Thursday, May 25, 2017

Biblical Study of Angels: Introduction and Qualities

I have been teaching through the book of Daniel on Wednesday nights at my church. Last night, we discussed angels in the context of Daniel 10 and the topic of spiritual warfare. That we were doing so might not make sense, except for the very interesting story recounting how a heavenly messenger was sent to Daniel but was held up for several weeks by "the prince of Persia" assumed to have been some kind of powerful fallen angel. Eventually the archangel Michael had to intervene and the message was able to get through. Which got us to talking about angels and their kind. So I thought it would be interesting to think about angels in series of posts in the coming week. Let's start with a word study and get into the topic...
“Angel” appears 213 times in twenty-four of the thirty-nine Old Testament books. Most of the occurrences (157 times, or 74 percent) appear in the historical books (Genesis through Esther). The Prophets feature “angel” 41 times (19 percent), while the Poetical Books mention it only 15 times (7 percent). The largest category of references speak of human messengers (100 times; 47 percent), with references to the angel of the Lord a close second (89 times; 42 percent). On only 24 occasions (11 percent) does “angel” refer to holy angels. Neither Satan nor demons are referred to as “angels” in the Old Testament.
The use of “angel” to refer to holy angels is scattered throughout the Old Testament:
1. The Historical Books: 7 times (29 percent) in Genesis, 1 Kings, and 2 Chronicles
2. The Poetical Books: 5 times (21 percent) in Job and Psalms
3. The Prophetic Books: 12 times (50 percent) in Zechariah 1:9–6:5
“Angel” appears 176 times in eighteen of the twenty-seven New Testament books—all except Ephesians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, 1 John, 2 John, and 3 John. Of these nine books, only Philippians, Titus, Philemon, 2 John, and 3 John make no mention of human messengers, holy angels, Satan, demons, or the angel of the Lord by name or title.
The term “angel” appears 55 times (31 percent) in the Gospels, with heavy emphasis in Matthew (20 occurrences) and Luke (26 occurrences). Acts has 21 occurrences (12 percent), while the Epistles refer to “angel[s]” 33 times (19 percent), with Hebrews (13 occurrences) being the most dominant. Revelation uses “angel[s]” more than any other New Testament section (67 occurrences; 38 percent), with appearances in nineteen of twenty-two chapters (chapters 4; 6, and 13 excepted). The books that use it most frequently, then, are Matthew, Luke, Acts, Hebrews, and Revelation, for a total of 147 occurrences, or 84 percent of its appearances in the New Testament.
Unlike the Old Testament, by far the greatest use of the Greek term for “angel” or “messenger” in the New Testament is to refer to holy angels (152 times; 86 percent). The remaining occurrences refer to humans (14 times; 8 percent), demons (6 times; 3.5 percent), Satan (2 times; 1 percent), and the angel of the Lord (2 times; 1 percent). When referring to humans, the term is used of three different groups: (1) church pastors (8 times), (2) human messengers (5 times), and (3) spies (once).

In Christ’s and Paul’s days, the Sadducees (members of a very influential Jewish faction that included the high priest and believed that the Pentateuch alone was divinely inspired) denied the existence of angels because they wrongly believed that angels did not appear in the books of Moses (Acts 23:8). In fact, the undeniable existence of angels can be substantiated by the hundreds of references to them in Scripture from Genesis 3:24 (cherubim who guarded the garden of Eden) to Revelation 22:16 (Christ’s angel who revealed so much to John).
Angels possess the three identifiable traits of personhood: intellect, emotions, and will. First, angels are wise beings (2 Sam. 14:20) who can converse (Matt. 28:5), sing (Job 38:7), and worship (Heb. 1:6). Second, they have the capacity for emotion. Angels are joyful over the repentance of sinners (Luke 15:10). They fear God in worship with awe, wonder, and respect (Heb. 1:6). They also find God preeminently praiseworthy (Ps. 148:2; Luke 2:13–14). Third, angels possess a will with which they choose to worship God (Heb. 1:6; Rev. 5:11). They also have a strong desire (Gk. epithymeō) to understand things related to salvation (1 Pet. 1:10–12).
Angels are beings created by God (Neh. 9:6; Ps. 148:2–5; Col. 1:16), which is why they are called “sons of God” (Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7). They are spirit beings (“ministering spirits,” Heb. 1:14). Both Satan (a “lying spirit,” 1 Kings 22:22–23) and demons (“evil spirits,” Luke 7:21) are described as spirits. By Christ’s definition, a spirit is immaterial, one without flesh and bones (Luke 24:39).
Angels were created morally pure and remain so in perpetuity, being called holy (Mark 8:38; Luke 9:26). Holy angels are elect angels (1 Tim. 5:21) who do not need redemption from a fallen state (Heb. 2:14–16). In contrast, Satan and the demons, who were created pure, subsequently defaulted, sinned, and became evil (Ezek. 28:15; Jude 6). There is no salvation for fallen angels (Matt. 25:41).
Not bound by physical space, angels are mobile to the extent that they are able to travel from heaven to earth and back to heaven again (Gen. 28:12; John 1:51). For example, angels traveled between heaven and earth to minister to Daniel (Dan. 9:20–23; 10:1–13, 20) and to Christ (John 1:51). And Jacob himself witnessed this angelic mobility (Gen. 28:12).
Angels may also be either visible or invisible. For example, they were visible in their visit to Sodom (Gen. 18:2; Heb. 13:2) and to Christ’s tomb (John 20:11–12). They were invisible at first to Balaam (Num. 22:31) and to Elisha’s servant (2 Kings 6:15–17).
As spirit beings, angels are without gender (Matt. 22:30; Mark 12:25; Luke 20:35–36) and cannot reproduce after their own kind. When they do appear, they look like men, never like women (Gen. 18:2; Dan. 10:16, 18; Mark 16:5).
Angels are multilingual. Scripture portrays them as speaking in whatever language the hearer of their message will understand. When Paul wrote about “tongues of angels” (1 Cor. 13:1), he most likely reasoned hypothetically since Scripture does not mention an angelic language elsewhere.
Angels are ageless and immortal in the future. Holy angels cannot die because they have not sinned (Luke 20:36). Fallen angels will not die but will be eternally punished in the lake of fire (Rev. 20:10).
Angels are messengers of God’s truth (Rev. 1:1). Paul warned that if a spirit being claimed to be a holy angel from God but delivered a false gospel, it was actually a demon who was to be accursed (Gal. 1:8).
Angels are referred to in Scripture by names, titles, and functions. Seventeen appellations relate to God’s “messengers.” These references define who angels are and what they do.
1. Angel
2. Archangel (Dan. 10:13; 1 Thess. 4:16; Jude 9): Michael is referred to in Daniel as “one of the chief princes,” the Old Testament equivalent of “archangel.” That he is one of them means that there are at least two, probably more. An unnamed archangel will shout at the rapture of the church (1 Thess. 4:16). Michael also contended with Satan over the body of Moses (Jude 9).
3. Chariot(s) (Ps. 68:17): This military language indicates that the number of angels cannot be calculated, much like in Revelation 5:11. The term “chariots” is used figuratively to portray angels carrying out military-like missions for God (2 Kings 2:11; 6:17). In Job 25:3, Bildad the Shuhite asks, “Is there any number to his [God’s] armies?” (cf. Job 19:12). The implied answer is no!
4. Cherubim (Gen. 3:24; Ex. 25:18–22; 37:8; Ezek. 1:4–28; 10:1–20; 28:14, 16): This title expresses diligent service. Ezekiel wrote that Satan was originally a “guardian cherub” (Ezek. 28:14, 16). This would account for a cherub guarding the garden of Eden (Gen. 3:24) and the model of two cherubs on the mercy seat guarding the ark of the covenant (Ex. 25:18–22; 37:8; cf. Heb. 9:5). It is quite probable that the twelve angels at the twelve gates of the New Jerusalem are cherubim (Rev. 21:12). Ezekiel uses extreme figurative language to describe the living creatures in Ezekiel 1, which are later called cherubim in Ezekiel 10:15.
5. Elohim (Ps. 8:5; cf. Heb. 2:7): The Hebrew word elohim or “god(s)” is used here to refer to angels in the most basic sense of “superior ones,” comparing angels to humans.
6. Gabriel (Dan. 8:16; 9:21; Luke 1:19, 26): Gabriel, which means “mighty one of God,” appears only in Daniel and Luke. Gabriel came as God’s messenger to give Daniel an understanding of his multiple visions. In similar fashion, Zechariah and Mary were given an understanding of God’s intentions by Gabriel.
7. Holy one(s) (Deut. 33:2–3; Job 5:1; 15:15; Ps. 89:5, 7; Dan. 4:13, 17, 23; 8:13; Zech. 14:5; Jude 14): Angels who have not sinned are described as being holy. They delight in praising God, who is “holy, holy, holy” (Isa. 6:3; Rev. 4:8). The title “holy ones,” or “saints,” can also apply to humans (1 Thess. 3:13).
8. Host(s) (Deut. 4:19; Neh. 9:6; Ps. 33:6; Luke 2:13): This title pictures God as the military commander of an enormous host of soldiers ready to carry out the orders of their superior (cf. Matt. 26:53). Angels are the “hosts,” and God is the “Lord of hosts” (1 Sam. 17:45; Ps. 89:8).
9. Living creatures (Rev. 4:6, 19:4): While the four living creatures of Ezekiel 1:5–14 are later identified as cherubim (Ezek. 10:20–22), the living creatures in Revelation 4:8 look and act more like seraphim (Isa. 6:1–4) in that they have six wings and are involved in noteworthy worship. The living creatures in Revelation are involved in worship (Rev. 4:6–11; 5:6–14; 7:11; 14:3; 19:4) and judgment (Rev. 6:1–7; 15:7).
10. Men (Gen. 18:2; Mark 16:5; Acts 1:10): While angels are essentially spirit in nature, they can appear at rare times in human form. When this occurs, they are always called men.
11. Michael (Dan. 10:13, 21; 12:1; Jude 9; Rev. 12:7): See “Archangel” above. Michael means “Who is like God?”
12. Ministering spirit (Pss. 103:21; 104:4; Heb. 1:14): Angels serve or minister by doing God’s will (Ps. 103:21). Angels can be God’s instrument for judgment (Ps. 104:4) or for blessing in serving the saints (Heb. 1:14).
13. Morning stars (Job 38:7): Satan is called “Day Star” (Isa. 14:12), and angels in general are called “stars of heaven” (Rev. 12:4).
14. Prince(s) (Dan. 10:13, 20, 21; 12:1): Michael is called “your prince” (Dan. 10:21) and the “great prince” (Dan. 12:1), referring to his ministry on behalf of Israel as “one of the chief princes” (Dan. 10:13). The term “prince” is also used of Satan’s coconspirators (Dan. 10:20). See “Michael” above.
15. Seraphim (Isa. 6:2, 6): This kind of angel appears only in Isaiah 6. With a name meaning “burning ones,” at least two seraphim (Isa. 6:3) were concerned with God’s holiness. Some have thought that cherubim, living creatures, and seraphim might be different versions of the same kind of angel. See “Cherubim” and “Living creatures” above.
16. Sons of God (Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7): It is natural to understand that the Creator of angels would be considered a father with sons. Elsewhere, similar language is used to describe angels as “sons of the mighty” (Pss. 29:1 NASB; 89:6 NASB). They are also called “mighty ones” (Ps. 103:20; Joel 3:11 NASB).
17. Watchers (Dan. 4:13, 17, 23): This term appears only in Daniel and seems somewhat vague. How these angelic “watchers” relate to God’s omniscience is unclear.

Next time we will consider the biblical history of angels.