Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?
Hebrews 1:14 *1
Angels, Cherubim, Seraphs and Archangels
Wouldn’t it be nice if we could see these ministering spirits and watch them working in our lives? Wouldn’t it be exciting to actually be aware when we are helped by angels? We would feel so much safer and more confident in life, just knowing that these spiritual beings are acting on our behalf.
Even as I watch TV, there are so many testimonials where people describe “unexplained” phenomena—their daughter was saved from a fire—their little boy was “carried” away from a car accident—their lives were saved, because they “heard” a voice calling them out from a dangerous situation which could have killed them.
Skeptics say that these occurrences are just coincidences, a moment of delusion in a crisis, or plain made-up stories for which there is another logical explanation.
Was Joseph, Jesus’ father, delusional when he saw an angel in his dream warning him to leave Bethlehem? Was it just a coincidence that Hagar, Sarah’s slave girl, heard an angel speak, leading her to water when she and Ishmael were dying of thirst in the desert? Is there a logical explanation for the angels who announced Jesus’ birth to the shepherds out in the fields? Is the account of an angel speaking to Mary about her virgin birth a made-up story? Was Peter hallucinating when he was released from prison by an angel or was it just a nice jailer who wanted to let him out?
If we deny these stories, we deny the veracity of the Bible. In fact, the Bible does not mention these stories in passing as if they were insignificant facts, but rather most of the accounts are told as major events that changed the course of a person’s life. We can look at these “angel” narratives as true reports from God’s people, written by the hand of God; or we can be like the rest of the world and believe them to be nice bedtime stories for children.
More than half of all the books in the Bible mention some kind of angelic being. References to angels appear throughout the entire Old and New Testaments, and sometimes describing in elaborate detail their actions, appearance or words. Jesus encountered angels during his time on earth—during his forty day fast (Mk1:13) and after his all-night prayer before going to the cross (Lk 22:43). So who are these heavenly creatures and what is their role in our lives?
Most of the time, we only talk about angels, but, according to the Bible, there are many other kinds of heavenly beings, including cherubim, seraphim, archangels and angels! Cherub is the singular form of cherubim derived from the Hebrew word kerub.*2 They are cited numerous times in the book of Ezekiel. Seraphim or seraphs meaning “burning ones”*3 are technically only mentioned in the book of Isaiah but are also present in Revelation. In the scriptures, there is only one archangel or “chief angel” mentioned by name, Michael, but here seem to be other leading angels. Daniel mentions Michael as “one of the chief princes” (Daniel 10:13) indicating that there are other angelic higher-ups. Another angel, Gabriel, is mentioned in the book of Daniel and Luke but no apparent rank is indicated.
These celestial entities appear to have various shapes and forms ranging from multi-faced creatures (Ezekiel 1 & 10) with animal bodies to human-like beings (Hebrews 13:2). Each of them seems to have separate roles that fulfill God’s plan and purposes.
Cherubim are found guarding the holy articles and sacred places of the Lord. They are first mentioned in Genesis as guardians of the Garden of Eden. Two cherubim are placed at the east entrance of the Garden of Eden with a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the tree of life. In Ezekiel’s vision, they support the throne of God (Ezekiel 10:1) and are standing in the temple of God (Ezekiel 10:3). Their images appear on the ark of God (Exodus 25:21, 2 Chronicles 5:8). These special “angels” may have also served as guards of the holy articles of the Jews.
Seraphim or seraphs are winged creatures given the role of praising God’s holiness. They are referred to in the book of Isaiah and Revelation. Isaiah has a personal encounter with a seraph. Seraphs seem to have the power to convey forgiveness of sins. In Isaiah 6, one of them flies to Isaiah and touches his lips with a piece of burning coal to take the guilt of his sins away. Their appearance is not described in detail since their faces are covered by two of their six wings. Their voices ring out as they praise the Lord’s holiness.
Though God often spoke directly to his people, at times, God also used these heavenly beings to communicate with individuals whether in dreams or in real life. After the book of Genesis, increasing encounters with angels are recorded. These appearances have no direct correlation to a person’s faith, talent or position in society. Most of the time, these angels do God’s bidding as messengers, under God’s command to herald an important event in history.
Angels seem to play an important role in relation to Jesus Christ as well. In the New Testament, the book of Hebrews begins with references to angels as compared to our Lord Jesus. God created angels to be inferior to Jesus. He commands the angels to worship the Lord in the first chapter. In the second chapter, it describes how God made Jesus a little lower than the angels when he sent him on the earth. Later, however, Jesus was crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death making him superior to angels by name and majesty. Hebrews ends with brief remarks about angels in chapter 12 and 13.
The New Testament ends with the book of Revelation depicting angels as principle agents present in the churches. Some of them are around the throne of God while others are aiding God in pronouncement of judgment on the people of the earth—both good and evil sentences. There are many references to them throughout this last book, showing their significant role in God’s heavenly kingdom. Their presence is certainly noteworthy in God’s spiritual world.
Angels Exist Today
Angelic beings are not only present during biblical times but exist today and play an important role in every Christian’s life. We may or may not be aware of their presence, but according to the book of Hebrews, they are sent as ministering spirits to those who are to inherit salvation (Heb. 1:14). That means that every Christian is being ministered to by angels! What we may consider as a coincidence may be the work of angels, visible and invisible. Strangers that appear to help us out at just the right moment may actually be an angelic spirit that God has sent to assist us in our time of need.
Most often, we consider unexplainable incidences as happenstance. There may have been a person who has helped you out in a precarious occasion that you have never seen again. There may have been a stranger that arrived at a certain place when you were having difficulties. Maybe, you had a broken down car at night with no cell phone, but somehow your car just seemed to start working again after a quick prayer. You might have been a small child when someone you never saw before guided you out of a burning building. Was it really chance or was God sending someone to watch over you at that point in time?
My husband and I lived in San Francisco for eleven months from August of 1987 to July of 1988. It was an exciting time in our lives. The church there helped us heal in our faith after we faced several discouraging situations in the European mission field the prior year. It was an important time period, because unknown to us at the time, God was going to call us again into the mission field before even a year had passed.
The ministry staff members in San Francisco were more experienced and older in age than both my husband and me. I was only 23 years old. For this reason, we all decided to rely on God through prayer, fasting and confession of sins. Whatever experience we lacked would be taken care of by God.
In view of this realization, I personally made a commitment to have a weekly prayer time with the Lord every Monday afternoon from 1:00 to 5:00pm. Each Monday, I would go to a special place around the San Francisco area where I would not be disturbed during those four hours. It became an adventure for me to find new places where I would be inspired by God’s creation.
On one particular afternoon, I had found a beautiful hillside area across the Golden Gate Bridge in Sausalito, a cute town on the outskirts of the city. I picked a spot that overlooked the Golden Gate Bridge in a national park. For three wonderful hours I passed the time reading the psalms, praying and singing hymns by myself. The weather was perfect, and the sun shone brightly.
I was feeling quite encouraged and happy when, suddenly, a lone hiker came walking up the hill towards me. At first, I was not worried. Yet, as he approached, I became very nervous. There was no one else in the vicinity if something bad were to happen.
After a few minutes, panic began to set in as the hiker came closer and closer. I began to pray about what to do. My car was a good ten minute walk away. There were no cell phones at the time and not a soul around to hear me cry out if I got into trouble. Furthermore, I had many books with me: two Bibles, a concordance, a hymnal and a notebook of prayers. I pondered how could I run fast with all these books and make it back to my car.
Then, it was too late. Before I knew it, the man was looking down at me as I sat there on the grassy hillside. He did not smile or greet me in a friendly manner as I had wished he would. In fact, he had a very serious look on his face and began to speak.
“Look at that boulder down at the bottom of the hill near you,” he quietly said.
I shot a glance down the slope, wondering what he was going to say about it. He continued, “There has been a man hiding behind that rock with a knife. I think that he is after you. You need to get up slowly and follow me quickly down this hill. As you walk around this path, past the boulder, look back and you will see the man with a knife.”
I was extremely shaken by his words. I did not hesitate, gathering up my belongings as fast as possible. Moving quickly, I followed the hiker down the hill on the winding dirt path. There was a bend where I could see behind the boulder as I passed by. Sure enough, there was a man crouched down behind the stone outcropping. Apparently, he was not aware of my departure from the hillside. He seemed to be waiting and holding something in his hand. Fear gripped me as I stared at the stranger and caught a glimpse of his knife flashing in the sunlight!
When I looked ahead of me to follow the man, the hiker had disappeared. He was nowhere to be found, neither in back of me nor around me. That was it. Gripped with fear, I began to run as fast as I could. Thoughts of my body floating in the San Francisco Bay under the Golden Gate Bridge seized me as I wondered whether I had been tricked. Were those men actually working together to ambush me down at the bottom of the hill? Where is the man who warned me? How could I have lost him so quickly?
No matter where I looked, the man was gone—out of sight. Poof! Disappeared into thin air, it seemed, because there was no other path. When I finally got to the bottom of the hill, I rushed to my car, shaking hands fumbling to get the key out of my purse, unable to get inside the lock right away and almost dropping my huge stack of books in my panic.
When I finally got into my car, the key nearly fell out of my hand while I threw the books onto the passenger seat. I locked the doors right away and started the ignition. My hearted pounded inside my ears until the car started. Then, my foot pushed full throttle on the gas and off I went, gripping my steering wheel tightly as if my life depended on it.
As I drove into town and saw crowds of people, relief flooded my heart. I pulled the car over to the curb, because I needed a few moments to calm down. As I sat silently in my car, I began to wonder how that hiker had seen the stranger with a knife from so far away. Where did he disappear to? How could he have vanished while I glanced back at the boulder for a mere few seconds? Could he have been an angel?
Yes, I thought to myself. He was angel sent from God to save me from some disastrous episode. How else could we have walked away from my hillside spot without being spotted by the knife-wielding stranger? I praised God and thanked him with tears as I held onto my steering wheel. What had started out as a terrifying experience transformed into a deeply spiritual moment in time for me. I still thank God to this day for having protected me that afternoon. Thank you, Mr. Angel Hiker wherever you are.
So are there angels around us today? Yes, there are many. We might not see them or recognize them, but they are there for us. We can go on with our lives never acknowledging them, and it would not make a difference. They would still work on our behalf. But, at the same time, realizing their existence can strengthen our faith and help us to appreciate God’s power actively working in our lives.
Angels as Our Guardians
Dear sisters, as women, we have an innate desire for protection—by a father, a mother, a boyfriend, a brother or by simply someone who loves us. Many of us especially yearn for a male figure to fulfill that role in our lives. Unfortunately, those protectors have fallen short at one time or another—some of them never meeting our need to shield us from the dangers and hurts of this life.
On the other hand, we may have had times when our protector came to our rescue at just the right time. As I grow older and look back at my life, I realize how little credit or appreciation I have shown to people who have helped me over the years. In fact, I know that there are people who have been there for me and have helped me at crucial times that I have completely forgotten about. To those people, I humbly apologize and encourage you with the thought that your reward is in heaven.
Without your noticing, seeing or recognizing it, God has had his guiding hand in your life—yes, through the good and bad times. He probably sent angels at key points, but you were unaware of it. Then again, you may remember traumatic times when you felt no angel or guiding hand in your life. We can end up writing another whole book on why, when and how come, but that is not the point of this chapter. We may never know and understand the full extent of why God intervenes at certain times and not at others.
The fact is that God does not send these heavenly beings randomly. Each time, there seems to be a grander overall plan. In the Bible, there are a numerous accounts of angels appearing to God’s people; over half of the books show them as protectors of His servants, saving them from harm and even death. God sends them at just the right time so that God can continue to fulfill his purposes through them. Whether it was helping Hagar and Ishmael from dying of dehydration in the desert or keeping the mouths of hungry lions shut to safeguard Daniel in the lion’s den for a whole night, God sent these celestial beings as keepers of his sheep.
One powerful example of angels being used as guardians occurs prior to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah when God sends them to assess the state of affairs of the city. When the angels arrive at the city gate, they immediately meet Lot who bows to them with his face to the ground and calls them lords (Gen. 19:1-3). He also offers them food and a place to stay. Somehow, Lot knew that these men were special, treating them with honor and respect. Lot tries to protect the two visitors by keeping them in his home, but the men of Sodom invade Lot’s home in order to violate his guests―both young and old men from every part of the city of Sodom surround Lot’s home (Gen. 19:4-11).
It is a paradox that Lot is trying to protect the two angels when, in actuality, they came to help Lot and his family before the city was destroyed. Of all the people of Sodom, it is sad that Lot is the only one who recognizes these visitors to be worthy of esteem. The eyes of all the other men in the town―both young and old― become blind not only spiritually but also physically because of the evil in their hearts. Their wickedness further convinces the angels that Sodom had to be destroyed.
We can only speculate about Lot’s wife, as her presence during the angels’ stay is not mentioned in the scriptures. In fact, it seems that she is not the one to prepare the meal for the visitors. (Genesis 19:3) Unlike Sarah who prepares the meal for two angels in Genesis 18, it is Lot who bakes the bread and feeds the guests. Probably, Lot’s wife did not see these visitors as important, thus ignoring her duties as a “good” wife. Lot wound up doing much of the work. Again, we do not know what was going on with Lot’s wife, so this is only conjecture.
Despite God’s effort to save Lot and his family, Lot hesitates to leave Sodom. There is a need for urgency as the city is about to be destroyed. God sends not just one angel but two to warn them of the impending danger.
At break of day, the angels pushed Lot to get going, “Hurry. Get your wife and two daughters out of here before it’s too late and you’re caught in the punishment of the city.”
Lot was dragging his feet. The men grabbed Lot’s arm, and the arms of his wife and daughter―God was so merciful to them!―and dragged them to safety outside the city. When they had them outside, Lot was told, “Now run for your life! Don’t look back! Don’t stop anywhere on the plain―run for the hills or you’ll be swept away.”
Genesis 19:15-17 *4
Lot and his family were “dragging their feet”. For this reason, the angels needed to grab each of their arms and force them to leave the city! These angels were extremely aggressive about saving this family from the imminent destruction, doing everything possible to help them—even using force to drag them out.
Unfortunately, Lot’s wife was disobedient, looking back as they ran out of the city and, as a result, she did not make it to safety. Instead, she turned into a pillar of salt. However, the rest of the family was spared for their faithfulness.
God was merciful to Lot and his family. He is compassionate and gracious to all of us even as we struggle through doubts and hesitate to step out on faith. Sometimes, God will use his celestial servants to push us in the right direction to protect us from harm. These angels are visible to even “unspiritual” people as we saw in Sodom. Other times, they can be invisible, still working great miracles. But don’t worry—it will not be a measure of your spirituality whether you see them or not. These protectors are ever-present regardless if we are at our worst or at our best. That is God’s great love and kindness.