What Do God’s Holy Angels Really Look Like?

Genesis 18:1-3

And the LORD appeared unto [Abraham] in the plains of Mamre: and he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day; and he lift up his eyes and looked, and, lo, 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, and said, My Lord, if now I have found favour in thy sight, pass not away, I pray thee, from thy servant.

A. A. HODGE (1823-1886): Have angels bodies?

C. H. SPURGEON (1834-1892): Angels are pure spirits, though they are permitted to assume a visible form when God desires us to see them.

MATTHEW HENRY (1662-1714): These three men were three spiritual heavenly beings, now assuming human bodies, that they might be visible to Abraham, and conversable with him.

JOHN GILL (1697-1771): Abraham knew them not to be angels at first; they appeared as men, and he treated them as such; but they were angels―yea, one of them was Jehovah Himself.

A. A. HODGE: In certain situations the angels have “appeared” precisely like common men, and in other situations they acted very differently, in passing through stone walls, appearing and disappearing at will, Acts 12:7-10; Numbers 22:31; Judges 13:20…How are the apparitions of angels to be accounted for?

JOHN CALVIN (1509-1564): Angels were represented by cherubim and seraphim…

By cherubim, no doubt Moses means angels, and in this accommodates himself to the capacity of his own people. God had commanded two cherubim to be placed at the ark of the covenant, which should overshadow its covering with their wings; therefore He is often said to sit between the cherubim. That He would have angels depicted in this form, was doubtless granted as an indulgence to the rudeness of that ancient people…That they covered the lid of the ark with their extended wings, I do not imagine to have been done to hide it, but to mark the readiness of their obedience, for the extension of their wings is equivalent to their being prepared for the performance of whatever God might command…The seraphim, of which Isaiah makes mention of in Isaiah 6, signify the same as the cherubim.

A. A. HODGE: The word seraphim signifies “burning, bright, dazzling.”

MATTHEW HENRY: Whether they were only two, or four, or―as I rather think―an innumerable company of angels that Isaiah saw, is uncertain. It is the glory of the angels that they are seraphim, and have heat proportionable to their light, and an abundance, not only of divine knowledge, but of holy love. Special notice is taken of their wings―and of no other part of their appearance―because of the use they made of them, which is designed for instruction to us. They had each of them six wings, not all stretched upwards―as those whom Ezekiel saw―but four wings were made use of for a covering, as the wings of a fowl, sitting, are; with the two upper wings, next to the head, they covered their faces, and with the two lowest wings they covered their feet, or lower parts. This bespeaks their great humility and reverence in their attendance upon God.

A. A. HODGE: It probably presents, under a different aspect, the ideal beings commonly designated “cherubim” and “living creatures” in Ezekiel.

MATTHEW HENRY: The “living creatures” which Ezekiel saw coming out of the midst of the fire, Ezekiel 1:5,  were seraphim―“burners;” for “he maketh his angels spirits, his ministers a flaming fire, Psalm 104:4…The prophet himself explains this vision, Ezekiel 10:20, I knew that the living creatures were the cherubim, which is one of the names by which the angels are known in Scripture…That which comes out of the fire, of a fiery amber colour, when it comes to be distinctly viewed, is “the likeness of four living creatures;” not the living creatures themselves―angels are spirits, and cannot be seen―but the likeness of them, such a hieroglyphic, or representation, as God saw fit to make use of for the leading of the prophet, and us with him, into some acquaintance with the world of angels.

ADAM CLARKE (1760-1832): The extraordinary shape of these angels, which appeared to the prophet in this vision, is symbolical.

JOHN TRAPP (1601-1699): Great angels they are, but they act invisibly for the most part; their hands are under their wings, Ezekiel 1:8.

JOHN CALVIN: It is enough for me that the images were winged, which represented angels…Besides, it is preposterous, as I have said, forcibly to transfer these rudiments, which God delivered only to His ancient people, to the fullness of time, when the Church has grown up and has passed out of its childhood.

JOHN TRAPP: The distinct knowledge of angels, as angels, is reserved till we are like the angels in heaven―I read of a friar that undertook to show to the people a feather of the wing of the angel Gabriel, and so verified the old proverb, “a friar, a liar.”

C. H. SPURGEON: There was an amusing incident in my early Waterbeach ministry which I have never forgotten.

One day, a gentleman, who was then mayor of Cambridge, and who had more than once tried to correct my youthful mistakes, asked me if I really had told my congregation that if a thief got into Heaven, he would begin picking the angels’ pockets. “Yes, sir,” I replied, “I told them that if it were possible for an ungodly man to go to Heaven without having his nature changed, he would be none the better for being there; and then, by way of illustration, I said that were a thief to get in among the glorified, he would remain a thief still, and he would go round the place picking the angels’ pockets!”

“But, my dear young friend,” asked Mr. Brimley, very seriously, “don’t you know that the angels haven’t any pockets?”  “No, sir,” I replied, with equal gravity, “I did not know that, but I am glad to be assured of the fact from a gentlemen who does know. I will take care to put it right the first opportunity I get.” 

The following Monday morning, I walked into Mr. Brimley’s shop, and said to him, “I set that matter right yesterday, sir.”

“What matter?” he enquired.

“Why, about the angels’ pockets!”

“What did you say?” he asked, in a tone almost of despair at what he might hear next.

“Oh, sir, I just told the people I was sorry to say that I had made a mistake the last time I preached to them; but that I had met a gentleman—the mayor of Cambridge—who had assured me that the angels had no pockets, so I must correct what I had said, as I did not want anybody to go away with a false notion about Heaven. I would therefore say that, if a thief got among the angels without having his nature changed, he would try to steal the feathers out of their wings!”

“Surely, you did not say that?” said Mr. Brimley.

“I did, though,” I replied.

“Then,” he exclaimed, “I’ll never try to set you right again.”


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