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There are so many fascinating things about angels. God’s first-created beings truly are powerful and mysterious. They show up throughout Scripture in order to deliver vital messages, perform miracles and save humans in moments of distress. At times, even the ways they choose to appear are shocking. Most of us are at least vaguely aware of these realities, but there is something peculiar about angels that is rarely discussed: they are a whole lot like us.
When I say, “a whole lot like us,” I mean there is a closeness that is difficult to comprehend. To illustrate this point, let’s evaluate a few examples from Scripture.
During the Ascension—when Jesus disappeared into the heavens for the last time—two angels visited those who had witnessed the event. Luke described the fascinating things that transpired:
“And as they were gazing intently into the sky while He was going, behold, two men in white clothing stood beside them. They also said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven’ ” (Acts 1:10-11).
Did you notice what the text literally says: that two men stood beside them? Why does it say “men” if we are supposed to be dealing with angels? That’s definitely a bit strange . . .
What’s stranger is that this happens frequently in the Bible. Let’s journey backwards in time to the situation concerning Lot and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Before the chaos ensued, God sent two beings to warn Lot and his family. Genesis introduces Lot’s prophetic visitors very clearly as heavenly messengers: “Now the two angels came to Sodom in the evening as Lot was sitting in the gate of Sodom” (19:1).
Later on, they are again referred to as angels (19:15). We can also be sure these were not ordinary people because of Lot’s reaction to their arrival: “When Lot saw them, he rose to meet them and bowed down with his face to the ground. And he said, ‘Now behold, my lords, please turn aside into your servant’s house’ . . .” (19:1-2 ). If there should be any remaining doubts that these were indeed beings of a higher power, the text records that they miraculously blinded the men from Sodom, after they had tried to break into the house (19:11).
I don’t know of any human beings who could have accomplished this. These were angels!
As you may have expected, there is more going on here. The same account describes Lot’s two friends just a bit differently: once again as “men.” In fact, this occurs in three different ways:
1) The group from Sodom called them “men” (19:5).
2) Lot called them “men” (19:8). And . . .
3) The narrator/author of Genesis called them “men” (19:10, 12).
The reasons why the group from Sodom was so interested in the angels is another matter, which I touched upon elsewhere when considering the Sons of God and the Nephilim. At the moment, that is beside the point. If you are thinking that the men referenced in those verses are not the same as the two entities who are elsewhere described as angels, think again. Reading the account carefully, it is obvious that the two “men” who pulled Lot back into the house (19:10) were the same figures who blinded those who were outside of the house (19:11). Moreover, the two “men” that asked Lot who else was living with him (19:12) were the same individuals that claimed they would later destroy the city (19:13). Clearly, that was a supernatural event.
This cannot be right, can it? Is there some type of mistake in the wording, or perhaps an issue with our translation of the Hebrew text? Incredibly, there is not. The word that is translated as “angels” is from the same term (malak) that is used throughout the Old Testament to describe them. Likewise, the term (ish) that is also used to describe them as “men” means exactly that throughout the OT.
In no uncertain terms, Lot’s foreign company are described as both angels and men in this story. The same is true when the two visitors appeared to Abraham, just before that (18:1-15).
In fact, this theme is consistent throughout the rest of the Bible. One example was mentioned earlier in discussing the “men in white clothing” who appeared at the Ascension (Acts 1:10-11). There can be little doubt that these were angelic beings, because they appeared from nowhere and were dressed in white. Appearing in white clothing is an allusion almost exclusively pertaining to heavenly beings, whether that be Jesus, angels, or even those who will be purified and saved.
Speaking of white clothing, this topic reveals another example to consider. The three women who came to anoint Jesus’ body the morning after the Crucifixion also encountered a person wearing white:
“Entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting at the right, wearing a white robe; and they were amazed. And he said to them, ‘Do not be amazed; you are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who has been crucified. He has risen; He is not here; behold, here is the place where they laid Him’ ” (Mk. 16:5-6).
This time, we are dealing with a neaniskos: a “young man.” Could this mean that certain angels start out younger than others, and that some type of aging or maturation exists even among the heavenly beings? Or, could it be that his particular appearance just seemed a bit more youthful by human standards? It is very difficult to say what the significance of him being a “young man” is within this passage. Whatever the case, it is abundantly clear that he too was not of this world.
We know this because of his white robe, his supernatural understanding of all that had transpired, and because of the women’s reactions to him. The word used for “amazed” (exethambēthēsan) is present only in Mark’s Gospel, and it can also mean “awe-struck” or “greatly amazed.” Regardless, the term carries with it the idea of being shocked to the point of fright. This is evident in their response to encountering the being in white: “They went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had gripped them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid” (16:8).
This was no mere mortal whom they had encountered. The “man” was an “angel.”
Enough already—we get it! Angels are sometimes called men in the Bible. But what point is this supposed to prove? That is indeed the critical question. I think the reason why Scripture describes angels and humans so similarly is obvious; this is not some shrouded mystery that has to be specially deciphered.
The answer is that human beings and angels really are closely connected. We are a lot alike, both in terms of our nature and our physical appearance.
(In case you are thinking that the angels temporarily manifest in order to look like us, I have debunked that in another blog. As far as the Bible describes things, the angels definitely have bodies.)
The closeness between angels and humans can help us to make sense of what is said in Hebrews 13:2: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.” Could it be that angels are sometimes among us, and that they are able to blend in because they are very much like us?
Another passage from Hebrews that now reads a lot differently is 2:5-9. Within that section, the following is recorded:
“What is mankind that you are mindful of them, a son of man that you care for him? You made them a little lower than the angels; you crowned them with glory and honor and put everything under their feet” (2:6-8, NIV).
The point here in Hebrews is that everything in the world was created for human beings to rule, though our disjointed world does not bear that out at present. It goes on to suggest that Jesus remedied that situation on our behalf, and that even he was “made lower than the angels for a little while” (2:9).
This further reveals that the human form is not a drastic and unrecognizable step down from the angelic form. Along with this, we already know that we were made to resemble our Creator!
For simplicity’s sake, we can look at these connections in the following way:
- God created human beings in His image and likeness (Gen. 1:26).
- Jesus came in our image and likeness (Phi. 2:7).
- At the Resurrection, Jesus rose from the dead with a transformed human body that resembles the other heavenly beings (angels). He is the “heavenly man” (1 Cor. 15:48).
- Jesus’ resurrection body is the pattern for the bodies we will one day receive (1 Cor. 15:35-49).
It is curious that, after the Resurrection, Jesus looked human but was different enough that he was not immediately recognizable by his appearance alone. This is consistent with how the Bible describes angels; they look quite human but are enhanced in some way.
When you put this information together, it is obvious that the earthly and heavenly beings resemble one another. In other words, not only were we made in God’s image, but the angels were too. Humans are lower than angels; angels are lower than God; but there are strong similarities among all three. As the previous examples prove, this even includes the way we look.
In closing, none of this is intended to suggest that we are identical to the angels (or God) in either form or power. The heavenly beings performed miracles throughout the Bible that we could only dream of doing. They also possess powers—like slipping in and out of heaven—that we could only dream of having.
However, the Bible also tells us something equally important: the gulf between angels and humans is not as large as most of us have been led to believe. When we see ourselves, we see a strong glimpse at our heavenly counterparts.
Of course, this has tremendous bearing on what it means to be made in the “image of God.” Much more needs to be said about this crucial issue, but that will have to wait until next time . . .
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 Strong’s Concordance, 1568: “ekthambeó.”