THE TRUTH ABOUT ANGELS
"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." (Luke 2:13-14)
Along with a renewed interest in angels, both among Christians and non-Christians, has come a lot of misinformation about them. Throughout the last century (as odd as that phrase may still sound) and continuing today many Preachers and Bible teachers have been reluctant to study this Bible Doctrine as other than an odd curiosity. Those who do generally touch only the surface since any serious study of angels must include at least some research into the subject of evil angels (devils/demons). Few want to delve into that aspect of “Angelology” out of a mostly superstitious fear of it.
In this short study I will try to cover the most essential facts about angels as God has given them to us in His Word. I hope to provide enough Biblical information to cover most of the concerns believers have about them, and to clear away as many of the popular false ideas as I can without plunging in too deeply. In the process we will focus on some of the most revealing passages concerning them.
First I want to simply clear away some of the most common myths and misconceptions about what angels are and what they do. Without explaining them at this time, these are the most common of those FALSE ideas about angels
1. Good humans, especially children, become angels when they die and go to heaven.
2. Angels are beautiful females. (Sorry ladies)
3. All angels are good; or there are only two types of angels: good angels and demons.
4. We can or should pray to angels: particularly to our “guardian angel.”
5. Angels are disembodied spirits, or at least are spirits without bodies.
6. Angels, evil angels in particular, can read our thoughts.
7. Good angels only do “good” things on the earth.
8. The Bible really has very little to say about the angels.
9. Angels all look like humans with wings.
10. The Bible Doctrine of Spirit Beings (“angels”) is not really important or practical.
Other misconceptions will become apparent as we continue our study of the Holy Scriptures.
WHAT ARE “ANGELS”
Historically, the word “angel” itself came into the English language after being borrowed from Greek by the early German Goths. The word itself signifies “a messenger, or one who is sent in the work of another.”
In the Old Testament the original Hebrew word most often translated angel is “malek.” That word itself means “one sent as a deputy, messenger, or ambassador.” Therefore, as we find it in the King James Bible angel is unquestionably the correct translation into English.
In the New Testament the original Greek word most often translated angel is (naturally) “anggelo.” That word comes from the root “ago,” which signifies “bring or go forth, to carry.” Consequently the Greek word and the English word both refer to “a messenger.” Significantly, the word also translates as pastor. The words can be used of either terrestrial (earthly) or celestial (heavenly) Beings.
Interestingly, this is not actually a case of “transliteration”: simply rewriting the original Greek word as an English word without translating it. That is where the history—“etymology”—of the word is significant. The word “angel” had come into the German language through the Goths (nothing to do with the modern “goth” subculture). From them the word was passed down through the language of the Angles and the Saxons who were the Germanic tribes who settled in England. Therefore, “angel” was essentially the Anglicized (“English-ized”) form of the original word “anggelo” in the Greek New Testament.
That is important because it shows that angel really signifies more than just “messenger.” That it equally translates the Hebrew word “malek” provides us with a continuity of information and understanding concerning angels throughout both the Old and the New Testaments. God’s faithful servants whom He used to produce the King James Bible recognized this and so faithfully used that word to refer to the whole order of celestial Beings. The word marks them as the messengers and deputies who carry out the work of God in both the heavenly and the earthly realms.
The primary work of those Beings in relation to humans on earth involves representing God on the earth, especially in conveying messages from Him. We shall discover their work goes beyond that, and it will confirm why God’s servants used that English word throughout the King James Bible.
UNDERSTANDING THE CELESTIAL
In order for us to really comprehend who and what angels are we must understand some facts about the celestial realm or world. First, it is a “realm” and a “world” in the sense of being a real place having its own real natural laws governing its own real functions. We also often refer to the celestial realm as the “spiritual realm,” or most often “heaven” or the “heavenlies” in a generic sense.
For our purposes in these articles I will most often use the terms “celestial realm” and “spiritual realm” to mean the place God created and populated with Beings uniquely suited to live and function within it. We must take a minute to wrap our minds around the fact that the celestial realm is just as “real” and just as tangible to its inhabitants as our earthly realm. I have to say that because I have heard many Preachers speak of the spiritual realm as if it were some kind of spooky unreal place floating around somehow in outer space.
Second, we have to understand and accept that everything including the angels and the other Beings living in that realm are individuals with bodies that are just as tangible and functional there as we are here. The Holy Spirit’s revelation of that fact is recorded quite clearly in 1 Corinthians 15:39-41:
“All flesh is not the same flesh: but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of beasts, another of fishes, and another of birds. There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory.”
Notice the term celestial bodies. Then notice the contrast with bodies terrestrial. The Lord God—who has given (not “inspired”) this scripture through Paul (2 Timothy 3:16), one of His holy men—tells us not only that the two bodies…differeth from each other, but that both are actual, genuine bodies. That means that the bodies living in the celestial world are just as much bodies as those living in the terrestrial world.
Angels are “spirit beings” only in the sense that they naturally live and function in the “spirit world,” the “spiritual realm.” They are not incorporeal: without bodies. They are not (as we shall see in more detail later) the disembodied spirits of dead believers: they are not ghosts. However, as celestial bodies living in the spirit realm they operate and carry out their Divinely ordained duties in ways according to natural laws that differ greatly from those of our terrestrial bodies. Simply, they can do things that we cannot do.
We can employ a useful analogy in helping us understand the nature of the celestial realm and its occupants. Think of it as a different “dimension” with, again, its own laws and occupants. In that dimension live all manner of different Beings who are all busy going about their own lives. We can call them “creatures” since they were all created by God, as we shall study later.
Since each of these creatures has its own distinct body we can reasonably surmise that each has its (or as we shall also see “his”) own separate identity, personality (or at least personhood), and functions within the celestial society. God created him with an appearance, limitations, abilities, and responsibilities unique to his class of beings, and unique to his own person.
WHY THEY HAVE WINGS
Consider, for example, this simple question: “why do (some) angels need wings to fly?” At least one class of Spirit Beings does according to Isaiah 6:2. Isaiah records for us what he saw after King Uzziah died and he saw the Lord sitting upon a throne high and lifted up. Then he says, “Above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly.”
That is truly remarkable. The class of celestial Beings Uzziah saw each had six wings that functioned in pairs. Note that when he described the function of the separate pairs of wings that each seraphim had, Isaiah referred to that being as he and his. Then he says of one pair that with it he did fly. So, if “angels,” in this specific case seraphims, are “disembodied” or even simply “incorporeal spirits” why would they need wings to fly? That is not a silly or useless question. The answer is both reasonable and quite simple.
They need wings to fly because:
1) They have physical bodies.
2) The world in which they live is physical, with a physical atmosphere—air—against which the wings push to propel the seraphims across a physical space.
3) There must be some sort of gravitational pull that the use of wings allows them to overcome.
Notice also that the first two wings have a special function that differs from those of the other two pairs: with twain he covered his face. That could serve both to hide his face so other Beings could not see it, and—which is the most important—to block his eyes so he could not see the Face or Glory of God. We read in Exodus 33:20“And he (God) said, Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live.” That Divine Law must apply to celestial Beings just as it does to terrestrial beings.
In either case, the wings must be physical and opaque (cannot see through them). That clearly reveals the intrinsic nature of angels. They are, again, real individual creatures who have separate existence, opaque physical bodies, must obey the physical laws of their world, at least one order of these celestial Beings have and use wings to fly, and have identifiable functions for which God has uniquely created them. That is enough to chew on for now.
We will continue our study of what God’s Word reveals about angels in the next article.