Christian Cyclopedia

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Angels, Good.

1. In both Heb. and Gk. the word for “angel” means “messenger.” Both OT and NT use it to designate human messengers, e.g., Gn 32:3; Lk 7:24. The OT applies it also to prophet and priest (e.g., Is 42:19; 44:26; Ml 2:7) with obvious reference to their function as messengers sent by God. This may also be the import of term “the angels of the seven churches” (Rv 1:20), where reference is evidently to the pastors of the 7 chs. But in most passages the term “angels” designates those spiritual beings that were created in infinite numbers (cf. Dt 33:2; Dn 7:10; Heb 12:22) to serve God in various ways as messengers. See also Angel of the Lord.

2. The OT creation accounts make no explicit reference to origin of angels. On basis of Gn 2:1–3; Ex 20:11; Jn 1:3; Cl 1:16, Christian interpreters have concluded that the angels were created at an unspecified time in the 6 days of creation. Jb 38:4–7 refers to the presence of angels (“the sons of God”) when God “laid the foundation of the earth.” The title “sons of God” (e.g., Jb 1:6; 2:1; 38:7; Ps 29:1 and 89:6 in Heb.) may also be seen as pointing to the angels' origin from God as well as their close relationship to Him.

3. Scriptures speak of angels as spiritual beings and portray these noncorporeal beings as appearing in human form when, in their capacity as divine messengers, they manifest themselves to human beings. They appear as men (e.g., Gn 19:1–22; Mt 28:2–4). The 2 referred to by proper names have masculine names: Gabriel* (Dn 8:16; Lk 1:19, 26) and Michael (Dn 10:13; Jude 9; Rv 12:7). Excluding references to cherubim and seraphim (see 6–7 below), the Biblical statements lend no direct support to the popular view that ascribes wings to angels.

4. Angels are described as possessing more than merely human attributes. In 3 passages speakers are quoted who refer to angels as “blameless” (1 Sm 29:9 RSV), as possessing ability “to discern good and evil” (2 Sm 14:17 RSV), and as having knowledge of “all things that are on the earth” (2 Sm 14:20 RSV). Ps 103:20 speaks of angels as “mighty men of strength” (Heb.). The moral perfection of angels is reflected in the designation “holy ones,” often used in the OT (e.g., RSV in Jb 5:1; Ps 89:5, 7; Dn 4:13; Zch 14:5). The NT reinforces the OT portrait of angels as creatures of holiness (Lk 9:26) and superhuman strength (2 Ptr 2:11). Immortality, implicit in OT writings, is explicitly ascribed in Lk 20:36.

5. Ranking of angels has been a subject of much speculation. Pseudo-Dionysius (see Dionysius the Areopagite, 2) invented 27 ranks in an angelic hierarchy allegedly consisting of 3 major orders, each with 9 subdivisions. Later writers imitated or adapter this speculative ranking of angels, based to some extent on apocryphal and pseudepigraphal documents such as Tobit, Enoch, 2 Esdras, and the Testament of Levi. Bible distinguishes only bet. “angel” and “archangel” (the latter occurring only 2 Th 4:16; Jude 9 and meaning “chief angel”). Dn 12:1 calls archangel Michael “the great prince” (cf. Rv 12:7); Jos 5:14 (RSV) mentions a “commander of the army of the Lord.” Some hold that such terms as principalities, powers, authorities, dominions, and thrones (cf. Ro 8:38; Eph 1:21; 3:10; Cl 1:16; 1 Ptr 3:22) are names of various angelic ranks.

6. The titles cherubim and seraphim (both are Heb. plurals), on the other hand, appear not to designate angelic ranks but rather special kinds of angelic beings. In the OT the Lord is portrayed as enthroned above (or upon) the cherubim (e.g., RSV in 1 Sm 4:4; 2 K 19:15; Ps 80:1; 99:1), or as riding on a cherub or cherubim (e.g., 2 Sm 22:11; Ps 18:10; Eze 1; 10). The cover (mercy seat) of the ark of the covenant, where the Lord promised to be present with His people, was embellished with figures of 2 cherubim with wings stretched out above the ark (cf. Ex 25:10–22). Embroidered representations of cherubim adorned the curtains of the tabernacle and the veil that enclosed the most holy place (Ex 26:1, 31; 2 Ch 3:14). Figures of cherubim with outspread wings stood in the most holy place in Solomon's temple (1 K 6:23–28), and carved figures of cherubim embellished the temple walls and doors (1 K 6:29–35). Cherubim may be regarded as guardians of a sacred place (Gn 3:24; Eze 28:16) or as symbols of God's presence. Archaeological evidence suggests that cherubim were represented pictorially as winged creatures having a human head and a lion's body. Except Heb 9:5, the word cherubim occurs in the Bible only in the OT.

7. Seraphim are mentioned by name only in Is 6:2–6, where they are described as 6-winged creatures who fly above the Lord's throne as they chant His praises. The winged “living creatures” (RSV) in the description of the heavenly throne room in Rv 4:5 appear to be NT counterparts of the cherubim and seraphim of the OT.

8. The function of angels as God's messengers may be seen as (1) conveying messages from God to men (e.g., Gn 31:11; Mt 2:13, 19–20; Acts 27:23–24); (2) foretelling special acts of God (e.g., Gn 16:11; Ju 13:3–5; Lk 1:11–20, 26–37; 2:9–12); (3) serving as agents of divine judgment (e.g., Gn 19:1–29; 2 Sm 24:15–17; Mt 13:41–42, 49–50; Acts 12:23); (4) serving as agents of divine providence (e.g., 1 K 19:5–8; Ps 91:11–12; Dn 6:22; Acts 5:19–20; 12:7–10). While the Scriptures do not answer the question whether each believer, esp. each believing child (cf. Mt 18:10), has one or more specially assigned guardian angels, they clearly assure God's people of the constant guardianship of His angelic messengers (Ps 91:11–12; Heb 1:14). A further service rendered to God's people is recognized by the Luth. Confessions: “that the angels pray for us” (Ap XXI 8; cf. SA-II II 26); cf. Zch 1:12. The invoking angels is forbidden try 22:8–9; Mt 4:10; cf. SA-II II 26; see also Angels, Veneration of. Angels praise and worship God (Ps 29:1–2; 103:20–21; Is 6:1–3; Lk 2:13–14; Rv 7:11–12).

9. Some angels sinned (see Devil). The angels who faithfully served God are referred to in Scripture as “holy angels” and dogmaticians speak of them as angels who “persevered in holiness” and are now “confirmed in holiness.”; cf. Mt 18:10; 25:31; Mk 8:38.

10. In the NT, where Jesus Christ is portrayed as “the Head over all things,” including the angels (cf. Eph 1:20–22; 1 Ptr 3:22), the ministry of the holy angels is given Christocentric emphasis. Angels announce Jesus' birth (Lk 1:26–35; 2:9–14), mediate providential guidance for infant Jesus (Mt 2:13, 19–20), minister to Him as He performs redemptive work (Mt 4:11; Lk 22:43), are instantaneously available for His service (Mt 26:53); are heralds of His resurrection (Mt 28:2–7) and ascension (Acts 1:10–11). Angels give attention to ministers of Christ's newly est. ch. (Acts 5:19–20; 8:26; 12:7–10; 27:23–24) even as they continue to watch over and rejoice in the progress of His ch. on earth (Lk 15:7, 10; 1 Ptr 1:12). Angels praise the ascended Christ before His throne (Rv 7:11–12), will accompany Him and assist Him at final judgment (Mt 24:31; 25:31; 1 Th 4:16). It is in their relationship to Jesus Christ that all Christians become beneficiaries of Scriptural promises concerning attendant angels, who are “ministering spirits sent forth to serve, for the sake of those who are to obtain salvation.” (Heb. 1:14 RSV). WW.

Edited by: Erwin L. Lueker, Luther Poellot, Paul Jackson
©Concordia Publishing House, 2000, All rights Reserved. Reproduced with Permission

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Content Reproduced with Permission

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