The first detail that you should know is that the angels appear as personal beings (not as we think of persons in the physical realm). While they are personal they are not human. The popular portrayal of angels is like extremely beautiful humans with wings, but there is limited Scriptural support for this notion. To be person, angels must have these three qualities: will, emotions and intellect (reason). They have all three traits as we will learn together today.
We generally see the angels described in the Bible appearing like men with a snowy white garment and bright array. For example, in Matt. 28:2-3, we read, “And behold, a severe earthquake had occurred, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled away the stone and sat upon it. And his appearance was like lightning and his clothing as white as snow.” Likewise in Luke 24:4 the gospel writer records, “While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men suddenly stood near them in dazzling clothing…” Angelic appearances are stunning or captivating to those who behold them. In Acts 1:10, two angels are present at the ascension of Jesus, yet they appear as men dressed in white. The onlookers were gazing into heaven in amazement as the Lord ascended into the clouds with the angels. Luke wrote, “And as they were gazing intently into the sky while He was going, behold, two men in white clothing stood beside them.” But they are not men, but are angels. They are made out of a different material or substance as spiritual beings. We see with our eyes the representation of things that our finite minds can comprehend.
When angels appeared in human form, they were often unrecognizable as angels, to disguise their appearance for a time. So whether they appear as a man or as fiery chariots and horses, they are ethereal, spiritual, mighty angels in a representative form. Never forget that! Personality does not necessitate human likeness.
Do angels have will? We have already addressed the will of the angels in our first few episodes where we learned that angels can choose to obey or disobey the voice of the Lord. Those that obey are devoted servants of His in heaven while those that decide to rebel and leave their proper domain are bound for hell with the devil and his evil forces (demons/fallen angels).
Do angels have emotions? Angels have personal emotions as well, as we see them expressing joy in heaven over the creation of God as in Job 38:7. But as we have already mentioned in former episodes angels are also found rejoicing over the return of a lost soul. In Luke 15:7, Jesus taught, “I tell you that in the same way, there will be [more] joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” It is not until we read verse 10 of that same chapter that we discover who in heaven is creating all of the joy, "In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents." Beyond emotions, the angels have a strong desire to look into and are curious about the gospel preached by the Holy Spirit through the Apostles. The Apostle Peter wrote, “It was revealed to them (angels) that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven--things into which angels long to look.” (I Pet. 1:12). This eager longing represents their ability to demonstrate emotions.
Do angels have the ability to reason (intellect)? Angels are also intelligent personal beings. In II Samuel 14:20, David is said to have the wisdom of angels in discerning between good and evil. The angels are not omniscient like God the Father, knowing all things but are extremely insightful and wise. In speaking of wisdom that only God has regarding the Day of Judgment, the Lord Jesus said, “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven...” (Matt. 24:36). By suggesting that the angels do not know about the day of Judgment also suggest that they have a defined knowledge about many other important pieces of wisdom.
Secondly, angels appear in a specific type or form within a hierarchy of angelic hosts. We mentioned already that the angel of the Lord was said to be the Lord Himself in a Theophany of God or Christophany of the Son before Jesus was actually born of a woman in the flesh. This angel of course is not just any angel, but is a way for God, who is Spirit, to make His presence known on earth without revealing His true nature and unapproachable Divine presence.
The angels are described in the Bible with a multiplicity of terms, namely Cherubim which means holding fast. In Ezekiel 10:5, the prophet wrote, “Moreover, the sound of the wings of the cherubim was heard as far as the outer court, like the voice of God Almighty when He speaks.” These are the angels that covered the mercy seat in the temple and were embroidered into the tapestry of the temple veil. In Exodus 25:18-22, we learn, "You shall make two cherubim of gold; make them of hammered work at the two ends of the mercy seat. Make one cherub at one end and one cherub at the other end; you shall make the cherubim [of one piece] with the mercy seat at its two ends. "The cherubim shall have [their] wings spread upward, covering the mercy seat with their wings and facing one another; the faces of the cherubim are to be [turned] toward the mercy seat. You shall put the mercy seat on top of the ark, and in the ark you shall put the testimony which I will give to you. There I will meet with you; and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim which are upon the ark of the testimony; I will speak to you about all that I will give you in commandment for the sons of Israel.” In the very next chapter in Exodus 26:1, we see, “Moreover you shall make the tabernacle with ten curtains of fine twisted linen and blue and purple and scarlet [material;] you shall make them with cherubim, the work of a skillful workman.” Then if we turn to 1Kings 6:23-29 we find more information about the cherubim inside the holy of holies in the temple, “Also in the inner sanctuary he made two cherubim of olive wood, each ten cubits high. Five cubits [was] the one wing of the cherub and five cubits the other wing of the cherub; from the end of one wing to the end of the other wing [were] ten cubits. The other cherub [was] ten cubits; both the cherubim were of the same measure and the same form. The height of the one cherub [was] ten cubits, and so [was] the other cherub. He placed the cherubim in the midst of the inner house, and the wings of the cherubim were spread out, so that the wing of the one was touching the [one] wall, and the wing of the other cherub was touching the other wall. So their wings were touching each other in the center of the house. He also overlaid the cherubim with gold. Then he carved all the walls of the house round about with carved engravings of cherubim, palm trees, and open flowers, inner and outer [sanctuaries.]” This must have been amazing artistic display to behold as they prepared this place for God to meet with them. Finally in 1 Chronichles 28:18 it is stated, “and for the altar of incense refined gold by weight; and gold for the model of the chariot, [even] the cherubim that spread out [their wings] and covered the ark of the covenant of the LORD.” One other side work of the cherubim is that they serve as God’s vehicle while he rides on the wind or clouds. In II Samuel 22:11 and Psalm 18:10, the Bible proclaims, “And He rode on a cherub and flew; And He appeared on the wings of the wind.”
Another name used to classify the angels in their appearances is Seraphim (which means burning ones or shining ones). In Isaiah 6:1-3, 6, we hear the prophet Isaiah state, “In the year of King Uzziah's death I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called out to another and said, "Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD of hosts, The whole earth is full of His glory." ... It was then in verse 6 that we read, “Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a burning coal in his hand, which he had taken from the altar with tongs.” This angel then used the coal to touch the lips of the prophet. You might also recall Psalm 104:4, “He makes the winds His messengers, Flaming fire His ministers.”
Speaking of fiery angels or burning ones, angels took on different forms during their appearances like fire as in the burning bush before Moses. In Exodus 3:2, the Bible tells us, “The angel of the LORD appeared to him in a blazing fire from the midst of a bush; and he looked, and behold, the bush was burning with fire, yet the bush was not consumed.” We also shared the story of how angels appears as an army of horses and chariots of fire before Elisha’s servant (II Kings 6). Some angels didn’t show themselves at all but remained unseen. In either case, the angels were present. These are invisible creatures unless they are made visible.
In Revelation, which was written in apocalyptic language, angels are seen as with varying faces of animals and even with human features (an eagle, an ox [calf], a lion, and similarities to man). These heavenly beings are called living creatures with several sets of wings and eyes all over. In Revelation 4:6-8, John wrote, “and before the throne [there was something] like a sea of glass, like crystal; and in the center and around the throne, four living creatures full of eyes in front and behind. The first creature [was] like a lion, and the second creature like a calf, and the third creature had a face like that of a man, and the fourth creature [was] like a flying eagle. And the four living creatures, each one of them having six wings, are full of eyes around and within; and day and night they do not cease to say, "HOLY, HOLY, HOLY [is] THE LORD GOD, THE ALMIGHTY, WHO WAS AND WHO IS AND WHO IS TO COME." No doubt these creatures are angelic, spirit beings created for the worship and service of God and those destined for salvation.
In addition to appearing like creatures, they are also called stars as celestial beings. In Revelation 1:16, 20 we read the following about the Lord, “In His right hand He held seven stars, and out of His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword; and His face was like the sun shining in its strength.” What were the stars that Jesus held in His hand? In verse 20 we get the revelation "As for the mystery of the seven stars which you saw in My right hand, and the seven golden lampstands: the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.”
Similar imagery is used in Rev 8:10, “ The third angel sounded, and a great star fell from heaven, burning like a torch, and it fell on a third of the rivers and on the springs of waters.” It is not until Revelation 9:1 that we learn that the star that fell was the wicked one, the devil, “Then the fifth angel sounded, and I saw a star from heaven which had fallen to the earth; and the key of the bottomless pit was given to him.” While some originally thought this was Christ descending for wrath on the wicked, since he hold the key of death and hades, her the bottomless pit is opened to wreak havoc on the world.
This is the work of the evil one and his demonic spirits.
It might serve us well to recall that an angel revealed the entire book of Revelation to John as it was passed on from the Lord. That in and of itself is an appearance of an angel.
In Revelation 1:1 we learn, “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show to His bond-servants, the things which must soon take place; and He sent and communicated [it] by His angel to His bond-servant John”
As we mentioned in the trivia portion of our episode today, one angel appears and is arrayed in a cloud with a rainbow on his head (Revelation 10:1). It is hard to describe why these bizarre form and fashions are taken on by the angels, but God uses them for specific symbols, missions and works and each one requires them to reveal themselves in various manners.
Even though we have identified that there are two higher types of angels (cherubim and seraphim), they appeared and looked differently in each case. Sometimes they have two, four or six wings (symbolic). Other times they have varying features, eyes or feet like fire, face like lightning or the sun. They also have assorted natural phenomena that are connected with their coming, like earthquakes, thunder, wind, smoke, sound of water or on fire etc.
As mentioned already, they can appear as a man as in Daniel 8:15, “When I, Daniel, had seen the vision, I sought to understand it; and behold, standing before me was one who looked like a man.” This is what the passage in Hebrews 13:2 was discussing where we could entertain angels during a time of hospitality, and be completely unaware of their presence, just like Lot when he hosted these heavenly hosts.
Other angels appeared as soldiers with drawn swords as in Joshua 5:13-15, “Now it came about when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man was standing opposite him with his sword drawn in his hand, and Joshua went to him and said to him, ‘Are you for us or for our adversaries?’’ He said, ‘No; rather I indeed come now [as] captain of the host of the LORD.’ And Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and bowed down, and said to him, ‘What has my lord to say to his servant?’ The captain of the LORD'S host said to Joshua, ‘Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.’ And Joshua did so.”
Some angels appear to shine with a heavenly dazzling white light that glows like the sun (Revelation 10:1; Luke 24:4). Often this brightness was so stunning that they terrified those who beheld them. In Judges 13:6, we read, “A man of God came to me and his appearance was like the appearance of the angel of God, very awesome. And I did not ask him where he [came] from, nor did he tell me his name.” (See also Luke 2:9; Matthew 28:2-4).
Angels can appear in various modes in multiple formats: Humanlike form in real time and space (Genesis 18-19), in dreams of the subconscious mind (Matt. 1:20-21) and in visions where one is caught up into another realm for a brief period for revelation (Ezekiel 1). As mentioned already, an entire army of angels could be present but completely invisible to the human eye unless God allows us to see into that spiritual world where angels move at the Lord’s command.
Vine’s expository dictionary expresses a taxonomy of angels, while there have been studies to show that the cherubim, seraphim, archangels, angels, living creatures, thrones, dominions, principalities and powers are really an order of angelic ranks.
Dionysius was one of the first to study Paul’s writings and create a suggested order to the ranks or hierarchy of the angels. He included 3 hierarchies of angels and within those hierarchies he places 3 orders of the angels. In hierarchy 1, he included the cherubim, seraphim and thrones. In hierarchy 2, he included dominions, virtues and powers. Then in hierarchy 3, we have principalities, arch angels, and then all other angels in general. While there is credibility to a ranking of the angels, there is no biblical proof that Dionysius was correct. His efforts as well as any other attempt to order the angels, would be mere speculation. To learn more, please take the time to study these heavenly hosts. For example in Col. 1:16, we see, “For by Him all things were created, [both] in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities--all things have been created through Him and for Him.” We at least know that there were some angels that were chief among the others known as archangels. As far as how the hierarchy is built, we may never know thoroughly how they rank among one another until we are in their presence for eternity.
Finally, we want to take note that the angels will often appear as flying swiftly or moving rapidly. We automatically conclude that since they fly that they have wings, but wings are only mentioned in visions, dreams or seen or in ancient or even more commonly modern art displays. In Revelation 14:6, it is revealed, “And I saw another angel flying in midheaven, having an eternal gospel to preach to those who live on the earth, and to every nation and tribe and tongue and people”. This was a vision. Flying here does not make wings mandatory for any spirit being can move like a breath or wind, drifting, floating or moving rapidly from one place to another.
Birds and airplanes require wings in our realm and so we assume that angels need the same. Not necessarily. They are spirit beings. They can move from heaven to earth almost instantaneously as needed and directed by God. In Daniel 9:20-23 we read from Daniel the prophet, “Now while I was speaking and praying, and confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my supplication before the LORD my God in behalf of the holy mountain of my God, while I was still speaking in prayer, then the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision previously, came to me in [my] extreme weariness about the time of the evening offering. He gave [me] instruction and talked with me and said, ‘O Daniel, I have now come forth to give you insight with understanding. At the beginning of your supplications the command was issued, and I have come to tell [you,] for you are highly esteemed; so give heed to the message and gain understanding of the vision.’”
Some of the visions that show that these beings have wings include, I Kings 8:6-7 (cherubim are pictured with two wings), Ezekiel 10:19-21 (cherubim are found with four wings), and Isaiah 6:2 (Seraphim have six wings). The wings on the angels in visions are to symbolize their ability to move rapidly to accomplish the purposes of God. When angels appeared to Abraham, it was in such a way that Abraham had to look up suddenly or unexpectedly, and unannounced there were three angels before him. An angel had to be traveling at the speed of light when suddenly he appeared in the road of Balaam. Gideon looked up from the threshing floor to see an angel and when he attempted to set a meal before him he disappeared suddenly. An angel suddenly appeared to Samson’s mother. Proud Herod was immediately smitten by an angel in Acts 12. Angel Gabriel is said to come to Daniel swiftly (Daniel 9:21 NLT). One author said, “Traversing space in the twinkling of an eye, the angels appear to move from heaven to earth, from one place to another…at ease and without hindrance”.
They are not omnipresent like God, but are free to go where the omnipresent God of heaven and earth bid them to go without the limitations of time and space. Whether they literally have wings in heaven is yet to be determined. The point here is that they can fly and accomplish the work of God in an instant.
As I shared with you at the conclusion of our last episode, whether you have the opportunity to experience an angelic appearance in this life or not, you will one day see the angels. The angels are going to a part of the judgment of the Lord and will usher you into your eternal dwelling place. The two options that you are presented with are to either spend eternity in the presence of God, his angels and the saved of old or to be eternally separated from them in a place burning with fire where the lost will be tormented forever and ever. I hope that you are making spiritual preparations to be standing ready to meet the Lord. If you want to learn more, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and I will be glad to discuss this with you further. Thank you for listening.