The King of Syria was waging war against the nation of Israel. He tried often to attack by surprise, but his army was continually foiled. Somehow, his top-secret war plans were being divulged to the king of Israel. So one day the Syrian king confronted his generals, saying, “Which of us is for the king of Israel?” (2 Kings 6:11).
They replied, “None, my lord, O king; but Elisha, the prophet who is in Israel, tells the king of Israel the words that you speak in your bedroom” (v. 12).
Now enlightened, the king of Syria decided to kidnap the Lord’s agent. One night he sent a large army to encircle the little town of Dothan, where Elisha was staying. Early in the morning, Elisha’s assistant arose and discovered they were completely surrounded. When he saw the glitter of armor on thousands of soldiers and heard the snort of stomping horses, he rushed to Elisha and cried out, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” (v. 15).
Elisha walked to the window, perhaps rubbing his eyes from the sleep, and calmly responded, “Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them” (v. 16). His young assistant must have been bewildered because of the huge army threatening them, but Elisha prayed, “Lord, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.” God immediately answered His messenger’s prayer. “Then the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw. And behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha” (v. 17).
Who were these soldiers in chariots of fire? These supernatural beings that surrounded the town were angels sent from God. King David gives us this clue: “I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around” (Psalm 3:6). Why could David be so confident? Because, “The angel of the Lord encamps all around those who fear Him, and delivers them” (Psalm 34:7).
I also pray that God will open our eyes as we consider what the Bible says about these very real but largely unseen beings.
It is probably safe to say that many of us have actually seen these messengers from God but didn’t realize it. The Bible says, “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels” (Hebrews 13:2). Like many others, I believe I have been providentially protected by angels.
But that’s not why I am convinced of their existence. I believe in angels because the Bible plainly teaches that they exist. From Genesis to Revelation we read all about them. At least 250 Bible passages speak of angels. The last book of the Bible alone has 80 references. Surely, with so many Scriptures about them, it is a subject worthy of our careful attention.
Both the Hebrew word mal’ak and the Greek word angelos, from which we get the word “angel,” simply mean “messenger.” Indeed, the word is sometimes used to describe a human who is dispatched as an emissary. People often mistook angels for ordinary people, but these heavenly messengers are greater than mortal beings. And they are not all alike. One class of angels is called cherubim, such as those who guarded the gates of Eden after Adam and Eve were expelled. These winged angels are also called “watchers.” Another class is called seraphim, which means “burning ones.” These celestial beings are often seen before God’s throne or by prophets while in vision.
Angels are created beings. Some have suggested that the “sons of God” uniting with the “daughters of men” reference in Genesis 6:2 is referring to angels. But we know angels cannot procreate. They are not human. David portrays them as brilliant beings created by God, “Who makes His angels spirits, His ministers a flame of fire” (Psalm 104:4). Humans, by contrast, “have been made a little lower than the angels” (Psalm 8:5).
While created beings, angels are much more powerful than earthlings. Peter describes them as being “greater in power and might” (2 Peter 2:11). Did you know that a single angel destroyed 185,000 Assyrian soldiers in one night? (See 2 Kings 19:35.) When David sinned in numbering Israel, an angel went through the land as a plague and killed 70,000 men. The Bible explains, “Then David lifted his eyes and saw the angel of the Lord standing between earth and heaven, having in his hand a drawn sword stretched out over Jerusalem” (1 Chronicles 21:16). This was the work of just one angel.
Good and Evil Angels
Not all angels do the bidding of God. There are good angels and bad angels. At one time all angels served the Lord, but the highest angel of heaven, named Lucifer, turned against God. He became Satan, the enemy, and persuaded a third of the other angels to join in his rebellion. The Bible says, “War broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought with the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought” (Revelation 12:7). The dragon symbolizes the devil, and Michael symbolizes Christ, the One who is over all the angels.
Seeing this battle helps us understand the root of sin in our world. It all began with a single fallen angel. “His tail drew a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth” (v. 4).
We are warned, “Woe to the inhabitants of the earth and the sea! For the devil [and his evil angels] have come down to you, having great wrath, because he knows that he has a short time” (v. 12). The pain and suffering and sin in our world began with the fallen angels. When Adam and Eve listened to Satan instead of God, the devil was empowered to set up his headquarters on our planet and was given temporary dominion over the earth to carry out his rebellion against God. Paul describes their evil work against us: “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). We are at war with fallen angels who daily attempt to thwart God’s will and get us to sin.
Someday these evil angels, who are very real, will be destroyed. Jesus spoke of their end in the parable of the sheep and goats. “Then He [God] will say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41). They also know their doom is coming. Fallen angels, or demons, would ask Jesus if He had “come to torment [them] before the time” (Matthew 8:29). Good and bad angels are very real and not just a figment of our imagination. They are like invisible radio waves. Though we cannot see them, they are still all around us.
It’s been asked that if God is all-powerful, why doesn’t He just wipe out all the evil angels with the snap of His divine fingers? It is because His character is at stake. The devil has leveled dreadful charges against God. If the Lord simply incinerates all who call Him unfair, it would lead all of His creatures to follow Him out of fear instead of serving Him out of love. Trust is the foundation of true love. The Bible says, “God is love” (1 John 4:8) and “there is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear” (v. 18). Love must remain the supreme motive for serving God. So God allows Lucifer and his angels to fully demonstrate their character to the universe before they are punished and annihilated.
Ironically, those who are in the greatest danger of being influenced by evil angels are those who do not believe they exist. People who laugh at the idea of the devil and his angels as make-believe ghoulish imps with batwings and horns are more susceptible to his deceptive work. Even the paintings of good angels that look like tiny, unclothed cupids floating on clouds are medieval fiction. Angels don’t have little baby angels. They are large, powerful, and majestic creatures.
It’s good for us to believe in the wondrous work of heaven’s beautiful angels. But it’s equally important for us to be aware of the evil angels. Jesus told us to pray, “Do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one” for good reason (Matthew 6:13).
What are some other capabilities of angels? For one, they are physically brilliant. When Jesus rose from the dead, the angel who came from heaven had a countenance “like lightning” and “clothing as white as snow” (Matthew 28:3).
Angels are also fast. “The living creatures ran back and forth, in appearance like a flash of lightning” (Ezekiel 1:14). It reminds me of one of the quickest insects on earth—the dragonfly—which has been clocked at more than 30 miles per hour; it would be like you running at 90 miles an hour!
However, angels are much quicker than dragonflies. Heaven’s messengers evidently move faster than the speed of light. Note Daniel’s experience with an angel: “While I was speaking in prayer, the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision at the beginning, being caused to fly swiftly, reached me about the time of the evening offering” (Daniel 9:21). Picture what happened: Daniel prayed to God and while he was still praying God sent an angel from heaven, thousands of light-years away, to Daniel’s side. Now that’s fast!
Sometimes Scripture refers to angels with wings. When Isaiah saw the Lord in heaven on His throne, he also saw angels. “Above it [the throne] stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew” (Isaiah 6:2). The cherubim that were fashioned to be on top of the ark of the covenant in the temple had wings: “The cherubim shall stretch out their wings above, covering the mercy seat with their wings” (Exodus 25:20).
Angels also have bodies, although they are not mortal like our own; they live in a dimension we find hard to comprehend. Interestingly, the apostle Paul says that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 15:50). At the resurrection we will be given new bodies that, like the angels, will never die.
We can begin to grasp, in a small way, the realities of things unseen by studying the electromagnetic spectrum. The visible spectrum are light rays we can see with the naked eye—all the colors of the rainbow. We call these wavelengths “light.” Yet there is a large range of frequencies we cannot see. Scientists long ago discovered the existence of gamma rays, infrared, microwaves, radio waves, and more. We now know there are thousands of frequencies bombarding us from all around. So, likewise, it shouldn’t be too difficult to believe there is a spirit realm that we don’t fully understand.
How many angels are there? The Bible doesn’t give us an exact number, but we know there are a lot. For instance, when Jesus was arrested in Gethsemane, He said to His fearful disciples, “Do you think that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He will provide Me with more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26:53). That would be nearly 80,000 angels!
Here’s what the apostle John saw in vision: “Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne, the living creatures, and the elders; and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands” (Revelation 5:11). This terminology in Greek indicates a number that cannot be counted. Here is the same idea: “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels” (Hebrews 12:22). Keep in mind that these are references to the good angels. There are plenty of bad ones out there as well.
Not to Be Worshiped
Angels are bright, powerful, intelligent, fast, and awesome. They are individuals with their own unique personalities. But for all the fascinating qualities of these heavenly beings, the Bible says we are never to worship them. They are part of the divine order, but they are not divine. As mentioned, angels are created beings. While God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit are eternal, angels have a beginning point. Good angels will live on throughout eternity, but evil angels have finite lives with a certain ending.
The Bible cautions, “Let no one cheat you of your reward, taking delight in false humility and worship of angels” (Colossians 2:18). When an angel appeared to John, he bowed down to worship. Note the angel’s response: “See that you do not do that. … Worship God” (Revelation 22:9).
The Ten Commandments plainly tell us, “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Exodus 20:3). That would include angels. Even praying over images of angels is prohibited. “You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them” (vv. 4, 5).
We know that one angel has demanded worship. When Satan tempted Christ in the wilderness, he promised Jesus the whole world if the Savior would only worship him. Of course, Jesus refused to comply with the devil’s invitation. He responded, “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve’ ” (Matthew 4:10).
Heavenly angels see themselves as our partners in the plan of salvation. The angel who visited John also said, “I am your fellow servant, and of your brethren the prophets, and those who keep the words of this book. Worship God” (Revelation 22:9, emphasis added).
One of the paramount joys of angels is to glorify God. We see this in Isaiah 6 and Revelation 7. When the angels came to announce the birth of Christ to the shepherds, what were their words? “Glory to God in the highest!” (Luke 2:14). Angels find no greater pleasure, and we were created for the same purpose. “Therefore,” writes Paul, “whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). We ought to find our supreme happiness in glorifying the God who saves, just like the angels.
Angels are ministering spirits who also live to obey God’s will. They constantly surround the Lord. You can see this symbolized in the earthly temple. It was a miniature model of the heavenly sanctuary. When God instructed Moses to build a sanctuary in the wilderness, angels adorned the temple. Angels were placed over the ark. Angels were embroidered into the curtains and engraved in the golden walls of the holy place. They were everywhere. In reality, angels surround God’s throne in heaven waiting to do His bidding.
The angels are especially interested in the plan of salvation for our lost world. Peter speaks of our salvation as “things which angels desire to look into” (1Peter 1:12). This host of heaven is God’s army ready to do battle for our redemption. They participate in saving us from destruction. “Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation?” (Hebrews 1:14). What an encouragement to know that these divine agents are sent to serve us!
A brief reference made by Jesus about angels shows how each one of us has at least one of these guardians of heaven watching over us. Christ said, “Take heed that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that in heaven their angels always see the face of My Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 18:10). Even the weakest Christian has the assurance that “their angel” has access to God.
David affirms the defense of angels when he writes, “Bless the Lord, you His angels, who excel in strength, who do His word, heeding the voice of His word. Bless the Lord, all you His hosts, you ministers of His, who do His pleasure” (Psalm 103:20, 21).
Most comforting are David’s words of the protective care angels provide God’s children. “Because you have made the Lord, who is my refuge, even the Most High, your dwelling place, no evil shall befall you, nor shall any plague come near your dwelling; 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. You shall tread upon the lion and the cobra, the young lion and the serpent you shall trample underfoot” (Psalm 91:9–13).
There are so many inspiring references to angels in the Bible. We could go on for hours about the stories of these heavenly beings in the Bible who visited Hagar, Lot, and Jacob, who fed Elijah, who saved Daniel in the lion’s den, who spoke with Zechariah, who announced good news to Mary, who freed Peter from prison, who guided Philip to an Ethiopian, who encouraged Paul in a sinking ship, and who even comforted Jesus after 40 days of fasting in the wilderness and in Gethsemane. Angels are all through the Bible.
Pastor John G. Paton, a pioneer missionary in the New Hebrides Islands, told a thrilling story involving the protective care of angels. A hostile, man-eating tribe surrounded his mission headquarters one night, intent on burning the Paton family out and killing them. John Paton and his wife prayed all during that terror-filled night that God would deliver them. When daylight came they were amazed to see that, unaccountably, the attackers had left. They thanked God for delivering them.
A year later, the chief of the tribe was converted, and Mr. Paton, remembering what had happened, asked the chief what had kept him and his men from burning down the house. The chief replied in surprise, “Who were all those men you had with you there?”
The missionary answered, “There were no men there; just my wife and I.” The chief argued that he had seen many men standing guard—hundreds in shining garments with drawn swords in their hands. They seemed to circle the mission station so that the tribe was afraid to attack. Only then did Mr. Paton realize that God had sent His angels to protect them.
We are not alone in this world. Heavenly beings observe everything we do. Not only do they protect us, but they cooperate with God in guiding us into truth when we stray. Someday we will meet them face to face. I’m looking forward to meeting my guardian angel; aren’t you? While we should never worship them, we certainly should thank God for angels who live to serve our fallen world.