Angels: Real or Imaginary?

Do you believe in angels?
Do you know who they are, or what they do?
Are they just figments of the artists’ imagination in religious paintings down the centuries?
Is there really something out there we ought to know about? Is it important to know if they exist?

The English word “angel” comes from the Greek angelos, which means ‘messenger’. In the Old Testament, with two exceptions, the Hebrew word for “angel” is malak, also meaning ‘messenger’. The prophet Malachi took his name from this word. He was himself a messenger, and he prophesied about the coming of “the messenger of the covenant”, Jesus Christ (Malachi 3:1).

Although the word “angel” in the Bible, meaning a messenger, nearly always applies to heavenly beings, it can occasionally apply to human messengers. Malachi himself said a priest was a messenger (malak) of the Lord of hosts (Malachi 2:7), and in the Book of Revelation the elders of the seven churches of Asia were called angels (1:20; 2:1 etc.). But when we meet messengers doing supernatural things, there is no doubt they are heavenly beings – God’s messengers, working for Him and for the ultimate benefit of mankind.

God as Creator is so powerful and glorious that He cannot be approached in person by human beings. He alone “hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see” (1 Timothy 6:16). Angels do not have man’s shortcomings, and can therefore act for God and represent Him when communicating with men and women. They bridge the huge gap between the holiness and perfection of God in heaven and the shortcomings of dying people on this planet. Angels were made immortal (that is, never to die). Their eternal quality was spoken of by Jesus when he said:

“They which shall be accounted worthy to obtain that world, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry, nor are given in marriage:neither can they die any more: for they are equal unto the angels; and are the children of God, being the children of the resurrection.” (Luke 20:35,36)

Jesus was saying that, in the same way as the angels (the children or “sons” of God) live for ever and are of one gender, so those who will be called the “sons” and “daughters” of God when Jesus returns will also live for ever and will not marry.

Having been brought into existence by God, the angels are called the “sons of God”. In an example of this, God described to the patriarch Job the creation of the earth, and asks him:

“Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? … Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened? or who laid the corner stone thereof; when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” (Job 38:4-7)

These “sons of God” were there working for the Almighty. The Creator commanded, and the tasks were carried out. As Psalm 33 says, “For he spake, and it was done; he commanded, and it stood fast” (33:9). The Lord only had to speak the word and the angels responded; and what they did, they did well – which is why the record in Genesis 1 repeatedly says that “God saw that it was good”. Good, because “a faithful messenger refreshes the soul of the master who sends him” (Proverbs 25:13).