|Vol. 16 No. 5 May 2014||
Louis Rushmore, Editor
Introduction to Angels
As is true regarding the biblical introduction of God or of Satan, the Bible does not dedicate space to precisely define either what are “angels” or in what other accommodative ways the term may be applied in Scripture. The Bible mentions “angels” “…incidentally as a fact, without furnishing any details to gratify curiosity” (McClintock and Strong). “The Bible rarely focuses on angels themselves; they are usually characters in larger stories about God’s dealings with man. Information that we know about angels is determined from whatever details emerge from these stories” (Parker 15). As with God and Satan, for instance, the student of the Bible must piece together information gleaned from several biblical references.
The Book of Job, though, introduces angels as a distinct, created group of beings to which Almighty God has assigned ministries or duties. From time to time, they must appear before God on His throne to give an accounting (“sons of God,” Job 1:6; 2:1). Hence, a little study on angels at this point is warranted.
Definition & Examples
Both Hebrew and Greek words translated “angel” mean “messenger.” As such, the word “angel” can refer to different persons or things according to the context in which the word “angel” appears. Frankly, this is largely true with most words; their exact meanings rely heavily on the context in which they are being used, besides whatever inherent meanings they may have. Therefore, the Hebrew word for “angel” is rendered “messenger” in Job 1:14 and “messengers” in 1 Samuel 11:3, and the Greek word for “angel” appears as “messengers” in Luke 9:52. In none of those references was a member of the heavenly, angelic host intended, but in each instance “ordinary messengers” was meant. In other Old Testament passages, the word “messenger” is applied to prophets (Haggai 1:13; Malachi 3:1) and priests (Malachi 2:7). The word “angel” appears in Revelation 1:20 to refer to ministers of the churches of Asia. McClintock and Strong cites perceived examples of “impersonal agents” of pestilence, winds and plagues through the use of Hebrew word for “angels” translated “messenger” or “messengers.” The “messenger of Satan,” the apostle Paul’s description of his “thorn in the flesh” (2 Corinthians 12:7), likewise comes from the Greek word for “angel” (angelos).
While the word “angel” in both testaments of the Bible characteristically refers to the heavenly, angelic host, sometimes to human messengers and perhaps to intangible devices (e.g., pestilence, winds, plagues, etc.), the word “angel” occasionally applies in Scripture also to Deity (Genesis 22:11; Exodus 3:2, 6, 14).
Origin & Nature
Angels are created beings, whose creation predates the creation of humanity (Colossians 1:16; Nehemiah 9:6; Psalm 148:2, 5). “Job 38:7 may imply, in the phrase “sons of God,” that the angels were created before the ‘foundation of the earth’” (Pollard 12).
They are spirit beings, but angels do not have flesh and blood. Though angels are not eternal, they are immortal (i.e., they shall never die, Luke 20:36). Mankind is a dual creature – flesh and spirit being, and we, too, were created and are immortal. “…[T]he fact that angels were created, teaches that they are not eternal! Though they will never die, they had a beginning” (Stacy 5). Though our human bodies will die, the spirits within us will not die either.
“Angels are also invisible to the naked eye” (Stover 201). Whenever angels manifested themselves on earth, they always appeared as adult men. Except when they were incognito (camouflaged as though they were earthlings), in addition to human form, they radiated white brightness (Mark 16:5; Luke 24:4; Matthew 28:3; John 20:12; Acts 1:10). When they were meant to be seen, one could not overlook an angel. We know that we will not see an obvious angel this side of the grave since Bible miracles through which they were sometimes made visible have ceased. “One of the most vivid descriptions of an angel is given in Daniel 10:5-6” (Stacy 7). “I lifted my eyes and looked, and behold, a certain man clothed in linen, whose waist was girded with gold of Uphaz! His body was like beryl, his face like the appearance of lightning, his eyes like torches of fire, his arms and feet like burnished bronze in color, and the sound of his words like the voice of a multitude” (Daniel 10:5-6 NKJV).
Incidentally, aside from cherubim and seraph angels, biblical descriptions of ordinary angels fail to reveal if they, too, have wings, and if so how many. They can fly, but wings are not specified (Revelation 14:6).
Angels occupy an existence below the Godhead (1 Peter 3:22; Hebrews 1:4, 6) and above humans (Hebrews 2:6-9). However, righteous men will one day judge fallen angels (1 Corinthians 6:3; 2 Peter 2:4).
In what sense will men judge angels? Matthew 12:41 has the answer. This verse says, “The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with the men of this generation and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and behold a greater than Jonah is here.” The Ninevites will condemn many of the Jews, who lived in Jesus’ day. They did much with little. They repented at the preaching of Jonah. The Jews in Jesus’ day did little with much. The Jews failed to believe the very Son of God, who was in their midst in the robe of human flesh! …Angels sinned though they had the marvellous privilege of being in the immediate presence of God! Many Christians will remain faithful unto death (Revelation 2:10), who have never known the strength and encouragement of being in the immediate presence of God. In other words, the example of God’s people will condemn angels. (Stacy 6)
Angels are superior to mankind in physical strength (2 Thessalonians 1:7; 2 Peter 2:11) and knowledge. For instance, angels were responsible for protecting Daniel from a den of lions (Daniel 6:22) as well as protecting Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego from a fiery furnace (Daniel 3:28).
There are legions of angels in that host of superhuman beings (Matthew 26:53). There are too many angels for mortals to count (Hebrews 12:22; Revelation 5:11). Angels do not marry, and by implication, then, they do not procreate (Matthew 22:30; Luke 20:35-36). “Since angels never marry, they do not reproduce. …Thus, the number of angels will always remain the same” (Stacy 7).
Angels have freewill; they are not robotic any more than are we. Hence, some angels, of whom Satan is chief, exercised that volition to rebel against God (2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6). The balance of the angels who remain loyal to God choose not to sin. “The moral perfection of angels is shown by such phrases as ‘holy angels’ (Luke 9:26); ‘the elect angels’ (2 Timothy 5:21)” (McClintock and Strong).
Herein I am borrowing the phrase “Angel Organization” from Brian Jones in his little book, Our Fascination with Angels (14). He made an interesting comparison between the noticeable organization of both the home and the church with the administrations of angels. The church sports a hierarchal arrangement descending from Jesus Christ as Head, to the elders of a congregation, and from there to the church’s deacons, teachers, preachers and the balance of the members. The home again has Jesus Christ as head over the husband, who is head over the wife and parents who are over children. “With all of this divine organization, should we be surprised that angelic beings also share an organizational system? …angels too comprise a developed structure” (Jones 15).
Ephesians 1:21, Colossians 1:16 and 1 Peter 3:22 may represent good angel rankings, designated as Principalities, Powers, Dominions and Thrones. John Stacy in his book, Citizens of Eternity, noted that some think that the “elders” in heaven are also a class of angels (18-19). Further, Ephesians 6:12 may represent to us “the hierarchy of evil angelic beings” (Jones 18).
The singular for “cherubim” is “cherub.” The singular form appears 30 times in the Old Testament, and the plural appears another 65 times. Genesis 3:24 first introduces cherubim as they were placed in the Garden of Eden after the fall of mankind to prevent Adam and Eve from reentering paradise and having access to the Tree of Life. Later, cherubim adorned the curtains of the Tabernacle (Exodus 26:1). The Ark of the Covenant was fashioned with two cherubim figures overlaid with gold resting on its top. These were winged creatures with man’s hands under its wings. It was also full of eyes and had four different faces: a cherub’s, a man’s, a lion’s and an eagle’s (Ezekiel 10:1-22). A synonym for “cherubim” is “living creatures” (Ezekiel 10:15); Ezekiel 1:5-10 describes “living creatures” there as possessing four wings, hands, feet appearing like a calf’s foot, a burnished brass sheen and four faces (man, lion, ox and eagle). They could run like a bolt of lightning (Ezekiel 1:15).
Seraphim are only mentioned by name twice, both times in the same passage (Isaiah 6:2, 6). This creature has six wings and one face. It inhabits the throne room of God.
Michael is the only archangel named in the Bible (Jude 9; cf. Daniel 10:13, 21; 12:1; Revelation 12:7), but evidently, he is not the only archangel (Daniel 10:13). An unspecified archangel will accompany our Lord at His Second Coming (1 Thessalonians 4:16).
Gabriel is the only other angel whose name appears in Scripture, and the precise order of angels to which he belongs is not revealed. He is mentioned four times (Daniel 8:16; 9:21; Luke 1:19, 26). The description of an angel noticed already was that of Gabriel (Daniel 10:5-6).
There may be other classes of angels about which we know very little. For instance, some Bible students think the “elders” around the heavenly throne (Revelation 4:4) represent a class of angels, while some also believe that “the angel of his presence” (Isaiah 63:9) is still another classification of angels.
The Angel of the Lord (Jehovah ASV)
“The Angel of the Lord” (“of Jehovah” ASV) is a specifically worded phrase that appears in nearly 60 instances. This special designation differs in application from what we customary think of as “angels.” In other words, “the Angel of the Lord” is no ordinary angel. That is because “[m]any of these passages have the angel of Jehovah saying or doing things that only God could do, or that only one with God’s authority could do” (Aebi 82). Consider a sampling of these passages, as well as other references with similar import that do not use the same phrase.
Hagar fled from Sarai in Genesis 16, but “the Angel of the Lord” intercepted her, comforted her and sent her back to Sarai and Abram. “The Angel of the Lord,” “the Lord” (“Jehovah” ASV) and “God” are used interchangeably (7-14). Inspired Moses, human penman of the Book of Genesis, validated the relationship of those designations through his recording it as such.
Genesis 18 opens with Abraham receiving a visit from “the Lord” (“Jehovah”) as one of the “three men” to whom the patriarch extended hospitality. The other two are identified as “angels” (Genesis 19:1). As Abraham and the three men traveled along, “the Lord” (“Jehovah”) and the two angels, Jehovah and Abraham bartered over the impending destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (18:17-33). Compare with this narration the words of Jesus in John 8:56-58, for there our Lord identified Himself as having interacted with Abraham. Store this information away while we consider additional passages that either use the phrase “the Angel of the Lord” or refer to similar circumstances without using those certain words.
Genesis 22:1-19 chronicles the account of the willingness of Abraham to obey God by sacrificing his son Isaac. That context shows that “the Angel of the Lord” and “God” are references to the same person (11-12). Further, in Genesis 31:11-13, “the Angel of the Lord” told Jacob that He was God.
At the call of Moses to be the deliverer of the Israelites from Egypt, “the Angel of the Lord” spoke to him from out of a burning bush (Exodus 3:1-15). The context also uses the terms “Lord” or “Jehovah,” “God” and the “I Am” interchangeably with “the Angel of the Lord.”
Numbers 22:22-38 use these words and phrase interchangeably: “Lord” or “Jehovah,” “Angel of the Lord” and “God.” This was the episode of Balaam, his donkey and the Angel of the Lord. In Judges 6, “the Angel of the Lord” and “Lord” (“Jehovah”) are used interchangeably for each other, and “Angel of the Lord” received worship from Gideon. In Judges 13, “the Angel of the Lord” is identified as “God,” and He was worshipped by the parents of Samson. Since angels do not receive worship, and only members of the Godhead may be worshipped, “the Angel of the Lord” must refer not to an ordinary angel, but instead to a member of the Godhead (Revelation 19:10; 22:8-9).
Who is “the Angel of the Lord” (“Jehovah”)? From considerations of the interchangeability of “Jehovah,” “the angel of the Lord” (“Jehovah”) and “God,” as well as receiving worship, “the angel of the Lord” must refer to one of the three members of the Godhead. Two New Testament passages help us to determine which member of the Godhead is “the angel of the Lord.” During His ministry and while lamenting over Jerusalem, Jesus Christ claimed to have personally interacted with the nation of Israel anciently (Matthew 23:37). Then, the apostle Paul wrote by inspiration that it was Jesus Christ who accompanied and ministered to the Israelites at the time of their exodus from Egypt and subsequent wilderness wandering (1 Corinthians 10:1-4; cf. John 8:56-58). “Then the Angel of the Lord came up from Gilgal to Bochim, and said: ‘I led you up from Egypt and brought you to the land of which I swore to your fathers; and I said, I will never break My covenant with you’” (Judges 2:1). Hence, “the Angel of the Lord” or “Jehovah” was the pre-incarnate Jesus Christ. “The Spirit and the Father are mentioned several times in both Testaments. However, it would seem that Christ is absent in the Old Testament except by way of prophecy. But from these passages we see that Christ was not dormant in the Old Testament. He was a theophany of God in the form of the angel of the Lord” (Jones 48).
The Ministry of Angels
Today, “[a]ngels operate in the realm theology calls ‘providence’” (Hodge 13). The workings of God’s providence are hidden from humankind except where God has specifically revealed and confirmed instances of it (e.g., Joseph sold into Egypt, Genesis 50:20). Therefore, one cannot know the full scope of the ministry of angels in the Christian Era since miraculously confirmed revelation from God has been completed (1 Corinthians 13:8-12; Jude 3). However, historically, angels have had a wide range of interaction with mankind as God’s messengers.
Angels punished cities (e.g., Sodom and Gomorrah, Genesis 19:13), nations (e.g., Egypt, Exodus 12:23; Israelites, 2 Samuel 24:15-16), armies (Assyrian, 2 Kings 19:35) and a king (Herod, Acts 12:23). God rules in or among nations (Daniel 2:21; 5:21); part of how God continues to do that today may include the activity of angels in matters of God’s providence.
Angels also played a role in delivering the Old Testament Law. “[W]ho have received the law by the direction of angels and have not kept it” (Acts 7:53). “What purpose then does the law serve? It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was appointed through angels by the hand of a mediator” (Galatians 3:19). “For if the word spoken through angels proved steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just reward, how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him” (Hebrews 2:2-3).
Angels sometimes encouraged or emboldened the children of God. Angels encouraged Mary (Luke 1:26-38), women at the tomb (Matthew 28:5-7) and the apostle Paul (Acts 27:24) (Stacy 35).
“In the conversion of the Ethiopian, an angel brought him (the prospect) and the preacher together. …An angel also played a role in the conversion of Cornelius” (Stacy 25-26). Angels have always expressed an interest in human salvation (1 Peter 1:10-12), and they remain keenly interested in the salvation of souls, rejoicing when souls repent of sin (Luke 15:10). Angels may yet play a part in the providential, behind the scenes, not obvious, facilitating of bringing prospects and teachers of God’s Word together – providing opportunity for conversion.
There is a ministry of angels in which they work at the bidding of God especially on behalf of humanity. “Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation?” (Hebrews 1:14). “They minister to the saints, though unquestionably in an unseen, unfelt, and invisible way (Hebrews 1:14). They appear in the assembly of the saints, though again in a way entirely imperceptible (1 Corinthians 11:10, noting context)” (Pollard 12).
It is possible that sometimes they may yet appear in human form as they have from time to time throughout history (Genesis 18-19). “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels” (Hebrews 13:2). Unlike one of the tasks that God previously further assigned them, “…they do not appear personally today with messages. If they did they would be accursed (Galatians 1:8-9)” (Pollard 12).
There certainly remains a ministry of angels in which I am personally very much interested. Angels await the passing from this life of each godly soul so they can personally escort and carry us to spiritual paradise. “Angels” plural appear in Luke 16:22; I am looking forward to at least two of God’s heavenly messengers awaiting me to facilitate my navigation through “the valley of the shadow of death” (Psalm 23:4). The ungodly have not such angelic escort; Luke 16:22 simply says “the rich man also died.”
Angels will attend the Second Coming of our Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:16; 2 Thessalonians 1:7). In addition, a part of the ministry of angels that has not commenced just yet pertains to the aftermath of the Second Coming. “Angels shall reap, gather, sever, and burn. …Mt. 13:39 …Mt. 13:41-42…” (Stacy 30). The angelic host will participate in the Judgment of humanity, regarding separations and assignments according to their sentencing by Jesus Christ.
Angels are worshipping God now, and they will always be worshipping God (Isaiah 6:3; Revelation 4:8; Hebrews 1:6). One day, the righteous will do the same along with them throughout eternity. Angels also stand at the gates of heaven (Revelation 21:12).
“Many Christians believe that since the cross, angels just sit around and do nothing. How untrue! Let us thank God for what angels have done and are doing today. Surely, when we consider the actions of angels, we should have renewed sense of awareness of the greatness and goodness of God” (Stacy 36). God is watching out for us, and part of the way He accomplishes that is through the angelic host (Hebrews 1:14). Jacob’s dreamy vision of angels ascending and descending a ladder between earth and heaven (Genesis 28:12) is a good symbol of frenzied activity for us to remember the benevolent ministry of angels toward righteous souls.
Were the angels to have no more ministry than what we have noticed, that would be enough. I am weary just contemplating some of what angels have done and what they continue to do.
The Bible does not use the term “guardian angels.” Matthew 18:10 and some other verses are misconstrued in an attempt to support the doctrine of personal, individual angelic bodyguards of a sort. In actuality, Matthew 18:10 in its context refers to the general ministry of angels toward humans.
In using the phrase “their angels,” Jesus implies that angels are charged with the welfare of Christians. In this case, He refers to little ones who believe in Christ, presumably new or vulnerable Christians, comparable in their trust to little children (cf. vv. 1-5). He does not us the term “guardian angels” nor does He say there is a one-to-one assignment of an angel for each person or that an angel appears in human form to rescue that person from danger or to deliver him or her from distress… There is an angelic ministry, and there is some means by which it is carried out. …methods by which God effects His providential care of Christians. (Parker 16).
Furthermore, “[t]his passage says nothing about these angels doing anything upon the earth, rather it speaks of their looking upon the face of God in heaven” (West 17).
If mankind has guardian angels, at least one personally assigned to each innocent child and godly soul, they aren’t doing a very good job of protecting their charges from disease or infirmity, accident or injury, bodily harm and death, etc. “If the purpose of a guardian angel is to preserve life, why do so many die prematurely? If the purpose of guardian angels is to keep us from sin, then why is it that so many Christians become unfaithful?” (Frizzell 7). “From what does the guardian angel if such there be, protect? Not temptation, not suffering, not agony, not pain, not sorrow, not death. Any view in conflict with known and demonstrable facts cannot be true” (Woods 18).
Dennis Gulledge observed that some noteworthy brethren in the recent past subscribed to the notion of guardian angels, including B.W. Johnson, H. Leo Boles and J.W. McGarvey. However, contemporary brethren almost universally concur that guardian angels are not warranted from study of the Scriptures. Still, some brethren yet suspect that we may have guardian angels (Stacy 29).
“The same arguments for objecting to the direct operation of the Holy Spirit would also apply with equal force in this case” to guardian angels (Gulledge 4).
The doctrine of "guardian angels” as currently taught involves many of the same errors and misconceptions of the theory now popular, with some among us of a direct, immediate and independent operation of the Holy Spirit – apart from the Word of truth. It supports, indeed argues, the premise that there is personal, independent direction from God, exercised upon his people today through mediums other than the inspired, infallible and all-sufficient word of God. Common to both views is the theory that there is implantation of thoughts, impressions and leading upon the heart, bypassing all revealed religion, and that this motivation is achieved by direct impact of heavenly beings – in the case of the theory under review, by angels, and in the other, by direct immediate introduction of influences into the heart by the Holy Spirit. These views, both false, originated in denominational theology – not the Bible. (Woods 19)
Brother John Parker provided an excellent synopsis of angels in an article appearing in the Gospel Advocate magazine some years back.
1. They are supernatural, below God and above man (Psalm 8:4-5). 2. They are created by God (Psalm 148:2-5). 3. They are spirits, although they have temporarily assumed bodily form (Hebrews 1:14; cf. Genesis 18-19). 4. They are vast in number (Revelation 5:11). 5. They are ordered by rank (Colossians 1:16; Jude 9). 6. Some fell from their original pure state (2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6). 7. They attend the presence of God (Revelation 5:11-12). 8. They help God’s people (Hebrews 1:14). 9. In the past, they have directly communicated and interpreted God’s will to men (cf. Judges 13:3-21; Acts 8:26; 12:7-11). 10. Sometimes they have performed fearful acts in executing God’s will (cf. 2 Kings 19:35; Acts 12:23; Matthew 13:41). 11. Angels were particularly prominent during Christ’s ministry (cf. Luke 1:26-30; 2:1-14; Matthew 4:11; 28:2-6; John 20:11-12). (15)
Angels participated in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ on at least these occasions: an angel informed Joseph about the coming Messiah through his betrothed Mary (Matthew 1:18-24); angel Gabriel explained what was about to unfold to Mary (Luke 1:26-38); an angel steered the wise men home a different way to avoid the murderous King Herod (Matthew 2:13-20); angels ministered to Jesus Christ following His temptation by Satan (Matthew 4:1-11; Mark 1:12-13); an angel strengthened our Lord at Gethsemane (Luke 22:43); angels attended the resurrection of Christ (Matthew 28:5-7; John 20:12-13); two angels were present at the Ascension of Jesus Christ (Acts 1:10); and angels will accompany our Lord at His Second Coming (Matthew 25:31; 2 Thessalonians 1:7) (Myers 17). Though these citations pertain to our Lord, our Lord’s ministry pertained to our salvation. Hence, by ministering to Jesus Christ, angels were performing their ministry to us at the same time (Hebrews 1:14).
Doubtless, we would like to know more about angels than what is revealed. In addition, we would like more clarity on what does appear in Scripture about angels. However, we will have to be content with the portrait of angelic beings siphoned from scattered biblical texts that mention them, often in a passing way (Deuteronomy 29:29).
Aebi, Charles J. “Angel of the Lord.” Studies form the Book of Zechariah. Moundsville: West Virginia School of Preaching, 2002.
Frizzell, Terry. “Do We Have Guardian Angels?” The Sower. Oct 2000, 7.
Gulledge, Dennis. “Do We Have Guardian Angels?” First Century Christianity. Jan 1996, 4-5.
Hodge, Charles. “Misconceptions about Angels.” Gospel Advocate. Aug 1997, 12-13.
Jones, Brian W. Our Fascination with Angels. Parkersburg: Brian Jones, 1997.
McClintock and Strong Encyclopedia. CD-ROM. Seattle: Biblesoft, 2000.
Myers, Edward P. “Jesus and His Angels.” Gospel Advocate. Aug 1997, 17.
Parker, John. “Angels: Ministering Spirits.” Gospel Advocate. Aug 1997, 15-16.
Pollard, Neal. “I See Angels.” World Evangelist. Jul 2001, 12.
Stacy, John. Citizens of Eternity. Rutherford: Stacy Publications, 1979.
Stover, Doyle. “On Angels Wings.” Christian Bible Teacher. Sep 2001, 196, 201.
West, D. Gene. “What Is the Role of Angels Today?” Upon the Rock. Dec 2000, 14-17.
Woods, Guy N. “Guardian Angels.” Firm Foundation. Sep 1991, 18-19.