(Photo of Mount Wellington, Tasmania by author)
Who and what are angels? We know from the Bible that there are good and bad angels. We call bad angels demons and the chief demon is Satan the Devil. We’ll be looking at angels in the following, not demons. But whether angels or demons all were created good by God, which is to say that somehow some good angels became evil angels or demons.
So, what is an angel? An angel is a spirit-being created by God. It’s hard to pinpoint the moment of their creation, however, we can be sure that it was before the seventh day. And we think it was most probably on the first day. For instance we think the “morning stars” referred to in Job 38:6 & 7 are angels. The Lord was asking Job, rhetorically, if Job was there when God laid the foundations of the earth. Then the Lord asks him, “To what were its foundations fastened? Or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” So the idea is that the angels, the morning stars, the sons of God, were praising God as He formed the earth. But since God formed the earth over a six day period and rested on the seventh we can conclude only that angels were definitely created before the seventh day.
We know also that they are spirit beings or spirits. But unlike man who is body, spirit, and soul, angels don’t have bodies. Therefore angels are something like a spirit or soul-spirit without a body. They are of the same substance as the human soul. And of course they were created that way.
Unlike human beings who are organically connected to each other, each angel is an individual creation. Human beings are all descended from our original parents Adam and Eve, but angels don’t reproduce. They are a set number. Says Augustine,
Angels are spirits, but it is not because they are spirits that they are angels. They become angels when they are sent, for the name angel refers to their office, not their nature. You ask the name of this nature, it is spirit: you ask its office, it is that of an angel, which is a messenger.
From what we’ve talked about so far we’ve learned that angels are spirits. As spirits they’re not restricted as are humans. Angels can fly as it were. We’ve also learned from Job 37:7 that they sing and can shout for joy. Therefore if they can sing and shout they can surely talk! And also since they were singing and shouting for joy when they saw what God was doing, we can conclude that they have the ability to praise God!
Do angels really have wings? Everyone who has watched the school play at Christmas has seen an angel. It goes without saying that we know what an angel looks like. Angels are like people – only with wings! But where did we get the notion that they have wings?
In Luke chapter 2, where it records the birth of Jesus, angels appeared to the shepherds. “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, good will toward men!’ So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us’” Luke 2: 13-15.
I’m sure we’ve all seen this scene acted out sometime during our lives! But we should notice that it says in Luke 2:15, “when the angels had gone away from them into heaven...” So we take it that they flew up into heaven. But there’s no mention of actual wings! But we should note, at this point, that the angels were praising God for what He had done. And they were making it known to the shepherds what God had done. They were telling people that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. So we see that angels were spirits sent from God to tell certain people about Jesus.
The writer to the Hebrews asks the following rhetorical question about angels, “Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation?” Hebrews 1:14. So then, it’s the Lord who sends them. And He sends them to minister to those He is saving. Therefore angels are God’s messengers – indeed the word angel means “messenger.” And they brought the message of Glad Tidings to God’s people. Indeed sometimes human beings are called angels or messengers in the Scriptures, however, we’re looking at those heavenly beings we call angels!
But do they have wings? – wings with feathers? The first recorded mention of angels in the Bible is Genesis 3:24, “So He drove out the man; and He placed cherubim at the east of the garden of Eden, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life.” So, our first encounter with angels is of them preventing man access to the tree of life in the garden.
These particular angels are called cherubim. They were cherubs. Everybody knows a cherub is a chubby little child – with wings! Just like the angels in the school Christmas play – or are they? No! And there’s no mention of wings on the cherubs guarding the garden – only a flaming sword.
So where are we going to find angels with real wings? Well, I’ll keep you in suspense no longer. We discover that cherubs or cherubim have wings in Exodus 25. Moses had instruction on how to make the Ark of the Covenant. There was the cabinet that contained the Ten Commandments. Above that was the Mercy Seat upon which the blood of the Covenant was sprinkled. And above the Mercy Seat were angels – cherubim with wings no less!
Exodus 25:20, “And the cherubim shall stretch out their wings above, covering the mercy seat with their wings, and they shall face one another; the faces of the cherubim shall be towards the mercy seat.” At last! Angels with wings – cherubim!
But what about seraphim? Seraphim are a different kind of angel to Cherubim. Seraphim are mentioned in Isaiah chapter 6. Isaiah saw them standing above the very throne of God. Isaiah 6:2, “Each one had six wings....” I’ve never seen Seraphim in a school Christmas play, have you? One minute we couldn’t find any wings and now we have too many! How’s an angel supposed to fly with six wings? Well, Isaiah 6:2 goes on to say, “Each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, with two he flew.” So it appears that seraphim use only two wings for flying!
The Prophet Ezekiel saw angelic beings – but they only had four wings! So there are certainly passages in the Bible speaking of angels with wings. Then there is the poetic language in the Bible, which uses created things to describe angels among other things. One of my favorites is Psalm 104:3-4, “He lays the beams of His upper chambers in the waters, Who makes the clouds His chariot, Who walks on the wings of the wind, Who makes His angels spirits, His ministers a flame of fire.” So the picture in Psalm 104 is the Lord riding the dark clouds of a thunderstorm. And the Lord is sending out His messengers – bolts of lightning – as the wind blows the storm across the earth.
Psalm 18:10 gives something of the same picture, “And He rode upon a cherub, and flew; He flew upon the wings of the wind.” What a beautiful and awesome picture of our Lord and His angels. The clouds are the Cherubim and the lightnings are the Seraphim. The Prophet Daniel, however, in Daniel 7:13 saw the real thing where he says, “I was watching in the night visions, and behold, One like the Son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days, and they brought Him near before Him.” This is Christ arriving in heaven after His resurrection and ascension.
Well, there’s much more that could be said about wings of angels, and it’s easy to get carried away with it all. But more important than wings – what about words? Do angels talk? Do they have accents? Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13, you know, the famous “love” passage, “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become as sounding brass or a clanging cymbal” 1 Corinthians 13:1.
Would it surprise you to hear that some have concluded from this that Paul speaks a special language angels speak? Well, we’ve already established that angels are messengers from God, and that they were instrumental in bringing the message of salvation to people. So what would you say if a bunch of angels appeared and said to you, “Gloir do Dhia anns na h-ardaibh, agus air talamh sith, deadh-ghean do dhaoinibh.” You’d say, “What? I don’t understand you! Speak English!” And the angels would oblige and switch from the Gaelic and say the same thing in English, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men!” Luke 2:14. Why would the angels oblige? Because they bring the message of God’s salvation to men! Therefore whatever language men speak, so do they. They need to be understood by men. Therefore they speak in the various tongues of men.
If you were to search the Scriptures of every instance where a human being encounters an angel, you’d see that they speak our language. A couple of examples, first, one we’ve looked at already, where the shepherds were told of Christ’s birth in Bethlehem. Also, the angel Gabriel spoke to Mary and she had no trouble understanding his words when he told her about Jesus. She said, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?” She understood the words spoken but had trouble understanding the logic!
In the Book of Acts chapter one after Jesus had been taken up and a cloud had received Him out of their sight, two men, i.e., angels, appeared dressed in white apparel. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven” Acts 1:11.
We have no evidence from Scripture of angels speaking any special language of their own. This is because they are instruments for communicating the gospel to men not each other. Angels don’t need to hear the words of the gospel to be saved. The words of the gospel are for fallen men, not fallen angels. But that’s not to say that angels have no interest in the gospel. In fact angels are most definitely present when the gospel is proclaimed in the power of the Spirit. Why? Well Scripture says these are “...things which angels desire to look into” 1 Peter 1:12b. Therefore, if no one in the congregation is interested in what the preacher is saying, he’s guaranteed an audience of keenly interested angels! (And isn’t that a great encouragement for any depressed preacher?) Angels sit in awe of what God has done in Jesus Christ. And somehow they minister to those God is saving by His Gospel. They help us to glorify God and enjoy Him along with their company. Like the two cherubs gazing upon the Mercy Seat, so all the angels gaze intently into the gospel.
In Revelation 14:6 John says, “Then I saw another angel flying in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach to those who dwell on earth – to every nation, tribe, tongue, and people – saying with a loud voice, ‘Fear God and give glory to Him, for the hour of His judgment has come, and worship Him who made heaven and earth.’”
How does this angel know God made heaven and earth? He was there when God laid the foundations of earth! This angel is a flying angel. Does he have wings? Maybe so. But what matters more are his words. He has the everlasting gospel. And it’s for all of mankind on earth to hear.
Do angels worship God? We’ve seen already that they most certainly do. And the angel John saw flying around in heaven with the gospel is telling everyone to fear God – to glorify and worship Him because of the coming Judgment. In fact there is a command in Hebrews that says, “Let all the angels of God worship Him” Hebrews 1:6b. The angels worshipped God when He laid the foundations of the earth. The angels worshipped God at the birth of Christ in Bethlehem. Luke 2:13-14.
After Jesus did battle against the devil in the wilderness, “And He was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan, and was with wild beasts; and the angels ministered to Him” Mark 1:13. As Jesus prayed to His Father in the Garden of Gethsemane Luke 22:43-44 records, “Then an angel appeared to Him from heaven, strengthening Him. And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly. And His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.”
Jesus settled for one solitary angel to strengthen Him! When He was being arrested He rebuked the disciple who pulled out the sword, “Do you think that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He will provide Me with more than twelve legions of angels?” Matt. 26:53. So, do angels worship God? You bet! These are noble creatures. And they do exactly what the Lord tells them to. They worshipped Christ all through His ministry on earth.
It was an angel who came down from heaven and rolled away the stone at Easter. Scripture says, “His countenance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow” Matthew 28:3. The guards were terrified of him!
When Christ was born the angels told men where to find Him. When Christ was resurrected an angel told men where to find Him. “Go quickly and tell His disciples that He is risen from the dead, and indeed He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him. Behold, I have told you” Matthew 28:7 Then as they stood on the mount called Olivet, as we mentioned earlier, two men stood by them dressed in white apparel. Dressed the same as the angel who rolled away the stone; again they told men where to find Jesus. “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven” Acts 1:11.
Thus far we’ve seen that angels can fly, that they have wings, that they speak using understandable words, and that they praise God in worship. It’s all to do with helping those who are being saved glorify God and enjoy Him.
Angels have appeared in human form. There’s a verse of Scripture which says, “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels” Hebrews 13:2. Abraham and his nephew Lot entertained angels for a moment unaware they were angels. These angels appeared as men, i.e., without wings. Therefore, they can materialize themselves in the form of humans. They appeared in order to bring Abraham and Lot revelation of God.
Clearly angels are able to materialize themselves. But prior to materializing are they made of any sort of substance? AA Hodge offers the following helpful comment:
Angels are called in the Scriptures “spirits” Hebrews 1:14, a word which is also used to designate the souls of men when separate from the body. 1 Peter 3:19. There is however nothing in that word, nor in the opinion of the Jews at the time of Christ, nor in any thing which is told us of the nature or the employments of angels in the Scriptures, which prove that angels are absolutely destitute of proper material bodies of any kind. Indeed as the Son of God is to have a “glorious body,” “a spiritual body” forever, and since all the redeemed are to have bodies like His, and since angels are associated with redeemed men as members of the same infinitely exalted kingdom, it may appear probable that angels may have been created with physical organizations not altogether dissimilar to the “spiritual bodies” of the redeemed. They always appeared and spoke to men in Bible times in the bodily form of men, and as such they ate food and lodged in houses like common men. Genesis 18:8 and 19:3.
It has hence been supposed by some that angels have bodies like the present “natural” or animal bodies of men, 1 Corinthians 15:44, of flesh, bones, and blood, of head and features, hands and feet, and that the apparition of an angel involved no change in him, but only a coming within the sphere of the sense perception of the observer when the angel appeared just as he habitually is.
Now this is inconsistent with the facts of the inspired record. In certain situations the angels “appeared” precisely like common men, and in other situations they acted very differently (Acts 12:7-10; Numbers 22:31), in passing through stone walls, appearing and disappearing at will, etc. Besides, one of the three men who appeared to Abraham at Mamre, and whose feet he washed, and who ate the meat he had prepared, was Jehovah, the second Person of Trinity, who had no body till He acquired it many centuries afterwards in the womb of the Virgin. If the apparent human body of the one angel was not a real, permanent human body, there is not ground to argue from the recorded phenomena that the others were. Genesis 18:1-33.
Jesus Christ is going to return with the clouds! And so are all His holy angels, cherubim and seraphim. They’ll all be singing together and shouting for joy, just as they did when God poured the foundations of the earth and laid its corner stone. Just as they did at the Incarnation when God laid Christ His cornerstone in Zion, just as they are going to do when the LORD returns to pour the foundation and lay the cornerstone in the new heaven and earth.
The LORD will be clothed in all His glory and splendour! And all the angels will be there and this time we’ll be there with them! And all of us, every last one of us, angels and humans, praising God through Jesus, myriads and myriads of saints and angels singing praises to God and shouting for joy. The skies will be black with the multitudes as Jesus rides on the wings of the wind, the cherubim underneath His feet like clouds, the Seraphim a flame of fire like lightning, flaming swords turning every which way as Christ comes to judge! Oh what a glorious sight this will be!
Let all the angels of God worship Him. Let every knee bow before Him. Let every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
ConclusionThe angels of God certainly know how to glorify God and enjoy Him. And the Lord has sent them to assist you to do likewise.