The Ministry of Angels
Past, Present, and Future
[read in Lamplighter (pdf)]
Lamb & Lion Ministries had four founders back in 1980. One supplied the faith; another, the leadership; a third, the money. The fourth was the one to whom God gave the vision for the ministry — a man named Dudley Head.
Dudley is one of the godliest men I have ever known. Ever since I met him in the 1970's, he has had an intimate relationship with the Lord, producing many special spiritual experiences in his life.
For example, I remember the day he called me excitedly to tell me about something that had happened to him in his backyard. "I was meditating on the Lord," he said, "when I sensed His presence. I quietly said, 'Lord, please manifest your presence to me in some special way.'"
Dudley said the words were hardly out of his mouth when a Monarch butterfly suddenly appeared, circled him a few times, and then landed in the open palm of his right hand. "We just sat there and stared at each other for a long time," Dudley said.
In 1963 Dudley was serving as the lay preacher of a small church in South Dakota, and he desperately needed encouragement. One day he got a telephone call from a stranger.
"Do you believe in helping people?" the man asked.
"Yes, I do," answered Dudley.
"Even if they are Jewish?"
"Yes," Dudley responded.
The man then explained that he was a Jew who was stranded in the town and needed help. He said he was at a gas station on the main highway that passed through the town.
Dudley drove over and picked him up. He was a young man in his early 30's. He said he had been hitchhiking from California.
Dudley took him home, and his wife fixed dinner for him. After dinner, Dudley asked the man if he would like to go to his church's Wednesday evening Bible study. The man agreed.
They were studying the Old Testament, something none of the members of the church were familiar with, including Dudley. As they began their study that evening, the Jewish stranger soon took over and began to explain the meaning of the Scriptures. Dudley was amazed, enlightened, and encouraged.
Dudley found a place for the man to stay that night and paid for his lodging. The next morning, he had disappeared without a trace.
To this day Dudley believes the man was an angel sent by God to encourage him and to get him interested in the prophecies contained in the Hebrew Scriptures. And ever since that strange experience more than 40 years ago, Dudley has emphasized Hebrews 13:2 to everyone: "Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it."
Yes, the Bible teaches the reality of angels, and it teaches that they sometimes take on human form in order to minister to those who are in the process of being saved (Hebrews 1:14).
What are angels? Where did they come from? What is their purpose? Do they have a ministry today? How do they relate to the end times?
The Origin of Angels
Angels are spirit beings (Hebrews 1:14) which were created by God (Genesis 2:1 and Colossians 1:16). Exactly when they were created is not clear, but they pre-date the creation of the material universe because the Scriptures say that they witnessed the creation and rejoiced over it (Job 38:4-7).
One of the greatest myths concerning angels pertains to their origin. Many people are convinced that when a saved person goes to Heaven, he or she becomes an angel. There is no biblical basis for this belief. Angels and humans are two separate entities. The Bible says that Man is slightly lower than the angels (Hebrews 2:5-7), but the Bible also teaches that through redemption Man becomes superior to angels and that the saved will one day judge the angels — most likely the fallen angels (1 Corinthians 6:3).
Jesus spoke of two kinds of angels — the "angels in Heaven" (Matthew 22:30) and "the devil and his angels" (Matthew 25:41). The latter seem to have originated from Satan's rebellion against God.
Satan was originally one of God's most glorious angels, "full of wisdom and perfect in beauty" (Ezekiel 28:12). But his heart became lifted up because of his beauty (Ezekiel 28:17), and his pride motivated him to try to take the throne of God (Isaiah 14:12-14). Due to his rebellion, he was cast out of Heaven, down to earth, and one third of the angels were cast out with him because they joined his rebellion (Revelation 12:4).
The Bible does not tell us when this revolt took place, but it was most likely after the end of the creation week because at the end of that week God pronounced all of His creation to be "good" (Genesis 1:31).
I believe these fallen angels are the demons that are referred to in both the Old and New Testaments. Satan, in fact, is called the "ruler of the demons" (Matthew 9:34).
Three places in the Hebrew Scriptures we are told that people sacrificed to demons (Leviticus 17:7, Deuteronomy 32:17 and Psalm 106:37). With the opening of the New Testament, there is an explosion of demonic activity, undoubtedly in response to the First Coming of the Messiah. Jesus was often confronted by demons who recognized who He was (Mark 3:11), and much of His healing ministry was directed at casting demons out of people (Matthew 8:16).
The Bible teaches that some of these fallen angels did not keep to their properly assigned domain (Jude 6), and they were thus bound in a place called Tartarus, probably a compartment in Hades, possibly even the abyss or chasm that exists in Hades (Luke 16:26). What is meant by "not keeping to their own domain" is not clear. Some believe this is a reference to Genesis 6 where we are told that "the sons of God" had sexual relations with "the daughters of men" and that their union produced a race of giants known as the Nephilim (Genesis 6:1-4).
The Nature of Angels
Angels are created spirit beings (Nehemiah 9:6 and Hebrews 1:14). Yet, the Bible clearly teaches that they can take on human form and appear to people. In the Old Testament there are recorded appearances of angels to Abraham, Hagar, Lot, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, Gideon, David, Daniel, and many others. The New Testament opens with a whole series of angelic appearances related to the birth of the Messiah. After the death of Jesus, angels appeared at His tomb and at His ascension. Peter, John, Phillip, and Paul all had angelic encounters in their ministries.
In their biblical appearances angels always manifest themselves as men. There is no mention of them having wings. The idea that angels have wings is rooted in the Bible's description of some special angelic beings called Seraphim and Cherubim who reside in the throne room of God in Heaven. Seraphim are described as having six wings (Isaiah 6:2). Cherubim are depicted with four wings (Ezekiel 1:5-6).
When angels take on human form, they appear like any normal person (Genesis 18:2 and Genesis 19:1-17). When they manifest themselves in their spirit form, they tend to appear as dazzling light (Matthew 28:1-4).
Angels have emotions. They rejoiced over the creation of the universe (Job 38:7), and we are told that "there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents" (Luke 15:10).
Angels do not marry or procreate (Matthew 22:30). They do not age nor are they subject to death (Luke 20:36). Therefore, their numbers remain constant. The exact number is not revealed, but it is very large. Ten thousand angels appeared to Moses on Mount Sinai (Deuteronomy 33:2). David saw 20,000 at one time (Psalm 68:17). When John was raptured to the throne room of God, he saw ten times ten thousand (KJV) or, as the New American Standard Version puts it: "myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands" (Revelation 5:11). The book of Hebrews says there are "innumerable myriads" (Hebrews 12:22).
Angels have great knowledge, but they are not omniscient. Jesus said, for example, that angels do not know when His Second Coming will take place (Mark 13:32). Angels are very powerful (2 Thessalonians 1:7 and 2 Peter 2:11), but they are not omnipotent. They are obedient servants of their Creator (Psalm 103:20). They can move about rapidly, but they are not omnipresent. In short, angels are not gods, and therefore, they are not to be worshiped (Colossians 2:18 and Revelation 22:8-9).
There is no biblical passage that says angels have to eat to stay alive, but the Bible portrays them as eating when they take on human form (Genesis 18:1-8 and 19:1-3). Also, Psalm 78:25 refers to the manna God provided to feed the children of Israel in the wilderness as "the bread of angels."
In like manner, the Bible never specifically says that angels sing, but their singing is implied in two ways. First, their words are often expressed in poetic form (Luke 2:14, Revelation 4:8, 11, and Revelation 5:9-10,12-13). Second, music is a universal form of worship, and angels are pictured worshiping the Lord unceasingly (Psalm 148:1-2 and Revelation 4 and 5).
When angels speak to a person, they always use that person's native language. But the Bible indicates that angels have a language of their own that they use among themselves (1 Corinthians 13:1).
The Types of Angels
There is quite a variety of angels in addition to the regular ones and the fallen ones.
The Bible indicates that Satan may have originally been the supreme angel. Before his fall, he is referred to as "the anointed cherub" (Ezekiel 28:14). He is further described as "the seal of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty" (Ezekiel 28:12- 13). After Satan's fall, an angel named Michael became the chief of God's heavenly host. He is the only angel referred to in the Bible as an "archangel" (Jude 9).
The Hebrew Scriptures portray Michael as "the great prince who stands guard over the sons of your people [the Jews]" (Daniel 12:1). The book of Revelation pictures Michael as the commander-in-chief of the armies of God, and in this capacity, he wages war against Satan in the middle of the Tribulation when Satan tries one last time to take the throne of God (Revelation 12:7-9). So important and powerful is Michael that some cultic groups, like the Jehovah's Witnesses and the Seventh Day Adventists, have incorrectly identified him with Jesus.
In 1 Thessalonians 4:16 we are told that when Jesus appears for the Rapture of the Church, the event will be heralded by the shout of an archangel. Since Michael is the only angel identified in the Scriptures with this title, he is most likely the one who will utter the shout.
Another angel VIP is Gabriel. He emerges in the Scriptures as God's premier messenger. He appeared to Daniel twice, first to interpret a vision concerning the Antichrist (Daniel 8:15-26), and second, to present the prophecy of the 70 Weeks of Years (Daniel 9:20-27).
In the New Testament, Gabriel serves as an angel of annunciation. He was the one who proclaimed to Zacharias that his wife would give birth to a prophet named John (Luke 1:8-20). And he is the angel who told Mary that she would be the mother of the Messiah (Luke 1:26-33).
There are two mysterious groups of angels that occupy the throne room of God. They are called Seraphim and Cherubim. The Seraphim are pictured only once in the Scriptures, in Isaiah 6:1-3. In this passage Isaiah is given a glimpse of God's throne room in Heaven. He sees angelic creatures called Seraphim hovering above God's throne. They are described as having six wings each. They appear to be worship leaders as they cry out, "Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts, the whole world is full of His glory."
The Cherubim are first mentioned in Genesis 3:24. After the fall of Adam and Eve and their expulsion from the Garden of Eden, God posted Cherubim with flaming swords "to guard the way to the tree of life." They are next mentioned in Exodus 25 when God told Moses to place images of two Cherubim on the mercy seat (the lid) of the Ark of the Covenant (Exodus 25:18-20).
When King Solomon built his magnificent temple, he placed two gigantic images of Cherubim in the Holy of Holies. Their outstretched wings hovered over the entire chamber, including the Ark of the Covenant with its smaller Cherubim (2 Chronicles 3:8-14). These symbolic usages of Cherub symbols indicate that Cherubim are special guardians of God's things.
The most detailed description of these enigmatic celestial creatures can be found in chapter one of Ezekiel's prophecy. Ezekiel was a prisoner in Chaldea by the Chebar River when he had a vision of a storm coming from the north with glowing figures in the clouds (Ezekiel 1:1-4). He described them as "four living beings" that had "human form," but each of them had four faces and four wings (Ezekiel 1:4-6). They gleamed like burnished bronze (Ezekiel 1:7). Each of these creatures had the face of a man, the face of a lion, the face of a bull, and the face of an eagle — seemingly representing all of God's creation (Ezekiel 1:10).
Ezekiel later identifies these creatures as Cherubim (Ezekiel 10:15) when he encounters them for a second time. The second encounter is a sad one. It occurred when God decided to withdraw His glory from the Holy of Holies in preparation for the destruction of Jerusalem by the Chaldeans. As the glory of the Lord (what the Jews called "the Shekinah") departed, Ezekiel witnessed Cherubim accompanying it to Heaven (Ezekiel 10:1-22).
When the Apostle John was raptured to Heaven from the Isle of Patmos, he saw similar creatures in front of God's throne. Like Ezekiel, he referred to them as "four living creatures" (Revelation 4:6). What he saw was very similar, but not exactly the same. He does not mention each having four faces, and he says they had six wings each instead of four. But he does state that each one had a different face, and the faces mentioned are the same as what Ezekiel saw — lion, bull, man, and eagle.
The only other special angel mentioned in the Scriptures is a very special one indeed. He is the one who is referred to throughout the Old Testament as "The Angel of the Lord." I believe He is none other than Jesus making preincarnate appearances.
The Ministry of Angels
Michael is the commander-in-chief of the heavenly host and the designated defender of Israel. Gabriel is God's special messenger. The Seraphim are worship leaders. The Cherubim are guardians. The Four Living Creatures of Revelation are either identical with the Cherubim or else they are special representatives of all God's creation. Like the Seraphim, they praise God without ceasing (Revelation 4:8-9).
Regarding the host of regular angels, the Bible makes it clear that they are servants of God who have a variety of tasks. One of those tasks is indicated by their name. The very word, angel, is derived from the Greek word, angelos, which means "messenger." The Hebrew equivalent, malakh, also means "messenger." Accordingly, angels are often pictured in the Scriptures as delivering messages from God. The examples abound throughout the Scriptures. To mention only a few —
- The Law was given to Moses through angels (Acts 7:53 and Galatians 3:19).
- Angels are portrayed as mediums of revelation to God's prophets (Daniel 4:13-17, Zechariah 1:9-11, and Hebrews 2:2).
- Abraham was informed by angels that his wife would have a child (Genesis 18:1-10).
- Lot was warned by angels of the impending destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:1-16).
- Joseph was visited by angels three times in dreams. He was assured that Mary was a virgin (Matthew 1:20). He was told to take his family and flee to Egypt (Matthew 2:13). And he was informed when it was safe to leave Egypt and return to Nazareth (Matthew 2:19-20).
- Cornelius, the first Gentile convert, was told by an angel to send for Peter to receive a special message from God (Acts 10:1-8).
A second major role of angels is to minister to the needs of saints. They were sent to provide food and drink for Elijah as he lay dying in the wilderness (1 Kings 19:1-8). In like manner, angels were dispatched to minister to Jesus after His exhausting 40 days of temptation in the wilderness (Matthew 4:11). An army of angels surrounded the prophet Elisha to protect him when his life was endangered (2 Kings 6:15-19). In the New Testament, we are told that Peter was released from prison by an angel (Acts 12:5-11).
An equally significant role of angels is to execute judgments of God. They were sent to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:12-15). An angel of the Lord killed 185,000 Assyrian soldiers in one night to prevent them from attacking Jerusalem (2 Kings 19:35). Psalm 78:49 speaks of a "band of destroying angels" that was sent to torment the Jews in the wilderness when they rebelled against God. The New Testament makes it clear that God will execute His end time judgments on the nations through angels (Matthew 13:49- 50 and Jude 14-15).
Some angels seem to have highly specialized responsibilities that relate to the natural universe. Revelation 16:5 refers to "the angel of the waters." Another is called the angel "who has power over fire" (Revelation 14:18). In Revelation 7:1 four angels are pictured who have control of the winds of the earth.
The most popular concept of the role of angels is that of guardians. Most people seem to believe that God has assigned a guardian angel to each person. The Bible never says this, but it does indicate a guardian role for angels. As I have already mentioned, the Archangel Michael is the protector of Israel (Daniel 12:1). Jesus indicated that children have guardian angels. He is quoted in Matthew 18:10 as saying, "See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven continually behold the face of My Father..."
Hebrews 1:14 indicates that believers may have guardian angels: "Are they [angels] not all ministering spirits sent out to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation?" I love this verse, and I often claim it in prayer. For example, when I have to travel out of town, I always pray for the Lord to post an angel at my home to watch over my wife. And I always pray for the Lord to surround my airplane with angels to guarantee a safe flight.
A companion verse to Hebrews 1:14 can be found in Psalm 91:11-12 —
11) For He will give His angels charge concerning you, to guard you in all your ways.
12) They will bear you up in their hands, lest you strike your foot against a stone.
The letters Jesus dictated to John for the seven churches of Asia Minor are addressed to "the angel" of each church. Some believe this is a reference to the pastor, and that could very well be, but I cannot help but imagine that the Lord has assigned an actual angel to guard each of His true churches.
With one exception, which we will see later, angels are never given the responsibility of proclaiming the Gospel. This is the work of the Holy Spirit through human evangelists, pastors, and laymen. But angels are often portrayed as playing an active role in evangelistic preparation. Thus, it was an angel who directed the evangelist Philip to the location of the Ethiopian enunch so that the Gospel could be shared with him (Acts 8:26). The situation is reversed with the Roman soldier, Cornelius. An angel appeared to him in order to direct him to Peter so that Peter could share the Gospel with him. Angels guide, but the Holy Spirit instructs (Acts 8:29).
Several verses indicate that angels are active and involved eyewitnesses to what is going on in the Church and in the lives of believers (1 Corinthians 4:9, 11:10 and 1 Timothy 5:21). Surely the "cloud of witnesses" referred to in Hebrews 12:1 must include the angels as well as saints who have gone to be with the Lord. In this sense I think we can consider the angels to be our cheerleaders! We know for certain that they celebrate when a sinner repents and is saved (Luke 15:10). The Bible also indicates that they attend the death of a believer. In His story about Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16:19-31), Jesus left us with the comforting concept that when a believer dies, his spirit is ushered into the Lord's presence by angels (Luke 16:22).
Dr. Vance Havner commented on the impact of angels as observers in his book, Though I Walk Through the Valley (1974). He tells the story of the pastor of a small country church who was working late into the night on a sermon. His wife asked him why he was spending so much time on a message that would be given to such a small congregation. He replied, "You forget, my dear, how large my audience will be!" Dr. Havner added, "Nothing is trivial here if Heaven looks on. We shall play a better game if, 'seeing we are encompassed,' we remember who is in the grandstand."
Angels in the End Times
The Bible reveals that there will be a flurry of angelic activity in the end times.
The Four Living Creatures before the throne of God are the ones who will execute the first series of judgments that will mark the beginning of the Tribulation. It is in response to their commands that the Four Horsemen go forth with the Seal Judgments that result in the death of one-fourth of humanity (Revelation 6:1-8). Simultaneously, it is angels who will seal 144,000 Jews so that they will be supernaturally protected from all the judgments (Revelation 7:2-3).
When the second series of judgments begin — the Trumpet Judgments — it will be angels once again who serve as the instruments of God's wrath, resulting in the deaths of one-third of those still left alive (Revelation 8 and 9).
In the middle of the Tribulation, Satan will try one last time to take the throne of God, resulting in a war in the heavens between Satan and his demonic angels and Michael and his holy angels. Satan will be defeated, and he and his angels will be cast down to earth. His access to Heaven will be cut off permanently (Revelation 12:7-12).
In the second half of the Tribulation we are told that God will give Mankind one last opportunity to repent before He pours out His final wrath. He does this in a most unusual way. He sends forth three angels with very specific tasks.
The first angel, the one I like to refer to as "the Gospel Angel," is given the responsibility to proclaim the "eternal gospel" to "every nation and tribe and tongue and people" (Revelation 14:6). This will be the only time in history that God has allowed an angel to preach the Gospel. It will constitute the fulfillment of a prophecy made by Jesus when He said: "This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world for a witness to all the nations, and then the end shall come" (Matthew 24:14).
The second angel will follow the first as he circumnavigates the earth. His task will be to proclaim the impending destruction of the kingdom of the Antichrist (Revelation 14:8). The third angel will follow along behind the first two. His role will be to issue a warning that anyone who worships the Antichrist and receives his mark will suffer God's wrath and torment in Hell (Revelation 14:9-11).
These three proclamations will be followed by the final outpouring of God's wrath, called the Bowl Judgments (Revelation 16). Once again, seven angels will execute these judgments (Revelation 16:1). Angels are also the ones who will destroy the capital city of the Antichrist in one hour on one day (Revelation 18).
The destruction of the Antichrist and his kingdom will bring to a close the terrible period of the Tribulation and will result in all the heavenly host breaking forth in celebration shouting, "Hallelujah!" (Revelation 19:1-7). Shortly thereafter, this same host of angels will return to earth with Jesus at His Second Coming (Matthew 24:30-31). They will gather the elect (those saved during the Tribulation who are still alive) from the four corners of the earth (Matthew 24:31).
The only information we are given about angels in the Eternal State is that the fallen angels, together with Satan, will be tormented in Hell forever (Matthew 25:41 and Revelation 20:10). No information is supplied regarding the godly angels.
I would assume that the holy angels would continue to serve God eternally and that they would also continue to minister to the Redeemed. I yearn to hear their stories about their interventions in my life. I look forward to their fellowship, and most of all, I look forward to hearing them sing!