The Bible contains more than a series of alleged “angelic sightings.” It offers an evaluative look into a world beyond the reach of scientific examination. When we study what it says about angels, we learn that: (1) We are not alone, (2) We are helped by unseen friends, (3) We are opposed by invisible foes, (4) Choice determines destiny, (5) Nearness to God produces worship, (6) Worship of God inspires service, and (7) Serving God brings joy.
WE ARE NOT ALONE
The Bible repeatedly maintains that human beings are not the only intelligent, moral creatures in the universe. The words angel and angels occur about 300 times. The Bible speaks often of Satan and demons, and refers to them as real, though not fleshand- blood, earth-bound creatures like we are (Eph. 6:12). It names two angels— Michael (Dan. 12:1; Jude 9; Rev. 12:7) and Gabriel (Dan. 8:16; Lk. 1:19). It gives us graphic portrayals of heavenly beings called “seraphim” (Isa. 6:2-3), “cherubim” (Ezek. 10:1-20), and “living creatures” (Ezek. 1:5-22; Rev. 4:6-11).
The Bible is filled with references to spirit beings who possess intelligence and moral qualities. This shows us that we are not alone.
Some scientists agree that we are not alone, insisting that life was planted on earth by aliens. But most believe that we are products of an inexplicable series of improbable happenings over billions of years and emphatically deny a spirit world. The Bible, however, tells us that God created both the visible and the invisible worlds and everything and everyone in them (Gen. 1:1; Isa. 40:26; Col. 1:16; Rev. 4:11).
So, according to the Bible, we are not alone! We are not orphans in a hostile universe. We were created by the living God of the Bible. He is spirit (Jn. 4:24) and is present with us at all times (Ps. 139). And in the spirit world with Him are myriads of living creatures who can make an impact on us for either good or bad.
WE ARE HELPED BY UNSEEN FRIENDS
The Bible says that there are angels who help us. These angels are our unseen friends. The writer of Hebrews, referring to angels, asked the rhetorical question, “Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation?” (1:14). The answer is yes. And they are normally invisible because they are spirits. They do not have physical bodies. Therefore, they can move quickly from the spirit world to our physical world to help us.
In the Bible, angels sometimes appear in the form of men as they did to Abraham (Gen. 18) and to the followers of Jesus at the tomb from which He had risen (Mk. 16:5; Jn. 20:12). The writer of Hebrews encouraged us to be hospitable to strangers because “some have unwittingly entertained angels” (Heb. 13:2).
Do angels still appear in human form to help us? On the basis of our own experience, most of us would not be able to give a conclusive answer. But many of us have heard Christians tell of experiences in which they saw an angel in human form.
The late Dr. Raymond Edman, formerly the president and chancellor of Wheaton College, was convinced that an angel appeared to him when he was a young missionary. He was in his front yard, discouraged and depressed, when an elderly woman who was walking by stopped, spoke words of encouragement and challenge to him, and then started to walk away. Stirred by what she said, he went into the house to tell his wife. But before he could say anything, Mrs. Edman said, “Why don’t you invite that woman in for lunch?” He ran out to stop her, but she was gone. He could see a great distance in both directions, but she was nowhere to be seen. He asked his neighbors if they had seen her, but they had not. To the end of his life, Dr. Edman believed that this woman was an angel in human form sent by God to help in a moment of great need.
This is not an isolated instance. I recently heard a missionary tell how a man suddenly appeared when she was in a dangerous situation, guided her, and then disappeared. She thinks he may have been an angel.
What should we do with such reports? One thing is sure: We can’t use them as proof to skeptics that angels exist. These Christians could have been mistaken in thinking these visitors were angels. But we must also recognize the possibility that they were correct. Dr. Edman was a highly regarded and well-educated Christian. And so is the missionary who reported her encounter. Angels appeared in this manner in the past. It’s possible they’re doing so today.
We cannot prove or disprove the accounts of angels appearing to our contemporaries in human form. But if they are accurate, we must recognize that such appearances have always been the exception, not the rule. And these appearances leave many unanswered questions. An angel fed Elijah (1 Ki. 19:5- 7), protected Daniel from hungry lions (Dan. 6:22), and freed Peter from prison (Acts 12:7-10). But we don’t know what form they took. All we know is that the angel who freed Peter was accompanied by a great light and that he disappeared when the apostle was outside the prison.
It is entirely possible that angels usually remain completely invisible when they carry out their work for us. They cannot be seen when they carry the soul of a dying believer to heaven as they did Lazarus (Lk. 16:22), or when they protect God’s children from harm (Ps. 91:11), or when they watch us in our worship (1 Cor. 11:1-10), or when they observe us living out our salvation (1 Tim. 5:21).
The fact that Psalm 91:11 depicts angels keeping us from harm, coupled with our Lord’s warning “Do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that in heaven their angels always see the face of My Father” (Mt. 18:10), has led some to teach that each Christian has a guardian angel. But to make this claim is to go beyond what Jesus said. His statement certainly assures us that we have angels who work in our behalf, but it does not necessarily declare that there is one assigned angel for every person. It may be, but not necessarily. However, this should not trouble us. God can and will look after each one of us individually. He certainly has enough angels available if He chooses to use them to protect or help us. Myriads of these heavenly beings are our friends and stand ready to be our helpers and protectors.
Perhaps it is safe to say that they usually help and protect us without becoming visible. Consider the story of Elisha and his servant recorded in 2 Kings 6. The servant was frightened when he saw a large enemy army surrounding the city of Dothan where they were staying. He didn’t know that God had placed an army of angels between these human soldiers and the inhabitants of the city. But when Elisha offered the petition, “Lord, I pray, open his eyes that he may see” (2 Ki. 6:17), the servant saw the angelic host.
Our angel friends may be unseen, but according to the Bible they are all around us. God uses them as His servants to protect and help “those who will inherit salvation” (Heb. 1:14).
WE ARE OPPOSED BY INVISIBLE FOES
As we learn what the Bible says about angels, we also discover that we have enemies in the spirit world. A large number of evil spirits hate God. This hatred motivates these demons to do all they can to frustrate His loving purposes for mankind. The Bible refers to the devil as our adversary (1 Pet. 5:8) and our enemy (Mt. 13:39), and pictures his followers as an organized and powerful army (Eph. 6:12).
Let’s now look at what these demons do, and then at what we can do to counterattack and defeat them.
What They Do:
1. They oppose God and His people. Under their leader Satan (this proper name means “adversary”), they do all they can to keep God from carrying out His plans and purposes. The devil is our “adversary” (1 Pet. 5:8), the “enemy” (Mt. 13:39), the head of a vast host of evil beings against whom we must “wrestle” (Eph. 6:12).
2. They slander God and His people. Under their leader the devil (“slanderer”), they do all they can to cast doubt on God’s character (Gen. 3:1- 5) and that of His people (Job 1:9-11; Rev. 12:10).
3. They deceive the unsaved and try to deceive Christians. Satan “deceives the whole world” (Rev. 12:9), blinds the eyes of those who do not believe (2 Cor. 4:4), uses “lying spirits” (2 Chr. 18:21-22), and sends “deceiving spirits” who promote “doctrines of demons” (1 Tim. 4:1).
4. They plant evil thoughts into the minds of people. Satan put it into David’s mind to take a census of his people, undoubtedly motivated by pride (1 Chr. 21:1). He was behind Peter’s rebuke of Christ for announcing His approaching suffering and crucifixion (Mt. 16:22-23). He filled the mind of Judas with thoughts that led him to betray Christ (Lk. 22:3; Jn. 13:2). He was involved in the lying done by Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:3). Demons played a large role in the mental processes of the false teachers described in 2 Peter 2:1-2,10,13-14,18.
5. They take over the personality of some people. Demons made two men in Gergesa so fierce that people avoided the region (Mt. 8:28). They caused such severe convulsions in a boy that he often hurt himself as he fell (Mt. 17:14-21). Their sinister purpose in taking control is indicated by the terms used to describe them: “unclean spirits” (Mt. 10:1) and “evil spirits” (Lk. 7:21).
6. They influence national leaders. The devil, who is the “ruler of this world” (Jn. 12:31; 14:30; 16:11) and the “god of this age” (2 Cor. 4:4), used “a lying spirit” to lead King Ahab to his death (1 Ki. 22:20-23,37-38), assigned a spirit being to control the leader of Persia (Dan. 10:10- 21), and will through demons lead armies of humans to fight against God and be slaughtered in the war of Armageddon (Rev. 16:13-16). 7
. They play a role in human illnesses. Demons caused some to be mute (Mt. 9:32-33; 12:22), blind (Mt. 12:22), deformed (Lk. 13:11-17), convulsive (Mt. 17:15-19), and insane (Lk. 8:27-29). Satan brought on Job’s physical affliction (Job 2:6-8). Even if he doesn’t bring on the affliction, as in the case of Paul’s thorn, he may use the illness as his “messenger” of discouragement (2 Cor. 12:7).
8. They try to pervert the doctrine of grace. Paul referred to rules that forbid marriage and the eating of certain foods as coming from “seducing spirits” and called these regulations “doctrines of demons” (1 Tim. 4:1-5). In 2 Corinthians 11:3, Paul expressed his concern that the devil through his craftiness may corrupt the minds of believers from the “simplicity that is in Christ.” This was a reference to the teachings of those who insisted on circumcision and dietary restrictions as essential to salvation. It is in this context that he said Satan “transforms himself into an angel of light” (v.14). The devil and his followers hate the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith plus nothing.
9. They try to distort the biblical view of Jesus Christ. This fact lies behind the apostle John’s warning to “test the spirits, whether they are of God . . . . Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God” (1 Jn. 4:1-3).
In John’s day, men who claimed that they spoke by inspiration, maybe even crediting their words to a spirit being, were saying disturbing things about Jesus Christ. It appears that they were denying He had possessed a genuine fleshand- blood human body. They probably said that He only appeared to have a real body, that His perceived humanity was in reality an apparition. They did this because they wanted to hold to the Greek philosophical concept that matter is essentially evil and that spirit is essentially good. But in denying the genuine humanity of Jesus, the reality of His physical body, they were also rejecting basic doctrines like the incarnation, the atonement, and the bodily resurrection.
For a person to confess that “Jesus Christ has come in the flesh” was an acknowledgment that the man from Nazareth was none other than the incarnate Christ—that He, through the virgin birth, came in a human body. The words “has come in the flesh” are in the perfect tense, which means “has come in the flesh with the result that even now in His resurrection body He is genuinely human.”
Evil spirits are always at work trying to distort the biblical portrayal of Jesus Christ. They probably think the best way to do so is to speak well of Him but to come short of the full truth. For example, Muslims speak of Him as a great prophet. New Agers refer to Him as an Enlightened One in the spirit realm. Jews refer to Him as a great teacher.
Jehovah’s Witnesses call Him a son of God, and Mormons see Him as a Savior and Revealer. But you won’t hear them confessing Jesus to be the God-man, the incarnate Deity who came to reveal God and provide salvation for sinful mankind. It is therefore important that we “test the spirits” as we listen to religious teachers. If they deny Jesus Christ as the eternal God-man, they are receiving their instructions from evil spirits, not from God.
How We Can Counterattack:
Knowing what the enemy aims to do and how he executes his plan can be a liability. It can do nothing more than increase our fear and apprehension. But it is beneficial if we use the information to build a good defense and to strategize a counterattack. The apostle James gave the following plan: “Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (Jas. 4:7). Wanting to do God’s will, humbly submitting to Him, and resisting the devil in God’s strength is the prescription for victory.
According to Paul in Ephesians 6:11-18, we must also have on certain pieces of military equipment —“the whole armor of God.” Let’s look at each element of this armor and what it means to us in our battle against “the wiles of the devil.”
• The belt of truth. Since Satan and his demons depend on deceit to maintain their power, our first line of defense is always to be truthful. We must never distort or misrepresent the truth, regardless of any advantage we might gain by doing so.
• The breastplate of righteousness. Any sin in our life leaves us open to demonic attack. Even though we are given the righteousness of Christ (2 Cor. 5:21), we must still continually put on the protection of holy living.
• The shoes of the gospel of peace. With our feet firmly planted on the truth that we are at peace with God, we can stand resolutely against Satan’s attacks.
• The shield of faith. In order to quench the “fiery darts” of Satan’s temptations, we must trust and believe what God’s Word says about every area of our life.
• The helmet of salvation. This is the confidence that there is coming in the future a great victory celebration. It’s also referred to as the “hope of salvation” (1 Th. 5:8). This helmet protects us against Satan’s twoedged sword of discouragement and doubt.
• The sword of the Spirit. Since the Word of God is the basis of our faith, we need to learn how to wield it with authority. Scripture is our best offensive weapon against the devil (Mt. 4:1-11).
After he described the various elements of the armor, Paul said that we are to be in constant prayer. Prayer expresses our dependence on God. We can fight against Satan and his demons only “in the [strength of the] Lord and in the power of His might” (Eph. 6:10). In the power of Christ with the armor of the Spirit, we will be victors.
CHOICE DETERMINES DESTINY
From our biblical study of the angels we learn that choice determines destiny. The Bible shows us that the devil and his followers were once good angels. But when God gave them an opportunity to choose either to give Him their full allegiance or to exalt themselves, they chose to forsake Him.
Many Bible scholars, though recognizing that Isaiah 14 is directed to the king of Babylon, are convinced that the language goes beyond this earthly monarch to Satan and his fall. He is the Lucifer who, though created sinless, rebelled against God and tried to usurp God’s place in the universe.
How you are fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How you are cut down to the ground, you who weakened the nations! For you have said in your heart: “I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will also sit on the mount of the congregation on the farthest sides of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High.” Yet you shall be brought down to Sheol, to the lowest depths of the Pit (Isa. 14:12-15).
Another passage that speaks of the bad choice made by the angel who is now known as Satan is Ezekiel 28:12-17. In this message directed to the king of Tyre, the prophet used language that transcends the earthly monarch and points to Satan, the source of all human sin. “You were perfect in your ways from the day you were created, till iniquity was found in you. . . . Your heart was lifted up because of your beauty” (vv.15,17). Pride must have been the reason for the fall of this high-ranking angel.
The symbolism of Revelation 12:4 portrays Satan as a great dragon who drags a third of the stars down from heaven with his tail. This may indicate that a third of the angels joined him in his rebellion and that the devil is now the leader of a vast host of evil spirit beings.
Lucifer and those who followed him made one bad choice—one that determined their destiny. As far as we know, they were never given an opportunity to repent. Very likely, they have never wanted to repent. They are now the evil angels, the company of invisible spirit beings for whom hell was created (Mt. 25:41).
The fact that one bad choice made these angels evil, hell-bound creatures is sobering indeed. But we are treated less severely. We can often rectify a bad choice or a series of bad choices. We can repent of our sin. And we must remember that people who have lived in rebellion against God all their lives are sometimes converted to Christ just before they die. Think of the criminal crucified with Jesus Christ! (Lk. 23:39-43).
Yes, it is true that God graciously forgives and receives people who turn to Him in repentance and faith after having made bad choices. But no one should let this fact lead to presumption. If someone knows the truth but coldly rejects it with the idea that he can always change his mind later, he may be sealing his doom. The bad choice he makes to reject the truth at one point in time may not be reversible. God will not change. And His grace will not change. But that person may never have the desire to change in the future.
God seems to have established the principle that the closer someone is to God and His truth, the more disastrous will be the consequences of the bad choice. Angels were created sinless. They lived in heaven, in the immediate presence of God. Lucifer, who apparently was a leader among the angels, chose to exalt himself and rebel against God. A large number of angels joined him in his rebellion. God’s judgment was swift and severe as He cast them out of heaven. This event is recorded in Isaiah 14:12-15 and Ezekiel 28:11-19. Because these heavenly beings lived so close to God, God gave them only one choice.
God graciously gives humans more than one opportunity He sees us as having inherited a sinful nature. Unlike the angels who before they sinned lived in heaven, we dwell on an imperfect planet. Unlike the angels who before their fall saw God’s glory firsthand, we see “in a mirror, dimly” (1 Cor. 13:12) in nature and in conscience (Ps. 8,19; Rom. 1:18-20; 2:14-15) and (because of our human failings) even in His Word. God is patient with us. He “remembers that we are dust” (Ps. 103:14).
The Lord has shown us, however, that we must not presume on His patience. The Bible speaks of a “hardening” and a “blinding” that occurs when people deliberately reject Him and boldly refuse to obey Him. We see this in the well-known story of Pharaoh and the ten plagues (Ex. 5–12). This Egyptian king was haughty, arrogant, and belligerent when Moses told him that God wanted him to let the Israelites leave their tasks and hold a festival of praise to Jehovah (Ex. 5). His response was to make the slavery of the Israelites even more intolerable than it had been.
In the biblical account of this struggle between Pharaoh and Moses, God said that He would “harden” Pharaoh’s heart (Ex. 4:21; 7:3). Eventually He did “harden” the heart of the king (9:12). We also encounter the simple declaration that Pharaoh’s heart “became hard” or “was hardened,” ascribing the phenomenon to neither God nor Pharaoh. In addition, we’re also told explicitly that Pharaoh hardened his own heart (8:15; 9:34). This king, in the face of a demand that came with authenticating signs, said no to God. When he did this, he hardened his heart, set in motion a natural process by which his heart became increasingly hard, and caused God to send upon him a judicial hardening.
The more direct the encounter with God, the greater the responsibility to obey, and the greater the likelihood that a hardening process will keep a person from repenting.
The Lord Jesus also expressed this principle. He warned the religious leaders repeatedly that their stubborn refusal to believe on Him in spite of the miracles they saw Him perform, and the truth they heard from His lips, would lead to their eternal doom. They went so far as to say that He cast demons out of people by the power of Satan. Our Lord, who indicated that He did so by the power of the Holy Spirit (Mt. 12:27-28), warned them that they were in danger of committing “blasphemy against the Spirit” (v.31), a sin that cannot be forgiven.
A short time later, a few days before His crucifixion, Jesus addressed the same group of religious leaders. He said, “A little while longer the light is with you. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you . . . . While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light” (Jn. 12:35-36). The apostle John told us that after saying this, Jesus departed and hid Himself from these leaders. In doing this, He acted out a warning similar to that expressed by Isaiah (6:9-10; 29:12) and freely quoted by John, “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts” (Jn. 12:40).
When people deliberately and repeatedly reject God, they are in danger of hardening their hearts. Paul spoke of the “god of this age” blinding the minds of those “who do not believe” to keep them from receiving Christ as their Savior (2 Cor. 4:4). Those who keep rejecting the truth will also find themselves becoming increasingly drawn toward deceit. They will gradually become more and more insensitive to God’s Word.
From the angels we learn that the closer one is to God when he rejects Him, the greater the danger of a swift hardening process. Choice determines destiny. One choice determined the destiny of the angels. One choice can also determine ours.
NEARNESS TO GOD PRODUCES WORSHIP
We learn from the angels that for those who love God, nearness to Him produces worship. In Hebrews 1:14, the good angels, the ones who didn’t join in the rebellion led by Lucifer, are called “ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation.” The expression, ministering spirits in t he Greek uses a term that refers to the ceremonial activities of priests and to public service “exclusively of religious and ritual services both in a wider and more restricted sense” (Arndt and Gingrich, p.471). It is service with God in mind. In this context, Hebrews 1:14 could be properly translated, “Are they not all worshiping spirits sent forth to serve?”
The good angels worship naturally and spontaneously because they are filled with awe, reverence, and love as they observe God’s glory, love, and power. Around the throne of God they “do not rest day or night, saying, ‘Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!’ ” (Rev. 4:6-11).
When angels saw the birth of Christ and knew that God had miraculously become a member of the human family to bring salvation to mankind, they shouted, “Glory to God in the highest” (Lk. 2:14). When they saw the glorified Son of God and realized that He had gone through death to bring salvation to sinners, they said, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom, and strength and ho nor and glory and blessing!” (Rev. 5:12). When they saw God creating our world, they “shouted for joy” (Job 38:7). As holy angels who are close to God, they can’t help but worship Him.
It appears from this that we can establish a principle: The closer we who have chosen to believe in God live to Him, the more spontaneously and enthusiastically we will worship Him. Consider what happened to the godly people of the Bible when God came close to them and they had a vivid sense of His presence: Jacob (Gen. 28:16-17), Moses (Ex. 34:8), Isaiah (Isa. 6:5), Ezekiel (Ezek. 1:28), Daniel (Dan. 10:8-9), the apostle Paul (2 Cor. 12:1-4), the apostle John (Rev. 1:17). When we live obediently and pray sincerely, we will sense God’s presence in our lives. Then worship will come naturally. We will worship in private and look forward to worshiping Him with others. We will feel empathy with David who wrote, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go into the house of the Lord’ ” (Ps. 122:1).
WORSHIP OF GOD INSPIRES SERVICE
From angels we also learn that worship leads to willing, God-honoring service. As noted in the previous point, the Hebrews 1:14 declaration that angels are “ministering spirits sent forth to minister” probably would be better translated “worshiping spirits sent forth to serve.” In the Bible, angels are a joyful group, always eager and ready to do God’s bidding. They rejoiced at God’s creation of our earth system (Job 38:7). This combination of worship with readiness to serve is expressed by the psalmist, “Bless the Lord, you His angels, who excel in strength, who do His word, heeding the voice of His word. Bless the Lord, all you His hosts, you ministers of His, who do His pleasure” (Ps. 103:20-21).
The angels are a worshiping community. They serve God with readiness, zeal, and conscious dependence on Him. They never appear reluctant to do His bidding. Their service, which flows from their worship, has in it the element of gratitude. They know that God could do without them. They know that He can do anything He wants to do by direct command. They know that it was because of His love that He created them, and it is because He loves them that He uses them to carry out His will. This makes them not only eager to serve but also causes them to be humble.
Michael, the only heavenly being given the title “archangel,” showed humble respect for the devil when the two had a dispute about the body of Moses. Perhaps Satan, with the hope that it would become an object of worship, wanted it to be found by the Israelites. Whatever the point of the dispute, Michael “dared not bring against him [Satan] a reviling accusation, but said, ‘The Lord rebuke you!’ ” (Jude 9). His God-consciousness gave him humility in his service. The angels show us that nearness to God produces worship, and that this worship inspires willing, eager, and humble service.
SERVING GOD BRINGS JOY
The angels also teach us that the right kind of service brings joy. The fact that God keeps them busily serving Him enhances their joy. The Bible says that “there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Lk. 15:10). Their joy is evident in their words of praise throughout the book of Revelation. And Hebrews 12:22 states that those who believe on Jesus Christ will stand with “thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly” (NIV). Their grateful, humble, willing service gives them great joy.
The Bible also gives us many indications that gladness comes to us when we serve the Lord. The words glad and gladness are used more than 100 times in the Bible, often to describe God’s people and to tell what they feel when they worship and serve the Lord. Add to this the many instances when the terms joy and rejoicing are used in the same way, and we have a wonderful picture: Those who serve God with gratitude and praise will be happy people.