On Facebook and Instagram, I’ve seen images of a t-shirt that vividly depicts a warring angel holding a gun. It reflects conventional ideas about warfare, gun culture, and militarism. This gun-toting angel may be an American ideal, but it’s not a Christian one. Jesus judging and waging war with angel armies can be easily distorted by such a toxic eschatology. Since Jesus urged His disciples to carry defensive weapons, should we all carry guns as soldiers in God’s army?
I must admit I have a hard time picturing Jesus or His angels carrying assault weapons, but weapon-wielding angels are well documented in biblical and Jewish sources. When Joshua was near Jericho, for example, he saw the commander of the Lord’s armies with a drawn sword in His hand (Joshua 5:13–15). Jesus, the Angel of the Lord, had come from heaven to lead the angel armies in an attack upon Jericho. We are also told that Elisha prayed for God to open his servant’s eyes to see the chariots of fire and the angelic armies of heaven encompassing them (2 Kings 6:17). In Matthew 26:53, Jesus tells Peter to stop pursuing violence and put away his sword, saying “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and He will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?” (ESV).
Jewish literature offers vivid depictions that sheds further light on these “legions of angels” that come to help. The War Scroll found at Qumran, for example, which foretells a great eschatological war on earth between the Sons of Light and the Sons of Darkness, describes holy angels in heaven fighting against the Romans and wicked Israelites (The War Scroll, 1QM 1.14, 7:5). In his account of the destruction of Jerusalem, Jewish historian Josephus similarly describes heavenly chariots and troops surrounding the city and armed battalions of angels gathering for battle: “before sun-setting, chariots and troops of soldiers in their armor were seen running about among the clouds” (The Wars of the Jews, 6.298–299).
Evidence that warring angels will be a part of the second coming is also found in numerous New Testament passages. For example, we are told that Jesus will be revealed with His angelic armies, the wicked destroyed by the brightness of His coming (2 Thessalonians 1:7–8).
While I reject the toxic eschatology and violent message advanced by images of gun-toting angels, I realize no biblical policy easily aligns with contemporary politics. Bible texts are complex, but I am blown away that the same Jesus who disarmed Peter of his weapon and insisted on enemies being loved, is depicted as leading armies of angels in the Book of Revelation (Revelation 19). Revelation portrays a cosmic eschatological battle, and warring holy angels are at the scene. However, God’s judgment and waging of war have been completely entrusted to Christ’s distinctive methods (John 5:22). We can be sure it will not be conventional warfare.
Christian nationalism and the allure of eschatological Jewish violence fuel a toxic vision of an apocalyptic war in which angelic armies fight to extinguish our enemies. T-shirts featuring weapon-carrying angels suggest which values we prioritize. While I realize the use of arms for defensive purposes have their place, and that we must intervene when human lives are in danger—doing all we can to prevent further violence—on a personal level, might Jesus challenge our attempts to protect ourselves in our own strength?
Hebrews and Revelation encourage us to rely on Jesus. Comparing Christ to the angels helps us decipher God’s self-emptying disposition (Philippians 2:5-11). Using an angel to represent Jesus—as in “Michael and His angels”—does not compromise Jesus’ preeminence but rather allows God to be seen by the angels, ensuring that they rely on Him. Revelation tells us that the holy angel armies chose to “follow Him,” for Jesus alone won their allegiance when He sheathed the sword and laid down His life in self-giving love. God’s character of self-sacrificing love must be clear to both angels and men. Our image of Him matters not only for the future but for today. It affects not only contemporary politics but our views of who God is.
Craig Ashton Jr.