The Growing Interest in Angels
In recent times there has been a revival of interest in angels. This interest has been accelerated by certain movies and television programs. There was the old television program, “Highway to Heaven.” Later came the movie “Michael,” and then the popular TV series, “Touched by an Angel.” Many believe that angels are appearing all around us, virtually every day. Others allege that no such creatures exist at all.
Do you believe in the tooth fairy? “No,” you reply — quite emphatically. Why not? “Simply because,” you declare, “there is no factual basis for believing in such a mythical character.”
Then comes the question for which you have been baited: Do you believe that angels exist? If you answer in the affirmative, you will be expected to defend your position, or else you will be viewed as one given to superstition.
Why does the Christian believe in the existence of angels when he has neither seen nor heard them? Contrary to the assertions of some religious folks, angels are not appearing today. We have no firsthand, empirical knowledge that they are real beings. In spite of that, our conviction relative to their existence is firmly based.
We assert our confidence in the reality of angels because the Holy Scriptures inform us of their existence. Our trust in the integrity of the Bible, grounded in a careful investigation of its claims, is the basis of our faith in the unseen realm.
What does divine revelation teach about the origin, nature, role, and destiny of angels? This is a fascinating topic upon which the Scriptures do shed some light.
The Term Defined
We should note initially that the word angel derives from a Greek term that suggests the idea of sending a message. The word can be used in a very ordinary way of one who simply brings a message, as in the case of John the Baptizer (Mt. 11:10). The Hebrew form of the term is even employed of the pre-incarnate Christ (see Mal. 3:1), though certainly Jesus was no angel in the common sense of that term — as the “Watchtower Witnesses” allege. These folks identify Jesus with Michael, the arch-angel. [For a further discussion of this, see the author’s booklet, Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Doctrine of the Deity of Christ.] The first chapter of Hebrews clearly refutes that notion that Jesus was a mere angel.
Ordinarily, the word angel denotes a heavenly order of beings that are below deity (Heb. 1:6), but above humanity (Heb. 2:7).
The Origin of Angels
Angels are created beings. Only deity possesses the intrinsic quality of eternality (cf. 1 Tim. 6:16). The psalmist wrote these words. “Praise ye Him [God], all His angels . . .let them praise the name of Jehovah; for He commanded, and they were created” (Psa. 148:2,5). Elsewhere the Scriptures affirm that God “made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their hosts . . .and the host of heaven worships You” (Neh. 9:6).
When were the angels created? In the absence of explicit testimony, a plausible conclusion would be that they were brought into existence at the commencement of the creation week. All created things came into being during the first week (Ex. 20:11), and, since the angels “shouted for joy” when the “foundations of the earth” were laid (Job 38:4,7), it is not unreasonable to conclude that they came into existence during the initial stages of Jehovah’s creative activity.
The Nature of Angels
What is the essence of angels? We do not know precisely. As indicated earlier, they possess the nature of neither deity nor humanity. Scripture does affirm that they are “spirits” (Heb. 1:14). The fact is, however, we do not know very much about the nature of a spirit. A spirit is not physical, i.e., it does not possess flesh and bones (Lk. 24:39; cf. Mt. 16:17). Thus angels do not engage in physical relationships, e.g., marriage (see Mt. 22:30). Aside from a few brief comments about angels, there is little positive information about the makeup of these heavenly creatures.
Angels are accountable to some type of heavenly law, for some of these beings sinned (2 Pet. 2:4; Jude 6), and sin is defined as transgression of divine law (1 Jn. 3:4). As Paul once noted, where there is no law, there can be no sin (Rom. 4:15).
When angels sin, however, the gospel plan of redemption apparently is not applicable to them. An inspired writer affirms: “For verily not to angels doth He give help, but He giveth help to the seed of Abraham” (Heb. 2:16 – ASV). Is it possible that their intimacy with God made angelic rebellion inexcusable, and thus beyond the pale of redemption? The Bible does not explain this mystery.
The Role of Angels
Angels are “ministering spirits” (Heb. 1:14) who carry out the bidding of the Creator. They worship God and serve Him (Isa. 6:2ff; Rev. 22:8,9). In ancient times they often temporarily assumed the human form, and delivered messages for Jehovah (see Lk. 1:26ff). Sometimes they functioned as protectors of the Lord’s people (Dan. 6:22; Acts 12:7).
Some scholars believe that the expression “their angels” (Mt. 18:10) may suggest the idea of guardian angels (J.W. McGarvey, Matthew & Mark, p. 157), but the passage is too ambiguous to lead to firm conclusions regarding this matter. It is apparent, however, that angels do have an interest in the activities of Christians (see 1 Cor. 11:10; 1 Tim. 5:21; Heb. 1:14).
When Lazarus, the beggar, died, his spirit was conveyed into the hadean realm by angels (Lk. 16:22), hence, they appear to be employed by God in the Christian experience of death. Too, the Lord indicated that at the time of the Judgment, angels will be used to gather the unfaithful out of God’s kingdom (Mt. 13:41). It is significant that at the time of Christ’s return, the Scriptures indicate that He will be accompanied by “all the angels” (Mt. 25:31).
The Destiny of Angels
As indicated earlier, the Bible seems to indicate that rebellious angels are beyond the means of redemption (Heb. 2:16). Peter affirmed that those angels who sinned against God were cast into hell (tartarus — used only here in the N.T.). Tartarus is an intermediate realm of punishment, preliminary to the final day of Judgment. In this domain, angels have been restrained in darkness unto the final day of reckoning (2 Pet. 2:4).
Similarly, Jude notes that the angels who did not remain within their assigned positions of authority, have been confined in a place of punishment with a view to the day of divine wrath (v. 6; cf. Rom. 2:5). (What does this teach about the necessity of respecting sacred authority?)
In a complimentary passage, Jesus affirmed that hell (gehenna) was initially prepared for “the devil and his angels” (Mt. 25:41).
While there obviously are many things about angels that we do not know, it is clear that these rational beings serve a useful place in the divine scheme of things. It is further apparent that much of the folklore being popularized these days by the entertainment media has no basis in reality.
Note: The best treatment of the topic of angels this writer has seen is a work titled, The Hosts Of Heaven – A Biblical Study of Angels, by Travis L. Quertermous.For ordering information, contact: Hester Publications, 165 Gibson Dr., Henderson, TN 38340.Phone: (731) 989-6625.