What the Bible really says about angels is often overlooked or filtered through popular myths. Whatever you think you know about angels, there’s a good chance it’s wrong.
But why does that matter? Is a more accurate understanding of God’s heavenly host relevant for Christians today?
In his new book, Angels, Michael Heiser tackles these misconceptions head on. He grounds his study in the biblical context. In this excerpt, Heiser shows us why a correct understanding of angels is important in a correct understanding of God and his creation.
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Popular interest in angels and angel stories is high, which is symptomatic of our culture’s insatiable appetite for the supernatural. It seems every other movie or television show features a paranormal theme, alien superheroes, or some mischievous or malevolent deity. Bookstore shelves are well stocked with books about aliens, preternatural creatures, and, of course, angels and demons. That wouldn’t be the case if they didn’t sell, but sell they do. Unfortunately, the content isn’t very biblical, even when it tries.
Much of what Christians think they know about angels is more informed by Christian tradition than Scripture. The angelology of Christian tradition is, to say the least, quite incomplete and, in some ways, inaccurate.
But why should we care about angels?
Because angelology helps us think more clearly about familiar points of biblical theology. God’s supernatural family is a theological template for understanding God’s relationship to his human family of believers—and our greater importance compared to them. Learning what the Bible says about angels ultimately is tied to thinking well about how God thinks about us. What God wants us to know about angels contributes to our eternal perspective.
In our discussion of Old Testament angelology, I’ll draw your attention to the plural language of Genesis 1:26 (“let us make humankind in our image,” LEB). That language isn’t a cryptic reference to the Trinity. God is speaking to his heavenly host. He is sharing a decision with them—decreeing his will, as it were. If he were speaking to the members of the Trinity, they would already know what’s in God’s mind, because they are coequal and coeternal with him. Instead, the plural language of Genesis 1:26 intentionally connects humanity, God, and the members of the heavenly host with respect to an important biblical concept: imaging God. Imaging God is about representation—acting on God’s behalf at his behest. Humans image God on earth. The heavenly host images God in the spiritual, non-terrestrial world. The two are connected by design—and that has amazing ramifications.
Humans were tasked to make the whole world like Eden: a place where God’s goodness was known and his presence experienced; where humanity’s needs were met and God’s created world could be fully known and enjoyed; where imagers related to each other the way God related to them, with joy and love. God intended humanity to finish a task he had begun. He wanted participation—and that should sound familiar if one is familiar with the heavenly host, God’s initial family.
Understanding this status provides an answer to questions like, “How should we then live?,” “How do we image God?,” and “How should we see and treat each other?” We image God by doing what he would do, when he would do it, and with the motivation he would have for doing it. Yes, we are lesser than God and will fail. But God forgives—another lesson on what imaging means. We image God when we imitate God, acting on his behalf. It’s difficult to see how any facet of this could be deemed impractical for Christian living.
You may not have realized it while you were reading, but we just thought theologically, by means of an insight about God’s heavenly host. Believe it or not, the significant, practical idea of imaging God extended from a more insightful angelology—drawn from the plurals of Genesis 1:26, where God speaks to his heavenly host. That insight helped us think about practical holy living. Surprise!
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Discover what the Bible really says about angels and start thinking theologically about God’s heavenly host. Get Angels today!