A person is driving along in an automobile on the interstate and spots a hitchhiker. The driver stops and the hitchhiker gets into their car. They haven't gone very far down the interstate before the hitchhiker tells the driver about certain personal things in the driver's life; things that only the driver knows. Yet the hitchhiker describes in detail the specifics of events in the driver's life. A couple of weeks after the incident, the driver converses with a friend who describes the same story picking up a hitchhiker who gave very specific personal information about them. What could be the explanation? Angels? Perhaps such stories are familiar. It is just the tip of the iceberg which is known in the 1990's as "Angelmania" and it is taking the country by storm.
Suddenly, there is a whole new market for anything having to do with this cultural phenomena. There are angel books, pendants, knickknacks, and various other angel paraphernalia which line the shelves at bookstores, arts and craft displays and other novelty shops.
Angels have also been a hot topic for television news and talk shows recently and there will probably be more on the way. In recent years, there have been television programs like Michael Landon's "Highway to Heaven", and a new one coming out this fall called "Earth Angel". The latest blockbuster movie that Hollywood has produced is "Angels in the Outfield".
The interest in angels is highlighted even further by religion writer Barbara J. Saffir for The Washington Post in an August 21, 1993 article entitled "Under Wing". In her article, she points out that four of the top ten paperbacks on Publisher's Weekly best seller list are books on angels. She says, "A recent Gallup poll also found that 76% of teenagers believe in angels. More than 1,000 angel enthusiasts belong to angel organizations across the country; hundreds of angel followers regularly attend angel workshops and conventions in Washington and across the United States".
Saffir also pointed out that Jane Howard, an angel researcher from Upperco, Maryland, promoted August 22, 1993 as the first "Be an Angel Day". Never before has there been such an interest in angels as there is today. People are opening up and asking many questions about these celestial visitors: "Do guardian angels actually exist?"; "Do angels have wings?"; "Are there angels that actually surround people right now?"
Why the interest in angels? There seems to be more of a spiritual longing today than ever before. To be sure, God has certainly created mankind with an appetite for the supernatural. God created man in His image to have fellowship with Him, and the increasing hunger for contact with reality goes beyond the world of secularism in which man presently lives. God has created angels, and in an age in which people are seeking supernatural solutions to their problems, it is wise to know something about angels. Why? Because with the proliferation of angel interest, there exists more material produced by the "angel of light" (II Corinthians 11:14) than by the Spirit of God.
First of all, what are angels? This question needs to be asked in order to distinguish between what is commonly thought of as "good" angels and "bad" angels.
What are Angels?
The little boy in "Angels in the Outfield" described angels as "those guys in sparkling pajamas"; but, according to Baker's Dictionary of Theology, the term aggelos, from which angel is derived, is a fairly colorless word, like its Hebrew equivalent which can be used equally for human or heavenly messengers (p. 41).
Gary North, in his book, Unholy Spirits under the section on Angels and Demons on page 68, says that there are about 300 references in the Bible to "angel" or "angels" and abut 120 references to "devil" or "devils". North says that both the Hebrew and Greek words that can be translated as "angel" can also be translated as "messenger". He also states that there are times when the more conventional usage is preferred, such as in Job 1:14, "And there came a messenger unto Job." Sometimes there are instances when the Hebrew word is applied to a prophet such as in Haggai 1:13; Malachi 3:1. Sometimes the word is applied to a priest as in Malachi 2:7.
The apostle Paul refers to his thorn in the flesh which seems to have been a physical ailment or infirmity (II Corinthians 12:9-10), as an angel or a messenger of Satan. An angel is a spirit, whether a clean one in service as a messenger of God (Hebrews 1:14), or an evil spirit (1 Samuel 18:10; Matthew 8:16).
Sometimes angels manifest themselves as men. For instance, Joshua was confronted by one whom he took as a man and it turned out to be the captain of the Lord's host (Joshua 5:13, 14). Even the angels who appeared at the tomb from which Jesus had risen (John 20:12), were perceived as men (Luke 24:4). The writer of Hebrews warns us, "Let brotherly love continue. Be not forgetful to entertain strangers; for thereby some have entertained angels unawares" (Hebrews 13:1,2). There is also the situation with Lot: angels, seen as men, came to warn him about the impending destruction of Sodom (Genesis 19).
The Scriptures indicate that there is a vast number of angels (Revelation 5:11). Daniel's phrase "ten thousand times ten thousand" (Daniel 7:10) seems to indicate a massive host. The New Testament uses the terms "multitude" (Luke 2:13) and "innumerable" (Hebrews 12:22).
Perhaps the Old Testament incident with Elisha's servant best illustrates the invisible company of angels. Elisha's servant was fearful about the army of Syrians that had encompassed the city in which he and his master were staying, and yet the servant was comforted in a very unique way by Elisha: "And he answered, "Fear not; for they that be with us are more than they that be with them." And Elisha prayed, and said, "Lord, I pray thee, open his eyes that he may see." And the Lord opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire around about Elisha. And when they came down to him, Elisha prayed unto the Lord, and said, 'Smite this people, I pray thee, with blindness and he smote them with blindness according to the word of Elisha."" (II Kings 6:16-18).
In addition to there being Scriptural support for numerous angels, there also appears to be different categories or classifications of celestial creatures. There are the seraphim in Isaiah 6:1 and the cherubim in Genesis 3:24. There are chief angels, such as Michael, who is described as the "Great Prince" in Daniel 12:1. In Revelation 12:7, it appears that Michael leads other angels. Again, we are told that the angel who appeared to Joshua was the captain of the host of the Lord (Joshua 5:14).
What exactly is a Scriptural job description for angels? In a Christianity Today article, Timothy Jones listed five activities of good angels that find scriptural support ("Rumors of Angels", 5 April 1993, p. 21). The first of these has already been discussed: angels are God's messengers. Secondly, angels praise God (Job 38:7, Revelation 5:9). Thirdly, angels exercise God's providential care. This is where guardian angels protect people, such as in Psalm 38:7 and Psalm 91:11. Fourthly, angels encourage Christian obedience (Hebrews 13:2, I Corinthians 11:10, Matthew 6:10). Lastly, angels carry out God's justice (Matthew 13:41, 25:31).
Are there "bad" angels?
The foster mother of the two abandoned boys in the movie, "Angels in the Outfield", spoke up in defense of the two boys' beliefs in angels saying, "It's okay to believe in God, but it's not okay to believe in angels? I thought they were on the same team." It's this kind of warm, fuzzy language that makes some religious leaders fear angels are portrayed as unorthodox, new age spirits disguised as stained-glass images.
Still others fear that focusing on angles allows people to create their own cozy, domesticated, personalized gods. Terry Maddingly, religion writer for Scripts-Howards News Service, said recently in an article on angels, "For centuries, angels were seen as messengers for a holy God. Today, they seem to be all-forgiving therapists."
Just because an angel appears to be good, it does not meant that the angel is a messenger is from God. Discernment is certainly needed in this area, because people continue to experience angelic visitations today as they have throughout history. Often the appearance of a brilliant, loving being of light is interpreted within the context of the individual's religious beliefs. In researching near-death experiences, the most common element is the appearance of an angelic being to guide the dying across the threshold of death and communication is done by telepathy (Harper's Encyclopedia of Mystical and Paranormal Experience, p. 21).
Angels, in the new age / occult arenas, are portrayed in karmic aspects of astrology, channeling, meditation, and are said to exist in spirit realms. Angelic forces are invoked in magic rituals, in various magic systems, and in witchcraft (Ibid.).
According to the Bible, there are legions of fallen angels who, under the malevolent rule of Satan, are bent on opposing God's rule and doing His people harm. The number of fallen angels can be gauged by the fact that Mary Magdalene alone is said to have been delivered from seven of them (Mark 16:9, Luke 8:2), and from knowing that many, calling themselves "legion" had possessed the man Christ encountered in the territory of the Garesenes opposite Galilee (Luke 8:26-33).
Yes, there is a malevolent side to this celestial phenomenon known as angels. God wants the Christian body to be well aware of it. There are many books that blur the distinction between benevolent angels and malevolent angels.
One such book that has been around for 15 years is Angels on Assignment by Roland Buck, a former pastor of the Central Assembly of God Church in Boise, Idaho. The book has been criticized by a number of Christian leaders, including Dr. Walter Martin, noted authority on cults and founder of the Christian Research Institute.
In a June 6, 1979 letter addressed to Charles and Frances Hunter, regarding them sending him a copy of the manuscript for Angels on Assignment, Walter Martin pointed out a number of instances where the "revelations" given to Buck by the "angel" contradicted Scripture.
One such contradiction is, the angel said, "You have accepted the teaching that Jesus is the door and the way. You are bringing people to the door, but God wants you to know that you are the door. When Jesus said, `As My Father sent Me, so send I you,' He dispatched us exactly as He is. He has not only given us the Holy Spirit, but He gave us His job to do. WE ARE THE DOOR!" (Angels on Assignment, p. 21).
Of course, this contradicts Jesus being the only Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6). Jesus will always be the only way, the only door, and it is extremely dangerous to teach anything else. As Peter said, "there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12).
There is also the book Touched by Angels, by Eileen Elias Freeman, who is also the editor of The AngelWatch Journal. Ms. Freeman professes faith in Jesus as her Lord and the Lord of the universe, which could lead the uncritical reader to believe the author is an orthodox Christian (p. 1).
Unfortunately, Ms. Freeman espouses a New Age and syncretistic view of God and the religions of man. In explaining how a seeker of God may understand the nature of God and His being, Ms. Freeman offers the following prayer as an aid in the search: "I believe that God exists. I believe that the universe is conscious" (p. 158).
Speaking of how angels help one to raise one's level of consciousness, she states this theory, which is generally in the language of the New Age Movement, arguing that "the whole earth is hovering on the edge of a transformationthe angels are among us as guides, to help us through and into a new level of consciousness on the earth" (p. 68).
Furthermore, Ms. Freeman has chosen to include other people's stories of angels, which advocate an Eastern/ metaphysical worldview. One of her storytellers states that through meditation and visualization techniques, she became aware of her inner guide (pp. 82-83).
Ms. Freeman goes on to propagate an Eastern worldview in supplying the answer to the question of how one may locate one's guardian angel. She exhorts her readers, "to commit oneself to seeking the angel within" (p. 163). She frequently cites non-Biblical religious literature to support her case for the reality and practice of angels. For instance, she refers to Islamic tradition, "In Islam people are seen as having two angels, a guardian angel and a recording angel who takes notes of the person's words and deeds"(p. 21). This is not God's purpose for angels as He is omniscient.
Another book, which is fairly orthodox in some ways, but also refers to Islamic tradition, is Joan Wester Anderson's book, Where Angels Walk (pp. 8-9). Also, in several places in the book, it appears that prayers are offered to angels to enlist their help (pp. 28, 82, 93, 142, 191).
Anderson credits the Swedenborg Foundation in her acknowledgments and quotes Emmanuel Swedenborg (p. 108), who was an 18th Century Swedish mystic who claimed to commune with angels in his mystical trances (op. cit., Harper's, p.20).
Swedenborgianism is not the only cult / occultic group in which angels figure prominently. There is The Urantia Book, the Anthroposophical Society founded by Rudolph Steiner, Islam, The Children of God/ The Family, and , of course, the "angel" Moroni who appeared to Joseph Smith in order to give him the vision to found the Mormon church, just to name a few.
Is there any wonder that God wants the body of Christ to be aware of Satan's strategies? He doesn't want anyone to be ignorant of the wiles of the devil (II Corinthians 2:11), but the spirits are to be tested (I John 4:1). Emmanuel Swedenborg himself warned people that the demonic spirits are gifted actors and routinely imitate the dead. "When spirits begin to speak with a man he ought to beware that he believes nothing whatever from them; for they say almost anything. Things are fabricated by them and they lie" (The Facts on Spirit Guides, Ankerberg & Weldon, p. 12). Scripture says that Satan himself is disguised as an angel of light (II Corinthians 11:14), and is liar and the father of lies (John 8).
As stated earlier, there is no good reason to believe that God has ceased using angels. They are ministering spirits sent out to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation (Hebrews 1:14); angels are not to be worshipped but to worship God (Hebrews 1:6). Any angel that does not draw attention to Jesus Christ as the only true God needs to be discounted and denounced. The Church needs to have her eyes open concerning angels.