Hebrews 13:2 (GW) Do not forget to show hospitality to believers you do not know. By doing this some believers have shown hospitality to angels without being aware of it.
Today we observe the festival of St. Michael and all angels. Michael, the Archangel, is mentioned in the books of Daniel, Jude, and Revelation, as well as in other writings from Bible times that we do not consider to be part of the Bible. This festival was expanded to include a commemoration of all angels. The readings for today illustrate the understanding of St. Michael as the captain of the heavenly armies, who leads us into victory on behalf of the Christ.
Angels are depicted in many different ways in art, sculpture, poetry, prose, and movies. The most popular of these is completely unbiblical – like the images of chubby cherubs or soft feminine figures. Even in recent times on television or in movies angels have been depicted in ways that make them appear more like beings who can decide to be like normal humans than holy heavenly beings. But none of these images reflect how the Bible talks about angels. So let us today think about what the Bible says about angels and what they really do.
First, angels bring messages from God. The very word used for ‘angel’ in Greek and Hebrew means ‘messenger’. Angels announce God’s judgment, declare the promises of God to us, and proclaim good news to people of God. An angel informed Zechariah that his barren wife Elizabeth would have a child. An angel appeared to Mary announcing the upcoming birth of Jesus. An angel told Joseph not to divorce Mary, because her child was from God. On the first Christmas night angels proclaimed Jesus’ birth to the shepherds out in the fields. An angel sent Peter and Cornelius to one another so that Peter would accept the Gentiles and Cornelius would be saved. An angel sent Ananias to Saul in Damascus to proclaim the good news to him. An angel gave the revelation to John on the island of Patmos. While we are able to share God’s message, we will never be angels in the same sense as these heavenly beings who deliver messages directly from God’s mouth.
Secondly, angels do God’s work on earth, including judgment and comfort. In the Old Testament we find examples of judgment when an angel put to death an army of God’s enemies. And in Psalm 35 we hear of an angel driving enemies away. Angels helped Elijah while he was in the wilderness and gave aid to Jesus during His 40 days in the wilderness when He was tested by the Devil. An angel rolled the stone away from the tomb on Easter to reveal that Jesus was not there anymore. In the book of Acts, Herod would not give praise to God, so an angel struck him down. Angels carry out God’s earthly work, whether it be judgment or comfort.
Thirdly, angels deliver people of God from difficult situations. When Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were thrown into the fiery furnace, King Nebuchadnezzar saw a fourth person in the furnace that looked different. (Daniel 3:28) Nebuchadnezzar said, “Praise the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. He sent His angel and saved His servants, who trusted Him. When Daniel was safe after spending the night in a den of lions. (Daniel 6:22) “My God sent His angel and shut the lions’ mouths so that they could not hurt me.” In the book of Acts we learn how the apostles were freed from prison chains by an angel.
Fourthly, angels praise God in Heaven. Numerous prophets plus the book of Revelation include descriptions of angels who fall down at the throne of God in worship and praise. Visions seen by biblical writers are often full of angels bringing messages, warnings, and other messages. Angels sometimes bring a person to a high place to overlook what is happening, like in Revelation.
Now what do angels look like? We do not have any really clear description in Scripture, nor any pictures. So today’s visual pictures of angels imagine them being chubby babies or beautiful women. There are examples in the Scriptures of angels appearing in human form, like the three angels that came to visit Abraham and Sarah to announce the coming of their son. When an angel appeared to announce the coming of the birth of Samson, his parents see a ‘man’ but do not realize that he is an angel until later. The writer of Hebrews spoke about times when we may be entertaining angels without knowing it. So angels can appear in human form, looking like the rest of us.
Although angels appear in human form at times, they are not human, and never have been. According to both Scripture and church tradition, humans do not become angels. The idea of someone becoming an angel when they die comes from somewhere apart from Scripture. When I die, I will not become a guardian angel to look over my children to keep them safe from harm. Angels are real, but angels are a different and better part of God’s creation. At the beginning of the book of Hebrews and in the Psalms the order of creation is explained. Hebrews emphasizes that angels are superior to humans, but inferior to Jesus. Angels always point to God, reveal God, and refer to God. They do not place themselves above God.
Although these supernatural beings called angels can come in forms of humans, the appearance of angels in the Scriptures have frightened people because of the surprise. There were actions God directed angels to do that were judgments against God’s enemies. When the angel appeared to Zechariah or to Mary or the shepherds in the field at night, the first words spoken were, “Do not be afraid.” The heavenly creatures called seraphim and cherubim, coworkers of the angels, are described as winged and fiery. Michael is described as the captain of armies. That is hardly a picture of a fluffy winged creature strumming a harp as it floats around.
Angels have many responsibilities and roles in heaven and on earth. Their physical appearance may resemble that of humans, but they are not human beings who have died. Angels are important, but they are still subject to the rule and power of Christ.
The most important thing about angels is that they do not exist for their own glory, but to glorify and to serve God. So whatever you may or may not have learned about angels this morning, remember that the most important role of angels is to be pointing our attention to Jesus our Savior.