What Do Angels Look Like? +The Best (Reverse) Insult in the Bible #358
Hello friends and happy Saturday to you! Today and tomorrow’s episodes will be short due to the weekend, so let’s jump on in! Our readings for this fine Saturday include 2nd Chronicles 22 and 23, Zechariah 6, John 9 and Revelation 10. Our question of the day comes from Revelation 10, and we will read it in just a moment, but I need to highlight a couple of things in our John 9 passage first. I kind of think that John 9 is one of the funniest passages in the entire Bible, and I can’t really tell if it was intended to be funny, or not. I find the blind man to be absolutely hilarious, and a guy possessed of a very sharp wit about him. He lands one of my favorite insults in the Bible, but I think it is more of a reverse-insult, or an anti-insult.
24 So a second time they summoned the man who had been blind and told him, “Give glory to God. We know that this man is a sinner.”25 He answered, “Whether or not he’s a sinner, I don’t know. One thing I do know: I was blind, and now I can see!”26 Then they asked him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?”27 “I already told you,” he said, “and you didn’t listen. Why do you want to hear it again? You don’t want to become his disciples too, do you?”
What he says actually insults the people he is intending to insult, but to say that somebody is a disciple of Jesus isn’t really insulting, of course. After this, the Pharisees keep lighting into this guy, and he keeps walloping them back, easily getting the best of them. The lesson: Don’t enter into a battle of wits with a healed blind man when death is on the line…or a Sicilian, for that matter.
A couple of theological points in John 9 as well. John 9:41 has long intrigued me. It reads:
41 “If you were blind,” Jesus told them, “you wouldn’t have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.
It is an intriguing passage, and there are a couple of other teachings of Jesus that appear to be connected, including:
22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin. Now they have no excuse for their sin.23 The one who hates me also hates my Father.24 If I had not done the works among them that no one else has done, they would not be guilty of sin. Now they have seen and hated both me and my Father. John 15:22-24
47 And that servant who knew his master’s will and didn’t prepare himself or do it will be severely beaten.48 But the one who did not know and did what deserved punishment will receive a light beating. From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, even more will be expected. Luke 12:47-48
All three of these passages are quite theologically interesting, and I won’t dive too deeply into them today because most of what we would discuss would be unhelpful speculation. It does seem, however, that Jesus is teaching that greater knowledge of the truth brings with it greater responsibility for what you do with that truth. Perhaps this is why James notes that teachers will be judged more strictly than others – a sobering thought. I don’t think ignorance of the truth is the answer here, but this should exhort us to walk in the truth we have attained:
16 In any case, we should live up to whatever truth we have attained. (Phil 3:16)
One other theological note: You might have read before that Jesus says that HE is the light of the world and WE are the light of the world. John 9:5 sheds light on any confusion that may come from that, “5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
On to our main question. Let’s read Revelation 10, and get one of the better descriptions of an angel in the Bible:
Then I saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven, wrapped in a cloud, with a rainbow over his head. His face was like the sun, his legs were like pillars of fire,
You will immediately note that this description is very similar to the description of Jesus in Revelation 1:
13 and among the lampstands was one like the Son of Man, dressed in a robe and with a golden sash wrapped around his chest. 14 The hair of his head was white as wool—white as snow—and his eyes like a fiery flame. 15 His feet were like fine bronze as it is fired in a furnace, and his voice like the sound of cascading waters. 16 He had seven stars in his right hand; a sharp double-edged sword came from his mouth, and his face was shining like the sun at full strength.
A rainbow is also mentioned only fourish times in the Bible. In Genesis 9, after Noah and the flood, here in the description of the angel and in two descriptions of God, one in Ezekiel 1 and one in Revelation 4:
The one seated there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian stone. A rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald surrounded the throne.
As we have mentioned before, the Bible never indicates that angels have wings. Cherubim and Seraphim appear to have wings, but the Bible doesn’t call these beings angels. That noted, at least some angels can fly, including Gabriel, “while I was still in prayer, Gabriel, the man I had seen in the earlier vision, came to me in swift flight about the time of the evening sacrifice” Daniel 9:21 and “And I saw another angel flying through the sky, carrying the eternal Good News to proclaim to the people who belong to this world—to every nation, tribe, language, and people.” Revelation 14:6 Flying doesn’t necessarily mean you have wings, as Superman and Iron Man have both proved. Okay, that was a joke…but I still believe it is possible for a Heavenly being to fly without wings. Angels might have wings…just noting the Bible never says they do, but mentions wings in lots of other places.
I think it is likely that angels can shift their appearance, so to speak. Take Gabriel, for instance. In Luke 1, when Gabriel appears to Zechariah, the latter is utterly shook and terrified:
11 An angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified and overcome with fear. Luke 1:11-12
And so is Daniel, in Daniel 8:
16 I heard a human voice calling from the middle of the Ulai: “Gabriel, explain the vision to this man.”17 So he approached where I was standing; when he came near, I was terrified and fell facedown.
But Hebrews in the New Testament notes that some people have shown hospitality to angels unaware, which would be difficult to do if you were struck with terror every time you saw an angel. It seems reasonable to conclude that they can appear human from time to time, as both the books of Daniel and Zechariah indicate.
Other than our Revelation 10 passage, I know of only one other somewhat detailed description of an angel in the Bible (noting that passages like Daniel 10 and Ezekiel 8 describe Heavenly beings that are not directly called angels, and could be a description of the pre-incarnate Jesus), and that is found in the resurrection account of Matthew:
After the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to view the tomb. 2 There was a violent earthquake, because an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and approached the tomb. He rolled back the stone and was sitting on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing was as white as snow. 4 The guards were so shaken by fear of him that they became like dead men.
Again, we see extreme brightness here and also the ability to terrify. And maybe one more description, though this focuses more on clothing than appearance:
Out of the temple came the seven angels with the seven plagues, dressed in pure, bright linen, with golden sashes wrapped around their chests.
Surprisingly, as many times as angels are mentioned in the Bible, there are very sparse details given to us as to how they look. Two descriptions of their clothing: bright white, and possibly fiery legs, and an overwhelmingly bright appearance, similar to the sun or lightning.
I have never seen an angel before, and doubt very much I could draw a credible picture given the lack of description in the Bible. I would virtually guarantee that all of our pop-culture depictions of angels – as strong-looking humans with big bird-style wings and feathers – are probably way off the truth…but what do I know? I suspect that an angel is a being that we don’t know how to accurately describe, but I’ll bet we’d know one as soon as we laid eyes on him!