The study of angels leads us to wonder. Philosopher Peter Kreeft suggests that the first reason we should study the angels is because it’s fun! Maybe “fun” isn’t the best word, but an awareness of the angelic realm can elicit in us a sense of wonder and intrigue at the power, wisdom, and goodness of God in making such magnificent creatures.
Christianity is a supernatural religion. That may sound obvious, but Christians in the modern world often seem overly skeptical about things that defy material explanation—things like miracles, the soul, the afterlife, and the topic of this post: angelic beings. Our world has become (as many philosophers and theologians have noted) disenchanted, demystified, and despiritualized. But against this materialist mindset, biblical Christianity is irreducibly and unavoidably and gloriously supernatural.
So just what are angels? Angels are immaterial beings created by God to worship him, to communicate his word, to protect his people, and to otherwise serve his purposes in the world. God, who is immaterial by nature, made some things unlike him (material creatures like birds, planets, and amoebae), some things both unlike him and like him (human beings, composed of body and soul), and some things that are more purely like him (immaterial angels). Angels can appear in physical form but are by nature immaterial and incorporeal (that is, they don’t have bodies). They are invisible creatures with power beyond our imagination. So, from one perspective, angels represent the highest order of creatures that God has made; they round out, so to speak, the manifold wisdom of God.
The Greek work for angel (angelos) simply means “messenger” and may mark out one particular type of spiritual being. But the English word “angel” also serves as a general description for all such beings. Other words used in the Bible for celestial beings include cherubim (e.g., Gen. 3:14; Ex. 25:18), seraphim (Isa. 6:2, 6), spirits (Heb. 1:7), archangels (1 Thess. 4:16; Jude 9), and (perhaps) Paul’s listing of thrones, dominions, rulers, and authorities (Col. 1:16).
The Bible doesn’t give a detailed account of the angels’ creation. Presumably they were made at some point before the creation of the earth in Genesis 1 (see Job 38:7). In any event, we know that they were in fact created by God (see Col. 1:16); they are not eternal beings. The fall of a certain number of the angels is also not explicitly recorded in Scripture but rather assumed (Gen. 3:1; 2 Pet. 2:4; Jude 6; Isa. 14 and Ezek. 28 may also have the fall of Satan in the background as an analogy for downfall of certain human kings). Fallen angels are referred to as demons or evil spirits. The powerful and personal being called Satan or Beelzebul serves as their prince (Matt. 9:34; Eph. 2:2). They are permitted a certain degree of power to tempt humanity, but they operate under the ultimate authority of God (Job 1) and their doom is certain (Matt. 25:41). The “elect” angels (1 Tim. 5:21) who did not rebel were confirmed in their original righteousness and always live to do God’s will.