Who Are The Angels?
What Does the Bible Say About Angels?
Angels were once mortals like us: One of the angels who relayed Jesus’ message to the apostle John on Patmos said to John, “See that you do not do that. For I am your fellow servant, and of your brethren the prophets, and of those who keep the words of this book. Worship God.” (Revelation 22:9)
Angels are children of God who were worthy of the better resurrection: “But those who are counted worthy to attain that age, and the resurrection from the dead, … [cannot] die anymore, for they are equal to the angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection.” (Luke 20:35–36)
Angels are God’s family in heaven: “For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named.” (Eph. 3:14–15)
Angels encamp: “The angel of the Lord encamps all around those who fear Him, and delivers them.” (Ps. 34:7)
Angels minister: “Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation?” (Heb. 1:14)
Angels protect and deliver: “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; and He bore them and carried them all the days of old.” (Isa. 63:9)
Angels guard and direct: “I send an Angel before you to keep you in the way and to bring you into the place which I have prepared. Beware of Him and obey his voice.” (Ex. 23:20–21)
Angels announce glad tidings: “Suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.” (Luke 2:13–14)
Angels shine: Of the angel that rolled back the stone at Jesus’ resurrection, it is written:“His countenance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow” (Matthew 28:3). Luke describes the angels at the tomb as “two men … in shining garments” (Luke 24:4). When Peter was in prison, during the night an angel of God came to him and it says “a light shined in the prison.” (Acts 12:7)
Angels administer Divine judgments: When Herod flaunted his own glory in the public eye, it is recorded that “Immediately an angel of the Lord struck him, because he did not give glory to God. And he was eaten by worms and died.” (Acts 12:23)
Angels perform special tasks: “And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” (Matt. 24:31)
Angels will accompany Jesus when He returns: “For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works.” (Matt. 16:27)
Who Are The Angels?
The subject of the angels, their origin, their life, their work, their home, is one of the most fascinating and inspiring topics in the Bible.
Who are they? Where do they live? How did they arrive at this level of life?
The answers to these questions are found in the Bible. And these answers are more than cold, lifeless facts. They concern us personally because the Bible tells us we can one day be made “equal to the angels”! (Luke 20:35–36).
What does that mean?
Angels are real beings
Many people picture angels as some type of created spirit hovering over us to protect us, or singing praises around the throne of God in a vaguely blissful existence. The picture is distorted by fears of demons, which are thought to be angels in a “fallen” state. Others credit the existence of angels to an overactive imagination.
How do we know that angels exist, if they have never been see by anyone living today?
The answer is, they have been seen, just not in our day. If the Bible record is reliable—and we believe that it is—many of their appearances have been documented and preserved for us. Abraham and Sarah, Lot, Jacob, Moses and Aaron and the millions of Israelites with them, Joshua, Gideon, Manoah, Elijah, Elisha, Daniel, Jesus, Peter, John, Paul, and many others saw angels.
Many times we read in the Bible that “the Lord” appeared, or that “God came down,” or that “the Lord spoke.” How are we to understand these statements, in view of the fact that “no man has seen God at any time”? (1 John 4:12; John 5:37). Are the two statements contradictory? Not when we realize that in the Bible, angels, being children of God, are called by their Father’s name.
In Exodus 23, the Lord is quoted as saying about the angel He was sending: “Behold, I send an Angel before you to keep you in the way and to bring you into the place which I have prepared. Beware of Him and obey His voice; do not provoke Him, for He will not pardon your transgressions; for My name is in Him” (Ex. 23:20–21). Just as we often take our father’s name, angels have God’s name.
And angels act in behalf of their Father. The Almighty God does not come down to earth to tend its affairs. He who has countless millions and billions of worlds to oversee works through His appointed ministers, representatives, messengers—angels!
Angels are messengers
The Hebrew word translated “angel” means “messenger, envoy.” Messengering seems to have been one of their principal functions in behalf of the human race. They were God’s messengers delivering His message to His human servants; they were envoys announcing special events, they were His army sent to protect His people and execute His judgments.
Usually their appearances were sudden, brief, unannounced. Again and again we read only that “The angel of the Lord came…” or “the angel of the Lord appeared….”
Angels appear as humans
Often when angels are described in the Bible, they appear to look like men. No mention is made of any bizarre shapes or even of the once traditional “wings.” The idea that angels need wings to fly has been carried over from the medieval age when people could not conceive of flight without wings (as a bird). Modern artists, realizing that this is not valid reasoning, no longer add wings to all their drawings of angels.
Sometimes in the Bible the angels were mistaken for men. The writer to the Hebrews suggests that one may entertain angels without even knowing it—hardly possible if they were spirits (Heb. 13:2).
The three angel visitors to Abraham were identified as “three men” on their arrival, and they accepted a meal, after which two of them continued on to Sodom. Lot apparently received them as ordinary travelers in need of food and lodging (Gen. 19:1–2).
The angel who appeared to Joshua at Jericho was described as “a man…with His sword drawn in His hand” (Josh. 5:13–14).
A “man of God” (an angel) appeared to Manoah’s wife to announce the birth of a son (Judges 13:3–11).
The angel sent from the presence of God to give “insight and understanding” to Daniel about future events was described as having “the appearance of a man.” Again he was plainly identified as “the man Gabriel”—his general appearance must have been that of an ordinary man. We are also told that he “touched” Daniel (Dan. 8:15–19; 9:21)—an action we would hardly associate with a spirit being. Years later this same angel Gabriel appeared first to Zechariah when he was ministering in the tabernacle, and six months later to Mary (Luke 1:9, 26).
Angels radiate light
A number of times in the Scriptures when angels appeared they were said to “shine.” When Moses came down from meeting with the angels on Mount Sinai, his face radiated so much light that the Israelites were unable to look on him (Ex. 34:29–35). An angel at the empty tomb was described as appearing “like lightning and his clothes as white as snow” (Matt. 28:3). Luke describes two angels who met the women who were early at the tomb as standing “by them in shining garments” (Luke 24:4). Cornelius saw an angel as a “man … in bright clothing” (Acts 10:30). And John the Revelator who saw angels numerous times says of one that “the earth was illuminated with his glory” (Rev. 18:1).
We have never met an angel. We have never been privileged to see one of them on a lightning-swift flight from heaven to earth. Yet there may be within our reach this very moment an angel of God. Though we lack the sight, we have the promise: “The angel of the Lord encamps all around those who fear Him, and delivers them.” (Ps. 34:7).
The promise is simple and straightforward. Even a child may grasp its message. God’s angels protect and assist all will-be-heirs of salvation.
And we should notice that the promise is without time limit or date of expiration. Angels do minister, and will continue to minister. The only qualification is to be one who reveres God (Ps. 34:7) and is an heir of salvation.
But we should notice that God’s promise does not say how or by what means the angels protect and aid. Nor does God promise that they will always be visible.
Believe when we cannot see…?
Can we believe in angels when we cannot see them?
How can we safely judge what is and what is not when we have such limited powers of perception? Think of some of the very common things around us which we cannot “see,” yet we know that they are real. Take a drop of water from a mountain lake in the palm of your hand. Examine it closely. You see nothing but water. But put that drop under a microscope, and you see that it is teeming with life.
We cannot “see” electricity, but when we press a switch we know it is there. We cannot hear radio waves, yet the air around us is filled with them—all we need is the proper receptor to translate them into intelligible sounds.
Bats have a phenomenal built-in radar system by which they fly safely at night. A dog hears sounds that to our ears are not audible and a dog’s sense of smell is many, many times keener than ours. Most birds have migrating instincts that are awesome. Some have an instinctive sense of direction by which they can cross the ocean and return to the same nest they occupied the season before! Common houseflies, we are told, have eyes with some 20,000 lenses—they can see in all directions at once.
Why is it incredible, then, that angels may be right around us, all unknown to us simply because we lack the sense to perceive them? And is it not entirely within the power of God to withhold such a sense when He wishes?
Angels seen and not seen
During Bible times, angels were sometimes seen and sometimes not seen.
When the king of Syria planned to capture the Lord’s prophet, the Syrian army surrounded Dothan, the city where Elisha was staying. When Elisha’s servant saw the surrounding army, he was frightened. But Elisha’s answer was: “Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” Then Elisha prayed, and the Lord opened the eyes of the servant, and he saw “the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire [angels] all around Elisha” (2 Kings 6:16–17). The “chariots of God are twenty thousand, even thousands of angels” (Psalm 68:17).
In the incident of Balaam and his donkey, the donkey saw the angel blocking the way, which Balaam could not see. Only after his donkey veered the third time and Balaam in anger beat his poor beast and the donkey spoke, did the angel open Balaam’s eyes and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the way with a drawn sword (Num. 22:21–33).
When Jesus on the day of His resurrection joined two of His disciples who were walking to Emmaus, we read that the disciples’ “eyes were restrained, so that they did not know Him” (Luke 24:16). Then, when they reached their destination and “He sat at the table with them” and “took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them, their eyes were opened and they knew Him” (Luke 24:30–31). Though this incident did not involve angels, it shows the same Divine ability the angels have to “open” or “close” human eyes.
At the present time, God is temporarily withholding sight of His higher realm from us, because during this age He is silent. We walk by faith rather than sight. We have only the Bible by which to be guided.
But soon, very soon, however, we shall see that which is at this time invisible. Angels are coming to earth, and they will be visible. Angels will accompany Jesus when He returns to be King of the whole earth. Jesus Himself said, “For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels” (Matt. 16:27; Mark 8:38). This age will shortly end in the most dramatic of all events “when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels” (2 Thess. 1:7).
From that time forward God’s angels will be visible participants in every activity on earth until the Kingdom has been fully set up and earth has been annexed to heaven. The Prophet Daniel saw a vision of thousands of angels minister to Christ when He sits as Judge (Dan. 7:10). We read that “ten thousands” of angels came down on Mount Sinai at the time Moses received the Law (Deut. 33:2), and “ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands” will be attending when Christ and His co-administrators are inaugurated as the new heads of state (Rev. 5:9–13). When the bride and the bridegroom are united in marriage, a multitude of angels will be attending. Taylor has paraphrased his idea of the angels attending that momentous marriage in The Living Bible. He says their voices will be like “the shouting of a huge crowd, or like the waves of a hundred oceans crashing on the shore, or like the mighty rolling of great thunder, ‘Praise the Lord. For the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigns. Let us be glad and rejoice and honor Him; for the time has come for the wedding banquet of the Lamb, and His bride has prepared herself” (Rev. 19:5–7 TLB).
Angels—a higher level of life
The facts about the angels are more than cold, lifeless facts because they concern us personally.
Angels enjoy a higher level of life than we know. We are mortal, flesh and blood beings, what the Bible calls “earthly” (1 Cor. 15:48). The angels are the next higher—“heavenly”—level of life. They are of special interest to us because they used to be mortal like us. Some time in the past they received the change from mortality to immortality, just as we may one day, if worthy, be changed ourselves, into their likeness. This is the hope held out in the Bible (Luke 20:35–36).
We mortals—earthborns—homosapiens—can become angels!
How do we know? Jesus said it in Luke 20:35-36, “Those who are counted worthy to attain that age, and the resurrection from the dead…[neither] can they die anymore, for they are equal to the angels and are sons of God.” It is the reward God is holding for every faithful servant. The apostle Paul says of those whom God approves, that the “Lord Jesus Christ” is coming from heaven, and He “will transform our lowly [mortal] body” and make it like “His glorious body” (Phil. 3:20–21).
This fact that we can become angels is strongly confirmed by a conversation recorded in Revelation 19 between the Apostle John and the angel who delivered the vision. Overwhelmed at all he had seen and heard, John’s instinctive response was to worship the angel. But when he fell at the feet of the angel, the angel stopped him. “No, don’t worship me. I am a servant of God, just like you and your brothers and sisters who testify about their faith in Jesus. Worship only God” (Rev. 19:10 NLT). The speaker was an angel, yet he could identify with John as “your fellow servant.” In other words, I was once just like you.
Revelation 22 records a similar incident, where John again wanted to worship the angel who had showed him such marvels. Here the angel said again, “No, don’t worship me. I am a servant of God, just like you and your brothers the prophets, as well as all who obey what is written in this book. Worship only God!” (Rev 22:8–9 NLT). Had this angel been a “prophet of God” during his day of probation on some other planet in God’s universes? The angel said: “I am just like you and your brothers the prophets… I had to obey, just as you do.”
The prophet Daniel makes the following statement regarding God’s faithful children; “Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament, and those who turn many to righteousness like the stars forever and ever” (Dan. 12:3). If the angels which visited men were shining beings, and God’s faithful servants will “shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Matt. 13:43), isn’t that evidence that mortals can become shining angels of God?
The Divine Plan
This earth is only one small part of God’s vast creation. And because the Bible tells us the “mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him” (Ps. 103:17), we know that there have been beings somewhere in His vast creation on whom He has had mercy in the past (“from everlasting”) and on whom He will continue to pour out His mercy in the everlasting future. When we see the vastness of the heavens, can we think that our little earth was the first and only planet to be created, populated, and prepared for glory? The universe visible to the modern telescope contains countless billions of shining worlds (stars), many of which must be already inhabited with the higher level of life we call the angels—else where do they live? And does it seem incredulous that many more are in stages of development similar to our earth?
The Bible calls the God we serve, “the Lord God of hosts” over 200 times. He is not dwelling in holy isolation. Has he been sleeping through ages past and only recently awakened? or in keeping with His claims (Isa. 45:12; Neh. 9:6) He is constantly planning, fashioning, expanding and glorifying His creation. And when the time is right on any planet, God performs the great change to the worthy inhabitants, transforming them from the mortal level to the immortal—just as He has plans to do on this earth (Phil. 3:20–21; 1 Cor. 15:52–54). It is all according to our Creator’s “eternal purpose” (Eph. 3:11). It is His promise: “Truly as I live, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord” (Num. 14:21).
The Lord’s Prayer tells us that God has a finished creation where His will is fully done now: “Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10). We look forward to the time when God’s will shall be done just as fully on earth, when all its inhabitants will be made immortal like the angels of God, freed forever from the fear of sickness, accident, and death (Rev. 21:3–4). This change will come with Jesus Christ (1 John 3:2; 1 Pet. 5:4) when He returns to awaken His sleeping servants, to judge and reward them for what they have done, and to set up His worldwide Kingdom of righteousness and peace.