What Are Angels?

WE HEAR LITTLE about angels in our unbelieving age. But although we hear little and see nothing of them today, they are real and there is actually a lot of information about them if we know where to look—that is, of course, in the Bible.

Jesus Christ said that those who are given eternal life when he returns to the earth ‘cannot die any more, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God’ (Luke 20:36). For this reason if for no other we should want to know more about them!

The English word ‘angel’ is a translation of the Hebrew word malak (in the Old Testament) and the Greek word angelos (in the New Testament). Both these words mean ‘messenger’. That is basically what angels are—they are God’s messengers. ‘Bless the Lord, O you his angels, you mighty ones who do his word, obeying the voice of his word!’ (Psalm 103:20).

   What is the purpose of their messages?

‘Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?’ (Hebrews 1:14). They are God’s messengers whose role is to serve for those who believe.

   What do they look like? 

They can fly (Revelation 14:6) but they evidently do not have wings, because they are often mistaken for ordinary men (Genesis 18:1–2, 19:1–3, Hebrews 13:2). Jacob spent a night wrestling with one (Genesis 32:24 ). They can be visible and invisible as they choose (Numbers 22:22–31). On occasion their actions are startling (Judges 13:20).

   What do they do?

It was an angel who led the people of Israel out of Egypt—the angel was in the pillar of cloud and fire   (Exodus 13:21). An angel ravaged the nation of Israel as punishment for David’s sin (2 Samuel 24: 15– 16). An angel destroyed an entire Assyrian army in one night (2 Kings 19:35). An angel unlocked Peter’s chains and led him out of prison under the noses of his guards (Acts 12:7–11).

   Angels were very much involved in the life of Jesus Christ.

It was the angel Gabriel who announced to Mary that she was to have a son (Luke 1:26–28). A company of angels sang for joy over the fields of Bethlehem when Christ was born (Luke 2:10). Angels served him in the wilderness after his temptation (Matthew 4:11), and an angel comforted him during his agony in Gethsemane (Luke 22:43). An angel rolled away the stone door from his tomb (Matthew 28:2), and two remained in the tomb to greet the astonished women (John 20:12). At his ascension to heaven two angels reassured the disciples with the promise of his return (Acts 1:11).

   Jesus Christ often spoke about angels.

Even the angels do not know the time of Christ’s return to earth (Matthew 24:36). If someone acknowledges their allegiance to him before others, Christ will acknowledge them before the angels (Luke 12:8). There is joy in the presence of the angels when a sinner repents (Luke 15:10).

   The angels will play a crucial part in the events of Christ’s second coming.

When he returns to earth the angels will be with him (Matthew 25:31). The angels will gather people to judgement (Matthew 13:41). Angels will praise Christ in the Kingdom (Revelation 5:11).

Unseen, the angels are involved in steering world events according to God’s purpose. Daniel 10:13 affords a fascinating glimpse of angels at work behind the scenes in the machinations of the political world. But they are also intimately involved in the lives of individual believers: ‘The angel of the Lord encamps round those who fear him, and delivers them’ (Psalm 34:7). You may well have witnessed the work of an angel today.

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