angel on my shoulder

What are angels, anyway? Hollywood would have us believe they are like really hot chicks or muscle-bound superheroes. What do they do? Where do they hang out when they are not granting wishes or showing Jimmy Stewart how wonderful his life is? Are they ghosts? Are demons just evil angels?

Most of us have at least heard of angels. It starts when we are children, learning that we supposedly have a “guardian angel” whose job it is to look after us. Where do parents get such ideas? Is the notion of a “guardian angel” Biblical?

We had been studying the doctrine of God, and it makes sense to study angels next because angels are primarily the ministers of God’s providence. The best place to begin a study of angels is with the Bible, of course. The Scriptures have a lot say about angels, so it’s surprising that so many Christians are so clueless about the topic.

1. Their origin

The very first thing we need to understand is that like man, angels are created beings. They are not eternal in the sense of having existed from all eternity. God created them at some point in the past.

You alone are the Lord. You made the heavens, even the highest heavens, and all their starry host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to everything, and the multitudes of heaven worship you. (Nehemiah 9:6)

While the Bible is silent as when they were created, many Bible scholars believe it happened in connection with the creation of the heavens in Genesis 1. Sometime between then and the creation of the world, angels were created by God. This is suggested by Job 38:

“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone—while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?” (Job 38:4-7)

Others believe that angels are more ancient even than that. The Bible doesn’t tell us definitively when their creation occurred, but all scholars believe that angels have been in existence for a long, long time. Perhaps there is a period of time between the creation of the heavens and of the earth, during which time angles were created, Satan rebelled and fell, leaving two groups of angels in existence when man was created.

Because angles are created beings, they refuse worship:

Then the angel said to me, “Write: `Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!’ ” And he added, “These are the true words of God.” At this I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, “Don’t do that! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers and sisters who hold to Jesus’ testimony. Worship God! For the testimony of Jesus is the Spirit of prophecy.” (Revelation 19:9-10)

And man is forbidden to worship angels:

Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you. Such people also go into great detail about what they have seen, and their unspiritual minds puff them up with idle notions. (Colossians 2:18)

2. Their nature

Angles were created by God and they exist. But what are they like?

They are spirits

Angels are not like super human beings. In fact, in Matthew 22:30 tells us that one day we will be like them, suggesting they are nothing like we are, at the moment.

At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they (man) will be like the angels in heaven.

While angels may seem like glorified human beings, they are really spirits and they have none of the limitations of man. They are able to appear and disappear at will, travel unhindered with unimaginable speed all over the world, and they appear to be able to assume human form so as to interact with man.

The two angels arrived at Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gateway of the city. When he saw them, he got up to meet them and bowed down with his face to the ground. (Genesis 19:1-3, verse 1 cited)

Being created beings yet completely spirit in nature, the are not subject to death as man is.

They are many

How many angels did God create? They are beyond our ability to count, according to these Scriptures:

A river of fire was flowing, coming out from before him. Thousands upon thousands attended him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him. The court was seated, and the books were opened. (Daniel 7:10)

Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? (Matthew 26:53)

They are not omniscient

While angels may have more knowledge than man, they are not omniscient.

Your servant Joab did this to change the present situation. My lord has wisdom like that of an angel of God—he knows everything that happens in the land. ” (2 Samuel 14:20)

“But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Matthew 24:36)

They are not omnipotent

Angels possess great strength, but they are not omnipotent.

…yet even angels, although they are stronger and more powerful, do not heap abuse on such beings when bringing judgment on them from the Lord. (2 Peter 2:11)

This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. (2 Thessalonians 1:7)

Praise the Lord, you his angels, you mighty ones who do his bidding, who obey his word. (Psalm 103:20)

3. Special classification of angels

We serve a God of order, so it is not surprising that angels are classified according to rank and activity.

The Angel of the Lord

The Angel of the Lord is unique among all angels. He has attributes are not seen in any other angels. For example, the Angel of the Lord is able to pardon sins or not, and the Name of the Lord is in His Name.

“See, I am sending an angel ahead of you to guard you along the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared. Pay attention to him and listen to what he says. Do not rebel against him; he will not forgive your rebellion, since my Name is in him.” (Exodus 23:20, 21)

Of this angel, two very important things are said of Him. First, God’s Name, that is, God’s character, is in Him. Second, He is the face of God, that is, God may be seen in Him. Theologians and Bible scholars without exception believe the Angel of the Lord to be the Second Person of the Trinity, the eternal Son of God. The Angel of the Lord, therefore, is an uncreated being.

The angels of the nations

Two verses in the book of Daniel suggest that every nation or every people group on earth has its own “guardian angel,” who is concerned with the well being of those in his charge.

But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia. (Daniel 10:13)

So he said, “Do you know why I have come to you? Soon I will return to fight against the prince of Persia, and when I go, the prince of Greece will come… (Daniel 10:20)

The Cherubim

This is a high rank of angels that is involved with God’s retributive and redemptive purposes for man.

After he drove them out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life. (Genesis 3:24)

There, above the cover between the two cherubim that are over the ark of the covenant law, I will meet with you and give you all my commands for the Israelites. (Exodus 25:22)

The Seraphim

The only mention of the Seraphim is in Isaiah 6 and we know next to nothing about them, except that they are another high rank of angels. Given the meaning of their name, “burning ones,” many scholars believe their distinguishing characteristic is an intense, burning love for God.

The Archangel

An archangel is a chief angel. Michael is mentioned specifically as being an archangel, and most Bible scholars believe Gabriel to be one. An archangel appears to be a guardian of Israel who stands in God’s presence, often bearing messages of great importance to God’s people.

The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news.” (Luke 1:19)

And I heard a man’s voice from the Ulai calling, “Gabriel, tell this man the meaning of the vision.” (Daniel 8:16)

4. Their work and character

Looking at what angels do in Scripture can shed some light on their character.

They are God’s agents

Angels do what God tells them to do; they are seen fulfilling God’s decrees, especially those concerning man.

Immediately, because Herod did not give praise to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died. (Acts 12:23)

And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens. (Mark 13:27)

They are God’s messengers

Time and again in the Bible, we see angels bearing news from God to people on earth. In fact, the word “angel” means literally “messenger.” Angels carry messages of warning, special announcements, instruction, and encouragement.

But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 1:20)

One day at about three in the afternoon he had a vision. He distinctly saw an angel of God, who came to him and said, “Cornelius!” (Acts 10:3)

Last night an angel of the God whose I am and whom I serve stood beside me and said, `Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar; and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.’ (Acts 27:23, 24)

They are God’s servants

Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation? (Hebrews 1:14)

In looking at what God sends angels to do, we see that angels are sent to man to sustain him, preserve him, to deliver him, to intercede, and to minister to the righteous after they die.

The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. (Luke 16:22)

They are completely obedient to God

With the exception of Lucifer and those who rebelled with him, angels are dedicated and committed to fulfilling God’s commission for them.

They are reverent

Of all the activities angels are seen involved in, their highest activity is the worship of God.

You alone are the Lord. You made the heavens, even the highest heavens, and all their starry host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to everything, and the multitudes of heaven worship you. (Nehemiah 9:6)

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11)

They are wise

Angels are much wiser than man, but certainly not all-knowing. Angels cannot discern our thoughts, for example, and they seem to be unable to grasp the mysteries of God’s grace.

It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things. (1 Peter 1:12)

They are meek

…yet even angels, although they are stronger and more powerful, do not heap abuse on such beings when bringing judgment on them from the Lord. (2 Peter 2:11)

But even the archangel Michael, when he was disputing with the devil about the body of Moses, did not himself dare to condemn him for slander but said, “The Lord rebuke you!” (Jude, v 9)

They are mighty

Praise the Lord, you his angels, you mighty ones who do his bidding, who obey his word. (Psalm 103:20)

They are holy

Angels are set apart by God to do His will.

...they, too, will drink of the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. They will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. (Revelation 14:10)

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