We know little of the nature, or even the character, of angels. Little is revealed in the Old Testament about these mysterious beings who were sent into this world on missions from God. Nevertheless, there are enough statements in Scripture that give us some hints about their nature and character that stimulate our imagination.
When angels were allowed to appear to man, they came in the form of men (Gn 18:2,16; Ez 9:2). There is a possible reference to an angel who appeared as such to the women in Zechariah 5.
Since angels were created with the right to make free-moral choices, Job 15:15 states that God does not put His trust in His holy ones (angels). In other words, our trust is in God, not in His angelic messengers, for His messengers must function in total subjection to the purpose for which they were created. Whether correct or not, since Eliphaz’s argument in reference to angels is correct, “Behold, He puts no trust in His saints [angels],” then certainly God will not put His trust in man (Jb 4:18).
God would not put His trust in angels simply because angels receive their commission from God, the One in whom we must put our trust. The point is that angels work in obedience to the will of God. Since they have no indigenous authority as free-moral beings, we must assume because of the rebellion of Satan, that angels were given some free-moral of choices. Though Satan and his angels could choose, neither he nor his angels have any indigenous power over the created world. They have only that which God allows them to exercise. This fact was brought out in the case where Satan sought to tempt Job. Before he could do such, he had to ask permission from God (Jb 1:6-12).
There are no references in the Bible to angels having halos or wings. The concept of winged angels possibly came from the “flying” angel of Revelation 14:6 and Zechariah 5 (See Dn 9:21). Therefore, we must not allow our concept of angels to be determined by the fine artwork of those who have portrayed on canvas their understanding of these heavenly beings.
The appearance of angels was beheld by man, but we must question whether there was a real incarnation of angels into the flesh of man. At least, the incarnation of Jesus was based on the fact that God in spirit (Jn 4:24) came in the flesh of man (Jn 1:14; Ph 2:5-8). We could argue that if angels were actually the incarnation of heavenly beings into the flesh of man, this would certainly marginalize the true incarnation of the Son of God.
One of the major teachings of the apostate gnostics of the second century was that Jesus was only the last in a series of digressive emanations from God. This gnostic teaching was based on a truth that in God there is no darkness (1 Jn 1:5). So the gnostics assumed that God who is all good could not connect with the material world that was supposedly all evil. The gnostics assumed, therefore, that there had to be a digression of angelic beings from God who would eventually come into the evil material world. The last of this series of emanations was supposedly Jesus. He could come into the world because He was the final digression from God.
The emanation of “Jesus” supposedly digressed so far away from God that he could be “the son of God” in the darkness of this world. Because this emanation digressed so far from God who is good, that he became spiritually dysfunctional, and thus could identify with the evil of the world. This gnostic fantasy destroys the gospel of the incarnation of the Son of God. Therefore, if we assume that angels were an incarnation, then we are moving closer into a theology that rubs shoulders with the theology of the gnostics.
It would be better to understand that angels were visionary beings who appeared in the form of men. They could interact with humans, but their “human form,” whatever it was, was not permanent. Even if we assume that they appeared in the flesh of man, we must not assume that they were an incarnation as the Son of God.
The difference between an angel in the appearance of a man, and the Son of God as the incarnation of God, is that one was formerly eternal in the spirit (Jn 4:24), but the other was the creation of the eternal Spirit (Cl 1:16). Incarnation, therefore, would apply only to the gospel of the eternal Son of God, not angels. The incarnation of the Son of God was something that He personally chose to do, not something He was commissioned to do as angels are commissioned. Paul revealed this in the following statement: “He made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant and being made in the likeness of men” (Ph 2:7).
On several occasions, angels are pictured to be carrying out missions of destruction in the affairs of man. In this sense, they were angels of destruction (See 1 Sm 16:14; Ps 78:49). The warlike work of angels is portrayed in the word “hosts” (See Gn 32:1ff; Ja 5:13-15; 1 Kg 22:19; 2 Kg 6:17). They are the “hosts” of God who stand ready to carry out the work of God against His enemies. They even stand ready to carry out God’s work in reference to the unfortunate decisions of His people. For example, when David numbered Israel in violation of the will of God, an angel destroyed many in Israel with a pestilence.
“And when the angel stretched out his hand over Jerusalem to destroy it, the Lord relented from the destruction, and said to the angel who was destroying the people, “It is enough; now restrain your hand” (2 Sm 24:16).
An angel was also sent to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah (Gn 19:13). When the Assyrian army surrounded Jerusalem, an angel of the Lord came in the night and killed 185,000 Assyrian soldiers.
“And it came to pass on a certain night that the angel of the Lord went out, and killed in the camp of the Assyrians one hundred and eighty-five thousand; and when people arose early in the morning, there were the corpses—all dead” (2 Kg 19:35).
The reason for this destruction was in the fact that the Assyrians were on the verge of wiping out the nation of Israel, through whom God had planned to bring the Savior into the world (See Gn 12:1-4). Since their intentions were totally against the work of God in history through Israel, the army of the Assyrians had to be terminated.
Another case of the destructive ministry of angels is identified in the prophetic visions of Ezekiel. Ezekiel heard the command that six angels were commissioned to destroy the wicked of the city of Jerusalem (Ez 9:1-7).
From the few cases of history that are recorded in the Old Testament concerning the destructive missions of angels, it is clearly evident that angels carried out destructive missions in order to accomplish the goals that God wanted to accomplish through Israel and certain individuals. We would deduct from this mission of angels that they were created and sent forth in order to implement and preserve the eternal plan of God to bring the Savior into the world. And since the Savior came into the world for us, then we must conclude that the destructive work of angels that are recorded in the Old Testament was for the purpose of our eternal salvation.
Angels also functioned in the Old Testament era in order to carry out many constructive works, most of which had positive results. While on Mount Sinai, the Sinai law was evidently given through the ministry of angels. Stephen spoke of this ministry: “… you [Jews] who have received the [Sinai law] by the direction of angels” (At 7:53; See Gl 3:19; Hb 2:2). Other examples include the angel who appeared to Jacob in a dream (Gn 28:12; 31:11). In order to divert Balaam, an angel once appeared to the donkey on which Balaam rode (Nm 22:22-41). In this particular case, it seems that the donkey saw the angel, but Balaam did not, arguing the point that the appearance of angels was not the incarnation of angelic beings in the flesh of man.
There was also the angel who interpreted a vision that was given to the prophet Daniel (Dn 10:5). Another angel also interpreted a vision that was given to King Belshazzar (Dn 7:16). On other occasions, Gabriel interpreted visions and dreams for Daniel (Dn 8:15ff; 9:21). In these cases, angels were functioning on behalf of God to enlighten men on earth concerning His work among men.
In the book of Daniel reference is also made to Michael who is described as “one of the chief princes,” “the great prince who stands for the children of your people,” and “your prince” (Dn 10:13,21;12:1). Reference is also made to the “prince (commander) of the host” of God in Joshua 5:14. This is undoubtedly a reference to Michael, the archangel. In some way, therefore, Michael functions as the “prince” of angels in his relationship with all other angelic beings. We have no doubt that this is true, and thus, there is a rank of authority among angels that was designated by the One who created all angels (See Cl 1:16).
It is significant to note under this point that at one time in the spirit world there was an argument between Michael the archangel and Satan (Jd 9). The argument was over what should be done with the body of Moses. Satan surely wanted it to be preserved and presented in some mausoleum where it would eventually be worshiped by the Jews. Such has been done throughout history when iconic leaders died. So in order to prevent this, the Holy Spirit informed us that Michael contended with Satan over the body of Moses.
The end of this story revealed the submissive spirit of Michael. He chose not to contend with Satan, but submitted to the authority of the Lord. He subsequently turned the matter over to the Lord, who in turn, buried the body of Moses in an unknown location (Dt 34:5,6). The incident not only revealed the submissive spirit of Michael, but it also revealed the rebellious spirit of the Chief of demons and his demonic angels.
[Next in series: Nov. 8]