Nothing could be more evident from Scripture that the spirit realm is populated with angels. Angels were everywhere in the experience of the ancient Hebrews and the New Testament believers; as real as anything else in creation. Because of the deep darkness that has benighted our world since the so-called “Enlightenment,” angels are not so real to us. If we want to be biblical, we must find our way back to angels and the spirit realm. It is not easy to do this, because we have, as moderns, embraced a cosmology that has little or no place for them. This colors the way we read the Bible.

First of all, angels did not exist with God from the beginning. They were created with the material world, and are therefore more directly related to us than they are to God. That is, they are not co-eternal with God but are rather more like distant cousins to us. In Scripture they seem to be organized in a hierarchy that links the earth from “below” to the outer region of the spirit world that borders on the Eternal. In fact, the ancients understood the plural “heavens” to consist in at least three heavenly spheres, each inhabited by three different types of angels.

The third level, the “outer” dimension closest to divine Transcendence, is inhabited by angles referred to by “thrones” in Scripture (Col. 1:16). We do not know much more about them other than what their name suggests: they are closely associated with God’s throne, and therefore are in the immediate presence of the Transcendent God. Cherubim also inhabit this dimension. We know that God’s Transcendence rests upon the wings of the cherubim in the Tabernacle and Temple (Ex. 25:18-20, I Kings 6:23-28), and that they are given the honor of being “God Bearers” when the Theophany of God rides them like a divine chariot in Ezekiel 1 (See also chapters 9-11). They are associated with great knowledge in that the wheels of these creatures have many eyes that can see all things created. Finally, we have the seraphim of Isaiah’s great Temple Vision (Isa. 6). They are the “burning ones” as their name in Hebrew suggests, and continually give forth the Sanctus before the Throne. We do not know exactly what St. Paul meant, but this realm could very well be the “third heaven” to which he was transported, whether in his body, or spirit (II Cor. 12:22). This third level of angelic existence is holiest of all.

The second sphere of angelic existence is an intermediary one that links the third and the first levels. It is inhabited by authorities (I Peter 3:22), dominions (Col. 1:16), and powers (Eph. 6:12, Col. 1:16, and I Peter 3:22). Scriptures do not give us much information about these angels. They draw grace and enlightenment from the third sphere of angels, and empower and enlighten the lower sphere of angels. Finally we come to the lower level of angelic beings, those most closely associated with the earth and human affairs. These are named principalities (Eph. 6:12, Col. 1:16, and I Peter 3:22), archangels and angels. These have the distinct identity of being agents of God’s immanence. Of the archangels, we know of two by name in Scriptures. One is Gabriel who enlightened Daniel by giving him “skill to understand” (Dan. 8:16, 9:20-23). Gabriel also was the one through whom God encountered Mary and Zachariah in Luke 1. We also know of Michael, one of the “chief princes” who helped an angel who was held up for 21 days by an evil spirit, the “prince of the kingdom of Persia” (Dan. 10:13). Michael is expressly called an “archangel” in Jude 9, and is the one who will cast down Satan and his hosts in the end (Rev. 12:7-9 with 20:1ff.). From the Apocrypha we know of two other archangels, Uriel and Raphael.

More can be said about angels and these three spheres, and you can read about this in greater detail in my article that you can reference in the website under publications. My purpose here is to show that our lives, whether we are aware of it or not, are surrounded by spirits, both good and malignant, and that we are invited by Scriptures to be intimate with and knowledgeable about this realm. The ancient prayer of the Church, “Therefore we praise You, joining our voices with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven who forever sing this hymn to proclaim the glory of Your Name,” shows that the early Church saw angels as fellow worshipers with God, and an essential part of their cosmology. The implications of this are astounding, and we hope to pursue them in the next posts as we grapple with the realities of the spirit world.

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