The Bible speaks of astonishing creatures who are neither God nor human, but exist alongside both. Their name comes from what they do – angel means ‘messenger’. In the Bible, angels are experienced as bringing messages from God to people. The messages are sometimes good news, such as the birth or resurrection of Jesus. Sometimes the message is a warning, anticipating God’s judgement.
The Bible describes angels as spirit-beings, made before the creation of the earth and numbering millions. They are credited with intelligence and emotions. They are not normally visible to human eyes. Their appearance often terrifies those who see them. However, they are also sometimes described as looking like ordinary humans and bringing comfort.
Angels feature throughout the life of Jesus. An angel called Gabriel announced to Mary that Jesus would be born. A ‘great company of angels’ praised God with the shepherds at the time of his birth. Angels sat at Jesus’ empty tomb following his resurrection. And Jesus told his followers that angels celebrate whenever human beings turn to God.
In other places angels are pictured praising God, encouraging people in times of danger, helping believers and assisting them at their point of death. Throughout the whole of the two thousand years since the time of Jesus there have been occasions when particular Christians have related experiences that they can only explain as encounters with angels.
There are a few references in the Bible to an angel named Satan who made a choice not to obey God and was ejected from his presence. Literature and art have subsequently embellished these references to paint a picture of a being who is the driving force of all in the world that is evil.
The evil in the world is, of course, the result of human actions and decisions. However, many Christians recognise that there are spiritual forces of good and evil at work beyond our immediate understanding.
Some Christians do not find it necessary to conceive of a devil figure to account for all that humans do which is sinful and evil. They see angels and devils as metaphors for the spiritual occurrences that are part of the experience of all humans.
What the Bible says about it
An extract from the Bible:
Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by doing so some people have entertained angels without knowing it.
Where to find it:
Hebrews 13: 2
About these words:
This verse comes toward the end of a letter written to encourage Jewish Christians during the first century church.
And they said…
Kanye West, North American rap artist and producer:
I know I got angels watchin’ me from the other side.
Gilbert Morris, North American writer:
Funny thing! Every time an angel appeared to someone in the Bible, the first thing he’d say was, ‘Fear not.’ I guess they were pretty spectacular.
Augustine, bishop of Hippo (modern Tunisia), 354 – 430:
It was pride that changed angels into devils; it is humility that makes men as angels.
Billy Connolly, Scottish comedian and actor:
I don’t believe in angels, no. But I do have a wee parking angel. It’s on my dashboard and you wind it up. The wings flap and it’s supposed to give you a parking space. It’s worked so far.