My Christmas tree angel looks like one of the original Charlie’s Angels, Farrah Fawcett…in a prom dress. I’m not complaining, mind you. An Andy Warhol portrait of Farrah is worth an estimated $12 million. I think it would be more scripturally accurate to have a G.I. Joe on the top of my tree, I just can’t get it past the decoration committee in my home.
Some Christians in the first century were tempted to worship angels (Col 2:18a). Of course, angels played a big role behind the scenes of the Christmas story. God spoke through an angel four times to Joseph, as well as to Mary, Zachariah, the shepherds, and Magi. We also see messenger angels warning Lot’s family, stopping Abraham from killing Isaac, instructing the Apostles after the ascension, and helping Philip find the Ethiopian official. An angel brought Cornelius and Peter together. Perhaps you have been helped by an angel and were not aware of it. “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (Heb 13:2).
Because angels play such a prominent role in both our cultural and spiritual aspects of Christmas, let’s take a moment to sort out the facts from the fiction.
1. Angels are God’s soldiers, not supermodels
“Heavenly host” is a military term to describe a fighting unit. Ephesians 6 reminds us that we are in a war “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the world powers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens” (6:12). In Revelation 20, we see an angel unit escorting Satan himself into the abyss. FYI…I wouldn’t tell a girl she looks like an angel, because she might just know scripture better than you! I personally doubt there are any female angels simply because the Bible doesn’t mention them in the 500 scriptural occurrences.
We hear a lot about “guardian angels,” although that is not a biblical term. Even though the term is missing, it doesn’t mean that the reality is wrong: “The Angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear Him, and rescues them” (Ps 34:7). How comforting! “For He will give His angels orders concerning you, to protect you in all your ways” (Ps 91:11). I sometimes wonder if a unit from God’s angel army has kept my Jeep on the road during a slip on a wet or icy road.
2. Angels are individuals, not clones
Apparently angels all have unique names, as we do. The first of only two angels mentioned by name in scripture is Michael the Archangel. He is God’s chief warrior (Dan 10:13,12:1; Rev 12:7). He is the equivalent of a five star general or admiral. I doubt he looks like Farrah either. Nor does an unnamed angel-soldier who killed 185,000 Assyrians in one day (Isa 37:36). I’m guessing he must have been at least a sergeant and that his name wasn’t “Clarence.”
I really don’t know where the idea came from that deserving humans were upgraded to angel status in heaven. That is neither a compliment to angels nor humans. Angels and humans are both created by God for different purposes. Angels have personalities, but they are not persons. They were created by God, but not in His image. Angels are not only different from humans, but they are also different from each other. Some are “cherubim” while others are “seraphim.” Each has his own mind (2 Sam 14:20), will (Rev 22:8-9) and emotions (Heb 12:22). They don’t look alike either. Some have wings and some appear just like humans (Isa 6, Ex 3).
3. Angels were created to serve humans, not evolve into them
Scripture refers to angels as “servants” (Heb 1:7). Verse 14 says they are not only God’s servants, but also our servants: “Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve those who are going to inherit salvation?” When God’s people ran out of food in the desert, God gave them manna, “the bread of angels” (Ps 78:25). Angels also ministered to Elijah with food and drink after he ran for his life from Jezebel in the desert all day (1 Kin 19:6). Jesus got the same VIP treatment after his 40 days in the desert.
So angels are not only an important part of the creation, Christmas, and Easter stories, but also of our story today. What we see behind the scenes in Bethlehem is also a peek behind the scenes in our lives.
4. Angels are God’s messengers, not musicians
The other angel mentioned by name is Gabriel. He was God’s primary sentinel or messenger. In Luke 1 we see Gabriel bringing very important and good news to both Zachariah and Mary. We never see Gabriel sing. In fact, we never see any angels sing in the Bible. In Luke 2:13 it says that “a multitude of the heavenly host was praising God and saying: ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.’”
In Revelation 5:11-12 the saints are singing and the angels are speaking. The NIV- misinterprets it as “sang,” but “logos” means “to speak.” Of all the scriptures about angels, not one time are they singing or playing an instrument (the shofar/trumpet is often used for military purposes). You may wonder – why not? Maybe singing is our job? God created His image-bearers with the capacity to worship and I wonder if angels are not shaking their heads when they see us watching instead of worshiping on Sundays. So next time you tell someone that they “sing like an angel,” you are really not complimenting them at all.
What do we have in common with angels? Humans and angels are both messengers. The root word for “evangelism” is what? Look closely… “angel,” which means “message/news.” “Evangelism” then means “sharing good news.” That is something the angels, shepherds, Magi, and modern day Christians all have in common. We are all messengers of good news.