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Angels

The word "angel" comes from the Greek word angelos, which means "messenger". Angels are an order of created spirit beings who belong to God and who are engaged in His service. They most frequently appear in scripture as messengers of God or to perform specific divine tasks. While they do not have material bodies, they often appear in human form. Angels are called "holy" and "elect" to distinguish them from some of their original number who rebelled against God.

A number of misrepresentations of angels persist in popular culture. In the Bible, angels always appear as men and are spoken of in the masculine gender. They never appear as women or as children. Childlike angelic beings, often called "cherubs," are more closely associated with the Greek god Eros than with biblical angels. Believers do not become angels when they die.
The Bible tells us very little about angels, though that has not prevented the development of intricate "angelologies" over the years. Within the "race" of angels there appear to be different orders or ranks of angels assigned to specific ministries. Among them are:

Cherubim

Angelic beings of the highest rank, cherubim were created with indescribable powers and beauty. Their appearance defies human description, indeed, they are described differently in various places in the Bible. They are never specifically called "angels" and never appear as messengers. Instead, they seem to be "proclaimers and protectors of God's glorious presence, His sovereignty and His holiness" (Dickason).

Seraphim

Closely related to the cherubim, these angels are portrayed with six wings - with two they cover their faces, with two they cover their feet, and with two they fly. The word "seraphim" means "burning ones," which probably refers both to their shining appearance and to their consuming devotion to the proclamation of God's holiness.

Other Orders

Some have inferred from various scripture references additional orders of angels such as Sons of God, Morning Stars, Watchers, Thrones, Powers, Rulers and Authorities.

Two angels are given names in the canonical books of the Bible. Michael is the only angel to be called an "archangel" in the Bible, and this certainly represents his preeminence among them. He is not necessarily the only archangel; apocryphal books list others. His name is most often said to mean "who is like God?" Michael is invested with authority from God. He champions the people of God in warfare and opposes God's enemies. He is often portrayed in warrior's garb holding a sword and scales. Gabriel is the other angel mentioned by name. His name means "mighty one of God," and he appears as God's special messenger of His kingdom program.

Though they appear as men, angels are apparently genderless and do not reproduce. Some of the angels (possibly a third) participated with Satan (who seems to have once been the chief of all angels) in his rebellion against God. These "fallen" angels are still at work to deceive men. The eternal destiny of all angels appears to have been decreed by God following the rebellion.

If you would like to read further about angels, the following books are recommended:

  • All the Angels of the Bible. Herbert Lockyer. Hendrickson Publishers, 1995.
  • Angels. Billy Graham. Word Books, 1997.
  • Angels Elect & Evil. C. Fred Dickason. Moody Press, 1975.