In my thirty years of pastoral ministry, I have come across a number of commonly-held beliefs that cannot be substantiated by the Bible. Here are the top six “myths” that many people still believe about angels and demons.
1. Angels are cute little naked babies with wings.
Take a look at so much of Western Civilization’s art. Apparently some confuse Cupid on Valentine’s Day with the angels of the Bible (even the great Renaissance artist Raphael Sanzio was known to paint angels this way).
Angels throughout the Bible appear as intimidating spiritual creatures. In Genesis 3:24, angels (cherubim) guard the Garden of Eden with a flaming sword. In 2 Kings 6:17-23, the Lord reveals a mighty angelic army, complete with horses and chariots of fire all around the prophet Elisha. These spirit creatures sometimes make “guest appearances” and appear as men (Genesis 18:2-22). In the book of Ezekiel, one particular classification of angels (possibly cherubim) have the face of a man, a lion, an ox, and an eagle (Ezekiel 1:10-11).
These same unusual heavenly creatures appear again in Revelation 4:6-7. Some suspect that the two female creatures in Zechariah 5:9 are angels, but the text does not positively identify them that way. What we can be sure of from the Bible is that angels never appear as cute little naked babies.
2. Humans become angels when they die.
I hear it often about a deceased loved one that so-and-so has now become an angel to watch over us. No, that does not happen. Humans stay human even after death. They do not become angels.
The New Testament gives a fuller revelation than the Old Testament about existence after death, and it is clear that people either immediately go to heaven to be with God (John 5:24; 2 Corinthians 5:8; Philippians 1:21; Revelation 7:13-16), or they go to a place of conscious eternal torment in a place called Hades (Luke 16:23). Later, after the final judgment, the damned are consigned to the lake of fire, commonly called “hell” (Matthew 25:30, 46; Revelation 20:15).
John MacArthur explained it well on CNN.
The clear testimony of the Bible is that humans stay human — even as their spirits are either in heaven or in hell — and they will all later be resurrected in some physical body. Believers will receive an immortal glorified body like the one the resurrected Jesus currently has (Philippians 3:21), and the damned will be resurrected in their old mortal body before they are consigned to eternal hell (Daniel 12:2; John 5:28-29; Acts 24:14-15). We stay human; the angels stay angels.
3. Everyone has a guardian angel assigned to them.
On this one I’m willing to give a little ground. If (big if) we each have a specific guardian angel, there is precious little biblical evidence for it. Does the Bible teach that angels serve mankind? Absolutely. Just take a look at Hebrews 1:14. The author is speaking of angels when he says, “Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?”
However, do we each have one particular angel assigned to us, sort of like Clarence in the Frank Capra movie “It’s a Wonderful Life?” (In the movie they combine the idea that humans become angels with the belief in guardian angels.)
The only places that might support such an idea are Matthew 18:10 and Acts 12:15. In Matthew 18, Jesus calls believers (people who become like children to inherit the kingdom) “these little ones.” He then says that “in heaven their angels always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven.” So, the angels who serve believers always behold the face of God the Father.
Does this, however, mean that each believer is assigned one particular angel to guard him or her or watch over him or her? It does not. What we do know is that there is an innumerable host of angels, and they do serve mankind. But there is no exact one-to-one ratio stated here. John MacArthur addressed this issue.
In an amusing passage in Acts 12, an angel rescues Peter from prison (an example of angels serving humans). In verse 15, the servant girl is so freaked out by the whole experience that she confuses the real Peter standing outside with “his angel.” Does this teach that Christians have guardian angels? It does not. Rhoda the servant girl is merely repeating a superstition of the day; she is not giving out doctrine. In fact, it is not an angel but rather the actual Peter who has just been miraculously sprung from prison!
4. Satan and all his angels live in hell.
This motif shows up all the time in cartoons. (Some of my favorite “Far Side” cartoons are of the devil and his crew in hell. As funny as Larson’s stuff is, the devil and hell are no joke.)
Dante, in “The Inferno,” definitely places the devil at the bottom of hell, packed in ice up to his chest, eternally chewing on Judas and Brutus (two of the greatest traitors in history).
The Bible paints no such picture. The devil is not bound in hell right now, and he is quite active not only on earth, but also in the heavens. In the book of Job, he actually appears before God in heaven (Job 1:6-12). St. Paul calls him “the prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2). He was quite active in tempting Christ to sin (Matthew 4:1-11) and is doing the same to the human race today. His fallen angels (demons) are likewise very active on this earth, seducing people to believe Satan’s many lies (1 Timothy 4:1) and can even possess some (Acts 16:16-19).
A select few demons have been bound in a place called “the abyss” or “Tartarus” (Revelation 9:1-3, 11; and 2 Peter 2:4) and will yet be released upon the earth during the Great Tribulation. Satan and all his hosts will eventually be cast into the lake of fire/Gehenna (Revelation 20:10).
5. The devil is all-powerful.
Thank God, he is not. Only God is God (Isaiah 44:6-8; 1 Corinthians 8:4-6). The devil cannot read your mind; neither can his demons. Only God knows your thoughts (Matthew 9:4; 12:25). The devil is powerful, but he is not the Creator. He cannot be everywhere at once, he does not know all things, and he is not anywhere nearly as powerful as God. Billy Graham explained it well.
Colossians 2:15 shows that Christ through His Resurrection has defeated Satan’s stranglehold on the human race. Peter in his first epistle tells us the Satan goes about as a roaring lion, but he can in fact be resisted because his defeat is a sure thing (1 Peter 5:8-9).
When Jesus walked the earth, the demons trembled before Christ, and the last book of the Bible confirms to us Satan’s final doom. He may seem to be winning at times (as when Christ was put on the cross), but his apparent victory is always short-lived (as when Christ rose from the dead).
6. The devil looks evil or comical.
You already see the Halloween costumes and decorations out in the stores by now. I’m sure you’ll see a devil suit or some grotesque-looking creature that is supposed to be a demon. But the Bible does not say that the devil has red pajamas or horns or a forked tail or a pitchfork. The Bible does not say that he looks like a goat. It does describe him with the character of a lion (1 Peter 5:8-9) and appearing in a vision as a dragon and a serpent (Revelation 12:3-9).
The apostle Paul, however, describes Satan in a way you would not normally expect. The devil seems to appear beautiful. Paul calls him “an angel of light” in 2 Corinthians 11:14. Satan does not come to the human race, snarling and twirling a cheesy moustache saying “come this way to hell.” No, instead he appeals to unsuspecting people as an angel of light, telling people that there are many different ways to heaven, that Jesus is just another great teacher, that our efforts or good intentions will give us eternal life.
The testimony of the Bible is that there is definitely another world which we cannot see. Dr. Erwin Lutzer addressed it well.
The spiritual realm, inhabited by angels and demons, is just as real as the world we live in today, except that world will continue to exist long after this one is rolled up like a scroll and replaced with a new heavens and new earth.