This post is part of a series of posts on the basics of systematic theology. Why do we need theology, and what are the essential truths to know about each doctrine? All the posts are archived under the category “Theology 101.”
If you peruse any greeting card rack — particularly in early February — you will inevitably find cards picturing angels as cute cherubs dressed in red with an arrow of “love” in their hands. Or pass through a home decorating department and you will often find decorative angels to set on a mantle. But the biblical picture of angels is quite different. Angels are powerful (Is. 37:36 says that one angel killed 185,000 men!) and often come not with arrows of love, but of death (Num. 22:31; 2 Sam. 24:16; 1 Chron. 21:12ff). Were we to see one, rather than wanting to embrace it, we would likely turn and run in terror (Num. 22:22ff).
So what are these beings like? They area created body of beings (Ps. 148:2-5; Col. 1:16), who were created as God’s servants and messengers (Is. 6:1-3; Mt. 28:2; Gal. 1:8; Gal. 3:19; Eph. 4:10; 1 Pt. 3:22; Heb. 2:2). We know that their creation was before the creation of the world for they rejoiced and praised God when the world was created (Job 38:6-7). They also were created simultaneously (e.g., they do not procreate and God is not creating more of them; Mt. 22:28-30) and are innumerable in number (Heb. 12:22).
The angels are also spirit beings (Heb. 1:14); they have “celestial bodies.” As spirit beings without corporeal bodies they do not reproduce (Mark 12:25) and do not die (Lk. 20:36). And they are also a higher order of being than man (Heb. 2:7) and they are not subject to limitations of man. They also possess high intelligence and power but they do have fixed limits (Psalm 103:20; Dan. 10:13; Rev. 20:2, 10; 1 Pt. 1:12; Matt. 24:36). Angels, while even in the presence of God, are still learning (1 Pt. 1:12).
While the angels were created as servants of God, they also serve believers: angels serve believers physically (Acts 5:19), provide encouragement to believers (Acts 27:23-24), protect believers (Mt. 18:10; Heb. 1:14; cf. also Acts 12:15; Ps. 91:10-12), offer direction to believers (Acts 8:26, 10:3, 22), and even carry believers home (Lk. 16:22). Additionally, angels also minister to unbelievers by announcing judgment (Gen. 19:18; Rev. 14:6-9, 15, 17-18), carrying out God’s temporal judgment (Acts 12:23), and carrying out God’s judgment at end of age (Matt. 13:39; 24:31; Rev. 16:2-17).
So do these God-created creatures still exist? They do. Angels were created as messengers and servants of God and they still exist (Eph. 6:12) — and they exist as both “elect” and evil. The evil angels began their existences as good and righteous angels, but they followed Satan (a privileged angel with unique status with God, who rebelled in prideful self-will against God, Ezk. 28:12-15; Is. 14:12-17) in his rebellion against God and were cast out of heaven — perhaps as many as one-third of them fell (Is. 14:13-15; Ezk. 28:12-17; Rev. 12:3-4).
There is a propensity to be either overly familiar or overly fearful of Satan’s angels. Both extremes are unwise. Satan and his angels (demons) are powerful, but they are created beings and not infinite in any way. They are limited by God and under his authority (Js. 4:7-10; 1 Jn. 4:4; Job 1:12; 2:5-6). It has been well said that, “The devil is God’s devil.” And yet the believer is unwise to assume that he is authoritative over demons and that they must do his bidding (e.g., Jude 9-10).
Demons do inhabit and control human beings (e.g., Mt. 9:33; 17:18), but Christians cannot be inhabited by demons (1 Jn. 2:14; 4:4). A believer cannot be inhabited by both light and dark (1 Pt. 2:9). A believer cannot be under the authority of two masters (Mt. 6:24; 1 Cor. 6:15ff). A believer’s primary problem is with his own sinful flesh (Js. 1:13-15) and deception from Satan’s influence over the world system (1 Jn. 2:15-18; cf. also 1 Thess. 3:5; 2 Cor. 4:4; 10:5; 11:14), not demonization. So the solution to his problem is Christ and the gospel, not exorcism.
A few summary principles for a believer to remember as he thinks about angels and demons:
- Christians cannot be demon possessed (1 John 4:4).
- Christians should put on the whole armor of God (Eph. 6:10-18) as protection against Satan and his evil devices.
- Christians should be absorbed with Christ and the Scriptures (Col. 3:1-4).
- Christians should avoid relying on their own power and authority in dealing with demons, since even the only named Archangel (Michael) refused to rely on his own strength in dealing with Satan (Jude 9).
- Christians should obey the Scriptures. (Disobedience was first practiced by Satan and he loves to draw believers away from Christ by disobedience.)
- Christians should recognize the power of Satan, but not be afraid of him or his followers.
- Christians should not blame everything on the Devil. The world and the flesh are also strong enticements to sin!