Appearing in Human Form

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MP3 Audio (20.46 MB)


Appearing in Human Form

MP3 Audio (20.46 MB)

What do angels look like? First we need to distinguish between their actual form and how they have appeared to people in vision or in person. Their true and actual form has not been fully revealed to us, though we glimpse some aspects from visions of them recorded in the Bible.

One thing you won’t find in Scripture is the typical image of angels as two-winged people with halos and harps sitting on clouds. Nor will you find the other common conception of them as cute winged babies or children—as popular artists have often depicted them since the Middle Ages. The Scriptures nowhere indicate that they look anything like this. (For more on these ideas, see “Popular, But Wrong, Ideas About Angels” and “Where Did the Idea of Angels as Babies Originate?” .)

So what does the Bible reveal?

Made visible as young men—and not with wings

As in the account with Elisha and his servant, angels are spirit beings that are typically invisible to people unless supernaturally manifested. Numbers 22 tells us of the false prophet Balaam not being able to see an angel with a drawn sword right in front of him on the road—while his donkey could (Numbers 22:23). Then God, after causing the donkey to speak, opened Balaam’s eyes to see the angel (Numbers 22:31).

When angels are seen in Scripture, they usually appear in the form of human beings, specifically as men—adult males, not women or children. When apparent age is indicated, it’s that of young men. Yet this does not mean these angels are truly male, just as they are not actually human in their true, glorious form in the spirit realm—and they are certainly not young by human years, having lived from before the world began.

The fact that angels do not marry (Matthew 22:30) seems to indicate they have no sexuality or means of reproduction. They are referred to with masculine pronouns, “he” and “him,” and as created “sons,” as previously noted (Job 38:7)—but, per the grammar of the original biblical languages, this is also the way human beings in general are referred to, including women when they are lumped together with men. Female pronouns and terms are used only when those referred to are exclusively women. (For the common but wrong notion that angels at one time interbred with human beings, see “Did Angels Interbreed With Women to Produce Giants?”.)

What about angels having wings? Interestingly, when the Bible describes angels appearing to people in person, they are never described as having wings. There are a few visions in which some angels are presented with wings. Yet in these cases, it’s four or six wings, not two. We will see more about these later.

While the massive gold-plated olive-wood carvings of two cherubim with outstretched wings spanning the Holy of Holies of Solomon’s temple appear to have each had only two wings (see 1 Kings 6:23-28), it’s possible that these sculptures had other wings that were not extended.

Abraham and Lot—hospitality to angels without first realizing

Notice the description in the accounts of angels visiting the biblical patriarch Abraham and then moving on to bring judgment on the depraved city of Sodom and encountering Abraham’s righteous nephew Lot who was living there. Here we see that Abraham initially did not recognize his divine visitors for who and what they really were.

“Then the Lord appeared to him [Abraham] by the terebinth trees of Mamre, as he was sitting in the tent door in the heat of the day. So he lifted his eyes and looked, and behold, three men were standing by him; and when he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them, and bowed himself to the ground, and said, ‘My Lord, if I have now found favor in Your sight, do not pass on by Your servant. Please let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. And I will bring a morsel of bread, that you may refresh your hearts. After that you may pass by, inasmuch as you have come to your servant.’ They said, ‘Do as you have said’ . . .

“So he took butter and milk and the calf which he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree as they ate . . . Then the men turned away from there and went toward Sodom, but Abraham still stood before the Lord . . .

“Now the two angels came to Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gate of Sodom. When Lot saw them, he rose to meet them, and he bowed himself with his face toward the ground . . . They turned in to him and entered his house. Then he made them a feast, and baked unleavened bread, and they ate” (Genesis 18:1-8; Genesis 18:22; Genesis 19:1-3).

Note that both of the angels here looked like men (the third being, also looking like a man, was the Lord who later would be born in the flesh as Jesus Christ). They even ate the meals that Abraham and Lot prepared for them, which shows they were manifested in physical form. Angels don’t need to eat, but clearly they can.

Perhaps you, too, have met angels and don’t even know it—maybe certain strangers who helped you in some way—especially since they can appear as normal-looking people. Scripture tells us, “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it” (Hebrews 13:2, NIV). This likely refers to what we just read in Genesis. In this case, the angels were soon recognized for what they were, but that’s not always the case.

Of course, the encouragement to be hospitable to strangers does not mean to throw caution to the wind in dealing with people we don’t know, putting ourselves or our families in potential jeopardy from those who might harm us. But we should be helpful and kind to people, generally speaking.

The key to notice here is that it’s not always obvious when angels may be present. They will look like normal men, and as such you may not even be aware of who or what they are.

Men in white at Jesus’ resurrection and ascension

In a similar way angels, looking like men, appeared at Jesus Christ’s tomb to explain His disappearance:

“But Mary [Magdalene] stood outside by the tomb weeping, and as she wept she stooped down and looked into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. Then they said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.’ Now when she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus” (John 20:11-14).

Again, the angels at Christ’s tomb appeared as young men, as Mark’s Gospel describes: “And entering the tomb, they [the women who came to anoint Jesus’ body] saw a young man clothed in a long white robe sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, ‘Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is risen! He is not here’” (Mark 16:5-6).

The white raiment seems to have been particularly bright, perhaps a hint at their glory that was otherwise invisible. Luke notes: “And it happened, as they [the same women] were greatly perplexed about this [the stone having been rolled away], that behold, two men stood by them in shining garments” (Luke 24:4). No doubt these dazzlingly white clothes also symbolized their righteousness and holiness (compare Revelation 19:8).

Forty days later, Jesus ascended to heaven, and two angels explained to His disciples that He would come back. Notice the description:

“Now when He [Jesus] had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, who also said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven’” (Acts 1:9-11).

Note how little the two angels said—just a quick message, and then they were gone. This is the pattern through most of the Scriptures with righteous angels. By contrast, some people who’ve had encounters with evil spirits or demons mention that these will sometimes talk on and on. (To learn more, see “What Is the Origin of Satan and Demons?”.)

Glimpsing angelic glory in vision

So even though angels can appear as normal men, they are far from “normal,” as we understand the word.

Angels are, in reality, powerful and glorious beings. Notice what the apostle John saw in vision: “I saw still another mighty angel coming down from heaven, clothed with a cloud. And a rainbow was on his head, his face was like the sun, and his feet like pillars of fire . . . And he set his right foot on the sea and his left foot on the land, and cried with a loud voice, as when a lion roars” (Revelation 10:1-3).

This is very similar to a vision of the prophet Daniel: “I lifted my eyes and looked, and behold, a certain man clothed in linen, whose waist was girded with gold of Uphaz [a region producing fine gold]! His body was like beryl, his face like the appearance of lightning, his eyes like torches of fire, his arms and feet like burnished bronze in color, and the sound of his words like the voice of a multitude” (Daniel 10:5-6). This is also similar to the appearance of the glorified Jesus Christ, which John likewise saw in vision (Revelation 1:12-16).

Daniel was overwhelmed by what he saw: “And I, Daniel, alone saw the vision, for the men who were with me did not see the vision; but a great terror fell upon them, so that they fled to hide themselves. Therefore I was left alone when I saw this great vision, and no strength remained in me; for my vigor was turned to frailty in me, and I retained no strength. Yet I heard the sound of his words; and while I heard the sound of his words I was in a deep sleep on my face, with my face to the ground” (Daniel 10:7-9). The experience was so astounding that it appears Daniel passed out!

He was then touched and revived, and an amazing message was given to him, which we’ll see more about in the next chapter. This encounter left him dumbstruck until he was enabled to speak.

Daniel writes: “When he had spoken such words to me, I turned my face toward the ground and became speechless. And suddenly, one having the likeness of the sons of men touched my lips; then I opened my mouth and spoke, saying to him who stood before me, ‘My lord, because of the vision my sorrows have overwhelmed me, and I have retained no strength. For how can this servant of my lord talk with you, my lord? As for me, no strength remains in me now, nor is any breath left in me.’

“Then again, the one having the likeness of a man touched me and strengthened me. And he said, ‘O man greatly beloved, fear not! Peace be to you; be strong, yes, be strong!’ So when he spoke to me I was strengthened . . .” (Daniel 10:15-19).

Amazingly, what Daniel saw is just a glimpse of the awesome glory of an angelic being. Note that Daniel calling the powerful figure a man (Daniel 10:5) concerns general appearance, as he later refers to him as having the likeness of a man (Daniel 10:16; Daniel 10:18). This was certainly no man in actual fact. And remember that this was a supernatural vision and does not necessarily convey an exactness of actual appearance. The totality of the natural form of angels in the spirit realm may even be beyond human ability to fully grasp while we are yet flesh.

We should also note that angels are evidently on the same size scale as human beings, for Revelation 21:17 refers to a certain number of “cubits [the measure from the elbow to the fingertips], according to the measure of a man, that is, of an angel.”

We’ll next look at more regarding angelic forms and positions, exploring further what Scripture reveals about these amazing beings.