Popular culture reflects the true nature of angels as faithfully as a funhouse mirror. It shows glorious incorporeal spirits in fanciful shapes, from pudgy winged babies to ethereal Nature goddesses and turns these false images into almost every kind of artifact known to man. Mass media adds more distortions: human souls can earn their wings to become angels and dissatisfied angels can become human. Angels in film and fiction may serve probations on Earth, require human teammates to perform good deeds, collaborate with their demon counterparts to save the world, form homosexual attachments, or even pretend to be God.
None of the above fit angels in the Bible. Their name (Latin angelus from the Greek angelos) means “messenger” because they carry messages and execute commands for God. Collectively, they are the heavenly court, eternally praising their Creator in music, song, and prayer. By nature, they’re pure spirits endowed with intellect and will who belong to a separate order of creation.
But they can take physical form to accomplish their missions. For instance, the Easter angels seen at Our Lord’s tomb and at his Ascension appeared as young men in dazzling white garments. The Gospels don’t mention wings or give other details. We assume that their faces, like those of the three angels who visited Abraham, the two who rescued Lot, and Raphael who traveled with young Tobit, matched the looks of the people around them. That assumption justifies adapting angels’ likeness to suit every human culture.
Scripture also has room for marvelous angels who wouldn’t be mistaken for mortals: the six-winged forms of stormy cherubim and fiery seraphim supporting and surrounding God’s presence: Ezekiel’s rushing tetramorphs and many-eyed wheels, the splendid horseman in golden armor trampling a Gentile intruder in the Temple, and the mighty angel of Revelation “with legs like pillars of fire.”
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