What is an angel? Is an angel a pretty, blonde, long haired maiden with wings? Is an angel a cute little cherubic baby we see on Christmas cards and pictures? Is an angel what we become when we get to heaven? These are what the world thinks angels are. We see many depictions of angels throughout the year but few really know what these are all about. Let us discuss what an angel really is.
There have been many depictions of angels throughout history. In Hollywood angels have been depicted as men who come back to earth after death as angels to help someone. We’ve seen men who die and haven’t quite done enough good to get into heaven who are sent back to earth to do a good deed so they can receive their wings. Ever notice how these “angels” are extremely worldly? On the old TV series “Father Dowling,” a man comes back as an angel to help Father Dowling. This “angel” goes to bars, gambles, and chases women while back on earth. In the movie It’s a Wonderful Life, “Charlie” comes back to earth as an angel to help Jimmy Stewart. Michael Landon plays a man who returns to earth as an angel to help people in Stairway to Heaven. Let us not forget the series “Touched by an Angel” where Jesus Christ is not mentioned one time by any of the angels in the cast. Even cartoons get in on the act. Cartoon characters routinely get killed and you see them ascending as angels to heaven. None of these things could be further from the truth.
Angels really exist. They are not what the world believes they are. What, then, is an angel? The word itself comes from the Greek word, αγγελος, angelos which means messenger, deputy, ambassador, or dispatched one. In the Greek, a pastor could be called an angel because he is a messenger of God’s word as we see in Revelation 1:20. The writer of Hebrews says they are ministering spirits (Heb 1:13-14). Angels are created beings (Col 1:16). They were created by God as angels therefore people do not become angels (Psa 8:4,5; Heb 2:6,7). Angels were created before men. They existed during creation (Job 38:4,7). They are spirits (Heb 1:14). Angels often reveal themselves to men in the form of a man. They do not marry (Mat 22:30). They do not die (Luk 20:36). They are individuals, not the personification of good or evil. They are not a race, they are a company, all created, not descended from anyone. They are very powerful, but not omnipotent, omniscient or omnipresent (Dan 10:12-13). They are very knowledgeable but not omniscient (Dan 9:21-22). There is a vast multitude of them. John speaks of “ten thousand times ten thousand” of them. Angels were created holy but some fell from grace through a willful act and are now evil angels (powers, principalities in the air, demons).
The bible speaks of different ranks of angels. In fact there are six distinct types of angels. Some say there are seven. They are: archangels, angels, cherubim, seraphim, living creatures, and the heavenly hosts. Let’s look at each one of these individually.
The Bible only tells us that Michael was an archangel (Jude 1:9). I propose (this is my opinion only) that Gabriel is also an archangel. Revelation 8:2 mentions seven angels that stand before God. The Book of Enoch, which is not Scripture, but represents the beliefs of the general populace when it was written in the second century BC, mentions seven archangels; they are Gabriel, Michael, Raphael, Uriel, Raguel, Remiel and Saraqael.
Some may say that Lucifer was an archangel. For more information on Lucifer see the study entitled Lucifer. God called Lucifer the covering guardian cherub (Eze28:14). He was the most beautiful angel. He had an ephod with nine stones on it and he walked among the fiery stones, or the throne room of heaven. He became proud, and decided that he would usurp God. He was a very powerful angel, and as the anointed or covering cherub, he was apparently the leader of all angels, but he thought he could take the throne from God. He was powerful, but not more powerful than his creator. He corrupted his wisdom. He actually believed, and still does, that he can defeat God. God cast him out of heaven. Fully one third of all the angels followed Lucifer1. They have been cast out of heaven. Some roam about the earth (2 Cor 11:14; Eph 6:12; Rev 16:14), some are in chains in hell (2 Pet 2:4). These fallen angels do Satan’s bidding. They are his messengers and deputies.
In Daniel, chapter 10, an angel we assume to be Gabriel came to him to tell him of future kingdoms. That angel told Daniel he had been held up for three weeks by the prince (demon) of Persia. Only when Michael came to help him was he able to get to Daniel and tell the prophecy of the kingdoms. Michael is the most powerful angel. He is the angel who fights Satan in Revelation chapter twelve. Michael fought the devil over the body of Moses (Jude 1:9). Michael is the warrior of God. He will lead the fight. In Daniel 12:1, the name Michael is figuratively used of Christ. Christ will return with the armies of heaven to fight the forces gathered against God’s people. The name Michael is used because Michael is the captain of the angels and is a warrior. Michael means “Who is like God?” He is identified as and archangel in Jude 1:9.
Gabriel means “man of God.” Gabriel is the main messenger of God. He is seen in scripture carrying great and momentous messages. He came to Daniel to give him the prophecy of the seventy weeks. He came to Mary and told her that she would conceive and bear the Messiah. He came to Zechariah to tell him he would have a son in his old age and that son would be name John and he would go before the Lord. Although not mentioned by name, I believe Gabriel came many other times with good news. Popular tradition has it that Gabriel blows a trumpet though the Scriptures do not mention such a thing. The bible speaks of seven trumpets. It speaks of a trumpet blown just before the church is raptured. I suppose it is possible that Gabriel will blow that trumpet, but that is never documented in the Bible (1 Thes 4:16).
Next are the cherubim. The word, cherub, כּרוּב, comes from the Akkadian cognate (or shared) verb, karibu, which means, “to pray, to consecrate, bless, praise, or adore.” Those are characteristics of cherubim, which is the plural of cherub. When Adam and Eve were expelled from Eden, God placed cherubim and a flaming sword to guard the way to the tree of life. God rides the cherubim in Psalm 18:10.
Ezekiel had a vision of the Cherubim in Chapters One and Ten. He describes them as four living creatures. In chapter ten Ezekiel says that these creatures he saw in chapter one were cherubim (Eze 10:15). In Ezekiel the terms cherubim and living creatures is interchangeable. Ezekiel was given a vision of God on His throne surrounded by the cherubim (Eze Chapters 1 and 10). The cherubim each had four faces, the face of a cherub, a man, a lion, and an eagle (Eze 10:14). In Ezekiel 1, one of their faces was that of an ox (Eze 1:10). They each had the likeness of a man and they had feet like calves that shone of burnished bronze, the hands of a man, four wings, and they shone like burning coals. The Cherubim are the carriers of God or His chariot. Their service is directly to God. They do not carry messages.
Isaiah had a vision of the Lord seated on his throne (Isa 6:1). Above Him were seraphim. The seraphim had three pairs of wings, one covering their faces, one covering their feet and they were flying with one pair (Isa 6:2). They were singing “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty.” The name seraph (plural seraphim) means burning one. They are seen worshiping God.
The living creatures of Revelation combine parts of cherubim and seraphim together. There are four living creatures and each has one of the faces of the cherubim. Each creature had six wings like the seraphim. Like the cherubim, these creatures were covered with eyes all over their bodies. The four living creatures were constantly worshipping God, day and night.
The Heavenly Hosts include all of the heavenly beings. Some say that this is another division of angels. I believe the Heavenly Hosts to be all of the different types of angels combined. I believe the saints of God, though not angels, will become a part of the Heavenly Hosts.
Angels not only bring the message of God, they also bring God’s judgments upon the earth. Consider the angels of Revelation. They will bring disease, death, famine, depression, destruction, fire, and brimstone on the earth. Angels can be both good to man and bad to man. They are the ambassadors of God and do His bidding.
We know that there are evil angels, those that follow Satan, but I am going to concentrate on God’s angels.
We have angels protecting us. Jesus said that his little ones have angels in heaven who always see the face of the Father (Mat 18:10). The term “little ones” refers to the children of God—people who believe in Christ (Mat 18:6); in other words, Christians. We can be sure that we have an angel or angels who are assigned to each of us individually. One of the many duties of angels is protection. Angels protect God’s children from harm. I don’t say they will protect us if we put God to the test, but they keep us from harm that God does not allow to happen to us. I can remember vividly how I was protected from death or serious injury. I can only say that an angel protected me. I was driving from Alachua, Florida, to Jacksonville at around 4:30 AM. It was raining hard and I was driving on a slippery country back road. I was driving too fast for conditions, and I had my cruise control set. As I rounded a curve which was muddy, my wheel slipped off the pavement into a rut. I didn’t want to hit the brakes to shut off the cruise control for fear that I would spin. A mail box was coming my way fast. I over steered the truck back onto the pavement. All I could see in front of me at 55 MPH was a forest. The rear wheels had ceased to grip the road and I was beginning a 55 MPH spin. I had lost complete control of the truck and I figured this was it. I did not expect to survive. Suddenly, without any input from me, the truck straightened itself back on the road as if nothing had happened. Some would tell you my wheels finally regained their grip on the road. The truck was too far into the spin so that was not possible. I believe, through my own foolishness, I was about to die. It was not God’s time for me to go, so he told the angel to protect me. You’ll never convince me that an angel didn’t take control of that vehicle to help me.
When Jesus was arrested at Gesthemane, he told them to put their swords back. He told them if he didn’t want to go He could call down twelve legions of angels (Mat 26:53). A legion is six thousand, so He was talking about 72,000 angels. Why twelve? Because there were eleven disciples (Judas was gone) and Jesus. That is one legion for Him and each disciple. Is it too much of an inference that we, as Christians, could call upon the Lord to send angels to help us? No. We can certainly call upon God for help (Psa 46:1). When you are alone, and in the dark, and you get frightened, just remember, there are angels all around. When you get in a ticklish situation, don’t worry, there are angels with you. Just call on God for strength to get you through any situation.
If angels rescued Meshach, Shadrach, and Abednego from the fiery furnace, they should be able to rescue us from these situations. When judgment comes, and it will, angels will walk God’s people through the fire. If God’s angels shut the mouths of lions when Daniel was in the lions’ den, they will stop our enemies from devouring us. Sometimes people are called upon to undergo horrific treatment, such as torture, burning at the stake, or beheading. God will strengthen us to get through such things (Luk 12:11-12; Act 7:59-60).
When we die, angels will carry us to paradise (Luk 16:22). Remember the story of Lazarus and the rich man? They both died, and angels carried Lazarus to Abraham’s side, while the rich man went to hell.
Angels are curious about us and watch us (1 Pet 1:12). We are a spectacle to them. They see God, and they see man, and they wonder why God bothers with us.
The bible says that we may sometimes entertain angels without knowing it. Abraham, Lot, Manoah, and Gideon did so. Every time a stranger comes to us to offer help or to ask for help, that stranger might be an angel. Jesus says that every time we care for “one of these little ones” we do it to Him. Be careful how you treat strangers.
As God’s people, we have angels watching over us. They give us success, they rescue us, they comfort us, they deliver us, they guard over and protect us, they attend to us, strengthen us, and, when the time comes for judgment, the angels will harvest the righteous, and will treat the unrighteous like weeds to be burned. Don’t miss this harvest.
- The Bible does not specifically state, “a third of the angels fell from heaven.” We can, however find the concept in the Bible in several verses. Sometime in the remote past, Lucifer, or Satan rebelled and was cast out of heaven. “How you have fallen from heaven, O morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations!” (Isaiah 14:12). Jesus said, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Luke 10:18), and Revelation seems to show Satan as “a star that had fallen from the sky to the earth” (Revelation 9:1).
Revelation makes this statement: “And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great, fiery red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads. His tail drew a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth” (Rev 12:3-4). A few verses later we see in the same context, “So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him” (Rev 12:9).
Job 38:7 shows the morning stars and the sons of God linked together as the same group. It is implied by this verse that these are angels. Compare this with Job 1:6 and 2:1. Since Satan seems to be referred to as a star which fell or was cast down to earth in Rev 9:1 and, angels are called stars in Job, when Revelation 12:4 says a third of the stars were cast down to earth with him, the conclusion is that the stars in Rev12:4 refer to fallen angels. ↩