Does the Bible teach character development in angels?
In our last Q&A, we discussed the fact that God is creating His holy and righteous character in man, as it is His purpose to reproduce Himself in man–to enlarge His God Family through man. The same cannot be said about angels.
There is no indication in Scripture that it is–or has ever been–God’s purpose to enlarge the Family of God–presently consisting of God the Father and God the Son, Jesus Christ–through angels. Rather, angels are created beings; they are all “ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation” (Hebrews 1:14).
God tells us that He “has not put the world to come, of which we speak, in subjection to angels” (Hebrews 2:5); rather, this potential is given to man (verses 6-9). And so, we read that Christ did not take on the nature of angels, but He took on the nature of man (Hebrews 2:16; compare Authorized Version and margin of New King James Bible), to be made like His brethren in everything (verse 17), so that His brethren could be made like Him in everything. As we point out in our booklet, “The Gospel of the Kingdom of God,” Jesus Christ–who was God since all eternity–became man, to make it possible for man to become God.
None of this can be said about angels. They are not to become God–in fact, we read that man–made immortal–will judge or rule over angels. A mighty and powerful angel had to tell John twice not to worship him, stating: “See that you do not do that. For I am your fellow servant, and of your brethren the prophets, and of those who keep the word of the book. Worship God” (Revelation 22:9; compare Revelation 19:10). But we also read that true Christians, made immortal, will be worshipped–and that with Christ’s approval–so they will be GOD at that time (Revelation 3:9).
And still, the Bible indicates character development in angels. Again, NOT for the purpose of becoming members of the God Family in a literal sense. But, we need to realize that God created angels with free moral agency–as men are free moral agents–and that every free moral agent has the power of choice. He has to DECIDE whether or not to accept and live by the truth. And the Bible tells us that about one-third of the angels whom God had created, DECIDED to SIN–while the remaining two-thirds of the angels DECIDED NOT to SIN (compare Revelation 12:4).
We discussed in a previous Q&A that the great archangel and cherub Lucifer sinned–and that his name was changed to Satan, which means, “adversary.” We also pointed out that the angels under his control likewise sinned and are known today as “demons.” We showed that Lucifer and his demons attempted a coup to throw God off His throne in heaven; but that they were defeated by God’s righteous angels and thrown back to this earth.
Herbert W. Armstrong, the late Pastor General of the Worldwide Church of God, wrote the following in, “The Incredible Human Potential,” copyright 1978:
“Lucifer was a super being of awesome, majestic beauty, dazzling brightness, supreme knowledge, wisdom and power — perfect as God created him! But God of necessity created in him the power of choice and decision, or he could not have been a being of individuality and character…
“This superb spirit being filled up the sum total of wisdom, perfection and beauty. He was the supreme pinnacle, the masterpiece, of God’s creation, as an individually created being, the greatest one in the almighty power of God to create! The tragic thing is that he rebelled against his Maker!…
“He had complete knowledge, understanding and wisdom. But he also was given full powers of reasoning, thinking, making decisions, making his choice. And, with all this foreknowledge — even of results and consequences — this superb being, the highest that even God could create by fiat, turned to rebellion against his Maker — against the way that produces every good.”
We read that Lucifer was perfect when he was created–until iniquity, lawlessness or sin was found in him. God did not create him with iniquity–but because Lucifer was a free moral agent, he DECIDED to ALLOW sin to enter his life. Ezekiel 28:14-17 says about Lucifer: “You were the anointed cherub who covers… You were PERFECT in your ways from the day you were created, TILL iniquity was found IN YOU… You BECAME filled with violence within, And you SINNED… Your HEART WAS LIFTED UP because of your beauty; You CORRUPTED your wisdom for the sake of your splendor…”
As mentioned, the angels under Lucifer’s control followed his bad example and participated in his coup. 2 Peter 2:4 states: “For God did not spare the angels WHO SINNED, but cast them down to hell [tartaros in Greek; a state or condition of darkness, rather than a place] and delivered them into [spiritual] chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment…” Compare, too, Jude 6.
The question might be asked whether the “character development” in all created spirit beings is complete–and whether it was completed at the time when one-third of the angels decided to sin, and two-thirds decided to stay loyal to God. In other words, is it possible that some of the angels could still sin and some of the demons could still repent?
Please note the following excerpts from our booklet, Angels, Demons and the Spirit World:
“When reading about angelic warfare with demons, we might ask ourselves the question: ‘Why does God let these spiritual battles go on?’… We have already discussed the fact that a full one-third of God’s angels sinned in times past, thus becoming demons. God did not prevent them from sinning. He created them as free moral agents and He knew that they could sin…
“Angels were created as free moral agents. God wants them to make a final decision as to whether to sin or to live in righteousness. We know that the angels sinned when they followed Satan. What we don’t know is whether all of them committed the unpardonable sin; in other words, whether or not some of them can still repent. We also don’t know whether all of the angels who did not follow Satan thereby made the irrevocable decision to always stay loyal to God…
“We are told in 1 Peter 3:19–20: ‘… by which [the Spirit] also he [Christ] went and preached unto the spirits in prison; Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water’ (Authorized Version).
“The correct understanding of this passage is that Jesus Christ preached to the spirits in prison—the demons—at the time of Noah, when God was about to protect Noah from destruction. Christ used this example to show that the demons who had sinned ‘sometime’—before the creation of man—were still awaiting their judgment.
“Why did Christ preach to the demons? Was the only purpose to announce to them what they already knew, that they would be punished in the future? Or, was it done in order to bring some of them to repentance so that they could be spared from punishment?
“Proverbs 16:2 tells us that ‘the LORD weighs the spirits.’ If the fate of all spirit beings—good and bad—is sealed, why would God still weigh the spirits?
“We are also told, in 1 Corinthians 6:3, that we will judge angels. This judgment might include demons who are called ‘angels’ in Revelation 12:7. ‘Judgment’ can mean ‘condemnation.’ ‘Judgment’ can also refer to a process of judging, leading, guiding and directing, which requires time, until at the end of the process, the verdict is pronounced. Is the Bible telling us that we are to judge demons, not only in the sense of condemning them for what they did, but also for the purpose of trying to lead some of them to repentance?…
“The Bible sometimes refers to the angels who followed God as being ‘holy.’ This does not necessarily mean that they cannot sin. We who are called by God today are considered ‘holy’ (1 Peter 2:9). Still, we do sin from time to time. ONLY God CANNOT sin. The Bible does not say that the angels who did not follow Satan, could not sin anymore. Since God cannot sin, we have to become God, higher than the angels, to guarantee that we, too, will not sin anymore as born-again members of the God Family. This is why God is in the process of reproducing Himself, through man, not through angels…
“Paul makes this alarming comment in Galatians 1:8: ‘But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed.’ Apparently, Paul felt it might be possible that an ‘angel from heaven’ could sin, by preaching a wrong gospel message…
“Does God allow spiritual battles between angels and demons to go on in order to allow character-building, either good or bad? Actions prove where one’s heart is. An angel who consistently and tenaciously fights for God, and against demons, will not be easily persuaded to deny God and to sin, while a demon who consistently and tenaciously fights against God will not easily repent and accept God and His way of life… Perhaps God is still testing His angels and the demons to see which of the angels might not yet have made a final commitment never to sin, and which of the demons might not yet have made a final commitment to never repent…
“God may not be done yet in determining the ultimate fate of all of His created spirit beings. As free moral agents, they too need to come to the point where their character has been formed and will not change. This has undoubtedly already occurred in many cases, but there might be other cases where God is still testing the spirits to see exactly where they stand.”
In conclusion, as free moral agents, both angels and men must choose to obey God. This requires time. While most created spirit beings have undoubtedly irrevocably decided never to sin or never to repent–so that they have acquired either good or bad character–there could still be those whose character development is not yet complete.
It is clear from Scripture that Satan and most demons are not interested in developing righteous character–they are not able to do so. It is also apparent that most holy angels are not interested in turning from God–in fact, they, too, might not be able to do so. Once spirit beings make an irrevocable decision never to sin or never to repent, they cannot change, as they are unwilling to change. Then, their character development–either for the good or the bad–will have been completed. For instance, as we pointed out in our last Q&A, God, who has always been perfect and righteous character, CANNOT sin, as His perfect WILL and His very nature are opposed to sinning. There was never a time when God’s character needed development–it was always perfect, righteous and good. But as we said, it is possible that some angels or demons may still have to reach the point of making their final irrevocable decision–their character development may still be ongoing towards a final resolution.
Lead Writer: Norbert Link