Ranks in the Celestial Army

In the world of mankind, we find that all well-organized gatherings have within their fold an established order of leaders, or otherwise a hierarchy of organization through which each individual knows his place. It appears that angels share this characteristic. While it may be simple enough for many believers to fall into the somewhat dismissive attitude of “an angel is an angel,” in truth the scriptures give us a bit of insight into their actual class or ranks.

The most common form of angel, from what can be gathered, appears to be the Malachim, the messenger angels. These beings are, out of all the various ranks, apparently the most human-like in form. In fact, each time they are encountered they seem nearly indistinguishable from natural men, if only being distinct in their unnatural beauty and supernatural abilities. Intriguingly, you may have encountered one of these “messenger” angels in your own life. Hebrews gives us a stunning passage to consider in regard to this:

“Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”

What of the so-called “guardian angels?” While the exact terms is absent from the scriptures, the notion that angels watch over us is not, for there are many instances in the Bible that describe direct intercessions on the part of mankind by angels. Consider the account of Daniel (6:22) where he describes an angel having come into the Lion’s den with him and shut the lion’s mouths so they would not harm him. Likewise, we can read in the New Testament (Acts 12:7-11) where an angel visits Peter in his jail cell and miraculously frees him, causing his chains to fall off and commanding him to get dressed and follow him to freedom!

Intriguingly, there may be an off-handed reference to guardian angels in Daniel 4:13, where Nebuchadnezzar describes being visited by a “watcher:”

“I saw in the visions of my head upon my bed, and, behold, a watcher and an holy one came down from heaven;”

Other sources, such as the extra-biblical Book of Enoch, frequently make reference to these “watchers.” Could this title (derived from a Chaldean word that corresponds to “wake or open one’s eyes and watch”) reference the beloved guardian angels? Tough to say for certain, but intriguing nonetheless.

No matter how one cuts it, believer can rest assured that we are in fact being watched at all times by beings far beyond our ken, from locales unapproachable, from heights unknown, from beings unseen.

Beyond those lowest celestial beings, the Bible goes on to tell us of several other types of angels. The next rank, it appears, consists of creatures that are certainly familiar to any Bible believer: the magnificent archangels! Though amongst the 66 books of scripture we find the named personages of only two archangel individuals, Michael and Gabriel, it is most certainly reasonable to assume that there are many others. Extrabiblical sources (many of which being accepted as valid by some Christian sects) seem to go so far as to identify seven or more archangels. In any event, these glorious figures appear much more intimidating than their malakim subordinates. We get a glimpse of their features in Daniel 10.

“Then I lifted up mine eyes, and looked, and behold a certain man clothed in linen, whose loins were girded with fine gold of Uphaz: His body also was like the beryl, and his face as the appearance of lightning, and his eyes as lamps of fire, and his arms and his feet like in colour to polished brass, and the voice of his words like the voice of a multitude.” (verses 5-6)

Daniel, upon seeing this vision of an undeniably supernatural being (Gabriel as many contend), apparently lost all his strength as fear swept over him. I believe anyone would have felt the same flood of emotions standing in the presence of something so intimidating, something with a face like lightning, a body like crystal and light, and limbs like molten metal!

One thing I want you to notice here is that something very distinct is actually missing. Angels, at least the Malakim and the Archangels, are not scriptually described as possessing wings! While descriptions of the Malakim make them sound like elegant humans, the description of this archangel in Daniel goes much further, noting a variety of features that are completely non-human. Even so, Daniel does not mention wings.

Could they have possessed wings? Perhaps. I doubt it though, personally. As spiritual beings, what would be the need for wings if only as elements of description or power, not function. That said, many early renderings of angels, such as those found in the Eastern Orthodox churches, depict them as possessing wings. Again, it may simply be a feature that speaks to their ability to move in ways that are unnatural to us, and not necessarily a representation of physical, flight-capable wings, but who knows…


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