Monday, March 06, 2023

Anonymous Asks (239)

“Are cherubs the spirits of dead babies?”

In the gospel of Matthew, the Lord Jesus says this about children: “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.”

Some readers take this to mean that children who die before the age of accountability go straight into the presence of God and become angels. This line of thought probably led to the popular depiction of angels as chubby, naked infants with wings. Google “cherub” and you inevitably get something like what appears above.

My neighbor has a couple of these cute little flying babies on her wall upstairs. I assume they give her comfort.

Tetramorphs and Serpents

As an aside, here’s an artist’s attempt to reproduce a biblical cherub as described by Ezekiel:

Wikipedia refers to such four-faced beings as tetramorphs. I don’t think this one looks sufficiently terrifying, but since images of cherubs in the public domain are extremely hard to come by, it will have to do. It puts a different spin on the adjective “cherubic”, doesn’t it?

What has all this to do with dead babies? Well, the serpent who successfully tempted Eve in Genesis 3 was not one of God’s earthly creations referred to in Genesis 1:24 or 2:19. Scripture later identifies that ancient serpent with “the devil” and “Satan, the deceiver of the whole world”. That serpent was a much earlier creation, a spirit being referred to in Ezekiel as an “anointed guardian cherub” who was in Eden, the garden of God, and who was cast “as a profane thing from the mountain of God”. Like the angels who serve God, this spirit being can apparently alter his own appearance as required. (In the Bible, angels often appear in human form, and may even go unrecognized.) In Eden, Lucifer took on the appearance of a serpent.

So then, scripture speaks of at least one cherub who is not the spirit of a dead human child. Lucifer predates the creation of humanity. He certainly predates babies, since he was conversing with Eve before she had any.

That observation should probably lead us to question whether any angelic beings actually are the spirits of humans, since the Bible nowhere suggests any such thing.

Examining the Text

Even a cursory examination of the text of Matthew’s gospel shows such an idea is not based in anything Jesus said. The disciples had asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” In response, the Lord called a child to himself and placed him in the middle of the group. So when he says, “Their angels always see the face of my Father”, he is not talking about a deceased child but a living boy standing right in front of him.

So what did he mean by “their angels”? Scripture teaches that angels are servants and guards. (The Hebrew word translated “covering” in “covering cherub” also means “guardian” or even “defender”.) Angels carry messages and watch over humans who are or will become members of God’s family. Concerning those who make the Most High their shelter and put their trust in him, the psalmist writes, “He will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.” The writer to the Hebrews picks up this theme, saying of angels, “Are they not ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?”

According to the Lord Jesus, believing children are the greatest in the kingdom and no adult can enter it without becoming like a child in his relationship with God. It should hardly surprise us, then, if the Almighty assigns responsibility for the care of these precious little ones to his most trusted heavenly servants, and gives those angels highest priority when they come into his presence.

I believe that is what the Lord Jesus meant when he said, “Their angels always see the face of my Father.” He meant the angels tasked with the responsibility of protecting believing children.

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