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The Truth About Angelic Encounters -- a Case Study

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In recent years, there has been an increased interest in angels. As Christian ministers, it is critical that we have an adequate biblical understanding of angels and be able to utilize discernment when dealing with "angelic encounters."

A parishioner at Oak Hill United Methodist Church revealed to her pastors that she had been given the gift of seeing into the spiritual realm. She stated that during the Sunday morning worship services, she often saw two large angels standing near the pastors. On one occasion, the angels were weeping because of the spiritual condition of the congregation. On another occasion, one of the angels placed a comforting hand on the shoulder of the apparently distressed associate pastor. She stated that she hoped the pastor could feel the angel's comforting presence. This same parishioner had previously shared with the pastors other "revelations nom God" concerning the state of the church and things they needed to do. She always had an authoritarian, judgmental attitude when sharing her revelations. Because she had also shared her past history, which included involvement with the occult prior to her becoming a Christian, the pastors were never quite sure how to respond to her revelations.

While discussing the case of angelic encounters, our team discovered that each team member believed very strongly in the existence of angels. In fact, three of the four members of our group had experienced an encounter with a "person" who, upon reflection, was considered to be an angel. These personal encounters with angels in human form, which are witnessed by others, seem to be much easier to comprehend than visions of angels seen by only one person. Our team chose to investigate angels further to determine: what the scriptures teach about angels, how angels manifest themselves, and how we can discern if an angel is nom God. The answers to these questions will assist us in drawing conclusions and responding to the parishioner who reports an angelic encounter to us.

The existence of angels is clearly evidenced in the scriptures. In fact, angels are mentioned nearly

300 times in the Bible.1 Just over half of the biblical books (34 out of 66) refer to angels, with the references evenly distributed between the Old and the New Testaments.2

From scriptures we learn that angels are spiritual beings created by God (Col. 1: 16). They do not possess physical bodies although they may take on physical bodies when necessary in order to carry out God's appointed task. They can feel, think, and display emotions and may manifest themselves to humans by speaking and/or appearing.3 The angels are capable of moral judgment. This is evidenced by the fact some of them rebelled and fell from their position in heaven (2 Pet. 2:4, Jude 6). They are intelligent beings as demonstrated in the way they communicate with people throughout scripture. They are powerful creatures; consider the angel who easily rolled the stone from the tomb of Jesus. In 2 Pet. 2: 11 we read that angels are greater in might and power than men, and Ps. 103:20 states that "angels excel in strength." Although powerful, they are still limited to one place at a time, as are all created beings.

Scripture reveals that angels are God's servants who carry out some of His plans on earth. They serve as messengers, bringing God's message to people on earth (Lk. 1:11-19; Acts 8:26; etc.). They carry out some of God's judgments (2 Sam. 24:16-17; 2 Chron. 32:21; etc.). Angels also fight against demonic forces (Dan. 10:13; Rev. 12:7-8).

Angels are great examples for us in the way they worship and obey God. The scriptures tell us that the seraphim continually praise God for his holiness (Isa. 6:2-3), as do the four living creatures (Rev. 4:8). Hebrews 12:22-23 tells us that when we come before God in worship, we are joining a great throng of angels. The angels take great pleasure in performing the tasks God gives them, no matter how large or

'Billy Graham, Angels: God's Secret Angels (Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Company, 1975), 14.

2Douglas Connelly, Angels Around Us (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press for Guideposts, 1994), 4.

3Graham, 28.

small. God's will is done in heaven by angels immediately, joyfully, and without question.4

Scripture confirms that angels minister to Christians personally. The angels' business is to defend and protect God's children from evil (Ps. 34:7), direct their ways (Acts 12:5-11), and comfort and provide for them (Gen. 16:7). Hebrews 1:14 sums up the purpose of angels on earth nicely: they are spiritual beings sent by God to minister to those who will inherit salvation.

From all the scripture references, it is obvious that angels do indeed exist and serve very important roles as God's messengers and servants. The question then remains: how do angels manifest themselves in this world? From the references in the Bible, we find that angels seem to vary in their appearance. They apparently are not confined to any specific form or shape, but assume various forms and appearances according to the nature of the work they are required to perform and the will of God. Sometimes they have wings, and sometimes they are like fife. In many instances they behave and act just like we do: they sit, stand, look like women, look like men, talk, eat, and sing. In other instances, the Bible describes them as being spirits, wind and fire. 5

Sometimes angels manifest themselves visibly and/or audibly. In the Bible angels presented themselves to Daniel (Dan. 5), Jacob (Gen. 32:1-2), Moses (Ex. 3), Philip (Acts 8:26) and John (Rev. l: l3), among many others. There are scores of books which contain accounts of angels visiting people today to provide protection, comfort, and guidance. Sometimes these reports speak of angels as large or strong. Often they will have wings, carry swords, and be radiant in appearance. At other times, angels appear in human form. One of our team members reports



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