Sunday, November 27, 2011

Angels: Who Are They?


They are some of the most fascinating of all God's creations in my opinion. We read about angels throughout the Bible, but we especially hear about them during the Christmas season. We find them on top of Christmas trees or as ornaments hanging from branches. We see children dressed in white robes with tinsel halos atop their heads in Christmas pageants and plays. We send cards with beautiful pictures of angels playing harps or hovering in the sky over the manger scene.

But here's something you may or may not agree with:

I think most people have a very wrong idea about who angels are and what they look like.

Drawings, paintings and figurines of angels these days usually depict them as sweet, winged women or even babies. They look very...angelic. But is that an accurate description and is it even biblical?

The only way to answer that is to look to the Bible. And since we are once again in the Christmas season, I'm going to focus on the angels that took part in that wondrous story.

The first mention of a Christmas angel is in Luke 1:11-20. Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, is visited by "an angel of the Lord" to give him the good news about John's birth. Zechariah is "startled and gripped with fear" at the sight of this heavenly being. In verse 19 the angel says to Zechariah:

"I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God..."

I don't know about you, but I am awed by that statement! Truly, truly awed!! To stand in the presence of God! Wow!! That statement also tells us something else: God gave his angels names, which I find really cool!

Moving on to Luke 1:26-38, we find Gabriel again. This time he is visiting Mary to share with her the wonderful, amazing news that she is going to be the mother of Immanuel! In verse 29 we read that Mary is "greatly troubled at his words" but he tells her not to be afraid. The same thing he said to Zechariah back in verse 13.

The shepherds are the next folks to see Gabriel, although the Bible doesn't call him by name this time. Luke 2:9-14 tells about an angel of the Lord appearing to a group of shepherds to announce the arrival of the Messiah. We assume, probably because of the two other instances I've referenced, that it was Gabriel. The shepherds were terrified when they saw him, but again, he told them not to be afraid. Then, lots and lots of angels--a great company of heavenly beings!--appeared, praising God.

Joseph's encounter with an angel was a little bit different. Matthew 1:20 and 2:13-20 tells us that an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream three different times. I'm curious why Joseph wasn't allowed to see the angel in real life but rather in a dream, but it certainly doesn't diminish the fact that God once again used an angel to bring news and instructions to his people.

Daniel is the only other person mentioned in the Bible who saw Gabriel. Daniel tells us about these encounters in 8:16 and 9:21. What I find interesting is the way Daniel described the angel in 9:21: "Gabriel, the man I had seen..."

One of my all-time favorite verses about angels isn't part of the Christmas story, but I want to share it anyway. It's found in Revelation 5:11. John is describing heaven and he says, "Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne...In a loud voice they sang: "Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain..."

Can you imagine seeing and hearing this?! Can you imagine being part of it?! Wow!

Here's what I learn from these verses:

1. These angels are male. The only other named angel in the Bible is Michael. There aren't any female or baby angels anywhere to be seen. I'm not saying there aren't female angels. I'm saying there is no mention of them in the Bible.
2. Angels can't be sweet cherub-faced beings if they instill fear in every single person to whom they appear! Zechariah, Mary, the shepherds and Daniel were all fearful when the angels appeared. Kinda tells me they must be fearfully awesome to see!
3. Daniel called Gabriel a "man" which tells me it's very unlikely Gabriel had wings. There is no mention of angels having wings in the Bible, anywhere. Cherubim do have wings, but they are different from angels.
4. Angels are eternal beings. Daniel saw Gabriel way back in the Old Testament, yet there he is again talking to Mary and Zechariah several hundred years later.
5. Finally, to address one last misconception, when people die they do not become angels. Angels are created beings just like us. Jesus said in Matthew 22:30: "At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven." He didn't say we would be angels.

When you see an angel this Christmas season, maybe sitting atop your tree or a figure in your creche, remember...There's a lot more to them than simply being pretty ornaments or characters in a story!

This week's Prayer Shout-Out countries are:
USA, Russia, United Kingdom, Peru, Brazil, Zambia, France, Thailand, Norway, Philippines, Germany, Moldova

Reposted from December 10, 2010


christy duke said...

thanks for your comments on angels - we would truly be overcome with fear if one would appear before us.

Michelle Shocklee said...

Thanks Christy! I agree completely! But...wouldn't it be awesome to see one??? =D