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I never thought much about angels in my early days of Christianity. They just were not a part of my everyday Christian life. I knew the bible talked about angels, but I had never met one and I never expected to meet one. I knew they existed but they were not a part of my life, so I did not think about them.
After I had been saved 3 or 4 years, I had a dream where I met what I think may have been a real angel. He did not have wings -- his appearance was very much like a man. He was cleaner and brighter than your average person, and there was something about his eyes that I cannot describe. His eyes were deeply penetrating, but at the same time full of love. My whole being was filled with joy when He spoke to me, bringing me a message from God. It was just a dream, but it seemed more real than any dream I'd had before. When I woke up from that dream, I knew that this person was an angel. I searched the bible for some sort of precedence of angels bringing messages from God in a dream. To my surprise, I found that angels in the bible actually did things like that... for instance the angel that spoke to Joseph, Jesus' step-father, spoke to Joseph and gave him instructions in dreams.
That dream encounter got me intensely curious about angels. But back in the late 70s, there were not a whole lot of resource books on the subject of angels. I eventually found one book written by Billy Graham on angels. That was helpful but it did not satisfy my curiosity. I was frustrated for a long time and cried out to God to teach me more about His angels. But He did not seem to answer my prayer. I finally gave up and stopped asking. Little did I realize that it would be 20 to 25 years before He was to answer that prayer.
I share my (above) story because I have discovered that angels are a mystery to the average Christian. We know that they exist, that they are powerful spirit beings who serve God, but many of us don't know much more about them. We may have a vague idea that they are involved in certain types of activities. For instance, angels seem to sometimes play a role in prayer and intercession. We don't fully understand that role, but we know that the book of Revelation details angelic actively in pouring out our prayers before Gods throne. Revelation 8:3-4 tells us, "Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all the saints, on the golden altar before the throne. The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of the saints, went up before God from the angel's hand." But most of us don't really understand precisely what role angels play in that. In fact, most of us don't understand or know very much about angels.
This teaching series is written to help people understand more about angels, the roles they play in our lives and how we can work successfully with them. Most of these insights shared in this series come directly from Scripture. The bible is very rich in information about angels. Most of us have never really harvested that information, but there is quite a bit there about angels, and we will look at some of that together in this teaching series. We will also look at some non-bible historical writings about angels, as well as hear about some people's personal experiences with angels (including a few of my own).
We will focus on the various roles of angels, but we need to be aware that angels are not the only creatures that compose the heavenly hosts. The bible also mentions two other types of beings: Seraphim and Cherubim.
These are six-winged beings who live in the presence of God. Their ministry appears to be before God's throne and they tend to hover (fly) around God and sing worship to Him. They seem to be closely tied to God's holiness. When they ministered to Isaiah, their ministry was in the area of forgiveness and purification. Seraphim are only mentioned twice in the Bible, both in Isaiah 6.
Isaiah 6:1-7 says, "In the year King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord. He was sitting on a lofty throne, and the train of His robe filled the Temple. Hovering around Him were mighty Seraphim, each with six wings. With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with the remaining two they flew. In a great chorus they sang, 'Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty! The whole earth is filled with His glory!' The glorious singing shook the Temple to its foundations, and the entire sanctuary was filled with smoke. Then I said, 'My destruction is sealed, for I am a sinful man and a member of a sinful race. Yet I have seen the King, the Lord Almighty!' Then one of the Seraphim flew over to the altar, and he picked up a burning coal with a pair of tongs. He touched my lips with it and said, 'See, this coal has touched your lips. Now your guilt is removed, and your sins are forgiven'" (NLT).
This is the only passage where we gain definitive insight about Seraphim. We do not have any indication from Isaiah 6 that they ever leave the heavenly realm and interact with man in our world. They may reside only in God's throne room. However, a words study of the original Hebrew indicates that God may sometimes send them out to bring judgment for unholiness.
The Hebrew word for Seraphim is "saraph" (pronounced saw-rawf', Strong's number 08314). It comes from the root word meaning "to burn." The same word (saraph) is translated twice into Seraphim (a transliteration of the original Hebrew word saraph) to refer to the majestic heavenly beings that hover around God's throne and sing of His holiness. However, the same Hebrew word is translated as "fiery serpent" and is used in reference to God bringing judgment against sin to the children of Israel (Num 21:6, Num 21:8, Is 30:6).
The passage in Numbers 21 is particularly interesting because when the Children of Israel sinned by grumbling against God in the wilderness, God responded by sending fiery serpents to bite them. And everyone who was bitten died. The people realized this was a righteous judgment of God, so they repented of their sin and asked for God to spare them. In response, God had Moses make a bronze statue of a serpent and raise it on a high pole. Then those who looked at it after they were bitten were spared. Could the statue of the serpents being raised up be symbolic of the Seraphim flying and hovering over God's throne? Is it possible that this judgment (poisonous snakes killing people) was the dispensed activity of the Holy Seraphim? The same Hebrew word is used in both cases. If so then the Seraphim, which represent the holiness of God, may also be involved in executing the righteous judgments of God against sin.
The Hebrew word Saraph is also used in Isaiah 14:29, which is in a judgment passage against Philistia. The verse says, "Do not rejoice, all you of Philistia, because the rod that struck you is broken; for out of the serpent's roots will come forth a viper, and its offspring will be a fiery flying serpent" (NKJV).
This is purely speculation on my part, but we see the word "fiery serpent" used in an evil way, arising out of a serpent. In the garden of Eden, Satan choose the form of a serpent to appear to Adam and Eve. In other words, the "Saraph" of Is 14:29 may be demonically influenced, and sent forth by Satan's direction as part of his mission to kill, steal and destroy. (Of course, God is allowing this because He desires for judgment to come on Philistia. We know that God sometimes uses Satan and his demons as an agent for executing that judgment.) The same Hebrew word for Seraphim is used to describe the heavenly creatures and is used allegorically to describe demonic activity--could it be that Satan and some of his demons were Seraphim before they fell? We know that Satan (a.k.a. Lucifer) is a fallen angel from Isaiah 14:14-15. Perhaps Satan used to be a Seraphim before he fell?
These are two winged angels that guard things (such as the entrance to the garden of Eden in Gen 3:24) and that usher in the presence of God. Gold plated statues of Cherubim were on the ark of the covenant. There are several references to God being enthroned between the Cherubim, and it may be that the Cherubim actually guard God's throne. Also, Cherubim are majestic in appearance and not the cute chubby baby-faced beings that medieval church artists made so popular.
In the book of Ezekiel, Cherubim appeared to be on top of some sort of vehicle that had four wheels and the Cherubim in Ezekiel's vision had four faces. But the statues of Cherubim on the ark had no wheels and only one face. However, the Cherubim carved on the temple walls had 2 faces (Ez. 41:18).
There are 63 references to Cherubim in the NIV version of the bible, and 58 references in the New King James version. Only one of those references is in the New Testament (Heb 9:5). The majority of the Old Testament references to Cherubim are from Ezekiel's vision (recorded in the book of Ezekiel) or in detailed instructions for the tabernacle and temple decorations.
The word Cherubim comes from the Hebrew k'ruwb (pronounced ker-oob). K'ruwb is used 91 times in scripture with the following meanings:
Most of the bible accounts of angels interacting with men were not about the Cherubim. They seem to be strongly associated with God's presence, but do not appear to function in a messenger capacity.