Appearing in Human Form

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Appearing in Human Form

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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 Numbers 22:23And 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.
American King James Version×
). Then God, after causing the donkey to speak, opened Balaam’s eyes to see the angel (Numbers 22:31 Numbers 22:31Then 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: and he bowed down his head, and fell flat on his face.
American King James Version×
).

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 Matthew 22:30For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven.
American King James Version×
) 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 Job 38:7When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?
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)—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 1 Kings 6:23-28 23 And within the oracle he made two cherubim of olive tree, each ten cubits high. 24 And five cubits was the one wing of the cherub, and five cubits the other wing of the cherub: from the uttermost part of the one wing to the uttermost part of the other were ten cubits. 25 And the other cherub was ten cubits: both the cherubim were of one measure and one size. 26 The height of the one cherub was ten cubits, and so was it of the other cherub. 27 And he set the cherubim within the inner house: and they stretched forth the wings of the cherubim, so that the wing of the one touched the one wall, and the wing of the other cherub touched the other wall; and their wings touched one another in the middle of the house. 28 And he overlaid the cherubim with gold.
American King James Version×
), 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 18:1-8 1 And the LORD appeared to him in the plains of Mamre: and he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day; 2 And he lift up his eyes and looked, and, see, 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, 3 And said, My LORD, if now I have found favor in your sight, pass not away, I pray you, from your servant: 4 Let a little water, I pray you, be fetched, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree: 5 And I will fetch a morsel of bread, and comfort you your hearts; after that you shall pass on: for therefore are you come to your servant. And they said, So do, as you have said. 6 And Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah, and said, Make ready quickly three measures of fine meal, knead it, and make cakes on the hearth. 7 And Abraham ran to the herd, and fetched a calf tender and good, and gave it to a young man; and he hurried to dress it. 8 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.
American King James Version×
; Genesis 18:22 Genesis 18:22And the men turned their faces from there, and went toward Sodom: but Abraham stood yet before the LORD.
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; Genesis 19:1-3 Genesis 19:1-3 1 And there came two angels to Sodom at even; 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; 2 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 you shall rise up early, and go on your ways. And they said, No; but we will abide in the street all night. 3 And he pressed on them greatly; and they turned in to him, and entered into his house; and he made them a feast, and did bake unleavened bread, and they did eat.
American King James Version×
).

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 Hebrews 13:2Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.
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, 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 John 20:11-14 11 But Mary stood without at the sepulcher weeping: and as she wept, she stooped down, and looked into the sepulcher, 12 And sees two angels in white sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. 13 And they say to her, Woman, why weep you? She said to them, Because they have taken away my LORD, and I know not where they have laid him. 14 And when she had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus.
American King James Version×
).

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 Mark 16:5-6 5 And entering into the sepulcher, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a long white garment; and they were affrighted. 6 And he said to them, Be not affrighted: You seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified: he is risen; he is not here: behold the place where they laid him.
American King James Version×
).

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 Luke 24:4And it came to pass, as they were much perplexed thereabout, behold, two men stood by them in shining garments:
American King James Version×
). No doubt these dazzlingly white clothes also symbolized their righteousness and holiness (compare Revelation 19:8 Revelation 19:8And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints.
American King James Version×
).

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 Acts 1:9-11 9 And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight. 10 And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel; 11 Which also said, You men of Galilee, why stand you gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as you have seen him go into heaven.
American King James Version×
).

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 Revelation 10:1-3 1 And I saw another mighty angel come down from heaven, clothed with a cloud: and a rainbow was on his head, and his face was as it were the sun, and his feet as pillars of fire: 2 And he had in his hand a little book open: and he set his right foot on the sea, and his left foot on the earth, 3 And cried with a loud voice, as when a lion roars: and when he had cried, seven thunders uttered their voices.
American King James Version×
).

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 Daniel 10:5-6 5 Then I lifted up my eyes, and looked, and behold a certain man clothed in linen, whose loins were girded with fine gold of Uphaz: 6 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 color to polished brass, and the voice of his words like the voice of a multitude.
American King James Version×
). This is also similar to the appearance of the glorified Jesus Christ, which John likewise saw in vision (Revelation 1:12-16 Revelation 1:12-16 12 And I turned to see the voice that spoke with me. And being turned, I saw seven golden candlesticks; 13 And in the middle of the seven candlesticks one like to the Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the breasts with a golden girdle. 14 His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire; 15 And his feet like to fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and his voice as the sound of many waters. 16 And he had in his right hand seven stars: and out of his mouth went a sharp two edged sword: and his countenance was as the sun shines in his strength.
American King James Version×
).

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 Daniel 10:7-9 7 And I Daniel alone saw the vision: for the men that were with me saw not the vision; but a great quaking fell on them, so that they fled to hide themselves. 8 Therefore I was left alone, and saw this great vision, and there remained no strength in me: for my comeliness was turned in me into corruption, and I retained no strength. 9 Yet heard I the voice of his words: and when I heard the voice of his words, then was I in a deep sleep on my face, and my face toward the ground.
American King James Version×
). 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 Daniel 10:15-19 15 And when he had spoken such words to me, I set my face toward the ground, and I became dumb. 16 And, behold, one like the similitude of the sons of men touched my lips: then I opened my mouth, and spoke, and said to him that stood before me, O my lord, by the vision my sorrows are turned on me, and I have retained no strength. 17 For how can the servant of this my lord talk with this my lord? for as for me, straightway there remained no strength in me, neither is there breath left in me. 18 Then there came again and touched me one like the appearance of a man, and he strengthened me, 19 And said, O man greatly beloved, fear not: peace be to you, be strong, yes, be strong. And when he had spoken to me, I was strengthened, and said, Let my lord speak; for you have strengthened me.
American King James Version×
).

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 Daniel 10:5Then I lifted up my eyes, and looked, and behold a certain man clothed in linen, whose loins were girded with fine gold of Uphaz:
American King James Version×
) concerns general appearance, as he later refers to him as having the likeness of a man (Daniel 10:16 Daniel 10:16And, behold, one like the similitude of the sons of men touched my lips: then I opened my mouth, and spoke, and said to him that stood before me, O my lord, by the vision my sorrows are turned on me, and I have retained no strength.
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; Daniel 10:18 Daniel 10:18Then there came again and touched me one like the appearance of a man, and he strengthened me,
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). 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 Revelation 21:17And he measured the wall thereof, an hundred and forty and four cubits, according to the measure of a man, that is, of the angel.
American King James Version×
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.

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