Both the Hebrew mal·ʼakhʹ and the Greek agʹge·los literally mean “messenger.” From the first book of the Bible to the last, these words occur nearly 400 times. When spirit messengers are indicated, the words are translated “angels,” but if the reference definitely is to human creatures, the rendering is “messengers.” (Ge 16:7; 32:3; Jas 2:25; Re 22:8; see MESSENGER.) However, in the highly symbolic book of Revelation certain references to ‘angels’ may apply to human creatures.
Angels are sometimes termed spirits; that which is spirit is invisible and powerful. Thus we read: “A spirit came out and stood before Jehovah”; “Are they not all spirits for public service?” (1Ki 22:21; Heb 1:14) Having invisible spiritual bodies, they make their abode “in the heavens.” (Mr 12:25; 1Co 15:44, 50) They are also termed “sons of the true God,” “morning stars,” and “holy myriads” (or “holy ones”).
Not being creatures that marry and reproduce their own kind, the angels were individually created by Jehovah through his firstborn Son, “the beginning of the creation by God.” (Mt 22:30; Re 3:14) “By means of him [this firstborn Son, the Word] all other things were created in the heavens . . . the things invisible . . . Also, he is before all other things and by means of him all other things were made to exist.” (Col 1:15-17; Joh 1:1-3) The angels were created long before man’s appearance, for at the ‘founding of the earth’ “the morning stars joyfully cried out together, and all the sons of God began shouting in applause.”
As for the number of the angelic hosts of heaven, Daniel said he saw “a thousand thousands that kept ministering to [God], and ten thousand times ten thousand that kept standing right before him.”
Order and Rank. As with the visible creation, so also in the invisible realm there is order and rank among the angels. The foremost angel, both in power and authority, is Michael, the archangel. (Da 10:13, 21; 12:1; Jude 9; Re 12:7; see ARCHANGEL; MICHAEL No. 1.) Because of his preeminence and his being called “the great prince who is standing in behalf of the sons of [God’s] people,” he is presumed to be the angel that led Israel through the wilderness. (Ex 23:20-23) Ranking very high among the angels in privileges and honor are the seraphs. (Isa 6:2, 6; see SERAPHS.) More frequently (some 90 times), the Scriptures mention the cherubs, and from the description of their duties and responsibilities it is apparent that they, too, hold a special position among the angels. (Ge 3:24; Eze 10:1-22; see CHERUB No. 1.) Then there is the great body of angelic messengers who serve as a means of communication between God and man. However, they do more than simply relay messages. As agents and deputies of the Most High God, they serve as responsible executioners of the divine purpose, be it protection and deliverance of God’s people or destruction of the wicked.
Personality. Some may deny distinct personality of individual angels, claiming they are impersonal forces of energy dispatched to accomplish the will of God, but the Bible teaches otherwise. Individual names imply individuality. The fact that two of their names, Michael and Gabriel, are given establishes the point sufficiently. (Da 12:1; Lu 1:26) The lack of more names was a safeguard against giving undue honor and worship to these creatures. Angels were dispatched by God as agents to act in his name, not in their own name. Hence, when Jacob asked an angel for his name, he refused to give it. (Ge 32:29) The angel that approached Joshua, when asked to identify himself, replied only that he was “prince of the army of Jehovah.” (Jos 5:14) When Samson’s parents asked an angel for his name, he withheld it, saying: “Just why should you ask about my name, when it is a wonderful one?” (Jg 13:17, 18) The apostle John attempted to worship angels and was twice rebuked: “Be careful! Do not do that! . . . Worship God.”
As personalities, angels have the power to communicate with one another (1Co 13:1), the ability to talk various languages of men (Nu 22:32-35; Da 4:23; Ac 10:3-7), and the thinking ability with which to glorify and praise Jehovah (Ps 148:2; Lu 2:13). It is true that angels are sexless, because Jehovah made them so, not because they are impersonal forces. Angels are generally represented as males, and when materializing it was always in the male form, because God and his Son are spoken of as males. However, when certain materialized angels indulged in the pleasure of sex in the days of Noah, they were expelled from Jehovah’s heavenly courts. Here was a display of angelic individuality, for, like humankind, they too are free moral agents, with the power of personal choice between right and wrong. (Ge 6:2, 4; 2Pe 2:4) By personal choice, hordes of angels joined Satan in his rebellion.
Powers and Privileges. Since God created man “a little lower than angels” (Heb 2:7), it follows that angels have a greater mental capacity than man. They are superhuman in power too. “Bless Jehovah, O you angels of his, mighty in power, carrying out his word.” Angelic knowledge and power were displayed when two angels brought flaming destruction upon Sodom and Gomorrah. A single angel killed 185,000 of the Assyrian army.
Angels too can travel at tremendous speeds, far exceeding the limits of the physical world. Thus when Daniel was praying, God dispatched an angel to answer his prayer; and the angel arrived within moments, even before the prayer was concluded.
But for all their higher mental and spiritual powers, angels have their limitations. They did not know the “day and hour” when this system of things would be swept away, Jesus said. (Mt 24:36) They take a keen interest in the outworking of Jehovah’s purposes, yet there are some things they do not understand. (1Pe 1:12) They rejoice at the repentance of a sinner, and they watch the “theatrical spectacle” furnished by Christians here on the world stage of public activity. They also observe the proper example of Christian women who wear a sign of authority upon their heads.
As Jehovah’s ministers, the angels have enjoyed many privileges during the aeons of passing time. Angels ministered on behalf of Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, Isaiah, Daniel, Zechariah, Peter, Paul, and John, to mention but a few. (Ge 22:11; 31:11; Jos 5:14, 15; Isa 6:6, 7; Da 6:22; Zec 1:9; Ac 5:19, 20; 7:35; 12:7, 8; 27:23, 24; Re 1:1) Their messages contributed toward the writing of the Bible. In Revelation angels are mentioned far more times than in any other Bible book. Innumerable angels were seen around the great throne of Jehovah; seven blew the seven trumpets, while another seven poured out the seven bowls of God’s anger; an angel flying in midheaven had “everlasting good news”; but another proclaimed, “Babylon the Great has fallen.”
Support of Christ and followers. From beginning to end, the holy angels of God followed the earthly sojourn of Jesus with extreme interest. They announced his conception and birth, and they ministered to him after the 40-day fast. An angel strengthened him when he prayed in Gethsemane on his final night as a human. When the mob came to arrest him, he could have called for no less than 12 legions of angels had he chosen to do so. Angels also announced his resurrection and were present at his ascension into heaven.
Thereafter, God’s spirit messengers continued ministering to his servants on earth, even as Jesus promised: “Do not despise one of these little ones; for I tell you that their angels in heaven always behold the face of my Father.” (Mt 18:10) “Are they not all spirits for public service, sent forth to minister for those who are going to inherit salvation?” (Heb 1:14) No longer do these mighty angelic ones appear visibly in behalf of Jehovah’s servants on earth, as when they delivered the apostles from prison; nevertheless, God’s servants are assured of the ever-present, invisible protecting armies, as real as those that surrounded the prophet Elisha and his servant. “He will give his own angels a command concerning you, to guard you in all your ways.” Yes, “the angel of Jehovah is camping all around those fearing him, and he rescues them.”
Angels are further shown accompanying Jesus Christ when he comes for judgment, separating “the wheat” from “the weeds” and “the sheep” from “the goats.” Angels joined with Michael in his war on the dragon and the demons at the birth of God’s Kingdom in heaven. They will also support the King of kings in fighting the war of the great day of God the Almighty.