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What Do Angels Look Like in Human and Heavenly Form?

What Do Angels Look Like in Human and Heavenly Form?

What do angels look like? Art depicts angels in a diverse variety of ways. But what do these powerful messengers of God look like in reality? Exploring angel appearances can inspire you with awe and help you learn more about angelic missions on Earth.

What Does the Bible Say about Angelic Appearances?

Angels appear throughout the Bible – in both the Old Testament and the New Testament – as they deliver important messages from God to human beings. Sometimes they appear alone; at other times they show up in groups. They may appear in the form of humans, or they may reveal their heavenly form. Often, when angels show up in heavenly glory, the sight of them is so overwhelming that they have to tell the people who see them to not be afraid.

The story of angels announcing Jesus Christ’s birth on the first Christmas is a good example of the wonder of angelic appearances. Luke 2:9-12 records how an angel appeared to shepherds in Bethlehem’s fields, lighting up the dark night and delivering incredible news: “An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’” After that, Luke 2:13-14 describes a huge group of angels appearing along with the original angel, to praise God: “Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.’”

When angels appear in the Bible, people often notice them because of the glory of what they look like. However, angels can also do their work on Earth incognito, if that best serves God’s purposes for their missions. Hebrews 13:2 urges: “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.”

Angels can appear in different ways because they are pure spirits who have no inherent physical form. “Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?” Hebrews 1:14 reveals. When God’s angels show up, they do so in ways that work best for the specific types of missions that God has given them. So, there isn’t any uniform angelic appearance. Angels can manifest in whatever ways will help humans learn the most from the important messages they’re delivering.

Often, we don’t see the angels who are at work around us. Angels are constantly caring for faithful people, at God’s command: “For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways” (Psalm 91:11). However, angels are often working beyond our visual perception. It would be too distracting for us to see angels all the time. By having angels remaining invisible most of the time, God frees us to focus on our human lives without distraction. However, sometimes God does reveal angels in the background, when doing so can encourage us. The Bible describes one such example in 2 Kings 6:16-17, in which Elisha prayed that God would open his eyes so he could see the angelic army around him, and God did so.

Photo Credit: ©Getty Images/Khosrork 

What Do Angels Look Like in Human Form?

When angels appear in human form, they can look exactly like people. Or, they can look like humans but have something about them that suggests they may be different.

Genesis chapter 18 records a time when three angels (one of whom was the Angel of the Lord) appeared as men to Abraham and Sarah. The angels even ate a human meal while they were there. One of the angels prophesied that Abraham and Sarah would have a son the next year, even though they were both in their old age at that time. When Sarah laughed to herself at that thought, the Angel of the Lord asked her why she laughed, and Sarah was surprised that he knew about it.

Stories abound of angels appearing in human form today. People worldwide report seeing what seem at first to be people, who then reveal their angelic nature by their behavior, such as angels who rescue people from danger or deliver messages to people who have prayed to God for encouragement or guidance. In my book Wake Up to Wonder, I describe two encounters with angels who appeared to me in human form. Both of those angels looked like human men, but they revealed that they were angels by what they said and did.

Since we can never anticipate when we may encounter an angel in human form, we may be surprised anytime and anywhere by interacting with an angel, or we may do so without knowing it. God knows when we need such an encounter to grow spiritually. As Hebrews 13:2 points out, we should always be ready to show hospitality to strangers – whether those we meet are other people or angels in human form.

What Do Angels Look Like in Heavenly Form?

Angels often appear in heavenly form – in ways that distinguish them as angels who have crossed from heaven into our earth. Those ways can include showing up as glowing light or as figures with beautiful wings.

A brilliant light often emanates from angels when they show up in heavenly form – they seem to be lit from within. William Booth, founder of The Salvation Army, reported that he once saw a group of angels surrounded by extremely bright light in all colors of the rainbow. When angels show up in the form of light, that light can take various shapes. Mysterious orbs that are spotted in the sky and reported as UFOs (unidentified flying objects) could possibly be angels going about their work on our planet. 

The Bible mentions various instances of holy angels showing up as light beings. When God sent an angel to free the apostle Peter from jail, “Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell…” (Acts 12:7). After Jesus’ Resurrection, a brilliantly lit angel appeared at Jesus’ tomb and told people that Jesus has risen from the dead. Matthew 28:3 records what the angel looks like: “His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow.” 

However, fallen angels can also appear in the disguise of holy angels of light. 2 Corinthians 11:14 warns that, “Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light.” So, while many holy angels emanate bright lights, it’s wise to use spiritual discernment when encountering any angel. Any angel who doesn’t acknowledge that Jesus is who he says he is, or any angel who accepts worship rather than directing it to God, can’t be trusted.

Artwork has historically depicted the light that angels shine as halos around their heads. Halos, which symbolize holiness in art, portray the brightness of energy fields surrounding those who are close to God, such as angels or saints.

It’s also common to see angels show up in art sporting magnificent wings. Wings symbolize God’s care for people, and the Bible uses the imagery of God’s wings in several passages, including Psalm 91:4: “He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge.” As God’s messengers who let God’s love flow through them while they serve, angels play an important role in caring for people.

When God gave instructions for creating the Ark of the Covenant in Exodus chapter 25, God specifies that the ark should feature images of two cherubim angels, and verse 20 describes their wings: “The cherubim are to have their wings spread upward, overshadowing the cover with them. The cherubim are to face each other, looking toward the cover.”

Isaiah 6:2-3 describes the prophet Isaiah’s vision of winged seraphim angels in heaven with God: “Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.’”

Seeing an angel in heavenly form can powerfully strengthen your faith. In Wake Up to Wonder, I tell the story of an angel who visited my mom in a hospital. Mom was overwhelmed by the glorious sight of the angel. After that encounter, Mom experienced physical healing, but the spiritual healing she experienced was even more powerful. God’s loving choice to send one of his messengers to Mom inspired her to finally trust God after many years of being distant from him.

If you ever meet an angel appearing in heavenly form, you may be so in awe that you’re moved to worship. Just be sure to direct your worship to the Creator of angels – God – rather than to the angels themselves. Colossians 2:18 warns against worshipping angels, and in Revelation 22:9, the apostle John describes what happened after he tried to worship an angel he met. The angel told John: “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers the prophets, and with those who keep the words of this book. Worship God.”

God’s angels often surround you, working invisibly behind the scenes on many different missions from God. Sometimes, when God permits it for good purposes, you may encounter angels visibly – either in human or heavenly form. A blessing like that can fill your soul with wonder!

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/cranach 

headshot of author Whitney HoplerWhitney Hopler is the author of the Wake Up to Wonder book and the Wake Up to Wonder blog, which help people thrive through experiencing awe. She leads the communications work at George Mason University’s Center for the Advancement of Well-Being. Whitney has served as a writer, editor, and website developer for leading media organizations, including, The Salvation Army USA’s national publications, and (where she produced a popular channel on angels and miracles). She has also written the young adult novel Dream Factory. Connect with Whitney on Twitter and Facebook.

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