Saturday, April 21, 2012

Angels


Angels. They’re one of the most depicted religious entities in America, as well as one of the most widely believed in. According to a recent Fox News Poll, more people believe in angels than in Hell, the devil (ironically a fallen angel but an angel nonetheless), ghosts, UFO’s, astrology, reincarnation, or witches. And that belief has increased in recent years. But despite all of this belief, many people do not necessarily hold to a Biblical view of angels, similar to how many people believe in God, but few hold to a Biblical view of Him. So it’s important to weed out fact from fiction when I comes to angels, and disregard all of the cultural descriptions of angels and focus on Biblical, God-centered view of angels—what they are and what they do.

What are angels? The Bible says that God created all things. Since angels are real, then God created them. Colossians 1:16 says that it is by Christ that all things were created, including what the Bible calls “powers”—a term reserved for angels. Additionally, Psalm 148 states that angels were created by God, though nowhere does it say that angels were created in the image of God like humans were. Angels were created before time; in Job 38 God tells Job that the angels were there at the moment of creation, worshipping God Almighty. According to Hebrews 1:14 angels are spirit beings, not deceased humans as is popularly believed. In Luke 20:36, Jesus tells a crowd that angels are immortal and never die. In Revelation 5, as John is being given a vision of heaven and of the future, he sees “ten thousand times ten thousand” angels—which is 100,000,000 at the very least. By their very nature—spirit beings instead of physical beings—they are invisible unless a person has the gift of discernment (such as Elisha in 2 Kings 6) or they choose to take on a physical body (like two angels did in their exploration of Sodom in Genesis 19), though they always take on the appearance and form of a male. In Matthew 22:30 Jesus describes angles as being sexless and non-reproducing.

If that is what angels are, then what do they do? Our first clue is the actual word “angel.” The Greek word used for angel is “angelos” which means messenger. This doesn’t come as any surprise when you look at when and where angels show up in the Bible. For example, one of the first times we see angels is in Genesis 19, when two angels go down into Sodom. They served as messengers to Lot and his family. An angel appears to Daniel to give him words and a vision. In the new testament, an angel appears to Zechariah telling him that his wife Elizabeth is pregnant. The angel Gabriel appears to Mary and tells her she will be pregnant with the Christ. Shortly thereafter another angel appears to Joseph with the same message. The list could go on and on, but angels are messengers of God, who, according to Psalm 103:20 do the will of God. Angels guide believers (Genesis 24:7), they protect believers (Psalm 34:7) and they comfort believers (Acts 27:24).

The Bible mentions two large groupings of angels—fallen angels who rebelled along with Lucifer, and the Heavenly Angels who stayed loyal to God. Amongst the heavenly angels, there are three, possibly four types of angels, each, apparently, with different roles. The first type mentioned are the Cherubim, then the Seraphim, and then the Archangel. There is also potentially a fourth type of angel mentioned throughout the Bible, and that is the Angel of the Lord, though it is debated whether or not the Angel of the Lord is an actual angel, or if it is in fact a theophany or a Christophany.

The first type of angel mentioned, the Cherubim, are found in Genesis chapter 3. After Adam and Eve are kicked out of the Garden of Eden, God places Cherubim and “a flaming sword” to guard the way back to the Tree of Life. The next time we hear about the Cherubim is when God is commanding Moses to build the Ark of the Covenant in Exodus 25. God tells Moses to build a cover for the Ark, and to make two Cherubim facing each other at each end of the cover, with their wings stretched out covering the Ark and their heads bowed. What’s really interesting is in verse 22 God tells Moses “There, above the cover between the two cherubim that are over the ark of the Testimony, I will meet with you and give you all my commands for the Israelites.” God also commanded Moses to have the curtain that separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place to have images of Cherubim woven into it. It appears that the Cherubim are the guardians of God’s holiness. In Numbers 7, when God speaks to Moses, He speaks from between the two Cherubim on the Ark. After the Ark is made, several times throughout the Old Testament God is described as being “enthroned between the two Cherubim.” When Solomon built the temple, there were Cherubim throughout it. In Ezekiel’s vision of heaven, there were Cherubim throughout, always around God and His throne—implying that the Cherubim are focused on God’s Holiness and worship of Him.

The next type of angel, mentioned by name only in Isaiah 6 are the Seraphim. Isaiah describes the Seraphim as having six wings each, and “with two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of His glory.’ At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.” (Isaiah 6:2-4). It appears that Seraphim are angels who worship God without ceasing. This fits with the etymological root of the word—Seraphim literally means “fiery, burning ones.” They could possibly being the angels flying around the throne of God in Revelation 4:6-8, the main differences being the song they sing and John’s description of them being covered in eyes and having different faces. They also served as agents of purification for the Prophet Isaiah before he began his ministry. One of the Seraphim approached him with a hot coal and pressed it against his lips saying “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” (Isaiah 6:7). Similar to the Cherubim’s duty towards the holiness of God, it seems the Seraphim are focused on the worship of God.

The third and possibly last type of angel is the Archangel. The prefix “arch” is Greek for chief, meaning that the archangel is the chief angel. An Archangel is only mentioned twice in the Bible—in 1st Thessalonians 4:16 and in Jude 1:9. 1st Thessalonians talks about the coming of the Lord, and how God will come “with the voice of the Archangel,” implying a lot of importance to the role of Archangel. In Jude, it names the archangel as Michael. What’s important about both of these passages in our understanding of angels is the use of the definite article “the.” It is not “an Archangel” in 1st Thessalonians 4:16. It is not “one of the Archangels, Michael,” in Jude 1:9. It is “the Archangel” in both instances, lending credence to the idea that there is only one Archangel, just as linguistic root of the word does.

But there is Biblical evidence to the contrary, suggesting that Michael is one of several Archangels. In the tenth chapter of the Book of Daniel, Daniel has a vision of an angel. According to verse 13, the angel tells Daniel that he’d been waylaid by the King of Persia for 21 days, and the only way he escaped that is because “Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help.” Another description of Michael in Daniel 12:1 describes him as “the great prince.” Both of these verses support that Michael has authority, but 10:13 especially could hint at the existence of other Archangels. If this is the case, 12:1 would seem to show that Michael is the head of all the archangels, though.

Then there is the fourth possible type of angel—the Angel of the Lord. The Angel of the Lord appeared to many different people, from Hagar mother of Ishmael to Gideon. Many times throughout scripture, there are references to the “angels of the Lord,” to “an angel of the Lord,” and sometimes to “the angel of the Lord.” With the definite article “the” used in this last instance, it would appear that this is a special angelic being, a separate heavenly entity. So who or what is it? Some suggest that it is the Archangel Michael, but there is no Biblical evidence for that. The evidence suggests that it is a theophany or a Christophany—an appearance of God the Father or God the Son (respectively) in physical form. The fact that in many of these appearances people feared for their lives because they had “seen the Lord.”

I personally believe that the Angel of the Lord is a Christophany for a few reasons. First off, Jesus has always been. Jesus was not created, He’s a part of the Trinity and He has always been an active part of the Trinity. Jesus said in John 8:58 “…before Abraham was born, I am!” It would make sense, then, for Jesus to be active in the world and even to manifest Himself to different people. Another argument for the Angel of the Lord to be a Christophany is because while angels are mentioned numerous times throughout the New Testament, the Angel of the Lord is strangely absent. I believe this is strong evidence pointing towards the Angel of the Lord being a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus Christ.

Then there are the fallen angels—the angels that rebelled against God with Satan. Sometime before history, the angel Lucifer somehow got it into his head that he was better than God. He wanted to become God, so he rebelled—all according to Isaiah 14:12-16. Revelation 12:3-4 states “a great red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads were seven diadems. And his tail swept away a third of the stars of heaven, and threw them to the earth,” which would seem to imply that when Satan rebelled, he convinced a third of the angels to follow him. The Bible never says what types of angels rebelled with Satan, whether they were Seraphim, Cherubim, an Archangel before Michael, or other, unnamed ranks of angels.

Though in Ezekiel 28:13, there are some implications that Lucifer was once an angel of worship. It says “…and the gold, the workmanship of your settings and sockets was in you…” The Hebrew word there for settings is toph, which means timbrel, and a timbrel is a musical instrument. Additionally, the Hebrew word for sockets is neqeb, which means pipes. In the next verse, he is described as the “anointed cherub who guards.” So according to Ezekiel, Lucifer was once a cherub, an agent of God’s holiness and a worshipper of Him before pride arose within him and he decided to rebel against the Most High.

Angels are spirit beings, created by God before time as we know it existed. Sometime in that expanse before the creation of the physical universe, the angel Lucifer rebelled and convinced a third of the angels to rebel against God with him. Since God is God, the rebellion failed and there were two large groups of angels—the Heavenly, loyal angels, and the fallen Hell bound angels led by the angel Lucifer, a cherubim who may at one time have been in charge of worship in heaven. The Bible mentions three types of angels in heaven—the cherubim, associated with God’s Holiness and His worship; the Seraphim, whose name means “fiery, burning ones,” are associated with an intense worship of God; and the Archangel Michael, the chief or head angel.

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