What are angels?
Angels are very active in the Bible and are used by God as messengers, warriors, and servants. The word "angel" comes from the Greek word angelos which means messenger. Angels are spiritual beings without bodies of flesh and bones, though they apparently have the ability to appear in human form (Gen. 19:1-22). Angels have many functions. They praise God (Isaiah 6:3), serve as messengers to the world (Luke 1:11-20, 26-38; Luke 2:9-14), watch over God's people (Psalm 91:11-12), and are sometimes used as instruments of God's judgment (Matt. 13:49-50).
The Bible tells us that God created the angels and that at some time in the distant past there was a rebellion in heaven and many of the angels fell. Apparently, it was the elect angels that did not fall (1 Tim. 5:21). The Bible says that angels were created by Christ (Col. 1:16), that they carry out the will of God (Psalm 103:20; Matt. 6:10), they worship God and Christ (Phil. 2:9-11; Heb. 1:6), are wise (2 Sam. 14:20), mighty (Psalm 103:20), holy (Matt. 25:31), and innumerable (Heb. 12:22). However, angels are not to be worshipped (Col. 2:18; Rev. 19:10; 22:9) since they are creatures.
Are there different kinds of angels?
Apparently, there are different kinds of angels with different characteristics and roles: cherubim, seraphim, and archangels. It may also be that there are "powers" and "principalities" that further describe ranks in the angelic realm, but this is debated. Nevertheless, I'll focus on the three main groups.
- "Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings; with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew," (Isaiah 6:2).
- They praise God (Isaiah 6:3).
- The word "seraphim" (singular is saraph) is probably a translation of 'fiery ones' and probably stems from the fiery imagery often associated with the Presence of God (cf. Ezek. 1:27).1
- "So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubim, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life," (Gen. 3:24). See also Exodus 25:18-22; Heb. 9:5.
- Cherubim are typically represented with wings, feet, and hands, but are described in different forms as having two faces (Ezek. 41:18) and even four faces (Ezek. 10:21).
- Cherubim were considered to be angels that guarded sacred things. In Gen. 3:24 they guarded the tree of life. They were over the Ark of the Covenant on the Mercy Seat (1 Sam. 4:4). See also Psalm 80:1; 99:1.
- Figures of Cherubs were embroidered on the temple veil (Exodus 26:31; 2 Chron. 3:7) and lavished Solomon's temple (1 Kings 6:26ff).
- "For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first," (1 Thess. 4:16).
- The word "archangel" is not found in the Old Testament. References to Michael the archangel appear only in 1 Thess. 4:16 and Jude 9. However, Gabriel, who is considered an archangel, appears in both the OT and NT. In the OT he is found in Dan. 8:15-26 and 9:21-27. In the NT he is mentioned in Luke 1:11-20, 26-38. He seems to be a messenger angel.
- On the other hand, Michael the archangel seems to be a warrior angel (Rev. 12:7) who does battle (Dan. 10:13, 21; 12:1).
- An interesting note is that in Rom. 8:38, Eph. 1:21, and Col. 1:16, the word 'principalities' is used. In Greek the word has the prefix of arche suggesting archangel. Some think this means there is a hierarchy of angels as is suggested in 1 Pet. 3:22, "who is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, after angels and authorities and powers had been subjected to Him," (NASB).
What does the Bible say about fallen angels?
Of course, there are fallen angels as well. Lucifer, another archangel, rebelled against God and became the devil. Following are verses often quoted in reference to the evil one.
- "How you have fallen from heaven, O star of the morning, son of the dawn! You have been cut down to the earth, You who have weakened the nations! 13 "But you said in your heart, "I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God, And I will sit on the mount of assembly In the recesses of the north. 14 "I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High,'" (Isaiah 14:12-14).
Most scholars agree that one third of the angels fell into sin and became demons.
- "And another sign appeared in heaven: and behold, a great red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads were seven diadems.4 And his tail swept away a third of the stars of heaven, and threw them to the earth . . . " (Rev. 12:3-4).
In the future, there will be a judgment upon the fallen angels.
- "Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels," (Matt. 25:41).
- "For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment," (2 Pet. 2:4).
- "And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day," (Jude 6).
- "And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him," (Rev. 12:9).
Whichever view you have of angels, it cannot be denied that the Bible mentions them, and they are greatly used by God to accomplish His will.
- 1. Achtemeier, Paul J., Th.D., Harper's Bible Dictionary, (San Francisco: Harper and Row, Publishers, Inc.) 1985.
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