We are familiar with various reports of flying saucers, men from Mars, and other creatures from outer space. Most of the talk about men from outer space is simply fantasy, but according to the Scriptures, there are countless millions of other creatures in the universe (beside human beings). Some of these beings are friendly; some are unfriendly. The one host of beings are called angels, loyal to God; the other host of beings are called devils, apostates under Satan, and rebels against God.
Angels are mentioned almost three hundred times in the Bible. The Scriptures teach that at one time all angels were obedient servants of God, but like human beings, they possess moral liberty—and when tempted, some sinned and yielded to ambitious pride, and were cast down to Hell. These the Bible calls “devils” or “demons.” Others kept their integrity, and these are described in the Scriptures as “the elect angels,” the “holy angels,” and as “ministering spirits.” In this study, we want to look at the characteristics and ministry of the holy angels, the angels who kept their estate and their standing with God.
The Church has neglected the Bible teaching on angels, primarily because she feels secure without them. Christians are seldom burned at the stake; we tend to be comfortable and secure. However, the day may well come when the open persecution of Christians will be increased, and then the ministry of angels will be recognized and appreciated as it was in the days of the early church. And so we want to see what the Bible reveals concerning these supernatural beings, the angels of God. We want to note their existence, their nature, and their mission.
1. The Existence of Angels
When newsmen at the Seattle World’s Fair asked the Russian Titov if he had any religious feelings during his seventeen orbits around the earth, he replied, “I looked around, I saw no God, no heaven, and no angels.” He implied that there are no angels. But the Bible affirms that angels do actually exist. Matthew says when the temptation of Jesus was ended, “Behold angels came and ministered unto him” (Matthew 4:11). Jesus spoke of their existence when He said, “Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones, for I say unto you that in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father” (Matthew 18:10). Paul teaches that angels exist. He says, “The Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God” (2 Thessalonians 1:7).
No honest mind can read the Bible carefully without coming to the conclusion that great hosts of angels actually exist. We have the same evidence for the existence of angels, as we have for the birth and life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The same Bible that tells us of His life and ministry, tells us also about the ministry of angels. It is true that the word “angel” is sometimes used figuratively in the Bible. Bishops of churches are sometimes called “the angel” of the church; demons are sometimes designated as “the devil and his angels”; even the Messiah was sometimes (in Old Testament days) called “the angel of the Lord.” But in spite of this figurative use of the word “angels,” the Bible indicates that above this realm on which we live, there’s another world (invisible to human sight and unseen by the human eye), in which there are great hosts of inhabitants, known only through the revelation of the Word of God. These the Bible calls angels.
You may not feel the presence of angels; you may never have seen an angel; you may not hear them speak; nevertheless they exist and they exert their influence all the same. The Bible says that angels held the flaming sword that guarded the tree of life in Eden; angels took the family of Lot to safety and smote the wicked men of Sodom with blindness; angels drove the chariots of fire through the sky and picked up the prophet Elijah and took him to glory; angels walked into prisons and released the apostles of the early church; angels will blow their trumpets in that day when Jesus returns to translate the Church into His own glorious presence. The redeemed of God will enjoy the society of angels forever in Heaven. Certainly each Christian should want to know all that he can about these great and glorious beings, the angels of God.
2. The Nature of Angels
Angels are spoken of in the Scriptures as “ministering spirits,” sent forth to minister for those who are heirs of salvation.
Angels are not subject to the laws of nature. Angels are spirit beings, and thus they are able to go through closed doors and they can travel over great distances in short periods of time. They can do some supernatural things. When Peter lay in prison, for example, he was surrounded by prison guards. The Bible says, “And behold the angel of the Lord came upon him, and a light shined in the prison; and he smote Peter on the side, saying, Arise up quickly, and his chains fell off from his hands” (Acts 12:7). The angel of God had entered into that prison, even though it was secured by steel bars and armed guards. When the three Hebrew children were cast into the furnace heated seven times hotter than its usual temperature, the Bible says an angel walked in the midst of that glowing hot furnace, and was unharmed (Daniel 3:28). Angels are not subject to ordinary laws of nature. No distance wearies them; no fire can burn them; no natural barrier can hinder them. Angels are spirit beings, not subject to the laws of the physical universe.
Angels differ in rank and power. Not all angels have the same task to perform. They are organized into companies with specific functions and duties. There is an archangel, and there are angels of the ordinary kind; there are thrones and dominions, and there are also principalities and powers; there are what the Bible calls cherubim, and what it calls seraphim. Each of these companies has its own particular duty to perform. Some of the angels are connected with warfare, like the one that appeared to Gideon in Judges 6; others are connected with worship, like the one who came to Zacharias the priest in Luke 1; still others are connected with punishment, like the one David saw smiting the city of Jerusalem with a great pestilence, recorded in 1 Chronicles 21. Each company of angels has its own duty to perform.
Angels excel in strength. When Sennacherib, the Syrian army officer, defied the armies of Israel, the Bible says that an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and smote the Syrian army. And in one single night, 185,000 enemy soldiers became dead men. This was the work of one single angel. When the women were going to the sepulchre on the Resurrection morning, they wondered who would roll the huge stone away for them; but when they arrived at the tomb, they discovered that an angel had rolled the stone away, and sat on it. Angels are mighty in strength.
Angels have certain limitations. While angels have strength beyond that which is human, and knowledge far beyond the mental grasp of mankind, yet the Lord has chosen to withhold some secrets even from the angels. Jesus, when speaking of His coming again, says, “But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no not the angels of heaven.” Angels do have certain limitations; they are not gods; they are only God’s servants; we are not to worship them (like some groups within Christendom do), but we should be careful never to ignore their ministry.
3. The Mission of Angels
What is the work of angels? Isaiah saw the angels arranged in bands on either side of the throne of God, singing praises to the Creator. But angels minister on earth, as well as in heaven. From the very beginning of creation, they have manifested an active interest in the affairs of men here on earth.
Angels guide believers. God sent an angel to accompany Eliezer the servant of Abraham in his search for a wife for Isaac; Abraham said, “The Lord will send his angel with thee, and will prosper thy way” (Genesis 24:40). God appointed a special angel to go before the children of Israel in their journey through the wilderness. Philip was guided by an angel to meet the Ethiopian eunuch on the way to Gaza. These and other Scriptures clearly teach that there are certain angels delegated with the special task of leading and guiding God’s children in their journey through life.
Some may wonder what is the difference between the ministry of angels, and the ministry of the Holy Spirit. He guides also. Angels minister in the realm of the external and the physical, whereas the Holy Spirit ministers in the realm of the spiritual. Angels guard our bodies and our pathway; the Holy Spirit guards our minds and guides us in the right way.
Angels protect God’s people. God sent an angel to protect Elijah when his enemies were bent on destroying him. God sent an angel to protect Daniel in the den of lions. After Daniel had gone through the experience of a night in the den of lions, the next morning the king called to Daniel to see if he was still there. Daniel answered, “My God hath sent His angel, and hath shut the lions’ mouths, that they have not hurt me” (Daniel 6:22). And my friends, what the angels did for Elijah when he was pursued by the enemy; what they did for Daniel when he was thrown into the den of lions; what they did for Peter when he was chained in prison; they will do for the saints even now. I’m sure that in light of these Bible examples of protection, we have every right to ascribe our many safe journeys through darkness and storm, to the oversight of the angels of God. And it’s comforting to know that this angel ministry is not confined to ancient history. I’m glad that angels are not beings who many years ago (in former dispensations) were visitors to the world—but that even now, the Bible says, angels are ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for those who shall be heirs of salvation.
A young man who was distributing Gospel literature in Switzerland, was traveling through the Alps, late one winter afternoon some years ago. Down in the valley, he sighted a small house, and even though it was getting late, he decided to go down the treacherous mountain, to visit the family living in that house. Cautiously and carefully he picked his way down the steep, dangerous mountainside, arriving at the small cottage just about dusk. He found the farmer there waiting for him, for he had been watching the young man make his way down the dangerous path. “Where’s your partner?” asked the farmer. “I’m alone,” replied the young man, “I have no companion with me; I’m traveling alone.” Do you know what the farmer said? He said, “But there was someone with you as you descended the mountain; I’ve been watching you all the time; someone was close by your side as you picked your way from stone to stone; I saw two men climbing down that trail.” Listen friends—God is not dead. His army of angels stands ready to defend his people here on earth at all times. These invisible servants of God surround each saint of the Lord day and night. We are in much closer touch with heaven than we often dream! We have no way of knowing how often our feet are directed into the right path, or how often we’re protected from harm and danger (seen and unseen), by our invisible companions the angels of God—we only know from the Scriptures that they are here and performing their ministry.
Jesus declares that even little children are guarded by angels, for “in heaven their angels do always behold the face of (the) Father” (Matthew 18:10). I know the spirit of the age in which we live. People will say, “But do you really believe that angels guard children?” I most certainly do! I don’t believe any of us has ever seen all the facts of life when we’ve looked into the face of a child! I believe in the ministry of angels, and that for every child, every believer, every heir of salvation—there are guardian angels who always behold the face of God.
You say, “But if angels protect God’s people, why then do little children sometimes meet with tragedy; and why have the saints sometimes suffered for their faith?” We must never forget the presence of evil angels, whose purpose it is to resist the good angels (Daniel 10). If we forget the ministry of angels (and have no interest in angels), we have no right to expect God to find pleasure in sending them to our aid (just as when we grieve the Holy Spirit, His ministry is stifled in our lives). And then too, God’s purposes are always for our good; even testing and suffering work together for good to those who are children of God.
Angels watch the church. When the saints meet together to remember the Lord, the angels are looking on. They observe how faithfully we keep the commandments (1 Timothy 5:21). Angels observe worship and order and conduct in the house of God. The Christian woman is to wear on her head, a token of headship (a veiling) because the angels are watching (1 Corinthians 11:10). When the Gospel is preached, and the invitation is given, and a wandering soul comes forward, repenting of his sin and accepting Jesus Christ, the Bible says there is rejoicing in Heaven among the angels. Surely this is all evidence that the angels of God are looking on at every Gospel service.
Angels bear God’s children to Heaven in the hour of death. The glorious climax of our association with angels (as far as this life is concerned), comes at the close of our earthly journey. If the Lord tarries, everyone of us here now, will someday pass out of this life, through the portals of death—into the world beyond. And the Scriptures teach that the angels carry the souls of the saints to their eternal home in the Paradise of God. Jesus (in Luke 16) describes the death of two men; He speaks first of the death of the rich man, whom He says was buried and in Hell he lifted up his eyes. But He describes also the death of the other man. Luke 16:22 says, “And it came to pass that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom.”
When our saved loved ones pass into the place where our voices can no longer reach them, and where our hands can no longer minister to their needs, be assured of this—the angels of God, with tender hands, bear their souls in triumph into the blessedness of the Father’s house! Since angels accompany the saints in their journey through life, and then escort them into the Father’s house at the end of the journey—surely we can say with David, “Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me” (Psalm 23:4). There might never be a costly monument over your grave; your name may never be recorded in the books of history; but if you’re living for Jesus, you can be sure of this—you won’t have to cross Jordan alone! There will be a royal escort of angels, waiting in the hour of your death, to carry your soul in triumph into the realms of the just.
In a wild and lawless section of Scotland, there lived years ago, a pious preacher who was called one day to visit a dying man. He quickly prepared his horse, and set off on his way to the dying man’s cottage. To get there, he had to go through a dark, lonely forest, commonly known in those days to be infested with robbers and wicked men. The preacher rode on into the forest (no doubt committing himself to the care of his God), but suddenly, a fear came over him that he was in great danger. He alighted from his horse, knelt down on the ground, and there in the forest he prayed—asking God for protection, and then jumped on his horse and rode on.
The visit was made, the preacher protected, and nothing more was heard about the events of that evening until many long years afterward. And then one day (many years later) came an explanation of what had happened that night. The preacher was called again—called this time to visit a very sick man not far from the same forest. When he arrived, he was greeted by the sick man as one who knew him. He said, “You don’t know me, preacher, but I know you.” The sick man said, “Do you remember riding through the forest and getting off your horse and kneeling to pray?” Of course the preacher remembered it. “Well I was lying in wait (with some others) to attack you that night. I saw you riding into the forest; I saw you stop; I saw you pray.” And then he said, “I didn’t care a straw for your prayers; but preacher, there’s one thing I could never get over—where, sir, did those two horses come from, that rode on each side of you after you had offered that prayer?” And the only answer the preacher could give, was that these must have been a manifestation of the angels of God.
You say that surely this account is getting off into the realms of fancy, and that horses could have nothing to do with angels. You read the account in 2 Kings 6 describing the Syrian army and how it surrounded the city of Dothan, the town where Elisha and his servant were staying. The army surrounded the city by night, in order to capture the prophet of God. Elisha was telling the king of Israel where the enemy was planning his next attack, and every time Syria would attack, Israel was ready and the enemy was driven back. Finally the Syrian army officer learned where Elisha was staying, and his armies surrounded the walls of the village by night. The next morning, Elisha’s servant went up on the wall of the city to take a walk, and what he saw filled him with fright. He could hear the rumbling of the chariots and the shouting of the officers. He was really afraid. In great alarm, he went down to the house where Elisha was staying, and told him what he had seen. He said, “Alas my master, how shall we do?” What are we going to do, Elisha? Elisha answered calmly, “Fear not, for they that be with us are more than they that be with them.” And still the servant couldn’t quite understand. It was only Elisha and this servant and a handful of people in the town, and the whole army surrounded it. And so Elisha prayed, “Lord, open his eyes that he may see; and the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha” (2 Kings 6:17). The angel of the Lord encamps round about those who fear Him.
God will also use the angels to pour out his wrath upon the wicked. Matthew 13:41 says, “The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity, and shall cast them into a furnace of fire, and there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.” The day is soon coming when the clock of time will be stopped. The Bible says that an angel will stand with one foot on land and one foot on sea, and will declare that time shall be no longer. Are you ready for that great day? Today the invitation still goes out. For every man, woman, and child of Adam’s race, there is a day of reckoning coming, and when that day comes, I want to be on God’s side. Today the Holy Spirit is inviting you to come out on His side too. The angel of God has the pen in his hand. He is going to record the decision you make today.