Evangelist Billy Graham reports that “when my maternal grandmother died, the room seemed to fill with a heavenly light. She sat up in bed and almost laughingly said, ‘I see Jesus. He has his arms outstretched toward me. I see Ben [her husband who had died some years earlier], and I see the angels.’ She slumped over, absent from the body but present with the Lord.”1
The editor of Leadership Magazine, a popular publication among church leaders, speaks of how his young daughter was comatose one night, very near death. A hospital staff worker stopped by the room and witnessed an astonishing sight–angels were hovering over the girl’s bed. By the following morning, the daughter had amazingly recovered. The editor, not prone to sensationalism, truly believes angels visited his daughter that night. The staff worker, as the result of the incredible sight she saw, renewed her commitment to God.2
Reverend John G. Paton was a missionary in the New Hebrides Islands. According to his testimony, his mission headquarters was surrounded by hostile natives one night. They apparently intended to burn the building to the ground, and put John and his wife to death.
The Patons turned to God. They threw themselves on His mercy and asked for deliverance. They prayed throughout the night. When the first rays of sunlight came the next morning, the Patons were amazed to see the natives had left.
About a year later the chief of that tribe became a Christian. When Paton asked the chief why the tribe had refrained from burning down the headquarters on that fateful night, the chief surprised him by inquiring, “Who were all those men you had there with you?”
Paton answered, “There were no men there–just my wife and I.”
The chief then told Paton that he and his warriors had seen hundreds of men standing guard outside the headquarters that night, all dressed in shining garments with swords drawn. These guards completely encircled the headquarters and the tribe dared not attack.
It was then that Paton realized God had dispatched His angels to guard him and his wife.3
Why Study Angels?
There are many angel stories such as these. Are there really angels in our world today? Do they intervene in the events of life as these stories seem to indicate? Should we look for angels to intervene in our lives? These are questions we will be dealing with in this article. The Bible will be our guide, and I think we might all be surprised to discover what it really says about angels.
Angels in the Secular World
Angels are featured in films, television series and specials, books, and magazine articles. According to a report in Time magazine, 69 percent of those polled believe in the existence of angels. Forty-six percent believe they have a guardian angel.4 Gallup polls reveal that teen belief in angels has increased steadily from 64 percent in 1978 to 76 percent in 1992.5
There is an angel-watch network in Mountainside, New Jersey. It monitors angelic comings and goings in its bi-monthly journal. There are 2,000 subscribers to the journal.6
The 1600 members of The Angel Collector’s Club of America exchange information on everything from angel cookie jars and postage stamps to, of course, angel food recipes. They hold a national convention every two years.7 Across the country, boutiques have opened that sell nothing but angel collectibles–calendars, perfume, napkin rings, place mats, stationery, postcards, T-shirts, and even angel sunglasses. In many places, people are sending angel collectibles in lieu of flowers to funerals.
Angel seminars are packed in cities and rural retreats all over the country. In some seminars, participants simply share experiences. Others promise that “getting in touch with your inner angel” will help solve your problems. Still others are conducted to help you identify your “early angel experiences.” The Harvard Divinity School has an entire course on angels. Boston College has two.8 At special prayer groups, people join together in praying for their angels.9
Angels in the Bible
Angels are mentioned 108 times in the Old Testament and 165 times in the New Testament. In the Bible, an angel cooked meals for a prophet, and the Israelites ate angels’ food. A donkey saw an angel, and a prophet acted like a donkey and was almost killed by an angel. Angels fought battles for men. A man wrestled all night with an angel. An angel saved one man from sacrificing his son of promise. An angel was involved in a jailbreak, and the man who escaped was mistaken for an angel.
And there are many more angels. In Revelation John says he saw ten thousand times ten thousand and thousands of thousands of angels around the throne. To give you a perspective on how many angels this is, the average football stadium in America holds about 50,000 people. It would take some 2,000 stadiums of that size to hold 100,000,000 people. The total number of angels John saw may have far exceeded 100,000,000–“ten thousand” was the highest numerical figure used in the Greek language. “Ten thousand times ten thousand” may have been John’s way of describing an inexpressibly large company of angels.
What Angels Do
Millions of angels are involved in our world and in our lives today. Hebrews 1:14 says, “Are they [angels] not all ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation?” The root meaning of the word “ministering” has to do with rendering service. God created angels to render service in various capacities.
Angels Protect Us
Psalm 91:11-12 says, “For He shall give His angels charge over you, to keep you in all your ways. In their hands they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone.”
Angels Guide Us
In the book of Genesis, we have the story of Sodom and Gomorrah’s destruction. Abraham pled in prayer for the deliverance of Lot and his family. And when Abraham prayed to God, God dispatched some angels to get Lot and his family out of Sodom. Genesis 19:15-16 recounts, “And when the morning dawned, the angels urged Lot to hurry, saying, ‘Arise, take your wife, and your two daughters who are here, lest you be consumed in the punishment of the city.’ And while he lingered, the men took hold of his hand, his wife’s hand, and the hands of his two daughters, the LORD being merciful to him, and they brought him out and set him outside the city And it came to pass, when they had brought them forth abroad, that the angel said, ‘Escape for thy life; look not behind thee, neither stay thou in the plain; escape to the mountain, lest thou be consumed.”‘
Angels Encourage Us
Judges 6:12 says that when the Angel of the LORD appeared to Gideon He said to him, “The Lord is with you, you mighty man of valor!”
Angels Deliver Us
When Peter was in prison, the angel of the Lord came and told Peter to get up quickly, “And his chains fell off his hands” (Acts 12:7).
Angels Enlighten Us
“Now when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, ‘Arise, take the young Child and His mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the young Child’s life are dead'” (Matthew 2:19-20).
Angels Empower Us
When Jesus was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, The Bible says, “Then an angel appeared to Him from heaven, strengthening Him” (Luke 22:43).
Principles About Angels
It is wonderful to review what angels can and will do in our lives. But we need to remember our standard is the Word of God. Much that is going on in the name of angels in our world is not biblical, and we need to take care that we do not get caught in the web of the angel mania of our day. Whatever our experiences with angels may have been in the past, we need to check them against the following basic truths.
Angels Must Never Replace God in Our Lives
Time magazine reports, “For those who choke too easily on God and his rules … angels are the handy compromise, all fluff and meringue, kind, nonjudgmental. They are available to everyone, like aspirin.”
Christianity Today says, “Angels too easily provide a temptation for those who want a ‘fix’ of spirituality without bothering with God himself.”
“Angels offer a form of spirituality devoid of Jesus and God,” states Joan Webster Anderson, author of Where Angels Walk. “Belief in God has been so depopularized in America that now belief in anything can happen. The search is on for spirituality, but without God.”
Professor Robert Ellwood, a specialist in unorthodox religions at the University of Southern California, observes, “With angels around, people feel they don’t have to bother an Almighty God in order to get help.”
George Landis, Professor of Old Testament at Union Theological Seminary, told Time magazine, “In the eyes of the traditional church leaders, the popular authors who render angels into household pets, who invite readers to get in touch with their inner angels, or summon their own ‘angel psychotherapists’ or view themselves as angels in training are trafficking in ‘ discount spirituality.”‘
Angels Must Never Be Reshaped to Meet Our Own Fancy
In the Bible, angels of God always appear in the masculine. Angels appearing as females show up in some historical accounts and in some personal experiences, but never in the Bible. An angel of God also never appears as an animal or a bird.
According to the Bible, angels are a created class of beings and are never represented as spiritually progressed men. In other words, people do not evolve into angels. Angels do not age, nor do they spend time trying to earn their wings. God’s angels exist eternally as they were created.
Secular sources say, “Jehovah’s angels are powerful creatures. In Genesis they guard the East gates of Eden with flashing swords. In Ezekiel they overpower the prophet with awesome visions: four-headed, multi-winged and many-eyed. In Revelation, they do battle with a dragon. But in their modern incarnations, these mighty messengers and fearless soldiers have been reduced to bite-sized beings, easily digested. The terrifying cherubim of the Bible have become kewpie doll cherubs .”10
Angels Must Never Receive Worship
A desire for angels that is greater than a desire for the Creator will lead to trouble. Colossians 2:18 says, “Let no one cheat you of your reward, taking delight in false humility and worship of angels, intruding into those things which he has not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind.”
One reason why angels are invisible to humans may be that, if they were seen, they would be worshipped. Man, who is so prone to idolatry as to worship the works of his own hands, would hardly be able to resist the worship of angels were they before his eyes.
Twice in the Book of Revelation, John was confronted by an angel and tried to worship him. Both times the angel told him not to worship him but to worship God.
Karl Barth once wrote that it is inappropriate for people to talk of angels independent of their experience of God in Christ. While God may send angels, gratitude must always be directed to God, the God we know in Christ. It is wrong to “ask your angel” something. We are never told to pray to angels. We pray to God, and He sends the help we need.
Angels Must Be Recognized for Who They Really Are
There are two kinds of angels in the world. There are the real angels of God, and then there are what the Bible calls “angels of light.” Angels of light are not good angels. That term is a reference to the evil angels. These angels rebelled against their created purpose, and Lucifer is their leader.
Second Corinthians 11:14-15 says, “And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. Therefore [it is] no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works.” The ability of Satan and his ministers to transform themselves into ministers of light is a very real deception. Two of the world’s major religions, Islam and Mormonism, started when someone listened to an angel who wasn’t telling the truth.
It is of upmost importance that we recognize that not every angel is from God. First John 4:lb instructs us to “test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”
Don’t let our culture’s angel mania rob you of the true joy of knowing that God has sent His angels to be ministering spirits in our lives. Your heart should be drawn closer to God through our study of His angels.
1Billy Graham, Angels (Dallas: Word Publishing, 1975), 152.
2Timothy Jones, “Rumors of Angels,” Christianity Today (April 5, 1993): 22.
4Nancy Gibbs, “Angels Among Us,” Time (December 27, 1992): 54.
6Kenneth Woodward, “Angels: Hark! America’s Latest Search for Spiritual Meaning Has a Halo Effect,” Newsweek (December 27, 1993): 54.