An Introduction to Angels
by Finis Jennings Dake
The Bible is the only book in the world that gives insight into the heavenly and infernal worlds. The scriptures are full of the supernatural, and there is but a small step from the natural world to the spirit world. There are hundreds of scriptures revealing to man all that he needs to know of the spirit world.
We mean by the spirit world the various spirit beings that inhabit the material worlds around us. Many kinds of spirit beings are revealed in Scripture. For the purpose of this study, we have included the majority of these under the general heading of angels.
The words angel and angels are used 297 times in the King James Version of Scripture. Coming from a root meaning "to dispatch as a deputy," the Hebrew word mal’ak means messenger or ambassador, specifically of God. A related word, mal’akuwth, is translated "message" in Haggai 1:13, "Then spake Haggai the LORD’S messenger [mal’ak] in the LORD’S message [mal’akuwth] unto the people, saying, I am with you, saith the LORD." The name Malachi, which means "My messenger," also derives from mal’ak.
Our English word angel comes from the Greek angelos which also means messenger. The Septuagint (which is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament) usually translates mal’ak with angelos.
The Reality of Angels
The reality of angels is plainly evident in Scripture, as they are mentioned throughout the Bible. Jacob’s dream in Genesis 28 gives us a glimpse of their ongoing activity:
And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven: and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it . . . . And Jacob awaked out of his sleep, and he said, Surely the LORD is in this place; and I knew it not. And he was afraid, and said, How dreadful is this place! this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven. (Gen. 28:12, 16-17)
Likewise, the book of Job reveals the presence of angels in heaven. Referring to them as "sons of God," Job states that "there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan came also among them" (Job 1:6). Job describes another such day in the first verse of the second chapter. In the midst of God’s questioning of Job we learn that these same sons of God were present at creation:
Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding. Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest? or who hath stretched the line upon it? Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened? or who laid the corner stone thereof; When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy? (Job 38:4-7)
In short, if one accepts the authority of the Bible, one must likewise accept the reality of angels. They are attested to throughout Scripture, as we shall see.
Angels Are Innumerable
Using a Hebraism for countless numbers, Daniel described the scene around the throne of the Ancient of Days, saying that "thousand thousands ministered unto him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him" (Dan. 7:10). John also says in Revelation 5:11, "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." Luke simply states that "a multitude of the heavenly host" appeared to the shepherds on the night of Christ’s birth (Lk. 2:13). Paul also mentions "an innumerable company of angels" (Heb. 12:22).
Only Four Angels Are Named in Scripture
Of the myriads mentioned above, there are only four angels who are actually called by name in Scripture:
Angels Stand Before God
When Jehoshaphat allied himself to fight with Ahab, he wanted assurance of God’s blessing. Ahab had four hundred false prophets, but only one prophet of God, Micaiah the son of Imla. After prophesying Israel’s loss in battle, Micaiah revealed a glimpse of the activity in heaven: "I saw the LORD sitting upon his throne, and all the host of heaven standing on his right hand and on his left" (2 Chr. 18:18; 2 Ki. 22:19).
Angels Dwell in Heaven and Worship Regularly
When the angel announced the birth of Christ to the shepherds who were "abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night," he was joined by "a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men." When these angels departed, Luke says they returned to heaven (Lk. 2:8-15).
Angels are exhorted in Psalm 103:20-21 to worship God: "Bless the LORD, ye his angels, that excel in strength, that do his commandments, hearkening unto the voice of his word. Bless ye the LORD, all ye his hosts; ye ministers of his, that do his pleasure." In Psalm 148:2 a similar command is found: "Praise ye him, all his angels: praise ye him, all his hosts."
We have already seen that there are times when the sons of God present themselves before the Lord (Job 1:6; 2:1), and we know from Isaiah’s vision that angels gather around the throne of God:
In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple. Above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly. And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory. (Isa. 6:1-3)
In Revelation 4:8 John gives us the same idea: "And the four beasts had each of them six wings about him; and they were full of eyes within: and they rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come."
Angels Were Created by Christ Before the Earth
In Colossians 1:16 Paul says Christ created the angels in their various orders: "For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him." Yet as we have already seen from Job 38:4-7, angels "shouted for joy" as God created the earth. They had to be present before the earth was created in order to shout for joy at that time!
Christ Is Better Than the Angels
Paul declared in Hebrews 1:4 that Christ was "made so much better than the angels, as he hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they." There is no question about this when we follow the rest of Paul’s argument:
For unto which of the angels said he at any time, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee? And again, I will be to him a Father, and he shall be to me a Son? And again, when he bringeth in the firstbegotten into the world, he saith, And let all the angels of God worship him. And of the angels he saith, Who maketh his angels spirits, and his ministers a flame of fire. But unto the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of thy kingdom. Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity; therefore God, even thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows. And, Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the works of thine hands: They shall perish; but thou remainest; and they all shall wax old as doth a garment; And as a vesture shalt thou fold them up, and they shall be changed: but thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail. But to which of the angels said he at any time, Sit on my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool? Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation? (Heb. 1:5-14)
And because there is no comparison between Christ and angels as to honor and position, the word of Christ commands greater respect:
Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip. For if the word spoken by angels was stedfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompence of reward; How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him. (Heb. 2:1-3)
Paul continues this argument throughout the rest of Hebrews 2, showing that the world was made subject to Christ, not angels. This same theme is also presented in Ephesians where Paul declares that after Christ was raised from the dead, He sat down at the right hand of God, "far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come" (Eph. 1:21). Peter agrees with Paul as well, stating that Christ has "gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto him" (1 Pet. 3:22).
Knowing these things, we can understand all the more Paul’s exhortation not to worship angels:
Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels, intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind, and not holding the Head, from which all the body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God. (Col. 2:18-19)
Angels Have Been Tested
In writing to Timothy, Paul charged him "before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, and the elect angels" (1 Tim. 5:21). These angels remained true when one third of God’s angels rebelled with Lucifer. The word elect proves some angels are chosen and others are not, the reason being that some rebelled and others did not. Even Eliphaz the Temanite was aware that there was a time when some of God’s angels were "charged with folly" (Job 4:18).
Some Angels Fell
Peter tells us that when angels sinned, God "cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment" (1 Pet. 2:4). Jude likewise states that "the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day" (v. 6). In Jude 7 we are told these angels will suffer "the vengeance of eternal fire." Jesus declared that this everlasting fire was "prepared for the devil and his angels" (Mt. 25:41).
Two Classes of Angels—Good and Bad
Since God tested the angels and some fell, there are now both good and bad angels. Both classes are spoken of throughout Scripture. As noted above, God’s angels are commanded, "Bless the LORD, ye his angels, that excel in strength, that do his commandments, hearkening unto the voice of his word. Bless ye the LORD, all ye his hosts; ye ministers of his, that do his pleasure" (Ps. 103:20-21). However, hell was "prepared for the devil and his angels" (Mt. 25:41).
Angels Are Organized Into Ranks
Christ created thrones, dominions, principalities and powers (Col. 1:16), and, having been seated at the right hand of God, He is far above them (Eph. 1:20) and they are subject to Him (1 Pet. 3:22). Therefore Paul was persuaded "that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 8:38-39).
This organization of angels is clearly seen in fallen angels, as Paul makes clear in this admonition:
Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For 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. Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. (Eph. 6:10-13)
These are spirit beings in rebellion against God with whom we as saints must wrestle. Principalities are beings of the highest rank and order in Satan’s kingdom. The powers derive their authority from and execute the will of the chief rulers. Then there are the world rulers of the darkness of this age, followed by wicked spirits in the heavenlies.
Daniel gives us an example of wrestling with such beings. After Daniel prayed and fasted for three weeks, Gabriel appeared and said,
from the first day that thou didst set thine heart to understand, and to chasten thyself before thy God, thy words were heard, and I am come for thy words. But the prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me one and twenty days: but, lo, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me; and I remained there with the kings of Persia. (Dan. 10:12-13)
The prince of Persia here is the satanic prince who is ruling the kingdom of Persia for Satan who is recognized in Scripture as being the god and ruler of this world (2 Cor. 4:4). More will be said about this when we study the devil in the fourth chapter.
God also has trusted angels who have various ranks. Michael is mentioned as "one of the chief princes," the prince of Israel (Dan. 10:21; 12:1). In the middle of Daniel’s seventieth week, there will be a final war in heaven in which Michael and his angels will cast Satan and his angels out of heaven for all time (Rev. 12:7-9). The different orders of God’s angels (cherubim, archangels, etc.) will be discussed in the third chapter.
Angels Are Interested in Earthly Affairs
Jesus indicated that heavenly angels are fully aware every time a sinner repents: "I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance" (Lk. 15:7); and again: "Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth" (Lk. 15:10). This interest is further illustrated in Paul’s words to Timothy: "I charge thee before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, and the elect angels, that thou observe these things without preferring one before another, doing nothing by partiality . . ." (1 Tim. 5:21). The word charge here is from the Greek word diamarturomai which means to call solemnly to witness. It is an intensive form of martureo which means to bear witness or testify. It is from the noun martus, witness, that we get our word martyr. Timothy’s ministerial behavior was going to be witnessed by elect angels. Paul also declared that the apostles were "made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men" (1 Cor. 4:9).
Angels Desire to Look Into the Things of Salvation
As indicated by their rejoicing over a sinner’s repentance, the angels’ interest in earthly affairs is particularly focused on the subject of salvation. Peter said the things of salvation are "things the angels desire to look into" (1 Pet. 1:12). Angels are no doubt amazed at the wonderful plan of redemption and the eternal exaltation of the redeemed.
Angels Are Being Taught Wisdom by the Church
In Ephesians Paul describes "how that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery . . . which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; that the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel" (Eph. 3:3-6). That Gentiles were to be called and saved was made known from Abraham on through the Old Testament, but that they should be saved without observing the law and that both Jews and Gentiles would be liberated from it, being made a new body under the terms of the new covenant, was not made known. This was a new revelation. Consequently, grace was given to Paul to
preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; and to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ: to the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God, according to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Eph. 3:8-11)
God is making Jews and Gentiles one new body to demonstrate to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places the manifold wisdom of God. By the submission of the church to God and Christ, and by the manifold wisdom of God to the church, both angelic and demon powers are being taught the eternal purpose of God.
Angels Are to be Judged or Ruled by Saints
Not only is Christ better than the angels, but the saints will rule them as well. When he was correcting the Corinthians’ practice of taking legal action against each other, Paul said, "Know ye not that we shall judge angels?" (1 Cor. 6:3). This does not refer to passing sentence on angels, or sending them to punishment. It does mean that saints will be exalted higher than angels and will rule them, making decisions for the administration of the universe. Saints, not angels, become heirs of God and joint-heirs with Jesus Christ to inherit all things.
In addition to the above facts, Scripture has much to say regarding the nature of angels, the different types of angels, and the work they do—all of which will be discussed in the following chapters.