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All About Angels

This article originally appeared in the Pentecostal Evangel in a series entitled, "Theology in a Nutshell."

EDITOR'S NOTE: This article originally appeared in the Pentecostal Evangel in a series entitled, "Theology in a Nutshell."

"How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?”

Don’t know? Don’t care? Well, believe it or not, this was actually once a prime topic for debate among theologians in a period that today we call the Dark Ages. That’s the kind of thing that helped that time period get its name.

Through the ages, art has depicted angels as pudgy cherubs, grotesque Gothic creatures and as effeminate beings with wings.

Though these are all human speculations, the Bible does teach about angels.

Angels are spirit beings.

Like man, angels have been created. But unlike man, they apparently do not procreate (Mark 12:25) and they do not die (Luke 20:36). They are spirit beings (Hebrews 1:14) who were created before man (Job 38:7).

Angels are lower than God.

Only Michael and Gabriel are named in Scripture (unless you count Satan), and only one, Michael, is given the rank of archangel, meaning ruling angel. Hebrews 1 puts them far below God, with a chief purpose of worshipping the Son of God: “Let all the angels of God worship him” (v. 6).

Angels are higher than man.

But just a little higher, according to Hebrews 2:7. They are considerably stronger than man. The Bible indicates angels at times execute God’s judgment.

Angels are messengers.

The words for angel, in both Old and New Testaments, mean “messenger.”

The best-known angelic message is the announcement made to the shepherds: “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” (Luke 2:10-12, NKJV).

Here the message is both an announcement and provides direction.

Angels are also called sons of God (Job 1:6; 38:7).

Angels are numerous.

Luke 2 also demonstrates this, as well as an additional type of message — proclamation: “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, good will toward men!’” (Luke 2:13,14).

Guardian angels protect and serve believers.

Matthew 18:10 indicates that they watch over “little ones.” But Hebrews 1:14 goes further, indicating that these powerful beings are sent to minister to “those who will inherit salvation.”

Man will judge angels.

Though they are higher and stronger now, angels will eventually be placed under our judgment (1 Corinthians 6:3).

The gospel is not for angels, but they are interested in it.

Though the plan of salvation does not appear to be available to angels (1 Peter 1:12), they rejoice each time someone gets saved (Luke 15:10).

Angels make appearances on Earth.

Popular TV shows like Touched by an Angel and Highway to Heaven have centered on angels sent to Earth to inhabit human bodies and do good. While many details in these programs are unbiblical, the Bible does indicate that angels temporarily take bodily form on occasion.

During these appearances, they sometimes take action. In Genesis 19, angels appear in human form to rescue Lot’s family from Sodom before God destroys the city. In the course of this rescue mission, the angels strike some of the evil Sodomites with blindness.

Sometimes these bodily appearances seem to have the purpose of testing or teaching: “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels” (Hebrews 13:2).

Christians should understand the Bible’s teaching on the demonic realm, but not become overly interested in it.

While working as a Secret Service agent in Las Vegas, Chuck Brewster, former national Men's Ministries director, was often called to testify regarding counterfeit money cases. Often a defense attorney would ask why he considered himself an expert in counterfeit money. Chuck would answer that he was not.

The follow-up would come quickly. “Why are you testifying in this court room?”

“I am not an expert in counterfeit money,” Brewster would answer. “I am an expert in genuine money.”

I have seen some people get too caught up in the counterfeit … in dealing with Satan’s realm. Though spiritual warfare is a definite necessity, the best way to effectively fight Satan (the counterfeit) is to have an extremely close relationship with Jesus (the genuine).

“There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils [demons],” said C.S. Lewis in The Screwtape Letters. “One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them.”

With that in mind, here is a brief summary of teaching on the demonic realm.

Satan is a fallen angel and the “ruler of demons.”

Satan appears to have been a beautiful angel who fell from his exalted position when he rebelled against God. In Matthew 12:24-28, Jesus clearly identifies Satan’s realm as a kingdom opposed to the kingdom of God. Satan’s ultimate fate is sealed — eternity in the lake of fire (Revelation 20:10).

Demons are most likely angels who fell with Satan.

Demons influence people who worship idols.

An idol is nothing in itself. Demons are what pagans really sacrifice to. (See 1 Corinthians 10:19,20.)

On the cross, Jesus won the victory over Satan and demons.

Satan and his minions are “lame-duck” powers. In other words, their power is limited and their time is just about up! “And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Colossians 2:15, NIV).

Demons do possess, or demonize, some unbelievers.

Those of us who travel for our World Missions Edition have been in places overseas where demonic activity is strong. Often, believers in Third World countries understand the spiritual realm more fully because they have been involved in its negative side before becoming Christians. Casting out demons can be a frequent activity in such places.

But that is not to say there is no demonic activity in our country. I have pastored in two college communities that were filled with New Age, occultic activity. I have seen demonic activity firsthand, and have also witnessed God’s power to deliver and save the demon possessed.

The presence of Jesus disturbs demons.

I once prayed for a man whose wife thought he was demon possessed. The man was kind and respectful, offering no indication of demonism. I grasped his hand and began to pray. When I said the name “Jesus,” he flew into a rage, thrashing violently, until deliverance and salvation came a short time later. (See Mark 9:20.)

Demons must obey Jesus.

Mark 1:34 says, “He [Jesus] did not allow the demons to speak, because they knew Him” (NKJV). In Mark 5:8, He commands, “Come out of the man, unclean spirit!” This is why believers can take authority in Jesus’ name over demonic activity.

Confronting some demons requires prayer and fasting.

When His disciples struggled to cast an especially difficult demon out of a young man, Jesus said to them, “This kind can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting” (Mark 9:29).

It is advisable to prepare for all such contact with fervent prayer.

Demons cannot possess believers.

But they can attack them. Christians should not fear demons … or take them lightly. Spiritual warfare is a related biblical topic that all believers should study. The Assemblies of God has a helpful position paper, Can Born-Again Believers Be Demon Possessed?, available for download free of charge on the Assemblies of God Web site.

The Christian’s priority is to exalt Jesus.

So, how many angels can dance on the head of a pin? The answer is: Who cares? Individuals and movements have at times become preoccupied with the angelic/demonic realm. Christians should understand the biblical basics of angels and demons, but an unbalanced emphasis on either does not serve the church well. The Christian’s number one priority is always to exalt Jesus.