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Where Did Angels Come From?

It seems to me that the interest in angels has waned a bit across America, but this week we look at a question from Mari who asks about the origins of angels. She wants to know that if angels aren’t our ancestors, then “How come in Matthew, when Jesus talks about the children, he says that their angels continually see the face of his Father?”

The notion of humans becoming angels after death has been a popular theme in the media for some time. Cartoons show characters slipping into wings and halos as they play their harps after chasing roadrunners and falling off of cliffs. The movie It’s a Wonderful Life has humans returning to earth to redeem themselves so they can get their wings. The list of movies and shows that portray humans becoming angels (or demons!) after they die is simply too long to even try to list. But the fact of the matter is that this media hype is misinformed and it’s bad theology to boot—and reality doesn’t change just because a belief is popular.

So, where did angels come from?

Throughout the Bible the existence of angels is simply assumed, and clearly the biblical writers had no thoughts that angels were anything other than a class unto themselves. For instance, we read in Job 38 that angels were present with God at the creation of the world—indeed when creation was completed they “shouted for joy” (38.7). They were also there at the fall of Adam and Eve and placed at the garden gate with flaming swords to prevent reentry (Genesis 3.24). In both of these cases, it’s pretty difficult to assert that angels came from mortals who had died—especially since there had been no mortals before either of these stories took place. 

We find the creation of the angels mentioned specifically in Psalm 148. There we read, “Praise him, all his angels, praise him, all his heavenly hosts…. Let them praise the name of the Lord, for he commanded and they were created” (2, 5). Thus, angels were created by God as a separate and distinct being from humans.

So, why does it read in Matthew that the children’s angels are always in the sight of God?

The verse in question is found in Matthew 18.10 where we read, “See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven continually see the face of my Father in heaven.” What does it mean that their angels continually see the face of God?

I believe that the verse means just that—that each child of God has an angel appointed to them and are in God’s presence. The old school might call them Guardian Angels. We don’t hear much about Guardian Angels in the scriptures; indeed, there is only one other place where we find such a suggestion: Psalm 34.7 “The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them.” But these two verses are significant in that they indicate God’s concern for God’s children.

But this leaves one final question: Just who are God’s children? In Matthew’s account, Jesus is holding a child as he speaks, so some have implied that only the young have Guardian Angels. On the other hand, the passage in Matthew 18 opens with Jesus taking a child in his arms and announcing, “Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the Kingdom of heaven” (18.3). The implication is that all those who become like children have an assigned angel. Certainly, Psalm 34.7 quoted above suggests that those who are connected with God have angelic support assigned to them. Paul seems to agree when wrote in Romans 8 that those who believe have become children of God, thus belief or the “fear of God” is the indication of adoption as a child of God.

So, apparently it’s the child of God who has an angel assigned to them, probably of any age. But these angels are angels, not recycled humans. No, according to the scriptures humans were created above the angels; indeed, we are told we will one day become their judge (1 Corinthian 6.3). Therefore, when we’re heaven bound we will join our ancestors as children of God, not as angels who are servants of God to humanity and beyond.

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