Angels aren’t what you think they are. At least if you accept the way that they have been co-opted by humans to provide fodder for Hallmark figurines and provide solace during times of grief.
They aren’t, at least according to the Scripture, quaint and cute winged cherubs playing stringed instruments and flying around shooting arrows of love into people’s souls. Nor do people, when they die, become angels, no matter how often you hear someone say that is what happens.
On this the day in the church year when we celebrate “Michael and All the Angels,” I thought it might be nice to disabuse ourselves of some of our images of angels and take a look at what the Bible says about them, as we look to them as a source of strength and hope for our journey. According to the description in the ELW, “on this day the church ponders the richness and variety of God’s created order and the limits of human knowledge of it.”
The Bible plainly teaches that angels, which means messengers, exist. There are more than 250 mentions of angels in Scripture from Genesis to Revelation. The Bible also indicates that angels are everywhere: “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by doing so, you have unwittingly entertained angels” (Hebrews 13:2). It is possible you’ve even seen these messengers from God without even realizing it.
The Bible tells us, “(The Lord]) will give His angels charge of you to protect you in all your ways” (Psalm 91:11). Angels are heavenly beings, superior to humans, who serve as messengers of God and guardians of human beings. They were also created to worship and serve God as well as protect us.
Angels are spirit beings. There is no description given in the Bible of what they look like in their true essence. They have no physical form like humans. When they do appear to humans they appear as men, not women. The concept that they have white skin and play a harp is not found in the Bible. Two different types of angelic creatures, the cherubim and seraphim, are said to have wings but there are no clear examples of the other angels ever appearing to humans with wings.
Several angels are mentioned in the Bible. These angels fall into two basic categories: those who serve God and fallen angels (also known as demons). Among those angels who serve God, there are some specific types of angels mentioned in Scripture. Michael appears as a warrior (Daniel 10:13-21, 12:1 and Revelations 12:7). He is the head of the “heavenly host” fit for battle in the name of the Lord.
Gabriel is the other angel mentioned by name in the Bible (Daniel 8 and 9) and is a lead angel who seems to take messages from God to humans. For example, Gabriel is the same angel who appeared to Zechariah (Luke 1:19) and to Mary (Luke 1:26).
Other possible categories of angels include those mentioned in Ephesians: “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” While this verse refers to spiritual forces of evil, the categories it contains might also relate to categories of God’s holy angels as well, though this is uncertain.
Fallen angels, or demons, are another category of angels discussed in Scripture, but I think it might be worthwhile to discuss that in another devotions.
Though we don’t see them, our lives are surrounded by angels, and they are here to assist us in our times of need, including death. God loves us so much that He sends angels to guard, guide and protect us through various stages of our life, not as personal bodyguards, but as agents of His mercy in the midst of the brokenness of life. Although we may not immediately know or see that angels are around us, they are there at God’s direction and working to assist us in this life and the next.
There is more that we don’t know about angels than we know about them, but I know that for my own personal devotional life, the knowledge that they surround us gives me strength, comfort and hope. Having witnessed many people die, I have no question of their presence in ways we cannot see until the veil of this life is lifted. Knowing that makes me confident in the uncertainties of life, both in their role as defenders and warriors for God in the face of Spiritual Warfare and in their presence to lead us home.
Everlasting God, you have wonderfully established the ministries of angels and mortals. Mercifully grant that as Michael and the angels contend against the cosmic forces of evil, so by your direction they may help and defend us here on earth, through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and Holy Spirit, one God whom we worship and praise with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, now and forever. Amen. (Prayer of the Day for Michael and All Angels, The Evanglical Lutheran Worshp Hymnal)