music angels

Angels: Their Role in Christianity & an Upcoming Christmas Series

Hi, friends. Every Christmas and Easter, I compose a couple “Story Behind” posts on hymns that commemorate the season. Last Christmas, I had no theme, but this past Easter, I started the tradition of focusing on a symbol; this year’s Easter theme was blood. This Christmas, the theme is angels. As I did on Easter, I am beginning the series with an introductory post on the topic. 🙂

[Featured Image: Left panel of the tryptich Christ With Singing and Music-Making Angels by Hans Memling, 1480’s.]

According to this Wikipedia article, in Christianity, “angels are often depicted as benevolent celestial beings who act as intermediaries between God or Heaven and humanity. Other roles of angels include protecting and guiding human beings, and carrying out God’s tasks.

Angels in the Christmas Story

640px-Leonardo_da_Vinci_-_Annunciazione_-_Google_Art_Project
Annunciation by Leonardo Da Vinci, circa 1472-1475. Depicts the angel Gabriel visiting Mary, mother of Jesus.

An angel tells Zechariah that his wife Elizabeth will have a baby who is to be named John; John is a prophet who paves the way for Jesus.

The angel Gabriel tells Mary that she will birth the son of God, and an angel tells Joseph to marry her when he decides to back out quietly because she is already pregnant.

598px-Govert_Flinck_-_Aankondiging_aan_de_herders
Angels Announcing Christ’s Birth to the Shepherds by Govert Flinck, 1639.

Angels announce Jesus’s birth to “shepherds in the field, keeping watch over their flocks by night.” They said “Fear not! I bring you good tidings of great joy. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a savior, which is Christ the Lord.” They proclaimed “Glory to God in the highest! And on Earth, peace and goodwill for men.”

Angels Throughout the Bible

Gheorghe_Tattarescu_-_Agar_în_deşert_(1870)
Hagar in the Desert by Gheorghe Tattarescu, 1870.

In the Old Testament, an angel comforts Hagar after she flees from Abraham and Sarah. An angel of death kills every firstborn Egyptian son during the Passover. An angel brings Elijah food and drink after he flees from Jezebel. Read more on angels in the OT here.

Liberacion_de_San_Pedro_Murillo_1667
Liberation of St. Peter by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, circa 1665-1667.

In the New Testament, an angel informs the women who come to Jesus’s tomb after His resurrection that He is risen. An angel helps Peter escape from prison in Acts. Angels figure prominently in the Book of Revelation. Read more on angels in the NT here.

In many instances where an angel seeks a human in the Bible, the first thing said is “Do not be afraid.” Though we know few concrete details about angels’ appearance, we can at least assume they are intimidating. Speaking of what we do and don’t know…

Unknowns & Misconceptions About Angels

Angels are often depicted as beautiful and/or mighty human-like, androgynous creatures with wings, but we should not take culturally ingrained ideas for granted as facts (whether about angels, Satan, Hell, Heaven, etc.).

angel6
Prince’s Sarcophagus, circa 379-395 CE. Earliest known depiction of an angel with wings.
Erzengel_Michael_und_Gabriel
Archangels Michael and Gabriel by Anonymous Byzantine Painter, circa 395-1453 CE.

Scripture included in the Bible doesn’t describe what angels look like. The creatures in some apocalyptic passages (such as in Revelation 4, Isaiah 6, etc.) have wings, but “creatures” are not synonymous with “angels.” Scripture in the Bible doesn’t specify the hierarchy of angels, either, or whether they are purely “spiritual” beings or “material” beings.

Some angel lore derives from the non-canonical Book of Enoch. The first part of the book depicts the misdeeds of fallen angels and the havoc they wreak on Earth, and it goes on to describe angel hierarchies and more. The book was excluded from the Bible because it was written way later than most scripture, and it has long been deemed unreliable and even heretical. The fact that it lends some explanation to otherwise inexplicable Biblical references (such as to Nephilim) does make it tempting to explore. There are a couple references to the Book of Enoch in the canonical Book of Jude.

When people die, relatives often say “Heaven gained a new angel today.” Many people believe that we each have a personal guardian angel. Neither of these ideas is explicitly supported by scripture.

Conclusion

In my opinion, angels need not play a large role in a Christian’s faith. All we really need for Christian faith is God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.

The_Shepherds_and_the_Angel
The Shepherds and the Angel by Carl Heinrich Bloch, 1879.

Though we don’t fully understand angels, they are used as God’s messengers/agents in the Bible, and they play a crucial role in the Christmas story by warning, directing, or guiding the right people at the right times.

Thanks for reading! Let me know in the comments if you have reactions to this post or further information about angels; your comments benefit not just me but anyone who reads this post.

More Resources

Angels in Art

Why Is the Book of Enoch Not Regarded as Canonical?

19 comments

  1. Good point about focusing on God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. Too many well-meaning believers get caught up in the wings and halos but miss the Trinity. Angels are simply God’s messengers (angel = angellos or messengers). Don’t focus on the messengers. Focus on the Message!

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Hi Lily, I do beleive in Angels, I think maybe because they are talked about in the Bible. A lng time ago when my moms sister was dieing in the nursing home she was there with my cousin in the room. Their was a lady in the hall a resident who was trying to get in the room, my Aunts roommate went to the dore and told her she couldn’t come in there were Angels in there. My Aunt had been looking all around the room her eyes darting here and there. My Aunt passed away soon after and my mom told my cousin, I told you the Angels would come for her.. I’m sure God sent those Angels for my Aunt.. Thats my Angel Story.. Love you Lily

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Do not want to “come off” as an expert here, but my thinking is the angels spoken of in I Corinthians 6:3 are the fallen angels, cursed spirits. The Word tells us we are created “a little lower” than the angels (Ps. 8:5).

      Sometimes we miss the uderstanding of the origin of demonic spirits; they are former angels who once occupied the heavenlies and worshiped God. They blew it (Jude 1:6). They “lost” their former estate. We, those redeemed by the blood of Jesus, now take their place in worshipping God. At least that’s my take on it. I belive we as earthen vessels will judge the very same evil and dark spirits that plague believer’s on any given day.

      It is an encouraging thought nonetheless. And is it not like the Lord to take something frail, prone to mistakes and forever needful to replace and judge those former higher beings who once lived in pure paradise?

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Good question. However in 1 Corinthians Paul uses ἀγγέλους for angels in the 1 Corinthians 6:3 passage where elsewhere in 1 Corinthians he uses various forms of δαιμονίοις to refer to demons/fallen angels. Also in the context of 1 Corinthians 6 we are told the Lord’s people will judge the nations. The hierarchy still seems to be The Triune God- Redeemed People-Angel

        Liked by 1 person

      2. It has to do with Paul’s usage of the terms. In his writings he clearly uses a form of δαίμονας (daímonas) to refer to demons/fallen angels and a form of άγγελος (ángelos) to refer to angels. There is one verse he refers to both angels and demons but clearly as separate entities not the same entity in Romans 8:28 when he write neither angels nor demons. Three times in 1 Corinthians Paul uses demons for fallen angels and he uses angelos in the passage I first quoted for angels. In 1 Cor 6:3 Paul is exhorting them to handle disputes among themselves not to go to civil authorities with the admonition- Do you not know that we will judge angels? indicating that we will be above the angels. I think it is important to remember that angels have no power on their own just like we do not. Both we and angels depend on God for power. God does not call angels his children. He only calls people who have received Christ his children. Even logically it fits that servants are not above children in importance in the household.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Matthew! I was hoping to clarify a few cultural misconceptions, and I’m glad no one reacted with indignation so far. It can be hard to disentangle cultural ideas from scriptural ideas…especially when so few people, even Christians, actually read scripture.

      Liked by 1 person

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