“Angels we have heard on high,” “Hark, the herald angels sing”–the familiar Christmas carols contain many references to angels.
Angels have become quite popular in modern culture as well. Many TV programs, movies, books, magazines, and collectibles involve angels. According to polls, most people believe in them, but what are angels? Are they only metaphors of spirituality or mythological creatures?
Those who opt for a philosophy of naturalism are skeptical about angels. However, as Peter Williams of Norwich University has pointed out, there are good reasons to believe in the existence of angels; biblical evidence and external evidence argue strongly for their existence. Of course, since science cannot disprove angels, any view of them (for or against) is a faith position.
On the other hand, New Age spirituality has prompted excessive interest in angels. Books such as Ask Your Angel, and 100 Ways to Attract Angels promote worshiping them. Some “angel experts” advocate following angels in order to gain health, prosperity, and guidance.
Are angels real spiritual beings? Yes! Since angels are actual supernatural beings, what are their characteristics? To discern the truth about angels, consider the biblical references about them. In about 170 references we see that angels are:
- finite, supernatural as beings
- they were created by God (Col. 1:16)
- they have supernatural abilities (2 Pet. 2:11)
- they are of higher rank than humans (Heb. 2:9)
Jesus taught that angels do not marry, nor are given in marriage (Matt. 22:30). This implies that they have neutral gender, but they are consistently manifested as masculine (Dan. 10:13,21).
The angels who joined in Satan’s rebellion have become demons (Rev. 12:3-4; Matt. 25:41).
Those who have seen angels usually respond with awe and intense fear (Luke 1:12). Sometimes their clothing appears to be white as snow–shining (Matt. 28:3). When Roman soldiers saw the angels who rolled the stone away from Christ’s empty tomb they “shook with fear and became as dead men” (Matt. 28:4).
When they have encountered angels, many people instinctively worship them. Perhaps this is why angels only reveal themselves when necessary. Their message is “worship God only” (Rev. 22:8,9). Hebrews 1:4-6 declares the supremacy of the Lord Jesus over all created beings:
“…having become so much better than the angels, as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they. For to which of the angels did He ever say: ‘You are My Son, Today I have begotten You’? And again: ‘I will be to Him a Father, And He shall be to Me a Son’? But when He again brings the firstborn into the world, He says: ‘Let all the angels of God worship Him.'”
The Judeo-Christian understanding of angels is far removed from our culture’s ideas about them. As likable as the character of Clarence is in the classic film It’s a Wonderful Life, he doesn’t bear much resemblance to a real angel; alas, they do not “earn their wings.”
In the preface to his book, The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis drew attention to the changing conception of angels in art: “Fra Angelico’s angels carry in their face the gesture and peace and authority of heaven. Later came the chubby and infantile nudes of Raphael; finally the soft, slim, girlish, and consolatory angels of nineteenth century art.”
Hebrew 1:14 describes the role of angels: “Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation?”
In Angels Watching Over Me, Betty Malz relates the following testimony of angelic protection:
“A young lady named Myra worked in the inner-city ministry of Teen Challenge in Philadelphia. One neighborhood gang liked to terrorize anyone who tried to enter the Teen Challenge building, and they harassed Myra as well. One night, when she was alone in the building with the gang banging on the door, she felt she should continue to try to reach out to them with the gospel of Jesus. As she opened the door, she breathed a prayer for protection. The boys suddenly stopped their shouting, looked at each other, turned and left quietly. Myra had no idea why.
“Later on, as the staff people were able to build relationships with the gang members, the ministry director asked them why they dropped their threats against Myra and left her alone that night. One young man spoke up, saying, ‘We wouldn’t dare touch her after her boyfriend showed up. That dude had to be seven feet tall.’ The director said, ‘I didn’t know Myra had a boyfriend. But at any rate, she was here alone that night.’
Another gang member insisted, ‘No, we saw him. He was right behind her, big as life in his classy white suit.'” 
Angels appear frequently in the narratives of the birth of Jesus. In the first chapter of Luke, Gabriel announced the birth of Christ’s herald, John the Baptist. He also appeared to Mary with the prophecy that she would supernaturally become the mother of Messiah. In the first chapter of Matthew, an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream with the promise of the birth of the Christ child, whom Joseph was to name “Jesus.”
On that first Christmas night, shepherds were watching their flocks near Bethlehem:
“And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: ‘Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!'”(Luke 2:9-14).
What an awesome birth announcement!
Christmas reminds us that there is a blessing that’s greater than the visit of an angel: We can experience the grace of the Savior.
 Peter Williams, “Angelology and Biblical Skepticism”: He writes, “It would seem that once naturalism is abandoned, sufficient reason can be provided to demonstrate the rationality of belief in the in re existence of finite supernatural agents, and hence that Biblical references to Angels and Demons cannot justify a skeptical attitude towards the Bible or Christian belief.” Available at http://www.probe.org
 Maltz, p. 40-41; quoted in “Angels: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”, by Sue Bohlin. Available at http://www.probe.org
Copyright 1999 by John Woodward. Permission is granted to reprint this article for non-commercial use if author and GraceNotebook.com is cited.
Unless indicated otherwise, biblical quotations are from the New King James Version, copyright by Thomas Nelson, 1982.