Many of us are familiar with the story of Jesus’ birth—about his mother’s miraculous pregnancy, about his birth in a manger, about angels announcing his arrival to some shepherds (Luke 1:30-33; 2:8-15). And, of course, many of our favorite Christmas songs mention the role of angels too. Today let’s gain a better understanding of who those beings are that we call “angels”.
The word “angelos” in Greek literally means “messenger”, and it has a broad range of uses in the Bible (angelos can refer to a human messenger or to the heavenly kind). Angels—the heavenly messenger type—are beings which were created by God (Nehemiah 9:6), who have great intellect and power, but have no body. They, like God, are “spirit”. At times God makes his angels visible to our eyes—and when he does, they take on human form—but their essential nature is spiritual, not physical. Angels are God’s warriors, and just as in any army, there’s a hierarchy among them. The “commander in chief” of course, is God, but in Colossians 1:16 we learn a little about the various “ranks” of angels.
When God created the angels, of course, they all were holy and good. But some of them rebelled, and this is the origin of Satan and demons (2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6). Satan and demons are corrupted angels. Originally, as they were created by God, they were holy. But now they no longer are as God made them. So, now there also are “thrones, dominions, rulers and authorities” which are evil: Satan and his demons. We want to get back to the encouraging truths about good angels—the sort who brought the message of the Savior’s birth. Ever since that angelic rebellion, those who remained loyal to God have been called “holy angels” or “elect angels” (Mark 8:38; 1 Timothy 5:21).
The angels of Christmas, the sort which announced Christ’s birth, are what the Bible refers to as holy or elect angels. Angels, as created beings, are not God’s equal—nowhere near God’s equal. No created thing, no matter how great, are God’s equal. This is true of holy, elect angels as well as of evil angels—Satan and his demons. Powerful yes, but no match for God. Nowhere near God’s equal. Angels are stronger than us—but not omnipotent, like God. Angels are smarter than us—but not omniscient, like God. Angels are swifter than us—but not omnipresent, like God.
There’s a lot of interest in angels—especially at Christmastime—but unfortunately there’s a lot of mis-information about them. If you look at drawings of angels, they’re often portrayed as cute little babies or beautiful women with flowing hair. These are the depictions of pop culture, but they’re not at all biblical. In the Scriptures, whenever people encounter angels, I promise you— cuddling is the last thing on their minds! It seems that angels are all males. Only two angels are named in Scripture—Gabriel and Michael—and both of those are masculine names. But, whenever the gender of an angel is mentioned in Scripture, the pronoun is always masculine (Acts 5:19; 12:7-8; Revelation 7:2; 8:3; 9:11; 10:9; 14:17-18; 19:17). But, although angels all appear to be males, they don’t marry or procreate (Matthew 22:30). One more common misunderstanding is that angels are deceased humans.
Angels are God’s fearsome warrior-servants of God. In the Scriptures, whenever people encounter angels, they tremble in terror—or else they try to worship them (Luke 1:11-13; Revelation 22:8-9). Whether your reaction is terror or worship, angels are always saying “Don’t do that!” to both of them. We’re not to tremble in terror because, as God’s children, angels are here to help us. And we’re certainly not to worship angels or be enamored with them, because, like us, they’re creatures. We’re to worship God alone.
If you’re a believer, God’s angels have only the kindest of intentions toward you (Psalm 91:11; Hebrews 1:14). It’s fascinating to me that God often mediates his activity through his creation, rather than acting directly. God often mediates his care of us, the guarding of his children, through angels. He doesn’t have to —it’s not because he’s too weak or too busy. God is limitless. He often chooses to work this way. Although angels “guard us in all our ways”, there is no biblical support for the idea of individual “guardian angels” per se —as if there’s a specific angel assigned to me or to you. The Scriptural picture is of God generally deploying his angels to serve and protect us. Although God often works through an intermediary, called “angels”, the Scriptures never show individuals asking angels for help—we ask God for help—but God often sends his angels to deliver that help.
APPLICATION / CHALLENGE
- What is your response to the angels’ joyful, good news? Are you receptive and submissive to it, as Mary was? Does the news that a rescuer has come for you thrill you (as it did the shepherds)—or bore you? Do you eagerly tell others how God has saved you from your sins?
- Angels are God’s servants—sent to care for us believers. They are strong, smart, and swift. Are you grateful to God for their competent care?
- Angels see God as he truly is—glorious—and they joyfully embrace their role: glorifying him. Is your heart full of the worship of God, as theirs were?
TAKE ONE STEP
Each week, write down one doable concrete step of obedience, small or large that you will put into practice this week. (James 1:22: “But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.”)