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Do Angels Know the Future?

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Question: Do Angels Know the Future?

Angels sometimes deliver messages about the future to people, predicting events that are going to happen both in individual people's lives and in world history. Religious texts such as the Bible and the Qur'an mention angels like archangel Gabriel delivering prophetic messages about future events.

But how much do angels really know about the future? Do they know everything that's going to happen, or only the information that God chooses to reveal to them?

Answer:

Only What God Tells Them

Many believers say that angels know only what God chooses to tell them about the future. "Do angels know the future? No, not unless God tells them. Only God knows the future: (1) because God is all-knowing; and (2) because only the Author, the Creator, knows the whole play before it’s performed; and (3) because only God is outside of time, so that all things and events in time are present to him at once," writes Peter Kreeft in his book Angels and Demons: What Do We Really Know About Them?.

Religious texts show the limits of angels' future knowledge. In the Catholic Bible's Book of Tobit, archangel Raphael tells a man named Tobias that if he marries a woman called Sarah: "I presume you will have children by her." (Tobit 6:18). This shows that Raphael is making an educated guess rather than declaring that he knows for certain whether or not they’ll have children in the future.

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus Christ says that only God knows when the end of the world will arrive and it will come time for him to return to Earth. He says in Matthew 24:36: "But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven...". James L. Garlow and Keith Wall comment in their book Heaven and the Afterlife: "Angels may know more than we do, but they’re not omniscient. When they know the future, it’s because God commissions them to deliver messages about it. If angels knew everything, they wouldn’t desire to learn (1 Peter 1:12). Jesus also indicates that they don’t know everything about the future; he will return to the earth with power and glory; and while angels will announce it, they do not know when it will happen...".

Educated Guesses

Since the angels are more intelligent than human beings, they can often make fairly accurate educated guesses about what will happen in the future, say some believers. "When it comes to knowing the future, we can make some distinctions," writes Marianne Lorraine Trouve in her book Angels: Help from on High: Stories and Prayers. "It is possible for us to know for certain that some things will happen in the future; for example, that the sun will rise tomorrow. We can know that because we have some understanding of how the physical world works. … Angels can know these things, too, because their minds are very sharp, more so than ours. But when it comes to knowing future events themselves, or exactly how things will play out, only God knows for sure. That is because everything is eternally present to God, who knows all things. Despite their sharp minds, angels cannot know the free future. God may choose to reveal it to them, but that is outside our experience."

The fact that angels have lived much longer than human beings gives them great wisdom from experience, and that wisdom helps them make good educated guesses about what may happen in the future, some believers say. Ron Rhodes writes in Angels Among Us: Separating Fact From Fiction that "angels gain ever-increasing knowledge through long observation of human activities. Unlike people, angels do not have to study the past; they have experienced it. They have witnessed firsthand how other people have acted and reacted in certain situations and thus can predict with a great degree of accuracy how we may act in similar circumstances. The experiences of longevity give angels greater knowledge."

Two Ways of Looking at the Future

In his book Summa Theologica, Saint Thomas Aquinas writes that angels, as created beings, see the future differently from how God sees it. "The future can be known in two ways," he writes. "First, it can be known in its cause. And thus, future events which proceed necessarily from their causes, are known with sure knowledge; as that the sun will rise tomorrow. But events which proceed from their causes in the majority of cases, are not known for certain, but conjecturally; thus the doctor knows beforehand the health of the patient. This manner of knowing future events exists in the angels, and by so much the more than it does in us, as they understand the causes of things both more universally and more perfectly."

The other way of looking at the future, Aquinas writes, sheds more light on the limitations that angels face, but that God does not: "In another way future events are known in themselves. To know the future in this way belongs to God alone; and not merely to know those events which happen of necessity, or in the majority of cases, but even casual and chance events; for God sees all things in His eternity, which, being simple, is present to all time, and embraces all time. And therefore God’s one glance is cast over all things which happen in all time as present before Him; and He beholds all things as they are in themselves, as was said before when dealing with God’s knowledge. But the mind of an angel, and every created intellect, fall far short of God’s eternity; hence the future as it is in itself cannot be known by any created intellect. Men cannot know future things except in their causes, or by God’s revelation. The angels know the future in the same way, but much more distinctly."

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