A Brief Study of Angels
What do angels do and how does it affect us as humans?
As we have observed earlier, with the current day craze about angels in the society, there is much information available about what functions angels perform. Much of this is pure speculation and is not based on the Bible at all or is an exaggeration of what the Bible does say. For instance, Robert Lightner shares that some believe that twelve angels are assigned to be governors of the Zodiac and watch over the twelve months of the year. Further, some believe that there are certain angels for each day of the week and even each hour of the day. Others think that angels are assigned to protect animals both wild and tame and also the birds (with the dove alone having its own exclusive guardian). This goes on and on with some people contending that angels are assigned to plants and trees (to help them grow right); the nations, states and cities (to guide and help make successful); and the weather and the seasons (Angels, Satan and Demons, pp. 49-50).
Of course, as we have already stated we are interested in getting our information from God’s word. Although not all our questions may be answered by the Bible about angels, it does have a lot to say and we can trust that what it says is true.
Let us begin by noting that it seems that some angels are made for special functions or are created to be in special classifications. We have already seen two of these special types of angels, namely the cherubim andthe seraphim. Cherubim are seen in Genesis 3:24 and Ezekiel 10:1-22 (seen earlier in Ezekiel 1 but not named). The golden figures above the mercy seat of the Ark were cherubim (Exodus 25:17-22).
They have an extraordinary appearance with four faces with each respectively having the characteristics of a man, a lion, an ox and an eagle. They also have four wings and are said to be “full of eyes.” The specific function of the cherubim when we seen them seems to be that of protecting God’s glory and holiness.
Seraphim are seen only in Isaiah 6:1-7 where the prophet is having a vision of the temple of God in heaven. The word seraphim means burning ones. They are described as having six wings. Their function seems to be proclaiming the holiness and glory of the Lord. There are other angels and groups of angels which seem to be reserved for certain duties who are unnamed (Rev. 8:2-3; 14:17-18; 15:1; 20:1-3). However, we cannot say for certain that this is all they were created to do.
For that matter, the same can be said of the cherubim and seraphim. It may be that these angels have more than just one task no matter what specific type they are.
Another aspect of what angels do is necessarily determined by their rank. Just as the mail clerk of a business has different responsibilities than the CEO, so it would seem that angels also differ in their tasks acording to where God has placed them in His service. That they are ranked is made clear in the scriptures. In Jude 9 we see that Michael is designated as an archangel. As far as we know this is the highest rank possible for angels. Is Michael the only archangel? Possibly, but in Daniel 10:13 he (if it’s the same one) is also referred to as one of the chief princes which implies that there are others of his rank (cf. I Thess. 4:16). Michael’s main task seems to be overseer and guardian of God’s chosen people Israel. This is implied in Daniel 10:21when, while speaking to Daniel, Gabriel referred to Michael as your prince. In Revelation 12:7 we also see Michael leading the holy angels in battle against Satan and his angels. He is a powerful angel of spiritual warfare.
Seven different times in his epistles Paul mentions the organization and ranking of angels by using words like principalities, powers, dominions, thrones, rulers and might. The context determines whether he is speaking of holy or fallen angels. For now we will consider only the holy angels which seem to be referred to in Ephesians 1:21; 3:10 and Colossians 1:16; 2:10. Some (like Frank Peretti in his book This Present Darkness, for instance) take these and other statements to mean that certain angels are given responsibility and authority over certain geographical locations in the world beginning perhaps in neighborhoods and ascending in rank all the way up through cities, counties, states even to entire nations and larger areas.
The fact that Michael seems to have a special relationship with Israel bolsters this claim. However, it may also be that God assigned Michael to Israel because He knew that they would be especially targeted by Satan because of their status as God’s chosen people. It does not necessarily mean that every city, nation, etc. has an angel assigned to them. We cannot know for sure either way.
What Paul’s words do mean is that the angels are ranked in some fashion and that there is a hierarchy of authority and power. As with anything else, to operate effectively you must be organized. Apparently this is the case with the angels with. some planning and leading and some executing orders.
Which brings us to the sorts of orders and missions that the holy angels carry out in relationship to humans. According to the Bible angels have been very active in the affairs of mankind (of those who served God faithfully and also of those who did not.) Let’s start with examples of those who did not believe or serve God. We can probably sum up what angels do in relationship to unbelievers in a single word-- judgment. With regard to wickedness and evil people when angels are mentioned it is usually in connection with punishment God has ordained. Angels were involved in the judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 19:12-13); they were used in the destruction of Egypt (Psalm 78:49); also in the punishment of Jerusalem for idolatry
(Ezekiel 9:1-6); and again to strike Herod for his evil (Acts 12:21-23). Jesus makes it clear that the angels will assist in the final judgment (Matt. 13:39-42). And we have already seen in Revelation how the angels sounded the trumpets and poured out the bowl judgments of the Great Tribulation.
Another aspect of their actions toward unbelievers is that angels are also used to proclaim truth in a limited way. Once again in Revelation we see angels making announcements about what was to come and urging the hearers to repent (Rev. 8:13; 14:6). If we see the shepherds of Luke 2 as unbelievers, then angels were used to proclaim the “good tidings” of Jesus (Luke 2:9-14).
Their actions toward true believers are more varied and certainly more positive. We can see, however, that all of their doings can be summed up in a word from Hebrews 1:14--ministry. They are sometimes used by God on the behalf of believers when it is in His will to do so. They have benfitted God’s people in many ways among which are: protection (Daniel 6:22; Acts 12:11); provision (I Kings 19:57); direction (Acts 5:19-20; 8:26; 10:1-5) and encouragement (Acts 27:23-25).
Let’s briefly explore a related question to how angels care for and minister to believers. Are there such things as guardian angels? Different people have different ideas about this issue. Some believe they are assigned only to children. Some believe each child has only one while others think several angels are assigned to each child. Some believe that it is not a specific personal thing but rather some angels have been assigned to care for children in general. The key verse for this doctrine is found in Matthew 18:10. However this could just as easily mean that instead of attending the children that angels represent them before God in heaven.
But what about adults? Do they not receive aid from angels? We have already seen that they do minister to adults. We cannot know for sure whether each individual has a personal guardian angel assigned for him. What we can know for sure is that the Lord God loves us and watches over us. Ultimately it is He who protects, provides, directs, encourages, guards and saves us. Even as we are focusing on and studying this doctrine of angels we must keep in mind that they are merely God’s messengers (Hebrew malak; Greek angelos). They are His representatives to us and can only do what He has authorized and empowered them to do. To God be the glory for all that He has done for us.
One last question. Are angels still doing the same things today that they did in Bible days? We must bear in mind that we know for sure that angels have discontinued doing at least one thing. They do not carry messages directly from God to humans anymore. Why not? Because if they did then the Scriptures are not complete. God has given us the inspired, inerrant, infallible Bible to guide us. If we obey that we will be on the right path. If this is true, then it is possible that angels have discontinued other activities as well. My personal belief is that angels operate on the edge of normal circumstances. What I mean is that they work behind the scenes on behalf of believers and in accordance with God’s will. For skeptics there is nothing there that would mandate a belief in the supernatural. For Christians we see the circumstances as being manipulated, controlled or influenced by God on our behalf--perhaps by using His agents, the angels. Working in this manner, they insure that a belief in angels is still a matter of faith in what God has told us in His word, the Bible.