Angelogy, the Study of Angels
"And behold, a severe earthquake had occurred, for an angel descended from heaven and came and rolled away the stone and sat upon it. And his appearance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow." Matthew 28:2-3
What Do Angels Look Like?
By James T. Bartsch, WordExplain
A. Frequently, Angels Look Like Men.
1. The angels who rescued lot from Sodom looked like men, and are identified as both men and angels (Gen. 18-19).
a. One day three men appeared to Abraham (Gen. 18:1-2, 16). The Hebrew word for “men” is the plural of ish (Strong’s 376), which specifically identifies a male as opposed to a female (ishah). One of these men was identified as Yahweh (the LORD) (Gen. 18:1, 13-14, 17, 20, 22, 26, 33), which Abraham quickly discovered. Yahweh departed, but the other two men made their way to Sodom, apparently to investigate on Yahweh’s behalf to see how corrupt the city had become (Gen. 18:20-22).
b. When the two men arrive in Sodom they are twice described as malakim, plural of malak, messengers, translated “angels” (Gen. 19:1, 15). Their arrival, sadly, was not unnoticed. Males (plural of ish) of the city, males (plural of ish) of Sodom, all of the people from every quarter, both young and old surrounded Lot’s house and called on him to surrender the males (plural of ish) in his home so they might “have relations with them” (lit., “know them” – a Hebrew euphemism for “have sex with them” – see Gen. 4:1, KJV, a literal rendering) (Gen. 19:4-5). The two males (plural of ish) who were Lot’s guests rescued him from the men of Sodom (Gen. 19:10).
c. Then the men (plural of ish) warned Lot and his family to flee the city before they destroyed it (Gen. 19:12-13). Clearly they had supernatural powers! Once again they are identified as angels (messengers, plural of malak) (Gen. 19:15). To overcome Lot’s reluctance, the two men (plural of ish) were forced to seize the hands of Lot and his wife and their two daughters to drag them out of the city before destruction befell them (Gen. 19:16)!
d. It is not our purpose to dwell upon the sordid behavior of the men of Sodom (Gen. 19:1-11), nor of the fiery destruction which Yahweh rained upon the cities (Gen. 19:23-29). The point of this discussion is that to everyone involved, whether it was Abraham, Lot or the homosexual men of Sodom, these angels looked like ordinary men.
e. It should be observed, incidentally, that artwork which depicts angels as female is devoid of reality. The Old Testament word for angel (malak) is masculine, and the New Testament word for angel (aggelos) is masculine. Masculine pronouns are used in connection with angels. They are described specifically as males in both the O. T. and N. T. (ish, Gen. 18:2, 16, 22; 19:5, 10, 12, 16; Dan. 9:21; and aner, Luke 24:4) as opposed to the more generic man (adam in Hebrew and anthropos in Greek). The only two angels named have masculine names – Michael (Dan. 10:13, 21; 12:1; Jude 1:9; Rev. 12:7) and Gabriel (Dan. 8:16; 9:21; Luke 1:19, 26). Needless to say, it is difficult to find theologically accurate art representing angels!
2. The angel who appeared to Samson’s parents was identified as an angel, but described by the couple as both man and angel (Judges 13).
a. The angel of the LORD appeared to the barren wife of Manoah, predicting to her that she would bear a son (Judges 13:2-3). This angel is identified as “the angel of the LORD” (the angel of Yahweh) (Judges 13:3, 13, 16-18, 20-21). The woman describes this being as appearing “like the angel of God” (the angel of Elohim) – “very awesome” (Judges 13:6). The writer also identifies the being as “the angel of God” (the angel of Elohim) (Judges 13:9).
b. Yet, Manoah’s wife also described the angel as “a man of God” (Judges 13:6 ). The Hebrew word she uses is ish, which particularly references a male human being. Manoah picks up on his wife’s description and prays that God would send “the man (ish) of God” again (Judges 13:8). God listened to Manoah and sent “the angel of God” back to his wife (Judges 13:9). The woman ran quickly to her husband and asked him to come with her because “the man” (ish) who had appeared to her earlier had returned (Judges 13:10). When Manoah came to the man (ish) he asked him, “Are you the man (ish) who spoke to the woman?” – to which he replied, “I am” (Judges 13:11). Observe in Judges 13:11 that not only does Manoah call the angel a man, but so also does the text. Note furthermore that, when asked if he were the man who had spoken to the woman earlier, the angel agrees!
c. After the angel of the LORD ascended up in the flame of the altar, Manoah and his wife fell on their faces (Judges 13:20). When he appeared no more, Manoah knew he was the angel of Yahweh (the LORD) (Judges 13:21).
d. So we have a clear instance in which a being identified by the text of Scripture as an angel, with supernatural powers, is also described by humans as a man. Furthermore, the text labels the angel as a man, and the angel himself acknowledges that he was the man seen before by the woman. It can be argued that in the view of the woman, he was an “awesome” appearing man, looking like “the angel of God.” But it can also be argued that this angel looked like a man.
3. Daniel identified Gabriel, who appeared to him, as a man (Dan. 8-9).
a. Daniel was given a vision of a ram and a goat with a succession of horns (Dan. 8:1-14). As he was endeavoring to understand his vision, someone “who looked like a man” (Heb. geber – Strong’s 1397) stood next to him (Dan. 8:15). According to Brown Driver Briggs Hebrew Lexicon (BDB), geber denotes “man as strong, dist. fr. women, children, and non-combatants whom he is to defend, chiefly poetic; ... cf. ish.” Another man (adam – generic word for man or mankind) called to Gabriel, evidently the “man” standing next to Daniel, and asked him to explain the vision to Daniel (Dan. 8:16). This Gabriel proceeded to do (Dan. 8:17-26). Several fascinating observations are in order:
1) Gabriel’s name means “Man of God.” Gabriel is a combination of two words. The first half of his name is derived from geber, which, as we have seen, connotes a strong man, a warrior. The second half of his name is El, an abbreviation of Elohim, which emphasizes God as the Strong One.
2) When Gabriel approached Daniel, the latter grew frightened and fell on his face (Dan. 8:17). Gabriel proceeded to talk to Daniel, but his presence was so overwhelming that Daniel fell into a deep sleep with his face to the ground (Dan. 8:18). In order to overcome this self-defensive instinct which impeded communication, Gabriel touched Daniel, forcing him to stand upright (and listen) (Dan. 8:19). The vision that Daniel witnessed and the ordeal of communicating with Gabriel and hearing his message were so overwhelming to Daniel that he “was exhausted and sick for days” (Dan. 8:27).
3) Gabriel is never labeled here as an angel, but that is obviously what he was. He came in response to Daniel’s efforts to understand the vision God had given him (Dan. 8:15). Clearly, Gabriel’s primary function was to deliver a message to Daniel, explaining the vision he had witnessed. That is what angels do – deliver messages. Without any explicit statements, the implication of the text is that Gabriel was an angel (messenger) sent from God. That conclusion is borne out by subsequent references to Gabriel in Scripture.
b. On a subsequent occasion, Daniel prayed a great prayer of confession for his people (Dan. 9:1-19). While Daniel was still praying, the same “man (ish) Gabriel” appeared to Daniel (Dan. 9:20-21). Gabriel did what angels do – he came with a message of insight for Daniel (Dan. 9:22-23). In the process he revealed to Daniel truths about the future of Israel, the coming and death of the Messiah, the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, and an abominable coming prince of Roman origin who would one day make a seven-year peace treaty with Israel, only to break it mid-way (Dan. 9:24-27). Most of this prophecy has already been fulfilled, but Dan. 9:27 still awaits fulfillment in the coming Tribulation period. Again, in Daniel 9, Gabriel is never specifically identified as an angel, but clearly he is bringing Daniel a message from God in response to Daniel’s prayer. Thus he is an angel.
c. Gabriel is identified as a (strong, warrior caliber of) man (geber) (Dan. 8:15). The same being with the same name appeared again to Daniel, and again he is identified as a (male as opposed to female) man (ish) (Dan. 9:21). We deduce that Gabriel is a supernatural angel sent from God. He brings messages in response to visions and prayers. He has a shocking effect upon the human to whom he appears. But he looks like a man. Are there more references to Gabriel? How is he described?
4. Gabriel, who appeared to Zacharias and to Mary, was identified as an angel (Luke 1).
a. An angel described as “an angel of the Lord” appeared to the priest Zacharias as he was serving before the altar of incense (Luke 1:11-12). He delivered to Zacharias a prediction that he and his barren wife Elizabeth would have a son, to be named John (Luke 1:13-17). When Zacharias expressed doubt about this event, the angel identified himself, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring this good news” (Luke 1:18-19). Observe that Gabriel, five times labeled an angel (messenger) (Luke 1:11, 12, 13, 18, 19), was doing exactly what angels are supposed to do – he was delivering a message from God to a human on earth. To chide Zacharias for his lack of faith and to bolster his credentials, Gabriel predicted Zacharias would be unable to speak until the boy was born (Luke 1:20). This prophecy was fulfilled precisely (Luke 1:57-64)! There is no reason not to believe that the “angel” Gabriel who spoke to Zacharias was also the “man” Gabriel who had spoken to Daniel centuries earlier.
b. Not long after Gabriel had appeared to Zacharias, he also appeared to Mary, a virgin in Nazareth espoused to Joseph (Luke 1:26-27). Five times he is clearly identified as an angel (messenger) (Luke 1:26, 30, 34, 35, 38). Gabriel communicated to Mary that she was blessed to have been chosen as the mother of the Messiah, who was to reign over the house of Jacob on the throne of David in an eternal kingdom (Luke 1:30-33). After delivering his initial message and answering Mary’s question (Luke 1:34-37), the angel departed (Luke 1:38). Again, there is no evidence whatever that the angel who appeared to Mary is not also the same angel who had earlier appeared to Zacharias, and, centuries before, had appeared to Daniel as a man.
5. The beings who appeared at the empty tomb of Jesus were identified both as angels and as men.
a. There were beings who appeared at the empty tomb of Jesus who were identified as men (Mark 16:1-8; Luke 24:1-7).
1) (Mark 16:5) In Mark 16, Mark records the events of the discovery of Jesus’ resurrection from his sources. He reports that Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome brought spices to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body, arriving at the tomb at daybreak (Mark 16:1-2). They were concerned about who would roll the extremely large stone away from the door, but when they arrived they found it had been moved (Mark 16:3-4). As they entered the tomb, they were amazed to discover a young man sitting at the right, wearing a white robe (Mark 16:5)! He had a message for them. Jesus, for whom they had been looking, was not there. He had arisen. The women were to go tell His disciples and Peter that Jesus would meet them in Galilee (Mark 16:6-7). The women fled from the tomb too distraught to tell anyone. (Mark 16:8). Of particular interest is the term Mark used to describe the person the women saw. He was a young man (neaniskos) (Mark 16:5). According to Louw-Nida Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, neaniskos refers to “a young man beyond the age of puberty, but normally before marriage.” Here not only do we have a confirmation that angels do appear as men, but on this occasion, at least, his relative age is also identified. The same term, neaniskos, is also used in Mark 14:51 of a young man who was following Jesus “wearing nothing but a linen sheet over his naked body.” Most conservative scholars believe the young man (neaniskos) in Mark 14:51 refers to Mark himself.
2) (Luke 24:4) After Jesus had been put to death, Joseph of Arimathea wrapped his body and hastily placed it in a new tomb just prior to the start of the sabbath ( Luke 23:50-54). Dr. Luke records that the women who had come with him out of Galilee observed the burial, then departed and prepared spices for burial. Then they observed the sabbath (Luke 23:55-56). Early on the first day of the week, they returned to the tomb at dawn, bringing the spices they had prepared. Luke identifies two of the women as being Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary, the mother of James (Luke 24:10). They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find Jesus’ body (Luke 24:1-3). Utterly perplexed, they were pondering this unexpected circumstance, when “two men (andres, plural of aner) suddenly stood near them in dazzling clothing” (Luke 24:4)! Understandably, “the women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground” (Luke 24:5). The two men proceeded to deliver a message to the women – that the women were in error for seeking the living among the dead, and that Jesus had predicted to them back in Galilee that He must be crucified but that He would rise on the third day (Luke 24:6-7). The women remembered, then returned to report these events to the eleven apostles and to other disciples (Luke 24:8-9). They would not believe them, however (Luke 24:11). Luke used the plural of the Greek word aner to describe the two men who appeared to the women (Luke 24:4). Aner identifies someone as specifically male, as opposed to female.
3) So the New Testament uses words that describe angels as looking like men. Specifically, the beings appearing at Jesus’ empty tomb are described as a young man and as two males in their appearance.
b. These beings who appeared at the empty tomb of Jesus were also identified as angels (Matt. 28:1–8; Luke 24:22-23; John 20:11-13).
1) (Matthew 28:2, 5) Matthew records that after day after the Sabbath, just as it began to dawn, two women came to look at the grave of Jesus. An earthquake had occurred, and “an angel of the Lord descended from heaven,” rolled the stone in front of the tomb away, and sat upon it (Matt. 28:1-2). This angel had an extraordinary appearance Matt. 28:3-4). True to form, this angel had a message. He told the women not to be fearful, and that Jesus had arisen. They were to come see where he had lain, and then tell His disciples he had arisen and would meet them in Galilee (Matt. 28:5-7). Twice in this paragraph, the messenger is called an angel (Matthew 28:2, 5).
2) (Luke 24:23) Dr. Luke records that when Cleopas and another follower of Jesus were traveling to Emmaus on Easter Sunday morning, they met a visitor whom they did not recognize as being Jesus (Luke 24:13-21). In their discussion with him they described a “vision of angels” that some women among their number had seen at the empty tomb (Luke 24:22-23). According to the women, the travelers stated, the angels had told them that Jesus was alive. Some of those who were with them (men, they meant), had gone to the tomb and found that the women had reported accurately, but they never saw Jesus (Luke 24:23-24).
3) (John 20:12) The Apostle John records, from his perspective, certain events that took place on Easter Sunday morning. Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early in the morning, but found the stone had been rolled away (John 20:1). Distraught at the missing body, she ran to inform Peter and John himself, whom he identifies as “the other disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 20:2). John and Peter ran to the tomb, observed the details, but did not understand the Scripture that predicted the Messiah would rise (John 20:3-10). Mary had apparently followed them back to the tomb and remained there after they had departed for home. She stood outside the tomb weeping, but then peered inside. John records that “she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had been lying” (John 20:11-12). The angels questioned her, asking her why she was weeping (John 20:13). Immediately thereafter, she encountered Jesus (John 20:14-18).
c. The point of this whole discussion is to demonstrate that there is a class of supernatural beings called angels. Frequently when they appear to human beings they look like men (not women). On one occasion an angel was described as looking like a young man (as opposed to a middle-aged or old man).
d. The detail-oriented reader may have noticed what may appear to be a discrepancy in the number, appearance, and position of angels at the empty tomb of Jesus. Let me attempt to reconcile the data as follows:
1) A single angel rolled away the stone and sat on it (Matt. 28:2). The guards witnessed this, but the women apparently did not. The angel the guards witnessed looked like lightning and his clothing was white as snow. After shocking the guards, this angel moved into the tomb.
2) When the women (minus Mary Magdalene, who immediately ran to tell Peter and John – John 20:2) first entered the tomb, they saw a single young man in white sitting on the right (Mark 16:5). When they first observed him, they could tell he was wearing a white robe, but was otherwise unremarkable.
3) As the perplexed women stood there, the first “man” was suddenly joined by another. But now, neither of them was sitting. The two men suddenly stood near them, invading their space. And this time instead of merely having white robes, their clothing was dazzling (Luke 24:4). The combined effect was that the women were terrified (Luke 24:5).
4) Those women departed, and Peter and John ran to the tomb (John 20:3-10). The men examined the evidence and departed, but saw no angels, who had disappeared. By the time the sorrowing Mary Magdalene returned and peered inside the tomb, she saw two angels in white, sitting one at the head and the other at the foot of the shelf on which Jesus’ body had been lying. She is not startled because their garments were merely white, but not dazzling in appearance. Apparently these angels appear and disappear at will, exhibiting different levels of glory according to their Divine instructions.
e. Further observations:
1) It is interesting to note that the only men who saw the angels were the guards (Matt. 28:3-4). They only saw one, but he looked like lightning and completely overpowered them by his presence. The angel’s initial purpose was to shock these guards and render them impotent.
2) Once the angel entered the tomb, his clothes looked only white (Mark 16:5). A representative of the guards recovered and proceeded into the city to inform the Jewish leadership (Matt. 28:11-15).
3) The presence of a single young man sitting in the tomb in a white robe was initially perplexing, but not shocking to the women in the tomb (Mark 16:5). But when he suddenly appeared standing, joined by another man right next to the women, and both of them were attired in dazzling clothing, the women were understandably terrified (Luke 24:4-5)! Both angels spoke to the women (Luke 24:5), but one of them must have been the more prominent speaker (Matt. 28:5-7; Mark 16:5-7). When Mary appeared later, both angels spoke to her (John 20:12-13).
4) It is no surprise that the men did not believe the initial report of the women (Luke 24:10-11). They must have thought the women were emotional and distraught, a stereotypical male analysis. But when Peter and John ran to the tomb, inspected it, yet never saw an angel (John 20:3-10), their report to the other disciples can not have improved the credibility of the women. It is no wonder that Cleopas and his partner attributed the women’s story to a vision the women had seen (Luke 24:23). The differing details from different witnesses are exactly the sort of thing one would expect from honest reporting. No one had emailed out some “talking points!”
B. Though Angels May Look Like Men, They Sometimes Have an Other-Worldly, Unsettling Effect upon Humans.
1. The men who rescued Lot. We have already explained that two of the men who first visited Abraham (Gen. 18:1-2, 16) and then visited Lot (Gen. 19:5, 10, 12, 16) were angels (Gen. 19:1, 15). Though they were repeatedly identified as men, they had supernatural powers (Gen. 19:10-13, 21-22). When the evil men of Sodom threatened Lot and tried to break into his home (Gen. 19:9), the two men who were his guests had enough strength to pull Lot into the safety of his home and shut the door without permitting any of the mob outside to enter also (Gen. 19:10). More impressively, they were able to strike the mob outside with blindness to thwart their evil desires (Gen. 19:11)! Then the two men warned Lot to lead his relatives out of Sodom (Gen. 19:12). This was necessary because, the men said, “we are about to destroy this place” because “the LORD has sent us to destroy it” (Gen. 19:13). When Lot plead for permission to escape to Zoar instead of to the mountains (Gen. 19:20), one of the men granted to Lot his request not to destroy Zoar (Gen. 19:21). Then he urged Lot to hurry, “for I cannot do anything until you arrive there” (Gen. 19:22). Moses recounted, “Then the LORD rained on Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the LORD out of heaven, and He overthrew those cities, and all the valley, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground” (Gen. 19:24-25). Gen. 19:29 concludes, “Thus it came about, when God destroyed the cities of the valley, that God remembered Abraham, and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow, when He overthrew the cities in which Lot lived.” Both the men/angels and God are said to be responsible for the catastrophic judgment on Sodom, Gomorrah, and the surrounding cities. We have clear evidence that there are men who bring messages from God to humans. They are called messengers (angels), they are called men, and they looked like men, but they had incredible supernatural powers, sufficient not only to have an unsettling effect on humans, but to destroy them. This sobering account serves as a vivid illustration that God is able both “to rescue the godly from temptation, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment” (2 Pet. 2:6, 9).
2. The angel of the LORD who appeared to the wife of Manoah (Gen. 13:1-23). When “the angel of the LORD” appeared to Manoah’s barren wife (Judges 13:2-5), there is no report that she was either fearful or terrified. She described him as a “man of God,” but she added some vivid qualifiers. “His appearance,” she said, “was like the appearance of the angel of God, very awesome” (Judges 13:6). Later on, the angel “performed wonders while Manoah and his wife looked on” (Judges 13:19). The writer explained, “For it came about when the flame went up from the altar toward heaven, that the angel of the LORD ascended in the flame of the altar” (Judges 13:20). The reaction of Manoah and his wife is remarkable – “they fell on their faces to the ground” (Judges 13:20). When the angel of the LORD appeared no more, “Manoah knew that he was the angel of the LORD.” Manoah told his wife, “We will surely die, for we have seen God!” (Judges 13:21-22). Here is one occasion in which a woman was more rational and less emotional than a man. The angel had told them they were to have a child and gave them instructions about his upbringing. Why would they then die (Judges 13:23)?! More about “the angel of the LORD” later. So we have someone here who is described as a man of God, but yet he has an awesome appearance, and he does things that stun his human audience.
3. The man, Gabriel, who appeared to Daniel (Dan. 8:15-18, 27). When the “man” Gabriel (Dan. 8:15-16) approached Daniel, the latter reported, “I was frightened and fell on my face” (Dan. 8:17). The presence of the angel was so overpowering that Daniel recorded, “I sank into a deep sleep with my face to the ground” (Dan. 8:18). After Gabriel had finished explaining to Daniel the vision he had seen, Daniel wrote, “Then I, Daniel, was exhausted and sick for many days.” He got up and carried on with the king’s business, but he remained “astounded at the vision, and there was none to explain it” (Dan. 8:27). Clearly, the combined effect of the vision and the physical presence of this supernatural being were too much for Daniel’s physical and emotional constitution to withstand. The effects of that experience lingered with him for many days! His visitor looked like a man, but his effect was superhuman!
4. The angel Gabriel who appeared to Zacharias (Luke 1:8-12, 18-22, 62-65).
a. Zacharias (Luke 1:5) was serving the Lord inside the temple by burning incense on the altar while many people were in prayer outside. The sovereignty of God was at work, for Zacharias had been chosen by lot to offer the incense at this precise time (Luke 1:8-10). Just then, an angel of the Lord appeared to Zacharias, standing at the right of the altar of incense (Luke 1:11). Evidently the angel did not walk in through a doorway, but suddenly appeared, with no warning. Zacharias was unnerved. He was troubled and gripped with fear (Luke 1:12)! Not surprisingly, the angel delivered a message to Zacharias – that he and his barren wife would have a son in their old age, to be named John. This son would be filled with the Spirit and would turn many in Israel back to God, serving as a forerunner [to someone else] (Luke 1:13-17).
b. When Zacharias expressed doubt because of the couple’s advanced age (Luke 1:18), the angel replied that he was Gabriel, who stood in the presence of God and was sent to bring him this good news (Luke 1:19). Because Zacharias did not believe his words, he would become mute until the event which Gabriel had predicted would be fulfilled (Luke 1:20). Zacharias did become mute (Luke 1:21-22). After Zacharias’ service had ended, he returned home, and his wife Elizabeth did indeed conceive (Luke 1:23-25). When she delivered the baby, it was a son.
c. At the baby’s circumcision, the neighbors and relatives were going to call him Zacharias. A dispute arose when Elizabeth announced his name was John. They finally consulted Zacharias, who wrote down the name “John” on a tablet. This astonished those in attendance (Luke 1:57-63)! Immediately, Zacharias’ mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he began to speak in praise of God” (Luke 1:64). “Fear came on all those living around them,” and the events were the talk of region for days and years, for the Lord’s hand was on the boy (Luke 1:65-66). Events were fulfilled just as Gabriel had predicted.
d. There were many supernatural overtones to this whole event:
1) Zacharias was chosen by lot to serve at just that time.
2) The angel suddenly appeared to Zacharias.
3) Gabriel made a series of predictions, all of which came true.
4) Zacharias was unable to speak, just as predicted.
5) Barren, elderly Elizabeth did conceive, just as predicted.
6) Her miraculous pregnancy served as a sign to reinforce the faith of a virgin, Mary, who also was to conceive miraculously (Luke 1:36, 39-45).
7) The baby within Elizabeth leaped at the voice of Mary (Luke 1:41).
8) Elizabeth carried the baby to term and delivered it.
9) When Zacharias confirmed the baby’s name was to be John, he was suddenly able to speak again!
e. We believe that Gabriel, in this passage identified as an angel of the Lord, is the same Gabriel who was identified as a man when he appeared, some five hundred years earlier, to the statesman Daniel. We are not told what Gabriel looked like when he appeared to Zacharias, but his sudden arrival, if nothing else, was unsettling to Zacharias, who was both “troubled” and gripped with “fear” (Luke 1:12)! Though Zacharias was the only human who saw the angel Gabriel, when all the events the angel predicted were fulfilled, many who witnessed and heard of these events were filled with astonishment (Luke 1:63) and fear (Luke 1:65)! The appearance of angels is often unsettling to humans!
5. The angel Gabriel who appeared to Mary (Luke 1:26-30).
a. About sixth months after the angel Gabriel had appeared to Zacharias, he appeared to a virgin named Mary (Luke 1:26-27). He came in to whatever room Mary happened to be in, and greeted her with a blessing, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you” (Luke 1:28).
b. Mary “was very perplexed at this statement” (Luke 1:29). The word perplexed (diatarasso) occurs only here in the New Testament, and means “greatly disturbed, perplexed, thrown into great confusion” (Friberg Analytical Lexicon of the New Testament); “to throw into great confusion, confound utterly” (Liddell-Scott Greek-English Lexicon). While Mary’s perplexity is said to be a reaction to what the angel said, rather than to how he looked, she is nonetheless fearful. The angel commands her, literally, “stop being afraid” – “for you have found favor with God” (Luke 1:30).
c. Gabriel’s arrival was not apparently designed to startle Mary. He “came in” to the room rather than suddenly appearing at her side. He is not said to be wearing dazzling, or even white clothes. We are not told what Gabriel looked like. Most likely he looked like a man, as he had appeared to Daniel centuries earlier (Dan. 8:15-16). It is what he said to Mary that was unsettling and caused her fear. Nevertheless, this incident demonstrates that frequently, when angels appear to humans, they have an unsettling effect.
6. The angel who appeared to the shepherds (Luke 2:8-10). The angels who appeared to the shepherds the night Jesus was born never, it is true, were described as men. Nevertheless, there are so many angelic appearances in connection with Jesus’ birth as well as His resurrection that we are examining these appearances in the same context.
a. The night the Messiah was born, there were shepherds living outdoors in the open countryside guarding their flock. “An angel of the Lord stood near them, and glory from the Lord shown around them, and they were made fearful with great fear!” (author’s literal translation) (Luke 2:8-9). Appropriately, the angel had a message: “Stop being fearful! For, take note – I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people!” (Luke 2:10, author’s lit. transl.). The angel informed that there had been born in Bethlehem a Savior, Christ the Master. He gave them a sign – the baby would be wrapped in cloths, but they would find him lying in a manger (Luke 2:11-12).
b. “And suddenly there appeared with the angel a large number of the army of heaven, praising God and saying, ‘Glory in the highest to God, and upon earth peace among men, [who are the objects] of [God’s] pleasure’” (Luke 2:13-14, author’s translation). Then the angels departed from them into heaven (Luke 2:15). The announcement of the angel and the praise of heaven’s army obviously caught the shepherds’ attention. They sped to Bethlehem and found Mary, Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in a manger (Luke 2:15-16).
c. When the single angel suddenly stood next to them that night, and the glory of the Lord shown around them, the shepherds were caught completely off guard. With the sharp contrast between the darkness of the night and the blinding glory of God, God obviously planned a shocking, but not incapacitating entrance of His messenger. There is no indication as to what this angel looked like, other than that there was glory from God illuminating the whole area. It was a shocking experience. The shepherds were made fearful with great fear! The angel told them to quit being fearful, because his message was one of great joy applicable to all of the people on earth! When other angels suddenly joined this single angel, they are designated as heaven’s army, which connotes a large number of angels. Apparently, the shepherds observed the angels departing up to heaven, whereas their appearance on earth from heaven had been instantaneous.
d. The point of the discussion is that there are numerous times when angels appear to men in an unsettling, disturbing manner.
7. The angels who appeared at the tomb of Jesus (Matt. 28:1-8; Mark 16:5-8; Luke 24:1-5). We have already observed that there were angels who appeared at the empty tomb of Jesus. Twice they are identified as being in the category of men (Mark 16:5; Luke 24:4), but they are also called angels (Matt. 28:2, 5; Luke 24:23; John 20:12). Of particular note in this instance is the impact they had upon humans – how did the humans who saw them react to them?
a. A single angel who appeared at the site of Jesus’ tomb had a supernatural aura about him: (1) a “severe earthquake” occurred; (2) this evidently was caused by an angel who descended from heaven; (3) this angel rolled away the stone and sat upon it (Matt. 28:2); (4) his appearance was like lightning; (5) his clothing was white as snow (Matt. 28:3); (6) the guards shook for fear of him; (7) the guards became like dead men (Matt. 28:4). No women saw this angel at this point, but the men (guards) who saw him were petrified and went into shock!
b. When the women who came to attend Jesus’ body entered the tomb on Easter Sunday morning, they did not find His body (Luke 24:1-3). Suddenly, however, two men “stood near them in dazzling clothing” (Luke 24:4). “The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground” (Luke 24:5). Obviously these angels had a frightening impact upon the women.
c. These angels are identified as men as well as angels. They have a supernatural appearance, appear suddenly under supernatural conditions, and they frighten the people to whom they appear.
C. Certain Varieties of Angels are Described as Having Wings and Other Non-Human Characteristics.
1. Cherubim (Gen. 3:24; Ex. 25:18-20; 37:9; 2 Sam. 22:11; 1 Kings 6:23-35; 2 Chron. 3:7-14; Psa. 18:10; 80:1; 99:1; Isa. 37:16; Ezek. 1; 10:1-19; 11:22-23; 41:18-25; Heb. 9:5). For a more complete list, click here.
a. Cherubim (the plural of cherub) are first mentioned in connection with God’s expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. These cherubim, along with a revolving fiery sword, were stationed at the eastern edge of the Garden to prevent humans from eating of the tree of life (and living eternally in increasingly decaying human bodies) (Gen. 3:24). No description is given of the cherubim here.
b. God instructed Moses to make two models of cherubim and place them atop the mercy seat on the ark of the covenant facing one another (Ex. 25:18-20). Evidently Moses knew what cherubim look like, but few clues are given the reader. We are told only that the cherubim Moses was to make were to have wings which were spread upward, covering the mercy seat, and faces (Ex. 25:20). This Moses did (Ex. 37:9).
c. In a curious description, David depicts God as riding on a cherub and flying, appearing “on the wings of the wind” (2 Sam. 22:11; Psalm 18:10).
d. When Solomon constructed models of cherubim for his temple, he made them imposingly large, from a human point of view. They were ten cubits tall (fifteen feet). We note the proportional size of the wings. Each wing was half the height of the cherub, five cubits. When the cherub’s wings were spread out, the wing span was measured at ten cubits (fifteen feet), exactly the height of the cherub (1 Kings 6:23-27). These models of cherubim had only two wings (1 Kings 6:24, 27; 2 Chron. 3:8, 10-13).
e. Ezekiel saw cherubim in connection with the temple and Yahweh’s departing glory. The prophet Ezekiel was a Jewish exile living in Babylon. He lived beside the Chebar River in the Babylonian town of Tel-abib (Ezek. 3:15). Ezekiel was given a vision, described at some length in Ezek. 8-11. He was first shown a vision in which he was transported back to Jerusalem, where he viewed pervasive idolatry in Jerusalem (Ezek. 8). In Ezek. 9 he was unnerved as he witnessed Yahweh’s execution of the idolaters. Next he was shown a further vision of Yahweh’s judgment on the nation and the departure of His glory and presence from the temple and the city (Ezek. 10-11). Of particular note is Ezekiel’s description of the cherubim in the temple. As Ezekiel witnesses events in his vision, the cherubim are not the models that Solomon had built, but they are real cherubim. We observe some details
1) He first observes that “the glory of the God of Israel went up from the cherub on which it had been, to the threshold of the temple” (Ezek. 9:3; 10:4).
2) Ezekiel noted that over the heads of the cherubim there appeared something like a sapphire stone in the shape of a throne. This was the visualized presence of God (Ezek. 10:1).
3) There were whirling wheels underneath the cherubim, and also coals of fire between them (Ezek. 10:2, 6-7).
4) The beating of the wings of the cherubim was noisy, and could be heard as far as the outer court. Ezekiel likened the noise to the voice of God (Ezek. 10:5).
5) The cherubim Ezekiel witnessed had what appeared to be a man’s hand underneath their wings (Ezek. 10:8). Their hands were impervious to fire (Ezek. 10:7).
6) Instead of seeing only two cherubim in the temple, Ezekiel saw four. There was a gleaming wheel beside each cherub (Ezek. 10:9).
7) Each cherub had four faces. The first face was that of a cherub; the second, a man; the third, a lion; the fourth, an eagle (Ezek. 10:14).
8) The cherubim were mobile. They could rise upwards and move laterally. Whenever they moved, the wheels beside them would also move. When the cherubim stood still, so would the wheels (Ezek. 10:15-17).
9) Each cherub possessed multiple eyes. These eyes covered their bodies, their backs, their hands, their wings, and even their wheels (Ezek. 10:12)!
10) As Ezekiel watched, the glory of the God of Israel and the cherubim over which He resided, moved step by step from the Holy of Holies to the temple threshold (Ezek. 9:3; 10:4). Then Yahweh and His cherubic entourage moved to the east gate of His house (Ezek. 10:18-19). Then, in one of the saddest events in the Bible, the glory of God and His cherubim left Jerusalem entirely and moved to the mountain east of the city (Ezek. 11:22-23).
11) Ezekiel noted twice that the cherubim he saw departing from the temple were the same “living beings” he had seen in an earlier vision beside the river Chebar (Ezek. 10:15, 20; cf. Ezek. 1). We will next examine the description of the cherubim there, though they were never there called cherubim.
f. At the very beginning of his book Ezekiel describes a vision in which he saw the glory of God. He also witnessed “living beings” in connection with the glory of God (Ezek. 1). These beings are later identified as cherubim (Ezek. 10:15, 20). Let us observe their appearance as Ezekiel described them
1) Ezekiel saw a vision of a storm coming from the north – a great cloud with fire flashing within it and a great light around it and what looked like glowing metal within the fire (Ezek. 1:1-4). Inside this cloud were four living beings with a human form (Ezek. 1:5).
2) Each of these beings had four faces and four wings (Ezek. 1:6).
3) Their legs were straight, their feet “like a calf’s hoof, and they gleamed like burnished bronze” (Ezek. 1:7).
4) Under each wing on each side was a human hand (Ezek. 1:8). Since each cherub had four sides, presumably each also had four hands, but this is not stated.
5) The heads of these beings did not swivel, but each face gazed straight ahead, one forward, one to the left, one to the back, and one to the right (Ezek. 1:9).
6) Evidently each of the four beings had the face of a man gazing forward, that of a lion facing right, that of a bull facing left, and that of an eagle facing backwards (Ezek. 1:10).
7) Each living being had four wings.
a) Two of the wings of each being were spread out above touching the wing of another being. The remaining two wings of each being served as a covering of his own body (Ezek. 1:11, 23).
b) Whenever the entourage stopped, the wings lifted upward dropped (Ezek. 1:24).
c) The wings of the living beings made an audible sound as they moved. The sound was described as being (Ezek 1:24)
i “like the sound of abundant waters;”
ii “like the voice of the Almighty;”
iii “a sound of a tumult like the sound of an army camp.”
8) From Ezekiel’s description, it almost seems as though the four beings formed a sort of square, with the face of the man directed inward. They would move in unison without swiveling around as they changed direction, their movements perfectly choreographed (Ezek. 1:12).
9) There was a bright fire in the center of the beings, variously described as burning coals of fire, torches darting back and forth and lightning flashing from the fire (Ezek. 1:13).
10) The living beings were characterized by rapid and sudden movements – they “ran to and fro like bolts of lightning” (Ezek. 1:14).
11) Ezekiel also observed a wheel next to each living being (Ezek. 1:15).
a) The wheels looked like sparkling beryl (Ezek. 1:16).
b) Each of the wheels appeared to be a wheel within another wheel (Ezek. 1:16). This may mean that each wheel had another wheel inside it at right angles, so that the wheels could move in any direction, like a spherical caster of today. (See Thomas Constable, Notes on Ezekiel, 2007 Edition, p. 19 for an explanation and diagram.)
c) The four wheels, like the four living beings, could move in any direction without turning. If the four wheels were in the shape of a square, two of them would be moving sideways at any given time, but given their construction, that would not impede their progress (Ezek. 1:17).
d) The rims of the wheels were enormous and awesome in appearance (Ezek. 1:18).
e) The rims of the wheels also “were full of eyes round about” (Ezek. 1:18).
f) The movement of the wheels was perfectly coordinated with the movement of the four living beings. When the latter arose from the earth, or stopped, so did the wheels (Ezek. 1:19-20).
g) The movement of the four living beings and the four wheels was coordinated by “the spirit” (Ezek. 1:12, 20), and “the spirit of the living beings was in the wheels” (Ezek. 1:20-21).
12) There was an expanse over the heads of the four living beings “like the awesome gleam of crystal” (Ezek. 1:22).
a) There was a voice that could be heard from above the expanse over the heads of the living beings (Ezek. 1:25).
b) Above the expanse over their heads there was something that looked like a throne made of lapis lazuli, a rock with different minerals in various shades of blue (Ezek. 1:26).
13) High atop the throne there was what appeared to be a man (Ezek. 1:26).
a) From his loins and upward, the man looked like glowing metal diffused with fire (Ezek. 1:27).
b) From his loins and downward, he looked like fire.
c) Judging from the glorious appearance of the “man,” this was the second person of the Godhead, a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus, the Messiah.
14) There was a radiance surrounding the man (Ezek. 1:27). The radiance was the glory of God, and it looked like a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day (Ezek. 1:28).
15) Let us remember that these four living beings that Ezekiel observed in chapter 1 he observed again in chapter 10. He identifies them both as cherubim (Ezek. 10:15, 20).
g. Ezekiel is later instructed to inscribe a lament against the king of Tyre (Ezek. 28:11–19).
1) The king of Tyre was a human king (Ezek. 28:12), but certain descriptions of him go beyond those of a mere mortal.
a) Most notably, he was twice called a cherub (Ezek. 28:14, 16).
b) He was said to have had “the seal of perfection, full of wisdom and beauty” (Ezek. 28:12).
c) He was said to have been “in Eden, the garden of God” (Ezek. 28:13).
d) “Every precious stone” was his covering (Ezek. 28:13).
e) He was “on the holy mountain of God” and “walked in the midst of the stones of fire” (Ezek. 28:14).
f) He was “blameless” in his ways (Ezek. 28:15).
2) Since all these statements could not possibly apply to a mere mortal, we conclude that, though there was a real human king of Tyre, that human serves merely as a backdrop for the discussion of a cherub who was privileged to have access to the inner recesses of the heavenly Mt. Zion, the place where the throne of God Himself was situated.
3) It is clear from this passage that this privileged cherub fell from grace.
a) He was “filled with violence” and “sinned” (Ezek. 28:16).
b) His heart became filled with pride because of his beauty and splendor (Ezek. 28:17).
c) He was guilty of multiple iniquities, became unrighteous, and profaned the sanctuaries in which he had served (Ezek. 28:18).
4) Consequently, he was banned from his privileged position and cast out of the mountain of God in heaven (Ezek. 28:16). He was destroyed from the stones of fire and cast down to the earth (Ezek. 28:16-17).
5) It is clear that this privileged cherub who became filled with pride (Ezek. 28:16) and willfully aspired to take the place of God (Isa. 14:12-14) became none other than Satan, the chief Adversary of God, the Devil, the deceitful, murderous slanderer and overthrower of many angels, men, and the kingdom of God (John 8:44; Rev. 12:9). His doom is certain (John 16:11; Rev. 20:10).
6) For the purposes of the present discussion, it is to be noted that Satan was originally a privileged cherub in heavenly Mount Zion.
2. Seraphim (Isaiah 6:2, 6).
a. There is a class of angelic beings known as seraphim (like cherubim, untranslated from Hebrew), occurring only in Isaiah 6:2, 6.
1) The origin of the word seraphim, a plural form, is uncertain. The singular in Hebrew is saraph, but the singular form is never used with reference to angels. The word seraphim stands in English versions untranslated from Hebrew. The beings of Isaiah Isa. 6:2-7 are angelic beings (because they have messages to proclaim, and one of them performed an act on behalf of God). They are six-winged beings who fly above the throne of God. They continually worship Him. One of them served as an agent of God to purify Isaiah’s lips and announce to him that his iniquity had been taken away and his sin forgiven.
2) There is a related word, spelled the same way, saraph (plural seraphim), occurring in Num. 21:6, 8; Deut. 8:15; Isa.14:29; 30:6. This word is translated (in NASB) as fiery serpent(s) (Num. 21:6, 8; Deut. 8:15) and as flying serpent (Isa. 14:29; 30:6). [Actually, the AV is more consistent here in the latter two passages. KJV translates the Isaiah 14:29; 30:6 terms as fiery flying serpents, referring, in other words, to dragons.] Is there a connection between the fiery serpents of Num. 21, Deut. 8 and Isa. 14, 30 and the seraphim of Isa. 6? Because of the fiery nature of the serpents that attacked Israelis in the wilderness (Num. 21:6, 8; Deut. 8:15), Thomas Constable understands seraphim in Isaiah 6 to be “fiery angels” (Notes on Isaiah, 2007 Edition, p. 33). We will respect his interpretation. Fire is frequently connected with the throne of God (Dan. 7:9-10; Ezek. 1:4, 13, 27; Rev. 4:5), and there is an association of seraphim in this passage with fire (Isa. 6:6).
3) We are given only a limited description of the seraphim in Isa. 6:1-7. They have six wings; they have faces, feet, and hands. They are intelligent and can speak. They have God-consciousness. On the other hand, one cannot rule out entirely some kind of visual resemblance of seraphim to snakes or perhaps better, dragons. I say this not only because of the serpentine connection of Num. 21:6, 8; Deut. 8:15, but also because there is a curious connection between seraphim (God’s angels) and Satan. Satan appeared in Genesis 3:1-7 as a serpent, and he appears, deceptively, as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14). He is called a “dragon” (Rev. 12:3-4, 7, 9) and also “the serpent of old,” “the devil,” and “Satan” (Rev. 12:9). Satan was originally “Lucifer,” the Light-Bearer,”Star of the Morning,” “Son of the Dawn” (Isa. 14:12). Before his fall, Lucifer as a cherub walked among the stones of fire (Ezek. 28:14, 16) in heavenly Mount Zion. Apparently fire was his inner essence (Ezek. 28:18), and God turned that fire against him to consume him after he had rebelled against Him. One cannot be dogmatic about this connection, but neither can one rule it out.
b. What do we know for certain about seraphim?
1) Seraphim are associated with the throne of God (Isa. 6:1-2). Isaiah saw the Lord (Adonai) sitting on a throne, high and lifted up. The train of his robe filled the temple. Seraphim stood above Him. These seraphim were continually flying (Isa. 6:2), so we would say that they were hovering above the Lord, much as a helicopter or a hummingbird might hover. Some commentators object to the translation that the seraphim were above the Lord, thinking that mere height above another connotes superiority. But the text says what it says, and to conclude that the seraphim cannot have been flying above the Lord because that would mean they were superior to the Lord because of their position belies the facts. They are beings created by God, yet they were flying above Him.
2) Each seraphim had six wings (Isa. 6:2). When Isaiah saw them initially, they were perpetually flying. One pair of wings was used to cover the faces of the seraphim; another pair was used to cover their feet; the third pair was used for flying.
a) Inasmuch as the seraphim used two wings to cover their faces, we conclude that they were utterly humble before Adonai, their Master, apparently not daring to gaze directly upon Him.
b) Inasmuch as the seraphim used two wings to cover their feet, we conclude that they deferred to Adonai’s holiness. We are reminded of the instructions of the angel of the LORD to Moses when the latter turned aside to view the bush that burned but was never consumed, “Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground” (Exod. 3:1-5).
c) Inasmuch as the seraphim were constantly flying above the Lord (Adonai), we conclude that the seraphim constantly serve Him. They are attentive, accessible and mobile. It is no surprise that we see one of the seraphim commissioned, apparently, to render Isaiah pure and clean (Isa. 6:6-7).
3) The seraphim are worshipful. One of the seraphim called out to another, "Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory” (Isa. 6:3). His utterance reflected on Yahweh’s holiness, His judgment, and His glory.
a) He first ascribed to Yahweh triune holiness: “Holy, Holy, Holy!” He affirmed Yahweh’s separation and transcendence from all that is corrupt, evil, and sinful. The triune appellation of “Holiness” is directed towards Heaven, the abode of Yahweh and His throne.
b) Second, he identified Yahweh, the eternally existing One, as “Yahweh of hosts,” God of judgment. The Hebrew word hosts is “Tsebaoth,” which is a military term signifying armies or troops. Yahweh is a God who not only separates Himself from evil, He combats it, He wars against it. The troops undoubtedly referred to are the innumerable angelic messengers who also double as God’s standing army / special forces. God is not in the battle against evil to lose it. He will ultimately achieve a decisive victory, when every rebel who opposes him is eternally confined to the Lake of Fire and Sulphur (Rev. 20:10-15; 21:8). The description, “Yahweh of Troops,” looks at the heavens, the lofty realms where supernatural battles are fought. (Daniel 10:12-13, 20-21; Eph. 2:2; 6:12; Isa. 14:12-14; Rev. 12:7-9).
c) Third, the saraph asserted that the entire earth was full of the glory of Yahweh. Man turns a blind and jaundiced eye upon the earth and sees either crude idols, which he calls his gods, or blind, heartless, mechanistic force, which magically produces life from non-life; personality from impersonality; intelligence from mindlessness, and values from non-value. The truth is that the earth is a marvelous, glorious display of the creative power of a sovereign, complex, wise God. The heavens, in which the earth is situated, constantly display the glory of God (Psa. 19:1-6). The present earth, scarred by the effects of a world-wide deluge, trumpets the glorious power of God in judging a sinful world. But the time is coming when Jesus will return to this world and set up His Kingdom. The glory of God will fill the earth (Num. 14:21; Psalm 57:5, 11; 72:19; 102:15; 108:5; 148:13; Jer. 33:9; Ezek. 43:2; Hab. 2:14)! But the ultimate display of God’s glory upon the earth awaits the destruction of this sin-marred planet and the heavens in which it sits, and God’s creation of new heavens and earth, in which only righteousness exists (2 Pet. 3:10-12; Rev. 21-22)!
d) So powerful was the voice of the saraph who cried out that the foundations of the thresholds of the temple in heaven shook, and the temple itself filled with smoke (Isa. 6:4).
4) Isaiah was smitten and in soul-agony because he was “a man of unclean lips” and because he had seen “the King, the LORD of hosts” (Isa. 6:5).
c. One of the seraphim performed a mission. He left his worship of Yahweh and flew to Isaiah with a burning coal from the altar in heaven, which coal he carried with a pair of tongs. In what must have been an extremely painful experience, the saraph touched Isaiah’s lips with the live coal. Isaiah’s sin had been forgiven (Isa. 6:6-7).
d. The saraph having done his part, the Lord (Adonai) wondered aloud whom He / They should send? Isaiah volunteered, and was told he would speak to Israel, a people doomed not to respond to his message (Isa. 6:8-9).
e. The two primary functions of seraphim in Isa. 6:1-7 are to worship God, proclaiming His holiness and universal glory, and to act on behalf of God toward humans, conveying appropriate messages from Him.
3. Paul’s description of angels. Unquestionably, the Apostle Paul used typical words in referring to angels (1 Cor. 13:1; Gal. 3:19; 2 Thess. 1:7; 1 Tim. 5:21) and an archangel (1 Thess. 4:16) (there is no article in the original). But he also used some more generic words in describing angels, both good and evil. In the following paragraphs we will discuss the generic words he used, first, with reference to good angels.
a. God has seated Jesus far above all rule, authority, power, and dominion. In Eph. 1:19-21, Paul described the incalculable power of God through which He raised Christ from the dead “and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places far above all rule and authority and power and dominion ...” (Eph. 1:21).
1) Rule is the Greek word arches (pronounced arkase with a breathy k). This word, used here in the singular, can refer either to a person with authority or to a supernatural being, in which case it can be translated ruler or authority (Friberg Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament – FAL). Since Paul’s point is that God placed Christ above all rule, he would have meant here that he is above all angelic as well as all human rule.
2) Authority is the Greek word exousias, a singular form of exousia. In this context it denotes one in whom authority for ruling rests whether supernatural or human (FAL). The word all as Paul wrote it appears in the genitive case, as do each of the four succeeding nouns (rule, authority, power, dominion). So, as God placed Christ far above all rule, he also placed Him above all authority. In the context, he must have meant angelic authority, which is higher than human authority.
3) Power is the Greek word dunameos, again singular. We derive the English dynamite from this word. In this context, power refers to supernatural, or angelic power. God placed Jesus above every angelic power, not to mention every human power.
4) Dominion is the Greek word kuriotetos, again, a singular form (of kuriotes). In this context it refers to the dominion of a supernatural being. The Greek word kurios, from which this word is derived, means lord or master. Kuriotetos could easily be translated lordship. A lord is someone in a position of authority or power over another. So a slave-owner is lord over his slaves (Eph. 6:5). Jesus is Lord (Phil. 2:11). In the present context, angels are lords because of their authority and power. One could say that Jesus is the ultimate Lord because God seated Jesus at His right hand over every lordship or dominion, meaning over every angelic (not to mention human) lordship.
b. God’s wisdom in the church was made known to the rulers and the authorities (i.e. angels) in heavenly places (Eph. 3:1-11). To the Apostle Paul was graciously given the privilege and responsibility to proclaim the riches of Christ to the Gentiles, and to bring to light the marvelous arrangement in which both believing Jews and Gentiles are fellow heirs of the promises and fellow members of the body of Christ. One purpose of his bringing this mystery (previously unrevealed truth) to light was “in order that it might be made known now, to the rulers and to the authorities in the heavenlies through the church, the many-sided wisdom of God” (Eph. 3:10, author’s literal translation). All this was done in accordance with God’s eternal purpose in Christ (Eph. 3:11).
1) The rulers (archais). Paul spoke of “the rulers ... in the heavenly places” (Eph. 3:10). This refers to angels, who exist in the heavenly realms, and who are God’s appointed rulers and administrators over His affairs in heaven and on earth. This is a plural use of the same word that appeared in singular form in Eph. 1:21.
2) The authorities (exousiais). Paul referred to “the authorities in the heavenly places” (Eph. 3:10). This is a plural use of the same word that appeared in singular form in Eph. 1:21. These authorities reside in the heavenly realms. Obviously Paul is speaking here of supernatural (angelic), as opposed to merely human authorities. In context, authorities is a synonym for rulers. The word rulers emphasizes that angels help God manage or govern His kingdom; the word authorities emphasizes that angels receive their right or authorization to govern on His behalf from God Himself.
c. Jesus Christ is the creator of all thrones, dominions, rulers, or authorities (Col. 1:16). In a sublime passage about the majesty and supremacy of the Messiah, the Apostle Paul stated that Christ is the visible image, or embodiment of the invisible God. In reference to rank, Jesus is the first-born of all creation (Col. 1:15). Far from meaning that Jesus was God’s first-created, this word means that Jesus has the first-born’s right and authority over creation because He created everything (Col. 1:16)! Jesus actually created all things, whether they are in heaven or upon earth, whether they are visible or invisible. All things were created by His agency and for His benefit! When Paul stated that Jesus had created everything, whether visible or invisible, he went beyond stating the obvious, that Jesus has created everything that we can view with our eyes, such as galaxies, stars, moons, planets, earth, land, seas, flora and fauna. He is going beyond that to say that Jesus created all governing authorities, both the visible people who govern us on various levels here on earth, and also the invisible angelic rulers who exist in the heavenly realms. Paul used four terms:
1) Thrones (thronoi). (Definitions are from Friberg Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament - FAL.)
a) This word is the plural of thronos, which refers to “a raised seat with a footstool, used by rulers (Luke 1:52).” (FAL)
b) By metonymy, thronos refers to that which the throne stands for, namely “dominion, rule, kingly power, sovereignty (Luke 1:32).” (FAL)
c) In the plural, thronoi refers to “powerful spirit-beings who rule,” and can be translated “potentates, rulers (Col. 1:16).” (FAL)
d) In the author’s estimation, Col. 1:16 is actually a combination of definitions b) and c) above, meaning that the word “thrones” refers to both human and angelic rulers. This is so because Paul stated that Jesus is the creator of all ruling authorities (thrones), whether they be visible (human) or invisible (angelic).
2) Dominions (kuriotetes, plural of kuriotes, meaning lordships). Here dominions means that Jesus is the creator of all lordships or dominions, regardless of whether they are human (visible) or supernatural (angelic – invisible). This is the plural of the same word used in the singular in Eph. 1:21 (see the discussion above).
3) Rulers (archai, plural of arche). Jesus is the creator of all rulers of whatever designation, and of whatever level, be they human rulers (visible) or supernatural, angelic rulers (invisible). This is the plural of the same word used in the singular in Eph. 1:21 (see the discussion above).
4) Authorities (exousiai, plural of exousia). Jesus has been granted the supreme status of “first-born” over all creation because He is also the creator of all authorities. There are those who have been granted authority from God to rule and to govern.
a) Some of these authorities are visible, meaning they are humans with governing authority. Human authorities and Christians’ responsibility to submit to them are outlined at some length in Romans 13:1-7. All human authorities which exist have been established by God (Rom. 13:1-2) and serve as God’s servants to punish evil and praise good (Rom. 13:3-4). Jesus created every human authority.
b) But Jesus also created every invisible (angelic) authority. No matter what rank of angel, whether angel, seraphim, cherubim, or archangel, Jesus has created each of them.
d. Fallen angels. There is an additional category of angels Paul has discussed in his writings. These are fallen angels, to be discussed at some length elsewhere in WordExplain. Paul wrote that believers are to “Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil.” He continued, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in heavenly places” (Eph. 6:11-12). It should be clear that when Jesus created all these angels, they were good angels. But they were deluded by Satan, and chose to cast their lot with him in rebellion against God, a horrendous event symbolized, I believe, in Rev. 12:4. There follows a brief explanation of Paul’s terms in Eph. 6:12:
1) Rulers (archas, plural form of arche). In context, Paul meant evil angelic rulers.
2) Powers (exousias), normally translated authorities. In context, Paul referred to evil angelic authorities.
3) World forces (kosmokratoras) of this darkness. Kosmokratoras is a combination of two words, kosmos (world) and kratos (dominion or might). According to Friberg Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament (FAL), kosmokratoras refers to (evil) “spirit beings who control parts of the world.” We know that these world forces are evil because of the context, and specifically because they are world forces of “this darkness.” Notwithstanding the definition of Friberg, there is no part of this world that is not infested with these evil world forces (1 John 2:15-17; James 4:4).
4) Spiritual forces (pneumatika) of wickedness. Pneumatika in and of itself does not have a negative connotation. It simply refers to entities of the spirit realm. See, for example, 1 Cor. 12:1, where it is translated “spiritual gifts.” Angels are good spiritual entities. So, of course, is the Holy Spirit. But demons (fallen angels) are evil spiritual entities. That the latter is what Paul had in mind is demonstrated by his specifying “the spiritual [entities] of the evil” (lit. translation). The normal domain for these evil spirit forces is “in the heavenlies,” although they certain work here upon earth.
e. Summary. Throughout all his writings, Paul used a variety of general terms to describe angels. These terms include ruler(s), authority (ies), power, dominion(s), and thrones.
1) Clearly these terms are synonyms for angels of whatever category. Elsewhere in his writings he has referred to angels (1 Cor. 13:1; Gal. 3:19; 2 Thess. 1:7; 1 Tim. 5:21) and to an archangel (1 Thess. 4:16). In Rom. 8:38, NASB references principalities, but the Greek word is archai, a plural form of arche, which is elsewhere translated rulers. This word we have already discussed (see Eph. 1:21; 3:10; Col 1:16).
2) Some have attempted to formulate a hierarchy of angels based on Paul’s usage, but there simply is insufficient Scriptural evidence to do so. It is preferable to see these terms essentially as synonyms, though it is possible Paul had subtle differences in mind. What these differences are, we simply do not know for certain.
3) In addition, Paul used two of the terms for good angels to describe fallen angels: rulers (archas) and powers (or, more consistently, authorities – exousias). He also added two terms to describe evil angels: “the world forces (kosmokratoras) of this darkness,” and “the spiritual forces (pneumatika) of wickedness.”
4. There are four living creatures that appear in heaven in the book of Revelation, written by the Apostle John. They are never identified as angels, but they perform the work of angels. They appear repeatedly worshiping God and the Lamb (Jesus) on the throne in heaven. They deliver messages on God’s behalf – they invite John to observe the results of Christ’s breaking of each of the four seals of judgment upon the wicked earth below. John saw one of them actually participate in judgment, distributing bowls of God’s wrath to seven angels. Later, he saw the living creatures join in praising and worshiping God for His destruction of the Prostitute Babylon and its false religion.
a. First, we observe their physical appearance.
1) Four living creatures are identified in the Book of Revelation (Rev. 4:6, 8, 9; 5:6, 8, 11, 14; 6:1, 3, 5-7; 7:11; 14:3; 15:7; 19:4).
2) The term used to describe them is but one word, zoa, a neuter plural noun from the singular zóon, meaning “living being” or “living beings,” as the case may be.
3) The Apostle John first noted that there were four living creatures in the center and around the throne of God (Rev. 4:6).
4) These four living creatures were “full of eyes in front and behind” (Rev. 4:6).
5) The first living creature was like a lion, the second like a calf, the third had a face like that of a man, and the fourth was like a flying eagle (Rev. 4:7).
6) John further noted that each living creature had six wings, which were “full of eyes around and within” (Rev. 4:8).
b. Second, we observe their activities.
1) The living creatures John saw were both intelligent and worshipful. Day and night they ceaselessly proclaimed the triune holiness of the almighty, eternal Lord God (Rev. 4:8). In so doing, they gave eternal God “glory and honor and thanks” (Rev. 4:9).
2) The Apostle John observed that the One sitting upon the throne (God) held in His right hand a book sealed with seven seals (Rev. 5:1).
a) A strong angel asked who was worthy to open the book and break its seals. When no one was found worthy, John began to weep profusely (Rev. 5:2-4).
b) One of the twenty four elders surrounding the throne told John not to weep because the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, had conquered and was able to open the book and its seven seals (Rev. 5:5).
c) Then John “saw between the throne (with the four living creatures) and the elders a Lamb standing, as if slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God, sent out into all the earth” (Rev. 5:6).
d) This Lamb came and took the book out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne (Rev. 5:7).
e) When He had done so, the four living creatures along with “the twenty four elders fell down before the Lamb.” Each of the elders was holding a harp and a golden bowl filled with incense, the latter being the prayers of the saints (Rev. 5:8).
3) The four living creatures and the twenty four elders sang a new song to the Lamb, acknowledging His worthiness to break the seven-sealed book.
a) He was worthy, they sang, because He had purchased for God with His blood men from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation, making them to be “a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth” (Rev. 5:9-10).
b) Why was Jesus alone, in all of heaven, the only one worthy to break the scrolls of the book? It is because the book will hammer down judgment after judgment upon the unrepentant people of earth below. Jesus alone is worthy to open the book of judgment because He provided the perfect sacrifice to pay for the sins of all earth's inhabitants. He has rescued millions, perhaps billions from eternal destruction. If the remainder have scorned and spurned His sacrifice, it is sad, yet fitting that He be the one to initiate their terrible judgment!
4) John then heard the voices of millions upon millions of angels join together with the four living creatures and the twenty four elders in thunderous praise of the Lamb, saying, “Worthy is the Lamb, the one having been slaughtered, to receive the power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing” (Rev. 5:11-12, author’s translation).
a) Then John “heard every creature which was in the heaven and upon the earth and under the earth and upon the sea and the things in them all saying,
b) ‘To the One sitting upon the throne and to the Lamb [be] the blessing and the honor and the glory and the sovereignty into the ages of the ages!’
c) And the four living creatures were saying, ‘Amen.’
d) And the elders fell down and worshiped” (Rev. 5:13-14, author’s translation).
5) Each of the four living creatures issued a thunderous invitation to John to come watch as the Lamb broke each of the first four seals of the seven-sealed book (Rev. 6:1-8). This will one day inaugurate the terrible events of the time of great Tribulation upon earth.
a) The first living creature invited John to observe what happened when Jesus broke the first seal. John saw a white horse with a rider who had a bow and who, being given a crown, went out to conquer (Rev. 6:1-2).
b) The second living creature invited John to observe what happened when Jesus broke the second seal. John saw a red horse. Its rider was given a huge sword, and he took peace from the earth. Men killed one another (Rev. 6:3-4).
c) The third living creature invited John to observe what happened when Jesus broke the third seal. John saw a black horse. Its rider had a pair of scales in his hand. Evidently famine ensued (Rev. 6:5-6).
d) The fourth living creature invited John to observe what happened when Jesus broke the fourth seal. John saw an ashen horse. Its rider was named Death; Hades followed behind. Authority was given to them to slay a quarter of the world’s population by the sword, famine, pestilence, and wild animals (Rev. 6:7-8).
6) The four living creatures will worship God and Jesus for the salvation of multitudes from the earth during the Tribulation period (Rev. 7:9-12).
a) John saw an innumerable multitude of white-robed people from every nation, clan, people, and language standing before the throne and the Lamb in heaven. They boldly offered praise to God and the Lamb for their salvation (Rev. 7:9-10).
b) All the angels around the throne and the elders and the four living creatures fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God. They said, “Amen, blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might, be to our God forever and ever. Amen” (Rev. 7:11-12).
c) It is evident from the context that this great multitude of people were believers who had been won to faith in Christ by the ministry of the 144,000 sealed Jewish believers during the Tribulation (Rev. 7:1-8). After accepting Christ, they had been martyred and were now praising God and Jesus in heaven for their eternal salvation (Rev. 7:13-17).
7) As John observed, the four living creatures were privileged to serve as an audience for the marvelous new song of the 144,000 sealed Jewish believers who had been purchased from the earth (Rev. 14:1-5).
a) The 144,000 sealed Jewish believers, evidently having completed their work, and having been purchased from the earth, appeared with Jesus on Mount Zion in heaven (Rev. 14:1, 3).
b) They sang a new song before the throne, before the four living creatures, and before the twenty four elders (Rev. 14:2-3).
8) One of the four living creatures was instrumental in assisting angels in their task of pouring out God’s wrath upon the earth during the Tribulation (Rev. 15:1-8).
a) Seven angels came out of the temple in heaven clothed with bright linen wearing golden sashes across their chests (Rev. 15:5-6).
b) One of the four living creatures gave to the seven angels seven bowls full of the wrath of God (Rev. 15:7-8), which they were to pour out upon the earth below (Rev. 16).
9) The Apostle John witnessed the fiery destruction (Rev. 17:16; 18:1-24) of Babylon, the Great Prostitute (Rev. 17:1-6, 15, 18), who seduced the kings and nations of the earth into fornicating with her in the false religion of Babylon for the sake of the great profit accruing with her false worship. After Babylon, the Great Prostitute had been destroyed, there was great praise and worship in heaven. The four living creatures joined whole-heartedly in this worship and praise (Rev. 19:1-6).
a) John heard something like a great multitude up in heaven praising God, using the Hebrew words, "Hallelu - Jah!" (Praise Yahweh!). In their first Hallelujah! this multitude acknowledged God as the source of salvation, the height of glory and the ultimate power (Rev. 19:1).
i God is to be praised "because His judgments are true and righteous," a quotation of Psalm 19:9b (Rev. 19:2).
ii The occasion for this outburst of praise is God's judgment of the Great Prostitute, the false religion / regime of Babylon, who seduced the whole earth into committing spiritual immorality with her because of the enormous financial gain in so doing (Rev. 19:2).
iii God is praised, furthermore, for having avenged the blood of His slaves upon this Prostitute, who was responsible for their deaths (Rev. 19:2).
b) In their second Hallelujah! the multitude praised Yahweh because the smoke of the Prostitute rises up forever and ever (Rev. 19:3). The fiery judgment upon the false religion of Babylon transcends time into eternity. Its promulgators and adherents will spend an eternity in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone (Rev. 20:10, 14-15; see also Mark 9:43, 47-48).
c) Of particular interest in our present discussion is the fact that “the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell on their faces and worshiped God who sits on the throne.” They joined in hearty agreement with the praise of the multitude, saying, “Amen!” (So be it!) “Hallelujah!” (Praise Yahweh!”) This is the third Hallelujah! (Rev. 19:4).
d) Then, John related, “And a voice from the throne came, saying, ‘Keep praising our God – all the slaves of Him – the ones fearing Him – both the small and the great!’” (Rev. 19:5). John continued, “And I heard something like the sound of a great multitude and something like the sound of many waters and something like the sound of mighty thunder, saying, ‘Hallelujah! Because the Lord God, the Mighty Ruler Over Everything has reigned’” (Rev. 19:6). (Translations in this paragraph are the author’s.) This is the fourth and final Hallelujah from heaven that John heard. The particular aspect of God’s reign singled out here is his smashing victory over the Great Prostitute. (See the rise and fall of the Great Prostitute in Rev. 17-18. For a full discussion, see the author’s notes on the Book of Revelation, pp. 110-132.)
a. Etymology of the term Archangel. The term archangel (archaggelos) comes from a combination of two Greek words, archo and aggelos. Archo, a primitive verb, has the primary meaning of “to begin.” Related adjectives are the words “ancient” or “original.” Archo came to have a derived meaning, to rule,” or “rulers,” because in a patriarchal system (which God’s universe is), the elders are the rulers. The word aggelos, of course, means messenger. An archangel, then, would be a ruling angel or chief angel of long standing.
b. The participation of an archangel in the Rapture of the Church. No physical description of an archangel is given anywhere in Scripture. Paul wrote that there is coming a time when “the Lord Himself, with a summons, with a voice of an archangel, and with a trumpet of God will descend from heaven, and the dead ones in Christ will be resurrected first” (1 Thess. 4:16, author’s literal translation). All we know is that an archangel will add his voice to that of the Lord’s and the blast of the trumpet of God. The number of archangels is left uncertain. There may be several; there may be only one. This passage does not tell us.
c. Michael the Archangel’s rescue of Moses’ body.
1) We learn from Jude 1:9 that after Moses’ death, Satan made efforts to secure his body. Michael the archangel disputed with Satan over possession of Moses’ body, but he “did not dare pronounce against him a railing judgment, but said, ‘The Lord rebuke you!’”
2) So Michael is obviously a powerful angel, and he is designated as “Michael the archangel.” He had great respect for the person and power of Satan, however, and did not dare to wield his own authority over Satan. He used God’s authority. From other passages about Michael, we learn the following:
d. Other references to Michael.
1) Michael, one of the chief princes” (Dan. 10:13).
a) Daniel had been mourning and apparently fasting for three weeks because of a vision he had received (Dan. 10:1-3). An angel came to inform Daniel in response to his concern (Dan. 10:4-12).
b) The angel indicated he had been delayed in connecting with Daniel for three weeks because of the opposition of “the prince of the kingdom of Persia” and “the kings of Persia” (Dan. 10:13). These latter evidently refer to fallen angels who affect the deportment and destiny of Persia (modern day Iran).
c) According to the angel who came to inform Daniel, he was so powerfully opposed by these demonic angels that he was unable to complete his mission. Finally, “Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me” (Dan. 10:13). This can be none other than Michael, the archangel.
d) Curiously, Daniel’s angel refers to Michael as “one of the chief princes.” The term “chief princes” evidently refers to God’s chief, or ruling angels. We deduce, therefore, that there are multiple chief princes, or ruling angels, of which Michael is one. We are not told how many chief princes there are, nor are we told whether these chief princes, like Michael, are designated archangels, which is a New Testament (Greek) term, in any event. My best guess is that there are several archangels, of which Michael is one. I would equate the term “chief princes” in the Old Testament with the term “archangel” in the New. But there is insufficient evidence to be dogmatic.
2) Michael, your (Israel’s) prince (Dan. 10:21). Towards the end of the angel’s explanation to Daniel as recorded in this chapter, the angel revealed he was destined to return “to fight against the prince of Persia,” and that soon he would be opposed by “the prince of Greece” (Dan. 10:20), the next world superpower after the demise of Persia. Daniel’s angel would be firmly supported in his efforts against the demonic forces only by “Michael your prince” (Dan. 10:21). The word “your” is plural, indicating that Michael the archangel is the (chief) prince and protagonist protecting the nation of Israel, Daniel’s people, against the evil forces of Satan.
3) Michael, the great prince who stands guard over the sons of Israel will arise to assist them (Dan. 12:1).
a) The angel speaking to Daniel (Dan. 10) gave a lengthy series of predictions about the future as it affected the nation of Israel (Dan. 11). These predictions concerned the course of events in the Middle East over many generations. The future of Persia and Greece was revealed. The wars between the Seleucids and the Ptolemies was outlined, as well as the deterrence of Rome. Many of these prophecies have been fulfilled so literally that some liberal scholars, without any evidence, have conjectured that the book of Daniel could not have been written by Daniel in the sixth century B. C., but must have been written by an unknown writer masquerading as Daniel writing some time in the second century B. C.
b) The end of the prophecy seems to jump into a yet future time, the time of the Great Tribulation. Note the references to “the end time” (Dan. 11:35, 40). The king spoken of in Dan. 11:36-45 seems to be the Antichrist, the evil world ruler.
c) Daniel’s angel explained to him, “Now at that time Michael, the great prince who stands guard over the sons of your people, will arise. And there will be a time of distress such as never occurred since there was a nation until that time; and at that time your people, everyone who is found written in the book, will be rescued” (Dan. 12:1). Several observations can be made:
i Michael perpetually stands guard over the people of Israel.
ii There will be a future time in which Michael, as the protector of Israel, rises to special prominence in order to assist Israel.
iii That time is the time of the end (Dan. 11:35, 40).
iv That time will be a time of unprecedented distress, especially as it relates to Israel. This is consistent with the words of Jesus, who called it a great tribulation unmatched in all of history past or future (Matt. 24:21). It is also consistent with the words of the elder who explained to the Apostle John the origin of innumerable white-robed martyrs in heaven (Rev. 7:9-14). The elder explained to John that “these are the ones coming out of the tribulation – the great one” (Rev. 7:14, author’s literal translation).
v The Jewish people will be rescued during this trying time. From other Scriptures we learn that only a fraction of Israelis will be rescued from destruction at that time. Zechariah prophesied that two-thirds of Israel will perish, but the remnant will call upon Yahweh’s name (Zech. 13:8-9; Mal. 3:1-3). Only Jewish people who accept Jesus as their Messiah (Zech. 12:9-14; 13:1-2) will survive the judgments of that day to inherit the Millennial Kingdom of Christ when He returns to rule Israel and the world (Psalm 2:5-12; Psa. 110; Isa. 9:6-7; Dan. 7:9-14; Zech. 14:1-9; Matt. 24:29-31; 2 Thess. 1:6-10; Rev. 19:11-21; 20:1-6).
vi The Jewish people who will be rescued are those whose names are “found written in the book.” This is consistent with the Book of Life, the record of the saved (Phil. 4:3; Rev. 3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 20:12, 15; 21:27).
4) There will be a time when Satan and his fallen angels will invade heaven to revolt against God and seize control of heaven. Michael and his angels will overpower Satan and his forces and defeat them (Rev. 12:7).
a) In the vision that John saw concerning the future (Rev. 1:19), he wrote the following: “And there came to be war in the heaven: Michael and his angels fought with the Dragon. And the Dragon fought and his angels (Rev. 12:7). And he was not strong enough; neither was there place found for them any longer in the heaven (Rev. 12:8). And was thrown out, the Dragon – the great one, the serpent, the ancient one, the one being called Devil and the Satan, the one deceiving the whole inhabited earth. He was thrown out upon the earth; and his angels with him were thrown out” (Rev. 12:9) (author’s literal translation).
b) Several observations are in order.
i The site of this angelic war was the heaven, the abode of God, not the more generic “heavens” (Rev. 12:7, 8). This heaven is the abode of God.
ii Michael obviously has a prominent position in this ethereal, epic battle. This is consistent with his rise to prominence in the end time of unprecedented distress upon earth (Dan. 12:1).
iii We conclude that this epic battle has not yet taken place, but it will at the end time, probably mid way during the Tribulation period.
iv Michael required assistance. Angels under his command fought with him against Satan and his (fallen) angels.
v Apparently Satan and his angels had been able to gain access to heaven, the abode of God. But Satan was not powerful enough to stage a heavenly coup. God granted Michael and his angels sufficient power and authority to achieve a decisive victory. Satan and his angels were thrown out of heaven and onto the earth.
vi For this reason woe is pronounced upon the earth and the sea because the Devil has come down with great wrath knowing his time is short (Rev. 12:12).
1. We conclude that angels appear to humans in a variety of ways, but that often they appear as men, though with unusual powers. Frequently angels are described as wearing white, and sometimes they are described as being brilliant in appearance. There is no evidence whatever of angels that appear as either women or as baby angels.
2. We also conclude that, though angels frequently appear as men, they typically have an unsettling effect upon those to whom they appear. In some cases their effect is so adverse that humans go into shock to the point of becoming immobilized.
3. Certain varieties of angels are endowed with unusual, non-human characteristics. Among these are wings, whether two or four or six; wings with eyes; eyes all over their bodies, wheels with eyes, multiple faces, faces appearing like those of an eagle, lion, cherub, bull or calf, and man, feet appearing like a calf’s hoof.
4. There are different categories of angels. Their primary purpose is to serve as God’s messengers and agents.
a. Among these categories are cherubim, seraphim, archangels, and other beings described as living beings (Ezekiel) and living creatures (John in Revelation). There are both significant similarities but also discrepancies in the appearances of the living creatures Ezekiel witnessed (later identified as cherubim) and the beings John observed in his vision in the Apocalypse.
b. Paul used some generic words to describe angels: rulers, authorities, powers, dominions (lordships), and thrones. It is not known how these categories fit in with cherubim, seraphim, and archangels.
c. Paul also used two generic terms to describe fallen angels: “world forces of this darkness” and “spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.”
5. Only two angels are named, Gabriel and Michael. Gabriel appeared to Daniel, to Zacharias, and to Mary. Michael is designated as “one of the chief princes” on one occasion and as “the archangel” on another. He is especially the defender of Israel and will rise to prominence at the end time.
6. For a graphic display of the physical differences of certain angels, click here.
Prepared by James T. Bartsch
Initially published July,
2008. Updated February 5, 2022
Published Online by WordExplain.com
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Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE ®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. (www.Lockman.org)