. In the following chapter, two angels went to Sodom where they were assumed to be simply a pair of human visitors. Sometimes an angel appears to be a man with unusual features. Daniel saw an angel with arms and legs resembling polished metal and precious stones, and a face like lightning. The angel that rolled back the stone from Christ’s tomb was radiating dazzling light. The books of Isaiah and Revelation describe some highly unusual beings referred to as seraphim and living creatures.
Angels in the Bible never appear as cute, chubby infants! They are always full-grown adults. When people in the Bible saw an angel, their typical response was to fall on their faces in fear and awe, not to reach out and tickle an adorable baby.
We don’t know whether every angel carries out the same tasks, or whether some of them specialize in certain areas. The Bible does speak about classes of angelic beings like cherubim, seraphim and archangels. We are even told the names of two notable angels both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament: Michael and Gabriel.
The unnamed angels who appear most often in Scripture carry out a variety of tasks—all designed to serve God…
Isaiah 6:1-4 – In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple. Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one cried to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!” And the posts of the door were shaken by the voice of him who cried out, and the house was filled with smoke.”
Revelations 4:8 – The four living creatures, each having six wings, were full of eyes around and within. And they do not rest day or night, saying: “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, Who was and is and is to come!”
What is exciting to me is that Revelation gives a hint that we will one day join these angels in worshipping God.
Revelation 5:11-13 – Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne, the living creatures, and the elders; and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice: “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom, and strength and honor and glory and blessing!” And every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, I heard saying: “Blessing and honor and glory and power be to Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, forever and ever!”
Angels have a second ministry in Scripture. They are there for news as well as praise. In fact, the Greek word for angel is “messenger of God.”
We see this ministry in the Christmas story.
Luke 1:28-31 – And having come in, the angel said to her, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!” But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was. Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus.
Luke 2:8-14 – Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”
In fact, we see angels at every turn of the life of Jesus Christ — at the end as well as at the beginning.
- It was an angel that announced to Zacharias that he and Elizabeth would be the parents of a man we call John the Baptist.
- It was an angel that appeared in a dream to Joseph to reassure him that the child Mary was carrying was the Son of God.
- It was angels that rolled away the stone at the grave of Jesus and appeared to the women to tell them that Jesus was risen.
- It was angels that appeared to the disciples after Jesus had risen into heaven and told them that this same Jesus would come again.
- Jesus Himself said that He would return someday with His angels
Third ministry – the one I want to really think about today is that angels are used by God to help us.
- They guide us
- Joseph at the birth of Jesus
- The women at the tomb
- Cornelius in the book of Acts
- Phillip in the book of Acts – led him to the Ethiopian
- They protect us and deliver us
- Lot and his family
- Daniel in the den of lions
- Disciples set free from prison and then later Peter
- Even Jesus was ministered to by angels after his temptations and again in the garden just before going to the cross
Does that mean every human being has a “guardian angel”? Only scripture I could find in the entire Bible is one where Jesus was speaking of the little children. In Matthew 18:10 He says:
Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, that in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven.
Whether we can take from that one verse to say we all have a personal guardian angel – I don’t know.
As Scripture teaches, the “hosts of heaven” — whole legions of angels — watch over us. We cannot settle for less.
Psalm 34:7 – The angel of the Lord encamps all around those who fear Him, and delivers them
Hebrews 1:14 – Therefore, angels are only servants—spirits sent to care for people who will inherit salvation.
In all these roles, biblical angels are about God’s business. They are instruments of God in the struggle with sin, evil, error and death. Their praise, news and deeds, therefore, have nothing to do with our private agendas. Here we part company with many popular views of angels. Angels do not spend time looking after our personal interests, or furnish us with horoscopes about our future or give us directions on how to plant flowers correctly. Angel “sightings,” so to speak, always have a godly purpose and must be tested to see if they witness — as the angel Gabriel did — to something about Christ, or in conformity to Scripture’s teaching. Paul warned us in Galatians that even if an angel preached something contrary to the Word of God, we were to not accept it. In fact, he said if such an angel appeared with a new doctrine, they should be cursed.
Scripture teaches us also that angels are not just a now-and-then occurrence. The angel hosts are everywhere! They are present wherever the truth of God hits home — in reading the Bible, in hearing a sermon, when our sin is forgiven by Christ’s word of mercy, when our life is changed.
But God’s business is not just conducted in church. It takes place in daily life. When we follow what we know is true and good, when we go against the crowd, when we “do the right thing,” the angels are present. In moments of consolation over the loss of a loved one, when healing happens, when truth is told, the angels have played their part. On the larger landscape, when our nation is saved from some foolish action by our leaders, when it does do “the right thing” instead of following a cowardly course, God is at work. But so are the angels! When a victim on a Jericho road is ministered to, when oppression is resisted and a deed of justice is done, the angel with the flaming sword has been at work.
You have all probably heard stories of missionaries who have been protected by angels. You may have experienced yourself a time when you knew angels were looking out for you.
For those who take this leap of faith into the biblical world, life does begin to look different. If the hosts of angels do surround us, why should we get up in the morning so worried about this or that? Who is afraid of the terrorists? Of tyrants? Of sickness? Of death? O, yes, they can do a lot of damage. But can they do us in? Can they finally defeat God? Overcome Christ? No, the hosts of the angels of the Lord will not allow it! They shall overcome. We shall overcome!
While we thank God for that angelic host we must never worship them or give them a place that is due only to God. We should never seek for an encounter with an angel. If your experience of Christ and the Holy Spirit is so rich and full, there is no need for the angels to make themselves known. We don’t have to have angel sightings to make it through life. We have enough in our communion with Christ to last for a lifetime.