Angels are weird. They aren’t absent from the Bible, just look at the first few chapters of Matthew and you will see them popping up all over the place. But they aren’t a focus by any means. They appear in numerous Bible stories, but just as mysteriously as they appear, they vanish.
To say that these celestial beings live only in the pages of the Scriptures would be to deny the experience of many Christians. I’d wager that if you went into any church in North America, even the world, someone in the congregation would have a story of how they encountered an angel. It may have been a stranger that blessed them and disappear in the blink of an eye. It could have been a winged, white robed messenger with divine words to share. And if you don’t have your own angel story (like me), chances are good that you know a Christian that has one.
But what are we supposed to do with stories of angels?
I can’t recall ever hearing a sermon about angels, only that they get a passing mention in many Old Testament stories and a few New Testament passages. But if something is mentioned in the Bible, we need to examine it, thinking about it, and then take some action.
After all, the writer of Hebrews said,
“Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” – Hebrews 13:2
So, what should our response to angels be?Here are 3 potential responses to seeing or hearing from an angel.
1. Absolute Terror
Whenever an angel appeared, regardless of the person, their power, or position, they were all afraid, scared, or terrified of what stood before them.
From the mother of Jesus to the shepherds that watched their flocks by night, to Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, and Cornelius, the God-fearing centurion in the book of Acts, all of them reacted with fear when they saw or heard from an angel. That is why so many angel-human conversations start with “fear not” because people were terrified of what was in front of them.
I’m not saying that angels are ugly or scary to look at (although the seraphim and cherubim are all kinds of weird, Isaiah 6 and Ezekiel 10), but there is something about their appearance or presence that bothers us. When the women went to the tomb after the crucifixion of Jesus, they saw a man whose appearance was like lightning. Whether it was that bright a white or something else, angels can be terrifying.
But this is still a poor response. To be terrified of them would be to ignore their opening remarks of “Fear not”. It would also display an ignorance about God wanting good things for us, that His plans and purposes are for a future and hope, not our destruction (Jer. 29:11).
Reacting to an angel with terror or fear is a potential response, but not one that the Bible would recommend we take.
The book of Hebrews does say that for a time Jesus was made a little low than the angels (Heb. 2:9), and by logical conclusion, Jesus as a man on earth was on the same level as everyone else; lower than angels. Or, angels are higher, more glorified, more special (somehow) than humanity.
It is easy to see where people would take such a conclusion and run too far with it. If something is greater, or higher than I am, why not give it worship? Why not honour it with prayers, songs, or whatever form of worship it may want?
Well, for starters, that would be idolatry.
Consider what Jesus says to Satan when Jesus was offered all the kingdoms of the world,
“Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’” – Matthew 4:10, quoting Deut. 6:13
Offering worship to anyone or anything other than God is idolatry, a sin. That would include angels. Yes, they are higher than we are, but that doesn’t elevate them to godhood or a part of the Trinity. They are created beings, subject to their Creator the same as we are.
The Apostle Paul had some very harsh, but clear, words to say about people that worshipped angels.
“Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you. Such a person also goes into great detail about what they have seen; they are puffed up with idle notions by their unspiritual mind. They have lost connection with the head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.” – Colossians 2:18-19
Paul concludes that people that worship angels have lost out on their relationship with God by chasing something else. Like a head without a body, they are dead.
Worshipping angels is a potential response, but again, clearly, the Bible treats this as a bad one.
This isn’t a word that is used much anymore, so allow me to define this so that we avoid any confusion or misunderstandings.
Revere, or to have reverence for is to regard someone or something with profound respect. To revere is to honour, mingled with awe.
For example, when Joshua is meet by the angel of the Lord’s army, Joshua asked,
“‘Are you for us or for our enemies?’ ‘Neither,’ he replied, ‘but as commander of the army of the LORD I have now come.’ Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence,…” – Joshua 5:13-14
This wasn’t Joshua worshipping the angel, though some translations will use the word ‘worship’. It is an act of respect. Joshua is humbling himself before someone that is greater than he. He recognised that he was in the presence of someone special.
I would compare it to meeting a celebrity. You see them on the seat, and you are amazed and confused that Beyoncé would ever be in the same breathing space as you. You try to form words, but your mouth is a babbling brook. You are amazed, but you don’t worship her. You’d be happy with a selfie, not to kiss her feet.
Or a veteran, someone that has offered to lay everything, or has laid it all down, and served their country in a military capacity. You honour them on Remembrance Day. You stand straight and tall as they walk by. You stay quiet for that moment of silence at eleven o’clock.
You honour them. You revere them. It isn’t worshipped or idolising, although people can take it too far in either case. But that respecting and dutiful acknowledgment was exactly what Joshua did when he was face to face with an angel. And I believe that this is an appropriate response for us today.
It is actually the only potential response that a Christian should have. Not fear or trembling. Not worship or idolatry. But a humble and honouring attitude.
If you come face to face with an angel and are the recipient of a divine message, show some respect. That might mean you do kneel down, as a servant before the messenger of your Heavenly King. It might mean you bow your head in humility throughout the entire event. You might even go so far as to lay down prostate, a symbol of total submission to whatever God may say or have you do.
Whatever you choose to do, let it be an act of respect and honour. It isn’t everyone that has an angel deliver them a message. God must have something pretty important to say if you do get a visit from a heavenly host.
This is the best response a Christian can have towards seeing an angel. Yes, there are other options, but they fall so short of being good options. Should we find ourselves entertaining angels or face to face with a commander of the armies of the Lord, let us follow the example of Joshua. Revere the angels, and listen to what they say.