"Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew." (Isaiah 6:2)
Fresco painting of a Seraphim in the Hagia Sofia
Now as I looked at the living creatures, behold, a wheel was on the earth beside each living creature with its four faces. The appearance of the wheels and their workings was like the color of beryl, and all four had the same likeness. The appearance of their workings was, as it were, a wheel in the middle of a wheel. When they moved, they went toward any one of four directions; they did not turn aside when they went. (Ezekiel 1:15-17)
Many of us like the picture of angels as beautiful winged feminine creatures or baby-like creatures with halos and harps, known as cherubims. Most of us do not know that angels in the Bible likely do not look like any of our imaginations, nor do they appear as our media would have us believe.
Angels do not have cherub cheeks, appear as babies, or really like most artists' depictions, particularly Renaissance ones.
So, what do angels really look like? What is a biblically accurate description of an angel? Will we know when we see one?
The answer to this actually entirely depends on what form they take. Angels, being spiritual beings, can take on different forms. As we see in Scripture, angels can sometimes appear as humans, to the point where we may not even recognize that we’ve served an angel (Hebrews 13:2).
Other times, we get some really bizarre passages, like the one found in Ezekiel 1, where the prophet attempts to describe angels through a series of images, including wheels covered in eyes.
The short answer is we don’t have a definitive description for angels, but we can use Scripture to show how they sometimes appear.
In this article, we’ll explain some of the Biblically accurate forms that angels take according to Scripture and why this matters.
What Do Angels Look Like According to the Bible?
We’ll break down a few verses to describe what angels look like, according to the prophets and writers of Scripture.
The donkey saw the angel of the LORD standing in the road, with a drawn sword in his hand. Thus the donkey turned off the road, and went into the field and Balaam struck the donkey, to turn it back onto the road (Numbers 22:23).
In this passage, we see that Balaam didn't see the angel. Angels can be invisible to us. When we do see them, they tend to strike fear into us.
We should also note that they fight spiritual battles, and this isn’t the first instance of us seeing an armed angel in Scripture. Let's take a look at some examples in the Bible where angels carried swords.
After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life (Genesis 3:24).
I lifted up my eyes and looked, and behold, a man clothed in linen, with a belt of fine gold from Uphaz around his waist. His body was like beryl, his face like the appearance of lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and the sound of his words like the sound of a multitude (Daniel 10:5-6).
Although the last six chapters of Daniel tend to draw speculation and much debate from the theological community, these verses included, if these verses refer to an angelic being, it’s clear the being has a striking appearance in its true form. They seem to glow like gems or bronze.
And, of course, the most bizarre: Their entire bodies, including their backs, hands, and wings, were full of eyes all around, as were their four wheels (Ezekiel 10:12).
Photo: Amazon/Phil Shortman
In Ezekiel, we get the description of ophanim. The word ophanim is plural of ophan (also spelled ofan, owfan, and ophinnin), meaning wheels. The Bible does not specifically name the ophanim as angels. However, Jewish apocalyptic writers list them as angels because of three aspects: their eyes are attributes of a living creature, they have supernatural powers, and they exist close to the throne of God.
The wheel inside a wheel is probably a description of wheels at right angles to one another, allowing movement in any direction without turning. The rings of the wheels were covered in eyes. The wheel went with the living creature “for the spirit of the living creature was in the wheels” (Ezekiel 1:21). (excerpt from Why Do We Call the Angels with Wheel Eyes Ophanim?)
What Do Cheribum, Seraphim, and Other Angels Look Like?
In addition to the verses that talk about angels appearing as humans, we can glean from all of Scripture that they have an otherworldly appearance.
One that strikes fear into us. We probably cannot come up with an adequate description for them, since human words do not suffice on supernatural matters.
This does not nearly cover the breadth of angels, or even touches on the nature and appearance of fallen angels. After all, we have several ranks of angels. A cherub will look far different than an archangel. And an angel will look far different than a demon.
But because Scripture offers some bizarre imagery for these beings, we cannot definitely know what one looks like unless we see one ourselves. And something tells me that would be a horrifying experience.
Although we don't have descriptions of every angel, here is a brief overview at what some of them look like.
Cheribum: These creatures have four faces, and are described in Ezekiel 1:15-16 as such: "As I looked at the living creatures, I saw a wheel on the ground beside each creature with its four faces. This was the appearance and structure of the wheels: They sparkled like topaz, and all four looked alike. Each appeared to be made like a wheel intersecting a wheel."
Seraphim: An angelic being with six wings and two covering the eyes because they cannot directly stare at God's holiness.
Although these other angels are not mentioned explicitly in the Bible, they are categorized in this article as such as Malachim and Ophanim. First, messengers like Gabriel deliver the words of the Lord to his people. They often appear as men dressed in white. Ophanim are the "wheels" mentioned in Ezekiel. However, one could argue that these and the Cheribum are one and the same.
What Do Angels Do and Why It Matters
Why does it matter that we know what angels look like?
First of all, we need to know where the media has erred. If we believe that angels are little babies, then we’re in for a surprise if a real angel shows up to us.
Secondly, we also must recognize that angels appear in different forms. If an angel shows up to us in their full-on wheel-on-eyes form, we’re probably going to pass out.
Finally, we need to understand the role angels play in spiritual matters. They fight battles for us all the time. Angels in Scripture often come armed. To fully understand Biblically accurate angels, we must first know their purpose.
Throughout Scripture, we see God using angels as messengers. We see this in the angel Gabriel visiting Mary and Joseph in Luke 1. Hebrews 1:14 tells us, "Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?"
We also see that angels are used to send warnings and to enact God's justice and judgment. Psalm 48:49 says, "He unleashed against them his hot anger, his wrath, indignation and hostility— a band of destroying angels." in Exodus 33:2 - "I will send an angel before you and drive out the Canaanites, Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites."
Thirdly, we see angels as protectors. In Exodus 14, we read of the angel of the Lord that traveled with Israel in their escape from Egypt and helped the nation of Israel safely cross the Red Sea. In Genesis 48:16, the blessing of Joseph is recounted with the statement, "the Angel who has delivered me from all harm."
Lastly, We also should recognize that they are worshipping beings. They always direct the praise back to God. It doesn’t matter how striking their appearance is, they acknowledge who made them in the first place. In Revelation 5, we get a picture of what heaven is like with this description of angels: "Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they were saying: "Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!"
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/umbertoleporini
Hope Bolinger is an acquisitions editor at End Game Press, and the author of almost 30 books. More than 1500 of her works have been featured in various publications. Check out her books at hopebolinger.com for clean books in most genres, great for adults and kids.
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