“In speaking of the angels he says, ‘He makes his angels spirits, and his servants flames of fire.’” (Hebrews 1:7)
Over the years, we have been presented with a wide array of angels, some male, some female, some serious, some frivolous and comedic.
One need only think of the “angel” Clarence in Jimmy Stewart’s well-known and well-loved film It’s a Wonderful Life.
In the film, Clarence is sent to “earn his wings” by pulling Stewart’s character, George Bailey, back from the brink of suicide.
Although Clarence is certainly a lovable figure, he also seems to be somewhat unstable and comedic, being far from the description of angels that we have from Scripture.
What and Who Are Angels?
“Praise the LORD, you his angels [malakh], you mighty ones who do His bidding, who obey His word.” (Psalm 103:20)
Theatrical presentations of angels perhaps only serve to confuse us about the nature of angels. On the other hand, these presentations may also serve to open a dialogue so that a person has the opportunity to hear what the Bible says about them, as well as the Good News.
Angels are mentioned at least 108 times in the Tanakh (Old Testament) and 165 times in the Brit Chadashah (New Testament) (Chafer, Systematic Theology, II, 3).
God created angels in a variety of forms for the purpose of serving.
Because of their supernatural nature, it is easy to think that angels posess a God-like quality; yet, that is not accurate.
“Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?” (Hebrews 1:14; see also Psalm 34:7; 91:11–12; Daniel 6:22)
Angels are created beings ruled and governed by God.
In Matthew 22:30, Yeshua (Jesus) tells us that they do not marry.
Traditional Judaism also contends that angels are not created from the same basic elements that a physical being such as a human being is created.
In fact, within Judaism, there is debate whether the Torah actually describes them as assuming physical form at all. Maimonides contends that they only appeared as a physical being during a vision or prophecy. (Chabad)
Nevertheless, whether they actually assume physical form or simply appear as a physical being, they are spiritual, supernatural beings.
Worship of Angels
The grandeur, power and mystery of angels makes it tempting to worship them, even though we know that worship of anything other than God is a violation of the First Commandment.
We see this, perhaps, when the most beloved Jewish disciple of Yeshua, John, had a vision of the Marriage of the Lamb and of the crystal clear water of life flowing from the throne of God in the New Heaven and Earth. When John fell at the feet of the angel that revealed these things, the angel rebuked him:
“[The angel] said to me, ‘Do not do that; I am a fellow servant of yours and your brethren who hold the testimony of Yeshua; worship God. For the testimony of Yeshua is the spirit of prophecy.” (Revelation 19:10; see also Revelation 22:8–9)
Unlike human beings, when angels fall, there is no repentance or salvation for them.
There are both good and evil angels (malakhei habbalah or destroying agents). Originally, the phrase indicated demons in Judaism, but came to be recognized as an angel.
The term “angels of destruction” is found in the Dead Sea Scrolls. These angels come under the direct rule of Belial, a name that means worthlessness or wickedness. Belial is seen as the commander of the forces of evil and a tempter of men. In the Dead Sea Scrolls War Scroll, these angels called Sons of Darkness are agents in Belial’s army.
We understand that demons are the forces that joined with Satan in his rebellion against God and who were thrown down to the earth to torment men until their final destination, which is the Lake of Fire (Revelation 20:14).
That said, traditional Judaism does not believe in the “devil.” It believes in haSatan (the adversary or challenger), an angel who embodies humankind’s challenges. According to Jewish belief, his role is to give people a meaningful choice as to whether they will choose good over evil. He is seen in the Book of Job as presenting a challenge in the Heavenly Court.
Many wrongly imagine Satan as having a demigod status. His power is limited. He is a created being like any other angel.
What Do Angels Do?
Angels have hierarchies or ranks, and each rank provides a different type of service.
Moses Maimonides classified the angels in the Bible under one of the following ten ranks:
- Chayot HaKodesh (Holy Living Creatures), a group of angels mentioned in Ezekiel 1 and 10 as being close to the Throne and Chariot of God. They have four wings and four faces (man, lion, ox, and eagle);
- Ophanim (Wheels), angels associated with the throne of God and mentioned in Ezekiel 1:15–21 and Daniel 7:9 (and in the Book of Enoch). They look like wheels within wheels and are covered with eyes;
- Erelim (Valiant Ones), angels mentioned in Isaiah. In Jewish mystic tradition, they are thought to be connected to moments of sadness, death or destruction (Isaiah 33:7);
- Chashmalim (Shining Ones), described in Ezekiel 1:4;
- Seraphim (Burning Ones), six-winged angels that Isaiah 6:2–3 describes as a male choir that sing out, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Hosts; heaven and earth are filled with your glory.” In Isaiah 6:6, a seraph purifies the Prophet Isaiah’s lips with a coal from the altar.
- Malachim (Messengers), whom Isaiah describes as bringing comfort to people in their distress, and whom the Book of Psalms promises will protect God’s people.
- Elohim (Godly Beings), mentioned in Psalm 8:5;
- Benei Elohim (Sons of God), angels who focus on bringing glory to God. According to Jewish mysticism, they are led by the archangel Michael;
- Cherubim (To Be Near), angels described by Ezekiel as having four faces, who among other things, guard the Garden of Eden and the way to the Tree of Life with a flaming sword (Genesis 3:24).
- Ishim (Guardian), angels described in the Book of Daniel as being man-like (Genesis 18:2; Daniel 10:5).
According to Jewish thought, even though they all have superior intellect, some angels understand God and His ways better than others. The above ranking indicates the degree of the angel’s comprehension of God.
Angels and the Revelation of Prophecy
In the Hebrew Scriptures, angels play key roles in interpreting prophetic visions, just as we see in the Book of Revelation.
The angel Gabriel, for instance, revealed the exact timing of the coming of the Messiah to the prophet Daniel (Daniel 9:20–27) as well as the work of the anti-Messiah in “the distant future” (Daniel 8:15–27).
In Zechariah 1:9–5:11, angels walk the prophet through his visions, explaining and teaching him what each vision meant.
Angels Deliver Messages
Another duty of angels is to bring messages. In fact, in Hebrew, the word “angel” has no equivalent. The closest word for angels in modern Hebrew is malakhim (מַלְאָכִים), which means messengers.
Messenger angels occupy a unique rank in that they often appear in the form of men, as opposed to winged cherubim and seraphim.
Malakhim have appeared to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses. Isaiah mentions the Malakh Panav, the Angel of God’s Presence.
The angel Gabriel gave to Miryam (Mary) this message of prophetic fulfillment:
“Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Yeshua. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; His kingdom will never end.” (Luke 1:29–33; see also Isaiah 7:14)
“Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?” (Hebrews 1:14)
Hebrews 1:14 tells us that malakhim are “ministering spirits” sent forth to minister to those “who will be heirs of salvation.”
The messages that angels send on behalf of God are two-fold. Not only do they reveal His plans for their lives, they also serve to minister in times of dire distress:
For instance, an angel baked bread for Elijah when he was hiding out in a cave and wanted to die (1 Kings 19:3–6).
As well, Sarah’s maidservant Hagar thought she was about to die; after Sarah banished Hagar from her home, she and Ishmael sat alone in the wilderness with no food or water.
The angel of God (malakh Elohim) appeared to relieve her distress saying, “Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.” (Genesis 21:18)
This message is also a tremendous prophecy, as Ishmael became the father of the Arab nations.
Angels also ministered to Yeshua (Jesus) during his 40 days of fasting in the wilderness and subsequent temptation by Satan (Mark 1:13).
Angels Worship God
Angels not only minister to humans, they minister to God through their worship of Him.
Isaiah saw seraphim above God, “each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called out to another and said, ‘Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD [YHVH] of hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory.’” (Isaiah 6:3)
The apostle John saw similar angelic beings around the throne of God. Day and night they never ceased praising God, saying, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” (Revelation 4:8)
When we receive our glorified bodies, we will join the angels in praising Him as we see the 24 elders doing in Revelation 4:10–11:
“The twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say: ‘You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.’”
Angels War and Protect
Angels are involved in warfare and protection. They war with the angels of darkness who try to prevent ministering angels from performing their service to us. After many days of intense praying, an angel appeared to Daniel explaining why he came three weeks late:
“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)
Daniel persisted in prayer and the angel persisted in warfare.
We understand that just because we do not receive an immediate answer to our prayers, we should not stop praying. Our war is not against flesh but against spirits of darkness who are continually seeking to destroy our efforts. (Ephesians 6:12)
A liturgical prayer that Jewish People recite before going to sleep acknowledges and seeks the protection offered by four specific angels (named in the Talmud as archangels) and by God Himself:
“To my right Michael and to my left Gabriel, in front of me Uriel and behind me Raphael, and over my head God’s Shekhinah [the Presence of God].”
In Jewish tradition, Michael is the angel of mercy; Gabriel, justice; Raphael, healing; and Uriel, illumination.
As well, the kabbalists of Safed in the late 16th or early 17th century wrote a poem that is now universally sung after returning from Shabbat services on Friday night, often before the kiddush (sanctification) of the Shabbat meal.
The short version states, “Angels of peace, may your coming be in peace; bless me with peace, and bless my prepared table. May your departure be in peace, from now and forever. Amen.”
We Can Invoke the Service of Angels
It’s important to remember that we do not pray to angels for protection and angelic intervention. We pray directly to the Father.
Angels do nothing on their own accord. They listen for God’s Word. Many Believers can dispatch angels based on this knowledge, using the Word of God to commission them.
When the People of Israel “cried out to the LORD,” they said, “He heard our voice and sent an angel and brought us out of Egypt.” (Numbers 20:16)
When Peter was in prison (Acts 12:5), the Believers in Jerusalem prayed to God for his deliverance. Peter later testified, “Now I know without a doubt that the Lord has sent His angel and rescued me from Herod’s clutches and from everything the Jewish people were hoping would happen.” (Acts 12:11)
When we read these and other accounts of angelic intervention in the Bible, we might be tempted to think that angels are no longer involved much in the affairs of men.
But the Brit Chadashah (New Testament) assumes that angels are still interacting with people, and exhorts us to be on the alert for them:
“Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” (Hebrews 13:2)
God’s angelic messengers are active in our midst, taking an interest in the affairs of men as they carry out God’s will.
Therefore, may each one of us be equally committed and active in carrying out His will in whatever service we are called to.
And when we need angelic intervention, let us pray persistently to the LORD, who dispatches His angelic ministers to serve Him through us.
“Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10)