Are There Angels Among Us?


Around this time of year, angel movies abound on UP and The Hallmark Channel. Movies like the trilogy (“A Town Without Christmas”, “Finding John Christmas”, and “When Angels Come To Town”) starring Peter Falk where he plays an angel named Max where he intervenes in peoples’ lives to make their lives better than they are and to bring about God’s will for their lives. Of course, who can forget the timeless classic “It’s A Wonderful Life” where a man named George Bailey contemplates committing suicide but an angel named Clarence intervenes to stop him. When George tells him his friends and family would be better off if he were born, God knows that this would not in fact be the case. So, He and Clarence show George how things would have ended up in that possible world where he was never born. And who could forget the show Touched By An Angel starring Roma Downey and Della Reese?

But are these movies theologically accurate? Does God send angels as one his means of providentially ordering human history? I happen to think that He does, or last that He can and has. The Old Testament abounds with instances of angels appearing to people in human form just like Max and Clarence did in the movies I mentioned above. The first recorded instance of angels appearing to humans looking like humans themselves was in the book of Genesis. In Genesis 18 we read that one day Abraham was sitting at the entrance to his tent during the hottest part of the day (Genesis 18:1), He looked up and noticed three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he ran to meet them and welcomed them, bowing low to the ground (Genesis 18:2). Abraham then offered them to rest by his tent, under the shade of a tree, and that he would bring water to wash their feet. Then he told them he would offer food for them to eat before they continue on their journey. They accepted his hospitable offer (Genesis 18:3-5). They then sat down and ate the meal, the angels told Abraham that Sarah would conceive a son, Sarah laughed because she knew she was old and could not conceive, but they assured her she would indeed conceive and give birth to a son…because God is omnipotent and can do anything logically possible (Genesis 18:6-14).

Many interpreters consider these men to be angels that appeared to Abraham, and I would agree with them. I believe it says that they were “men” because that’s how they appeared to Abraham and Sarah. They looked like ordinary people. It’s the same reason why Joshua says “the sun” stood still (Joshua 10:13). It’s not that the sun literally stood still. That’s just how it appeared to Joshua. The text was using observational language, and I believe that it’s using that language here too. However, I believe that only 2 of them were angels. It’s very probable that 1 of them was God (whether it be the Father, Son, Or Holy Spirit, I do not know). But this was likely one of the persons of the Trinity appearing to Abraham in the form of a man. Now, this was not an incarnation like we had with Jesus. This instance in Genesis was that God appeared to be a human being but was not really. It was more like a visual projection of God. God would not ACTUALLY become a true, genuine human being until thousands of years later at the incarnation of the second person. The reason I believe that one of them was God and the other two were angels comes from the way Abraham talked to that one particular person. The scriptures say that this man sitting there is “The Lord”. And when they got up from their meal to walk away, the text says “Should I hide my plan from Abraham?” the Lord asked. ‘For Abraham will certainly become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth will be blessed through him.  I have singled him out so that he will direct his sons and their families to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just. Then I will do for Abraham all that I have promised.' So the Lord told Abraham, 'I have heard a great outcry from Sodom and Gomorrah, because their sin is so flagrant. 'I am going down to see if their actions are as wicked as I have heard. If not, I want to know.'" - Genesis 18:17-21

Abraham also, when asking if there how few righteous people were needed to spare the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, continues to call this man “Lord” and the text refers to him as “The Lord”. And when this man responds, he doesn’t refer to God in the third person, He refers to God in the first person. I.e If I find fifty righteous people in Sodom, I will spare the entire city for their sake.” Not “If I find fifty righteous people in the city, God will spare the city for their sakes”. He says “If I find 50 righteous… I will spare it.” So I’m certain that this was a divine theophany. But the other two were likely angels. The same angels that appeared to Abraham that day, helped Lot and his family escape Sodom prior to its destruction later on that night.

Another instance is in Genesis 32, where Jacob wrestles with a man all night long during his long journey back home from Laban’s house and after he had some men send gifts to Esau ahead of him. Now, I’ve always wondered whether this was an angel that Jacob fought or whether it was yet another theophany. Once the man disappeared, Jacob exclaimed “I have seen the face of God and have been spared!” (Genesis 32:30). That seems to suggest it was God in a theophany rather than an angel. Although it’s possible that Jacob was mistaken. It’s possible that he thought he was seeing God in human appearance like he had appeared to his Grandfather (surely Jacob knew about this instance, it’s such an interesting story, I’m sure his grandfather Abraham would have told him about it at some point) whereas it was really an angel instead. People take different stances on this instance. And I’m not sure which way to go on it myself. Jacob said it was “God” but the inspired text itself doesn’t tell us like in the case of Genesis 18. The Bible could be accurately recording Jacob’s mistake.

Later, where we know for sure based on what the text says, an angel appeared to Joshua right before they waged war on the city of Jericho (Joshua 5:13-15). There are many scriptural examples of angelic encounters, so we know that God can and does use angels to accomplish certain things. We don’t know how often angels allow themselves to be seen by people. It may be very frequently, it may be a rare or uncommon occurrence. We don’t really know. Here are the basic facts regarding angels from holy word of God: angels can instruct people (Genesis 16:9), be of assistance (Daniel 6:22), distribute messages to people that God wants them to know (Luke 1:35), appear in visions and dreams (Daniel 10:13), protect people (Exodus 23:20), and help carry out God’s plans.

"Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares." - Hebrews 13:2

So yeah, angels can appear like this to people in human form. What we don’t know is how often this happens or if it even happens at all anymore. Nevertheless, what we do know, based on scripture, is that it can happen and has happened.