By Jeannette Haley
“The angel of the LORD encampeth round about them
that fear him, and delivereth them.” – Psalm 34:7
One of the most interesting subjects we encounter in God’s Word are angels, and the subject of angels is huge! One source claims that “angels” are mentioned 273 times in the Bible, and another source says “over 300”. To write about them in depth is daunting, so the purpose of this article is to hopefully encourage hearts in these dark times. The question is, how many of us in this fast-paced, high-tech world still believe that they truly exist? We can’t see, touch, feel, or commune with them unless they physically manifest themselves to us, and even then, how can we prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that such an encounter actually occurred? Besides, delving too much into things that inhabit the unseen realm can lead to a great deal of error which is dangerous spiritually, mentally, and sometimes physically. The Lord Jesus Christ, not angels or any other person or thing, must always be the center of our lives and the One whom we worship, adore, obey and follow.
Having said that, we nevertheless need not shy away from learning all we can about God’s created beings that exist beyond ourselves. The immature resist learning, the innocent are open to learning, the ignorant usually simply wish to remain ignorant, while the illiterate appreciate learning. We know that God wants His people to learn, to gain knowledge, understanding and wisdom, because if He didn’t, He wouldn’t have written (as one woman I once knew said) “a big, big book!”
When studying about angels, keep in mind that in Hebrew, the word Angel is “malak” which means to dispatch as a deputy; a messenger; specifically of God, i.e. an angel (also a prophet priest or teacher): ambassador, king, messenger. Generally, when the word “angel” occurs, it means messenger unless it is capitalized, as in Genesis 48:16 where Jacob is referring to the LORD.
I have met people who have had encounters with heavenly angels. Back in the early 1980’s I had friends who were missionaries to the Tarahumara Indians in the Copper Canyon of Mexico. They related that on one of their early trips in an RV, they stopped at a scenic overlook where they could see the tops of mountains for miles. Suddenly a man approached them, waved his arm across the panoramic landscape, and said, “My Father owns all of this.” As they gazed at the seemingly endless vista before them, the man vanished. They walked around, searching for him, but he had completely disappeared.
In another instance, a woman we knew many years ago told us of an encounter she had with an angel when, as a young woman traveling alone (I don’t recall the reasons for her circumstance) she found herself completely broke and stranded in the middle of the country at a Greyhound bus stop. As she silently sat on a bench, not knowing what to do, a stranger appeared in the crowd walked straight up to her, and handed her the exact amount of bus fare she needed to get home with enough left over to buy some food, and then disappeared.
The third instance is the incredible story of a girl Rayola and I met thirty years ago in Arizona. She was the younger sister of an evangelist, and she had brittle bone disease which left her as an adult only 26” high. She was a devout Christian with a beautiful singing voice. She related to us that as a little child all she could do, day in and day out, was lay on a cart in a care facility because of her condition. And, every day an angel would “walk through the wall” and play with her. This went on for a number of years until she reached a point, at age sixteen, where she could have a wheel chair to sit in. This was, up until that point, the most exciting day of her life! At last, she could sit upright and interact with the world. But, after she got her wheelchair, she never saw her angel friend again.
I believe probably all of us have been protected by angels, some of us may have seen angels, or encountered angels but we were unaware of it, at least at the time. On the other hand, what’s interesting to me is how people (and one donkey) in the Bible knew what angels were, knew when they encountered them, and understood for what reason they were there.
The problem is, we humans have a tendency to do one of two things when it comes to biblical subjects: we either ignore it altogether, or we jump in over our heads and go to extremes. My hope is that, when it comes to biblical matters such as angels we can be reminded and encouraged concerning them, and then maintain a balanced, biblical perspective. First, we need to keep in mind that God created the angels to serve His purposes. Hebrews 1:7 tells us, “And of the angels he saith, Who maketh his angels spirits and his ministers a flame of fire.” (See also Psalm 104:4.)
One of the purposes of His angels is to minister to those who God saves. “Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation? Hebrews 1:14? One of the most encouraging and heartwarming accounts in the Bible concerning such an heir is the story of Cornelius in Acts 10. He was a centurion of the Italian band, “A devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God alway. He saw in a vision…an angel of God coming in to him, and saying unto him, Cornelius. And when he looked on him, he was afraid, and said, What is it, Lord? And he said unto him, Thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memorial before God” verses 2-4. The angel’s instructions to him are recorded in verses 5, 6 which he obeyed, and the rest of Chapter 10 is truly an amazing and wonderful recorded account of the great things that occurred as Cornelius’s kinsfolk, and close friends, believed Peter’s account of the Gospel, and were all baptized with the Holy Ghost.
In Acts 27:23, 24 we read of Paul’s experience with an angelic visitation during a storm at sea. The angel brought him comfort and instruction. The prophet Elijah, after he prayed for God to take away his life, was also served by an angel in 1 Kings 19:3-8. And, in Acts 12:6-12 we read the remarkable account of the angel of the Lord who miraculously brought Peter out of prison, and who later smote king Herod because he gave not God the glory after the people shouted that his oration to them was the voice “of a god, and not of a man” so that Herold was eaten of worms, and died.(See Acts 12:13-25.).
Angels are also sent by God to deliver messages. Of course, God also uses people as “messengers” as directed by the Holy Spirit. Focusing on the holy angels, the Bible reveals that they appeared as men when they delivered messages from God to people, such as in Genesis 18:1-3 where the LORD appeared to Abraham with two angels and all three of them were in the form of men. Then in the next chapter of Genesis we read the account of the two angels that came to Sodom, how Lot brought them to his house, and of their power to blind all the men who sought to break down Lot’s door. The angels revealed to Lot how the LORD had sent them to destroy Sodom, which we know they did with great power for to this very day balls of sulfur can be found embedded in the ruins of Sodom and the cities of the plain. Because of the LORD’S mercy, the angels laid their hands upon Lot, his wife and two daughters and brought them out of Sodom and told them to escape for their lives, not to look back nor stay in the plain, but to escape to the mountain so they would not be consumed. Every time I read this portion of Scripture I am amazed at the great love, longsuffering, and tender mercies of the LORD.
The angel Gabriel appeared to at least three people in the Bible. In Daniel 8:16 he interpreted a vision for Daniel. In Luke 1:19 Gabriel he told Zechariah about the birth of John the Baptist, and in Luke 1:26 he proclaimed to Mary that she would be the mother of the Messiah. What we know from the Authorized Version of the Holy Bible is that Gabriel only appeared to, and spoke to three people in the Bible; he stands in the presence of God; and, his messages all point to the coming of the Messiah.
Sometimes angels appear in dreams or visions. Joseph, the husband of our Lord’s mother, had four dreams in which, in three for sure, an angel appeared to him and gave him specific instructions, which he faithfully obeyed. The first is recorded in Matthew 1:20, 21 where the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and told him of the miraculous conception of Mary by the Holy Ghost, and for Joseph to take her for his wife and “she shall bring forth a son, ad thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.” Joseph’s second dream is recorded in Matthew 2:13 where, again, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph and told him to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt because Herod was going to seek to kill him. Joseph then arose and took Mary and the child by night and departed into Egypt. The third dream Joseph had was while in Egypt and it is recorded in Matthew 1:19, 20. “But when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeareth in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, Saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and go into the land of Israel” which he did, but when they came into the land of Israel, he was afraid to go into Judaea because Herod’s son was reigning. This is when Joseph had his fourth warning from God in a dream, but the Bible doesn’t say specifically that he saw an angel. He obeyed the voice of the Lord and turned aside to Nazareth.
Another purpose of angels is to fight the forces of spiritual darkness who try to thwart God’s plans. In Daniel 10:10-14 we read of when an angel appeared to Daniel to deliver the interpretation of a vision, and the angel stated that Michael, one of the chief princes, the archangel had to come and help him fight his way through enemy forces. In Jude 1:9 we read a very interesting verse concerning the fallen angel, the devil, and Michael the archangel. It says, “Yet Michael the archangel, when contending with the devil he disputed about the body of Moses, durst not bring against him a railing accusation, but said, The Lord rebuke thee.” From Scripture we learn that Michael is the chief angel in combating the devil. We read of him in Revelation 12:7-9 which says, “And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels. And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.”
Since we know from Ephesians 6:12 that “we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” it is good to know that we are not alone in this battle, but that there are waring angels engaged in this battle as well. Jesus said, “Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you” Luke 10:19. And, Matthew 28:18 says, “And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.”
Reading about the mighty hosts of the Lord is truly uplifting when you feel “alone in the battle” or feeling defeated because evil is so extensive. Here are some Scriptures for your study and edification: 2 Kings 6:17; Joshua 5:13-15; 1 Samuel 17:45; 1 Kings 22:19; Isaiah 34:1, 2; Revelation 9:16.
Another purpose for the angels is to worship God. The Bible reveals that angels constantly surround the throne of God, worshipping and shouting His praises. Psalm 148:1, 2 says, “PRAISE ye the LORD. Praise ye the LORD from the heavens: praise him in the heights. Praise ye him, all his angels: praise ye him, all his hosts.” Isaiah 6:3, “And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory.” Hebrews 1:6, “And again, when he bringeth in the firstbegotten into the world, he saith, And let all the angels of God worship him.” (See also Revelation 5:8-13.) Because the angels were created to worship God, any refusal to do so was an unforgiveable act of rebellion. When Lucifer rebelled and sought to usurp God and receive the worship for himself, he was case from heaven, as were all the angels that sided with him. (Isaiah 14:12-18.)
Angels were created to serve, and they exist to do the will of their Creator. Where God sends them, they go; what He gives them to say, they say; and they minister on earth to God’s children. Psalm 108:20 gives us insight into angels, and says, “Bless the LORD, ye his angels, that excel in strength, that do his commandments, hearkening unto the voice of his word.” In Hebrews 1:14 we read, “Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?” Angels came and ministered to Jesus in the wilderness after his forty-days of temptation. (Matthew 4:11.). In the story of the rich man and the beggar in Luke 16:22, it appears that when the righteous die, angels carry them straight to the place of God’s rest. How wonderful is that? And, how thrilling to read of the soon coming time when Jesus “shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other,” Matthew 24:31.
God’s angels also carry out orders for destruction. The book of Revelation foretells many angelic acts of great power and importance. (See Revelation 7:1; 8-10.) when Pharaoh refused to let the people of God leave Egypt, God sent an angel to strike down every firstborn son (Exodus 12:12, 23). As mentioned above, angels were involved in the death of Herod (Acts 12:23). They were involved in the slaughter of the Assyrian army (2 Kings 19:35), and the punishment of Jerusalem (1 Chronicles 21:15).
Once you commence on a diligent study of angels, you discover that it is a fundamental, basic part of Scripture as well as a fascinating topic. One must be aware, however, that many fanciful, frivolous and faulty notions and ideas have developed around the subject of angels. Just to name one, some believe that once we die and go to heaven, we somehow “become” angels, but this is totally untrue. Jesus said in Matthew 22:30, “For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven.”
The day is coming when we shall behold the heavenly angels that John saw: “And I beheld, and I heard the voice of many angels round about the throne and the beasts and the elders: and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands;” Revelation 5:11. We will see, “After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands; And cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb. And all the angels stood round about the throne, and about the elders and the four beasts, and fell before the throne on their faces, and worshipped God, Saying, Amen: Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might, be unto our God for ever and ever. Amen.” (Revelation 7:9-12.)
In closing, here is an uplifting quote from H. A. Spurgeon, “The angels of heaven gaze upon the face of God. This is a scriptural expression, not mine, for our Lord says that ‘in heaven their angels do always behold the face of your Father, who is in heaven.’ And what must that be? Brethren, you are not to give a carnal meaning to these words, as though God could be seen with eyes either angelic or human, for He is not to be seen with these dull optics; God is a spirit, and spirit only discerns God by thought and mental apprehension; but what an apprehension of God that must be which is intended by the expression, ‘They do always behold the face of God!’ Moses, the master spirit of the old dispensation, asked to see God, but he was only indulged with a sight of what our version calls his back parts, but which should more fittingly be described as the flowing train, the skirts of the Almighty’s splendour. This was all he could see, though his eye was more strengthened than that of any man under the legal dispensation. But, brethren, we in heaven, like the angels, shall see his face, and his name shall be in our foreheads ‘Father of Jesus, love’s reward, What raptures will it be, Prostrate before thy throne to lie, And ever gaze on thee!’”