We have an obsession with angels. These supernatural beings adorn coffee mugs, t-shirts, note cards, checkbooks, license plates, postage stamps, paper towels and even soap dispensers. And what little girl wouldn't do backflips for the new Bubble Angel Barbie doll on toy store shelves. People are fascinated by angels as never before.
Angels appear to be the religious, and secular, symbol of choice in the late 20th century. Bookstores, secular and Christian alike, abound with newly published books on angels; yet many falsely portray these mysterious beings as a sort of spiritual mentor that will provide a pathway to a source of higher energy.
Perhaps spurred on by a New Age fascination with spirituality and angelology, some within the evangelical community are, in seeking to satisfy their craving with anything having to do with angels, drawing close to flirting with worship of the created instead of the Creator.
Historically, Christian theology has offered little more than "embarrassed silence" on the subject of angels suggests Duane Garrett, Hebrew and Old Testament professor at the Canadian Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
"Theology books break this silence only long enough to say a few words about angels as a kind of aside and then quickly abandon them to languish in isolation," writes Garrett, in his book Angels and the New Spirituality. He further notes, "the message from the church is a babble of confusion" about angels.
Yet evangelical theologians do not waver in their warnings against giving angels, literally "messengers," the respect and reverence due only God. "Angels are always subordinate to and carry out the will of God; they do not act on independent initiative," writes Millard Erickson in his text, Christian Theology.
It's important to separate fact from fiction in this spiritual fad, pulling from the speculation and fantasy that which is scripturally based. We know just enough about angels to be dangerous, says David Lanier, New Testament professor at Southeastern Seminary. "It's a tantalizing subject, but we have to be very careful."
"When you're talking about angels, Scripture is clear that angels are a creation of God; and that they were originally intended to glorify Him," Lanier says. Angels are simply ministering spirits sent to minister to those who are to be heirs of salvation, he adds.
The most complete Scriptural account on angels, found in Hebrews 1:5-2:9, makes clear that Christ is higher than the angels. They are servants; He is the Son. Yet society's overblown infatuation in decorating with these man-made replicas of God's messengers suggests a lack of interest, or ignorance at best, in acknowledging the divine hierarchy.
((Christ) having become so much better than the angels, as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.
For to which of the angels did He ever say:
"You are My Son,
"Today I have begotten You?"
"I will be to Him a Father,
And He shall be to Me a Son?"
But when He again brings the firstborn into the world, He says:
"Let all the angels of God
And of the angels He says:
"Who makes His angels spirits
And His ministers a flame of fire."
But to the Son He says:
"Your throne, O God, is forever and ever;
A scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your kingdom.
You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness;
Therefore God, Your God, has anointed You
With the oil of gladness more than Your companions."
"You, Lord, in the beginning
laid the foundation of the earth,
And the heavens are the work
of Your hands.
They will perish, but You remain;
And they will all grow old like a garment;
Like a cloak You will fold them up,
And they will be changed.
But You are the same,
And Your years will not fail."
But to which of the angels has He ever said:
"Sit at My right hand,
Till I make Your enemies Your footstool?"
Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation?
"The thrust of this passage is that angels are subordinate servants under God and unworthy of worship, while Christ is sovereign Lord worthy of all worship," notes Danny Akin, theology professor at Southeastern.
"The unique Son is the fulfiller of the Davidic promises outlined in the Old Testament," Akin says, noting verses 4-6. The passage makes clear Jesus is in a "divine relationship" to the Father, Akin adds.
"As the fulfiller of Davidic kingship, He is the Son without successor," explains Akin, citing the "divine nature" of Christ laid out in verses 7-12. "The unique Son is the unique possessor of divine attributes," he says.
Finally, Akin says Christ is divine Lord. "As the fulfiller of Davidic kingship, He is sovereign over the angels who serve. He has a divine position," Akin says, noting verses 13-14.
"Christ's deity rests on Old Testament proofs which lay the basis of His divine relationship, nature and position," Akin concludes. "Christ is uniquely worthy of worship without alternative or competition."
Garrett notes that while angels are portrayed as giving instructions from on high to biblical prophets, they were only "joyful heralds or obedient servants" for Christ.
"Jesus not only claimed to have authority over the angels, He was surprised that the disciples did not realize this," Garrett writes, citing Matthew 26:53, where at Jesus' arrest, He says to Peter who desires to strike out against the guards, "Or do you think that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He will provide Me with more than twelve legions of angels?"
Evangelist Billy Graham, in Angels: God's Secret Agents, calls them, "God's messengers whose chief business is to carry out His orders in the world."
As the Hebrews text indicates, angels are "ministering spirits" who serve on behalf of the heavenly kingdom. They are not rulers in charge of their destiny or ours; they are servants at the calling of the King. Angels are spiritual messengers, not spiritual gurus. They do not mediate with God for us, only Christ can.
"Angels are not to be our source of information, unless God sends them — as in the case of Michael and Gabriel. Our source of information is to be the Scriptures," Lanier notes.
In his Bible study series on Hebrews, Chuck Swindoll presents a concise wrap-up of these passages:
• God's angelic servants impress us and intrigue us, but only God's Word can enlighten us.
• God's angelic servants minister to us, but only God's Spirit can minister in us.
• God's angelic servants protect us physically, but only God's Son can save us spiritually.
Man cannot live by bread alone, Lanier says. "There is a spiritual side of man's nature that must be attended."
Lanier believes that just as the romanticism of the early 1800s was a reaction to the sterility of the Age of Reason in the late 1700s, the rise of the New Age in general and the interest in angels in particular can be traced to the spiritual coldness of the modern technical age.
"The New Agers are asking the wrong spirits, but their curiosity is perfectly human." Lanier explains. "Not every angel you try to contact, nor every voice from the other side of the veil, comes from God," he warns.
"I suggest we don't get too concerned or too infatuated with angels, but we could use the world's renewed interest in the subject to secure a witness for Jesus Christ," Lanier muses. "It's a place of common ground where a Christian can talk to a New Ager and it might lead to a witness of real spiritual things."
"The folly of the current craze over angels could not be more pronounced. People prefer lesser spirits to the Creator of all spirits. They seek revelation from angels rather than learning from the final revelation in the Son. If we reject God, to which one of the angels shall we turn for help?" Garrett asks.
An Angel's Life
Angels are always praising and glorifying God. (Job 38:7; Ps. 103:20; 148:2; Rev. 5:11-12; Luke 2:13-14)
Angels will accompany the Lord when He returns. (Matt. 25:31; 13:39-42; 24:31)
Angels minister to and protect believers. (Acts 5:19, 12:6-11; Ps. 34:7; 91:11; Luke 16:22; 1 Cor. 11:10)
Angels reveal and communicate God's message to man. (Luke 1:13-20, 26-39; Acts 8:26; 10:3-7; 11:13; 12:7-11)
Angels administer judgment upon God's enemies at His call. (2 Kings 19:35; 2 Sam. 24:16; Exod. 14:9-20; Acts 12:23; Rev. 8:6-9:21, 16:1-17, 19:111-114)
Angels are created beings; they do not have physical bodies (Ps. 148:2,5; Col. 1:16). They have spatial freedom to appear and disappear at will. The Bible records that angels may have been the original "shape-shifters" (God notwithstanding), materializing in the form of animals and humans throughout the Bible text.
Angels were created at one time since Scripture suggests they do not have the power to propagate (Matt.22:30). Contrary to what you may have been taught as a kid, when you die you don't become an angel (So much for being an angel in the "right" field). But we can have eternal life with God and the heavenly host.
The angels are personal beings with intelligence and will (2 Sam. 14:20; Rev. 22:9).
Angels have superhuman knowledge, but their wisdom is finite (Matt. 24:36). They are restricted in their behavior to only what God allows (Ps. 103:20; Job 1:12; 2:6). Only God can do the miraculous (Ps.72:18).
Angels are great in number (Deut. 33:2; Ps. 68:17; Matt. 26:53; Heb. 12:22). And while they are portrayed primarily as female, all the sightings of angels recorded in Scripture are male.
While the cherubim and seraphim are represented as winged (Exod. 25:20; Isa. 6:2), there is no explicit references indicating that angels as a whole are winged beings. References in Dan. 9:21 and Rev. 14:6 to flying angels notwithstanding.
The Christmas pageants have it all wrong: Never in the Bible do the angels sing; they always "say."
The concept of guardian angels is rooted in ancient Jewish beliefs; no definitive basis is found in Scripture for the idea that angels are assigned to cover us one-on-one.
What's the Matter with Guardian Angels?
"The notion of a guardian angel occurs nowhere in the Old Testament except by the most strained interpretation. It probably entered Christianity from Roman religion, which taught that a genius, or guardian spirit, protected individuals, families and institutions. Roman families honored the genius of the family as part of the worship of the household gods. ... We are not questioning whether the Bible declares that angels protect people or whether people can rightly claim to have been saved from trouble by an angel. There is no doubt about either of those questions. The issue is whether each person has a private angel assigned to him or her from birth as a special helper. ... The notion of private guardian angels has led Christians into three dangerous areas. First, it provided another reason for people to get their babies baptized as soon as possible. Concern about guardian angels and devils is a poor reason to hasten baptism. Second, the private guardian angels can easily take on the functions of God in the minds of some people. ... Third, the notion of the private guardian angel easily leads to practice of praying to that angel."
Taken from Angels and the New Spirituality by Duane A. Garrett. Copyright 1995. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman Publishers.