Abide in Key Word Studies on Bible Doctrines
Biblical teachings for personal Bible study, daily devotions and sermon preparation with abiding principles and practical applications. Here is a dictionary of the rich terms used in the Christian vocabulary.
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“Angels and atoms do not compete!” observed Bernard Ramm. “There can be then no formal logical objection to the existence of angels.” The noted theologian Karl Barth was convinced there is no basis for modern man’s hesitation about angels.
The fact is modern man does not have any criterion within himself to judge the existence of angels apart from the Scriptures. The subject of angels is abundant in the Bible where they are viewed as servants of God. In fact, the only valid information about angels is the Word of God.
Definition of Angel
Aggelos, the Greek word from which the English word “angel” is derived, denotes either a human or a heavenly “messenger.” With the exception of a few references it is used only for heavenly beings (Luke 7:24; 9:52).
The corresponding Hebrew word malakh also means “messenger.” These words are sometimes used to designate human messengers such as a prophet (Hag. 1:13), or a priest (Mal. 2:7). The context in every occurrence must decide the exact meaning.
Angels in the Scriptures are also called “sons of God” (Job 1:6; 2:1), “sons of the mighty” or “heavenly beings” (RSV) (Ps. 29:1; 89:6), “holy ones” (Ps. 89:5, 7; Dan. 4:13), and “heavenly hosts” (Luke 2:13).
Angels in the Scriptures refers to the supernatural or heavenly being whose purpose it is to act as God’s messengers to men, and as agents to accomplish His will.
Angels are spirits, supernatural celestial beings. Hebrews 1:14 asks, “Are they not all ministering spirits, sent out to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation?”
God created an innumerable company of angels long before the creation of man (Heb. 2:2, 5; Rev. 5:11). They have personality, great intelligence, moral will and responsibility. Even though the term “angel” has been used of the spirits of men who have died, there is no reason to conclude that angels are departed spirits of men or that men at death become angels (Matt. 18:10; Acts 12:15). They do not reproduce, nor do they experience physical death or cessation of existence. Angels continue forever and are distinct from all other created beings. They are capable of rendering intelligent worship (Ps. 148:2), but are not on par with God (Matt. 24:36).
The nature of angels does not include bodies unless they are bodies of a spiritual order (1 Cor. 15:44). However, they may be seen at times in bodies and appear as men (Lk. 24:4f; Jn. 20:12; Matt. 28:3; Rev. 15:6; 18:1). The Bible does not describe angels as men with wings growing out of their shoulders. The cherubim and seraphim, however, are described in the Bible as having wings (Isa. 6:1-8; Ezek. 1:5-8, 24).
The cherubim (plural for “cherub”) were celestial beings sent by God to guard the tree of life in the garden of Eden (Gen. 3:24), and were represented symbolically on the ark of the covenant (Ex. 25:18-22), woven on the veil in the tabernacle (26:31), carved cherubim on the walls in the temple (2 Chron. 3:7) and seen by Ezekiel in a vision of the restored Jerusalem (Ezekiel 41:18-20).
Two angels are named, Gabriel (Dan. 8:15-16; 9:21; Lk. 1:19, 26) and the chief or archangel, Michael (Dan. 10:13, 21; 12:1; Jude 9; Rev. 12:7-9). The only other angel named is Satan, the chief of the fallen angels (Job 1:6-12; Gen. 3:1ff; Matt. 25:41; 2 Pet. 2:4; Rev. 12:9).
Angels are spiritual creatures
Angels are totally spiritual creatures that are free from human limitations (Lk. 20:36). They do not marry and are sexless (Matt. 22:30). They have the ability to communicate in human language and to affect human life in various ways (Matt. 28:2-7), however God has limited their power and knowledge (Ps. 103:20; Matt. 24:36; 1 Pet. 1:11-12; 2 Pet. 2:10-11).
The Bible forbids the worship of angels (Col. 2:18; Rev. 19:10; 22:8-9).
They belong to the heavenly court (Matt. 18:10) serve God in praise (Rev. 4:8-9; 5:8-14), and doing His will (Ps. 103:20) on the earth (Dan. 12:1; Mat. 28:2).
Charles Hodge has a good summary in his Systematic Theology. He writes: “They are described as pure spirits, i.e., immaterial and incorporeal beings. The Scriptures do not attribute bodies of any kind to them. . . . They are invisible, incorruptible, and immortal, but not omnipresent. They are always somewhere and not everywhere at any given moment, but they are not confined to space circumscriptively as bodies are, and can move from one portion of space to another. As spirits they are possessed of intelligence, will, and power. With regard to their knowledge . . . all that is clear is that in their intellectual faculties and in their extent of their knowledge they are far superior to man. Their power also is very great and extends over mind and matter. They have power to communicate with one another and with other minds and to produce effects in the natural world” (pp. 231-232).
As to the greatness of their power, Hodge adds, “Angels, therefore, cannot create, they cannot change substance, they cannot alter the laws of nature, they cannot perform miracles, they cannot act without means, and they cannot search the heart; for all these are, in Scripture, declared to be prerogatives peculiar to God. The power of angels is, therefore, dependent and derived. It must be exercised in accordance with the laws of the material and spiritual world. Moreover, their intervention is not optional, but permitted or commanded by God at His pleasure; and as far as the external world is concerned, it would seem to be only occasional and exceptional. These limitations are of the greatest practical importance. We are not to regard angels as intervening between us and God, or to attribute to them the effects which the Bible everywhere refers to the providential agency of God” (ibid, p. 232).
Angels in the Old Testament
The creation of angels is referred to in Psalms 148:2, 5; Col. 1:16. They were present at the creation of the world and “shouted for joy” (Job 38:7). The “morning stars” and “sons of God” refers to the angels.
At times in the Old Testament the angels were mistaken as men (Ezek. 9:2ff; Gen. 18:2ff, 16ff) because they appeared in human form to men and women. There is no indication they ever appeared in female form or as children.
The cherubim and seraphim are seen with wings (Ex. 25:20; Isa. 6:2) as well as the living creatures (Ezek. 1:5-6; Rev. 4:8). But there is no indication that angels have wings.
God used angels who appeared in human form, with human voices, in order to communicate to man His messages with men. Two angels were sent to destroy Sodom (Gen. 19:13), Jerusalem when David numbered the people (2 Sam. 24:16), 185,000 of the Assyrian army (2 Kings 19:35), and the sinful in Jerusalem (Ezek. 9:1, 5, 7). There are “angels of evil” that bring evil upon men from God and execute His judgments (Psa. 78:49). “Now the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD terrorized him” (1 Sam. 16:14).
Angels appear to Jacob in dreams (Gen. 28:12; 31:11), and to Balaam’s ass (Num. 22:22ff). In Job they interpret God’s will (33:23). “He will give His angels charge concerning you, to guard you in your ways” (Psa. 91:11).
Countless numbers of angels are depicted standing on the right and left of the LORD God (1 Kings 22:19). “Thousands upon thousands were attending Him, and myriads upon myriads were standing before Him” (Dan. 7:10). These “heavenly hosts” stand before “the LORD of hosts” or Yahweh of hosts ever praising Him (Psa. 103:21; 148:1-2; Josh. 5:14ff; Dan. 10:5).
Many scholars think the fall of angels is described in Isaiah 14:12ff and Ezekiel 28:13 (cf. 2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6).
Angel of the LORD
The Angel of Yahweh is the angel of the theophany. He is spoken of as “the angel of Yahweh,” and the “angel of the presence (for face) of Yahweh.”
This angel is the self-manifestation of Yahweh (or the LORD God) in a form that would communicate His immanence and direct concern to God’s chosen people. I am convinced the “angel of Jehovah” refers to theophany appearances of Christ in the form of a messenger. These are His pre-incarnate appearances to men in Old Testament times.
In an abundant number of passages in the Old Testament a distinction is made between an ordinary angel, and the angel who carries with him God’s presence. In this angel of the LORD He is fully present as the covenant God of His people in order to redeem them. My conclusion is that He is the Logos, a temporary preincarnation of the second person of the Trinity. The pre-incarnate appearances of the angel of the LORD culminated in the coming of the Savior, and the foreshadowing of and preparation of the full revelation of God in Jesus Christ.
The early church fathers saw in this special angel the pre-existent “Word of God” or Logos, the second person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ. It seems impossible to distinguish between the angel of Yahweh and the Lord God Himself (Gen. 16:7-13; 21:17; 22:11-18; 24:7, 40; 31:11-13; 48:16; Ex. 3:2-10; Judges 6:11-34; 13:3-23). At times the Angel of the LORD is seen acting for the LORD and yet is addressed as the LORD (Ex. 33:20; Gen. 16:13; 32:24-32; Ex. 33:11). God promises His presence with the chosen people, yet it is the angel of the LORD who goes with them. When He speaks it is God speaking (Ex. 23:23; Jos. 5:13-6:2). The angel of the LORD possesses the full authority and character of the LORD.
The Angel of the Lord merits a study on its own.
Angels in the New Testament
The New Testament opens with angelic activity and closes with it.
The appearance of angels was quite prominent in the beginning of God’s chosen people, and in a similar fashion we see them in connection with the birth of Jesus and the establishment of the church.
Angels appeared to Joseph (Matt. 1:20; 2:13, 19). The angel Gabriel appeared to Zacharias and to Mary the mother of Jesus (Luke 1:11, 19, 26). Angels announced to shepherds the birth of Jesus and a “multitude of heavenly hosts” are seen worshipping the new born king (2:9-15).
Angels appeared to Jesus strengthening Him when He was tempted in the wilderness (Matt. 4:11) and in the Garden of Gethsemane (Lk. 22:43). An angel rolled back the stone at His tomb after He rose from the dead (Matt. 28:2), and “a vision of angels” appeared to the women (Lk. 24:23). Two angels were in the tomb, “one at the head, and one at the feet, where the body had been lying” (Jn. 20:12).
Jesus spoke of “the angels of heaven” (Matt. 22:30), and of “the devil and his angels” (25:41). The angels of God are “holy” (Mk. 8:38), have no sex, i.e., “neither marry, nor are they given in marriage” (Matt. 22:30), have intelligence but do not know when Jesus will return (Matt. 24:36), carried the soul of Lazarus to Abraham’s bosom (Lk. 16:22). Jesus could have called twelve legions of angels to help Him (Matt. 26:53), and they will be with Him when He returns in glory (25:31). They will separate the righteous from the wicked for judgment (13:41, 49). They rejoice when sinners are saved (Lk. 15:10), and hear Jesus confessing those who have accepted or rejected Him (Lk. 12:8f), and are interested in God’s people (Matt. 18:10).
In the expansion of the early church, angels released Peter from prison (Acts 5:19), gave directions to Philip (Acts 8:26), directed Peter and Cornelius (Acts 10:3ff), delivered Peter a second time from Herod (Acts 12:7ff), struck Herod dead (Acts 12:23) and encouraged Paul in a ship wreck (Acts 27:23).
The apostle Paul taught that saints will judge the angels (1 Cor. 6:3), and that they are God’s elect or “chosen angels” (1 Tim. 5:21). In a context referring to women wearing a head covering Paul said, “Women ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels” (1 Cor. 11:10). He also forbids the worship of angels (Col. 2:18).
The writer of Hebrews says angels are ministering spirits to help the saints (Heb. 1:14).
Christ is superior to the angels (Heb. 1:4, 6, 13, 14; 1 Pet. 3:22).
They are prominent in the book of Revelation as over one third of the references to angels in the New Testament are in Revelation.
Our salvation is so wonderful that angels long to look in to see what God is doing (1 Pet. 1:12).
The apostle John saw in his vision “many around the throne” of God singing and worshipping Him (Rev. 5:11).
The apostle Paul describes angels as “principalities,” “powers,” “thrones,” “dominions,” “forces,” etc. (Eph. 6:12; 1:21; 3:10; Col. 1:12, 16).
Fallen or evil angels
Satan is the “prince of the power of the air; of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience” (Eph. 2:2). An innumerable company of angels is described as fallen from their created estate. They were led by Satan, who was originally a holy angel, and rebelled against God. It is probable that when Satan rebelled he took with him a multitude of lesser angels. Some are reserved in chains unto their final judgment (1 Cor. 6:3; 2 Pet. 2:4; Jude 6). The remainder are free and are demons that serve Satan’s evil purpose (Mk. 5:9, 15; Lk. 8:30; 1 Tim. 4:1; Matt. 25:41; Rev. 20:10).
Satan must be conquered before Christ’s final victory over evil. Jesus cast out demons “by the Spirit of God” (Matt. 12:28). Jesus said, “Now judgment is upon this world; now the ruler of this world shall be cast out” (Jn. 12:31).
Jesus was present in heaven when Satan was cast out. Jesus said, “I was watching Satan fall from heaven like lightening” (Lk. 10:18).
Revelation 12:7-9 describes the “war in heaven” in which the archangel Michael and his angels fought against Satan and his fallen angels.
Revelation makes it clear that God’s enemies will be defeated (Rev. 19:17ff), and Satan will be bound for a thousand years and “thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever” (Rev. 20:1-2, 10; Matt. 25:45).
Our struggle as Christians is “not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world-forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12; cf. 2:2).
These fallen angels and their leader were defeated at Calvary.
Unfallen or holy angels
“Holy angels,” “the angels of God” (Lk. 9:26; 12:8; Heb. 1:6) and “God’s angels” (Psa. 103:20) serve the LORD God and accomplish His will. These good angels minister to the saints and appeared to God’s people to communicate God’s message (Judges 13:3), warn of danger (Gen. 19:15), protect from evil (Dan. 3:28; 6:22), guide and protect (Exo. 14:19), nourish (Gen. 21:14-20; 1 Kings 19:4-7) and instruct (Acts 7:38; Gal. 3:19).
They announced the coming of Christ and guided Joseph and Mary (Lk. 2:8-15; Matt. 2:13), and strengthened Him (Matt. 4:11; Lk. 22:43), announced His resurrection (Matt. 28:1-6). There seems to be only two angelic appearances between His birth and resurrection: the temptations (Mk. 1:12) and Gethsemane (Lk. 22:43).
They watch over Christians (Matt. 18:10; Acts 8:26; 5:19; 12:7-11; 27:21-25).
They will accompany Christ at His return (Matt. 25:31; Acts 1:10, 11; 1 Thess. 4:16; 2 Thess. 1:7), and will assist Jesus in the judgment day.
An angel smote King Herod Agrippa “because he did not give God the glory” (Acts 12:23).
Jesus is returning in “His glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels” (Lk. 9:26). “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne” (Matt. 25:31). “And He will send forth His angels with a great trumpet and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other” (Matt. 24:31).
The angels will be at His side when He returns in glory (Matt. 13:49; 16:27; 25:31; 2 Thess. 1:7).
As the Son of God, Jesus stands undeniably above the angels (Mk. 13:27; Heb. 1:4-14; Phil. 2:9ff).
Ministry of the angels
We have already mentioned by way of summary some of the various services of the angels.
The stated purpose of angels is “to serve” (Heb. 1:14). The prophet Elijah ran himself to death and was exhausted when God sent an angel to minister to him (1 Kings 19:5-17). After forty days in the wilderness and being tempted the Father sent an angel to His Son (Mk. 1:13), and again when Jesus faced the most difficult night in His life angels ministered encouragement to Him (Lk. 22:43).
Angels announce and forewarn
They gave birth announcements of some of God’s chosen servants such as Isaac (Gen. 18:9f), Samson (Judges 13:2-24), John the Baptist and Jesus (Lk. 1:13ff, 30ff; 2:8-15).
They forewarn of dangers and coming destructions of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 18:16-19:29), of Herod seeking to kill Jesus (Matt. 2:13), and eschatological scenes of judgment (Rev. 1-22).
Angels guide and instruct God’s people
Abraham told his servant Eliezer as he went to find a wife for Isaac that God “will send His angel with you” (Gen. 24:7, 40). Jacob, while on a journey saw angels in his dream (Gen. 28:12-15). The new nation experienced God’s leading and protection as “the angel of God who went before the host of Israel moved and went behind them” (Ex. 14:19; Num. 20:16).
At Mt. Sinai Moses “received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it” (Acts 7:38, 53; cf. Gal. 3:19).
Angels instructed Manoah’s wife (Jud. 13:3-5), Joseph (Matt. 1:20f), Philip (8:26ff), Cornelius (Acts 10:3-5), Paul (27:23f), interpreted visions for the prophets Zechariah (Zech. 1:9, 19), Daniel (Dan. 7:16), and the apostle John (Rev. 17:7).
Angels guard and defend God’s people.
The Psalmist declared, “The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear Him, and delivers them” (34:7). That was true of Jacob for twenty years (Gen. 32:24ff) and the children of Israel during their exodus out of Egypt to the Promised Land (Ex. 14:19f). An angel made Balaam revise his own prophecy (Num. 22:1-24:25). Joshua met the “commander of the army of the LORD” (Josh. 5:14). A host of mighty angels defended Elisha and his servant (2 Kings 6:17).
An angel prevented Abraham from slaughtering Isaac and provided a substitute lamb (Gen. 22:9-12). Moreover, an angel delivered Daniel and three Hebrew youth from a death sentence (Dan. 3:28; 6:22).
Sennacherib’s army was defeated when it threatened Jerusalem, and “that night an angel of the Lord went forth, and slew 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians” (2 Kings 19:35).
The words of Jesus are reassuring in Matthew 18:10 and 26:53. “See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you, that their angels in heaven continually behold the face of My Father who is in heaven.” “Or do you think that I cannot appeal to My Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions of angels.” 72,000 angels as we have already seen could put up a good battle!
The Holy Spirit and angels
It would appear that much of the work previously accomplished by angels in the Old Testament has been the function of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers in Christ. This especially true in the books of Acts where He uses angels to protect (Acts 5:19), give guidance (Acts 8:26; 12:7), execute judgment (Acts 12:23), provide revelation from God in visions (Acts 10:3), and give assurance (Acts 27:23-24).
However, the Holy Spirit may continue to use angels in His ministry to men in invisible capacity. They watch over the saints, rejoice in our salvation, give praise to God and are “ministering spirits sent forth to do service for the sake of them that shall inherit salvation.”
The writer of Hebrews says, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it” (Heb. 13:2).
Yet the Bible clearly gives stern warning for men not to worship angels (Col. 2:18; Rev. 19:10; 22:8-9).
Should you entertain an angel he will never attract your attention to himself; he will always direct your attention to Jesus Christ whom he worships and serves. If you are distracted to the angel, perhaps you should ask yourself whose angel it is. Like, the Holy Spirit, angels will always cause you to have a deeper awareness and love for the Triune God.
Hebrews 1:14; 13:2; Matthew 1:20; 2:13; 18:10; 22:30; 25:41; 26:53; Luke 1:13ff, 30ff; 2:8-15; Psalm 34:7; 2 Kings 6:17; Col. 2:18; Daniel 8:15-16; 9:21; 10:13, 21; 12:1; Revelation 19:10; 22:8-9
Abiding Principles and Practical Applications
1. “If we cannot or will not accept angels, how can we accept what has been told us by the history of Scripture?” asked Barth. There are some facts in life that only God can reveal to us through His holy Word. We, therefore, should humble ourselves and trust in Him and what He has chosen to reveal to us in the Bible.
2. “Even heaven itself has never seen anything so marvelous as the incarnation and the suffering and death of the Creator; nothing so inconceivable as the complete redemption of rebels made to become the Church of the Lord,” writes Rene Pache. Could anything have been more important or appropriate than the fact that His angels should have announced the resurrection of Jesus Christ?
3. Angels will be sent for the harvest at the end of the age, when the righteous will be separated from the wicked. Are you ready for the coming of Christ? The only way to be ready is to repent of our sins and place our trust in the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ for our sins. Angels rejoice with God when a sinner repents and puts his faith in the Son of God who is above al the angels.
4. I am inclined to think with Calvin that there is probably more than one angel watching over us. “Each of us is cared for not by one angel merely, but that all with one consent watch for our safety.” The Lord, by means of His servants watches without ceasing over the steps of His beloved.
5. Let us ever be aware that Jesus Christ is enthroned in the highest position in the universe. He is the sovereign Lord and King. Our worship must always and exclusively be directed to Him who is the Head—even Christ (Phil. 2:8-11).
For Further Study
Genesis 16:7-13 The Angel of the LORD
Message by Wil Pounds and all content on this page (c) 2005 by Wil Pounds. Anyone is free to use this material and distribute it, but it may not be sold under any circumstances whatsoever without the author's written consent. Scripture quotations from the New American Standard Bible (c) 1973, and 1995 Update by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.
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