Throughout history, angels have been dispatched from heaven to intervene in earthly affairs.
Evangelist Billy Graham reports that “when my maternal grandmother died, the room seemed to fill with a heavenly light. She sat up in bed and almost laughingly said, ‘I see Jesus. He has his arms outstretched toward me. I see Ben [her husband who had died some years earlier], and I see the angels.’ She slumped over, absent from the body but present with the Lord.”1
A former editor of Leadership Magazine, a popular publication among church leaders, speaks of how his young daughter was comatose one night, very near death. A hospital staff worker stopped by the room and witnessed an astonishing sight—angels were hovering over the girl’s bed. By the following morning, the daughter had amazingly recovered. The editor, not prone to sensationalism, truly believes angels visited his daughter that night. The staff worker, as the result of the incredible sight she saw, renewed her commitment to God.
Reverend John G. Paton was a missionary in the New Hebrides Islands. According to his testimony, his mission headquarters was surrounded by hostile natives one night. They apparently intended to burn the building to the ground and put John and his wife to death.
The Patons turned to God. They threw themselves on His mercy and asked for deliverance. They prayed throughout the night. When the first rays of sunlight came the next morning, the Patons were amazed to see the natives had left.
About a year later the chief of that tribe became a Christian. When Paton asked the chief why the tribe had refrained from burning down the headquarters on that fateful night, the chief surprised him by inquiring, “Who were all those men you had there with you?”
Paton answered, “There were no men there—just my wife and I.”
The chief then told Paton that he and his warriors had seen hundreds of men standing guard outside the headquarters that night, all dressed in shining garments with swords drawn. These guards completely encircled the headquarters and the tribe dared not attack.
It was then that Paton realized God had dispatched His angels to guard him and his wife.3
Why Study Angels?
There are many angel stories such as these. But are there really angels in our world today? Should we look for angels to intervene in our lives? With the Bible as our guide, let’s discover the truth about heaven’s messengers.
Angels in the Bible
Angels are mentioned 108 times in the Old Testament and 165 times in the New Testament. Of note, an angel prepared meals for a prophet, and the Israelites ate angels’ food. A donkey saw an angel, and a prophet acted like a donkey and was almost killed by an angel. Angels fought battles for men, and one man wrestled all night with an angel. An angel saved one man from sacrificing his son of promise. An angel was involved in a jailbreak, and the man who escaped was mistaken for an angel.
And there are many more angels. In Revelation, John says he saw “ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands” of angels around the throne (Revelation 5:11). To put this in perspective, the average football stadium in America holds about fifty thousand people. It would take two thousand stadiums of that size to hold one hundred million people. The total number of angels John saw may have exceeded one hundred million. “Ten thousand” was the highest numerical figure used in the Greek language. “Ten thousand times ten thousand” may have been John’s way of describing an inexpressibly large company of angels.
What Angels Do
Millions of angels are involved in our world and in our lives today. Hebrews 1:14 says, “Are they [angels] not all ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation?” The root meaning of the word ministering has to do with rendering service. God created angels to render service in various capacities.
Angels Protect Us
Psalm 91:11–12 says, “For He shall give His angels charge over you, to keep you in all your ways. In their hands they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone.”
Angels Guide Us
In the book of Genesis, we find the story of Sodom and Gomorrah’s destruction. Abraham pled with God for the deliverance of Lot and his family. And when Abraham prayed, God dispatched some angels to rescue Lot and his family from Sodom. Genesis 19:15–17 recounts, “When the morning dawned, the angels urged Lot to hurry, saying, ‘Arise, take your wife and your two daughters who are here, lest you be consumed in the punishment of the city.’ And while he lingered, the men took hold of his hand, his wife’s hand, and the hands of his two daughters, the Lord being merciful to him, and they brought him out and set him outside the city. So it came to pass, when they had brought them outside, that he said, ‘Escape for your life! Do not look behind you nor stay anywhere in the plain. Escape to the mountains, lest you be destroyed.’”
Angels Deliver Us
When Peter was in prison, an angel of the Lord came and told Peter to get up quickly—“And his chains fell off his hands” (Acts 12:7).
Angels Enlighten Us
“Now when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, ‘Arise, take the young Child and His mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the young Child’s life are dead’” (Matthew 2:19–20).
Angels Empower Us
When Jesus was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, “An angel appeared to Him from heaven, strengthening Him” (Luke 22:43).
Principles About Angels
It is wonderful to consider what angels can and will do in our lives. But we need to remember our standard is the Word of God. In our world, much of what is believed about angels is not biblical, and we need to take care that we do not become consumed with thoughts of them. Whatever ideas about angels may be presented to us, we need to check them against the truth of Scripture.
1. Angels Must Never Replace God in Our Lives
Time magazine reports, “For those who choke too easily on God and his rules… angels are the handy compromise, all fluff and meringue, kind, nonjudgmental. They are available to everyone, like aspirin.”
Christianity Today says, “Angels too easily provide a temptation for those who want a ‘fix’ of spirituality without bothering with God himself.”
“Angels offer a form of spirituality devoid of Jesus and God,” states Joan Webster Anderson, author of Where Angels Walk. “Belief in God has been so depopularized in America that now belief in anything can happen. The search is on for spirituality, but without God.”
Professor Robert Ellwood, a specialist in unorthodox religions at the University of Southern California, observes, “With angels around, people feel they don’t have to bother an Almighty God in order to get help.”
George Landis, Professor of Old Testament at Union Theological Seminary, told Time magazine, “In the eyes of the traditional church leaders, the popular authors who render angels into household pets, who invite readers to get in touch with their inner angels, or summon their own ‘angel psychotherapists’ or view themselves as angels in training are trafficking in ‘discount spirituality.’”
2. Angels Must Never Be Redefined by Personal Opinion
One source has said, “Jehovah’s angels are powerful creatures. In Genesis they guard the East gates of Eden with flashing swords. In Ezekiel they overpower the prophet with awesome visions: four–headed, multi–winged and many–eyed. In Revelation, they do battle with a dragon. But in their modern incarnations, these mighty messengers and fearless soldiers have been reduced to bite–sized beings, easily digested. The terrifying cherubim of the Bible have become kewpie doll cherubs.”4
Some historical accounts, personal experiences, and artistic productions have portrayed angels as women or animals or birds. This is not scriptural. In the Bible, angels of God always appear masculine.
According to God’s Word, angels were created by God, separately from mankind, and they are never represented as spiritually progressed men. In other words, people do not transform into angels. Angels neither age nor spend time trying to “earn their wings.” God’s angels exist eternally as they were created.
3. Angels Must Never Receive Worship
Idolatry is more than bowing down to a carved statue or a pagan worshiper offering incense at a shrine to Buddha. It’s the act of becoming too fond of anything other than God. That includes the material things of this world, people, nature, and even angels. Colossians 2:18 says, “Let no one cheat you of your reward, taking delight in false humility and worship of angels, intruding into those things which he has not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind.”
Our tendency toward idolatry may be one reason why angels remain largely invisible to humans. Twice in the book of Revelation, John tried to worship an angel who materialized before him. Both times the angel told him not to do so but to worship God alone. Given our history of idolatry, it’s unlikely that we would be able to resist the worship of God’s majestic warriors.
Karl Barth once wrote that it is inappropriate for people to talk of angels independent of their experience of God in Christ. While God may send angels, requests and gratitude must always be directed to God. It is wrong to “ask your angel” something. We are never told to pray to angels. We pray to God, and He sends the help we need.
4. Angels Must Be Recognized for Who They Really Are
There are two kinds of angels in the world. There are the holy angels of God, and then there are what the Bible refers to as “angels of light.” The latter angels are evil. That term is a reference to the angels who joined Lucifer in rebelling against their created purpose and fell from heaven. It is of utmost importance to recognize that not every angel is from God. First John 4:1 instructs us to “test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”
Second Corinthians 11:14–15 says, “And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works.” The ability of Satan and other fallen angels to transform themselves into ministers of light is a very real deception. Two of the world’s major religions, Islam and Mormonism, started when someone listened to an angel of light who deceived them.
Don’t allow cultural ideas about angels or heaven to rob you of the truth. There is great joy in knowing God sends His mighty warriors to minister to us. I pray that your heart will draw closer to the Creator and that your studies will fill you with anticipation of an eternity spent with Him.
1Billy Graham, Angels (Dallas: Word Publishing, 1975), 152.
2Timothy Jones, “Rumors of Angels,” Christianity Today (April 5, 1993): 22.
4Nancy Gibbs, “Angels Among Us,” Time (December 27, 1992): 56.