September 29, 2008
How Many Angels Can Stand on the Head of a Pin?
by Sarah Jennings, Crosswalk.com Family Editor
And he said to him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man."
Today is a little-known feast day on the Christian calendar: the feast of the Archangels. This feast day originated in eastern Christendom before making its way onto the western calendar. This points to a commonly cited difference between East and West: eastern Christians often focus on the unseen supernatural or mystical aspects of the faith more so than their western brothers and sisters.
Modern westerners, immersed in a culture that prizes concrete, scientific observation, are often uncomfortable with talk of angels or miracles. Some modern scholars are so uncomfortable with the spiritual events in the Bible they’ve dedicated their careers to seeking a practical explanation for every single verse. (They’ve yet to succeed).
Of course, being “spiritual” doesn’t necessarily mean you are wiser or holier. There are plenty of misguided individuals in the world who claim to tap into the spiritual realm. In Finding Calcutta, Professor Mary Poplin echoes Paul’s words to the Ephesians when she points out “spiritual is not synonymous with good; spiritual forces may be good or evil, healthy or destructive.”
So what can God’s Word, our most trusted source, teach us about angels and the spiritual realm? While we can’t cover everything here, let’s take a closer look at two angels specifically named in Scripture: Michael and Gabriel
Michael: The name “Michael” means “Who is like God?” We first meet Michael in the Old Testament book of Daniel where he is called “one of the chief princes” (Dan 10: 13) and is identified as a protector of God’s people (Dan. 12: 1). Some scholars believe Michael was the angel who stood between the Israelites and the Egyptians in the parting of the Red Sea. We later see him in the book of Revelation as a warrior who commands an angelic army in battle against Satan and other evil spirits (Revelation 12: 7-9). Michael’s mightiness mirrors God’s strength and justice.
Gabriel: The name Gabriel means “Strength of God.” Scriptures reveal him to be a messenger of God who consistently played a key role in announcing the coming of the Messiah. Like Michael, he first appears in the book of Daniel where he predicts the coming of Christ (Dan 8: 16 – 26). In the New Testament, Gabriel appears to the priest, Zechariah, informing him that he and Elizabeth will miraculously conceive John the Baptist. (Luke 1: 19). But his most famous appearance is to the young, virgin Mary of Nazareth to deliver one of the greatest messages in human history:
And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end. (Luke 1: 31 0 33) Some theologians believe Gabriel was also the angel who visited Joseph in a dream, who brought ”glad tidings of great joy” to the shepherds on Christmas, and who later warned Mary and Joseph about Herod’s terrible decree.
Beyond these two special angels we read of countless unnamed angels throughout Scripture -- protecting the Israelites, singing on Christmas night, comforting Jesus before His agony, and accompanying our Lord on his return at the end of time.
What can we learn from these biblical accounts? Well, we’ll probably never have the answer to the centuries-old debate, “How many angels can stand on the head of a pin?” but we do know:
- There is a spiritual realm, and much of God’s plans for heaven and earth unfold beyond our five senses. Truly, "no eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him" (1 Cor 2: 9).
- God loves us so much that at certain times He employs his heavenly court to come to our aide.
- Evil spiritual beings exist – some of them fallen angels like we read in Revelation - and we must be careful to focus our lives on God and His grace to avoid the influence of evil.
Intersecting Faith & Life: You and I are definitely not angels, but we are called to do God’s work here on earth. Be someone’s “Michael” this week by defending or protecting them. Be someone’s “Gabriel” by sharing the good news of the Gospel.