There are no Bible passages about angels. None. Not even one.
“Wait!” you are hopefully thinking. “The Bible mentions angels hundreds and hundreds of times!” Yes, you are right. It does. There are hundreds of Bible passages that mention angels. And yet I have never found a single Bible passage whose main point and purpose is to teach us about angels. There is no author in either the Old or New Testament who starts out a book or chapter with a sentence like, “I am writing this to teach you everything you need to know about angels.” All the key Bible passages that teach us what we know about angels mention the angels in passing on the way to make a point about something else.
And that’s why they’re so easy to miss.
Because God’s angelic servants are not the main point. They’re never the main point. And yet they are always there.
I realized this when I shared Charity Virkler Kayembe’s teaching, one of my favorite teachings on angels in the Bible, with a close friend. My friend sent it back with the words, “This made me uncomfortable. I felt like the teacher was focusing on really minor points in the Bible passages and ignoring the main points.” When she said that, I realized that even though I trusted Charity, I had initially felt uncomfortable with her message for the exact same reason. My friend had just put my discomfort into words. It felt like a weird and different (and maybe wrong?) way of reading the Bible, to look for all the details about angels instead of the main point of the storyline.
That friend and I went to the same Bible college and we learned good principles of Bible interpretation, like looking at verses in their contexts and asking, “What was the original author’s original intent?” We learned to ask, “What is the purpose for which this passage was written? What was the author’s main point? What did he or she want the original readers to learn and do? And how does that apply to us?”
I still think those questions are very, very good, and very, very important. But I realized in pondering my friend’s comment that if you ask, “What is the author’s main point?” about every passage in Scripture, the angels disappear. This was how I had managed to read the whole Bible over and over again without noticing all that it said about angels. Because the angels are always a minor, supporting point.
And then a metaphor came to me: angels are like the picture frames on the paintings in an art museum. Usually, we don’t notice them. We can walk through the art gallery over and over again looking at each painting, studying it, discussing its color and composition, asking, “What does the artist want to communicate?” and never take a second glance at its frame.
And then suppose one day, we decide to write a research paper on picture frames. We go back to the same art museum to look, for the first time, not at the paintings but at their frames. It is a totally different experience! We notice for the first time that there are hundreds if not thousands of picture frames in the art museum! We stop before each familiar painting and study its frame, taking notes on its size and color and material and why it was chosen and how it complements the picture it displays. We walked past it so many times and never saw.
Which means the picture frame was doing its job well all along. After all, it exists to display and draw attention to the painting within.
Another metaphor is that of servants. After all, angels are the fiery, heavenly servants of God the King (Hebrews 1:7). Most of my ideas of servants come from period British movies and TV shows where a butler in a suit or a maid in a black dress with a white apron will bring letters in on a silver tray or appear with tea if you ring a bell in the wall. In older stories, the servants stay in the background. They slip in, pour the drinks, and disappear again to wherever they come from. We barely notice them (unless they become suspects in a murder mystery). In a very old book, like a Jane Austen novel, written by a generation of people who actually had these servants, the servants are almost completely invisible. We know that every time the characters attend a ball or a dinner party there must be dozens of servants at work, but they are almost never named or mentioned, never say a word of dialogue, and never affect the plot of the story.
And then in more recent times, somebody got the idea that people might find the backstory of the servants’ lives fascinating. And they were right, we did. They created TV series like Upstairs, Downstairs or, more recently, Downton Abbey, that developed the characters of the servants “downstairs” along with the household of characters “upstairs,” and these shows were big, big hits.
Angels are a cast of fascinating characters who live way, way “upstairs” (Genesis 28:12; John 1:51). When we ring the bell of prayer, our Father might send an answer by angel delivery (Daniel 9:20-23), and we might or might not ever notice that an angel was involved. If you have never recognized angelic activity in your life more than to think, “I wonder if God had put angels around my car” when you almost have a car accident but don’t, you are like the older Victorian novels that rarely mention the servants in the room. They are still there. They are still doing their job (Hebrews 1:14). They are still helping you, every single day.
But those angels who are in the room with you right now have names and personalities and backstories. They will stand there respectfully for your whole life and never need to be noticed (because they don’t serve you to be noticed, they partner with and for you because they love Jesus), but they are also willing to chat. And if you want to be more like a modern-made period TV drama and get to know those super-helpful Other Beings that live in your house and fly in and out while you are eating with Jesus, you can ask Him to introduce you. You know Jesus, from the way He treats you (John 15:15): He loves to treat His servants as His friends.
So for the next series of blog posts, I want to take a walk through the art museum and study the picture frames! I want to look at some important Bible passages that mention angels. First, we’ll honor the “painting,” that is, take note of the main point the author is trying to make. But then I also want to ask, “What’s everything we can learn about angels from this passage?” and finally, “How do the two fit together? How does this ‘frame’ compliment this ‘painting’?”
Because after all, you are one of God’s art “masterpieces” (Ephesians 2:10), and you do have unseen angels, like a well-fitted picture frame, chosen and positioned to support you as you do the good work God has prepared for you. And when we notice that God has thought of everything down to the smallest detail, even the servants who deliver His messages and the picture frames in His art gallery, we can worship Him for that.