What Does the Bible Teach About Angels?
The Hebrew word mal’akh and the Greek word aggelos both mean “messenger.” This indicates the term “angel” can be used of either men or spirits. For example, in Mark 1:2 aggelos is applied directly to John the Baptist, “Behold, I send My messenger (aggelos) before Your face,” and the Hebrew word mal’akh is used in the corresponding prophecy of Malachi 3:1.
Because the meaning of the word “angel” is simply that of a “messenger,” the context determines if it is a human or an angelic messenger, although in rare cases it is difficult to determine which is meant. By far, the most common biblical use of the term is of a godly spirit messenger, what we normally think of as a good angel.
When Scripture uses the term “holy angel” or “angel,” it refers to the godly and unfallen spirits created directly by God (Mark 8:38; Luke 9:26; Acts 10:22; Rev. 14:10). When it refers to “Satan’s angels,” “evil spirits,” “unclean spirits,” and so on, it refers to fallen angels who serve Satan (Matt. 12:24; 25:41).
The word “angel” appears some 300 times in 24 books of the Bible. But this does not include synonyms used for angels, such as “sons of God,” “holy ones,” “morning stars,” “cherubim,” “seraphs,” “ministering spirits,” “watchers,” and such. In all, the term “angel” or its equivalent is found in 35 books of the Bible.
Angels are spirit beings created directly by God prior to the creation of the universe (Job 38:7). They were created as servants of God, Jesus Christ, and the church in order to perform the will of God in the earth (Heb. 1:6, 14). Apparently innumerable in number, they are of various ranks and abilities, and they have numerous duties (Rev. 5:11; 8:2; 9:15; 12:7; Eph. 1:21; Col. 1:16).
Angels are clearly personal spirits. They have personal wills (Heb. 1:6), and they expressed joy at the creation of the world (Job 38:7). They rejoice over a sinner’s repentance (Luke 15:10), and they convey concern and consternation, as when the apostle John wrongly attempted to worship an angel (Rev. 22:9). They are curious (1 Pet. 1:10-12); they talk to each other (Rev. 14:18); and they worship and praise God (Rev. 7:11). And when in human form, they can communicate directly with men (Gen. 19). Angels command other angels (Rev. 7:3; 14:17-18) or battle demons (Dan. 10:13; Rev. 12:7-8). They appear in dreams (Matt. 1:20) or visibly as mere men (Gen. 18:1-8). They are described as beings of incredible brightness or clothed in shining garments (Luke 24:4). When they appear directly to men, the result is usually one of emotional shock or fear, hence the common biblical refrain of the angels, “Fear not” (Luke 1:12-13; 2:9). In the Bible, only three angels are named: Michael, Gabriel, and Lucifer.
Angels are immortal and can never die (Luke 20:36). As we will see, they are incredibly powerful, and they have great intelligence and wisdom. They may use the same measurements as men (Rev. 21:17) and may eat either human or angelic food (Gen. 19:3; Psa. 78:23-25).
Although they never marry (Luke 20:35-36), this does not necessarily mean they are without gender. Angels apparently have spiritual bodies. That they can assume human form implies that they have spiritual bodies first. God Himself has a spiritual form (John 5:37) and took on corporeal form in the Person of Jesus Christ. Scripture also tells us that in the resurrection the redeemed in their glorified bodies will be “like” the angels (Phil. 3:21; Matt. 22:30).
In their natural (spiritual) state, angels move at tremendous speeds and are not bound by space and time, at least not in the manner we are. They can be present in great numbers in limited space, as is evidenced by the seven demons simultaneously inhabiting Mary Magdalene. And it seems that thousands of demons inhabited at least one man (Mark 16:9; Luke 8:30). Angels may also be aware of things like men’s prayers and future events (Luke 1:13-16). However, despite their abilities, they are not omniscient or omnipotent (Dan. 10:13; Matt. 24:36; 1 Pet. 1:11-12; Rev. 12:7).
Morally, there are two kinds of angels: the holy or the elect (1 Tim. 5:21) and the fallen, who are described in the Bible as evil spirits or demons. These rebellious angels will not be redeemed (Heb. 2:11-17), and their final end is the lake of fire (Matt. 25:41). However, while some of these fallen angels are now free to roam, others are currently kept in eternal bonds (Jude 1:6; 2 Pet. 2:4).
Different classifications among the angels include the cherubim, seraphim, and archangels. Apparently the cherubim are the highest class of angels, having indescribable beauty and power. Cherubim were placed at the east of the Garden of Eden to guard the way to the tree of life after man was expelled (Gen. 3:24). They appear in connection with the dwelling place of God in the Old Testament (Ex. 25:17-22; cf. Heb. 9:5) and are primarily concerned with the glory and worship of God. For example, the four living creatures of Ezekiel are cherubim (Ezek. 10:4, 18-22). The cherubim are never termed angels, probably because they are not specifically messengers. Their chief purpose is to proclaim and protect God’s glory, sovereignty, and holiness. Satan was apparently part of the cherubim class, making his rebellion and fall all the more significant.
Another class comprises the seraphim, who are consumed with personal devotion to God (Isa. 6:2-3). There are also archangels, such as Michael, angels of yet lower rank, and special groups of angels (Rev. 1:1; 8:2; 15:1, 7).
Perhaps we should mention here that the specific term “the angel of the Lord” (Malach-YHWH), which is used throughout the Old Testament (e.g. Gen. 22:11-12; Ex. 3:2; 2 Kings 19:35), does not refer to a created angel. It refers to the Old Testament theophanies of Jesus Christ, who appeared to people before His incarnation as “the angel of the Lord.” The angel’s identity as Jesus Christ is indicated not only by the attributes of deity He possesses, but also because the Jews themselves held this angel to be the divine Messiah.
Although the godly angels are thought to reside in heaven (Rev. 10:1), we are not told about the nature of their specific dwelling places, if any. Of course, if angels do have spiritual bodies, this might indicate they have dwelling places (Jude 1:6).
In addition, angels have incredible supernatural power. Peter is putting it mildly when he says that they are “greater in might and power” (2 Pet. 2:11 NASB). For example, only one angel was sent to destroy the entire city of Jerusalem (1 Chron. 21:15), and only two angels were sent to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah and all the surrounding cities (Gen. 19:13, 24-25). One lone angel is even able to bind Satan himself for ten centuries (Rev. 20:1-3). Destroying angels produced the ten plagues on Egypt, including the death of all Egypt’s firstborn (Ex. 12:12-13,23,29-30; Psa. 78:43,49; Heb. 11:28). The four angels of Revelation have power over the winds of the whole earth (Rev. 7:2-3).
Other angels are indirectly associated with the destruction of one-third of the entire heavens and earth, and one-third of the seas, the rivers, the vegetation, the sun, moon, and stars (Rev. 8-9). In Revelation 9:14-15, four angels destroy one-third of the earth’s population.
At the end of the world, angels will gather all the spirits of the saved and unsaved. They gather believers at Jesus Christ’s return to earth (Matt. 24:30-31), and they gather the unbelievers for eternal judgment (Matt. 13:39-43). Truly, angels excel in strength (Psa. 103:20). But what is most amazing is that God tells believers in Christ that they will one day judge, and perhaps rule, angels (1 Cor. 6-2-3).
Nevertheless, many false concepts about angels abound today. Among these erroneous beliefs are that: 1) angels are the human dead, i.e., that we become angels at death; 2) angels perform God’s work through occult activities and practices; 3) the devil is not a fallen angel; 4) Jesus Christ was only an angel; 5) simply because they are angels, they can be trusted to be good. These false beliefs indicate how important it is to discern what Scripture does and does not teach about both the good and the evil angels. If people have no biblical idea of what a good angel really is and does, then any angel claiming to be good can seem credible.
Unfallen Angels in the Bible
The angels who were created by God and Christ exist primarily for them, and have their lives centered around them (Neh. 9:6; Col. 1:16). They worship and serve God and Christ (Phil. 2:9-11; Heb. 1:6). They glorify and celebrate the praises of God and Christ (Job 38:7; Psa. 148:2; Isa. 6:3; Luke 2:13-14; Rev. 5:11-12; 7:11-12). They delight to communicate the will of God and Christ, and they delight in obeying God and Christ. In all that they do, they honor God and Christ (Dan. 8:16-17; 9:21-23; 10:11; 12:6,7; Psa. 103:20; Matt. 2:13,20; 6:10; Luke 1:19,28; Acts 5:20; 8:26; 10:5; 27:23; Rev. 1:1).
They execute the purposes of God and Christ, including the governing and judging of the earth (Num. 22:22; Psa. 103:19-21; Matt. 13:39-42; 28:2; John 5:4; Rev. 5:2; 2 Sam. 24:16; 2 Kings 19:35; Psa. 35:5-6; Acts 12:23; Rev. 16:1). They were active in establishing the Mosaic law of God in the Old Testament (Psa. 68:17; Acts 7:38, 53; Gal. 3:19; Heb. 2:2), and they execute Christ’s judgments in the New Testament (2 Thess. 1:7-8; Rev. 7-9).
They are also ministering spirits, to believer and unbeliever, especially the former (1 Kings 19:5; 104:4; Luke 16:22; Acts 12:7-11; 27:23; Heb. 1:14). They guide, provide, encourage, and deliver God’s people (Matt. 1:20; 28:5-7; Gen. 21:17-20; 1 Kings 19:5-7; 2 Kings 6:1517; Dan. 6:20-23; 10:10-12; Acts 5:17-20; 12:510). They are sent to answer prayers and to attend to the righteous dead (Dan. 9:20-24; Acts 12:1-17; Re. 8:4; Luke 16:22; Jude 1:9). They protect God’s people (Psa. 34:7; 35:4-5; Isa. 63:9), and they may preach to and warn the unbeliever (Rev. 14:6-7). They interpret divine visions (Zech. 4:1; 5:5; 6:5; Dan. 7:15-27; 8:13-26) and prophesy about the future (Dan. 9:20-10:21; Rev. 1:1; 22:6, 8). They can control the forces of nature (Rev. 7:1; 16:3, 8-9) and influence nations (Dan. 12:1; Rev. 12:7-9; 13:1-7; 16:13-14).
Biblically, angels are most conspicuous in association with the Person and work of Jesus Christ. They announced His conception, birth, resurrection, ascension, and second coming. They protected and strengthened Jesus Christ during His temptations. They know and delight in the gospel and execute the purposes of Christ. They will accompany Him at His return, and they will gather all people, good and evil, for the final judgment (Matt. 1:20-21; 2:13-15; 4:11; 13:39-43; 16:17; 24:31; 25:31; 28:5-7; Luke 2:1012; 22:43; John 1:51; 5:22-29; Acts 1:11; Eph. 3:9-10; 2 Thess. 1:7; 1 Tim. 3:6; 1 Pet. 1:12).
What is perhaps most relevant for us is that what the good angels do biblically is the opposite of what we find the popular New Age angels doing today. (“Popular angel” is a term we may use for those beings who are in reality evil angels or demons.) Biblically, the good angels do their work for God and then disappear. But the popular angels act like modern spirit guides. They do not worship Christ, and they deny Him and distort His teachings. They reject God’s will and rebel against it by seeking to prevent people’s salvation.
When we examine the godly angels, we see that their proclamations support God’s purposes, their miracles support God’s interests, and their preaching communicates God’s will. Their love of Christ is proven throughout Scripture and history. In ministering to God’s children, they remind them of God’s love and care (Matt. 18:10; Psa. 34:7; 91:11-12; Dan. 6:22). Also, their character is proven to be wise and holy by their refusal to be worshiped by men (Col. 2:18; Rev. 19:10; 22:9) and because their worship and devotion is given solely to God and Christ.
- cf., A. C. Gaebelein, What the Bible Says About Angels (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1987), pp. 29-35.
- See A. C. Gaebelein, What the Bible Says About Angels (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1987), Ch. 3; C. Fred Dickason, Angels: Elect and Evil (Chicago: Moody Press, 1975), Ch. 6; John Ankerberg, John Weldon, Knowing the Truth About Jesus the Messiah, eBook.