We all know the Jimmy Stewart Christmas classic It’s a Wonderful Life. Every year we get to watch George Bailey grow up in Bedford Falls, and every year we empathize with his years of frustration. One particular Christmas Eve, George’s uncle has lost $8000 of company money, and George is facing bankruptcy and jail. In a moment of hopelessness, he makes a heartfelt prayer to God for help before contemplating suicide. In answer, Clarence the angel is sent to help George. Clarence is a funny little old man — a one-time clockmaker. When George wishes that he’d never been born, Clarence grants him his wish, and George is given a different perspective on his own role in the bigger scheme of things. He discovers that the life he’d found so disappointing has actually changed the whole town for good. Because George Bailey lived, countless other lives were saved. It’s a wonderful tale of hope for each of us.
Of course, angels do not look like Clarence in real life. The movie has several incorrect ideas about angels, including the famous little saying, “Every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings.” Angels are not humans who have died, whether sweet old clockmakers who read Tom Sawyer, or otherwise.
We are victims of what I call modern mythology. I considered Angels in the Outfield a colorful movie and enjoyable entertainment, but it obviously gives audiences an entirely incorrect portrayal about what angels really are. Movies are a particularly guilty vehicle for promoting these myths. No one takes the angels in these movies seriously, but that’s just the point. There’s nothing silly about angels in real life. We need to have a sober sense of the truth about these beings.
What are angels really like? Who are they? What does the Bible say about them?
Angels are popular. They are found in paintings and sculptures and jewelry. Fat baby cherubs from the Renaissance still decorate our Valentine’s Day cards. When cartoon characters die, they float up out of their bodies in white gowns, complete with little wings and harps.
People love angels. At least, they love the views they have of angels as cute babies or as warm, protective beings. Unfortunately, misconceptions about angels abound. As Christians, we know that the Word of God must prevail as our standard of truth, and we will spend time clearing up incorrect ideas. In this two-book series, we’ll explore the characteristics and limitations of angels and look at the lineup of major players we encounter biblically. Finally, we will focus on the warfare, the battles that are constantly being fought in the spiritual realm.
I want to start here with a key passage, one that should underscore any study we do. It’s our reminder to study with an honest mind — a mind dedicated to all that is true:
And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea: who coming thither went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.
— Acts 17:10–11
What’s the most challenging part of Acts 17:11? For many years, I felt that the call was to search the Scriptures daily. Indeed we should do so, but this verse also reminds us that the preface to any study is to readily set aside our preconceptions, embracing the willingness to find the truth, whatever it is. We need to have that readiness of mind to honestly and thoroughly find the true meaning and intention of every passage of God’s Word.
The Mythologies of our Time
Metaphors reign where mysteries reside. When we don’t really understand something, we hide behind idioms and comfortable pictures to mask our ignorance. We’ll discover it makes an enormous difference what we believe about angels. Our spiritual hygiene is impacted by our understanding of the role and capabilities and limitations of these spiritual beings. Remember, there are righteous angels available to help us, and there are evil ministers of Satan ready to deceive us. We need to be sensitive to the hazards and vulnerabilities involved in this topic, for our own sake and for the sake of our children. This is a serious topic, but it’s one that few people even think to take seriously.
Christmas cards and Renaissance art always seem to portray angels as chubby babies with wings. They are called “cherubs” and even the word “cherubic” has come to mean something cute and sweet and innocent. In reality, cherubs are nothing to joke about. The Bible describes cherubs as mighty warrior angels who uphold the throne of God. Genesis 3:24 says these were the angels sent to stand guard at the Garden of Eden and prevent humankind from accessing the Tree of Life.
A wide variety of people have tailored their religions to include angels, and there is nothing wrong with that. Angels do exist, and they have been sent for our benefit. The problem arrives when people decide to embrace the reality of guardian angels, but they reject the very God who has given them to us. Angels are popular among occult groups and those involved in the New Age movement. Even Christians can be guilty of focusing on angels in an unhealthy and even dangerous manner.
Angels are also often mischaracterized as women, yet all of God’s angels in the Bible are portrayed as males. Angels do not play harps while floating around on clouds. People do not become angels when they die. They do not earn their wings by performing tasks, honored by the ringing of bells. Even seemingly innocent sayings do harm. It’s not that people actually believe such things, but axioms like this add a level of absurdity to our views of angels, and we need to recognize that there is nothing silly about these messengers of God.
What are angels? Angels are ministers. They are glorious and beautiful beings, but they have been provided to serve and protect us. They were never meant to be the objects of our worship. The writer of Hebrews begins his epistle driving home the differences between Jesus Christ and the angels, reminding us all that angels are ultimately servants, while Jesus is God in the flesh:
And again, when he bringeth in the firstbegotten into the world, he saith, And let all the angels of God worship him. And of the angels he saith, Who maketh his angels spirits, and his ministers a flame of fire. But unto the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of thy kingdom.
— Hebrews 1:6–8
There have been some fun, insightful fictional books written about the work of angels in the spiritual world behind human lives. These portray the angels with swords and shields and medieval weaponry as part of their toolkit, which is good for our imaginations but not necessarily biblically accurate. That’s something we need to explore as well.
One of the best ways to recognize a lie is to already have a good understanding of the truth. In His inspired Word, we find that God has already given us the tools to answer every deception.
This excerpt is from Dr. Chuck Missler’s new book Angels Vol. 1: Cosmic Warfare. Available in book and eBook formats.