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3. Types of Angels

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What are the various types of angels in Scripture? Scripture mentions three types: cherubim, seraphim, and living creatures. We will consider each.

Cherubim

Cherubim are mentioned ninety-two times in thirteen different Bible books (Gen, Ex, Num, 1 and 2 Sam, 1 and 2 Kgs, 1 and 2 Chr, Ps, Is, Ez, and Heb).1 God originally put a cherub outside of the Garden of Eden to keep humans from eating from the tree of life (Gen 3:24). In the ark of the covenant, golden cherubim were placed above the mercy seat—probably symbolic of real cherubim guarding the presence of God. Exodus 25:22 describes this:

I will meet with you there, and from above the atonement lid, from between the two cherubim that are over the ark of the testimony, I will speak with you about all that I will command you for the Israelites.

In addition, cherubim were part of the curtain decorations in the tabernacle and temple. Exodus 26:1 says, “The tabernacle itself you are to make with ten curtains of fine twisted linen and blue and purple and scarlet; you are to make them with cherubim that are the work of an artistic designer.”

In Ezekiel 1, cherubim were present attending to the glory of God but were called “living beings” (v. 19); in Ezekiel 10:15, these same angels were called “cherubim.” However, they differ in appearance from the “living beings” or “living creatures” mentioned in Revelation 4. The cherubim have four faces—that of a man, a lion, an ox, and an eagle—four feet like a calf, and four wings. In contrast, living creatures have one face and six wings (Rev 4:7-8). Ezekiel 1:10-11 describes the cherubim:

Their faces had this appearance: Each of the four had the face of a man, with the face of a lion on the right, the face of an ox on the left and also the face of an eagle. Their wings were spread out above them; each had two wings touching the wings of one of the other beings on either side and two wings covering their bodies.

In Ezekiel 10:14, one of the four faces is said to be that of a “cherub” instead of an ox. Most likely, a cherub’s face must look like that of an ox (Ez 1:10, 10:14). Many scholars believe Satan originally was a cherub who guarded the glory of God until he became prideful and rebelled against God. Ezekiel 28:14 (ESV) says, “You were an anointed guardian cherub. I placed you; you were on the holy mountain of God; in the midst of the stones of fire you walked.”

The cherubim remind us to be zealous for God’s glory, especially in worship. When the Jews were dishonoring God and cheating people, Jesus went into the temple, scattered the coins of money changers, flipped tables, and yelled, “Take these things away from here! Do not make my Father’s house a marketplace!” (John 2:16). Likewise, we must be zealous about guarding God’s glory in worship—making sure it aligns with God’s Word, as God can only be worshiped in spirit and truth (John 4:23). In addition, since Satan originally was a guardian cherub who became prideful and desired to be like God (Is 14:14, 1 Tim 3:6), we must also be warned against ministering for God and yet seeking glory for ourselves. That was the sin of the Pharisees who did their fasting, praying, and giving, all to be seen by people instead of God (Matt 6:1-18). In Matthew 6:1, Christ warned, “Be careful not to display your righteousness merely to be seen by people. Otherwise you have no reward with your Father in heaven.” James 4:6 says, “God opposes the proud, but he gives grace to the humble.” It is possible to rebel like Satan and thus be judged by God (1 Tim 3:6). Hebrews 10:29-31 says,

How much greater punishment do you think that person deserves who has contempt for the Son of God, and profanes the blood of the covenant that made him holy, and insults the Spirit of grace? For we know the one who said, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

Seraphim

Another group of angels only mentioned in Isaiah 6 is the seraphim. The name means “burning ones.”2 The seraphim have six wings: two to fly with, two to cover their feet, and two to cover their faces (Is 6:2). The four wings that cover their face and feet probably demonstrate their great honor and reverence for God’s holiness and glory (Ex 3:5). The two wings to fly with are used to serve God.

As demonstrated by Isaiah 6, the seraphim serve two roles: (1) They are consumed with praising the person of God as they continually cry out to one another, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord who commands armies! His majestic splendor fills the entire earth!” (v. 3). (2) Also, the seraphim cleanse God’s people from sin. In Isaiah 6:6-7, they touch Isaiah’s mouth with burning coals to cleanse him from sin, so he can be prepared to serve and speak for God (v. 6-9). Obviously, only Christ can cleanse people of sin. First John 1:7 says, “But if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” However, apparently, God allows these angels to at times participate in the process of cleansing his people.

The seraphim remind us to always be zealous in worshiping and serving God. As they cry out to one another in praise, Scripture says we should do the same. In Ephesians 5:18-19, Paul said: “… be filled by the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making music in your hearts to the Lord.” As these burning ones lack no zeal in praising and serving God, neither should we. Romans 12:11 says, “Do not lag in zeal, be enthusiastic in spirit, serve the Lord.” In addition, the seraphim remind us to be zealous in getting rid of sin in our lives, so God can use us, even as he did with Isaiah. Second Corinthians 7:1 says, “Therefore, since we have these promises, dear friends, let us cleanse ourselves from everything that could defile the body and the spirit, and thus accomplish holiness out of reverence for God.” First John 1:9 says, “But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous, forgiving us our sins and cleansing us from all unrighteousness.”

The Living Creatures

In Revelation 4:6-9, 5:8, and 15:7, four living creatures are mentioned. Unlike the cherubim who have four faces, the living creatures each have one—the face of a lion, an ox, a man, and an eagle. The living creatures also have six wings, while the cherubim have four. Because they surround the throne of God with the twenty-four elders (Rev 4:4 and 6), who apparently represent redeemed people, some have speculated that the living creatures represent creation before God. The four faces of the lion, ox, man, and eagle represent some of the mightiest representatives of God’s creation. Though they look more like cherubim, they act more like seraphim as their chief activity seems to be praising and worshiping God. In Revelation 4:8, they cry out day and night: “Holy Holy Holy is the Lord God, the All-Powerful, Who was and who is, and who is still to come!” Also, in Revelation 5:12, they, along with the twenty-four elders and other angels, declare: “Worthy is the lamb who was killed to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and praise!”

In fact, the living creatures seem to function like priestly worship leaders, initiating heavenly worship. Revelation 4:9-10 says,

And whenever the living creatures give glory, honor, and thanks to the one who sits on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders throw themselves to the ground before the one who sits on the throne and worship the one who lives forever and ever, and they offer their crowns before his throne …

In Revelation 5:8, the living creatures even offer God “golden bowls full of incense (which are the prayers of the saints).” They challenge us to live lives of constant worship—offering our bodies as living sacrifices to God (Rom 12:1) and offering everything we do to the Lord as worship—and they also challenge us to inspire others to worship and glorify God. First Corinthians 10:31 says, “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.” Matthew 5:16 says, “In the same way, let your light shine before people, so that they can see your good deeds and give honor to your Father in heaven.”

Conclusion

In Scripture, there are three types of angels. Cherubim, who are mentioned the most in Scripture, are commonly seen guarding the presence of God and the things of God. One was placed in the Garden of Eden to guard the tree of life; two were placed in the holy of holies to guard the presence of God. They remind us to be zealous about guarding God’s glory and his worship as well. Worship must be in spirit and truth to be accepted by God (John 4:23), and therefore must be guarded against anything in pretense and that doesn’t align with Scripture. Seraphim are only seen in Isaiah 6. They worship God’s person and cleanse God’s people. They are the “burning ones” who remind us to be zealous in our worship and service and also in cleansing ourselves from sin (Rom 12:11, 2 Cor 7:1). Finally, the living creatures are seen several times in Revelation. They, like the seraphim, continually worship God. They are like God’s priestly worship leaders who stay around the throne offering God worship and leading others in the same. They remind us that we are a holy, priestly people who should be consumed with honoring and worshiping God in everything we do (1 Pet 2:9), and leading others to do the same.

Reflection

  1. What stood out most in the reading and why?
  2. How many types of angels are there and what are they?
  3. Describe the types of angels and their functions and share any applications that can be drawn from them.
  4. What other questions or applications did you take from the reading?

Copyright © 2020 Gregory Brown

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1 Wilmington’s Guide to the Bible

2 MacArthur, J., & Mayhue, R. (Eds.). (2017). Biblical Doctrine: A Systematic Summary of Bible Truth (pp. 669–670). Wheaton, IL: Crossway.

Related Topics: Angelology

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