ByDr. Paul Eymann and Dr. John Bechtle
Angels are not glorified human beings. Matthew 22:30 explains that they do not marry or reproduce like humans, and Hebrews 12:22-23 says that when we get to the heavenly Jerusalem, we will be met by “myriads of angels” and “the spirits of righteous men made perfect”—two separate groups.
Angels are a company or association, not a race descended from a common ancestor (Luke 20:34-36). We are called “sons of men,” but angels are never called “sons of angels.”
The word “angel” actually comes from the Greek word aggelos, which means “messenger.” The matching Hebrew word mal'ak has the same meaning.
Sometimes, the Bible uses these words for human beings:
ordinary people who carry messages (Job 1:14; Luke 7:24; 9:52)
prophets (Isaiah 42:19; Malachi 3:1)
priests (Malachi 2:7)
church leaders (Rev 1:20)
Sometimes, it speaks figuratively of things or events as “messengers”…
the pillar of cloud (Exodus 14:19)
pestilence or plagues (2 Samuel 24:16-17)
But it usually describes the whole range of spirits whom God has created, including both good and evil angels, and special categories such as cherubim, seraphim, and the archangel.
Angels are mentioned at least 108 times in the Old Testament and 165 times in the New Testament (Chafer, Systematic Theology, II, 3). Hence, there is ample information available in Scripture to allow us to build a foundation for our knowledge of angelic beings.
HOW DID ANGELS ORIGINATE?
The Scripture speaks about the creation of angels, therefore, it is clear that they have not existed from all eternity (Nehemiah 9:6; Psalm 148:2,5). Colossians 1:16-17 explains:
“For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created by Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.”
The time of their creation is never definitely specified, but it is most probable that it occurred in connection with the creation of the heavens in Genesis 1:1. It may be that God created the angels immediately after He had created the heavens and before He created the earth—for according to Job 38:4-7, “the sons of God shouted for joy” when He laid the foundations of the earth.
HOW MANY ANGELS ARE THERE?
While the Scriptures give no definite figures, we are told that the number of angels is very great (Daniel 7:10; Matthew 26:53; Hebrews 12:22).
It appears that all angels were created at one time. No new angels are being added to the number. Angels are not subject to death or any form of extinction; therefore they do not decrease in number.
It seems reasonable to conclude that there are at least as many spirit beings in existence as there will have been human beings in all their history on earth.
DO ANGELS HAVE BODIES?
Angels are essentially “ministering spirits,” (Hebrews 1:14) and do not have physical bodies like humans. Jesus declared that “a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have” (Luke 24:37-39).
The Bible does, however, make it clear that angels can only be in one place at a time. They must have some localized presence.
Angels can take on the appearance of men when the occasion demands. How else could some “entertain angels unaware” (Hebrews 13:2)? On the other hand, their appearance is sometimes in dazzling white and blazing glory (Matthew 28:2-4).
WHAT DO ANGELS LOOK LIKE?
Since angels are spirits rather than physical beings, they don't have to be visible at all (Colossians 1:16). Elisha once prayed that his servant would see the armies of angels surrounding the city, and the young man discovered that he had overlooked a lot of invisible beings (2 Kings 6:17)!
Abraham was visited by three heavenly messengers. When angels do appear, they generally appear in the form of men. In Genesis 18, Abraham welcomed three angelic guests who appeared at first to be nothing more than some travellers. In the following chapter, two angels went to Sodom where they were assumed to be simply a pair of human visitors.
With the possible exception of one debatable passage in Zechariah 5:9, angels always appear as males rather than females (Mark 16:5).
Sometimes an angel appears to be a man with unusual features. Daniel saw an angel with arms and legs resembling polished metal and precious stones, and a face like lightning (Daniel 10:5-6). The angel that rolled back the stone from Christ's tomb was radiating dazzling light (Matthew 28:3; Luke 24:4). The book of Revelation describes some highly unusual beings who may be a variety of angel in Revelation 4:6-8.
Angels in the Bible never appear as cute, chubby infants! They are always full-grown adults. When people in the Bible saw an angel, their typical response was to fall on their faces in fear and awe.
Some Bible passages picture angels with wings (Isaiah 6:2,6). Other verses talk about angels flying, and we assume that the wings would be useful for that flight (Daniel 9:21). However, I suspect that angels can move around without having to depend on wings. Most references to angels in the Bible say nothing about wings, and in passages like Genesis 18-19, it is certain that no wings were visible.
HOW DO ANGELS COMPARE TO HUMAN BEINGS?
They are stronger than man, but not omnipotent (Psalm 103:20; 2 Peter 2:11).
They are greater than man in knowledge, but not omniscient (2 Samuel 14:20; Matthew 24:36).
They are more noble than man, but not omnipresent (Daniel 9:21-23, 10:10-14).
ARE ALL ANGELS GOOD?
Sorry! You can't trust every angel.
The Bible classifies some angels as “elect” (1 Timothy 5:21) or “holy” (Matthew 25:31; Mark 8:38). All angels were originally holy, enjoying the presence of God (Matthew 18:10) and the environment of heaven (Mark 13:32).
Other angels oppose God under the leadership of Satan (Matthew 25:41; 2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6; Ephesians 6:12). We often call these “demons.”
There is actually a great unseen conflict raging that goes beyond anything we can imagine. It is not, however, a fight between two equal and eternal forces. God who created all beings is still in charge, and once He has used wicked angels to accomplish His purposes, He will bring them to a final defeat.
WHAT IS THE JOB DESCRIPTION FOR AN ANGEL?
We don't know whether every angel carries out the same tasks, or whether some of them specialize in certain areas. The Bible does speak about classes of angelic beings like cherubim (Ezekiel 1) and seraphim (Isaiah 6). We also know the names of two notable angels: Michael (Daniel 10:13; Jude 9) and Gabriel (Daniel 9:21; Luke 1:19,26).
The unnamed angels who appear most often in Scripture carry out a variety of tasks—all designed to serve God…
Worship and praise - This is the main activity portrayed in heaven (Isaiah 6:1-3; Revelation 4-5).
Revealing - They serve as messengers to communicate God's will to men. They helped reveal the law to Moses (Acts 7:52-53), and served as the carriers of much of the material in Daniel, and Revelation.
Guiding - Angels gave instructions to Joseph about the birth of Jesus (Matthew 1-2), to the women at the tomb, to Philip (Acts 8:26), and to Cornelius (Acts 10:1-8).
Providing - God has used angels to provide physical needs such as food for Hagar (Genesis 21:17-20), Elijah (1 Kings 19:6), and Christ after His temptation (Matthew 4:11).
Protecting - Keeping God's people out of physical danger, as in the cases of Daniel and the lions, and his three friends in the fiery furnace (Daniel 3 and 6).
Delivering - Getting God's people out of danger once they're in it. Angels released the apostles from prison in Acts 5, and repeated the process for Peter in Acts 12.
Strengthening and encouraging - Angels strengthened Jesus after His temptation (Matt 4:11), encouraged the apostles to keep preaching after releasing them from prison (Acts 5:19-20), and told Paul that everyone on his ship would survive the impending shipwreck (Acts 27:23-25).
Answering prayer - God often uses angels as His means of answering the prayers of His people (Daniel 9:20-24; 10:10-12; Acts 12:1-17).
Caring for believers at the moment of death - In the story of Lazarus and the rich man, we read that angels carried the spirit of Lazarus to “Abraham's bosom” when he died (Luke 16:22).