Angelic Hierarchy

a. The Fact of Such.

In his vision of the Isle on Patmos, John wrote: "And I saw the seven angels that stand before God" (Revelation 8:2) – commonly regarded as "archangels," though that is not made explicit by the Holy Writ, And is not a necessary inference. But the Cambridge Bible Commentary on the New English Bible (1965) nevertheless comments thus: "The definite article suggest that we should regard these as the seven archangels; they were Gabriel (who says in Luke 1:19, ‘I stand in attendance upon God’), Michael, Raphael, Uriel, Raguel, Saraqael, and Remiel (=Jeremiel mentioned in the note on 6:11). These are the names given in Enoch 20 [in the pseudepigrapha]. Only Michael and Gabriel are named in the Bible. Raphael is one of the principle characters in the book of Tobit (in the Apocrypha) and he says, "I am Raphael, one of the seven holy angels, whom … go in before the glory of the Holy One’ (12:15)."

But standing before God may not be all it takes to make an angel an archangel or to identify him as such. For Jesus said: "See that ye despise not one of these little ones [these humble believers in himself, vs.3-6]; for I say unto you, that in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father in heaven" (Matthew 18:10). And Gabriel said, "I … stand in the presence of God" (Luke 1:19); yet the scriptures do not call him an "archangel" notwithstanding the pseudepigrahical book of Enoch does.

However, that there is rank among angels is a concept that is not dependent of either (1) the above interpretation of Revelation 8:2 as referring to a category called" archangels" or (2) non-canonical Jewish writings between the Testaments. It is made certain in scripture by the explicit use of word "archangel," meaning the highest angel, which occurs twice in the New Testament. One place is 1 Thessalonians 4:16, where the definite article, while employed is translation, is omitted from the Greek text, and thus could be understood as "an archangel," and therefore allowing for more and thus a category of archangels. But it also occurs in Jude 9, where Michael is named and called "the archangel," as if indicating him to be the only one, notwithstanding Jude was familiar with the pseudepigraphical book of Enoch (compiled from Jewish writings believed to range in dates from 150 BC), and quoted it in v.14 on another matter.

Jude would have likewise been familiar with the Apocrypha (books and additions to books in the LXX not occurring in the Hebrew text of the Old Testament), including not only Tobit as mentioned in the above extract from The Cambridge Bible Commentary but others as well (2 Esdras especially) referring to one or more of seven angels named in Tobit. This would indicate that Jude made references to the Pseudepigrapha (spurious writings claiming to emanate from Bible characters) and Apocrypha only corroborated and dictated by divine inspiration.

We are not limited in scripture, however, to the term "archangel," for indications of rank among the angels. But we shall make mention at this point of only two more.

(1) In 2 Peter 2:4 and Jude 6, reference is made to angels that had sinned, and Jude further states that they "kept not their own principality, but left their proper habitation." This implies both rank and assignment to particular places and responsibilities.

(2) Also, 1 Peter 3:22 speaks of Jesus Christ, who is on the right hand of God, having gone into heaven; angels and authorities and powers being made subject to him." It is likely that "authorities" and "powers" have reference to categories of angels with special assignments and responsibilities rather than to created beings that are not angels – just as in Philippians 1:1 we find that epistle to be addressed to "all the Saints in Christ Jesus that are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons" – which does not mean that the "bishops" and "deacons" were not "saints," but rather that they were saints with special responsibilities and functions assigned.

Taking that for granted, and considering "angels" usually to be a generic expression and the other terms to be references to certain specific categories of them, we shall discuss four of the latter and then conclude with angels in the much more extended sense as a fifth.

b. The Nature of Such

(1) "CHERUBIM (plural of cherub)". These are the first to be mentioned, and seemingly are among the highest in rank.

(a) After Adam and Eve had sinned and been driven out of Eden. God "placed at the east of the garden of Eden the Cherubim, and the flame of a sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life" (Genesis 3:24). But here there is no description of the cherubim.

(b) Next we read of two figures of "cherubim" made of gold and standing at the two ends of the mercyseat above the ark of the covenant in the Most Holy Place of the Tabernacle that God had Moses to build at Mount Sinai after Israel’s deliverance from Egyptian bondage.

"One cherub [stood] at one end [of the mercyseat], and one cherub at the other end … spread[ing] out their wings on high, with their faces one to another [and downward] toward the mercyseat." There God promised to meet with Moses and "commune’ with him "from above the mercy-seat, from between the two cherubim which are upon the ark of the testimony." (Exodus 25:18-22; 37:7-9; Numbers 7:89.)

That was evidently the height of human honor for Moses, for the Most Holy Place was a type of heaven, the abode of God, who is repeatedly described as "sitting [or ‘enthroned’] above the cherubim" (1 Samuel 4:4; 2 Samuel 6:2; 2 Kings 19:15; 1 Chronicles13:6; Psalm 80:1; 99:1; Isaiah 37:16) – the implication being that the "cherubim" were one of the highest orders of created beings.

Moreover, the curtains covering the Tabernacle built at Sinai had figures of "cherubim" woven into them (Exodus 26:1; 36:8), as did also the inner veil separating the Most Holy Place from the Holy of Place (2:31-34; 36:35). (NOTE: If this seems to violate the second of the Ten Commandments given at Sinai (Exodus20:4-5). That Commandment obviously meant nothing was to be worshipped.)

Here there is only slight description of the cherubim – none of their faces, no indication of more than two wings of each, and no hint as to what their body was like.

(c) Later, when Solomon’s Temple was rebuilt to replace the Tabernacle, there was two figures of "cherubim" placed in the "oracle" (equivalent to the Most Holy Place in the Tabernacle) to correspond to those in the Tabernacle, except larger and located differently. And all the walls of the "house" (Temple) had figures of "cherubim" carved on them, alternation with palm-trees, within and without, as did the entrance and its door also. (1 Kings 6:23-35; 8:6-7; 2 Chronicles 3:7, 10-14;5:7-8.)

Again there is no description of faces, no indication of more than two wings for each cherub, and nothing about what their bodies were like.

(d) Much later still, during the Babylonian captivity of Judah, and by the river Chebar, "the heavens were opened" to the prophet Ezekiel, and he "saw visions of God," the first of which featured "the likeness of four living creatures" beside the river (Ezekiel 1:1-28), later identified as "cherubim" (10:1-22); and in a subsequent vision of a restored temple (40:1-47:5), its walls and doors were covered with "cherubim" and palm-trees alternation (41:18-25). And their description are more detailed than preceding ones – also somewhat different.

* Each of the four living creatures of Ezekiel "had the likeness of a man," except that each had four faces and four wings, and the sole of their feet was "like the sole of a calf’s foot" and "sparkled like burnished brass." They also had "the hands of a man under their wings of the four sides." "As for the likeness of their faces, they had the face of a man; and they four had the face of a lion on the right side; … the face of an ox on the left side; … also the face of an eagle [opposite the face of a man]." (1:4-9)

"As for the likeness of the living creatures [otherwise]. Their appearance was like the burning coals of fire, like the appearance of torches: the fire went up and down among the living creatures; and the fire was bright, and out of the fire went forth lightening. And the living creatures ran and returned as the appearance of a flash of lightening." (1:10-14.)

* Beside each of these "living creatures" of Ezekiel’s first vision, he saw a curious wheel ("like unto a beryl [hence, blueish green-blue in hue]" and "as it were a wheel within a wheel") on the earth for each of their four faces. And the "rims of the wheels were "high and dreadful; and … full of eyes round about." When the living creatures moved, the wheels moved with them; and when they were lifted up from the earth, the wheels were lifted – for "the spirit [or, life] of the living creature was in the "wheels." (1:15-21.)

NOTE: See 1 Chronicles 28:18, which curiously speaks of "gold for the pattern of the chariot, even the cherubim, that spread out their wings, and covered the ark of the covenant of Jehovah," that would be placed in the "house of Jehovah" [the Temple] that Solomon was to build (.20). Mention of the cherubim as a "chariot" was evidently an allusion to the fact David had poetically spoken of them as the chariots of Jehovah. 2 Samuel 22:11 quotes him thus: "And he rode upon a cherub, and did fly; yea, he was seen upon the wings of the wind." And Psalm 18:10 repeats it almost identically: "And he rode upon a cherub, and did fly: yea, he soared upon the wings of the wind." In Psalm 104:3 is similar imagery with reference to clouds: "Who maketh the clouds his chariots; who walketh upon the wings of the wind."

Also, "over the heads of the four living creature[s] there was the likeness of the firmament. Like crystal [or ice], to look upon, stretched forth over their heads above …. And above the firmament… was the likeness of a throne, as the appearance of a sapphire stone [likely a rich blue]; and upon … the throne was a likeness as the appearance of a man … and there was brightness around about him. As the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud in the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness around about, This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of Jehovah." (1:22,26-28)

In Chapter 10, the descriptions are basically the same. But in Chapter 41, each "cherub" carved on the doors and walls of the Temple, within and without, had only "two faces" instead of four – "the face of a man on the one side, and the face of a young lion toward the palm tree on the other side" (vs.18-19). But in this case a four-dimensional effect could hardly be represented as in Chapters 1 and 10.

(e) The only mention of "cherubim" in the New Testament is in Hebrews 9:5 where the mention is made of "the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy-seat" of the earthly temple.

(2) "SERAPHIM" (plural of "seraph"). These are the next category to be mentioned, but in only one text – Isaiah 6:1-7 – which describes an awe-inspiring vision Isaiah had of the glory of Jehovah when being called to the office of prophet, with "the seraphim" as a part of Jehovah’s court. The text reads as follows:

"In the year that king Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and his train filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim: each one had six wings ; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly. And one cried unto another [literally, this to this], and said "Holy, holy holy is Jehovah of hosts; the earth is full of his glory. And the foundations of the threshhold shook at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke. Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, Jehovah of host.

"Then flew one of the seraphim unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the alter: and he touched my mouth with it, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin forgiven."

But here we have no description except for the fact that each had wings (six in number, two of them for flying), feet, face, hand (presumably two), and could speak; also that the word "seraphim" itself seems literally to mean fiery ones, so that in appearance they may have been somewhat as the "cherubim" that Ezekiel saw – that is, "like the burning coals of fire," or possibly like lightning. No number is given of them, except a plurality – at least two.

(3) "LIVING CREATURES." These we have in the New Testament, in the Book of Revelation, in the vision John saw of the throne room of the universe in heaven. There were four of them, similar in some respects to the cherubim and the seraphim of the Old Testament. They were "full of eyes before and behind," situated " in the midst of the throne, and around about the throne" – maybe one of either side of the throne itself, and on either side of the elevated throne area. "And the first creature was like a lion, and the second creature like a calf, and the third creature had a face as of a man, and the fourth creature was like a flying eagle. And the four living creatures, having each of them six wings, all full of eyes round about and within; and they had no rest day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty, who was, and who is and who is to come." (Revelation 4:6a-8.)

(4) "ELDERS." "And round about the throne were four and twenty [subordinate] thrones [seemingly encircling the four ‘living creatures’ as well as the principal ‘thrones’ and its occupant]: and upon the thrones I saw four and twenty elders sitting, arrayed in white garments: and on their heads crowns of gold" (Revelation 4:4). Presumably these were human in appearance.

More often than not, the "living creatures" and "elders: acted in concert. For example, (a) When the living creatures worshipped God, the elders joined them (4:9-11). (b) When the Lamb had overcome to open the book of the seven seals, "the four living creatures and the four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, … And they sang a new song, Saying, Worthy art thou" etc. (5:8-10). (c) When myriads of angels and every created thing were joining in worship, "the four living creatures said Amen. And the elders fell down and worshipped" (5:11-14). (d) On another occasion, it is said that "the elders and the four living creatures … fell before the throne and on their faces and Worshipped God" (7:11-12). And (e) when the fall of Babylon was being celebrated by a great multitude in heaven "the four and twenty elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshipped God that sitteth on the throne, saying, Amen; Hallelujah" (19:1-4).

Occasionally , however, they acted independently. (a) When John was weeping because no one in the universe had been found to open the book with seven seals, "one of the elders saith unto [him], Weep not," for the Lion of the tribe of Judah had overcome, to open the book (5:1-5). And (b) upon the opening of each of the first four seals of the book, each of the four living creatures took turn. in shouting, "Come," in response to which one of four horses and riders would come forth (6:1-8). Also, (c) on another occasion "the four and twenty elders fell upon their faces and worshipped God," without any mention of the four living creatures (11:16-18).

(5) ANGELS. " In addition to the foregoing specific categories, of celestial creatures mentioned in the Old and New Testaments, there are multitudes of others simply called by the broader and more inclusive term "angels." Besides the 24 "elders" and four "living creatures" seen by John in his vision on Patmos, there were "many angels … ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands" spoken of by him on one occasion as "round about the throne" (at least 101,000,000, but actually more, for that number represents only one thousand thousands in the second category whereas it is thousands [plural] of thousands – all told, an indefinite number of staggering proportions) celebrating the overcoming of the lamb to open the seals of the above mentioned book (Revelation 5:11-12). And in the Book of Revelation angels, singly or in groups, are mentioned throughout – as they also are elsewhere in both the Old and New Testaments. Hebrews 12:22 also speaks of "innumerable host of angels" in connection with "the heavenly Jerusalem."

In a general or broad sense "angels" seem to be mentioned as embracing all of heaven’s created inhabitants in contrast with humankind on earth. Note the following expression: "For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels in heaven" (Matthew 22:30). "But of that day and hour knoweth no one, not even the angels in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father only" (Matthew 24:36" "… the tongues of men and of angels" (1 Corinthians 13:1). "I charge thee in the sight of God, and Christ Jesus, and the elect angels" (1 Timothy 5:21). "I will confess his name before my father, and before his angels" (Revelation 3:5; cf. Luke 12:8-9; 15:10).

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