God Appearing as an Angel
This happens many times in the bible. Most translations refer to this as the “Angel of the LORD.” The first example occurs in Genesis, chapter 16 where the Angel of the LORD appears to a servant of Abraham (the person whose story the Bible is relating at that time). How do we know this angel we meet in verse 7 is actually God? We have two sources of evidence. First, if you read the language, it sounds like God. After all, a normal (or angelic) person would not say “I will multiply your descendants exceedingly, so that they shall not be counted for multitude” (verse 10). The second reason we think the Angel of the LORD is God, is because the servant says so in verse 13. Now, we admit that if this was an isolated incident that our argument would seem weak—but meetings of this type occurred many times.
That being said, we realize that it is possible to get the wrong idea that the angels and God are about the same—only lookingdifferent because they are taking on different forms. This is a illogical jump in thought that the Bible does not support. It is one thing for God to appear as an angel and it is something quite different for God to be an angel.
If you would like to look into this further, find a concordance (a listing of the words of the Bible) and look up the word angel. Under “angel,” you will find angel, angel of God, angel of the LORD, and so forth—each referencing a text in the Bible. Read each text and make your own decision! For your convenience, we have an online Bible with a word search feature that acts as a concordance. You can access it by clicking this sentence. By the way, angels are not called “angels” every time they appear in the Bible. See Ezekiel Chapter 8, verse 2 (Ezekiel 8:2) for an interesting example.
Angels as God’s Messengers to People
This is the most commonly stated purpose of angels in the Bible—and now we are talking about “regular” angels, too! Although God sometimes communicated with people personally (as above), He usually communicated with them through an angel. Sometimes the Bible text tells us the angel’s name. This happened three times with the angel Gabriel, who visited Daniel, Zechariah, and Mary. (See Daniel chapter 8, and Luke chapter 1.)
One of the most interesting encounters with angels occurred in chapters 10-12 of the book of Daniel. Here, the angel is referred to as a “man clothed in linen.”* Although Daniel stood his ground when the angel appeared, the men accompanying Daniel were overwhelmed with terror and fled the scene! The message this angel had for Daniel (all of chapter 11 and more) was a revelation of the future. Although this revelation is difficult to interpret (many have tried and we have not read a convincing one yet) what happened in the encounter itself gives us some insight into what angels are like. The description of this man in linen (his face like the appearance of lightning, his eyes like torches of fire, and so forth) does not resemble that of a normal man. Still, he is referred to as a “man in linen.” Therefore, this type of angel (we will describe others later) has a human form. (And humans have a godlike form, since humans were created in God’s image according to Genesis 1:26.)
*Note: Some scholars believe that this “man clothed in linen” was a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus Christ. (That is, appearing as He existed before being born as a baby in Bethlehem.) If true, this would be a variation of “God appearing as an angel.” We agree that the Bible text allows for this possibility.
A second interesting feature of this encounter is the fact that the angel could float (see Dan 12:6,7). There are several places in the Bible that describe how angels do not obey the law of gravity. The most striking example occurs twice in the book of Ezekiel, which describes a different type of angel. See Ezekiel chapters 1 and 10.
Angels Who Remain in God’s Presence
There are celestial beings who are constantly in God’s presence. One type of these beings is called the cherubim. The vision many of us have today when we hear the word “cherub” is a chubby little two-year-old with wings. Yet, the Bible’s description of a cherubim will shock anyone who has not already read the Bible’s description. Although once again described as having “the likeness of a man,” cherubim also:
Have four different faces.
Have four wings.
Read Ezekiel chapters 1 and 10 to see what we mean. (These are definitely two of the coolest chapters in the Old Testament.) By the way, Ezekiel 10:20-22 confirms that the “living creatures” in chapter 1 and the “cherubim” in chapter 10 are the same thing.
The Bible refers to another type of angel, the seraphim, in Isaiah chapter 6. The description reveals that seraphim have six wings, a face, feet, hands, can fly and speak, and can be stationed at God’s throne. That still leaves us without knowing what the seraphim’s normal responsibilities are or what one looks like. (With the description we have, seraphim could physically resemble humans with six wings, cherubim with one face and two “extra” wings, or something else.)