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Biblically Accurate Angels: How Are Angels Described In The Bible?

“Are angels extraterrestrial beings? Why do they look scary?” That was the question a young lady asked me recently in an online discussion. She also sent me some animated images of alien-like scary creatures which were labeled as seraphim, cherubim, dominions, and powers, as well as, principalities, virtues, thrones, archangels, and angels.

The depictions of these other worldly creatures were nothing like the porcelain white angel figurines you might see on your grandmother’s end table. Neither did the celestial beings in these images resemble the baby faced cherubs holding harps and floating on clouds that are imprinted on greeting cards. These “angels” were frightening, scary, and foreboding. They were warrior-like in appearance.

With piqued curiosity, the young lady asked, “Are angels really this terrifying in appearance?”. Well, that brings up some big questions regarding the depiction of angels in the scripture.

So, How does the Bible describe the appearance of angels? What do biblically accurate angels look like? How are Angels described in the Bible? Let us see everything..

Biblically Accurate Angels: Do the Biblical angels look scary?

Considering the fact that many of the people who encountered an angel in the Bible fell down in fright at the sight of their presence, it might be safe to say that, “Yes, the appearance of an angel might be a scary encounter.” (See Daniel 8 for one example.)

Although, there are also numerous instances in the Bible in which angels appear in human form. Even in those moments, the person who encountered an angel’s presence recognized that there was something unique and different about its appearance. They knew they were interacting with a heavenly or other worldly creature.

For example, when an angel appeared to Samson’s mother to announce his birth, she told her husband, “A man of God came to me. He looked like an angel of God, very awesome” (Judges 13:6).

So, how does the Bible depict the appearance of an angel? Do they have wings? Do they wear white robes? What does an angel look like according to the bible? Are there actually different types of angels like cherubs, dominions, or archangels, and if so, what do they look like?

Biblically Accurate Angels: How are Angels Described in The Bible?

Biblically Accurate Angels: How are Angels Described in The Bible?

First, let’s consider that young lady’s initial question, “Are angels extraterrestrial beings?” because the answer to her question will be revealing concerning an angel’s physical appearance. By definition, an extraterrestrial is a living being that originates, exists, or occurs outside of the physical boundaries of earth and its atmosphere.

Therefore, an angel according to the Bible could be considered an extraterrestrial in this capacity, although most people would view them as spiritual rather than physical beings. Hebrews 1:14 declares that angels are spirits rather than material beings limited to time and space. In other words, angels are not alien life forms from a distant planet but rather spiritual entities that have the ability to take on various physical forms. We might even refer to angels as “shape shifters” who can take on different appearances when interacting with the material world.

Some people believe in a hierarchy of angels like the depictions in the drawings sent to me by that young woman: cherubs, seraphs, thrones, dominions, powers, virtues, principalities, archangels, and angels. This “hierarchy” basically comes from the order in which Paul describes the various spiritual entities in Colossians 1 in which he writes, “For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers” (Colossians 1:16).

If there are in fact angelic beings of various ranks such as principalities and powers, does the Bible give us any indication as to their appearance? Let’s use the order in which that young lady posed her question concerning the hierarchy of angels and their appearance: cherubs/cherubim, seraphs/seraphim, thrones, dominions, powers, virtues, principalities, archangels, and angels.

Types of Biblical Angels & Their Accurate Descriptions in the Bible

Biblically accurate Cherub/Cherubim:

Cherubim are the first angelic-like creatures mentioned in the Bible, and thus, that is probably why they are given the position of highest prominence in the proposed hierarchy of angels that has been devised by some biblical scholars.

According to Genesis 3:24, when Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden of Eden, God placed two cherubs in front of the entrance with flaming swords to prevent anyone from gaining access to the Tree of Life. Therefore, rather than infants with white feathered wings, these cherubs were massive guardians. King David in 2 Samuel 22:11 says that God “mounted the cherubim and flew” down to earth to rescue him. The Bible never indicates the cherubim’s position of status/authority or even refer to them as “angels” but rather as “living creatures.”

Ezekiel describes these living creatures as multi-winged beings that have multiple faces, eyes, and even “wheels.” In Ezekiel 10 the prophet had a vision of the cherubim, and he described them as a four-headed creature: “One face was that of a cherub, the second the face of a human being, the third the face of a lion, and the fourth the face of an eagle” (Ezekiel 10:14). He said that they had eyes all over their body and they moved swiftly upon four intersecting “whirling wheels” (see Ezekiel 10:11-12).

According to Ezekiel 28, Lucifer (aka. Satan/the Devil) was at one time a cherub:

You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone adorned you: carnelian, chrysolite and emerald, topaz, onyx and jasper, lapis lazuli, turquoise and beryl. Your settings and mountings were made of gold; on the day you were created they were prepared. You were anointed as a guardian cherub, for so I ordained you. You were on the holy mount of God; you walked among the fiery stones. You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created till wickedness was found in you.

Biblically accurate Seraph/Seraphim:

The Bible also mentions seraphim as winged celestial beings that appeared to Isaiah in the temple of God. They are mentioned only twice in the Bible by the prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 6:2 and Isaiah 6:6.

These seraphim are similar to the cherubim in that they have the body of a lion and the face and wings of an eagle. A similar word was used by the Egyptians to describe a mythical guardian-griffin known as a Šerref with the head and wings of an eagle and the body of a lion. There is no other biblical description or mention of seraphim outside of Isaiah 6.

Biblically accurate Thrones/Dominions/Powers/Virtues/Principalities:

The King James version of the Bible translates Colossians 1:16 as, “For by Him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by Him, and for Him.”

However, this passage does not specifically reference angels and there is no other biblical evidence of an order of importance/power in the spiritual realm.

In the Book of Daniel there is an allusion to the idea that different celestial beings, both good and evil, serve as guardians or princes over various regions of the universe in the spiritual realms (see Daniel 10), but there is no description of their appearance.

Biblically accurate Archangel:

Only two verses in the entire Bible use the designation “archangel” (See 1 Thessalonians 4:16 and Jude 1:9). In the passage in Jude this archangel is referred to as Michael. There are other references to an angelic being named Michael in both the Old and New Testaments. In Daniel 10 and Daniel 12 he is described as the angelic prince of Israel who defends the Jewish people.

According to 1 Thessalonians 4, the archangel of God will be the one to announce the inauguration of the Kingdom of God in the Last Days. Revelation 12:7 says that Michael and his angels fought against Satan and his demons in the heavenly realms. However, there is no description of what Michael looks like or if there are other “archangels.”

Biblically accurate Angels:

The word “angel” actually means “messenger” and the context in which the word appears in the Bible usually indicates that they are messengers from God. These angels apparently have the ability to fly (see Revelation 14:6), or to put it another way, because they are spiritual beings rather than physical beings, they are not limited to the same physical restraints that we are.

They have access to both heaven and earth, something that humans do not possess (see Genesis 28:12). Since they are not physical creatures, they are not limited anatomically or physically in the same way that we are. If angels are not confined to time and space, then they have the ability to work outside of the restrictions that humans are in.

So, an angel can, as we read in Acts 12:1-10, cause chains to fall off of a man’s hands and feet; they can open locked doors; and they can appear and vanish at will.

So Finally, What do Angels look like according to the Bible?

What do angels look like according to the bible?
Tetraktys via Wikimedia commons cc3.0

Unfortunately, we have formed much of our ideas about the appearance of angels, not from the Bible, but from what we have seen in works of art or the movies. In the movies, they are devilish at times, or naïve. They are usually only able to help people so far and then the rest is up to the hero or heroine of the movie to save the day. The idea is that an angel will help you with the small stuff, maybe finding your car keys, or catching you before you trip and fall, but they’re not allowed to intervene in any real serious situations in your life. Yet, that’s not what the Bible teaches. So, instead of the movies, let us look at what God’s word says about angels.

So, what does the Bible say concerning the appearance of angels? What does an angel look like according to the Scriptures? In both the Old and New Testaments, angelic messengers are often described with humanoid characteristics. They can walk, talk, and even eat. (See Genesis 19:1-3).

In some instances, they may glow or shine brightly indicating their otherworldly origin. For example, in Daniel 10 the prophet describes an angelic messenger who came to him in a vision by saying, “I looked up and there before me was a man dressed in linen, with a belt of fine gold from Uphaz around his waist. His body was like topaz, his face like lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and his voice like the sound of a multitude” (Daniel 10:5-6).

Also, Hebrews 13:2 says, “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” Therefore, angels may be among us at any given time, taking on human form. In some cases, angels carry out judgments on behalf of God or they stand as warriors and defenders on behalf of God’s people.

Above all else, that’s what I want you to understand from all of this – God loves you so much that He even created a unique spiritual creature whose purpose is often to help you and to minister to you. Do you understand how amazing that is? That your Heavenly Father loves you so much that He sends spiritual muscle with you wherever you go! Regardless of their appearance, nothing in all of creation is going to separate you from God because He has a supernatural army of angels at your side!

Dr. Richard Sams is a top Biblical and Religious educator, who holds a Doctor of Ministry degree (Evangelism and Church Growth emphasis) from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville. He has two masters’ degrees (Master of Divinity and Master of the Arts of Religion) from Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary in Lynchburg and also serves on the Pastoral Leadership Advisory Board of Liberty University. Moreover, Richard Sams has been serving as a pastor (Pastoral Ministry) at Calhoun Baptist Church in Calhoun, KY, from the past Nineteen years. He loves practically imparting biblical truths to the next generation, while occasionally conduct spiritual challenges on his facebook page facebook.com/MakeItCountChallenge