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In her first lesson on "A Study of Angels," Francis Parr writes,
Mention the word angel and what do you visualize? In my mind's eye, I see a beautiful woman with long, golden hair; a full, flowing, white robe; and lovely, shining wings that flutter gracefully, propelling this wonder along. Her voice is soft and gentle.
Other times the picture is of a fat, pink baby with a crossbow and heart-shaped arrows, aiming at some hapless fellow who, unknown to him is the object of a girl's affection.
According to the Bible, both these images are almost totally inaccurate. But many people share these misleading mental pictures.
This is a book on angelology, the theological term for the systematic study of angels. We will cover in this study the origin, the nature, the activities, and the destiny of angels.
The words angel or angels occur some three hundred times in our English Bible. Our modern world is apt to sneer at the existence of spirit beings, but the evidence in Holy Scripture is undeniable. It seems that the philosophy of naturalism has become so widespread that many educated people do not acknowledge anything but what the eye can see and the ear can hear. Yet, in lands where education is not so available, people hold various beliefs in spirit beings. Furthermore, these beliefs are not passive, but rather convictions that influences the way they live.
When there is interest in spirit beings, a study of angels naturally follows. Angels make up a great number of the beings in the heavenly realm and have a definite part in heaven's concern and care for mankind and God's plan of redemption. Therefore, it is a source of great strength and encouragement to see what God reveals in his Word about the heavenly creatures called angels.
Major areas affected by a study of angels
No Bible doctrine should be studied in isolation. Everything must be understood in light of other teachings of Scripture. This is true in a study of the angelic beings. Major areas of theology are affected by the biblical teaching on angels. Bibliology (doctrine of Scripture as the word of God) is affected by a study of angels because all of the information we have on angels must be gathered from the Bible. This does not deny references to angels in folklore, art, literature, and music. But our concern centers on what God has revealed to us in Scripture. Theology proper (doctrine of God) is effected by our study of angels because angels are his ministering servants. Christology (doctrine of the person and work of Christ) is affected not only because our Lord taught about angels, but also because he was associated with them in many ways throughout his ministry. Pneumatology (doctrine of the Holy Spirit) is affected by one's view of angels, for one's view of demons, Satan, and angelic beings in general center on the study of the spirit world. Angels are spirit beings, as evidenced by Hebrews 1:14. "Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?" Anthropology (doctrine of man) is affected, for angels minister to the redeemed, and on the other hand, Satan's angels influence and harass man. Eschatology (doctrine of last things) is affected, for angels will be employed by God to minister to the redeemed and to punish the lost.
Why study angels?
Why should angels be studied?
First, a study of angels is important because it is a biblical topic. Second Timothy 3:16, says, "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness." Since angels are discussed in Scripture, it is important that we look at this biblical topic.
Second, angels are mentioned so many times in both the Old Testament and the New Testament that the topic can hardly be ignored.
Third, angels are interested in man. According to Luke 15:7, 10, angels rejoice over man when he repents and comes back to God. If angels are that interested in us, it is natural that we should have an interest in them.
Fourth, in Luke 20:36, the Scripture says we shall be like them. This scripture should not be misunderstood to say that we will become angels. A little girl said to her mother, "Mommy, I can hardly wait till I die so I can become an angel." This concept is rather widespread, but it is totally untrue. The Bible says we shall be like angels (Luke 20:36), but never that we will become angels. Since we will be like them, to study their nature is to learn more about our own destiny.
Fifth, angels minister to us. Hebrews 1:14 speaks of angels as ministering spirits sent forth to do service for the sake of those who shall inherit salvation. What that service is will be examined later. The point here is simply that angels minister to us, and since they minister to us we need to know what they are like.
Sixth, Hebrews 13:2 says we need to be a people who practice hospitality because some in doing so have thereby entertained angels unaware. The likelihood of anyone proving or disproving the possibility of entertaining angels unaware today is a continuing discussion among Bible students, but since the Bible does mention the entertaining of angels unaware, perhaps it would help us to study angels to learn what happened when one did entertain them and wasn't aware of it and how that affected his life.
Finally, Luke 16:22 says that at death the righteous are escorted by angels to Abraham's side. Angels are the ones who provide transit for Christians into heaven when they die. This makes the study of angels even more precious to the child of God.
What is an angel?
Several terms are used in Scripture to describe angels. The Hebrew word malak occurs one hundred eight times in the Old Testament. Angellos is the Greek word translated "angel" that occurs one hundred eighty six times in the New Testament. Both words can be literally translated "messenger." While it is true these terms sometimes refer to human messengers (Luke 7:24), the terms most commonly refer to the heavenly order that is above man.
But how would you answer the question, "What is an angel?" Herbert Lockyer says "the word is chiefly used in the Bible to represent those super human beings whose abode is heaven, and who function as the unseen agents in the execution of the will of God." Peter A. Angeles says an angel is "a supernatural, celestial being, of pure spirit, superior to humans in power, goodness, beauty, intelligence, and abilities, who serves God in many capacities, one being as a messenger, another as an attendant spirit for a human or humans."
Millard J. Erickson offers the definition I consider most fitting: "by angels we mean those spiritual beings which God created higher than man, some of whom have remained obedient to God and carry out His will, and others of whom disobeyed, lost their holy condition, and oppose and hinder His work."
Use of the word angel in scripture
The words malak and angellos are used in many ways throughout the Scriptures. To simply interpret the word as "messenger" does not always yield the intended meaning. Anyone-whether a celestial or terrestrial being-could be considered a messenger. Context, not definition, is the ultimate means to determine the way any word is used. What are the various ways the words malak and angellos are used in Scripture?
In 2 Samuel 2:5, the mention is made of David sending messengers (malak) unto the men of Jabesh-gilead. In this instance the word malak refers to human messengers.
The messengers in Haggai 1:13 and Galatians 4:14 are human messengers bearing divine messages.
In 2 Corinthians 12:7, the Scripture speaks of one who is a messenger (angellos) of Satan.
In Revelation 2-3, mention is made of the angels of the churches in Asia. Some think this refers to the fact that the letter was written to the preacher of that local congregation to instruct him regarding the situation and how to handle it in that church.
In Matthew 12:24 and 26:41, the references to angels refer to demons without bodies who roam the air in partial bondage and take possession of men.
The angels in Genesis 32:1-2 are heavenly beings who met Jacob and guarded him as he was on his way to meet his brother Esau.
Exodus 3:2 refers to a special angel called the "angel of the Lord."
Biblical titles given to angels
In many instances, the Scriptures clearly refer to the angelic host even though the words malak and angellos are not used.
Angels are sometimes called "holy ones" (Dan. 4:13; 4:23; Ps. 89:5-7; Deut. 33:2; Dan. 8:13).
Angels are referred to as "sons of God," and "sons of the Mighty" (Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7; NIV translates "angels").
Angels are called "ministering spirits" [of God] (Heb. 1:14), "mighty ones" (Ps. 103:21), and "messengers" [of God's interests] (Dan. 4:13, 17, 23). Collectively they are referred to as "the council of holy ones" (Ps. 89:7).
Reference is made to angels as the "heavenly hosts," (Luke 2:13) and to the "hosts" [as in "Lord of Hosts"]. Isaiah uses the term "host/hosts" more than 60 times. Angels are also called "heavenly beings" (Ps. 89:6).