Editor’s Note: The Theology in the Everyday series seeks to introduce and explain theological concepts in 500 words or less, with a 200-word section helping explain the doctrine to kids. At For The Church, we believe that theology should not be designated to the academy alone but lived out by faith in everyday life. We hope this series will present theology in such a way as to make it enjoyable, connecting theological ideas to everyday experience and encouraging believers to study theology for the glory of God and the good of the Church. This week, angels.

Christianity is a supernatural religion. That may sound obvious, but Christians in the modern world often seem overly skeptical about things that defy material explanation—things like miracles, the soul, the afterlife, and the topic of this post: angelic beings. Our world has become (as many philosophers and theologians have noted) disenchanted, demystified, and despiritualized. But against this materialist mindset, biblical Christianity is irreducibly and unavoidably and gloriously supernatural.

So just what are angels? Angels are immaterial beings created by God to worship him, to communicate his word, to protect his people, and to otherwise serve his purposes in the world. God, who is immaterial by nature, made some things unlike him (material creatures like birds, planets, and amoebae), some things both unlike him and like him (human beings, composed of body and soul), and some things that are more purely like him (immaterial angels). Angels can appear in physical form but are by nature immaterial and incorporeal (that is, they don’t have bodies). They are invisible creatures with power beyond our imagination. So, from one perspective, angels represent the highest order of creatures that God has made; they round out, so to speak, the manifold wisdom of God.

The Greek work for angel (angelos) simply means “messenger” and may mark out one particular type of spiritual being. But the English word “angel” also serves as a general description for all such beings. Other words used in the Bible for celestial beings include cherubim (e.g., Gen. 3:14; Ex. 25:18), seraphim (Isa. 6:2, 6), spirits (Heb. 1:7), archangels (1 Thess. 4:16; Jude 9), and (perhaps) Paul’s listing of thrones, dominions, rulers, and authorities (Col. 1:16).

The Bible doesn’t give a detailed account of the angels’ creation. Presumably they were made at some point before the creation of the earth in Genesis 1 (see Job 38:7). In any event, we know that they were in fact created by God (see Col. 1:16); they are not eternal beings. The fall of a certain number of the angels is also not explicitly recorded in Scripture but rather assumed (Gen. 3:1; 2 Pet. 2:4; Jude 6; Isa. 14 and Ezek. 28 may also have the fall of Satan in the background as an analogy for downfall of certain human kings). Fallen angels are referred to as demons or evil spirits. The powerful and personal being called Satan or Beelzebul serves as their prince (Matt. 9:34; Eph. 2:2). They are permitted a certain degree of power to tempt humanity, but they operate under the ultimate authority of God (Job 1) and their doom is certain (Matt. 25:41). The “elect” angels (1 Tim. 5:21) who did not rebel were confirmed in their original righteousness and always live to do God’s will. The risen Lord Jesus Christ serves as the supreme head over all angelic powers (Col. 2:10; cf. Col. 1:16; Eph. 1:21-22; 1 Cor. 15:24).

Angels and demons appear in every phase of the biblical story. In the Old Testament, angelic beings appear to the Patriarchs, to Moses, to the judges and kings, and to the prophets. In the New Testament, angelic (and demonic) activity is especially clustered around the incarnation and ministry of Jesus Christ: at the annunciation, the nativity, the temptations, the miracles, the passion, and the resurrection. In Acts and the Epistles, we read of angels supporting the church and demons waging war against it. In Revelation, we read of the ultimate end of both angels and demons, in everlasting glory or everlasting destruction, respectively.

So, why should Christians be concerned about the angels? What use is the doctrine of angels and demons? There are many, but I list three: our prayers, our worship, and our wonder. First, we are instructed in the Lord’s Prayer to ask, “Deliver us from the evil one” (Matt. 6:13). The Greek word here, ponēros, is masculine, indicating a personal agent. Thus, Jesus teaches us to pray against the schemes of the devil. Further, knowing that the elect angels guard and protect God’s people, it is also fitting to pray to God for their aid and comfort. Christians are engaged in a spiritual battle, and prayer is one of our key defenses (Eph. 6:18). One historic nighttime prayer expresses well this use of the doctrine of angels:

Visit this place, O Lord, and drive far from it all snares of the enemy; let your holy angels dwell with us to preserve us in peace; and let your blessing be upon us always; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Second, our worship of the one true God is informed by an awareness of these spiritual beings. Indeed, the celestial realms join in worship. According to the writer of Hebrews, New Covenant life and worship bring us to the “heavenly Jerusalem,” where we take our place alongside the glorified saints in heaven and “innumerable angels in festal gathering” (Heb. 12:22-23). The city of God, as Saint Augustine would remind us, is not two cities—one angelic and one human—but one united kingdom under the headship of Christ.

Finally, the study of angels leads us to wonder. Philosopher Peter Kreeft suggests that the first reason we should study the angels is because it’s fun! Maybe “fun” isn’t the best word, but an awareness of the angelic realm can elicit in us a sense of wonder and intrigue at the power, wisdom, and goodness of God in making such magnificent creatures. So, in the end, studying this aspect of God’s creation is not just a means to some other end. In one sense, it is an end in itself: wonder at the glory of God, Maker of all things visible and invisible.

For the Kids:

 As we learn in the very first verse of the Bible, God made everything (Gen. 1:1). He made some things that you can see, like your fingers and toes and the tree in your yard and your pet cat. But he also made some things that you cannot see, like the soul inside you, the part of you that can never die. Another thing that God made that you cannot see is a wondrous kind of creature called an angel. These invisible and powerful beings exist to worship God and to do his will in the world. They appear quite often throughout the story of the Bible and especially around the time of Jesus’ coming into the world. Sadly, some of these beings rebelled against God and try to lead us away from him. But in the end, they cannot defeat God’s power through his Son, Jesus Christ! The holy angels guard and protect God’s people. Jesus even says that “little ones” like you have angels in the presence of the Father who protect you even though you can’t see them (Matt. 18:10). What a wonderful thought!