Angels | A Study on God's Messengers

Etymology

The word “angel” comes from the Greek angelos. In Old Testament Hebrew, the word for angel is mal’ach. Both words mean “messenger”. Similarly, the word evangelism refers to the spreading of the evangel or “good message / news”.

Creation and Nature

Angels were created by God:

“Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his heavenly hosts. […] Let them praise the name of the Lord for at his command they were created.” Psalm 148
“For in [Jesus] all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rules or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.” Colossians 1:16

Angels were created before the Earth. In the Book of Job, God asks Job (in an epic speech in chs. 38-41 which you should def read if you feel like questioning God):

“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? […] when the morning stars sang in chorus, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” Job 38:4,7

Here is a great summary on the nature of angels from Bible.org:

Though at times they have revealed themselves in the form of human bodies (angelophanies) as in Genesis 18:3 [and at Jesus’ resurrection], they are described as “spirits” in Hebrews 1:14. This suggests they do not have material bodies as humans do. This is further supported by the fact they do not function as human beings in terms of marriage and procreation (Mark 12:25) nor are they subject to death (Luke 20:36).
Mankind, including our incarnate Lord, is “lower than the angels” (Heb. 2:7). Angels are not subject to the limitations of man, especially since they are incapable of death (Luke 20:36). Angels have greater wisdom than man (2 Sam. 14:20), yet it is limited (Matt. 24:36). Angels have greater power than man (Matt. 28:2; Acts 5:19; 2 Pet. 2:11), yet they are limited in power (Dan. 10:13).

The Fall of Satan and Demons

Satan was already there at the Garden in Genesis 3, without any mention before that. So whence demons? Interestingly, in a declaration to an evil king of Tyre in Ezekiel 28:11-19, perhaps controlled by Satan the “prince of this world”, this is said:

“You were the signet of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone was your covering, sardius, topaz, and diamond, beryl, onyx, and jasper, sapphire, emerald, and carbuncle; and crafted in gold were your settings and your engravings.
On the day that you were created they were prepared. You were an anointed guardian cherub. I placed you; you were on the holy mountain of God; in the midst of the stones of fire you walked. You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created, till unrighteousness was found in you.
In the abundance of your trade you were filled with violence in your midst, and you sinned; so I cast you as a profane thing from the mountain of God, and I destroyed you, O guardian cherub, from the midst of the stones of fire. Your heart was proud because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor.
I cast you to the ground; I exposed you before kings, to feast their eyes on you. By the multitude of your iniquities, in the unrighteousness of your trade you profaned your sanctuaries; so I brought fire out from your midst; it consumed you, and I turned you to ashes on the earth in the sight of all who saw you. All who know you among the peoples are appalled at you; you have come to a dreadful end and shall be no more forever.”

The descriptions here seems to refer to a power that is much greater and perhaps behind the evil king of Tyre (see here)

There are other passages that refer to the fall of Satan:

“And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.” Revelation 12:9
“God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment.” 2 Peter 2:4

Angels in the Old Testament

First occurrence of an angel is in Genesis 3:24

“He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.”

Elsewhere in the OT, the word “angel(s)” is found 115 times in the ESV. Angels appear to have various tasks: messengers, warriors, worshipers of God, and guardians of the people of God. 

"The Angel of the Lord" Theophanies / Christophanies

When you read the OT you will encounter a mysterious figure described as “The Angel of the Lord”. While called an “angel”, this being would then speak as God himself and those he encounters claim to have encountered God himself.

Just a few examples:

  • Genesis 16:7-14 – Here the Angel says to Hagar “I will increase your descendants” and after the meeting Hagar says “I have now seen the One who sees me”
  • Genesis 22:11-18 – The Angel says “Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son” and he later says “I swear by myself, declares the Lord… I will surely bless you”
  • Genesis 32:22-31 – Jacob wrestles with a man and then later says “I saw God face to face and yet my life was spared”.
  • In Exodus 3, the Angel of the Lord appears to Moses but later in the narrative the Angel says “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.”
  • Judges 13:3-22 – The Angel of the Lord appears to Manoah and says to them “if you prepare a burnt offering, offer it to the Lord” and later ascended in flame. Manoah then said “We are doomed to die… We have seen God!”

Many theologians equate the Angel of the Lord to God, and even to Christ himself as a pre-incarnate appearing for at least these reasons:

  • Christ is said to be the “image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15). 
  • John 1:18 says “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known”. Note distinction between God the Father and God “who is at the Father’s side”.
  • The phrase “The Angel of the Lord” never appears in the New Testament anymore.

Angels in the New Testament

In the New Testament, the word “angel(s)” is found 185 times in the ESV. Angels are described as having the same responsibilities in the OT as messengers, worshipers of God, and guardians of the people of God, but interestingly not explicitly mentioned as warriors in the present church until the end times. 

References to angels in the NT are mainly found in the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ birth (as messengers) and in the ministry of Jesus and the apostles as helpers. Demons also appear as adversaries of Jesus and the apostles. In the epistles, Paul says that the gods pagans worship are actually demons (1 Cor. 10:20). Angels are mentioned having dominions over certain churches in the Book of Revelation. 

Angels' Roles and Responsibilites

As earlier stated, in the Biblical accounts we find that angels primarily act as messengers, warriors of God, worshipers of God, and guardians of the people of God. 

Oftentimes Biblical names often give us clues to a being's nature and character. We can do the same for angels and demons. Two angels are explicitly named in Scripture: Micha-El “Who is like God?” who is described as an archangel (“chief angel”), and Gabri-El “Man of God”. From Gabriel we find perhaps the best (and most epic) job description for angels: “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news.” (Luke 1:19) At least two demons are explicitly named: Satan “Adversary/Accuser” and Abaddon “The Destroyer”.  

There are other words and descriptions that refer to specific types of angels. 

Illustration of seraphim from the Middle Ages. 

Illustration of seraphim from the Middle Ages. 

  • Cherubim – description of the prophet Ezekiel is very mysterious and near-incomprehensible (Ezekiel 10)
  • Seraphim – the “burning ones” that stand next to God’s throne in Isaiah 10:
“Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew.  And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”
  • Other angelic beings are described although their precise role or hierarchy (if any) is not clear: “thrones”, “powers”, “rulers”, and “authorities” (Col. 1:16 and 2:15, Rom. 8:37-39, Eph. 3:10-11)

Angels and Demons Today

Does each person have a personal “guardian angel”? 
Probably not. In the Book of Revelation John writes to different churches with the heading “To the angel of the church in Ephesus/Smyrna/etc.” It seems angels play “zone defense” rather than “man-to-man”

How should Christians consider angels or demons?
Angels are to be regarded as co-worshipers of God and are not to be worshiped or venerated themselves (Col. 2:18). Demons are not to be feared when one fully trusts in the sovereignty and power of God. If God had defeated Death and Satan at the Cross, how much more his minions? However, demonic influence is real and its power is considerable if one is not under the protection of God. No Christian should entertain any demonic activity because in this warfare “not against flesh and blood” we have chosen to be on God’s side. 

Is demonic influence or possession real?
Scripture shows the possibility of being controlled by demons, either actively (possession as in Acts 16:18) or passively (1 Tim 4:1, Jam 3:15). Christians however, are protected by God and God’s spirit is in them (Romans 8:1-11). Therefore, it is not possible for Christians to be possessed by demons (see here).

Other notable verses on angels or demons

“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” Hebrews 13:2
“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.” 1 Peter 5:8-9