A good imagination is helpful in life. As children, we were told to use our imaginations to picture what something might look like. Some of us might have imagined what it would be like to hit a game-winning shot, what a “dream” wedding might include, or even what the future would hold. As we age, we still use our imaginations. When we read a book or contemplate about something, we try to picture in our minds what it might look like.
Having a good imagination is important to our faith in Christ. A good imagination helps us to understand the deep truths of our faith. It allows us to picture what heaven might look like. It also helps in thinking about the moment when Jesus rose from the grave.
Our imaginations will come in handy today as we investigate another question of faith. Today’s question focuses on angels. A good imagination is key to considering what is an angel and what do they do, and I want you to use your imaginations to picture some of these descriptions we will talk about shortly.
We have been assisted by many artistic depictions of angels. Artists often portray angels as winged spiritual beings in the heavens who are dressed in white. We also have the assistance of Hollywood portrayals of angels in films. There have been movies where angels have tried to “earn their wings,” such as Clarence in It’s a Wonderful Life. In another film, Angels in the Outfield, an angel, Al, helps a boy to find a family while assisting the Angels in winning the pennant. Since it’s Hollywood, of course, we have the angel who helps in the conquest of love, such as in The Preacher’s Wife or Michael.
Many of us are captivated by angels. We wonder what they look like. We are curious about what they do. Let’s be honest, we hope that when a bell rings an angel just received its wings.
It is certainly acceptable to have a healthy curiosity about angels. This curiosity comes with a caution. In 1 Timothy 1:4, Paul says our curiosity must not keep us from what is more important, which is a deep relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ. We can think about angels, but it must not come before what it means to live a life of faith.
With the use of our imaginations, a healthy curiosity, and this caution, we have a few questions to investigate. What is an angel? What role do they play? What do they look like? How do they relate to God and humans? Can we see them? Are they real? Are they active in our world today? We may not answer all of these questions today. What we want to do is seek what Scripture tells us about angels, while using the tools and resources we have to interpret this information.
One of the first things we must note about angels is that angels are not divine. They are not God. This is one of the points we see raised in Hebrews 1:5-14. In this passage, the Preacher – Hebrews is really a sermon that we have in written form – addresses why Jesus is above the angels. It is Jesus who is divine and not the angels. Jesus is the one who is to be worshiped, and it is the angels who are the worshipers. It is Jesus who is eternal and is to be served, while angels are not eternal and are called to serve God. It is Jesus who is called the Son of God and not the angels.
While the Preacher was assisting the early church in understanding why we worship Jesus, I hope you caught what the Preacher says about angels. Though they are a part of God’s creation, we must not create an accidental Holy Quadrilateral that considers angels equal to the Holy Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Angels are servants of God and share none of the divine nature that is shared by each person of the Trinity.
At the same time, angels are not human. They are not bound by our constraints to this world. Angels are spiritual beings. Psalm 104:4 expresses this. The Psalmist speaks of angels being like fire. Thomas Long comments on this. He says angels exist for a moment and then burn out. They have a purpose to fulfill, and then disappear from our presence.
So, what purpose do angels have? If angels are not divine spiritual beings, what role do they fulfill in God’s creation? Scripture wouldn’t mention angels if there weren’t some reason for their existence. We can find three centrals roles angels play in Scripture: servant, warrior, and messenger.
The servant nature of an angel is seen throughout Scripture. We see this expressed in Hebrews 1:14, where angels are considered as servants who care for the needs of others. This is common throughout Scripture. Psalm 91:9-12 talks of angels performing this role as protectors. They protect people from evil. In Daniel 6:22, an angel protected Daniel from the lion. As well, it was angels who cared for Jesus after he was tempted by the devil following his 40 days in the wilderness.
In his sermon Of Good Angels, John Wesley spoke about what this ministerial role meant for us. He says angels assist us in seeking the truth of the Christian message. They help to remove our doubts. They warn us of potential evil in our midst. As Wesley says, angels care for the needs of those who have accepted the free gift of salvation or who are seeking to know Christ. In this way, angels minister to others by sharing mercy and love.
Angels are also depicted as warriors. This is seen in Joshua 5:13-15. Here, Joshua is met by an angel before the battle at Jericho. Daniel, in 12:1, talks of angels who are the protector of nations, perhaps in a defender role. In Revelation 20:1-3, John says it is an angel who will defeat Satan and throw him into a bottomless pit. Through all of this, we get this idea that angels serve in the Lord’s armies by doing God’s will in the conquest over evil.
While the servant and warrior roles are important, it is not what is more prominent. It is the role of divine messenger that is most commonly associated with angels. It is what we see from our Old Testament passage in Genesis 18:1-15. In this passage, three men, perhaps angels, inform Abraham and Sarah that they would give birth to a child, even in their old age. It was a specific message that was intended for Abraham and Sarah.
There are other key passages where we see angels performing serving as messengers, especially in the Gospel of Luke. In Luke 1, two angelic messages announce two special pregnancies – John to Elizabeth and Jesus to Mary. In Luke 2, it was an angel who announced to the shepherds that Jesus was born. As well, it was an angel who announced to the women, and the entire world, that Jesus was not dead but that he is alive!
In this role, angels receive a message from God that they deliver it to the required recipient. Sometimes the message is good news, as it was with the Incarnation of Jesus and his Resurrection. Sometimes the message is a warning, such as the case with the angels who informed Lot that Sodom and Gomorra would be destroyed. It is part of the servant role of angels to take this message and deliver it with the hope that those who receive it will be obedient to God’s desires.
Perhaps within this role as a messenger we can answer the question of whether angels still are at work today. There is no reason to suggest that angels are not actively at work in today’s time in delivering messages to those who seek to follow in the footsteps of Christ. Augustine, one of the church’s earliest theologians, h says that angels speak more to a role than a nature. If this is the case, he argues there is no reason to doubt that a human might be called to perform this role. Augustine might be building off the words of Paul in Galatians 4:14 where he speaks of the people treating him like an angel, a messenger of God.
Think about this for a moment: If an angel is a messenger of God, then it is possible that God could use us to fulfill this role. We never know when a word that we say, or an act of love we share to someone, might be used by God to send a message of grace and truth to someone who needs to hear it. Through the guiding of the Holy Spirit, we may be called to speak truth and grace to someone, to care for someone’s needs, or to protect someone who needs protecting. Because we may never know when we will be called to perform this role, it should call us to be mindful of the words we say to others, or how we are attempting to serve others. Only God knows when these acts of grace, truth, and love will be a divine message to speak God’s truth to someone who needs it the most.
So, yes, there are angels. They are fascinating beings who worship the Lord and are servants of the Triune God. We shouldn’t get caught up too much in thinking about what an angel does or what an angel might look like. Instead, we should be aware that at any moment God might use us to be like an angel to someone in need who needs to hear that God loves them and we do too.