Angels, Angels, Everywhere/Part 2
By: The John Ankerberg Show
|By: Dr. Norman Geisler; ©2000|
|“Mistakes come not in the revelation of God, but in the misinterpretations of man.” So quotes Dr. Geisler as he looks at some of the ways critics have misread and misunderstood scripture.|
The Good Angels
What Is the Meaning of the Biblical Words for Angel?
The Hebrew word, mal’akh, and the Greek word, aggelos, both mean messenger. This indicates the term angel can be used of either men or spirits. For example, in Mark 1:2 aggelos is applied directly to John the Baptist, “Behold I send my messenger (aggelos) before your face….” while the Hebrew word mal’akh is used in the corresponding prophecy of Malachi 3:1.
Because the meaning of the word angel is simply that of messenger, it is only reading the context that determines if one is referring to a human or angelic messenger—and, in rare cases, it is difficult to determine which is meant. By far, the most common use of the term angel in the Bible is of a godly spirit messenger, what we normally think of as a good angel.
When Scripture uses the term “holy angel” or “angel” it refers to the godly and unfallen spirits created directly by God (Mark 8:38; Luke 9:26; Acts 10:22; Rev. 14:10). When it refers to “Satan’s angels,” “evil spirits” “unclean spirits,” etc., it refers to fallen angels who are the servants of Satan. (Matt. 12:24; 25:41)
The word angel itself appears some 300 times in twenty-four books of the Bible, however this does not include additional words that also designate angels, such as “sons of God,” “holy ones,” “morning stars,” “cherubim,” “seraphs,” “ministering spirits,” “watchers,” etc. In all, the term angel or its equivalent is found in thirty-five books of the Bible.
What Are Angels?
Angels are spirit beings created directly by God prior to the creation of the universe (cf., Job 38:7). They were created as servants of God, Christ, and the Church in order to perform the will of God in the earth (Heb. 1:6, 14). Apparently innumerable in number, they are of various ranks, abilities and have various duties (Rev. 5:11; 8:2; 9:15; 12:7; Eph. 1:21; Col. 1:16). When they appear, they almost exclusively take the form of a man—however there is one recorded instance of what appears to be feminine angels (Zech. 5:9).
Angels are clearly personal spirits. They have personal wills (Heb. 1:6), expressed joy at the creation of the world (Job 38:7), rejoice over a sinner’s repentance (Luke 15:10), and convey concern and consternation, as when the Apostle John wrongly attempted to worship an angel (Rev. 22:9). In addition, they are curious (1 Pet. 1:10-12); talk to each other (Rev. 14:18), worship and praise God (Rev. 7:11), and in human form can communicate directly with men (Gen. 19). Angels may command other angels (Rev. 7:3; 14:17-18) or battle demons (Dan. 10:13; Rev. 12:7-8). They may appear in dreams as to Joseph (Matt. 1:20), or visibly as normal men (Gen. 18:1-8), or as beings of incredible brightness or in shining garments (Luke 24:4). When they appear directly to men, the result is usually one of emotional shock or fear hence the common biblical refrain of the angels, “Fear not” (Luke 1:12; 2:9). In the Bible, only three angels are ever named: Michael, Gabriel and Lucifer.
Angels are immortal and can never die (Luke 20:35). As we will see, they are incredibly powerful and they have great intelligence and wisdom. They use the same measurements as men (Rev. 21:17) and may eat either human or angelic food (Gen. 19:3; Psa. 78:23-25).
Angels apparently have spiritual bodies; however they never marry (Luke 20:35-36) and are without sex, at least as we know it.
In their natural state, angels can move at tremendous speeds and are not bound by space and time, at least not in the manner we are. They can be present in great numbers in limited space since seven demons simultaneously inhabited Mary Magdalene and it seems that thousands of demons may have inhabited the Gadarene, Legion’s body, at the same time (Mark 16:9; Luke 8:30). (Thus, if they are not bound by space, one assumes that the number of angels that could sit on a head of pin would be infinite.) They can, by whatever means, be aware of things like men’s prayers and future events (Luke 1:13-16). However, despite their abilities, they have evident limits in both knowledge and power (Dan. 10:13; Matt. 24:36; 1 Pet. 1:11-12; Rev. 12:7).
Morally, there are two categories of angels, the holy or elect angels (1 Tim. 5:21), and the fallen angels who are described in the Bible as evil spirits or demons. Again, these demons are the rebellious angels who will not be redeemed (Heb. 2:11-17), whose final end is the lake of fire (Matt. 25:41). However, while some of these fallen angels are now free to roam, others are currently kept in eternal bonds (Jude 6; 2 Pet. 2:4).
Different classifications among the angels include the cherubim, apparently the highest class of angels having indescribable beauty and power. These angels were placed at the east of the Garden of Eden to guard the way to the tree of life after man was expelled (Gen. 3:24). They appear in connection with the dwelling place of God in the Old Testament (Ex. 25:17-22, cf., Heb. 9:5) and are primarily concerned with the glory and worship of God. For example, the four living creatures of Ezekiel are cherubim (Ezek. 1:1, 28; 10:4, 18-22). Although the cherubim are never termed angels, this is probably because they are not specifically messengers; their main purpose is to proclaim and protect God’s glory, sovereignty and holiness. Satan was also apparently part of the cherubim class, making his rebellion and fall all the worse. (“Cherubim” is the Hebrew plural of “cherub,” cf., Ezek. 28:12, 14, 16).
A second class includes the seraphim who are consumed with personal devotion to God (cf., Isa. 6:3). There are also archangels such as Michael, angels of yet lower rank, and special groups of angels (Rev. 1:7; 8:2; 15:1, 7, etc.).
Perhaps we should mention here that a specific term, “the angel of the Lord” (Malach-YHWH) is used throughout the Old Testament (e.g., see Gen. 22:11-12; Ex. 3:2; 2 Ki. 19:35). But this term does not refer to a created angel. It refers to Jesus Christ. Many people think that Christ first appeared on earth only at the point of the incarnation when He was born in Bethlehem. In fact, Christ has repeatedly appeared to men and is spoken of throughout the Old Testament under the name, “the angel of the Lord.” The angel’s identity as Christ is indicated not only by the attributes of deity He possesses, but by the fact that the Jews themselves held this angel to be the divine Messiah.
Although the godly angels are considered to reside in heaven (Rev. 10:1), we are not told the nature of their specific dwelling places, if any. Of course, if angels do have spiritual bodies of some sort, this might indicate they have fixed dwelling places (cf., Jude 6).
How Powerful Are Angels?
Angels are incredibly powerful. Peter puts the case mildly when he says they are “greater in power and might” (2 Pet. 2:11). For example, only one angel was sent to destroy the entire city of Jerusalem (1 Chron. 21:15) while only two angels were needed to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah and all the surrounding cities (Gen. 19:13, 24-25). One angel is even able to lay hold of Satan himself to bind him for ten centuries (Rev. 20:1-3). Destroying angels produced the ten plagues on Egypt, including the death of all Egypt’s first born, i.e., millions of people (Ex. 12:13, 23, 29-30; Psa. 78:43, 49; Heb. 11:28). The four angels of Revelation have power over the winds of the entire earth (Rev. 7:2-3).
Other angels are indirectly associated with the destruction of one-third of the entire heavens and earth—one-third of the seas, the rivers, the vegetation and of the sun, moon and stars (Rev. 8-9). In Revelation 9:14-15 four angels actually destroy one-third of the earth’s entire population.
At the end of the world, the angels will gather all the spirits of the saved and unsaved dead: they gather believers at Christ’s return to earth (Matt. 24:30-31) and they gather the unbelievers for eternal judgment (Matt. 13:39-43).
Truly, angels “excel in strength” (Psa. 103:20). But what is perhaps most amazing for the simple believer in Christ is that God tells us that we will one day judge and perhaps rule angels themselves (1 Cor. 6:2-3)!
What Are Some Popular But False Ideas About the Good Angels?
Given the degree of biblical ignorance concerning angels in our culture, as well as the revival of the New Age movement, cults and the occult, it’s not unexpected that some false concepts about angels could arise. Among these erroneous beliefs are the following: 1) that angels are the human dead, i.e., that we become angels at death; 2) that angels perform God’s work through various occult activities and practices; 3) that the devil isn’t a fallen angel, or that Jesus Christ was only an angel; and 4) that simply because they are angels, all angels can be trusted to be good. Obviously this ignores the fact that perhaps one-third of the angels rebelled against God and are now evil spirits whose sole purpose is to accomplish the will of the devil. These kinds of false beliefs indicate it is especially important to ascertain what Scripture does and does not teach about both the good angels and the evil angels.
- cf., A. C. Gaebelein, What the Bible Says About Angels (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1987), pp. 29-35.
- Gaebelein, Ch. 3; C. Fred Dickason, Angels: Elect and Evil (Chicago: Moody Press, 1975), Ch. 6; John Ankerberg, John Weldon, The Facts On Jesus the Messiah (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 1993).