Podcast discussion features Eric Barreto, Cameron Howard and Michael Rogness. Article written by Michael Rogness.
“Do angels still exist today?” Of course they do. Can you imagine God telling the heavenly host of angels, “You’re all done with your work”?
Much to my surprise, and probably to the surprise of those who know me, I have become somewhat of an authority on angels. It started with a sermon, which led to a seminary course for lay people, which in turn led to many, many adult forums in congregations, where I have heard dozens of stories about angel appearances in our age.
The reason for doubts about angels today is that we don’t recognize them. That’s nothing new. In the Bible people often don’t recognize them. Genesis 18 tells us that “the Lord appeared to Abraham.” But Abraham himself “looked up and saw three men standing near him.” It’s not until the next chapter that we learn they were angels.
In Genesis 32 “a man wrestled with Jacob until daybreak,” and after the struggle Jacob claimed that “I have seen God face to face.” It’s not until centuries later that the prophet Hosea informs us that it was an angel: “He strove with the angel and prevailed.” (Hosea 12:4) Manoah and his wife didn’t know it was an angel who had informed them of the impending birth of their son Samson until the angel ascended and disappeared in the smoke of the fire. “Then Manoah realized that it was the angel of the Lord” (Judges 13:21).
Even the reports of Easter tomb are ambiguous. In Mark 16:5 the women coming to the tomb “saw a young man.” Matthew 28:2 tells us it was an angel. Luke 24:4 describes “two men in dazzling clothes,” and in John 20:12 Mary Magdalene “saw two angels in white.”
Angels in the Bible have three job descriptions. First and foremost, the word “angel” means “messenger.” They deliver God’s message. The three “men” who visited Abraham informed him that Sarah would have a child, news which Sarah thought was so incredible that she laughed. The angel Gabriel informed Mary that she would give birth to the “Son of the Most High” (Luke 1:32).
The second task of angels to be “avenging” angels. The most prominent of these are the two angels who leave Abraham and go on to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19). In the book of Revelation “Michael and his angels” defeat Satan and the fallen angels (Revelation 12 and 20).
The third job of angels is as “guardian angels.”
For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways.
On their hands they will bear you up . . . (Psalm 91:11-12)
An angel freed the apostle Peter from prison, although Peter himself didn’t realize it and “thought he was seeing a vision.” It wasn’t until the angel led him past two guards and through the gate that Peter “came to himself and said, ‘Now I am sure that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me” (Acts 12:7-11).
One of my favorite stories about guardian angels is the account of Abraham sending his servant to his relatives to find a wife for his son Isaac, telling the servant that God “will send his angels before you” (Genesis 24:7,40). The servant goes, confident in the angel’s protection, and is successful in finding Rebekah -- and never once did he see the angel.
People in the Bible often didn’t realize they had been visited by an angel until afterward, in retrospect, when what the angel said or did came true.
So where are angels today? My interest in angels began when a lady in my former parish told me that during a near fatal illness an angel had come to her and told her she would recover. She believed it was an angel because, as she said, “he suddenly appeared and then sort of fizzled out rather than walking away.” Was it an angel? The test in the Bible is if the message comes true, and in spite of the doctors’ doubts about this woman’s recovery, the message came true. She immediately improved and soon left the hospital.
Over the last years many people have told me about appearances of total strangers who have helped them out of difficult and terrible circumstances. Are they angels? Who knows? Did they deliver a message from God? Did they rescue? Yes, they did.
Could the people who appeared and did these things be human beings, not angels? Of course. But they are doing what angels in the Bible do.
One of my favorite Bible verses about angels is the well-known verse, Hebrews 13:2: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” (I suppose that verse was prompted by Abraham’s hospitality to the three “men” who visited him by the oak tree.)
I believe God uses people to do God’s work. God uses people to deliver messages, to help and guard other people and also to warn and admonish people.
In other words, in a large sense, God uses us to do the work of angels. You, the reader, may have done an angel’s work for somebody.
One man told me how his son went through a self-destructive period of addiction until a woman in the detention center took him under her wing for rehabilitation. “She was an angel for my son,” the father said.
So are there still angels today? Of course there are.
Michael Rogness is Alvin N. Rogness Professor Emeritus of Preaching at Luther Seminary, Saint Paul, Minn.