"Angels we have heard on high," the song says. In fact, it is most likely that we have not heard them. Indeed, I would suggest that we know very little about the ever popular "angel" and his nemesis, the demon. What does the Bible tell us about these beings?
First, let's clear the confusion. Here's what is not true of angels or demons. Angels are not people who have died and gone to heaven. (In Hebrews 12:22-23 there are two groups in heaven. There are angels and there are "the spirits of righteous men made perfect". Two distinct groups.) Every time a bell rings an angel has not gotten its wings. Nor do angels sit around on clouds playing harps. No possible biblical reference to angels would allow anything at all remotely like these fun and fanciful but completely false concepts. Satan, as we all know, is dressed all in red, has horns and a forked tail, and carries a pitchfork. Clear enough. His minions, the demons, are dark beings from the pit of hell. Of course, Hollywood loves these caricatures and, I suspect, so do we because it gives us the distinct feeling that we can tell the bad guys from the good guys. The Bible, on the other hand, does not offer this imagery.
What does the Bible offer?
We know that angels are created beings (Genesis 2:1). Heavenly beings were created by Christ and through Christ and for Christ and exist in Christ (Colossians 1:15-17). Apparently they were created before God created the world (Job 38:1-7). Angels, then, had a beginning, but they do not die (Luke 20:36). There are references to angels with wings (Exodus 25:20; Isaiah 6:2; Revelation 4:8), but it's not clear if all angels have wings. Angels are created beings and, as such, finite. There are things angels don't know (1 Peter 1:12). They are interested in human events (Luke 15:10) and intervene in human events (Daniel 9:21; Matthew 1:20; Luke 1:11,26-38, etc.). Angels have emotions (Luke 15:10; Job 38:7; 1 Peter 1:12). Angels are heavenly beings, but are not divine beings. They disdain worship (e.g., Revelation 19:10). Instead, they are subject to God (1 Peter 3:22). This includes fallen angels (Jude 1:6; Job 1:6; 2:1). And they are limited in what they can do (Daniel 10:12-13; Jude 1:9). There are lots and lots of angels (Psalm 68:17; Revelation 5:11), and their primary duty -- their reason for being, their functional design -- is to be "ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation" (Hebrews 1:14). Based on the many references to angels praising God in His presence, it would appear that they are ministering spirits to God.
Angels appear to have various roles. There are angels called cherubim (plural for "cherub", except, as it turns out, they don't at all resemble the cute little chubby children that word calls to mind). These were the models God gave Moses for use on the Ark of the Covenant (Exodus 25:20; Hebrews 8:5) and described by Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1:1-28; 10:1-20). It was a cherub that God armed with a flaming sword to keep Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:24). Cherubim were in close contact with God and formed the image of the mediation between God and Man (1 Samuel 4:4; Psalm 80:1; Ezekiel 1:26,28). There are angels called seraphim. They are mentioned only in Isaiah 6 and appear to have the role of standing in the presence of God declaring His holiness. There are named angels including Gabriel and Michael. Gabriel appears to be a special messenger, described as one "who stands in the presence of God" (Luke 1:19). Michael is described as the archangel (Jude 1:9) whose apparent primary role is to battle demonic forces (Daniel 10:13; Jude 1:9; Revelation 12:7-9). As a group, angels are God's messengers, ministers, and God's army. Angels most often do not appear with wings, but appear in the form of men. And angels do not, as a rule, inspire warm feelings; they terrify. Indeed, God has used His angels on more than one occasion to carry out executions (2 Kings 19:20-34).
On a personal note, the Bible indicates that we have our own angels. ("Our own" in the sense of "we as a body of believers.") This, of course, would make perfect sense considering their primary role as ministers to those who are to inherit salvation. David wrote, "The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear Him and delivers them" (Psalm 34:7). When the poor man, Lazarus, died, he was "carried by the angels" to Paradise (Luke 16:22). And Jesus warned of not despising "these little ones" because "their angels" are always in the presence of God (Matthew 18:10). (Note: While we typically think of "these little ones" as a reference to children, if you will read the text you will find that it refers instead to a particular group of people who humble themselves to be "like this child". Thus, it is a reference to the adopted children of God, not all children.) What we call "guardian angels" are actually real. They don't protect us from all pain or hardship, but they do protect us from the harm that Satan would inflict if he could that is outside of God's plan. They do minister to those who will be saved. You may not have an angel assigned, but the role of guardian angel is a biblical role.
Something else about angels -- there are "elect angels" (1 Timothy 5:21). As such there are some angels who are not"elect". Demons are real (James 2:19). These are described as not keeping their original position (Jude 1:6). Some were chained "until the judgment of the great day" (Jude 1:6; 2 Peter 2:4). Others have worked with the chief of the fallen angels, Satan (Matthew 25:41). (Note that the eternal fires of Hell were originally created for Satan and his angels.) Now, these fallen angels -- the ones we know as demons -- are spending their time opposing God even while they are subservient to God. The imagery of Revelation 12:4 suggests that Satan took one third of the angels with him when he fell from heaven. Job's account tells us that Satan's opposition to God was limited by God. In 2 Kings 22 there is an account of a "lying spirit" sent by God to deceive Ahab's prophets and in 1 Samuel 16:14 an "evil spirit from the Lord" tormented Saul. So, while Satan and his demons are powerful (1 John 5:19) and real, they are not omnipotent. We war against them (Ephesians 6:12) and they seek to harm us (1 Peter 5:8), but cannot (1 John 5:18). Indeed, Satan is "the prince of the power of the air" (Ephesians 2:2), the "god of this world" (2 Corinthians 4:4) who has blinded the minds of the unbelievers. Jesus refers to him as "the ruler of this world" (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11), but he is a defeated ruler. Oh, and that whole "red suit, pitchfork, horns, and a forked tail" concept? Yeah, not biblical either. Scripture says he "disguises himself as an angel of light" (2 Corinthians 11:14). If you're looking for an easily recognized form of evil, you're going to be unpleasantly surprised.
Satan's primary weapon appears to be lies. He is the father of lies (John 8:44). He is described as "that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray" (Revelation 12:9). He started this right there in the Garden of Eden by deceiving Eve (Genesis 3:1-6; 1 Timothy 2:14). There are humans (we call them "false prophets") who operate under the delusion of deceiving spirits (1 John 4:1). But he has other means. And he can do injury to believers. Paul had to contend with "a messenger from Satan" (2 Corinthians 12:7) (who, by the way, God left in place -- 2 Corinthians 12:8-9). We know that Satan requested permission to "sift" Peter (Luke 22:31) and was allowed to do so within limits (Luke 22:32). There are those who will argue that Christians can "have a demon", that Christians can, in essence, be demon-possessed. Given all that Scripture says Satan can and does do to Christians, I would suspect that it would look like this was true, but John says, "We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him" (1 John 5:18). If "the evil one does not touch him" (Note: the word "touch" here is literally "to fasten to"), then it would suggest that either it only appears that one born of God could have a demon but doesn't actually or John is mistaken.
It's a strange thing, at least to me. Surveys suggest that a large number of self-identified Christians today believe in Jesus, God, even angels -- all that good stuff -- but do not believe in Satan or demons. Given the large amount of Scripture devoted to Satan and his followers and given the quite obvious effect of the father of lies and given the fact that Jesus Himself seemed to believe in Satan, I have to wonder on what they would base this warm and fuzzy but clearly unbiblical belief. We are warned that Satan is "seeking whom he may devour" (1 Peter 5:8), to "resist the devil" (James 4:7; 1 Peter 5:9), and to "give no opportunity to the devil" (Ephesians 4:27). It would seem to me that "such a being doesn't exist" would be a poor preparation for the biblical line of thinking on the subject. On the other hand, a host of ministering spirits is a really good thing. Angels and demons ... they're biblical, real, and, ultimately, under God's control. Good to know.
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