The purpose of this article is to present what the Scriptures reveal about the reality of angels and to consider how they impact the world in which we live.
Angels are basically classified as either righteous or evil. The former retain their holy state and service to God and are called elect angels (1 Tim 5:21), whereas the latter have defected from their original state and continue in constant rebellion against God. The existence and impact of angels is real, influencing individuals and groups in matters pertaining to social, political and moral life. Holy angels continue to serve God and advance His agenda for human history.
Thirty-four books of the Bible teach the existence of angels. The word angel occurs approximately 275 times throughout Scripture. The word angel translates the Hebrew word מַלְאָךְ malak and the Greek word ἄγγελος aggelos, and both words mean messenger. Angels are created beings (Psa 148:2-5; Col 1:16), were present at the creation of the world (Job 38:4-7), have volition (Matt 8:28-32), emotion (Mark 1:23-26), and intelligence (1 Pet 1:12). Angels are spirit beings who help advance the gospel (Heb 1:14), are distinct from humans (Luke 8:27), have great power (Psa 103:20-21; 2 Pet 2:11), are innumerable (Heb 12:22; Rev 5:11), cannot die (Luke 20:36), and do not reproduce after their kind (Mark 12:25), which means there are no baby angels. As creatures, angels are not to be worshipped (Col 2:18; Rev 19:10; 22:8-9). Seraphim—angels with six wings—are devoted to the worship of God (Isa 6:1-3), and Cherubim—angels with four wings—are devoted to protecting the Lord’s holiness (Ezek 28:14).
As spirit beings, angels function in an invisible realm and were only observable to people when God chose to reveal them (in theology, this is called an angelophany). For example, Elisha’s servant saw the angelic chariots of fire only when God opened his eyes (2 Ki 6:15-17), and John was permitted to see myriads of angels around God’s throne (Rev 5:11). The vast majority of us are never given the opportunity of direct observation, but rather, we learn about angels through the revelation of God’s Word.
God used holy angels to minister to His people. For example, angels were instrumental in protecting Lot and his family before God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 19:1-25). When Israel was in Egyptian captivity, God judged Egypt by means of “a band of destroying angels” (Psa 78:49), who were apparently involved in administering the plagues (Psa 78:43-49). When Israel was fleeing Egypt and being pursued by Pharaoh and his army, God sent His angel to protect them (Ex 14:19-20; Num 20:16). When Elijah was fearful, depressed, and running for his life, God sent an angel to provide for him and encourage him until he came to the end of his journey (1 Ki 19:1-8). When a powerful Assyrian army came against Jerusalem to destroy it, (2 Chron 32:1-19), King Hezekiah and Isaiah the prophet “prayed about this and cried out to heaven” (2 Chron 32:20), and the Lord rescued them by sending “an angel who destroyed every mighty warrior, commander and officer in the camp of the king of Assyria” (2 Chron 32:21). When three of God’s servants refused to submit to the tyranny of the king of Babylon and were thrown alive into a furnace of fire, God honored their faith and “sent His angel and delivered His servants who put their trust in Him” (Dan 3:28). Later, when Daniel was persecuted and thrown into a den of lions for not following a foolish edict, God protected His servant and “sent His angel and shut the lions’ mouths” (Dan 6:22). God also used an angel named Gabriel, who told Daniel, “In the first year of Darius the Mede, I [Gabriel] arose to be an encouragement and a protection for him” (Dan 11:1). It was Gabriel who announced the birth of Jesus, the Messiah, telling Mary, she had “found favor with God” and informing her, “you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end” (Luke 1:30-33). Later, when the baby Jesus was facing danger, “an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream” and instructed him, “Get up! Take the Child and His mother and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is going to search for the Child to destroy Him” (Matt 2:13). And afterward, “when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, and said, ‘Get up, take the Child and His mother, and go into the land of Israel; for those who sought the Child’s life are dead”’ (Matt 2:19-20). After Jesus experienced fatiguing temptations from Satan, it is written that “angels came and ministered to Him” (Matt 4:11). After Jesus’ resurrection, “an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled away the stone and sat upon it” (Matt 28:2). When some of the apostles had been arrested and thrown into prison, we are informed that “during the night an angel of the Lord opened the gates of the prison and released them to continue preaching” (Acts 5:19). And when Peter had been arrested by King Herod, the church prayed for him, and God “sent forth His angel and rescued” Peter from certain death (Act 12:11).
The book of Revelation reveals angels are instrumental in executing God’s judgments upon the earth (Rev 7:1-2; 8:1-3; 5, 8, 10, 12; 9:1, 13-14; 10:1, 5, 7-9; 15:1, 6-8; 16:1; 21:9). About half way through the Tribulation, there will be “war in heaven, [with] Michael and his angels waging war with the dragon…and his angels” (Rev 12:7), and Satan and his angels will be thrown out of heaven by force (Rev 12:9). And after the Tribulation “the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and will repay every man according to his deeds” (Matt 16:27). Furthermore, God’s “angels will come forth and take out the wicked from among the righteous, and will throw them [the wicked] into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt 13:49-50).
Though we don’t see holy angels, by faith in God’s Word we know they are present and active in our lives to help protect, provide, and strengthen us as we walk with the Lord. We also know they are active in the affairs of everyday life, helping to advance God’s purposes in a fallen world.
Audio Lesson on Angels
Dr. Steven R. Cook