ANGEL (מַלְאָכְ, H4855; LXX and New Testament, ἄγγελος, G34, messenger).
A supernatural, heavenly being, a little higher in dignity than man. Angels are created beings (Ps.148.2-Ps.148.5; Col.1.16). Scripture does not tell us the time of their creation, but it was certainly before the creation of man (Job.38.7). They are described as “spirits” (Hebrew1.14). Although without a bodily organism, they have often revealed themselves in bodily form to man. Jesus said that they do not marry and do not die (Luke.20.34-Luke.20.36). They therefore constitute a company, not a race developed from one original pair. Scripture describes them as personal beings, not mere personifications of abstract good and evil.
Angels were created holy (Gen.1.31; Jude.1.6), but after a period of probation some fell from their state of innocence (2Pet.2.4; Jude.1.6). Scripture is silent regarding the time and cause of their fall, but it is clear that it occurred before the fall of man (for Satan deceived Eve in the Garden of Eden) and that it was due to a deliberate, self-determined rebellion against God. As a result these angels lost their original holiness, became corrupt, and were confirmed in evil. Some were “sent...to hell,” where they are held in chains until the (2Pet.2.4); others were left free, and they oppose the work of God.
Angels had a large place in the life and ministry of Christ. At his birth they made their appearance to Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds. After the wilderness temptation of Christ they ministered to him (Matt.4.11); an angel strengthened him in the Garden (Luke.22.43); an angel rolled away the stone from the tomb (Matt.28.2-Matt.28.7); and angels were with him at the Ascension (Acts.1.10-Acts.1.11).
Scripture shows that good angels will continue in the service of God in the future age, whereas evil angels will have their part in the eternal fire (Matt.25.41).
Definition and description
In Scripture records, angels constitute a distinct order among the higher echelons of universal beings.
The word angel comes from the Greek word anggelos, meaning “messenger.” The corresponding Hebrew word malakh likewise means “messenger.” Though these terms are sometimes used to designate human messengers, as a prophet (Hag 1:13) or a priest (Mal 2:7), differentiation is usually made from context.
Angels are spirits, supernatural celestial beings. The author of Hebrews (1:14) asks, “Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to serve, for the sake of those who are to obtain salvation?” They are more than personifications of abstract good and evil, but are majestic beings whom God created to execute His will (Ps 148:2-5; Col 1:16). They are therefore active in a multiplicity of universal operations. They were created at a time which long antedates the creation of man (Job 38:7).
Being spirits, angels can function as mediators between God and man. They can pass back and forth from the spiritual realm to the natural at will, unimpeded by physical boundaries (Acts 12:7). Angels are superhuman in strength: “Whereas angels, though greater in might and power, do not pronounce a reviling judgment upon them before the Lord” (2 Pet 2:11). Yet, they are not omnipotent (Ps 103:20; 2 Thess 1:7). Angels also are endowed with superior intellect and wisdom (2 Sam 14:17, 20), but are not omniscient (Matt 24:36; 1 Pet 1:12).
References to angels in common parlance sheds further light on their superhuman qualities: “And Achish made answer to David, ‘I know that you are as blameless in my sight as an angel of God’” (1 Sam 29:9). The wise woman from Tekoa who approached King David in disguise reflected on the superior wisdom of angels: “For my lord the king is like the angel of God to discern good and evil”; and, when David suspected that Joab was back of this ruse, she replied, “My lord has wisdom like the wisdom of the angel of God to know all things that are on the earth” (2 Sam 14:17, 20).
Paul solemnly pronounced that “if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we preached to you, let him be accursed” (Gal 1:8). Pursuing his appeal to the Galatians, he recalled their former kindness to him, saying “you...received me as an angel of God” (Gal 4:14). Warning the Corinthian Christians against “false prophets,” Paul said that their deception was “no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light” (2 Cor 11:14). In his masterpiece on love, Paul wrote of the eloquence of angels (1 Cor 13:1).
When refuting the Saduccees’ argument against angels and resurrection, Jesus cited that angels were not sexual and did not marry. He also pointed out their present superiority to man, but said that men in the resurrection “are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection” (Luke 20:34ff.). Since Jesus was temporarily incarnate, the writer of Hebrews, quoting from the psalmist, declared, “Thou didst make him for a little while lower than the angels” (Heb 2:7; Ps 8:5), but that ultimately He would be supreme ruler. “For it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come” (Heb 2:5). And Paul asked, “Do you not know that we are to judge angels?” (1 Cor 6:3). Angels, then, are created beings with both human and divine characteristics.
Angels consistently appeared in human form, with the exception of the seraphim (Isa 6:2). Contrarily, angels never appeared in subhuman form, as animals, birds, or material objects. Though the angel of the Lord spoke out of fire and cloud, and even caused a donkey to speak, He never identified Himself with either. Moreover, it should be observed that there is no Biblical record showing that an angel ever appeared to a wicked person or warned such a one of impending danger (Matt 24:37-39). Good angels always appeared to good people: Abraham, Moses, David, Daniel, Jesus, Peter, Paul, and others. Furthermore, angels always appeared as men, never as women or children, and they were always clothed. As the Christ identified Himself with man in flesh and blood in a historic generation, so angels identified themselves with man in form, language, and deed during brief visits. Thus God has repeatedly revealed Himself to man by establishing rapport in the medium of human perception.
Many times angels were so disguised as men that they were not at first identified as angels. Abraham entertained “three men” as dinner guests. One remained to talk with him while the other “two angels” went on down to Sodom and spent the night with Lot, who thought that they were men (Gen 18:2; 19:1). Referring to this incident, the writer of Hebrews admonished his brethren “to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (Heb 13:2). Just before Joshua’s attack on Jericho “a man stood before him with his drawn sword in his hand,” and he was God’s angel (Josh 5:13). Gideon did not know that his reassuring guest was an angel until he had served him a sumptuous meal of kid, cakes and broth and the angel had made a burnt offering of it (Judg 6:21, 22). “The angel of the Lord” made several appearances as “a man” to Manoah and his wife (13:21).
Occasionally angels displayed themselves as men with awesome appearances in countenance or clothing. The description given by Manoah’s wife was, “A man of God came to me, and his countenance was like the countenance of the angel of God, very terrible” (13:6). Women at the tomb reported that “two men stood by them in dazzling apparel” (Luke 24:4). As the Twelve witnessed Jesus’ ascension, “two men stood by them in white robes” (Acts 1:10).
Classification and names
Angels were created holy (Gen 1:31), and like men were given freedom of choice in attitude and action during a probationary period (Jude 6). Some chose to worship and serve God and some rebelled, creating two major divisions of angels: good and evil.
Good angels are called “the holy angels,” “the angels of God” (Luke 9:26; 12:8), and “God’s angels” (Heb 1:6; cf. Ps 103:20). Jesus spoke of “his angels” (Matt 16:27; 24:31), and “angels in heaven” (22:30). Paul referred to “his mighty angels” (2 Thess 1:7).
Of these good angels only two are mentioned by name in the Bible.
First, Michael is called the archangel by Jude (v. 9), while in the (10:13) the messenger angel called him “one of the chief princes.” In Revelation (12:7, 8) Michael is portrayed as the commander of the army of good angels who defeated and expelled the bad angels from heaven.
Second, Gabriel appears to be the chief messenger angel. He announced the forthcoming births of Luke 1:13, 31). He also interpreted Daniel’s dream and on the same mission delivered God’s decree (Dan 8:15ff.).and of Jesus (
Essene List of Good Angels
Josephus stated that the initiation oath of the Essenes included the pledge to preserve the names of angels. This interest in angels is illustrated in the DSS which show the emphasis the Qumran Essenes placed on the later Jewish writings in which angels figure prominently. The apocryphal (see Gen 5:24), apparently the work of several Essene authors, contains an interesting list of angel names. Each of the names is followed by the phrase “one of the holy angels,” and for the sake of brevity is omitted here: “And these are the names of the holy angels who watch: Uriel...who is over the world and over Tartarus; Raphael...who is over the spirits of men; Raguel...who takes care of the world of the luminaries; Michael...is set over the best part of mankind and over chaos; Saraqael...is set over the spirits who sin in the spirit; Gabriel...is over paradise and the serpents and the cherubim; Remiel...whom God set over those who rise” (1 Enoch 20). Good angels will continue their blissful existence with God and His elect in the future age.
Bad angels consist of “the devil and his angels.” Their habitation was for some time in heaven, but they proved unfaithful to their trust and were driven out of heaven down to earth by the holy angels (Rev 12:7ff.). The apostasy of the angels took place before man’s creation, for “The Old Serpent” caused Adam and Eve to sin in the Garden of Eden. Out of the group of degenerate angels Satan emerged as the chief exponent of evil and wickedness. The Pharisees called him “Beelzebul, prince of demons” (Matt 12:24). Jesus said that the devil was a murderer, a liar, and the father of lies (John 8:44). Paul said that Christians are contending “against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph 6:12). Bad angels will in the end be cast “into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt 25:41). The nebulous passage of Genesis 6:1-5, showing the increase of wickedness as man multiplied, is translated in numerous ways. One of the oldest commentaries on the subject is an elaborate account of the same story in the apocryphal Book of Enoch. In its mythological account an attempt is made to solve the problem of sin by attributing it to marriages between lustful, degenerate angels and earthly women (1 Enoch 15:9-16).
The Angelic Host
The phrase "the host of heaven" is applied to the stars, which were sometimes worshipped by idolatrous Jews (Jer 33:22; 2Ki 21:3; Ze 1:5); the name is applied to the company of angels because of their countless numbers (compare Da 7:10) and their glory. They are represented as standing on the right and left hand of Yahweh (1Ki 22:19). Hence God, who is over them all, is continually called throughout Old Testament "the God of hosts," "Yahweh of hosts," "Yahweh God of hosts"; and once "the prince of the host" (Da 8:11).
One of the principal functions of the heavenly host is to be ever praising the name of the Lord (Ps 103:21; 148:1 f). In this host there are certain figures that stand out prominently, and some of them are named. The angel who appears to Joshua calls himself "prince of the host of Yahweh" (Jos 5:14 f). The glorious angel who interprets to Daniel the vision which he saw in the third year of Cyrus (Da 10:5), like the angel who interprets the vision in the first year of Belshazzar (Da 7:16), is not named; but other visions of the same prophet were explained to him by the angel Gabriel, who is called "the man Gabriel," and is described as speaking with "a man’s voice" (Da 9:21; 8:15 f).
In Daniel we find occasional reference made to "princes": "the prince of Persia," "the prince of Greece" (Da 10:20). These are angels to whom is entrusted the charge of, and possibly the rule over, certain peoples. Most notable among them is Michael, described as "one of the chief princes," "the great prince who standeth for the children of thy people," and, more briefly, "your prince" (Da 10:13; 12:1; 10:21); Michael is therefore regarded as the patron-angel of the Jews.
In Apocrypha Raphael, Uriel and Jeremiel are also named. Of Raphael it is said (Tobit 12:15) that he is "one of the seven holy angels who present the prayers of the saints" to God (compare Re 8:2, "the seven angels that stand before God"). It is possible that this group of seven is referred to in the above-quoted phrase, "one of the chief princes". Some (notably Kosters) have maintained that the expressions "the sons of the ’elohim," God’s "council" and "congregation," refer to the ancient gods of the heathen, now degraded and wholly subordinated to Yahweh. This rather daring speculation has little support in Scripture; but we find traces of a belief that the patron-angels of the nations have failed in establishing righteousness within their allotted sphere on earth, and that they will accordingly be punished by Yahweh their over-Lord (Isa 24:21 f; Ps 82; compare Ps 58:1 f the Revised Version, margin; compare Jude 1:6).
The angel of God
Also called "the angel of the Lord," "the angel of Jehovah," and "The Angel of the Theophany." Stands out in distinct pre-eminence in the Old Testament.
Character and distinctiveness
Though it was natural for the above terminology to be applied to any good angel (Matt 2:20, 23) there was definitely a theophanic mediator, unique and distinct. He introduced Himself as the Deity, and yet as distinct from God. He spoke face to face with early Bible characters as man to man, in whose form He appeared. “The angel of the Lord” gave aid and encouragement to Hagar, Sarai’s Egyptian slave girl, twice in her distress in the wilderness (Gen 16:7ff.; 21:17).
On the second occasion He called from heaven, as He did on two occasions to Abraham: when He stopped his attempt to sacrifice Isaac and when He promised him countless descendants (22:11, 15ff.). He was spokesman of the “three men” who came to announce to Abraham the impending doom of Sodom and Gomorrah, and to foretell the birth of Isaac. After the other two left for Sodom, Abraham detained Him in his supplication to spare the city (18:1-19:1). The angel of the Lord accompanied Eliezer on his mission to Haran to get a wife for Isaac, through whom the chosen people were to be perpetuated (24:7, 40). He appeared to Jacob in a foreign land and identified Himself as “the God of Bethel,” and instructed him to go home (31:11-13). Later, after wrestling with Him, Jacob said, “I have seen God face to face” (32:24-30).
Early in the period of the judges, when the Israelites were forsaking God, the angel of the Lord spoke to them at Bochim (Bethel ? Judg 2:1-5). He later appeared to Gideon to commission him for military leadership (6:11-14). Then He appeared to Manoah and his wife to promise them a son, Samson (ch. 13). He appeared to David at the threshing floor of Ornan where He stopped the destroying angel; and afterward He commanded the prophet Gad to order David to build an altar on that rock (1 Chron 21:15, 18, 27). The angel of the Lord received a report from the angels who patrolled the earth and then asked God to have mercy on Jerusalem (Ezek 1:10-13).
The question of identity of “the angel of God” has aroused an intriguing interest in Bible students. The view in which most concur is that He is a distinct personal self-manifestation of God, who may be called the incarnate Logos. The reference in Judges 2:1 shows clearly that “the angel of the Lord” is God in His self-manifestation. This is also the case with similar patriarchal passages dealing with Abraham, Jacob, and Moses. The angel whom David saw at the threshing floor was superior in rank to the destroying angel whom He ordered to stop. He later spoke with divine authority concerning the building of the altar on the spot. He was of the angelic order, but was superior to other angels. He always had the same specific personality, distinguishable from angels in general. For instance, He was not restricted to executing a single order, but, like Jesus, He spoke with authority as though He were God Himself. Only the Logos, or some other manifest personification of God, would be able to do that.
John declared that the Logos “was in the beginning with God” and that He “was God”; that He was instrumental in the Creation; and, that “The Logos became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:1-14). It is interesting to note that this angel did not appear on earth while Jesus was in the flesh. The angel who announced Jesus’ birth to the shepherds was probably Gabriel, but was referred to only as “an angel of the Lord” (Luke 2:9).
Other resemblances between “the angel of the Lord” and Jesus support the thesis that He was the preincarnate Logos. The wife of Manoah reported that His countenance was “very terrible”; and, His appearance to David and to Balaam was terrifying. He appeared to Moses in the midst of a fire, and vanished from Gideon with the holocaust fire. Daniel said His eyes were like flaming torches, and Ezekiel saw a brightness “like the appearance of fire” around one in “human form” seated on a throne (Dan 10:6; Ezek 1:26ff.). In comparison to these descriptions one can find striking similarities in John’s vision of Jesus, a part of which is, “his eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined as in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of many waters” (Rev 1:14, 16).
It is amazing how often the appearance of “the angel of the Lord” marked a turning point in history, or sparked the innovation of some project with long-lasting consequences. Some examples are the founding of the chosen race by or through Abraham; deliverance of the same race from Egypt; founding a theocracy at Mt. Sinai; leading an Israelite settlement into the Promised Land; laying foundation for Solomon’s Temple by ordering an altar built on Ornan’s threshing floor rock; supporting Elijah in preserving monotheism; and protecting His elect in the Babylonian captivity.
Another characteristic of the deity exercised by “the angel of God” was the authority to forgive sins (Exod 23:21). In summary, “the angel of the Lord” was the guardian angel of the chosen race. The following words in Isaiah’s prophecy are both predictive and reflective: “In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them; in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old” (63:9).
Distribution of work
In general the work of angels is to execute God’s universal will in heaven and on earth. They praise, reverence, and obey God. They promote divine goodness, and they are mediators of God’s love and good will to man. With their relation to man, the writer of Hebrews states tersely the role of angels in his question: “Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to serve, for the sake of those who are to obtain salvation?” (1:14). Their service is rendered throughout a wide distribution of duties, observed in the following categories.
To announce and forewarn
Angels announced beforehand the births of some of God’s select servants. An angel announced in advance to Abraham and Sarai the conception and birth of their son Isaac (Gen 18:9f.). Likewise, an angel foretold the birth of Samson to his parents, Manoah and his wife (Judg 13:2-24). Gabriel announced the birth of John the Baptist to his father Zechariah before his wife Elizabeth became pregnant, and the birth of Jesus to Mary before she was with child (Luke 1:13, 30). On the night of Jesus’ birth, that momentous event was announced by an angel to the shepherds and immediately was joined by a chorus of heavenly angels praising God and blessing man (Luke 2:8-15).
Angels not only announced blessed events, but on occasions forewarned the righteous of imminent danger or threatening disaster. Abraham and Lot were forewarned by angels of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 18:16-19:29). Joseph was warned by an angel to “take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there till I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him” (Matt 2:13). Gabriel revealed future events involving God’s judgment to the prophet Daniel: “He said, ‘Behold, I will make known to you what shall be at the latter end of the indignation; for it pertains to the appointed time of the end’” (Dan 8:19). Similarly, an angel revealed to John on Patmos in a kaleidoscope of visions some eschatological scenes including the Resurrection, the Judgment, and (Rev 1-22).
To guide and instruct
From the day that Abraham left his home in until Joshua settled the tribes of Israel in Canaan, there is the manifest implication that the chosen people were divinely led. Always and everywhere during the nomadic wandering of the patriarchs, the sojourn in Egypt, and the wilderness tour to the Promised Land, an angel, visible or invisible, seemed to be ever near. Abraham was repeatedly in conversation with angels, and when he sent his servant Eliezer to Mesopotamia to get a wife for Isaac he assured him that God “will send his angel with you” (Gen 24:7, 40). Later, when Jacob was on a similar mission for himself, he had a marvelous dream of angels ascending and descending a ladder reaching from earth to heaven, with the Lord standing above and giving the reassurance, “I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done that which I have spoken to you” (28:12-15).
When Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, “the angel of God who went before the host of Israel moved and went behind them” (Exod 14:19). Subsequently Moses reassured the Israelites with God’s promise, “Behold, I send an angel before you, to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place which I have prepared” (23:20). He bolstered this promise by recalling that the Lord “sent an angel and brought us forth out of Egypt” (Num 20:16). Directing and instructing were kindred functions, often combined in the same angelic mission.
The most comprehensive instruction in the Old Testament was the law received by Moses from an angel on Mt. Sinai. When Stephen was on trial before the Sanhedrin, he mentioned in his survey of Israel’s history, “the angel who spoke to him (Moses) at Mount Sinai,” and proceeded to charge the rulers that they had “received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it” (Acts 7:38, 53). Paul said that the law “was ordained by angels through an intermediary” (Gal 3:19). Elihu envisioned “an angel, a mediator...to declare to man what is right for him” (Job 33:23). An angel gave Manoah’s wife instructions for her personal care during pregnancy and for rearing her son Samson (Judg 13:3-5). An angel informed Joseph of the nature of Mary’s conception and instructed him to marry her (Matt 1:20f.). An angel appeared to the centurion Cornelius at Caesarea and told him to “send men to Joppa, and bring one Simon who is called Peter,” and gave direction where to find him (Acts 10:3-5). An angel instructed Philip to leave Samaria and go to a desert place on the Jerusalem-Gaza road, where later he was to learn the purpose of the mission (8:26ff.).
Paul repeatedly received divine instruction, mediated, at least at times, by angels. One striking example was while in a storm at sea an angel stood by Paul and assured him of his safety, and that of the crew, and told him that he was yet to stand before Caesar (27:23f.). Angels also interpreted visions for Zechariah, Daniel, and John (Zech 1:9, 19; Dan 7:16; Rev 17:7).
To guard and defend
The belief in guardian angels is an old one and has scriptural basis. “The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them” (Ps 34:7). An angel guarded Jacob during his twenty years in Haran and brought him safely home to Canaan (Gen 32:24ff.). An angel, by cloud and fire, defended Israel from Egypt during the Exodus (Exod 14:19f.). When Moab and Midian allied to bring a curse of destruction on Israel, their plan was aborted by an angel who made Balaam revise his prophecy and rewrite his sermon (Num 22). Reminiscent of Jacob’s experience in meeting “God’s army” of angels on returning to Canaan was that of Joshua when he met the “commander of the army of the Lord” who joined him as an ally at the beginning of the conquest of Canaan (Gen 32:1f.; Josh 5:14).
In David’s thanksgiving psalm he sang, “Bless the Lord, O you his angels, you mighty ones who do his word” (Ps 103:20). God’s army stood by to defend Elisha and his servant (2 Kings 6:17). The writer of Chronicles, profoundly impressed with the “mighty men of valor” who continued to come to David’s support, said, “From day to day men kept coming to David to help him, until there was a great army, like an army of God” (1 Chron 12:22). An angel prevented Abraham from committing murder and losing his only son of promise, and at the same time guarded the life of Isaac (Gen 22:9-12). An angel guarded the lives of Daniel and the three young Hebrews against the sentences of death pronounced by powerful rulers (Dan 3:28; 6:22).
On the subject of guardian angels for children, Jesus warned, “See that you do not despise one of these little ones; for I tell you that in heaven their angels always be hold the face of my Father who is in heaven” (Matt 18:10). The psalmist, after listing some of the worst perils that threaten man, pointed to God as his refuge and declared, “he will give his angels charge of you to guard you in all your ways” (Ps 91:11). The angel who talked with Daniel said that he had been the guardian angel of Darius. He had just stated that Michael was the guardian angel of Daniel, probably in the broader sense of the Jews, and that he and Michael had contended with the prince (angel) of Persia and that later the prince of Greece would come (Dan 10:13-11:1). Obviously, then, nations and cities, as well as individuals, have guardian angels. To this may also be added churches, as seen by the seven angels respectively assigned to the seven churches of Asia Minor (Rev 2; 3).
In the guardianship of God’s people, angels were sometimes engaged in militant action against their enemies. “The destroyer,” the angel of death, slew the first-born of the Egyptians to force the release of the Israelites from the bondage of slavery (Exod 12:23, 29). When Sennacherib’s army threatened the destruction of Jerusalem in the days of King Hezekiah and the prophet Isaiah, “that night the angel of the Lord went forth, and slew a hundred and eighty-five thousand in the camp of the Assyrians” (2 Kings 19:35). The most enlightening and most reassuring comment on angelic guardianship was spoken by Jesus Himself at the time of His arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane. Peter had just attempted a valiant defense of Jesus by wielding his sword with a degree of effectiveness, when Jesus disarmed him and uttered amazing words of reassurance: “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matt 26:53).
To minister in need
All angelic service to man is ministering in some form to man’s needs. Angels are mediators of God’s love and good will to men, and their mission is always benevolent, either immediately or ultimately. As already seen, angels administered to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in times of critical need. Nor did angelic service end with men of honorable estate, but with tender compassion ministered necessary aid to the slave girl, Hagar, and her young boy, Ishmael, when they were threatened with thirst and starvation in the wilderness (Gen 21:17f.). When the Israelites were sorely oppressed by the taskmaster’s lash and seemingly hopeless Egyptian bondage, the angel of the Lord came to Moses and said, “I have seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters; I know their sufferings, and I have come...to deliver them” (Exod 3:7f.).
When Elijah, with exhaustion, fear, and loneliness, fell asleep under a broom tree in the desert, a celestial being ministered to his needs. An angel awoke him and served him with a hot cake and a jar of water, which provided him with strength for a long journey ahead (1 Kings 19:5-7). After Jesus had spent forty days in the wilderness, threatened by wild beasts, weakened by fasting, and harassed by the devil, “the angels ministered to him” (Mark 1:13). In His agony, loneliness, and sorrow in Gethsemane “there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him” (Luke 22:43). After Jesus had been laid in the tomb, “an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone, and sat upon it” (Matt 28:2). Peter was delivered from chains and prison by an angel, just as earlier “at night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought” the apostles out and commanded them to go into the Temple and preach (Acts 5:19; 12:6-11).
To assist in judgment
Finally, angels assist in God’s judgment. Enough instances are on record to show that this is continually being done in human history. Some have already been mentioned. Another striking example of this is the death of Herod Agrippa: “Immediately an angel of the Lord smote him, because he did not give God the glory; and he was eaten by worms and died” (Acts 12:23). Some examples of their roles in judgment are shown in the visions of John on Patmos.
One angel with great authority and amazing splendor proclaimed the fall of Rome, while a mighty angel threw a large stone into the sea, symbolizing the fall of Rome (Rev 18:1, 21). In the outset of the war in which Christ and His heavenly armies defeated the beast and his cohorts, an angel stood in the sun and summoned carrion fowl to eat the corpses of God’s enemies to be slain in the conflict (19:17f.).
The Teaching of Jesus about Angels
Other New Testament References
Paul refers to the ranks of angels ("principalities, powers" etc.) only in order to emphasize the complete supremacy of Jesus Christ. He teaches that angels will be judged by the saints (1Co 6:3). He attacks the incipient Gnosticism of Asia Minor by forbidding the worship of angels (Col 2:18). He speaks of God’s angels as "elect," because they are included in the counsels of Divine love (1Ti 5:21).
When Paul commands the women to keep their heads covered in church because of the angels (1Co 11:10) he probably means that the angels, who watch all human affairs with deep interest, would be pained to see any infraction of the laws of modesty. In Heb 1:14 angels are described as ministering spirits engaged in the service of the saints. Peter also emphasizes the supremacy of our Lord over all angelic beings (1Pe 3:22).
The references to angels in 2 Peter and Jude are colored by contact with Apocrypha literature. In Revelation, where the references are obviously symbolic, there is very frequent mention of angels. The angels of the seven churches (Re 1:20) are the guardian angels or the personifications of these churches. The worship of angels is also forbidden (Re 22:8 f).
Specially interesting is the mention of elemental angels—"the angel of the waters" (Re 16:5), and the angel "that hath power over fire" (Re 14:18; compare Re 7:1; 19:17). Reference is also made to the "angel of the bottomless pit," who is called Abaddon or Apollyon (which see), evidently an evil angel (Re 9:11 the , the Revised Version (British and American) "abyss"). In Re 12:7 ff we are told that there was war between Michael with his angels and the dragon with his angels.
Angels are referred to with candor and credulity from Genesis to Revelation, from Abraham “by the oaks of Mamre” to John “on the island called Patmos.” Their appearances are reported at various places in Bible lands over more than 2,000 years. Scripture writers assume the existence of angels and, therefore, make no attempt to prove it.
The earliest archeological evidence of angels to date appears on the stele of Ur-Nammus, c. 2250 b.c., where angels are seen flying over the head of this king while in prayer. Since Abraham came on the scene in this area soon after that time, he doubtless was acquainted with angelology from youth and saw clearly that it had a natural place in the monotheism which he fostered. Though angelology was mixed with mythology in the primitive religions, and in the polytheism of Israel’s neighbors, the chosen people did not borrow distorted concepts from them only to be sloughed off with the maturation of their own religion.
Contrarily, the records of angels increases as Biblical history unfolds. They were sporadic throughout the Old Testament until near its close. During the Babylonian captivity angels became more evident. It is the opinion of Bible scholars generally that Zoroastrianism made a generous contribution to Jewish angelology.
In the childhood of the race it was easy to believe in God, and He was very near to the soul. In Paradise there is no thought of angels; it is God Himself who walks in the garden. A little later the thought of angels appears, but, God has not gone away, and as "the angel of Yahweh" He appears to His people and redeems them. In these early times the Jews believed that there were multitudes of angels, not yet divided in thought into good and bad; these had no names or personal characteristics, but were simply embodied messages. Till the time of the captivity the Jewish angelology shows little development. During that dark period they came into close contact with a polytheistic people, only to be more deeply confirmed in their monotheism thereby. They also became acquainted with the purer faith of the Persians, and in all probability viewed the tenets of Zoroastrianism with a more favorable eye, because of the great kindness of Cyrus to their nation.
There are few direct traces of Zoroastrianism in the later angelology of the Old Testament. It is not even certain that the number seven as applied to the highest group of angels is Persian in its origin; the number seven was not wholly disregarded by the Jews. One result of the contact was that the idea of a hierarchy of the angels was more fully developed. The conception in David of angels as "watchers," and the idea of patron-princes or angel-guardians of nations may be set down to Persian influence. It is probable that contact with the Persians helped the Jews to develop ideas already latent in their minds. According to Jewish tradition, the names of the angels came from Babylon. By this time the consciousness of sin had grown more intense in the Jewish mind, and God had receded to an immeasurable distance; the angels helped to fill the gap between God and man. The more elaborate conceptions of Daniel and Zechariah are further developed in Apocrypha, especially in 2 Esdras, Tobit and 2 Maccabees.
The New Testament opens with angel activity and continues so to its end. The visible activity of angels has been superseded by the John 16:13)., who now guides Christians “into all the truth” (
We find that the Sadducees, as contrasted with the Pharisees, did not believe in angels or spirits (Ac 23:8). We may conclude that the Sadducees, with their materialistic standpoint, and denial of the resurrection, regarded angels merely as symbolical expressions of God’s actions. It is noteworthy in this connection that the great priestly document (Priestly Code, P) makes no mention of angels. The naturally shows a close kinship to the books of Ezekiel and Daniel.
Additional Christian Views
The Roman Catholic doctrine of angels is dubiously indebted to the Greek writings of Dionysius the Pseudo-Areopagite, through the Latin rendering of John Erigena. This unscriptural elaboration has prompted widespread abuse. The
Orthodox Protestant views are copiously quoted in Heppe, Reformed Dogmatics, pp. 201-219: these follow familiar biblical lines. While angels are incorporeal and immortal, they were originally created ex nihilo and therefore lack true eternity, the prerogative of deity, which has to be retrospective as well as anticipatory. Though finite and therefore limited spirits, they possess powers far outstripping those of man, with knowledge based on “nature, use and revelation.”