ARE ANGELS THE ONLY CREATED BEINGS IN HEAVEN? Many people believe that all the various created beings in heaven are angels, and that angels actually have two wings. But is this actually true, according to the Bible? And what about the cherub? Does it actually look like a cute little baby with wings? But if cherubs are angels too, then why are they called “cherubs” and not “angels”? In this study, I want to look at what the Bible actually teaches us about these heavenly beings that God created.
In contrast to what many people believe, or have been erroneously taught, there are actually different types of beings in the heavenlies, not just one. I find it problematic in the church that we want to simplify what the Bible teaches for people, but oftentimes, we oversimplify to the point where what we’re saying isn’t actually true.
For example, the inclusion of the wise men at Jesus’ birth. We have them arrive at the manger, and we even identify them as “kings,” but this isn’t what the Bible teaches. The Bible says that they were “wisemen,” and no where does it identify them as “kings,” and they didn’t show up at the manger, but by the time, they arrived, Joseph, Mary and Jesus were living in a house, and Jesus is described NOT as a “babe” or an “infant,” but as a young child (Matthew 2:11). So why do we continue to teach something that’s not biblically true? It’s tradition! In the same sense, why do we continue to teach that all the living beings in heaven are “Angels”? For the same reason, it’s tradition!
But as I’ll show, they are not all angels at all, but three different types of created beings: the Seraphim, the Cherubim, and the Angels. In other words, they are NOT all angels. Each of them live in heaven and have a part to play in God’s Kingdom. But interestingly, the pictures we often visualize of them are often partially inaccurate, such as with Angels, or completely inaccurate, such as with the Cherubim. So what does the Bible teach actually us about them?
A VIEW OF GOD’S THRONE IN HEAVEN
In Revelation 4, the Apostle John has a vision of him going up into heaven, and he describes the throne of God:
and behold, a throne was standing in heaven, and One sitting on the throne. And He who was sitting was like a jasper stone and a sardius in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne like an emerald in appearance. And around the throne were twenty-four thrones; and upon the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white garments, and golden crowns on their heads. (Revelation 4:2-4)
The “rainbow” around the throne is an allusion to the covenant that God made with humanity and the earth, not to destroy the whole earth again with a major flood.
WHO ARE THE 24 ELDERS?
Now there’s a variety of opinions as to the identity of the twenty-four elders. The reason for the diversity of opinion is that the Apostle John NEVER identifies who the twenty-four elders are. Some of these opinions are the following:
- They are comprised of Adam, Abel, Seth, and his family line down to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob;
- They represent the combined priesthood of all believers (Old Testament Israel and New Testament believers combined, Jew and non-Jew);
- The 12 sons of Jacob and the 12 Apostles;
- The Old Testament glorified Jewish saints who were raised “first in the firstfruits” resurrection of Christ;
- They are representatives of the raptured Church; or
- They represent the completed body of redeemed humanity.
As we can see, there’s a great diversity of opinion as to who these 24 elders are; however, the one thing that most sources agreed upon was that they were glorified human beings. Those who argued that they were angels were few. But moving on, John then goes on to say,
And from the throne proceed flashes of lightening and sounds of peals of thunder. And there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven spirits of God; and before the throne there was as it were, a sea of glass like crystal;… (Revelation 4:5-6a).
The “flashes of lightening and sounds of thunder” are the same sights and sounds that Moses and the children of Israel saw at Mt. Sinai (Exodus 19:16). The number “seven” represents completeness, and we can see that there are “seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are,” we are told, “the seven spirits of God.” The Holy Spirit is pictured here as “seven spirits,” because God’s Spirit is complete in His power and revelation. It is here at this point that the first of the four created beings is introduced.
TYPE 1: THE SERAPHIM
I’ve chosen the Seraphim (pron. “Ser-ah-feem“) to describe first because they are the ones John mentions here in his vision, and they are continually involved in worship in heaven. The Seraphim are not only described by John, but they were also described by Isaiah centuries before in Isaiah 6. In English, we indicate that something is in the plural when we add the letter “s” to the end of a noun (like “house” sing.; “houses” pl.) but in Hebrew, this is done sometimes by adding an “im” (pron. “eem“) at the end of the word (“Seraph” sing, “Seraphim” pl).
The word “Seraphim” means “Burning Ones,” because of their continual zealous passion for God, and they continually fly around the throne of God, calling out to the other, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD God Almighty.” The are described here in Isaiah 6:2-4,
SERAPHIM stood above Him [the LORD], each having six wings; with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called out to another and said, “Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory.” And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the Temple was filling with smoke. [Emphasis Mine]
The Seraphim as we can see do not have two wings, but six wings. A pair of wings covering the face is a position of humility, a pair of wings covering the feet is a position of respect, and with the other two wings, they use to fly and get around. John also saw this same sight, as I mentioned, in Revelation 4:
and around the throne, four living creatures full of eyes in front and behind. And the first creature was like a lion, and the second creature like a calf, and the third creature had a face like that of a man, and the fourth creature was like a flying eagle. And the four living creatures, each one of them having six wings, are full of eyes around and within; and day and night they do not cease to say, “Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who to come.” (Revelation 4:6-8)
Now although John calls them “four living creatures,” rather than Seraphim (this word may not have translated well into Greek), I believe they are the same ones from Isaiah’s vision. Like in Isaiah’s vision, these created beings are flying around the throne, they have six wings, and they do not cease to say, “Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD God, the Almighty.” And in these three details, these two scenes are exactly alike; however, in John’s account, there are some added details not given by Isaiah.
- Their bodies and wings are full of eyes in front and behind; and
- The first creature was like a lion; the second like a calf; the third had a face like a man’s, and the fourth was like a flying eagle.
So what’s the purpose for all the eyes and what do each of their faces represent? I believe these two characteristics are symbolic of certain traits of God, such as the eyes representing the eternality of God. Only He can see the past, present, and future all at the same time, and so the eyes are able to look forward and back.
But what about the four faces? Although the Bible never indicates their meaning, the following is my own thoughts. The “lion” could represent Jesus as “the lion of the tribe of Judah” (Genesis 49:9; Revelation 5:5); the “calf” could represent Jesus as “the ultimate sacrifice of sin” (Hebrews 9:12, 14; 10:10-14); the “face of a man” could represent Jesus, “the son of man” (Daniel 7:13-14); but it was my wife, Karen, who suggested the last one, “the flying eagle” could represent God’s statement to Israel that “I bore you on eagle’s wings, and brought you to Myself” (Exodus 19:4).
TYPE 2: THE CHERUBIM
The next type are the Cherubim. The Cherubim are different from the Seraphim, but as we shall see, they do share a few characteristics. Although the Seraphim’s function is primarily worship, the primary function of the Cherubim is to be guardians of God’s Holy Presence and His Throne, in addition to worship and serving God. In fact, in many ways, I imagine the Cherubim as being like God’s “Secret Service Agents,” thus giving them a high ranking and position among God’s created beings.
Some might wonder, “As great as God is, why does He need Cherubim to guard or protect Him and His Throne?” Rather than Him personally, they protect the sanctity and purity of His holiness and Presence, as well as the holiness of His Throne. God is at war with the Kingdom of Darkness, and Satan, the prince of Darkness, would do anything to defile any and everything that belongs to God, if given the chance. Consequently, the reason for God’s Cherubim and His angels, His military force.
The first place the Cherubim are mentioned is in Genesis. Adam and Eve have sinned against God, and as punishment, they have been driven out of the Garden of Eden.
So He drove the man out; and at the east of the Garden of Eden He stationed the CHERUBIM, and the flaming sword which turned every direction, to guard the way to the tree of life. (Genesis 3:24; Emphasis Mine)
Noticed it was NOT angels that God posted there, but cherubim. But aren’t angels just another name for cherubim? No, for as we will see in this study, angels and cherubim look nothing alike, nor do they have the same duties. In describing the Cherubim, God provides Ezekiel a vision of them in two passages: Ezekiel 1 and Ezekiel 10.
THE BIBLICAL DESCRIPTION OF THE CHERUBIM
In this first passage, Ezekiel the priest, son of Buzi, is at the river Chebar with the other exiles in Babylon, when the heavens are opened, and he sees this vision of God. It is in this vision, where he first sees what he later identifies as the cherubim. This is how he describes them:
And within it there were figures resembling four living beings. And this was their appearance: they had human form. Each of them had four faces and four wings. And their legs were straight and their feet were like a calf’s hoof, and they gleamed like burnished bronze. Under their wings on their four sides were human hands. As for the face and wings of the four of them, their wings touched one another; their faces did not turn when they moved, each went straight forward. As for the form of their faces, each had the face of a man, all four had the face of a lion on the right and the face of a bull on the left, and all four had the face of an eagle. Such were their faces. Their wings were spread out above; each had two touching another being, and two covering their bodies. And each went forward; wherever the Spirit was about to go, they would go, without turning as they go. (Ezekiel 1:5-12)
In this initial passage, we learn that the cherubim are not anything like what they are often portrayed as cute little babies with wings. Instead, Ezekiel describes them as being human in form, but with four faces and four wings with feet “like a calf’s hoof” that “gleamed like burnished bronze.” Their four faces were those of a man, a lion, a bull, and an eagle. Each of the faces of the Seraphim are combined to compose the face of each of the Cherubim. By combining these four faces onto one face, this may be a way of indicating their higher position. But unlike the Seraphim, the Cherubim only have four wings, rather than six, and as we shall see further into this study, neither the Seraphim or the Cherubim look anything like angels.
In Ezekiel 10, he not only identifies this time that what he is describing are, in fact, Cherubim, but he also discusses in great detail about the wheels associated with them. Now in my research, I discovered that there are many speculations and ideas about who or what the wheels represent, but since this post is already rather lengthy, I want to stay focused on only the cherubim themselves.
And their whole body, their backs, their hands, their wings, and the wheels were full of eyes all around, the wheels belonging to all four of them. The wheels were called in my hearing, the whirling wheels. And each one had four faces. The first face was the face of a cherub, the second face was the face of a man, the third the face of a lion, and the fourth the face of an eagle. Then the cherub rose up. They are the living beings that I saw by the river Chebar (those he described in chapter 1). (Ezekiel 10:12-15)
Here we can see a shared description with the Sepharim, their bodies being covered in eyes and, of course, this would have been for the same reason. But in this description, what’s translated as “the face of a cherub” would have been “the face of an ox” that He gave earlier.
In Ezekiel 10, the glory of the LORD is seen leaving the Temple in Jerusalem before the Babylonian conquest began, but afterwards, Ezekiel again reiterates his description, and that these were, indeed, cherubim.
These are the living beings that I saw under the God of Israel by the river Chebar; so I knew that they were cherubim. Each one had four faces and each one four wings, and beneath their wings was the form of human hands. As for the likeness of their faces, they were the same faces whose appearance I had seen by the river Chebar. Each one went straight ahead. (Ezekiel 10:20-22)
Obviously, the Cherubim do not look anything like a cute little baby with wings. But from Ezekiel’s description, we learn that they have a human-like male form with four faces. They have the face of a man, a lion, an ox, and an eagle. They have straight legs, and the soles of their feet look like the hoofs of a calf. They also have four wings: two wings are used to fly and two wings cover their bodies, and their bodies and wings, like the Seraphim, are covered in eyes.
As God’s guardians of His Presence, it is NOT surprising, then, that God would have their images stationed within the Tabernacle and, then later on, in the Temple. For example, we find,
- Two cherubim stationed on either side of the mercy seat, representing His throne and where He would meet with His people (Exodus 25:18-20, 22; 37:7-9; Numbers 7:89; I Samuel 4:4; 2 Samuel 6:2; I Kings 6:23-28: 8:6-7; 2 Kings 19:15; I Chronicles 13:6; 28:18; 2 Chronicles 5:7-8; Hebrews 9:5).
- Two cherubim woven into the Temple Veil, guarding the way into the Holy of Holies (Exodus 26:1, 31; 36:8, 35; 2 Chronicles 3:10-14).
- Cherubim, palm trees, and open flowers are carved into the walls of Solomon’s Temple (I Kings 6:29; 2 Chronicles 3:7) and in the two doors of the Temple (I Kings 6:32, 35; Ezekiel 41:24-25).
- Cherubim are also carved on the borders between the ledges and on the plates of the ledges (I Kings 7:29, 36).
Although the images of the cherubim are seen throughout the tabernacle and later Temple artistically, I do not believe this implies that they are only artistic expressions and do not really exist, as I read in one Internet article. Instead, I believe that this demonstrates artistically those who are the guardians of the sanctity and holiness of God’s Presence and His throne in heaven.
INSIGHT INTO THE TRIBULATION TEMPLE?
Also, in describing what I believe to be the Temple that will be built and used during the Tribulation period (Ezekiel 40-42), the carvings of the cherubim in the wall have a pattern of a cherub with man’s face, palm tree, cherub with lion’s face, and a palm tree, and this pattern is repeated throughout this Temple (Ezekiel 41:18-20). What are not portrayed are the cherubim’s four faces that Ezekiel described them having earlier (in chapters 1 and 10).
The change of the faces of the cherubim might be indicative of two possible reasons:
- To communicate the denial of the reality of the biblical cherubim, and that they themselves are the true guardians of God’s Presence: cherub with a man’s face, representing humanity, and the cherub with a lion’s face, representing the tribe of Judah being the common image for Israel; or
- To communicate that Israel at that time only accepts the two faces of the cherubim (the man and the lion), while rejecting the meaning of the other two faces (the ox and the eagle).
These are only speculations on my part, but the cherubim described here are not representative of the cherubim we see in the earlier part of the Ezekiel’s writings.
TYPE 3: THE ANGELS
Unlike the Seraphim and the Cherubim, there’s NOT ONE single verse in the Bible that ever describes Angels as having wings. Our belief that they have two wings is actually derived from paintings, sculptures, and other artistic works, rather than on the Bible. Instead, the Bible consistently describes as only “men” or “good-looking men.” For example,
And when he [Abraham] lifted up his eyes and looked, behold, three MEN were standing opposite him; and when he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them, and bowed himself to the earth. (Genesis 18:2; Emphasis Mine)
Notice that although we discover later that these men were angels, there’s no indication in the account of them having wings. We can also see this is in the following chapter in the account of the destruction of Sodom. In Genesis 19, we read,
Now the TWO ANGELS came to Sodom in the evening as Lot was sitting in the gate of Sodom. When Lot saw them, he rose to meet them and bowed down with his face to the ground. (Genesis 19:1; Emphasis Mine)
Later the men of Sodom come pounding on Lot’s door. Notice how they describe these TWO ANGELS,
and they [the men of Sodom] called to Lot and said to him, “Where are the MEN who came to you tonight? Being them out to us that we may have relations [i.e., sexual relations] with them.” (Genesis 19:5; Emphasis Mine)
There’s no indication that the men of the Sodom saw these visitors as anything other than good-looking men. Again, not even the slightest hint of them having wings. How about in the New Testament? In Matthew’s account of the resurrection of Jesus, he writes,
And behold, a severe earthquake had occurred, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled away the stone and sat upon it. And HIS APPEARANCE was like lightning, and his garment was white as snow; and the guards shook for fear of him, and became like dead men. (Matthew 28:2-4; Emphasis Mine)
Again, we see in the description of the angel that he was brilliantly bright like lightning, and even his garment (or clothes) was white as snow, but there’s absolutely no mention of him having wings. It seems evident that if he would’ve had wings, the women would have told Matthew about it. How about one last example in the book of Acts? As Jesus was ascended into heaven TWO ANGELS appear to Jesus’ disciples. Notice how they are described:
And as they [the disciples] were gazing intently into the sky while He [Jesus] was departing, behold, TWO MEN IN WHITE CLOTHING stood beside them; and they also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:10-11: Emphasis Mine)
Again, did you notice that they were described as “MEN IN WHITE CLOTHING,” who were just suddenly there, but there’s no mention or hinting of them having wings. Consequently, there’s absolutely no biblical basis for the idea that angels have wings.
BUT WHAT DO ANGELS DO?
The angels serve four functions in God’s Kingdom. Their primary function is as God’s military force, but they also serve as servants, worshipers, and messengers.
AS GOD’S MILITARY FORCE
For example, as mentioned earlier, God sent out two of His angels as a detail to rescue Lot and his family and to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. There’s also the example of the Angel of the LORD who was sent out to defend Jerusalem from an attack by the Assyrians. In response to this threat, the Angel of the LORD “struck (or killed) 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians; and when [the other] men arose early in the morning, behold all of these were dead. So Sennacherib, king of Assyria, departed and returned home, and lived at Ninevah” (Isaiah 37:36-37).
There’s also the example of the Archangel Michael being dispatched because another angel, who had a message for Daniel, had been detained in warfare with “the prince of the kingdom of Persia” (a fallen angel over Persia) for three whole weeks (Daniel 10:12-14). The fact that there’s continuing war in heaven between God’s Kingdom and the Kingdom of Darkness (Satan and his angels) in Revelation 12:7.
Jesus also alludes to them as God’s military force when He speaks about His return (Matthew 16:27), and the angels will be sent out to round up, gather, and if need be rescue His people (Matthew 24:31; Mark 26:26-27). He also refers to them as such in the Garden of Gethsemane when He tells Peter,
Jesus said to him [Peter], “Put your sword back into its place, for all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword. Or do you think that I cannot appeal to My Father, and He will at once put at My disposal MORE THAN TWELVE LEGIONS OF ANGELS?” (Matthew 26:52-53; Emphasis Mine)
One LEGION is equivalent to 6,000 troops. so more than 12 LEGIONS would be MORE THAN 72,000 ANGELS,” and this would be abundantly more than enough to deal with the soldiers who were there to arrest Jesus. And in saying this, Jesus was clearly indicating that one of the functions of Angels is as God’s military force.
AS GOD’S MESSENGERS
The word for “angel” in Hebrew is mal’akh (Strong’s #4397), and it means “angel” or “messenger.” So we see them bringing messages from God to different people, such as to Lot and his family (Genesis 19:12-13, 15-21); to Manoah and his wife (Judges 13: 2-5, 9-20); to Daniel (Daniel 8:16-26; 9:21-27; 10:10-21); to Zachariah, the father of John the Baptist 1:11-20); to Mary, the mother of Jesus (Luke 1:26-37); to Joseph (Matthew 1:19-21), and to others in the Scriptures.
In addition, here are some sample references which discuss some specific things that Angels do:
THEY GUARD, PROTECT AND RESCUE US. For example,
- Exodus 14:19, “And the angel of God, who had been going before the camp of Israel, moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud moved from before them and STOOD behind them.”
- Psalm 91:11, “For He will give His angels charge concerning you, to GUARD you in all your ways.” (Emphasis Mine)
- Daniel 6:21-22, “Then Daniel spoke to the king, ‘O king, live forever! My God sent His angel and shut the lions’ mouths, and THEY HAVE NOT HARMED ME, inasmuch as I was found innocent before Him; and also toward you, O king, I have committed no crime.” (Emphasis Mine)
THEY LEAD AND GUIDE US. For example,
- Exodus 23:20, “Behold, I am going to send an angel before you to GUARD you along the way, and to bring you into the place which I have prepared.“
THEY FIGHT AND DELIVER. For example,
- Exodus 33:2, “And I will send an angel before you and I will drive out the Canaanite, the Amorite, the Hittite, the Perizzite, the Hivite and the Jebusite.”
- Numbers 20:16, “But when we cried out to the LORD, He heard our voice and sent an angel and BROUGHT US OUT FROM EGYPT; now behold, we are at Kadesh, a town on the edge of your territory.”
- Numbers 22:31-33, “Then the LORD opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the LORD standing in the way with his drawn sword in his hand; and he bowed all the way to the ground. And the angel of the LORD said to him, “Why have you struck your donkey these three times? Behold, I have come out as an ADVERSARY, because your way was contrary to me. But the donkey saw me and turned aside from me these three times. If she had not turned aside from me, I would surely have killed you just now, and let her live.”
THEY STRENGTHEN US. For example,
- Luke 22:43, “Now an angel from heaven appeared to Him [Jesus], STRENGTHENING Him.”
THEY RESTRAIN THE WIND. For example,
- Revelation 7:1, “After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, HOLDING BACK THE FOUR WINDS of the earth, so that no wind should blow in the earth or on the sea or on any tree.”
ANGELS ARE SENT BY GOD TO MINISTER
According to Hebrews 1:14, “Are they [the angels] not all ministering spirits, sent out to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation?” Consequently, angels are sent to minister to those who are the true believers in Jesus Christ. As an example of angels saving us when we are in trouble, let me offer this example from my own personal experience:
MY OWN TESTIMONY
My family and I was driving down to visit my mom in the middle of December; however, the day before we left, we got this horrible snow storm. But regardless, I decided we were going to go anyways. It took us forever to get there. What should have been an eleven-hour drive ended up taking us twenty-three hours!
But as we were going down the free way, we were in the middle lane between semi trucks on either side of us. Then, out of nowhere, we hit an ice patch and our van was twirling in circles in between these two semis. We cried out, “Jesus!” But no sooner had we cried out for His help, the van was on the other side of the highway, facing in the opposite direction. Even to this day, I have no explanation how I got on the other side of the freeway without hitting a single semi or car. The only explanation I have is that God sent His angels to help us and to move our car to the other side of the highway. I can’t offer any other explanation.
As we’ve seen, there’s more than just ANGELIC BEINGS up in heaven, there are SERAPHIM, CHERUBIM, and the ANGELS. These three classes of spiritual beings, each have their own tasks and responsibilities in God’s Kingdom, just as you and I have our own tasks and responsibilities that we are to do as part of God’s Kingdom.
God’s Kingdom is more than just “the people and nation of Israel” or “the church,” since both of these would exclude the spiritual realm and these created beings by God. Instead, God’s Kingdom involves both the spiritual realm, as well as the physical universe, which includes Earth, and all the people and nations on this planet. These two realms constitute God’s Kingdom and territory.
Now in considering these three types of celestial beings, I’d like you to consider these three types and then ask yourself a question: Which one of these three types is Satan? He is one of these three, but which one? In my next post, I’ll give you my own answer and reasons, but until then, which one do you think he is? To provide your answer, just click on the following link: “Which One is Satan?” Survey.