Since the writing of the Bible and, particularly in legendary and mythological works, scholars, prophets, and laypeople have made angels a subject of interest. Why are angels such a fasination to us (me)? In Colossians 2.18 Paul warns the Christians: “Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you. Such a person also goes into great detail about what they have seen; they are puffed up with idle notions by their unspiritual mind.” The “worship” of angels was a problem at the time, and it seems that authors have often gone far beyond what the Bible has to say about them—although it says plenty.
Some religions do worship angels, for example, they are discussed in Zoroastrianism and Judaism, as well as in Christianity and Islam. In Christianity angels and demons are generally conceived as celestial or atmospheric spirits, and it about those that I wish to learn.
We read about angels everywhere in the Bible—they are mentioned 290 times in the NIV, 326 in the NLT, 283 in the KJV, and 520 times in The Message. In the OT, Zechariah refers to angels 20 times—mainly in terms of how they are involved in judgment.
It is, not surprisingly, Revelation in the NT that is replete with angels. I was aware of their activities in the book of Revelation, but other Bible books that mention angels more than 20 times (in various versions) are Genesis, Psalms, Isaiah, Jeremiah Matthew, Luke, and Acts.
In the OT, Leviticus, Esther, and Ruth have no angels in the stories, nor do most of the “minor” prophets. In the NT, Philippians, 1-Thessalonians, 2 Timothy, Titus and 1-3 John also omit any reference to angels (as translated in the NLT). But I am sure those authors could write about angels if they wished but did not concentrate on them so much as on other matters. Sometimes they may refer to “messengers of God” and not use the word angel, so I may have missed some references.
Although we know that humans were created by God, we have no such record about angels. We don’t know when or how God created them. The first angel occurs in a story that finds Hagar, where it (named angels are male) gives her instructions (Genesis 16.7). Giving directives seems to be one of the main functions of angels because, after all, they are messengers for God. There are millions of them and there is every reason to believe that they are all busy with their duties. And they are all around us.
The next time we read about angels in Genesis there are two and they visit Lot one evening. He thinks they are simply strangers and offers them lodging and—the rest is history—Sodom and Gomorrah are destroyed by them, but they save the life of Lot (sadly, not his wife). In this episode, the angels appear like humans, although they are obviously different and beautiful because the men of the town come to Lot and ask for them—for homosexual purposes.
We also meet an angel in Genesis 22.11, when Abraham is about to sacrifice Isaac, and the angel calls to him (from heaven) and tells him not to hurt the boy. That angel shows up in the nick of time, although God gives Abraham the highest praise for honoring his command to be willing to sacrifice his son—his only son. It foreshadows the sacrifice of God’s only son, Jesus. The angel was watching Abraham, so it cannot have been very far away, or it has better sight than humans.
An angel also helps Abraham find a wife for Isaac (Genesis 24.7), the same boy an angel had rescued from death earlier. Then when Abraham leaves his homeland to strike out for a place that God will reveal to him, an angel leads him (Genesis 24.7). I think that many times angels led Joice and me when we were in PNG and, most often, we did not know or acknowledge it.
Abraham’s son Isaac married Rebecca, and she gave birth to Esau and Jacob. They were not nice to each other and Jacob tricked Esau into giving his birthrights to him. There follows a confrontation and Esau does not receive the blessing he anticipates because Jacob has tricked him and now has it. He therefore hates Jacob (Genesis 27.41).
Jacob has a dream while in Bethel and sees “the Lord standing beside him” (28.12). Later, in Genesis 32.22-32 he finds “a man” wresting with him and Jacob declares, “I have seen God face-to-face and I am still alive” (32.30). The “man” (presumably an angel) gets the better of Jacob and hits him in the hip, throwing it out of joint. Jacob’s name is changed to “Israel.” He has several wives and many sons and there is some detail given about 12 of them. The story of Jacob’s encounter with an angel is repeated in Hosea 12.4.
The next person to meet an angel is Moses and it is as a flame coming out of a burning bush (Exodus 3.2). But it is God with whom Moses converses and God gives Moses miraculous powers. The story of Moses continues, and the Passover is so named because an “Angel of Death” (Exodus 12.23) passes over the firstborn of those who have their doorposts painted with blood.
Later, with the enemy pursuing them, Moses and the Israelites must cross the Red Sea. An “angel of God” moves in front of Moses and the Israelites and, with Moses, leads them safely across the sea.
The angel who has been leading the Israelites, changes position and moves to the rear (Exodus 14.19) and the pillar of cloud, offering cover and protection, moves with it. An angel continues to stay with them and leads them to a place prepared for them (Exodus 23.20). Moses is ordered to leave the place and the people but, again, the Lord promises Moses that an angel will guide him and give him victory over various tribes of enemies (Exodus 33.2).
There are no angels mentioned in Leviticus, but in Numbers 22 , when Balaam is supposed to meet the King of Moab, an angel blocks the road and Balaam’s donkey won’t go any farther. Balaam beats the donkey, which talks to him (Numbers 22.28) and the angel confronts Balaam about beating the donkey. If it had not been for the donkey stopping Balaam, the angel would have killed them both because Balaam was sinful in attempting a journey to see the King.
The only reference to angels in Deuteronomy is in the last verse of the Song of Moses (32.1-43) and other versions refer more generically to “nations” or the “heavens” worshipping the Lord. (In a later version of the NLT “heavens” is used instead of “angels”.)
Angels show up again in Judges, first in 2:1, where an angel goes from Gilgal to Bochim and reminds the Israelites how he took them out of Egypt to the promised land. Then, in the song of Deborah and Barak (5.1-31), an angel puts a curse on Meroz (v. 23). Angels have the power to bless or curse, according to the will of God.
In Judges 6, the people of Israel once again disobey the Lord and are confronted by the Midianites. They cry out to the Lord and an angel appears to Gideon (Judges 6.12) to assure him of the Lord’s presence and protection. Gideon calls him “sir” and asks why all this has happened. He is afraid and needs assurance. An episode takes place whereby the angel burns up Gideon’s offering and disappears. Gideon realizing it was an angel is terrified and says, “Oh. Sovereign Lord, I’m doomed! have seen the angel of the Lord face-to-face” (v. 22).
The 13th chapter of Judges introduces a man named Manoah from the tribe of Dan. His wife, whose name is not given, has not been able to conceive but an angel visits her (v. 3) and assures her that she will have a son. The woman tells her husband that “a man of God” has visited her and that he looked “as frightening as the angel of God.” She didn’t ask him his name or where he came from, but she repeated the stipulations the angel had told her: the child should not drink wine or eat forbidden food and they should never cut his hair.
Manoah prayed that the angel (“the man”) would come back so they could question him. They wanted to know his name and he said “It is a name of wonder” (13.18). Manoah wanted to prepare an offering from him but while the offering was being cooked, he and his wife “saw the Lord’s angel go up toward heaven in the flames (v. 19) and that was the last they saw of him. But Manoah was sure that “we have seen God” (v. 22). His wife reassures him that, if that were the case, God would not have shown them what he did—a bit of a puzzling answer.
The background for the birth and strength of Samson begins with the visit of an angel. There are many stories in the Bible that emphasize the same thing: God gives angels supernatural power and they can pass it on to those to whom He wishes.
1 Samuel mentions an angel only once and that is to compare David’s loyalty to that of an angel (29.9), so it is obvious the writer knew about angels. His wisdom is again compared to an angel of God in 2 Samuel 14.17 and 14.20 (as well as 19.27). The scene in Chapter 22 in “David’s Song of Victory” (also in Psalm 18), refers to God flying “swiftly on his winged creature” (GNB). which is a reference to some angelic being.
In 2 Samuel 24, we read of an angel of the Lord who “was striking down people” (verse 17), which causes David to confess that it is due to his sins, as shepherd, and not those of the “sheep.” We read elsewhere of “angels of death.”
Sometimes we do not learn the names of prophets who hear from angels: 1 Kings 13.18 is an example. The main character is simply “an old prophet” from Judah who warns King Jeroboam that his sacrifices are not acceptable to the Lord. The King tries to subdue him but finds his arm paralyzed and pleads with the prophet to heal him.
Later in the book of 1 Kings (Chapter 18) Elijah confronts the prophets of Baal and overcomes them. He goes on a journey into the wilderness where, tired and confused, he wishes to die. However, as he sleeps under a tree, an angel wakes him (19.5) and provides him with food. The angel instructs him to meet the messengers of the king of Samaria (2 Kings 1.3) and still later Elijah is taken up to heaven in a whirlwind (2.11).
God also uses angels to kill enemies. King Hezekiah finds out when 185,000 of his Assyrian soldiers are killed (2 Kings 19.35).
First and second Chronicles are mainly a repeat of what we read in Samuel and Kings, so angels are again mentioned and continue their destruction until the Lord stops them (1 Chronicles 21.15-16). David sees what has happened and he is “afraid of the sword of the angel of the LORD” (21.30).
Angels are under the command of the Lord, and in Nehemiah 9.6 we read that “The heavenly powers bow down and worship you,” which certainly must include the angels.
Sometimes angels are called to appear before God, and for Job, the outcome seems disastrous. Satan is with the angels and God tells him to notice Job and the story of Job’s suffering and the questionable advice of his “friends” is one we know well. They tell him that God even “charges his angels with error” (4.18), referring to Satan no doubt.
In the long Job story, one “bystander” of those accusing Job is named Elihu, who is young and believes he has the answers for Job because his words are “sincere, and I am speaking the truth” (33.2). He challenges Job that “Perhaps an angel may come to his aid—one of God’s thousands of angels, who remind men of their duty” and in mercy the angel will say “Remember him, he is not to go down to the world of the dead. Here is the ransom to set him free” (33.23-24). We can question Elihu’s confidence because God has a different perspective and answer.
God answers Job out of a storm (Chapter 38) and he is not nice about it. He accuses Job of “ignorant, empty words” (verse 2) and in a long series of scathing questions shows Job that he is utterly incapable of understanding His mighty works. Even the stars sang with the heavenly beings (the angels) to show their joy in God’s creation.
Job concludes, fittingly, by saying “I talked about things I did not understand, about marvels too great for me to know” (42.3). That is my answer (to some degree) as well when I talk about angels.
In Psalm 8.5 we are reminded that we have been made “a little lower than the angels,” a verse that is repeated in Hebrews 2.7. But we are also crowned “with glory and honor.”
One of my favorite verses is Psalm 34.7: “The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them.” A similar promise is given in 91.11: “The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them.”
David wants his enemies to be driven away, “like chaff before the wind” (35.5) and would be happy to have them on slippery and dark paths, with “the angel of the Lord pursuing them” (35.6). Obviously, he is not wanting the angel to help his enemies.
Psalm 78 contains a long series of incidents of how God has looked after his people, including having “destroying angels” (in some versions, called “messengers of death”) helping him (v. 49).The angels of the lord “do his bidding” (103.20) and they are commanded to praise God (148.2). People believed that a person had an angel, e.g., those who couldn’t believe that it could be Peter at the door in Acts 12.15. This is often the key episode for the belief in “guardian angels” and a “doctrine” pursued with great ambition by the Catholics.
Angels are not mentioned in Proverbs, Ecclesiastes or the Song of Songs, in fact are not mentioned again until Isaiah 37.36 when an angel puts to death 185,000 Assyrians (also mentioned in 2 Kings 19.35). Isaiah, in reflecting on the Lord’s goodness, points out that it was He who saved them by using “the angel of his presence” (63.9). In other words, it was not simply an angel who saved them from their suffering, but the Lord himself.
Jeremiah, Lamentations and Ezekiel do not mention angels, but the book of Daniel records how an angel saved the three men thrown into the furnace at the command of Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 3.28), as well as how an angel shut the mouth of lions when Daniel was thrown to them (6.22). Ezekiel 28.14 does mention that he was “anointed as a guardian cherub” which seems to be a category of angels.
So what is a cherub/cherubim and how do they compare with the seraphim? I read on line that “Cherubim are angels that … first appear as the guards of the garden of Eden. They work on God’s wish. They have four faces, the faces are of different animals, and they use their wings to wrap their body.” On the other hand, Seraphim in the 6th chapter of the book Isaiah are described as serpents. They have spiritual powers, and they are devoted to God. They spend their days and nights in the praises of God. They have six wings, and they have the highest rank among the angels. They sit on the throne and pursuit the will of God.”
What about archangels? Apparently, they are of a higher rank than angels. One claim is that “A person can call angels for any personal help but he or she cannot call archangels for any personal help.” That would need more follow-up, but I leave it for now.
The minor prophets Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai and Malachi do not record anything dealing with angels. However, Zechariah makes up for the lack and mentions angels 20 times (in the NLT), all of them in various exchanges, beginning in 1.9 where asks an angel what the four colored horses mean. Zechariah is shown various visions and angels are involved in all of them (1.11-14; 1.19; 2.3; 3.1; 3.3-6; 4.1; 4.4; 4.11; 5.5; 5.10; 6.4-5). In 3.1-2 the prophet Zechariah sees the High Priest Joshua standing before the Lord and Satan is there as well. As at the beginning of the book of Job, Satan is there to bring accusations to the Lord, but in this case he is rebuked and condemned.
Finally, summarizing the future deliverance of Jerusalem, we read “On that day the Lord will shield those who live in Jerusalem, so that the feeblest among them will be like David, and the house of David will be like God, like the angel of the Lord going before them” (12.8).
The New Testament begins (Matthew 1:20) with an angel visiting Joseph in a dream to tell him that the Holy Spirit will enable his future wife Mary to have a child and that the child’s name will be Jesus, a name given to Him by angels (Luke 2.21). The angel also tells him to take Mary to Egypt (2.3) and, after Herod dies, notifies him to take her back to Nazareth (2.19).
Angels must be formidable and frightening because here they tell Joseph, then later Zechariah (Luke 1.30) and the shepherds (Luke 2.9-10) not to be afraid. When Zechariah is puzzled and discusses the situation with the angel, he replies that his name is Gabriel (Luke 1.19), probably the same angel that spoke to Daniel (8.16 and 9.21). Mary also converses with Gabriel (Luke 1.
On the other hand, after the resurrection when Mary visits the tomb of Jesus she sees “two angels in white” who talk with her (John 20.11-13) and she is not afraid. Mary had communicated with the angel Gabriel about the birth of Jesus (Luke 1.26-38). Many years later, when Mary Magdalene sees Jesus, she does not immediately recognize him (John 20.15-17).
It is no wonder that the shepherds would have been afraid: “a great company of the heavenly host appear with the angel,” which would have been spectacular and startling. The angels return to heaven (Luke 2.15), but the shepherds know what their appearance signals, and go to Bethlehem to see what is happening.
The story of the temptation of Jesus occurs in three gospels: Matthew 4:1-11, Mark 1:12-13 and Luke 4:1-13 and in each of them Satan quotes Scripture, demonstrating how it is possible to recite the Word of God for one’s own purposes. Satan tells Jesus to throw himself off the Temple and the angels will protect him (Matthew 4:6; Mark 1:12; and Luke 4:10), which of course is true but not what God wants. Jesus tells Satan that we should not put God to the test.
Angels will be active in the judgment, actually the “harvesting” at the end of the age and will “weed out” everything that causes sin (Matthew 13:39; 41; 49) and will gather “his elect…from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens” (Mark 13.27 and also 8.38 and Matthew 16.27). When will this take place? Not even the angels know (Mark 13.32; Matthew 24.36).
At that final judgment Jesus will bring angels with him (Matthew 25.31). In fact, he could have called for them at any time, as when the disciples wanted to shield him from arrest, he could have asked the Father for “thousands of angels” (Matthew 26.53). We have already seen a “vast host” of angels—the armies of heaven—appear to the shepherds and then return to heaven (Luke 2.9-15), so we know there are plenty around.
Turning now to the book of Revelation: it is a special story and relates the activity of angels and the future order of the world. In this book, angels are referred to 79 times in the NLT, 77 times in the NIV and 72 times in the NKJV. The angels in Revelation are acting out their future roles—this is a vision of John—and it is often impossible to interpret their actions literally. For proof, go to commentaries on the book or listen to TV evangelists interpret it. They give us ideas, but the actions in Revelation are forecast and have not yet happened, so they are imaginary. I don’t know what many of the images stand for.
The book begins (1.1) with Jesus sending an angel to John with a special revelation. However, things get complicated immediately as the number seven begins to appear: seven stars, seven golden lampstands, seven bowls, and seven plagues. There are also seven churches, each with an angel assigned to it. Furthermore, the seven stars are seven angels, and each has a message for each church. The angels convey their messages to the churches in the cities of Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea, outlining their good points and their bad points.
An angel carrying the seal of the living God appears (7.2) and tells the four angels, who “stand at the four corners of the earth” not to harm the earth. A scene follows (7.11) where all the angels are around the throne and they “fell before the throne with their faces to the ground and worshipped God.”
The seven angels are given seven trumpets, which they will use later, but “another angel with a gold incense burner” mixes incense with prayers and pours it on the altar for God (8.3-5). In the meantime, the seven angels have been warming up their trumpets and are ready to blow them. After each blown trumpet a catastrophe or extraordinary event occurs (8.6-10.7; 11.15) and God’s “mysterious plan will be fulfilled…just as he announced it to his servants the prophets” (10.7). T
John is instructed to take the scroll from the angel standing on the sea and land and eat it (10.9). John does so and finds it sweet to taste, but it gives him an upset stomach. Two chapters later war breaks out in heaven between Michael and his angels against the dragon (Satan) and its angels (12.7-9). Satan is defeated and then John sees another angel “flying through the sky” with the Good News of the Gospel now available “to every nation, tribe, language and people (14.6). There are actually three angels, the second shouting that Babylon has fallen and the third shouting warnings about a beast (14.8-9).
The beast puts a mark on the forehead or on the hands of people. They are doomed for the judgment that follows. A series of angels then swing their sickles to carry out God’s verdict (14.15-19).
There are more angels: John sees seven more and they will destroy what is left of the earth and its people with seven plagues (15.1-16.17). After the angels are finished with their destruction, one of them takes John to see “the great prostitute” (17.1). She is a woman “sitting on a scarlet beast that had seven heads and ten horns” (17.3) and which has blasphemies against God written all over it.
The angel explains that the waters where the prostitute is located “represent masses of people of every nation and language (17.15). The scarlet beast and its horns “hate the prostitute,” which represents Babylon and it is destroyed (18.21) by a boulder cast into the ocean.
Things finally get better and an angel tells John that those who attend the wedding feast of the Lamb will be blessed (19.9). An angel “standing in the sun” shouts to vultures to gather for the banquet (19.17). Vultures usually mean someone has died, so I’m not sure why they are here.
In the final episode John sees an angel coming down from heaven and it has the key to the bottomless pit and a heavy chain (20.1). Satan is thrown into the pit and one of the seven angels takes John to see “the bride, the wife of the Lamb” (21.9). It is the city of the new Jerusalem, and it is big and beautiful. For some reason, the angel decides to the measure the city and the walls are 216 feet thick and it is 1500 miles in every direction (including up).
In the end of his vision John sees the water of life flowing from the throne of God and it is there where his servants will worship—and they will see His face (22.4). An angel assures John that everything he has “heard and seen is trustworthy and true” (22.6).
John is overcome and falls at the feet of the angel to worship him, but is told not to because the angel is “a fellow servant” (22.9).
In 22.16 Jesus speaks and tells John that he has sent “my angel to give you this message for the churches. I am both the source of David and the heir to his throne. I am the bright morning star.”
That is the end of the angels, but it is of course not the end of the story: Jesus has the last word, “Yes indeed! I am coming soon! (22.20). And we echo John’s words; “So be it. Come Lord Jesus!
Because this is a vision, which is much like a dream, the events sometimes seem out of order chronologically and the angels seem extraordinarily busy and even diabolical. They are not nice angels with wings and harps—replicas that I would hang on my Christmas tree.
There is no doubt that it is a book of warnings and calamities, with angels as the primary agents. I find it difficult to understand and most of us are content to skip to Chapters 21 and 22, with the streets of gold, no more tears, and so on. We are promised a “blessing” if we read the book, but probably best not to stay up late in a darkened room to ponder it.
Some things (but not all) about angels (not all references are given):
- There are millions of them (Psalm 89.5; 103.21; Daniel 7.10; Matthew 26.53; Luke 2.13; Hebrews 12.22; Revelation 5.11)
- They worship God (Deuteronomy 32.43; Nehemiah 9.6; Hebrews 1.6)
- They come from heaven (Matthew 28.2)
- They are special messengers (Job 33.23; Hebrews 1.14), sent by God (Daniel 3.28; Hebrews 1.7)
- They are witnesses in God’s presence (Luke 12.8; 1 Corinthians 11.10; 1 Peter 1.12)
- They can appear and disappear suddenly (Acts 12.10)
- They are visible at times (1 Chronicles 21.16; 2 Samuel 24.17; Luke 24.23; John 1.51; 20.12; Acts 10.3; 12.3)
- They can appear even as strangers (Hebrews 13.2)
- They can change their appearance (Judges 13.6)
- They look after “Little ones” (Matthew 18.10)
- They may look after adults as well (Acts 12.15)
- They may look after cities (Revelation 1:20ff)
- They can blow trumpets (Matthew 24.31; Revelation 8.6)
- They are not married (Matthew 22.30), which does not imply they are sexless
- They provide comfort (Mark 16.6; Matthew 28.5; Luke 22.43; Acts 27.23)
- They are strong (they roll away the stone at the tomb of Jesus—Matthew 28.2)
- They protect (Exodus 23.20; Psalm 34.7)
- They do miracles (Judges 6.21; Acts 5.19)
- They pray (Zechariah 1.12)
- They never die (Luke 20.36)
- They speak and understand languages (1 Kings 19.5; Zechariah 1.9; Matthew 28.5; John 12.29; 1 Corinthians 13.1; Acts 10.4)
- They give instructions (1 Kings 19.7; Acts 8.6; 10.22; Genesis 28.12)
- They interpret (Zechariah 6.5)
- They shout with joy (Job 38.7)
- They are happy when someone repents (Luke 15.10)
- They can speak to animals (Numbers 22.22-35)
- They can control wild animals (Daniel 6.22)
- They have special food (Psalm 78.35)
- They can supply new clothing (Zechariah 3.4)
- They escort people to heaven (or perhaps hell) Luke 16.10)
- They will appear with the coming of Jesus (2 Thessalonians 1.7)
- They will preserve God’s people (Revelation 7.1)
- Their face can morph into that of a human (Acts 6.15)
- Satan can disguise himself as one (2 Corinthians 11.14
- Some may not be trustworthy (a claim by Eliphaz in Job 4.18)
- They seem to have a hierarchy (2 Samuel 22.6; Zechariah 6.5; 1 Timothy 5.21)
- Some have sinned (2 Peter 2.4; Jude 1.6)
- They can kill (Psalm 78.44; Acts 12.23; Revelation 9.15ff)
- They can be angels of death (Hebrews 11.28; 1 Corinthians 10.10)
- Their authority is limited (Jude 1.9)
- They will not control the future world (Hebrew 2.5)
Therewith ends my study of angels—what an interesting and, in most respects, encouraging record of these awesome messengers of God.
Karl Franklin, January 2022