|The Real Devil A Biblical Exploration|
Contact the author, Duncan Heaster
I submit that the Bible teaches that Angels are:
* real, personal beings
* carrying God’s name
* beings in whom God’s Spirit works to execute His will
* in accordance with His character and purpose
* and thereby manifesting Him.
One of the most common of the Hebrew words translated ‘God’ is ‘Elohim’, which strictly means ‘mighty ones’. The word can at times refer to the Angels who, as God’s ‘mighty ones’, carry this name and can effectively be called ‘God’ because they represent God. Ps. 8:5 speaks of how God created humanity "a little lower than the Angels"- the Hebrew elohim is translated aggelous ['Angels'] in the Septuagint; and that's confirmed by the verse being quoted in Heb. 2:7 as "Angels". The record of the creation of the world in Gen. 1 tells us that God spoke certain commands concerning creation, “and it was done”. It was the Angels who carried out these commands. “Angels, that excel in strength, that do His commandments, hearkening unto the voice of His word” (Ps. 103:20). It is therefore reasonable to assume that when we read of ‘God’ creating the world, this work was actually performed by the angels. Job 38:4-7 hints this way too. Man was created on the sixth day. “God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Gen. 1:26). Note that “God” here is not just referring to God Himself in person - “Let us make man” shows that ‘God’ is referring to more than one person. The Hebrew word translated ‘God’ here is ‘Elohim’, meaning ‘Mighty Ones’, with reference to the Angels. They are very real beings, sharing the same nature as God.
In the Bible there are two ‘natures’; by the very meaning of the word it is not possible to have both these natures simultaneously.
God’s nature (‘divine nature’)
* He cannot sin (perfect) (Rom. 9:14; 6:23 cf. Ps. 90:2; Mt. 5:48; James 1:13)
* He cannot die, i.e. immortal (1 Tim. 6:16)
* He is full of power and energy (Is. 40:28)
This is the nature of God and the Angels, and the nature which was given to Jesus after his resurrection (Acts 13:34; Rev. 1:18; Heb. 1:3). This is the nature which the faithful are promised (Lk. 20:35,36; 2 Pet. 1:4; Is. 40:28 cf. v 31).
* We are tempted to sin (James 1:13-15) by a corrupt natural mind (Jer. 17:9; Mk. 7:21-23)
* We are doomed to death, i.e. mortal (Rom. 5:12,17; 1 Cor. 15:22)
* We are of very limited strength, both physically (Is. 40:30) and mentally (Jer.10:23)
This is the nature which all men, good and bad, now possess. The end of that nature is death (Rom. 6:23). It was the nature which Jesus had during His mortal life (Heb. 2:14-18; Rom. 8:3; Jn. 2:25; Mk. 10:18).
It is unfortunate that the English word ‘nature’ is rather vague: we can use it in various ways, e.g. 'John is of a generous nature - it just isn’t in his nature to be mean; but he can be rather proud of his car, which is just human nature, I suppose’. This is not how we will be using the word ‘nature’ in these studies.
The Angels, being of God’s nature, must therefore be sinless and unable to die - seeing that sin brings death (Rom. 6:23). Often when angels appeared on earth they looked like ordinary men.
* Angels came to Abraham to speak God’s words to him; they are described as “three men”, whom Abraham initially treated as human beings, since that was their appearance: “Let a little water, I beg you, be fetched, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree” (Gen. 18:4).
* Two of those angels then went to Lot in the city of Sodom. Again, they were recognized only as men by both Lot and the people of Sodom. “There came two angels to Sodom”, whom Lot invited to spend the night with him. But the men of Sodom came to his house, asking in a threatening way: “Where are the men which came in to you this night?”. Lot pleaded: “Unto these men do nothing”. The inspired record also calls them ‘men’: “The men (angels) put forth their hand” and rescued Lot... And the men said unto Lot...The Lord has sent us to destroy” Sodom (Gen. 19:1,5,8,10,12,13).
* The New Testament comment on these incidents confirms that Angels appear in the form of men: “Remember to entertain strangers; for some (e.g. Abraham and Lot) have entertained angels unawares” (Heb. 13:2).
* Jacob wrestled all night with a strange man (Gen. 32:24), which we are later specifically told was an Angel (Hos. 12:4).
* Two men in shining white clothes were present at the resurrection (Lk. 24:4) and ascension (Acts 1:10) of Jesus. These were clearly Angels.
* Consider the implications of “the measure of a man, that is, of the angel” (Rev. 21:17).
Angels Do Not Sin
As Angels share God’s nature they cannot die. Seeing that sin brings death, it follows therefore that they cannot sin. The original Greek and Hebrew words translated ‘angel’ mean ‘messenger’; the Angels are the messengers or servants of God, obedient to Him, therefore it is impossible to think of them as being sinful. The Greek word aggelos which is translated ‘angels’ is also translated ‘messengers’ when speaking of human beings - e.g. John the Baptist (Mt. 11:10) and his messengers (Lk. 7:24); the messengers of Jesus (Lk. 9:52) and the men who spied out Jericho (James 2:25). The 'angels of the churches' to whom the Lord Jesus wrote in Rev. 2 and 3 were presumably human beings too- for why would He need to communicate with supernatural beings through writing letters to them? The Greek word an-aggelo is frequently used in the New Testament regarding human beings 'messaging' or 'messengering' the news of the Gospel. It is, of course, possible that ‘angels’ in this sense of human messengers can sin.
The following passages clearly show that all the angels (not just some of them!) are by nature obedient to God, and therefore cannot sin:
“The Lord has prepared His throne in the heavens; and His kingdom rules over all (i.e. there can be no rebellion against God in heaven). Praise the Lord, you His angels, that excel in strength, that do His commandments, hearkening unto the voice of His word. Praise the Lord, all you His hosts; you ministers of His, that do His pleasure” (Ps. 103:19-21).
“Praise him, all His angels... His hosts” (Ps. 148:2)
“The angels...are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them (the believers) who shall be heirs of salvation?” (Heb. 1:13,14).
The repetition of the word “all” shows that the Angels are not divided into two groups, one good and the other sinful. The importance of clearly understanding the nature of the Angels is that the reward of the faithful is to share their nature: “They which shall be accounted worthy... neither marry... neither can they die any more: for they are equal unto the angels” (Lk. 20:35,36). This is a vital point to grasp. Angels cannot die: “Death... does not lay hold of angels” (Heb. 2:16 Diaglott margin). If Angels could sin, then those who are found worthy of reward at Christ’s return will also still be able to sin. And seeing that sin brings death (Rom. 6:23), they will therefore not have eternal life; if we have a possibility of sinning, we have the capability of dying. Thus to say Angels can sin makes God’s promise of eternal life meaningless, seeing that our reward is to share the nature of the Angels. The reference to “the angels” (Lk. 20:35,36) shows that there is no categorization of angels as good or sinful; there is only one category of Angels. Dan. 12:3 says that the faithful will shine as the stars; and stars are associated with the Angels (Job 38:7). We will be made like Angels; and yet we will be given immortal, sinless nature. Therefore, Angels can’t sin. Our hope is to enter into the wonderful freedom of nature which the “Sons of God”, i.e. the Angels, now share (Rom. 8:19).
If Angels could sin, then God is left impotent to act in our lives and the affairs of the world, seeing that He has declared that He works through His Angels (Ps. 103:19-21). God achieves all things by His spirit power acting through the Angels (Ps. 104:4). That they should be disobedient to Him is an impossibility. Christians should daily pray for God’s kingdom to come on earth, that His will should be done here as it is now done in heaven (Mt. 6:10). If God’s obedient Angels have to compete with sinful angels in heaven, then His will could not be fully executed there, and therefore the same situation would obtain in God’s future kingdom. To spend eternity in a world which would be a perpetual battlefield between sin and obedience is hardly an encouraging prospect, but that, of course, is not the case. It also needs to be noted that the idea of angels who sinned is actually pagan - the Persian myths of a good god and an evil one also involved the idea of fallen angels; and the early Hindu vedas, dating from around 1000 BC, likewise had this idea.
Heb. 2:16-18 repays closer reflection in this context of Angels and possibility to sin. It speaks of the reasons why the Lord Jesus had to be of human nature: "For verily he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the [nature of the] seed of Abraham. Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people. For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted". Exactly because the Lord Jesus had to be tempted to sin, He did not have Angelic nature but human nature. His mission was to save humanity from human sin, not the Angels. So, He had to have human nature so that He could be tempted to sin; and the Hebrew writer labours the point that therefore He did not have Angels' nature. Which, by inference, is not able to be tempted to sin. Note again how the Bible speaks of "Angels" as if there is only one category of Angel- obedient Heavenly beings.
Even some of those who believe in a personal Satan figure have been driven to admit this basic truth: Angels don't sin. Take Augustine in Contra Faustum Book 22 section 28: "And again, angels do not sin, because their heavenly nature is so in possession of the eternal law that God is the only object of its desire, and they obey His will without any experience of temptation. But man, whose life on this earth is a trial on account of sin, subdues to himself what he has in common with beasts, and subdues to God what he has in common with angels; till, when righteousness is perfected and immortality attained, he shall be raised from among beasts and ranked with angels". In his Commentary on Genesis section 11 he wrote: "There is in the holy angels that nature which cannot sin". His views of Satan and his interpretation of Genesis 6 [whereby Angelic beings sinned with women on earth] contradict this position, however- one of the many contradictions in the orthodox views of Satan and evil which we will consider in section 3-2.
Angels And Believers
There is good reason to believe that each true believer has Angels - perhaps one special one - helping them in their lives.
* “The Angel of the Lord camps round about those that fear him, and delivers them” (Ps. 34:7).
* “...these little ones which believe in me (i.e. weak disciples - Zech. 13:7 cf. Mt. 26:31)... in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father” (Mt. 18:6,10).
* The early Christians clearly believed that Peter had a guardian Angel (Acts 12:14,15).
* The people of Israel went through the Red Sea, and were led by an Angel through the wilderness towards the promised land. Going through the Red Sea represents our baptism in water (1 Cor. 10:1), and so it isn’t unreasonable to assume that afterwards we, too, are led and helped by an Angel as we journey through the wilderness of life towards the promised land of God’s Kingdom.
If the Angels could be evil in the sense of being sinful, then such promises of Angelic control and influence in our lives would become a curse instead of a blessing.
We have seen, then, that Angels are beings...
* with God’s eternal nature
* who cannot sin
* who always do God’s commands
* and who are the beings through whom God’s spirit-power speaks and works (Ps. 104:4).
Many Christian groups have the idea that Angels can sin, and that sinful angels now exist who are responsible for sin and problems on the earth. Some of the Bible passages misunderstood that way are considered in more detail in section 5. For the present, let's note the following points.
* It's not unreasonable to suppose that there was a creation previous to our own, i.e. to that recorded in Gen. 1. It is also conceivable that the present Angels came to have an awareness of “good and evil” (Gen. 3:5) through having been in a similar situation to what we are in this life. That some of the beings who lived in that age did sin is not to be ruled out; but all this is the kind of speculation which men love to indulge in. The Bible does not tell us of these things but tells us clearly what we need to know about the present situation, which is that there are no sinful Angels; all Angels are totally obedient to God.
* There can be no sinful beings in heaven, seeing that God is “of purer eyes than to behold evil” (Hab. 1:13). In similar vein, Ps. 5:4,5 explains: “Neither shall evil dwell with you. The foolish shall not stand” in God’s heavenly dwelling place. The idea of there being rebellion against God in heaven by sinful Angels quite contradicts the impression given by these passages.
* The Greek word translated “angel” means “messenger” and can refer to human beings, as we have shown. Such human “messengers” can, of course, sin.
* That there are evil, sinful beings upon whom all the negative aspects of life can be blamed is one of the most commonly held beliefs in paganism. In the same way that pagan ideas concerning Christmas have entered what passes for ‘Christianity’, so, too, have those pagan notions.
* There is only a handful of Biblical passages which can be misunderstood to support this idea of sinful angels now being in existence. These are considered in Section 5. Such passages cannot be allowed to contradict the wealth of Bible teaching to the contrary which has been presented.