What is an Angel?

Around Christmas time, there are always lots of references to angels.  When you talk about the birth of Jesus, you get an angel coming to Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus in a dream. You get angels singing in the highest because the savior of the world was born.  You get an angel trying to explain to Mary what is happening to her. You get the wise men from the east being visiting by an angel in a dream. People conjure up an image in their minds of someone in shinning white robes with wings and a halo.  However, is that what angels really are?  What are angels?

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I had a Bible study with some guys from Bangladesh, and I learned something very interesting.  The image that we have in the west of what an angel looks like is almost exactly like the image that comes from their culture.  Cultures are different and have different ideas.  In Bangladesh, people are mostly Muslim and Hindu mixed, but they have the same idea we have about what an angel looks like. I wondered if since the Bangladeshi culture was closer to the middle east than my American culture, if they knew something that I didn’t.  I found it very interesting that their image of an angel was like the one I had grown up with.

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If people think about it, when we study the Bible, we are all studying something that comes from a culture that is not ours.  The writers are Hebrew, Jews.  However, not even like the Jews we have today because most of the Jews today speak English.  These Hebrews were being dominated by the Greeks.  The language of the day was Greek, and when you read the New Testament, you realize they have organized the books of the New Testament in a fashion along with the Greek logic with a thesis sentences, topic sentences, etc.

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When we read the Bible, we need to understand the Hebrew culture as well as the Greek organization to understand it well.  When people talk about not taking a verse out of context, they are very right because if you are using Greek logic, all sentences don’t carry the same weight.  Sometimes, the sentence may just be an example to support the topic sentence and not be meant for us to take it as a command.  The idea would just  be put there for us to understand better.  There are a lot of examples using sheep and shepherds because the Hebrew culture of the time was a pastoral culture. There are a lot of examples using farming because everyone farmed, but everyone doesn’t farm today? How many of us are shepherds and really understand sheep today?  When we read the Bible, we need to understand that we are reading something that comes from a completely different culture than where we come from, so at times, we need to think about, “What is the main point?” or “What would the principal be according to the culture where this was written?”  At times, we may even miss the point because we are so different from the people who wrote it.

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When missionaries are trained to be missionaries, they are instructed to understand these things.  The missionaries are taught that Jews wrote the Bible, and that they are from a completely different culture than the Jews.  On top of that, the missionary is wanting to go to a completely different culture that is not theirs nor the Jewish culture and communicate what is in the Bible.  I found it very interesting that in English, the Bible says that Jesus is the bread of life, but in Korean, it says Jesus is the rice cake of life.  Bread is a staple to European cultures, and America is an offshoot of Europe.  We have existed because of bread for a long, long time.  It was also a staple in the culture of the Bible. However, bread is not the staple in the orient. It is rice.  Bible translators are aware of the difference, and they use rice cakes in places where bread is in the English Bible.

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Now that we understand that we are all from different cultures, what about angels in this context?  Read Hebrews 1:7″  “In speaking of he angels, he says, ‘He makes his angels winds, his servants flames of fire.'” What does it mean that angels are winds and flames of fire?  What are winds and flames of fire?  They are strong forces of nature.

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What do angels do in the Bible?  Well, if we read the story of the birth of Jesus and his early years, the angels were messengers from God talking to Mary and Joseph helping them make good decisions.  Hebrews 1:14 says, ” Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?”  Yes, the angels were helping Joseph and Mary.  (Matthew 1:20, Matthew 2:13, Matthew 2:19 & 20, Luke 1:26-38) They were bringing messages from God to help Mary and Joseph through a very confusing time in their lives.  There are other instances of appearances of angels in the Bible, but these are just examples.  The angels were servants of God sent with messages from God to help.

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We go back to Hebrew 1:7. How can angels be winds and fire?  Does God send us messages through winds and fire?  Does God send us messages through nature?  If you look up the Jewish idea of angels on the internet, the Jews believe angels are forces of nature.  They are not thinking of the picture that we have made up of angels with a white robe, wings, and a halo.  They are thinking that God sends us messages through nature.  Perhaps, if Joseph had the idea of angels looking like a person in a white robe with wings and a halo, he may have seen that in his dream because we all know we dream in symbols.  However, God worked through Joseph’s dreams to help him figure out the right path to take.  Have you ever gone to bed perplexed by a problem, and then woke up the next day with the answer?  I have.  I was amazed that my mind seemed to work it out while I was asleep.  When I was in graduate school, I used to go to bed worried because I had an assignment, but didn’t know what to write about, and then wake up in the middle of the night with a wonderful idea, and I sat down and wrote my paper right then.  God has a way of helping us while we are asleep.  Is that an angel looking out for us?

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I am not saying that the angel will give us anything that is not written in the Bible.  The last chapter of Revelation and the first chapter of Galatians are clear.  We should add nothing to what is already written.  The Bible is the message of God, and it is the plan for how we are to go back and live with God.

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However, do we still get messages from God today?  Well, God is not dead.  He still loves us and still cares about us.  He listens to our prayers.  Nature is still in place.  Many people thought when the illness Aids came that it was a message from God because it began by only targeting gays.  God was sending a message through natural means.  The laws of nature still exist.  If you read about Aids, it began by men having sex with monkeys, and then with other men, and then with women.  Everything they were doing goes against the teachings of God.  God didn’t like homosexual acts so much that he destroyed the city of Sodom with fire and brimstone.  Many people don’t understand that the old word in English for homosexuality in English was sodomy.  God sent us a message, and that message agreed with the Bible.  It doesn’t mean that we go out and treat anyone badly.  It simply meant that God let us know that this is not acceptable just as it is written in Romans 1:26-28.  He sent an angel, a messenger, to tell us he didn’t approve.  He also told us not to approve of homosexuality in verse 32 of the first chapter of Romans, but in the second chapter, he goes on tell us that we don’t need to be sitting around condemning one another because that is his job. Romans 2 goes on saying that God loves everyone and wants us all to repent.  God is love, and he wants us to follow the path of love.

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He does send us angels, but not particularly the kind we have made pictures of.  He sends us messages to help us understand him better.  Angels are forces of nature.  God made us.  He understands us. He knows what is best for us.  The scriptures are from God, and if we try to conduct our lives according to the word of God, our lives are better. The first chapter of the book of Psalms is beautiful!  It talks about the man who follows God’s ways and how God’s ways will make us prosper. He is not talking about money, but about life in general.  If you give love, you will get love. If you give a smile, you will get a smile.  God is still looking over us. Yes, Aids hurt more than the people who sinned, but it was following the laws of nature, and those people who sinned caused the others to be hurt.  The angels were sent from God around the time of the birth of Christ because Mary, Joseph, the men from the east, Zachariah (the father of John the Baptist), many people needed extra help during that time to make sense of what was happening to them.  God still helps us through forces of nature. (Hebrew 1:7).  He still sends angels, but not particularly the kind with a long white robe, wings, and a halo.

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