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I was just reading about Jacob's Dream at Bethel and I had a question:

Why would angels be ascending and descending a stairway (or a ladder, in other versions of the Christian Bible) from Earth to Heaven if they possess of wings?

Jacob's Dream at Bethel

10Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Harran. 11When he reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep. 13He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.

Genesis 28:10-13 | New International Version (NIV)

There seems to be no denying that in the Christian Bible, angels have wings.

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    Actually there's plenty of denying that the Bible describes angels as having wings as the comments on that question's selected answer and the second answer say. – curiousdannii Aug 5 '18 at 9:50
  • @curiousdannii well, every time I have seen a painting of an angel, they have always had wings. Is it wrong to believe that the apparent angels in the answer in the link (namely, cherubim and seraphim) are in fact angels? In my opinion, it would make sense for angels and wings to go together, naturally. – Mr Pie Aug 5 '18 at 9:53
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    The vast majority of stories with angels in the Bible just describe them as looking like men. They are frequently mistaken for humans after all. There's nothing inherently natural with angels having wings, you're just getting that idea from art. – curiousdannii Aug 5 '18 at 9:58
  • @curiousdannii So why has it been depicted that way in art? I guess that is perhaps my question then, as the angels depicted in the Bible might not necessarily have wings after all, pursuant to what you say. (If my experience were broader, I would not have posted this question.) – Mr Pie Aug 5 '18 at 10:00
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There are definitely two types of angels mentioned in the Bible that have wings - cherubim and seraphim:

“The cherubim shall spread out their wings above, overshadowing the mercy seat with their wings, their faces one to another; toward the mercy seat shall the faces of the cherubim be” (Exodus 25:20).

“And the sound of the wings of the cherubim was heard as far as the outer court, like the voice of God Almighty when he speaks” (Ezekiel 10:5).

“In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. 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 6:1-2).

Hebrews 1:14 tells us that angels are spirit beings, and since angels are not bound by the laws of the physical universe, it is unclear as to why the angels would require wings. Often, angels take the appearance of men (wingless).

In Genesis 28:10-12 Jacob sees something similar to a ladder or a stairway (Hebrew word: sullam) which signifies a connection between God and man. In this instance, it was God who provided the means necessary to link Himself to man as opposed to the men of Babel in Genesis 11 who tried to reach heaven by their own actions, aside from the help of God. Remember, this was a dream Jacob had. It was not a physical or real ladder/stairway, but a vision used to convey a message to Jacob.

  • (+1) Ahh, so instead of something dreamt unnecessarily, it was actually a figure of symbolism that I did not consider? (Also, thank you for showing me the verses.) – Mr Pie Aug 5 '18 at 11:18
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    Oh, the vision was very necessary because it shows how God makes the link between Him and sinful humanity. It points to the coming of the Christ, the Messiah, the means whereby Jacob and his descendants would be blessed. – Lesley Aug 5 '18 at 17:03
  • Well, then, congratulations! Your answer was highly sufficient — it was well-written; well-researched; it was well-conducted overall. =) – Mr Pie Aug 5 '18 at 22:00
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In the Gospel of John 1:51 our Lord Jesus tells us what the ladder is a picture of:

And he saith unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.

The ladder is Jesus.

In Jacob's dream the Angels are a picture of communication between Heaven and Earth (downward), and between mankind and God (upward). The Angels ascending up the stairs represent the prayers of men ascending up to God in Heaven; the Angels descending represent God's gracious acts and words towards mankind.

The Angels only go up and down the staircase/ladder because it is only because of Jesus's mediation that God is willing to hear our prayers (receive the angels going Heavenward) and it is only because of Jesus's mediation that God sends gracious words and acts earthward (sends angels down the stairs).

Jesus is the only mediator between God and men (1 Timothy 2:5). God would not be able to communicate with mankind if there had been no Lord Jesus Christ, because our sins have cut us off from him and our sins are such an offence to God. Jesus's life on behalf of sinners and death on behalf of sinners is the only reason God is able to listen to us and to deal graciously with us. Outside of Christ God says to us

your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, so that he will not hear. (Isaiah 59:2)

The ladder, with its angels ascending and descending, is a picture of the Jesus's words

"no man comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6).

Matthew Henry the English puritan, in his commentary, adds another option of interpretation before commenting specifically on why the angels need to use the ladder only:

Jacob saw a ladder which reached from earth to heaven, the angels ascending and descending upon it, and God himself at the head of it. Now this represents two things that are very comfortable to good people at all times, and in all conditions:-

(1.) The providence of God, by which there is a constant correspondance kept up between heaven and earth. The counsels of heaven are executed on earth, and the actions and affairs of this earth are all known in heaven and judged there. Providence does its work gradually, and by steps. Angels are employed as ministering spirits, to serve all the purposes and designs of Providence, and the wisdom of God is at the upper end of the ladder, directing all the motions of the second causes to the glory of the first Cause.

The angels are active spirits, continually ascending and descending; they rest not, day nor night, from service, according to the posts assigned to them. They ascend, to give account of what they have done, and to receive orders; and then descend, to execute the orders they have received.

Thus we ourselves should always abound in the work of the Lord, that we may do it as the angels do it (Psalm 103:20,21).

This vision gave very seasonable comfort to Jacob, letting him know that he had both a good guide and a good guard, in his going out and coming in, - that, though he was made to wander from his father's house, yet he still was the care of a kind Providence, and the charge of the holy angels. ... Jacob was now the type and representative of the whole church, with the guardianship of which the angels are entrusted.

(2.) The mediation of Christ. He is the ladder, the foot on earth in his human nature, the top in heaven in his divine nature: or the former in his humiliation, the latter in his exaltation. All the communication between heaven and earth, since the fall, is by this ladder. Christ is the way; all God's favours come to us, and all our services go to him, by Christ.

If God dwell with us, and we with him, it is by Christ. We have no way of getting to heaven, but by this ladder; if we climb up any other way we are thieves and robbers. To this vision our Saviour alludes when he speaks of the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man (John 1:51); for the kind offices the angels do us, and the benefits we receive by their ministration, are all owing to Christ, who has reconciled things on earth and things in heaven (Colossians 1:20), and made them all meet in himself (Ephesians 1:10).

  • Angels are neither God nor men, so it's not immediately clear that they'd need to be using Jesus as the mediator between God and men... – curiousdannii Jun 3 at 8:14
  • @curiousdannii - angels are always sent by God to men to tell them something. They do not do whatever they want, they are under God's orders. Should I change the text to add that in? Or you can. – Andrew Shanks Jun 3 at 8:18
  • @KenGraham I don't think your edit was helpful, or that it clarified Andrew's perspective. – curiousdannii Jun 3 at 12:02
  • This answer doesn't directly address the original question: why walk when you can fly? – Ray Butterworth Jun 3 at 12:58
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    @curiousdannii - Thanks. Now I have decided to look up what Matthew Henry, of the English puritan era, says in his commentary. I have changed it again to add his comments. I wouldn't insist it is the only interpretation, but cannot see what there is that is better. – Andrew Shanks Jun 4 at 4:55

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