Today’s post is written by Tim Chester and is sponsored by Christian Focus Publications. Tim is a senior faculty member of Crosslands Training and the author of over 40 books, including Angels: When Heaven Meets Earth. He has a PhD in theology, a PgDip in history and 25 years’ experience of pastoral ministry.
“My grandma’s house is full of angels.”
I must have looked a somewhat quizzical, so she clarified: “Statues and pictures.”
“Is she a Christian?” I asked.
“Oh no. It’s angels that she’s into.”
“Does she believe in God?”
“I guess so.”
“But angels …?”
“Oh yes. She’s really into angels.”
Perhaps you’ve had conversations like this. Perhaps you’ve seen angelic figurines or angel prayer cards in a neighbour’s home. There’s every chance your local bookshop has a section for accounts of angelic encounters. People are interested in angels.
My own hunch is that, in the midst of a scary world, angels offer a sense of other-worldly protection. We’ve lived for the past two years in a time when death has stalked unseen through the air around us – in the form of the coronavirus. So perhaps its unsurprising that many people long for an unseen protector to linger in the air around them. The big attraction of angels – or so it seems to many people – is that they offer this protection without the demands that organised religion is perceived to make. People want protection without obedience, comfort without allegiance.
Whatever the reasons, people are interested in angels.
Many of us have assumed we are living in a post-religious era where superstition has been replaced by science. The people of our day, we assume, are rationalists who value rational enquiry and empirical evidence. And they are materialists who believe the world we can see and touch – the world that science can investigate – is all there is. And we’ve prepped apologetic ammo accordingly. We know what to say when people question miracles or point to suffering. We can explain how science need be no enemy of faith.
This version of our times is true. But it’s only half the picture. There is another side to modernity. It’s a side populated by superstition, tarot, spiritualism, horoscopes, mediums – and angels. The supernatural is alive and kicking over on this side of modernity’s fence. And the people who live in this terrain are asking different apologetic questions that require different answers.
They want to know about angels. So what will we tell them?
In the past I’ve tended to steer clear of angels. Not in life, of course – I’m not sure what one might do to avoid an angel! No, I’ve avoided angels in conversations with unbelievers. It’s felt like too much of a weird place to start. I’ve assumed I was talking to rationalists and so angels would get the conversation off on the wrong foot. I’d rather get on to safer ground – like creation (lots of overlap with science), or sin (plenty of empirical evidence for that), or resurrection (a bit trickier, but a clear and central claim). By contrast angels are a bit spooky. In a rationalist’s mind they’re in the same category as ghosts. If I start here, I’ve assumed, then I’ll lose people straight away.
But it turns out that angels are a good place to start with many people. Nearly eight in ten Americans believe in angels. Even among those who never attend church it’s four out of ten. In the United Kingdom one in three people believe they have a guardian angel. Every tenth person in your street or workplace thinks they may have seen or heard an angel in some way.
Even among die-hard rationalists and materialists angels are a route into a conversation about heaven, souls, spiritual realities and eternity. It’s a short step from there to a conversation about the God who entered our world from outside at the incarnation. Life beyond physical matter and life after death go hand in hand.
So let’s talk about angels. But of course let’s not stop at angels. Perhaps the longest sustained passage in the Bible on angels is Hebrews 1. Here the writer repeatedly compares angels to Jesus, and every time Jesus is shown to be superior. Angels point us to Jesus. That’s their job. Indeed the word “angel” is actually a job title – the word means “messenger”. Angels are God’s messengers. Most famously they were the messengers who heralded the news of Christ’s coming on the first Christmas day. They filled the skies with the sound of song when Jesus was born. What is their message? The angel who appeared to the shepherds said:
“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:10-12)
Their message is Jesus: a Saviour, the Messiah, the Lord.
The angelic host then sing: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.” (Luke 1:14) “Peace on earth,” we often say, as if this was a lame exhortation to get on with one another. But this is peace from God coming to humanity. When we rejected God, we declared war on God. We made him our enemy. But now God has declared peace – peace through the mediation of the child in the manger who will became the Lord on the cross. The death and resurrection of Jesus are our only hope. This is want angels declare and this is what fills their songs.
So angels are a great starting point. But let’s makes sure the end point is Jesus.
Get your copy of Angels: When Heaven Meets Earth here.
 “Nearly 8 in 10 Americans Believe in Angels,” CBS News, 23 December 2011, https://www.cbsnews.com/news/poll-nearly-8-in-10-americans-believe-in-angels/; accessed September 8, 2021.
 The Bible Society, “A Third of All Brits Believe in Guardian Angels,” 13 December 2016, https://www.biblesociety.org.uk/latest/news/a-third-of-all-brits-believe-in-guardian-angels/; accessed August 30, 2021.