Angels—God’s Spirit Messengers
DO ANGELS truly exist? According to certain modern theologians, the answer is no. Say they: “The belief in angels is no longer a matter of doctrine but rather one of psychology and poetic imagery.” “The discoveries of the telescope and the microscope have left no scope for the miraculous intervention of celestial beings.” “A world of law and process does not need a living ladder to lead from the earth below to God on high.”
But the mere fact that the instruments of modern scientists have been unable to detect angels is no stumbling block to Christians. Have scientists been able to see God by means of their instruments? Yet God exists. Since the Bible is the truth, as Jesus Christ affirmed, we know that angels do exist. From its opening chapters to its closing one, the Bible makes mention of angels, spirit messengers, literally hundreds of times.—Gen. 3:24; Rev. 22:8.
Both in the Hebrew and in the Greek portions of the Bible, the words translated “angel” simply mean a messenger or an agent. In fact, the Hebrew word for angel is almost as often rendered “messenger” and applied to humans as it is rendered “angel.” And while throughout the Scriptures the term “angel” is usually applied to spirit messengers, it is, at times, as at Revelation, chapters 2, 3, applied to human creatures.—Gen. 32:3; Jas. 2:25.
That there are spirit bodies the apostle Paul makes clear. “If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual one.” Because angels are spirit creatures they are at times termed spirits, and properly so, for that which is spirit is both invisible and powerful. Thus we read: “Finally a spirit came out and stood before Jehovah.” “He makes his angels spirits.” ‘ ‘Are they not all spirits for public service?” In the Scriptures angels are also termed ‘sons of God,’ “morning stars” and “holy ones,” whose abode is in heaven, for we read of the “angels in the heavens.”—1 Cor. 15:44; 1 Ki. 22:21; Heb. 1:7, 14; Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7; Deut. 33:2, ftn.; Mark 12:25.
When were they created? Some theologians claim that their creation took place during the six “days” of creation referred to in Genesis, but not so. Even the starry “heavens and the earth” itself were created in a beginning before the first “day” of creation began. (Gen. 1:1) God’s Word shows that angels, the morning stars and sons of God, sang and shouted for joy when the foundations of the earth were laid; so they must have been created even before the earth was made. And since Jesus Christ, in his prehuman existence as the Logos, was “the beginning of the creation by God,” and used of God to create all other things, it follows that the angels were created after God created the Logos and before the creation of the material universe.—Job 38:7; Rev. 3:14.
The Scriptures therefore furnish no basis for the song: “I want to be an angel and with the angels sing.” When Jesus was on earth he stated that ‘no man had ascended into heaven’ by that time, and yet the Hebrew Scriptures prior to that time contain many references to angels. When Jesus ascended into heaven he was exalted far above the angels, and those who will share heavenly glory with him, a mere 144,000, will, as his bride, be exalted far above the angels.—John 3:13; Heb. 1:4; Rev. 14:1, 3.
As to their number, the Bible assures us that the angels are well-nigh innumerable. In prophetic vision Daniel saw “thousand thousands that kept ministering to [God], and ten thousand times ten thousand that kept standing right before him.” The apostle John tells that the symbolic heavenly armies numbered “two myriads of myriads,” or 200 million. And repeatedly we read of myriads of angels or holy ones.—Dan. 7:10; Rev. 9:16; Heb. 12:22; Jude 14.
RANKS AND KINDS OF ANGELS
Since Jehovah God is a God of order, it is reasonable to conclude that his myriads of heavenly angels are organized, even as was his nation of Israel, the latter not only into twelve tribes but with chiefs over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. (Deut. 1:15) The Chief One over all the angels is Jesus Christ, the Word, the lone archangel, Michael. (Dan. 12:1; John 1:1; Jude 9; Rev. 12:7) He is also termed the angel or the messenger of the covenant at Malachi 3:1 and is the angel referred to at Revelation 20:1, 2 that binds Satan and his demons and casts them into the abyss of death for a thousand years. Without a doubt he also was the angel God appointed to lead the sons of Israel during their wilderness trek: “Here I am sending an angel ahead of you to keep you on the road . . . my angel will go ahead of you.” “The angel of his person saved them.”—Ex. 23:20-23; Isa. 63:9, ftn.
Included among the angelic hosts are the seraphs. Isaiah alone refers to these, having seen them in a vision of Jehovah in his temple. Their name means “burning” or “noble” ones.—Isa. 6:2, 6.
More frequently mentioned in the Scriptures are the cherubs, being noted some ninety times. It was a cherub who was in Eden and whose ambition caused him to become Satan the Devil. Cherubs guarded the entranceway to Eden when man was expelled from Paradise, and representations of cherubs were placed on the ark of the covenant that was housed in the most holy part of the wilderness tabernacle and later in Solomon’s temple. The cherubs appear to be bearers or escorts of God’s throne, upholding its majesty.—Ezek. 28:16; Gen. 3:24; Ex. 25:18-22; Ps. 80:1.
And then there are the great body of angels or spirit messengers. We are not to think of these merely as errand boys but as agents and deputies, not only serving as a means of communication but also carrying out God’s purpose, be it the protection and deliverance of his people or the destruction of the wicked.
CHARACTERISTICS OF ANGELS
While some would deny distinct personality to individual angels, the Bible teaches otherwise. Their personality is implied by the fact that they have individual names, such as Michael and Gabriel. (Dan. 12:1; Luke 1:26) However, apparently so as not to give undue prominence to individual angels little is said about their names. When Samson’s parents asked the name of the angel that had appeared to them, he rebuked them, saying: “Just why should you ask about my name, when it is a wonderful one?”—Judg. 13:18.
Angels are generally represented as males, because God and his Son are spoken of as males. They are, however, without sex, for Jesus told that those who come forth upon earth in the resurrection will not marry, because they will be like angels. It was the pleasures of sex that caused certain angels to leave their heavenly positions in Noah’s day. Also, they communicate with each other by means of the speech or ‘tongues of angels.’—Matt. 22:30; 1 Cor. 13:1.
Angels being spirit creatures, it is not possible for humans to know what they look like. In dealing with humans, angels at times appeared in human form and on occasion as winged creatures. Then again, to call attention to their honorable office, a physical glory and brilliance may be associated with them, they appearing as bright as lightning.—Dan. 10:6; Matt. 28:3.
In common with man, angels are free moral agents, that is, they can choose to do right or wrong. They are intelligent creatures that can worship God Jehovah or refuse to do so and take the consequences. Some of them have rebelled against God, chief of whom is their prince Beelzebub, Satan the Devil. Those who have continued faithful are termed “holy angels” and share in the vindication of Jehovah’s name, even as do faithful humans.—2 Pet. 2:4; Matt. 12:24; Mark 8:38.
Since God created man ‘a little less than the angels,’ angels doubtless have greater mental capacity than does man, and yet there are some things that God has kept from them. Thus Jesus said that the angels did not know the day or hour when the wicked heavens and earth would be destroyed. And Peter tells us that there were certain things that angels were desirous of peering into. They must be keenly interested in what is going on upon the earth, for they are said to rejoice at the repentance of a sinner and to watch the “theatrical spectacle” furnished by Christians. More than that, it is reasonable to conclude that angels can learn from observing Christians, for women in the Christian congregation are told to wear a sign of authority upon their heads because of the angels, so as to set the angels a proper example of submission to God-appointed rule.—Matt. 24:36; 1 Pet. 1:12; Luke 15:10; 1 Cor. 4:9; 11:10.
In keeping with their exalted position are the superhuman powers with which angels are endowed. In harmony with this we read that the Lord Jesus Christ will be revealed “from heaven with his powerful angels.” “Bless Jehovah, O you angels of his, mighty in power, carrying out his word.” And their power is implied by the deeds they are said to have performed, such as two of them destroying Sodom and Gomorrah and one of them slaying the Assyrian host of 185,000 warriors encamped before Jerusalem in the days of King Hezekiah.—2 Thess. 1:7; Ps. 103:20; Gen. 19:13; 2 Ki. 19:35.
We may also safely conclude that angels, God’s spirit messengers, travel at tremendous speeds. Thus once when Daniel began to pray, God dispatched an angel to him in answer to his prayer. This angel, although coming from beyond the realms of outer space, reached Daniel before he had concluded his prayer.—Dan. 9:21.
DUTIES AND PRIVILEGES
It might be argued, as the modernists do, that there is no need for a ladder of angels leading from earth to heaven as Jacob saw in his dream. God could well accomplish his purposes by other means. But Jehovah God simply has not chosen to do so. He also could have created everything himself, even as by himself he brought forth his only-begotten Son, the Word, later to be known as Jesus Christ. But God chose to let his Son serve as the active agent in the creation of all other creatures and things, thereby giving his Son much pleasure as well as receiving joy himself as he noted his Son’s dutiful course. (Prov. 8:22-30) This wise course Jehovah also pursued with the angels. They are not indispensable, but God has seen fit to create them for the purpose of giving them happiness and to serve his purposes in carrying out his will for them.
For one thing, angels are shown as ministering to God: “There were a thousand thousands that kept ministering to him.” Repeatedly they are pictured as being in his presence: “Seraphs were standing above him.” “I heard a voice of many angels around the throne.” Often they were sent to bring good news to man, thus serving as evangelists, as when they announced the birth of the Savior. God used angels to communicate his will to such of his servants as Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Daniel, Peter, Paul and others. And in that their messages became part of God’s written Word, they contributed toward the writing of the Bible.—Dan. 7:10; Isa. 6:2; Rev. 5:11; Luke 2:13.
Note also God’s use of angels in the life of Jesus. Angels announced his conception and birth. They ministered to him after his forty-day fast and strengthened him in his final trial. When the mob came to arrest him, twelve legions of angels were at his call had he chosen to ask for them. Angels also announced his resurrection and were present at his ascension into heaven.—Matt. 4:11; Luke 22:43; Matt. 26:53; 28:5-7; Acts 1:10, 11.
Angels are further shown as 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 his demons at the time of the birth of God’s kingdom in heaven. They will also support Michael in fighting the war of the great day of God the Almighty, Armageddon, even as in times of old they were used by Jehovah God to execute the wicked.—Matt. 13:41; 25:31; Rev. 12:7-10; 16:14, 16; 19:14.
And finally, God’s spirit messengers minister to his servants on earth today, which is a most comforting thought: “Are they not all spirits for public service, sent forth to minister for those who are going to inherit salvation?” “Do not despise one of these little ones, for I tell you that their angels in heaven always have access to my Father who is in heaven.” Not necessarily that each one of God’s faithful servants has an angel assigned to him; but that one angel is assigned to a number of God’s servants on earth.—Heb. 1:14; Matt. 18:10.
Yes, “the angel of Jehovah is encamping all around those fearing him and he rescues them.” “He will give his own angels a command concerning you, to guard you in all your ways.” True, angels do not appear visibly the way they did to the apostles to deliver them from prison and the way one appeared to Paul when he was shipwrecked. But we may rest assured that, regardless of the odds against us, regardless of how many foes press in upon us, had we spiritual vision we could see surrounding and protecting us armies of God’s spirit messengers, even as they protectingly surrounded the prophet Elisha and his servant when the king of Syria dispatched a heavy military force, including horses and war chariots, to capture Elisha.—Ps. 34:7; 91:11; Acts 5:19; 12:7; 27:23; 2 Ki. 6:13-17.
Truly, what God’s Word has to say about his spirit messengers, the angels, is both enlightening and faith-strengthening.
Oh the depth of God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How unsearchable his judgments are and past tracing out his ways are!—Romans 11:33.