This past Sunday I preached a catechetical sermon on what the Bible teaches about angels and demons. You can listen to the sermon here. I’ll post the transcript here in two parts. I must say that this is really just a summary of Louis Berkhof’s excellent treatment of this topic in his Systematic Theology. But if you don’t have that book, this is the gist of what the Bible teaches on angels:
This is important for us to consider for two reasons. First, because some of us tend to downplay the existence of angels and demons, either because they are unseen or because we find the topic superstitious and unscientific. Or on the other hand we have lost track of the Biblical testimony concerning angels because so many unbelievers as well as Christians have believed and spread numerous myths/falsehoods about angels. Perhaps you are one who has bought into a few of the myths and just assumed that it was biblical (like the belief that everyone has a guardian angel assigned to them or that angels look like “Precious Moments” figurines). Or perhaps you have become overly preoccupied with angels and demons. Either way, it’s important that we find the Biblical balance of what to believe and confess concerning angels. And so, let’s consider what the Bible teaches about angels and demons. First we’ll consider the Bible’s teaching on angels and then on demons.
I. The Biblical Teaching on Angels
A. The Nature of Angels
First, God created the angels and he created them good. This is what we confess in Article 12 of the Belgic Confession of Faith. They are not eternal beings, they are creatures who were created good as part of God’s original creation. i.e. they were not created in a fallen state. In Psalm 148 we read: Psa. 148:2 Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his hosts!. . .5 Let them praise the name of the LORD! For he commanded and they were created. Likewise in Col. 1:16, Paul speaks of the fact that Jesus was active in the creation of all things including the angels: Col. 1:16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And so, Angels are created beings distinct from God. And they were originally created good. That’s the first thing we confess based on God’s Word.
Secondly, the Bible teaches that they are different from human beings in that Angels are spiritual beings (i.e. immaterial). They don’t have bodies as Luke 24:39 teaches us. According to Colossians 1:16 they are invisible. The fallen angels are often referred to as “evil spirits” in the Gospels (e.g. Matt. 8:16; 12:45; Luke 11:26). Now while they don’t have bodies, that doesn’t mean that they are somehow omnipresent. Rather, they are finite and limited. They can’t be in more than one place at a time (even the devil!). And yet, they are probably more free than we are with regard to space. For example we read in the Gospels accounts of a man who was possessed by a legion of demons (about 5,000). And even though they are invisible they are able to appear to us when God enables them to according to his purposes. And so, angels are spiritual/immaterial beings.
Third, the Bible teaches that Angels are rational, moral and immortal creatures. They are personal beings with intelligence and a will. Paul says in Ephesians 3:10 that as a result of his ministry the manifold wisdom of God has been revealed to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. 1 Peter 1:12 says that the good news that has been revealed to us is something that angels long to understand more fully, but they can’t understand it as we do because they haven’t experienced God’s redemption personally. We also read in Luke 15:10, that they rejoice when sinners repent. We read in Hebrews 1:6 that they worship God. So they are intelligent creatures who can possess and grow in knowledge.
Furthermore, they are moral creatures. The vast number of them are described as “holy angels,” a reference to those angels who remained loyal to their creator, rather than following Satan in his rebellion against God (Matt. 25:31; Mark 8:38; Luke 9:26). Those who did follow Satan in his rebellion we refer to as fallen angels or as demons. So they are depicted as rational and moral creatures in the Bible.
They are also immortal creatures in that they are not subject to death as we are. Those who are fallen will experience eternal punishment, but they don’t have bodies that die. Thus believers, who have died and gone to heaven are said to be like the angels in that their souls are in heaven as they await the resurrection of the body (Luke 20:35-36). They are also very powerful creatures who form the army of God and are always ready to do the Lords bidding (Ps. 103:20; Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:14).
Fourth, the Bible teaches that there are some who are elect angels and some who are fallen angels. As I said earlier they were originally created good. But some of them rebelled. Those who didn’t rebel are referred to as elect angels in 1Tim. 5:21. And so, these angels seem to have been confirmed in their state of holiness and are now incapable of sinning. Furthermore, the elect angels are examples to God’s people of doing the will of God and worshipping the Lord with reverence and joy, which is why we pray: Matt. 6:10 Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. They love to do God’s will and so should we (cf. Ps. 103:21).
So this is what the Bible teaches about the nature of angels. They are created beings. They are created good. They are spiritual beings. They are rational, moral and immortal beings who are very powerful. And there are some who are good and some who are evil.
B. The Number and Organization of the Angels
Besides the nature of angels, the Bible also teaches us something about their number and organization.
First, with regard to their number, the Bible teaches that there is a multitude of angels. The Bible doesn’t tell us how many angels there are, but that they constitute a mighty army. They are often referred to as the host of heaven and are pictured as an innumerable multitude. You’ll remember when the multitude of the heavenly hosts appeared to the shepherds at the birth of Jesus in Luke 2. We often see that there is a multitude of angels in the throne room of God, praising his thrice holy name.
When it comes to their organization we see that there are several types of angels and there seems to be a sort of hierarchy. The name angel in general means “messenger” or “one sent by God”. But there are also specific names for angels we find.
There are Cherubim angels in the Bible. They guard the entrance of the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:24) and are depicted as guarding the holy of holies in the temple and tabernacle. They also gaze upon the mercy seat (Ex. 25:18) and make up the chariot that God descends upon to the earth (Psa. 18:10 He rode on a cherub and flew; he came swiftly on the wings of the wind; cf. 2Sam. 22:11). They are also depicted symbolically as a combination of various majestic and powerful creatures. In Ezekiel 1 they are depicted symbolically as part human, part ox, part eagle and part lion. i.e. They are not the cute little cupid-like angels that we often see depicted on Hallmark cards. Louis Berkhof notes, “more than other creatures they were destined to reveal the power, the majesty, and the glory of God, and to guard His holiness in the garden of Eden, in tabernacle and temple, and in the descent of God to the earth.” (146).
There are also Seraphim angels in the Bible. These are those angels who are mentioned in Isaiah 6: Is. 6:1 In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3 And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” And when Isaiah says: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” And we read: 6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. Thus, we see that Seraphim are distinct from Cherubim in that they are servants around the throne of God. If Cherubim are guardians, we might think of Seraphim as nobles who worship around God’s throne and are ever ready to do his bidding, especially to serve the purpose of reconciliation.
Elsewhere in the Bible we also read of Principalities, thrones, and dominions (cf. Col. 1:16, Eph. 3:10; 1Pet. 3:22). These names seem to refer not to different kinds of angels but to differences in rank and dignity.
Finally we read of two angels who are very special in Scripture: Michael and Gabriel. In distinction from all the other angels these two are mentioned by name. Gabriel is mentioned in Daniel 8:16; 9:21 and in Luke 1:19, 26. And it seems to be his special task to mediate and interpret divine revelation. He helped Daniel understand his vision of the Ram and the Goat in Dan. 8 and helped him understand the “seventy weeks” of Jeremiah’s prophecy. He also is the one who appeared to John the Baptist’s father, Zechariah, while he was serving in the temple and announced to him the birth of John the Baptist. He also had the great privilege of announcing the birth of Jesus to Mary.
Michael is also mentioned by name. In Daniel 10 he is referred to as a prince and in Jude 9 he is called the “archangel” who contended with the devil and said “the LORD rebuke you.” These indicate that he occupies an important place among the angels. We also read of him in Rev. 12: Rev. 12:7 Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back. Thus, Michael is a valiant warrior who fights the battles of the Lord against the enemies of God’s people and against the evil powers of the spirit world.
C. The Service of the Angels
Well not only does the Bible teach us about the nature and organization of the angels, it also teaches us about their service. Some of this has already been mentioned in passing. But we see that the angels have both ordinary and extraordinary service.
Ordinary Service: Their ordinary service is praising God day and night (Isa. 6; Rev. 5:11), rejoicing at the conversion of a sinner (Luke 15:10), ministering to the heirs of salvation, watching over believers (Psa. 91:11 For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.), protecting little ones (Matt. 18:10), and marveling at the riches of God’s grace toward man (Eph. 3:10; 1Pet. 1:12). And there is nothing in Scripture that supports that every believer has an angel assigned to them called a guardian angel. They simply guard believers in general.
Extraordinary Service: Their extraordinary service consists of mediating the special revelations of God, communicating blessings to his people and executing judgment upon God’s enemies at key points in redemptive history. But when the period of God’s special revelation closed, the extraordinary service of the angels ceased, to be resumed only at the return of our Lord.
So this is what the Bible teaches concerning the nature, organization and service of the angels. And so, we confess in the Belgic Confession of Faith, Article 12 that: “He. . .created the angels good, to be His messengers and to serve His elect; some of whom are fallen from that excellency in which God created them into everlasting perdition, and the others have by the grace of God remained steadfast and continued in their first state.”
What then does the Bible teach us about fallen angels or demons? I’ll post the rest tomorrow, along with a few application points drawn from the Biblical teaching on angels and demons. If you can’t wait, once again you can listen to this message here at our church web-site.