What Does the Bible Teach about Angels?

A 1992 Gallup youth poll reported that belief in angels among American teenagers had risen from 64% in 1978 to 76%.  Popular culture seems fascinated by the topic.  New Age religion followers show interest in the subject.  Angels are being portrayed in the print media (newspapers, magazines, books), at computer websites, and on video (television, movies).  The topic is discussed over the radio not only on religious stations but on secular ones as well.  An interest in angels is even growing in the artistic venue.  The vast majority of information about angels is not reliable because it is not taken from the only reliable source, the Holy Bible.  For the Holy Scriptures are the only source and norm of Christian faith and practice and the clear and infallible guide to angels.  Any question that is not answered by God’s inerrant Word is unanswerable in this life; for, if God wanted us to know the answer, He would have revealed it to us in His Word (II Timothy 3:15-17; Deuteronomy 29:29).  This article will give only straight Biblical answers to the questions posed since these answers come from the only one who knows, the Creator of the angels Himself, as He reveals them in His Holy Word.

Where do angels come from?

The angels were created by God, the Holy Trinity; they owe their existence entirely to Him who made all things.  Scripture tells us that all created things were created by God in six 24-hour days.  Only God is eternal (Genesis 1:1ff.; John 1:1-3; Genesis 2:2-3; cf. also Psalm 90:2; Isaiah 48:13).  The Bible expressly states that angels are creatures — created by God (Psalm 104:4; Colossians 1:16).  Since only God existed prior to the six days of creation, and God did not create anything after that period, the angels must have been created during the original six days.  Scripture does not tell us, however, on which day.  Those who deny the existence of angels, both ancient skeptics (cf. Acts 23:8) and “modernists” today, do so in direct contradiction of the revelation of Holy Scripture.

What does the word “angel” mean?

Taken from the Greek [pronounced  ahng • gell • loss], it is actually an official title meaning “messenger” (cf. Matthew 1:20; 4:11; et al.) and designates their holy office as heavenly spiritual ambassadors.  In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word [pronounced  mah • lach] also means “messenger” (cf. Psalm 91:11; 103:20; 148:2).  Angels are sometimes called “sons of God” (Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7).  [Note: In Genesis 6:2, however, the reference is not to angels but to men (specifically believers); cf. also Genesis 5:22;  6:4.]

What are angels?

Their nature is described by Holy Writ as “spirit” — a “spirit” being a finite creature, but a personal being that is non-corporeal, that is, without a material body (Psalm 104:4; Hebrews 1:14; Luke 24:39; Ephesians 6:12).  They are God’s foremost invisible creatures.  He did not create them from His own essence, nor did He create them from the original crude and chaotic mass of matter.  He created them out of nothing by sheer omnipotence.  As non-material beings they possess special attributes that no corporeal creature has.  The fact that angels are individual and personal is proven from their personal names (Luke 1:9) and titles (Genesis 3:24; Isaiah 6:2), personal actions and emotions (Matthew 28:2; Luke 15:10), moral character (Matthew 25:31) and various other attributes (Judges 13:6, Matthew 28:3; Daniel 4:13; Colossians 1:16).

The sudden appearance of angels shows that as spirits they are invisible but may appear in visible forms as God so wills (cf. for example: Luke 1:11; 2:13, et al., also Genesis 18:2; 19:1; Acts 1:10).  In each case these forms were as young men, never females or babies (cf. Mark 16:5; Luke 24:4; cf. John 20:12).  At certain times the Bible describes their faces and garments in glorious terms (Matthew 28:3, Luke 24:4).

Historical Note:  Prior to the middle of the fourth century, angels were depicted in church art and architecture in simple robes (without wings) as young men.  Angels of the Eastern Church were depicted as dignified protectors, but never as females or children.  A distinction between seraphim (as having six wings), cherubim (having four wings) and ordinary angels (with two wings) was also observed in Eastern Church depictions.  It was during the Renaissance (especially during the so-called “High Renaissance,” circa 1500-1550) that female angels and little angels with children’s heads and wings were introduced, as well as other artistic embellishments such as long trains of garlands, scroll-work, etc.).  As a result of this, nearly all modern forms follow these innovations of the Renaissance artists and not the Biblical descriptions of young men in white robes.

What was the original state of all the angels when God created them?

All the angels were created good (Genesis 1:31 – “very good”).  They were endowed with concreated perfection; they were holy, righteous and just.  They were also given a completely free will which some of the angels abused and sinned against God (II Peter 2:4).

Why are there now two kinds of angels?

The good and holy angels are those that retained their original character; and the evil angels or demons [led by Satan (“enemy”), the devil (“liar”)] are those who chose to sin against God and fell away from Him, losing their concreated goodness (John 8:44; II Peter 2:4; Matthew 8:29; Jude 6; Matthew 25:41).

The Bible does not reveal the exact nature, nor the exact time, of Satan’s sin; but we do know that both his fall and that of the evil angels (demons) was entirely his and their own fault; for they were not morally defective at creation, nor did God cause their fall in any way (Jude 6; James 1:13).

What are the attributes and abilities of the angels?

Since only God is infinite in His essence and ability, the angels as creatures of God are finite and limited.  They possess intellect and will [they know things (Ephesians 3:10); and they gladly minister (Psalm 103:21)] and have power to react to material things (cf. Genesis 19:16; Matthew 4:5).  Their moral perfection is transcendent, so that as holy beings (Matthew 25:31), they always serve God in complete devotion (Psalm 103:20-21).  Their knowledge is great but finite (Matthew 24:36; Mark 13:32); for they learn from the Gospel revelation (Ephesians 3:10; I Peter 1:12).  They cannot know what God has not given them to know (Matthew 24:36).  Only God has foreknowledge and omniscience (I Kings 8:39; John 2:25; John 21:17; Acts 1:24; cf. Job 26:6; 31:4; 34:21; Psalm 147:5; I John 3:20).  Angels are very powerful yet not all-powerful (Psalm 103:20; II Thessalonians 1:7; Matthew 12:29); their power far transcends human strength (II Kings 19:35; Psalm 91:11-13; cf. Ephesians 6:10-17).  Only God is almighty, omnipotent (Job 42:2; Psalm 115:3; 135:6; Isaiah 43:13; Matthew 19:26; Luke 1:37; Revelation 19:6).  Only God can do miracles in and of Himself (Psalm 72:18; contrast the miracles claimed by the Roman Antichrist in II Thessalonians 2:9, “lying wonders”).  Angels possess limited immutability (stability) since they do not propagate their kind (Matthew 22:30; Luke 20:35-36), neither do they die (Luke 20:36), and therefore do not increase or decrease in number.  Angels are invisible as spirits (Hebrews 1:7; 14; Colossians 1:16).  Angels are illocal – in a place without occupying the place, for spirits are independent of spatial dimension, uncircumscribed by space (Matthew 24:31; Psalm 104:4; Daniel 9:21; Luke 2:13ff).  Moreover, their nature as spirits makes them extremely agile, able to transverse space quickly, not being bound by gravity, friction and all the forces impeding material bodies (cf. Psalm 91:11-12).  When we view the powers and abilities of the good angels, we see how God has equipped them to perform their duties flawlessly and for our benefit (cf. Hebrews 1:14; Psalm 91:11-12; et al.).

What are the duties of the good angels?

 The good angels praise God (Isaiah 6:3; Luke 2:13), carry out His commands (Psalm 103:20-21), and serve as God’s ministers in the world and the church (Psalm 104:4, Hebrews 1:14).  God sends angels to serve His believing “little ones” (Matthew 18:6, 10), the believers in their work and calling (Psalm 91:11-12), and the dying (Luke 16:22).  The good angels are interested in all that occurs in the church.  Not only do they admire and praise the mystery of the redemption of mankind by Christ (Luke 2:13-14; I Peter 1:12; Ephesians 3:10), but they rejoice over every convert: “There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth” (Luke 15:10).  Scripture notes the presence and ministrations of the angels at all chief historical events in the church such as the giving of the Decalog (Galatians 3:19), and the conception (Luke 1:26ff.), the birth (Luke 2:9ff.), the resurrection (Matthew 28:2ff.; Mark 16:5ff.; Luke 24:4ff.; John 20:12ff.), the ascension (Acts 1:10ff.), and the return of Christ for judgment (Matthew 13:41ff.; 24:31; 25:31; etc.).  In short, the good angels are sent by God to serve His elect, His true believers in Christ.  This is stated in Hebrews 1:14, “Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?”  The Bible does not teach that each believer has one specific angel assigned as his or her “guardian angel” (as the Romanists claim); but it does teach that, at God’s command, the angels guard and protect His believers (Psalm 91:11-12) and especially the little ones among them (Matthew 18:10).  The good angels are our heavenly brothers in God’s spiritual family (Revelation 19:10).  Among their other specified duties, the good angels will on Judgment Day gather the elect for heaven and the unbelievers for hell (Matthew 13:40-42, 49-50; Matthew 25:31; I Thessalonians 4:16; Matthew 24:31).

Are we allowed to adore, worship or pray to angels?

 No, we are to worship God alone (Matthew 4:10; Revelation 19:10; 22:8-9; Colossians 2:18).   We should rejoice and take comfort in their service on our behalf.  We should pray to God for His promised protection which He accords us not only directly (Psalm 34:7; 91:10) but also by way of His angels (11-12).  But we should never pray to angels, for prayer is an act of worship due to God alone (Matthew 4:10).

Must we not fear that some of the good angels will sin and fall away to follow Satan while they are supposed to be guarding us?

 No. Since the rebellion of Satan and his evil legions, God assures us through His psalmist that His angels…do His commandments, hearkening unto the voice of His Word.” They are “ministers [i.e. servants] of His, that do His pleasure” (Psalm 103:20-21).  Those are the angels that He charges with our keeping and protection (Psalm 91:11), and who, He promises, will fulfill their mission (v. 12).  They are His “ministering spirits, sent forth [by Him] to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation” (Hebrews 1:14), for the believers who are joint-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17) of the inheritance of heaven (I Peter 1:4).  If even “an angel from heaven” were to preach to us a false Gospel (Galatians 1:8-9), he would be cursed by God and, as an evil plague, would not be permitted to “come nigh [our] dwelling” (Psalm 91:10).  “Therefore will not we fear” (Psalm 46:2), for “the gates of hell shall not prevail against [His Church]” (Matthew 16:18).

The evil angels (demons) led by the devil (Satan, Beelzebub) have no hope of redemption and will spend eternity in the place prepared for them (Hebrews 2:16; Matthew 8:29; 25:41; II Peter 2:4).  We do not pray for them, for they have no hope at all of escaping their just eternal punishment (Jude 6).

What are the works and desires of Satan and his demons?

 In the Old Testament, the prince of the evil angels is called Satan, which is Hebrew for “adversary” or “enemy.”  He first appeared in the Garden of Eden when, by using the serpent as his cunning tool, he tempted Eve to disobey God’s simple prohibition (Genesis 3).  But he is mentioned throughout the Old Testament (I Chronicles 21:1; Job 1:6-12; 2:1-7; Psalm 109:6; Zechariah 3:1-2).  In the New Testament, he is also called Satan (Matthew 4:10; 12:26; Mark 1:13; 3:23; 4:15; Luke 10:18; 22:3, 31; Acts 5:3, et al.), as well as the Devil, “false accuser,” “liar” in Greek (cf. Matthew 4:1; 13:39; 25:41; Luke 8:12; John 8:44, et al.).  Another New Testament name for Satan is Beelzebub (“lord of dung,” also “lord of flies” …which feed on dung), the prince of devils” (Matthew 12:24, 27; 9:34; 10:25).  In addition he is called “the god of this world” (II Corinthians 4:4); “the prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2); “the adversary” (I Peter 5:8); “that wicked one” (I John 5:18); “the prince of this world” (John 14:30); “the tempter” (Matthew 4:3); “the accuser” (Revelation 12:10); “the angel of the bottomless pit” (Revelation 9:11); “Abaddon” (in Hebrew) and “Apollyon” (in Greek), i.e., “Destroyer” (Revelation 9:11); “Belial” (in Hebrew), i.e., “the wicked one” (II Corinthians 6:15); “the dragon, that old serpent” (Revelation 20:2); to name just a few!

Now the evil angels, led by Satan, constantly work against God and all true believers.  All endeavors of the wicked angels are aimed at harming man in his body (Job 2:4, 5, 7ff.; Mark 5:5), in his temporal possessions (Job 1:11ff.), and particularly in his soul (I Peter 5:8; Acts 5:3-5).  The entire state of unbelief, among heathen nations as well as in external Christendom, is a work of the devil (Ephesians 2:1-3; John 8:44).  All who do not believe the Gospel are thinking and doing what the devil wills; they are completely in his power (Acts 26:18; Colossians 1:13; Ephesians 2:2).  This spiritual possession by the devil does not relieve man of personal responsibility (John 8:44-45), nor does it destroy man’s perverse will according to the flesh, since the unbeliever of his own will rejects the Gospel and gladly does what is evil (Hosea 13:9; cf. Matthew 22:1-10; Luke 14:16-24).

God also suffers (allows) the devil or his demons to take possession of a man by personally dwelling in his body.  If this be the case with an unbeliever, it should not surprise us because the entire person, body and soul, is the devil’s own (John 8:44; Ephesians 2:2-3).  When, however, a believer’s body is temporarily inhabited by Satan, the person is rendered helpless to exercise his God-enlightened reason and will and becomes for a time the involuntary instrument of Satan, even uttering blasphemies and behaving himself in a thoroughly ungodly manner.  The Christian should be reminded, both before and after the fact, that the devil had no real power over his soul and that he was in no jeopardy of damnation, neither is he responsible for his behavior while possessed.  Passages of comfort to such a person include John 14:27; Matthew 16:18b; Matthew 11:28-29; Galatians 3:26; Isaiah 43:1-3a; Psalm 91:10.
Jesus Christ, God’s Son manifest in the flesh (Colossians 2:9; I Timothy 3:16), defeated the devil in life (Matthew 4:11; Luke 4:13) and in death (Hebrews 2:14; I John 3:8), and will cast him into “everlasting fire” on the Last Day (Matthew 25:41b; Revelation 20:10).  As Christians we must “resist the devil” (James 4:7) “steadfast in the faith” (I Peter 5:9) which is founded on God’s Word (Ephesians 2:20; 6:11 ff.) and we exercise in fervent prayer (Matthew 26:41), confident that he can no longer successfully accuse us (Romans 8:1, 31-32, 37) and that, by faith in Christ, we can now overcome his temptations (Romans 8:35;  16:20; Revelation 12:10-11).

Are there different ranks and/or orders of angels?

There are orders, classes and/or ranks among both the good and the evil angels.  Although Scripture does not give us the precise order or number of such ranks, nor the exact differences between them, we do read concerning the good angels of “Cherubim” (Genesis 3:24, Psalm 80:1), “Seraphim” (Isaiah 6:2), “thrones, dominions, principalities, powers” (Colossians 1:16) and “Michael, the archangel” (Jude 9; Daniel 10:13, 21; 12:1; Revelation 12:7).  Among the evil angels we read of “the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41), “Beelzebub, the chief of the devils” (Luke 11:15); “Satan…[and] his kingdom” (Luke 11:18); and of “principalities, powers, … rulers of the darkness of this world” (Ephesians 6:12), “the god of this world” (II Corinthians 4:4); and “the prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2, cf. John 12:31; 14:30).

In studying angels we must beware of going beyond what the Bible expressly says (Jeremiah 23:28; John 8:31-32; I Peter 4:11; et al.).  Some who go beyond and contrary to Scripture in regard to angels claim, for example, that angels are spirits of departed men (Churches of the New Jerusalem, Spiritists), that good angels are more perfectly developed men (Mormons), or that they have gender and therefore interact with one another sexually (Mormons, Shakers).  Others teach, contrary to Scripture, that angels are the thoughts of God communicated to man (Christian Science).  Still others deny altogether the existence of angels and of a personal devil (Unitarians and “modernists” in both Protestant and Catholic churches).  On the other hand, we assert what Scripture says and only what Scripture says (II Corinthians 13:8; I Peter 4:11; II Timothy 3:16).

How many angels are there?

How many angels are there? At times, accommodating Himself to our limited capacity to understand all mysteries, the Lord speaks in terms of concrete numbers when referring to His heavenly hosts.  For example, in Daniel’s prophecy we read: “Thousand thousands ministered unto Him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him” (Daniel 7:10).  Sometimes the Lord refers simply to “multitudes” of angels (Luke 2:13) and in Hebrews 12:22 to “an innumerable company of angels.”

How do angels differ from human beings?

Angels are sexless, neither male nor female, as mentioned earlier.  The Lord Jesus says, “They neither marry nor are given in marriage” (Matthew 22:30).  Angels do not propagate, nor can they.  They are of a fixed number.  They neither increase in number, nor do they decrease because they are immortal and  cannot die.  Thus the risen and glorified believers are described in this manner: “Neither can they die any more, for they are equal with the angels” (Luke 20:36).

Note well in the previous passage that “equal with” does not mean “the same as” in essence, but that the glorified saints are immortal.  Humans do not become angels when they die, as some suggest.  Angels are a different creative order of life entirely.  Sentiment notwithstanding, Christians should not succumb to such myths.  For example, the angel pins worn by grieving relatives and others in behalf of murder victims are misleading.  Humans do not “get their wings,” as it were, when they die, as in the classic movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life.”  Speaking of wings, we do not know if all angels are to be regarded as having wings, for the references to winged angels are limited and are very specific: The angelic attendants in Isaiah’s vision (6:2) are seraphim with six wings each, and the other references to winged angels speak of cherubim (Exodus 25:20; 37:9; Ezekiel 10:5ff.; et al.), which are special orders among the angels. [Note:  The suffix “-im” designates the plural number in Hebrew and should not be supplemented with an “s” in English: seraph — seraphim; cherub — cherubim.]

How do angels differ from God?

God is unlimited, infinite, eternal, self-existent, the Creator, while angels are limited, finite, immortal creatures who are dependent upon Him.

What is an “angelophany”?

This term refers to a visible manifestation or appearance of an angel.  Many are recorded in Holy Writ (Genesis 32:1; Matthew 28:2; Luke 1:11; Acts 12:7; et al.).  However, the Bible never promises that the presence of God’s angels among men will be discernable as visible manifestations; and yet, it also reveals that, although angels have at times appeared in human form, some men have failed to identify them as such (Hebrews 13:2).

Do angels have names?

Only two angels are named in Holy Writ (besides “Satan”): “Michael, the archangel” (Jude 9; Daniel 10:13, 21; Daniel 12:1; Revelation 12:7) and “Gabriel” (Daniel 8:16; 9:21; Luke 1:19, 26).

What does the Bible teach us about Satan’s method of operation?
We are not to be ignorant of Satan’s devices (II Corinthians 2:11) as he uses false teaching and other temptations to seduce us away from Christ and His Word (II Corinthians 11:3; Matthew 13:19; Revelation 12:9; Matthew 4:3).  Specifically, Satan, as he did in the Garden of Eden (Geneses 3:1-5), entices men to question God’s Word (v. 1), directly opposes and contradicts God’s Word (v. 4), and attributes to God an evil and selfish motive in expressing prohibitions and making requirements; he makes sin appear pleasurable and hides from men the consequences of sin (v. 5).  In all of these tactics, the devils exposes himself as the liar he is (John 8:44), not interested in the truth or in man’s salvation, but in his ultimate destruction (I Peter 5:8).

Though devils all the world should fill, all eager to devour us,
we tremble not; we fear no ill; they shall not overpower us!
This world’s prince may still scowl fierce as he will.
He can harm us none! He’s judged; the deed is done!
One little Word can fell him!

(Luther: A Mighty Fortress Is Our God, v. 3)

“Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, He also Himself likewise took part of the same, that through death, He might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.”  — Hebrews 2:14-15

“For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil.” — I John 3:8

E. J. W.