Angels In The Bible
What Are Angels?
There are many terms used in the Bible to describe angels: host, creatures, throne, dominions, principalities, powers, sons of God, and the angel of his presence. The phrase “the angel of the Lord” usually implies the presence of deity in angelic: form (Gen. 16:1-13; 22:11-16; 31:11-13; Exod. 3:2-4; Judg. 6:1216). Most interpret the phrase “the angel of the Lord” as Christ and call this appearance a “Christophany.” However, the phrase in Luke 1:11 and Acts 12:7, 23 is not a description of deity.
When were the angels created? Obviously before the beginning of the earth, because angels watched the magnificent drama of creation. God asked the question, “Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth?” (Job 38:4). The narrative goes on to indicate, “When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy” (job 38:7). The angels were rejoicing as God created the world.
The record of the creation of angels appears in the first verse of the Bible: “In the beginning God created the heaven(s) and the earth” (Gen. 1:1, plural added). In the Hebrew language, the plural form of “heavens” reveals that God created the whole of heaven, composed of all its innumerable separate parts. The heavens included not only the stars but the present abode of God, plus the angelic beings.
Angels were the first created beings and later, while the earth was being created, they admired God’s beauty, orderliness, and power. Since one task of angels is to give glory to God, they sang and shouted during the creation.
Even though the Father and the Holy Spirit were active in the creation of angels, Jesus Christ is identified as their Creator. “For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him” (Col. 1:16). The terms thrones, dominions, principalities and powers are all terms used in the Bible to describe angels. David urged the angels to praise the Lord because they were created (Ps. 148:2-5).
Though angels have appeared to men in physical form, they are essentially spirit beings. Since they are without physical bodies, they are spirits. David recognized and blessed the Lord “Who maketh his angels spirits; and his ministers a flaming fire” (Ps. 104:4).
Even though angels are spirits, they have the ability to become visible in the semblance of a human body (Gen. 19:1; Exod. 3:2; Judg. 2:1; Matt. 1:20; Luke 1:26; John 2012). Angels are always referred to as being masculine, but. without specific reference to gender.
David reflected on the nature of man and observed, “For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honor” (Ps. 8:5). In the hierarchy of heaven, angels are above man, yet they are listed below Christ. “Being so much better than the angels, as he hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they” (Heb. 1:4).
All angels were originally created holy to praise God and to serve him. Perhaps the best known phrase that came from the mouth of angels is, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts” (Isa. 6:3): The word “host” means “angels,” hence God is the Lord of the angels. Again the angels were fulfilling their task when they sang, “Worthy is the Lamb” (Rev. 5:12).
They were created holy because their message of praise is holy. But there was a group of “angels who kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation” (Jude 6). Some theologians believe that some of these fallen angels are demons who now serve Satan, while those who didn’t fall are holy angels, who serve the Lord God. Even these demons were originally created in a state of holiness.
Another group of the fallen angels are “chained under darkness,” awaiting the judgment of God (2 Pet. 2:4; Jude 6). But the holy angels that did not sin are in fellowship with God and can look upon him. Jesus warned his disciples not to abuse children be cause their angels are in the presence of God. “Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven” (Matt.
18:10). The fact that angel are in fellowship with God and remain in his presence implies their holiness. If they did not flee from the presence of God, he would judge the sin he finds in them.
Angels are similar to God and man in that they have a personality, which is intellect, emotion, and will. Having personality or being a person gives the angel the power of self-perception and self-direction. God created angels with intellectual ability. They are identified as wise (2 Sam. 14:20). Throughout the Scriptures, angels are portrayed in the obedient service of God, thus demonstrating the existence of a will.
The angel who showed John the Revelation would not allow John to worship him. “Then saith he unto me, See thou do it not: for I am thy fellow servant, and of thy brethren, the prophets, and of them who keep the sayings of this book: Worship God” (Rev. 22:9).
Today, the will of angels to choose evil has apparently been preempted by God because they choose not to follow Satan. Today, angels are surrendered to God and cannot choose evil. When the Scriptures indicate that “the angels desire to look into” the glories of salvation (1 Pet. 1:12), it is an indication of their emotions and the interaction of their will-obviously a reflection of personality.
The personality of angels is further demonstrated in the work of communication with God and men. On several occasions an angel was sent by God to an individual to communicate a special message from God. To accomplish that task, he possessed the powers of speech that involved word recognition, memory, and rational ability to form sentences. Angels have the ability to discern (used to answer questions), wisdom, and basic knowledge regarding life on earth and the plan of God. These are all elements of personality. Deathless beings.
When God created angels, he did not plan for their death; as a matter of fact, death is inconsistent with the nature of God and cannot be a part of his original purpose. Jesus taught we would someday be “deathless” like angels. “Neither can they die any more: for they are equal unto the angels” (Luke 20:36). Death is an experience of the human race because of the entrance of sin into the world (Rom. 5:12). Angels were created in a state of holiness. When Satan rebelled against God, they chose to follow God, therefore they have no sin that leads to death.
Hell was created for those angels that rebelled against God and someday they will be eternally consigned there. John noted that “the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone” (Rev. 20:10). Jesus described it as “everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt. 25:41).
Angels are unseen until they choose to appear for some special purpose. They seemed to have manifested themselves at certain times in Bible history more than others. They were frequent visitors during the period from Abraham to Moses, then primarily around the life of Christ. They were said to be present when the world was created. They appeared when circumstances on earth changed and God needed to give specific “messages” to his people about new covenants or different responsibilities.
Because they don’t appear frequently as persons in bright apparel does not mean they have no ministry today, for they constantly minister to “them who shall be heirs of salvation” (Heb. 1:14). In their work they are not perceived, but perhaps work through people, or perhaps they appear as a person. “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (Heb. 13:2).
The Work of Angels
The Bible describes more specifically some of the works of angels. Angels served God throughout the life of Christ, at times prepared to do more than they were called on to perform. In some aspects of their work in relationship to the work of Christ, the angels were waiting for service. Currently, much of the work of angels in this age affects the church and various political states. Even the lost are not exempt from the work of angels today.
Angels and Christ
From the prediction of his birth through the judgments by Christ at his return, the angels are engaged in working with Jesus. Not only did they predict his birth to Mary (Luke 1:30) and Joseph (Matt. 1:20), they were on hand at that historic birth to announce it to the shepherds (Lu,, 2:10). When Herod heard about the Messiah’s birth an planned to destroy Jesus, God warned Joseph and Mary through angels to go to Egypt (Matt. 2:19).
The angels ministered to Jesus at the beginning of his public ministry in the wilderness (Matt. 4:11) and at the end in the garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:43). They were on hand to defend Jesus during his arrest if he should have asked for them (Matt. 26:53), and one was present to roll back the stone on the resurrection morning (Matt. 28:2).
Two angels were the first to officially announce Jesus’ resurrection to the world (Matt. 28:6). They were nearby at the ascension of Christ into heaven and predicted his second coming (Acts 1:11). Jesus taught he would return accompanied by his angels (Matt. 25:31). At the judgment of Christ, angels will be on hand to carry out the judgment pronounced by Christ (Matt. 13:39, 40).
Angels in the Ministry of Jesus Christ
- Predicted his birth – Luke 1:30-33
- Announced his birth – Luke 2:10-14
- Warned his parents of Herod’s plot – Matt. 2:19, 20
- Ministry after the temptation – Matt. 4:11
- Ministry before the betrayal – Luke 22:43
- On call at the arrest of Jesus – Matt. 26:53
- Rolled back the stone from the tomb – Matt. 28:2
- First announcement of the resurrection – Matt. 28:6
- Ascension of Christ – Acts 1:11
- Return of Christ – Matt. 25:31
- Execute the judgment of Christ – Matt. 13:39, 40
Angels and the Church
Much of the general works of angels discussed in the first section of this chapter relates specifically to the church and its members. The Bible tells us that angels may attend the services of the church as spectators of church worship, order, and ministry. The angels are present to observe and presumably report to God concerning the order in our corporate worship (1 Cor. 11:10; Eph. 3:10; 1 Tim. 5:21).
Some commentators suggest that the Book of Hebrews may have referred to angels: “Wherefore, seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us” (Heb. 12:1). If the witnesses that observed the race of Christians were angels, Christians would be motivated by their observation.
Angels and the Nations
The prophet Daniel wrote of a time when Michael the archangel would help protect the nation Israel. “And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people: and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time; and at that time thy people shall be delivered, everyone that shall be found written in the book” (Dan. 12:1). As Israel passes through the Great Tribulation, they will have a national guardian angel.
Angels and the Lost
In many instances when angels appeared to men, one of the first things they said was, “Fear not.” Obviously, the lost should fear angels because they are some-times used as agents of judgment. God used an angel to kill Herod when he accepted the worship of the people. “And immediately the angel of the Lord smote him because he gave not God the glory; and he was eaten of worms, and gave up the ghost” (Acts 12:23).
God may also do the same thing today. He will use angels to warn of the judgment of the world at Armageddon (Rev. 19:17) as he did in Sodom (Gen. 18:12, 13). They will also be involved in gathering and casting the lost into their assigned place of punishment at the end of the age (Matt. 13:39, 40).
Why Did God Create Angels?
Angels were especially created by God to serve him. To adequately represent God, they were given great strength and superior intelligence. Since God requires “all things be done decently and in order” (1 Cor. 14:40), angels are a highly organized company. They are described as “a multitude of heavenly host” (Luke 2:13).
The apostle John fell at the feet of one angel to worship him (Rev. 22:8). John was certainly aware the worship of angels was not permitted by Scripture, even though it was practiced by some early sects within Christianity (Col. 2:18). We are therefore led to believe that John was so overwhelmed with all the angel had done and shown him that for the moment he looked upon him as God, perhaps even an incarnation Jesus.
The power of angels is so vast that humans cannot comprehend it. The angels were given great power yet they are not omnipotent. The apostle Paul calls them “mighty angels” (2 Thess. 1:7). The power of a single angel was demonstrated in part on the resurrection morning. “And, behold, there was a great earthquake; for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it” (Matt. 28:2).
First, in an act of authority, the angel broke the Roman seal which was an immediate challenge to the sixteen armed guards at the tomb. But in an act of strength, the angel rolled a massive stone away from the tomb. Isaiah records an instance where God sent an angel to kill one hundred and eighty-five thousand Assyrian soldiers during a single night (Isa. 37:36).
As we consider these two accomplishments by single angels, we must observe with David “his angels, that excel in strength, that do his commandments, hearkening unto the voice of his word” (Ps. 103:20). While we recognize that angels are powerful, we also realize that omnipotence is never ascribed to them. There can only be one omnipotent One, and that is God. If another omnipotent being existed in the universe, by definition God would not be God.
Earlier we saw how angels had rational ability as an aspect of their personality. Jesus predicted his return, but qualified those who knew the time, “But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only” (Matt. 24:36). Most obviously, Jesus was teaching that the intelligence of angels was limited. There definitely are some things angels do not know, so they do not possess the omniscience of God.
In the phrase “no, not the angels” Jesus was teaching that the angels were more intelligent than man. Jesus is listing the priority of intelligence from man who is knowledgeable, to angels who are more knowledgeable, to God who is omniscient in all things. The intelligence of the angels lies somewhere between that of men and God. They were created intelligent beings. But their wisdom is not static. They have continued to learn since their creation (Eph. 3:10). It should also be remembered that the learning capacity of angels has not been corrupted with sin as in the case with man (Rom. 1:21).
Jesus told those who arrested him, “Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matt. 26:53) The writer to the Hebrews called them “an innumerable company of angels” (Heb. 12:22). The apostle John counted in excess of 2 million angels in heaven (Rev. 5:11), but this would not include about one-third of the angels that fell when satan was cast out of heaven.
If there is a guardian angel for each person on earth (Matt. 18:10; Acts 12:15), then the number exceeds at least 4 billion, but less if only saints have guardian angels (Heb. 1:14). A group this large could not function efficiently without an organization. Various groups of angels are identified in Scripture in relation to specific spheres of ministry. Michael the archangel is apparently the leader among; the holy angels.
How Does God Use Angels?
God has in the past used angels to accomplish a number of tasks. They were involved in delivering the revelation of the Word of God. At times, God has sent angels to protect his people. Men have been encouraged and motivated to great ness by angels. They have also been used of, God both to free captured men and to strengthen men in their service for God. When God has had to judge sin, often he has sent his angel to execute his judgment. Beyond these specific duties, angels have been the messengers of God to men on a number of occasions.
Angelic Transportation at Death
The Bible teaches that “to be absent from the body [is] to be present with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8). Apparently we are taken instantaneously to heaven at death. God uses angels to transport the souls of the saved to the presence of God. Luke recorded a story that Jesus told about the death of two men, one who went to a place of eternal paradise, the other to the place of eternal punishment. “And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom” (Luke 16:22).
Though this is the only reference to this phase of the works of angels, there is no indication that anything beyond the norm happened here or that anything less than the norm can be expected today. Since every Christian has a guardian angel, it is assumed that that angel accomplishes his final duty, which is to deliver the soul of the departed saint into the presence of God.
God has used a variety of ways to make his revelation known to man (Heb. 1:1); angels are just one means of delivering his revelation. After recording the Revelation of Jesus Christ and seeing the new heavens and new earth, John spoke of “the angel which showed me these things” (Rev. 22:8). Ezekiel described his vision of the cherubim in the first chapter of his prophecy. Also, the angel of God was sent on three occasions surrounding the birth of Christ to reveal something that God was about to do. First he appeared to the priest Zacharias, to tell him of the coming birth of his son, John (Luke 1:11).
About six months later, “Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, to a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary” (Luke 1:26, 27). It was probably about five or six months later, after announcing the birth of Christ to Mary, “the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary, thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost” (Matt. 1:20).
God also used an angel to reveal the birth of Samson to the barren wife of Manoah (Judg. 13:3) and later to teach the parents of Samson how to raise their son (Judg. 13:9-21). In this role, the angels characterize the meaning of their name by delivering a message from God.
Before God destroyed the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, he sent two angels to warn Lot and his family to flee the city (Gen. 19:12, 13). During the evening, the safety of Lot’s family and his guests was threatened by the men of the city. The two angel visitors protected Lot and themselves when they “smote the men, that were at the door of the house with blindness, both small and great: so that they wearied themselves to find the door” (Gen. 19:11).
After Daniel had spent the night in a den of lions, he was able to report to the king, “My God hath sent his angel, and hath shut the lions’ mouths, that they have not hurt me, forasmuch as before him innocence was found in me” (Dan. 6:22). David, too, had learned throughout his experience as both shepherd and soldier that “the angel of the Lord encampeth round about those that fear him, and delivereth them” (Ps. 34:7).
Today, there are guardian angels to give physical protection to the people of God. Children are described as having “their angels” (Matt. 18:10) and the Christians described the knocking at their door by Peter, “It is his angel” (Acts 12:15).
Protection begins early in life and continues throughout life. The guardian angels “do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 18:20), implying that God, who knows what danger faces us, can send our angel immediately, to help us. This protection seems to extend to physical help. Our spiritual help comes from the indwelling Christ and the Holy Spirit.
We should avail ourselves of the filling of the Holy Spirit and the presence of Christ to keep us from temptation and sin. Even though it is an argument from silence, there is not one verse that suggests we should pray to angel, for help. We pray to the Father and he sends angels.
Angels not only protect people from trouble, they also on occasion provide for their deliverance Very early in the church in Jerusalem, the Sadducees arrested the apostles and threw them into prison. “But the angel of the Lord by night opened the prison doors, and brought them, forth” (Acts 5:19). It must have infuriated the Sadducees, who denied the theological existence of angels, that God should send an angel to release their prisoners. On another occasion, while the church prayed for Peter, who was in prison awaiting his execution, God sent an angel to release him from his jail cell (Acts 12:7).
This was quite different from the occasion when Peter attempted to prevent the arrest of Jesus with a sword, and Jesus said, “Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently, give me more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matt. 26:53). Angelic provision. When Elijah ran from Jezebel in fear of his life, he was discouraged and tired. God sent an angel to prepare a meal while he slept.
Then he was encouraged to eat. The nature of this food provided by the angel was such that “he arose, and did eat and drink, and went in the strength of that meat forty days and forty nights unto Horeb, the mount of God” (1 Kings 19:8).
After Jesus had fasted forty days in the wilderness and the devil had failed in his attempt to cause Jesus to sin, “Then the devil leaveth him, and, behold, angels came and ministered unto him” (Matt. 4:11). Part of that ministry of angels to Jesus may have included providing nourishment and physical sustenance.
God has sent angels to encourage servants of God who were discouraged. The Book of Revelation was written in part to encourage those being persecuted by the Roman authorities. The reader is reminded in the final book of the Bible that God is still on the throne, no matter how bad things may appear. When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon (Judg. 16:12), he was a discouraged young man. After the angel commissioned him, Gideon was used of God to remove the idols from his father’s house and deliver Israel from the Midianites.
Because God is holy, his nature demands that he judge sin. On several occasions, God used his angels to administer justice, and one angel in particular to judge sin-the angel of death. When David numbered the people of Israel, God decided to judge it as sin. “So the Lord sent a pestilence upon Israel from the morning even to the time appointed: and there died of the people, from Dan even to Beer-sheba, seventy thousand men.
And when the angel stretched out his hand upon Jerusalem to destroy it, the Lord repented of the evil, and said to the angel that destroyed the people, It is enough: stay now thine hand” (2 Sam. 24:15-18). There is coming at least one more occasion when God will use angels to administer judgment. “The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them who do iniquity, And shall cast them into a furnace of fire” (Matt. 13:41, 42).