In this study:
- What are Angels?
- ⤷Primarily Messengers
- ⤷Named Beings
- ⤷Created and Spiritual
- ⤷The Angel of the Lord—A Christophony?
- ⤷Capable of Sinning
- ⤷Mighty, Yet Limited
- ⤷Ranked and Fighting for God
- How Do Angels Look?
- ⤷Sometimes Bizarre, and What About the Wings?
- ⤷Appearing as Men
- ⤷Shining, Terrifying, and Flat-out Weird
- What Do Angels Do?
- ⤷They Deliver Messages
- ⤷They Work to Help Us!
- ⤷They Carry Out Judgment
- ⤷They Watch
- ⤷They Help Out, But Aren’t Always Seen
- ⤷They Connect People
- ⤷They Rejoice Over Salvation, and So Should We!
What are Angels?
What are angels? It seems like people are always pretty fascinated by them, and a friend of mine recently discussed them with me, so I decided to do some reading on angels. 🙂 And no, grandma doesn’t die and “become an angel.” In this study, we’ll cover all the various uses of the words for “angel,” and keep in mind that they are not always used in ways that you might expect. Notably, “the Angel of the Lord” does not appear to be an “angel” in the sense that Gabriel or Lucifer are angels.
First, angels are primarily messengers. Both the Hebrew and Greek words mean the same. The Greek is angelos, meaning “a messenger,” which is itself taken from angello, “to deliver a message.” This is born out by their function in Hebrews 2:2, which says, “For if the word spoken through angels proved steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just reward…”
So the first thing we can quickly identify about angels is that they’re called messengers and have been known to be exactly that!
What are angels—named!
The next thing we can see about angels is they number beyond counting. Hebrews 12:22 says, “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels.”
Rev 5:11 backs that up: “Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne, the living creatures, and the elders; and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands.”
Interestingly, and adding to their mystique, is that out of the vast lot of them, we know the names of only three of their names. Those three are:
- Satan/Lucifer who is a fallen angel.
- Michael (Jude 1:9) “But Michael the archangel, when he disputed with the devil and argued about the body of Moses, did not dare pronounce against him a railing judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you!”
- Gabriel (Luke 1:19) “The angel answered and said to him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news.”
⤷Created and Spiritual
What are angels—created, spiritual beings!
Angels, like us, were created. (1) Unlike man, however, they are in some ways ranked higher than us, being purely spiritual, (2) but at the same time, they are also considered to be ministering spirits to us. (3) For what it’s worth, they also don’t marry, and in heaven, we won’t be married, either. (4)
- 1. “Praise Him, all His angels…For He commanded and they were created.” —Psalms 148:2-5
- 2. “What is man that You are mindful of him, And the son of man that You visit him? For You have made him a little lower than the angels.” —Psalms 8:4-5
- 3. “Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation?” —Hebrews 1:14
- 4. “For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels of God in heaven.” —Matthew 22:30
⤷The Angel of the Lord—A Christophony?
A special form of the word “angel” is used to seemingly convey Jesus (of the Godhead) acting as a pre-New Covenant messenger. That is, referred to as an angel/messenger, but not an angel in the sense of “weird, winged, created being.”
I wouldn’t usually do this, but we’re going to hit some weighty material quickly here. A couple of times, an angel is mentioned who refuses to identify Himself—but this “angel” is not a created being, as we discussed in the previous section. Rather, in this case, it seems to be what is referred to as a Christophony or Theophony.
Genesis 32:29 records, “Then Jacob asked, saying, “Tell me Your name, I pray.”And He said, “Why is it that you ask about My name?” And He blessed him there.” This happened after Jacob wrestled with the Angel all night.
In Judges 13:17-18, the same Angel of Jehovah is recorded. Then Manoah said to the Angel of the Lord, “What is Your name, that when Your words come to pass we may honor You?” And the Angel of the Lord said to him, “Why do you ask My name, seeing it is (wonderful) incomprehensible?”
There are several important things to note about the above Angel of Jehovah. Earlier in Judges 13:11, when Manoah asked if “the man” was the same one who had earlier appeared to his wife, the angel responded simply, “I AM.” This is exactly how Jesus would respond to ID Himself. (Jn 8:58, Mk 14:62, etc.)
Next, this Angel refers to Himself as “Wonderful.” This word is also used in Is 9:6 as a prophecy of Jesus. “For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.”
All evidence points to this one messenger being Jesus pre-incarnate. However, this does not mean that Jesus or God are created, lower-order beings (also referred to as angels)—rather, it is Their action as a physical manifestation, acting as a messenger. Angel, most broadly, simply means “messenger.” In a few, limited cases, this messenger was more than a simple “angel.” (Some theologies will falsely assert that Jesus and Satan were brother angels, among other heresies.)
To sum up, “the Angel of the Lord” does not appear to be an “angel” in the sense that Gabriel or Lucifer are angels. Don’t make that mistake, but don’t ignore what the text is conveying about messages delivered by God.
⤷Capable of Sinning
What are angels—capable of sinning!
Yep, angels are capable of sinning (1), and some are associated with Satan (2), but others are called elect and holy (3).
- 1. “For if God did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment.” —2 Peter 2:4
- 2. “And war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought with the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought.” —Revelation 12:7; see also Matthew 25:41
- 3. “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory.” —Matthew 25:31
⤷Mighty, Yet Limited
What are angels—mighty, but limited!
Check out the following:
- God describes them as being mighty: “And to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels.” —2 Thessalonians 1:7
- But angels, despite being powerful and mighty, are careful: “Whereas angels, who are greater in power and might, do not bring a reviling accusation against them before the Lord.” —2 Peter 2:11
- And they don’t know everything: “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only.” —Matthew 24:36
- So like us, they’re inquisitive: “…the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things which angels desire to look into.” —1 Peter 1:12
Angels, we can see, are incredibly powerful, but also still very much limited. Something I like is that they’re apparently pretty curious about things, wanting to look into stuff and see what’s up!
⤷Ranked and Fighting for God
What are angels—having rank and fighting for God! We saw that angels are capable of warring, and a while ago we saw that they ministered to the needs of those who will be with God…so we’ll see that angels are active in world events, and also that they have their own ranking of sorts. At the same time, angels REFUSE to be worshiped and consider themselves fellow servants with us.
- “But the prince of the kingdom of Persia was withstanding me for twenty-one days; then behold, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I had been left there with the kings of Persia.” —Daniel 10:13
- “But when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, was disputing about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a blasphemous judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you.” —Jude 1:9
- “And I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, “See that you do not do that! I am your fellow servant, and of your brethren who have the testimony of Jesus. Worship God!” —Revelation 19:10
Angels do minister and help us in serving God, but they also wage war in ways that we don’t understand. Pretty cool!
How Do Angels Look?
⤷Sometimes Bizarre, and What About the Wings?
What are angels—what do they look like?
There is a common conception that they’re people with wings, but when wings are mentioned, it appears more bizarre than anything else, and it seems to be symbolic of speed. Let’s look at various forms that these messengers of God take. Oh yeah, and we’ll look at two names of creatures that seem to be a type of angel.
- There are both seraphim (“burning,” Isaiah 6:1-3) and cherubim (“holding fast”, Ezekiel 10:5).
- Revelation, a book filled with symbolic language, records an angel with wings. “And I looked, and I heard an angel flying through the midst of heaven, saying with a loud voice, “Woe, woe, woe to the inhabitants of the earth, because of the remaining blasts of the trumpet of the three angels who are about to sound!” —Rev 8:13
- They are mentioned having two wings. “For the cherubim spread their two wings over the place of the ark, and the cherubim overshadowed the ark and its poles.” —1 Kings 8:7
- They are mentioned having four faces and four wings. “I knew they were cherubim. Each one had four faces and each one four wings, and the likeness of the hands of a man was under their wings.” —Ezekiel 10:21)
- Some seraphim are mentioned as having six wings. “Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew.” —Isaiah 6:2
The above are always mentioned in dreams or visions, so it seems that the wings are symbolic and not literal.
⤷Appearing as Men
What are angels—looking like man, too! Sometimes angels can look like humans, and we may encounter them in our lives, even testing us, without even knowing it!
- “Then it happened, when I, Daniel, had seen the vision and was seeking the meaning, that suddenly there stood before me one having the appearance of a man.” —Daniel 8:15
- “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.” —Hebrews 13:2
Angels, we can see, don’t always have to have wings, and in fact they apparently have a plethora of different tasks to accomplish, and take on forms suited to those tasks. I think that I may have once encountered an angel testing me when I was younger—it was an odd experience! How about you?
⤷Shining, Terrifying, and Flat-out Weird
Angels can also appear to be shining (1), terrifying (2), or just flat-out weird (3).
- 1. “And it happened, as they were greatly perplexed about this, that behold, two men stood by them in shining garments.” —Luke 24:4
- 2. “An angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid.” —Luke 2:9; check out Judges 13:6; Matthew 28:2-4
- 3. “Within it there were figures resembling four living beings. And this was their appearance: they had human form. Each of them had four faces and four wings. Their legs were straight and their feet were like a calf’s hoof, and they gleamed like burnished bronze. Under their wings on their four sides were human hands. As for the faces and wings of the four of them, their wings touched one another; their faces did not turn when they moved, each went straight forward.” —Ezekiel 1:5-9
What Do Angels Do?
⤷They Deliver Messages
What do angels do—they deliver messages!
Angels are seen to deliver messages. This should be abundantly clear and not a revelation, so I’m going to mostly skip it.
- “Now the angel of the Lord found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, by the spring on the way to Shur.” Here, in Genesis 16, starting in verse 7, an angel gives Hagar a message/instruction from God.
- In Acts 27:23-24, an angel similarly appears to Paul. “For this very night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood before me, saying, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar; and behold, God has granted you all those who are sailing with you.’”
For what it’s worth, angels also explain visions to people. See Daniel 8 and 9 for more info on that. It’s long, so I’m not posting it.
⤷They Work to Help Us!
What do angels do—they work to help us! We’ve seen that they’re minister spirits, but they also did things such as:
- 1. Feeding Elijah in the wilderness. “Then as he lay and slept under a broom tree, suddenly an angel touched him, and said to him, “Arise and eat.” —1 Kings 19:5
- 2. Protecting Daniel from lions. “My God sent His angel and shut the lions’ mouths, so that they have not hurt me.” —Daniel 6:22
- 3. Delivering Hezekiah from the Assyrians. “Then the angel of the Lord went out, and killed in the camp of the Assyrians one hundred and eighty-five thousand.” —Isaiah 37:36
- 4. Freeing Peter from prison. —Acts 12
I’m not posting every example, but it should become clear that angels are often present to help people in the Bible.
It’s worth noting that the term “guardian angel” is not really wrong, since angels do guard people, but the Bible never mentions any static, 1:1 ratio of a specific angel to a specific person. Instead, angels usually go unnamed and are often mentioned in the plural. The closest thing to this is seen in Matthew 18:10:
“See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven continually see the face of My Father who is in heaven.”
⤷They Carry Out Judgment
What do angels do—they carry out judgement!
As much as angels help people, they’re also around to carry out judgement for God. I’m not going to post all the verses, but I’ll give a couple and you can look some up for yourself. 🙂
- 1. A cherubim kept man out of the garden of Eden with a flaming sword! Yikes! —Genesis 3:24
- 2. Two angels destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. “We are about to destroy this place, because their outcry has become so great before the Lord that the Lord has sent us to destroy it.” Yes, angels can take out entire cities! —Genesis 19:12-15
- 3. An angel walloped Jerusalem with a nasty plague. —I Chronicles 21:15-16
- 4. And in the future, angels will separate the righteous from the wicked! “And the enemy who sowed them is the devil, and the harvest is the end of the age; and the reapers are angels.” —Matthew 13:30; 39
What do angels do—they watch!
Angels are described as roaming the earth , observing what’s going on, and standing guard. Since the language is highly symbolic, I’m personally not sure of the exact meaning. What do you think?
- “I saw at night, and behold, a man was riding on a red horse, and he was standing among the myrtle trees which were in the ravine, with red, sorrel and white horses behind him. Then I said, “My lord, what are these?” And the angel who was speaking with me said to me, “I will show you what these are.” And the man who was standing among the myrtle trees answered and said, “These are those whom the Lord has sent to patrol the earth.” So they answered the angel of the Lord who was standing among the myrtle trees and said, “We have patrolled the earth, and behold, all the earth is peaceful and quiet.” —Zechariah 1:8-11
- “Now at that time Michael, the great prince who stands guard over the sons of your people, will arise.” —Daniel 12:1
⤷They Help Out, But Aren’t Always Seen
What do angels do—they help out but aren’t always seen!
The text below is from 2 Kings 6:13-18. Do with it what you will. The main point is that angels don’t have to be seen to be very much active. It’s not something that I think we quite understand, but then again, describing the spiritual in terms of the physical is a difficult task:
- So he said, “Go and see where he is, that I may send and take him.” And it was told him, saying, “Behold, he is in Dothan.” He sent horses and chariots and a great army there, and they came by night and surrounded the city.
Now when the attendant of the man of God had risen early and gone out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was circling the city. And his servant said to him, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” So he answered, “Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” Then Elisha prayed and said, “O Lord, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.” And the Lord opened the servant’s eyes and he saw; and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. When they came down to him, Elisha prayed to the Lord and said, “Strike this people with blindness, I pray.” So He struck them with blindness according to the word of Elisha.
⤷They Connect People
What do angels do—they connect people searching for the truth with people who will present it to them! This is perhaps one of my favorite things that angels are noted to do.
- “Now an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, saying, “Arise and go toward the south along the road which goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is desert.” —Acts 8:26
Also check out Acts 10 for an angel helping Cornelius with the same thing.
⤷They Rejoice Over Salvation, and So Should We!
What do angels do—they rejoice over our salvation!
This’ll be the last look at angels. 🙂 Before we leave, I should point out that angels are only ever mentioned in the masculine form of the original word, for whatever that’s worth.
Anyway, angels are very important, even if we don’t fully understand them. They are fellow servants, and they’re around as ministering spirits. One awesome thing is that they, too, truly care.
“Likewise, I say to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” —Luke 15:10
We should have that same joy!