What are angels?

Our culture has a fascination with the supernatural, and with good reason.  Everywhere one goes, there are unexplained phenomenon.  People experience the unexplainable.  Couple that with media focusing on the supernatural, from movies about angels and demons, to books about vampires and werewolves, to comics about ghosts and hauntings, we are bombarded by these stories.  But what is reality, and what is fantasy?  In order to start clarifying this question, the next series of blogs will focus on the issue of angels and demons.

To start, the word “angel” means messenger.  In the Bible, that’s the normal task that these spirits are carrying out–delivering  a message from God to people.  From where did they come?  These spirits were created by God sometime during the first 6 days of creation.  Colossians 1:16 says, “For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.”  So whether the creatures were on earth or in heaven, or could be seen with our eyes or not, God made everything–angels included.  Furthermore, in Genesis 1, God said everything was good after each day of creation, so the angels hadn’t rebelled against God and become fallen angels (demons) yet.  We’ll address those angels (now demons) in a later blog.

While we normally picture angels as having a halo, 2 wings, and a robe, the Bible gives a different description.  As stated previously, angels are spirit beings according to Hebrews 1:14.  “Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?”  Yet because these spirits can take on a human form (See Genesis 18), believers are told to entertain strangers, since some have helped angels without knowing it (Hebrews 13:2).  Other angelic appearances show them as near-human (Daniel 10:5-6), yet with a brilliant body and loud voice.  “I looked up and there before me was a man dressed in linen, with a belt of fine gold from Uphaz around his waist.  His body was like topaz, his face like lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and his voice like the sound of a multitude.” 

However, the most dramatic description of angels is from Ezekiel 1:4-14.  It says, “I looked, and I saw a windstorm coming out of the north—an immense cloud with flashing lightning and surrounded by brilliant light.  The center of the fire looked like glowing metal, and in the fire was what looked like four living creatures.  In appearance their form was human, but each of them had four faces and four wings.  Their legs were straight; their feet were like those of a calf and gleamed like burnished bronze.  Under their wings on their four sides they had human hands.  All four of them had faces and wings, and the wings of one touched the wings of another.  Each one went straight ahead; they did not turn as they moved.

Their faces looked like this: Each of the four had the face of a human being, and on the right side each had the face of a lion, and on the left the face of an ox; each also had the face of an eagle.  Such were their faces.  They each had two wings spreading out upward, each wing touching that of the creature on either side; and each had two other wings covering its body.  Each one went straight ahead.  Wherever the spirit would go, they would go, without turning as they went.  The appearance of the living creatures was like burning coals of fire or like torches. Fire moved back and forth among the creatures; it was bright, and lightning flashed out of it.  The creatures sped back and forth like flashes of lightning.”

If this is exactly what angels look like, it would explain why everyone cowers in fear when angels appear!  However, some theologians believe that this isn’t a literal depiction of their appearance but a symbolic representation of their attributes.  For example, the angel has 4 faces, one of which is an ox.  The ox at that time was used as a dometicated animal in the area of farming.  It is possible that the ox symbolizes the service that angels render for God, not in plowing fields, but by delivering messages and doing His will.  Hebrews 1;14 said they are ministering spirits, serving believers.  That ability and task, as well as other abilities, will be the subject of the next blog.

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