The angels of God are not mere incorporeal phantoms, as is generally taught.
They are real personal beings, possessing form and substance. The tendency of investigation, in the present day, is toward Spiritualism; there is, on almost every hand, a needless and very unreasonable prejudice existing against the idea that all created beings must be material. The Spiritualistic view is not at all the theory of the Scriptures.
On this point J. H. Kurtz, doctor of theology, has some just remarks in “Bibel and Astronomie,” chap. 4, sec. 14, on 1 Cor. 15:40. He says; “We cannot conceive of a creature without a body, because everything created can only as creature live, act, and exist in space and time, and it is bodily form alone which binds the creature to space and time.” “If we conceive of the angels as being ever so spiritual and heavenly, ever so exalted over the obnoxious laws of our bodily form, over the hindrances of our grosser substance, still they are creatures, and must, as such, pay the tribute of bodily form, be this ever so ethereal, fine, and incomprehensible to our senses.” “Therefore in creation, bodily form is the condition of all existence.”
To the same intent Zeller’s Bible Dictionary, art. “Angels,” says: “They are not without body, as we cannot very easily conceive of any creature without bodily form; but they have a higher, finer, ethereal bodily form, which is according to the heavenly world system to which they belong.” The same idea is taught in many instances where the angels are mentioned in the Scriptures. Isaiah describes them as possessing a face, feet, wings, etc.:
I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and His train filled the temple. Above it stood the seraphim; each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly . “ Isa. 6:1, 2.
Ezekiel also describes them in a similar manner. Of the cherubim he says: “And their whole body [margin, “Heb., flesh”], and their backs, and their hands, and their wings, and their wheels, were full of eyes,” etc.
The whole description indicates an actual bodily existence-a body having hands, feet, wings, etc. In Gen. 18:1-8 we read:
“And the Lord appeared unto him [Abraham] in the plains of Mamre; and he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day, and he lifted up his eyes and looked, and, lo, three men stood by him; and when he saw them, he ran to meet them from the tent door, and bowed himself toward the ground, and said, My lord, if now I have found favor in thy sight, pass not away, I pray thee, from thy servant; let a little water, I pray you, be fetched, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree; and I will fetch a morsel of bread, and comfort ye your hearts; after that ye shall pass on; for therefore are ye come to your servant. And they said, So do, as thou hast said. And Abraham hastened into the tent unto Sarah, and said, Make ready quickly three measures of fine meal, knead it, and make cakes upon the hearth. And Abraham ran unto the herd, and fetched a calf tender and good, and gave it unto a young man; and he hastened to dress it. And he took butter, and milk, and the calf which he had dressed, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree, and they did eat.”
Here it is said that they did eat the food which Abraham prepared for them.
That they were angels, we learn from what follows:
“And the men rose up from
thence, and looked toward Sodom; and Abraham went with them to bring them on the way.” Two of them went on to Sodom. “And there came two angels to Sodom at evening; and Lot sat in the gate of Sodom; and Lot seeing them rose up to meet them; and he bowed himself with his face toward the ground; and he said, Behold now, my lords, turn in, I pray you, into your servant’s house, and tarry all night, and wash your feet, and ye shall rise up early, and go on your ways. And they said, Nay; but we will abide in the street all night. And he pressed upon them greatly; and they turned in unto him, and entered into his house; and he made them a feast, and did bake unleavened bread, and they did eat.” Gen. 19:1-3.
Here those who met Abraham are called angels. They are represented as having hands and feet; and it is said they did eat material food, which shows that they were material beings. It seems, also, that angels have food expressly prepared for their use. David says: “Though he had commanded the clouds from above, and opened the doors of heaven, and had rained down manna upon them to eat, and given them of the corn of heaven. Man did ‘eat angels’ food.” Ps. 78:23-25.
Manna is here called the grain of heaven, and the food of angels. Therefore, angels do eat food, and are material beings. We could not imagine that immaterial beings should eat material food, such as the manna which God sent from heaven. This idea is further sustained by the fact that Jesus, after His resurrection, had flesh and did eat. At His appearing to His disciples, He said: “Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself; handle Me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see Me have.” Luke 24:36-43.
But Jesus is the first fruits, the example of the saints in the resurrection. He ate with His disciples; and so He promised them that they shall eat and drink with Him in His kingdom. See Matt. 26:29; Luke 12:37; 22:16, 18, 29, 30. And speaking of the new earth, where the immortal saints shall dwell, the Lord says; “From one Sabbath to another, shall all flesh come to worship before Me.” Isa. 66:23.
The saints will be called flesh in the kingdom of God. And as Christ is, and the immortal saints will be, material, so also we conclude that the angels are material beings. In the history of Balaam we have an interesting incident bearing upon this point. Thus we read: “And God’s anger was kindled because he went; and the angel of the Lord stood in the way for an adversary against him. Now he was riding upon his ass, and his two servants were with him. And the ass saw the angel of the Lord standing in the way, and his sword drawn in his hand, and the ass turned aside out of the way, and went into the field; and Balaam smote the ass, to turn her into the way.” “Then the Lord opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the way, and his sword drawn in his hand.” Num. 22:22-31.
The angel appeared to Balaam with a sword drawn in his hand. Spiritualists tell us that the angel created his body and the sword, for the occasion, out of the materials which surrounded him, making it appear like a body and a sword when there was none. Then the angel really deceived Balaam, leading him to think that he had a body and a sword when he had none; and the record deceives the reader in the same manner. But it will be observed that the record says, “Then the Lord opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel,” and not that the angel created an appearance that might be seen. As soon as Balaam’s eyes were opened, he saw the angel. The idea is conveyed clearly that the angel was just the same before Balaam saw him as he was afterwards. This is further evident from the fact that the beast could see the angel, while Balaam could not see him. With regard to this occurrence, one of two things is true, either the angel had a material form before the eyes of Balaam were opened so that he could see him, or the dumb brute saw an immaterial spirit. The last will scarcely be claimed;
Therefore it must be acknowledged that the angel was there in his own bodily form before Balaam saw him. An objector says, “If the angels are material, how can it be that they can be present and be seen at one moment, and not seen the next moment, while occupying the same position?” It is not correct to claim that all matter can be seen. Air is material, but its presence is not detected by the eye, though it is by other senses. Much of the prejudice upon this subject arises from not duly considering the almost infinite diversity of forms under which matter may appear. Here it is a ball of mud, and there it is a fine gold watch. Both are material, but how different! Here is a piece of ice, and there is a jet of the hottest steam. Each seems to be exactly the opposite of the other; yet they are only different conditions of the same matter. One is water frozen; the other is water highly heated. So some matter we see in a gross form, and some most exquisitely organized. Still it is all matter, and the same matter may be visible at one time and invisible at another, as is the case of water converted into steam and dissolved in the air.
An objection is raised on the fact that angels are called spirits. Heb. 1:13, 14.
But there is no just ground for the objection. The saints will have bodies after their resurrection, yet they will be spiritual bodies. “It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body.” 1 Cor. 15:44. On this point Dr. V. Baader, Anthropolog. Schr. , remarks: “A spirit without body is also, according to the Scriptures, simply a shadow, and in this sense the Scriptures are all the way through materialistic, in opposition to the spiritualism of the moderns; only they place imperishable matter everywhere in contrast with the perishable matter.” And so also Rudolph, in Die Lehre Vom Menschen, says: “The Holy Scriptures do not know of any formless being or life.” These remarks are truthful, as every careful reader has perceived. Not a text in the Bible can be produced which teaches the existence of a formless or immaterial being.
-Angels; their nature and ministry