The writer of Hebrews was intent on dispelling misconceptions and misunderstandings concerning Christ. The Lord Messiah Jesus was God the Son, not merely a man who received the Spirit of God in great power, not God disguised as a human being, nor even some sort of lesser god than God.
After establishing Jesus deity, and equality in divinity, the writer now would underscore how far above all heavenly beings Jesus really was.
Angels, Created Beings
Before there was anything, there was God, and out of nothing God brought forth something—a doctrine referred to as Ex Nihilo.
The Word was with God and actually was God, Who brought forth all there is out of nothing, so was present at the creation of the angels.
“You are the Lord, you alone; you have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. To all of them you give life, and the host of heaven worships you.Nehemiah 9:6 (NRSV)
The Apostle Paul—who spoke often of angels—specifically noted them as created by and under the command of Jesus, writing,
[Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him.Colossians 1:15-16 (NRSV)
Angels, Spiritual Beings
Angels are depicted in scripture in a variety forms, but those three-dimensional, corporeal forms are a courtesy for the humans they interact with.
- Men sometimes acting on behalf of God, and sometimes accompanying God.
- Sword-bearing warriors in protection of God’s people.
- Brilliant figures inspiring awe as they deliver their messages.
- Royal musicians playing instruments and singing praises to God.
- Dream visions in revelation of God’s Person and purposes.
The writer of Hebrews identified all angels as ministering spirits God sends forth in service to humankind. They often exercise great power, as did the Angel of Death. But, Jesus made a point of showing He is not one of these spirits but rather a flesh-and-bone human being when His disciples surrounded Him in wonder at His resurrection.
In the scriptures, there are a number of occasions when heavenly beings described as Cherubim (actually pronounced Kerubim in Hebrew) acted on behalf of God as guardians.
- It was Cherubim with their flaming, wheeling swords, who day and night guarded the entrance to the Garden of Eden, preventing access to the Tree of Life.
- Golden Cherubim were crafted to stand in symbolic sentry over the mercy seat of the ark. It was here God was said to be enthroned.
- Images of Cherubim were woven into the veil that separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place. Later, Solomon had olivewood Cherubim fifteen feel tall crafted as silent reminders within the temple of God’s presence.
- In poetry, God was spoken of as riding the wind on Cherubim.
- Cherubim featured in Ezekiel’s visions of God, involving fire, flight, and wheels.
From Genesis, Cherubim seem to be as warriors wielding flaming swords. From Exodus, Cherubim have massive wings. But the only detailed description of Cherubim in the scriptures comes from Ezekiel’s visions,
The cherubim rose up. These were the living creatures that I saw by the river Chebar.Ezekiel 10:14 (NRSV)
Angels, Living Creatures
Ezekiel had first seen what he called Living Creatures, describing them in detail.
Four living creatures.
This was their appearance:
—they were of human form.
—Each had four faces,
—and each of them had four wings.
—Their legs were straight,
—and the soles of their feet were like the sole of a calf’s foot;
—and they sparkled like burnished bronze.
—Under their wings on their four sides they had human hands.
And the four had their faces and their wings thus:
—their wings touched one another;
—each of them moved straight ahead, without turning as they moved.
As for the appearance of their faces:
—the four had the face of a human being, the face of a lion on the right side, the face of an ox on the left side, and the face of an eagle; such were their faces.
Their wings were spread out above;
—each creature had two wings,
—each of which touched the wing of another, while two covered their bodies.
Each moved straight ahead; wherever the spirit would go, they went, without turning as they went.
In the middle of the living creatures there was something that looked like burning coals of fire, like torches moving to and fro among the living creatures; the fire was bright, and lightning issued from the fire.
The living creatures darted to and fro, like a flash of lightning.Ezekiel 1:5-14 (NRSV)
These same creatures next appear in visions given to the Apostle John, as recorded throughout the Book of Revelation.
Seraphim appear only once in the Bible, in Isaiah’s vision of God in the temple.
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said:
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”
The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”
Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.”Isaiah 6:1-7 (NRSV)
We can deduce the Seraphim are as the closest attendants to God, royal and holy, surrounding God in God’s glory, intuitively knowing and carrying out God’s desires without need for command.
Angelology was already well-developed in ancient near-east cultures, and continued to be built-upon and expanded down through the centuries among Jewish, Christian, and Islamic theologians. However, if we use just the scriptures as our guide, we can still discern a ranking among the angels—angels and the archangel Michael who was described as one of the chief princes by Daniel, and is depicted as the commander of God’s angel army in the Book of Revelation.
There is a possibility God has other archangels—an unnamed archangel will herald Jesus’ future return to earth, and Gabriel, though not identified as an archangel, is the only other named heavenly messenger in the Bible.
Angels Unlike Jesus
Theologians sometimes talk about the communicable and the incommunicable attributes of God, meaning there are communicable aspects of God’s character and nature you and I may be molded into, such as the fruit of the Spirit. But there are divine, incommunicable, attributes which created beings (such as people and angels) simply have no capacity for or capability of acquiring.
God is the Creator, all else are God’s creatures. Angels, in all their power and otherworldliness are still God’s creatures. Jesus, fully human yet also fully God, is the Word by Whom, and through Whom, and for Whom even angels were created.
Angels can never share in the incommunicable attributes of God.
As God the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ contains all the fullness of God.
- Omnipotent, All-powerful
- Omniscient, All-knowing, All-wise
- Omnipresent, Ever-present (in all places in all times)
- Sovereign, Preeminent in power and authority, nothing is outside the scope of God’s rule
- Transcendent, Existing above and independent from all that is, independent of the cosmos and stream of time, being both infinite and eternal
- Immutable, Unchanging
- Self-Existent, The First Cause, existing before there was anything, the uncreated Creator of the universe
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