A Christian Doctrine of Angels

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Angels are beings that have a rich history in the Christian tradition

Throughout the Old and New Testaments, angels occur on a regular basis and are central to God’s work in heaven and on the Earth. The Bible has much to say about angels regarding their creation, their purpose in the created order, and their relationship to human beings. What does the Christian tradition believe about angels and why is this important for those who hold to the Christian faith?

The Bible describes angels as supernatural beings created by God to be his servants and to act as messengers to human beings. Their nature is that of spirits, lacking a physical form, and their purpose is to minister to or serve human beings (Colossians 1:16). God’s greatest purpose is to affect the salvation of human beings who are lost in sin. God uses the angels to carry out his will and to communicate messages to people who are central to God’s plan of salvation. Angels are consistently described as being about the will of the Father in heaven and joyfully engaging in worship and praise of God for his perfect character and his great works throughout all creation.

Though angels are by nature spirit, they do at times appear before people in human form (Genesis 19:1, 2). When Lot encountered the two angels at the entrance to Sodom, he viewed them just as he would other people. Yet, there was something about these two men that marked them as unique and Lot immediately recognized this. The essence of their nature was clear even though they were cloaked in human flesh. By appearing in human form, angels are able to communicate with people in a way that is easier for them to accept and respond to. God employs his angels in order to communicate his purposes and to affect his will on the Earth. Because of their spiritual nature, angels lack gender and do not engage in activities defined by sexuality that humans do.

Obedience is at the foundation of the character of an angelic being.

The angels live to hear the directions of the Lord and to act on them (Psalm 103:20). Unlike human beings who struggle to consistently hear God and to carry out his commands, the angels live with this one, solitary purpose. In contrast to the separation caused by sin, angels live in the very presence of God. They do not struggle to clearly understand the reality of God or to understand his will. They have the clarity of purpose that comes from being free of the many distractions that prevent people from living in perfect holiness before God. The only angels who fail to carry out the will of God perfectly are the fallen angels or demons who chose to follow Lucifer when he rebelled against God. Fallen angels have no plan of redemption but are awaiting their ultimate, final judgment.

While human beings who have sinned have an opportunity for repentance, this opportunity was not afforded to those angels who sinned against God. Some fallen angels continue to live in rebellion against God and assist Satan in afflicting and deceiving those whom God seeks to bring to salvation. Other fallen angels who are particularly evil are kept in chains in hell until the final judgment before God (2 Peter 2:4). Demons, fallen angels, continue to possess all the capabilities of angels, but they are separated from the intimate, perfect, holy fellowship that the angels have who retained their position before God possesses. Angels enjoy the undiluted joy of perfect fellowship with the creator of all things and so the sin of those angels who fell was such that there was no way for them to be redeemed.

The Bible provides only a partial view of the world of angels.

The revelation from God in Holy Scripture is primarily focused on human beings and God’s purpose in affecting their salvation. It is only where angels are involved in this process that they are mentioned. While all angels are described as being involved in worship, some species are involved in other activities. Gabriel is one of the angels whose particular focus in bringing messages from God to people. He describes his life as being that of one who dwells in the very presence of God and joyfully waits for the Lord’s direction (Luke 1:19). The other named angel is Michael. He is one of the angels whose responsibility is to engage in spiritual warfare against the agents of darkness (Daniel 10:13). These warrior angels battle on behalf of human beings against those who would seek to thwart the will of God and separate them from his holy presence.

While human beings and angels are both created by God, angels are different from people in significant ways. While people require a physical form, angels are spirit beings who take on flesh only to fulfill a specific purpose in interacting with human beings. People struggle with their sin nature and their distance from God and thus find it difficult to obey the voice of the Lord. In contrast, angels dwell in the immediate, holy presence of God and joyfully carry out his decrees. Human beings have the opportunity to repent of sin and be eternally saved, while angels who sinned await a final judgment from God without hope of salvation. Angels perform essential functions that assist human beings to understand the voice of God and obediently carry out his purposes on the Earth.

 

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