The subject of angels is always an interesting one. Over the years I’ve found that people’s understanding of angels often involves more folklore than biblical fidelity. My aim here is to offer a brief overview of the biblical doctrine of angels. I’m aware there’s a ton of stuff I’m leaving out, but I’m keeping it short and simple on purpose. If you’d like a more in-depth treatment of angels, I’ll provide a couple of good resources at the end of this blog.
Before going into what angels are, what they do, and how we should view them, let’s first talk about what angels are not.
- Angels are not humans. Though they often take the appearance of people (Hebrews 13:2), they themselves are not human.
- Angels are not chubby little babies with wings. The Bible speaks of angels as appearing in adult human form (Genesis 19:5), or as inhuman (Revelation 4:7-8).
- People do not turn into angels after death. People meet their eternal destination after death, whether for the good or for the not so good (Hebrews 9:27).
- Angels are not to be venerated or worshipped (Revelation 22:8-9).
- Not all angels are good. There are evil angels called demons, whose leader is Satan (2 Thessalonians 2:9; Job 1:6).
So, we want to answer three questions concerning angels:
What are angels? What do angels do? and How should we respond to angels? Angels are created beings, called “the host of heaven” (Nehemiah 9:6) and “principalities and authorities” (Colossians 1:16). The word “angel” means “messenger.” Therefore, the primary duty of angels is to bring messages from God to people (Luke 1:26-38). Angels also help in carrying out God’s will (Revelation 16:1). In addition, angels are present in the worship of God (Psalm 103:20; Isaiah 6:3). Angels are also protectors of God’s people (Psalm 91:11). (The idea of a singular “guardian angel” for each person in unknown in the Bible.) Finally, angels are called “ministering spirits” (Hebrews 1:13-14). The word “minister” meaning attending to needs, such as angels providing nourishment for Jesus after Satan had tempted him (Matthew 4:11).
In response to angels, the main thing is we are not to worship or venerate them. After John had fallen down to worship an angel on the island of Patmos, the angel chided him and told him to “Worship God” (Revelation 19:10). Likewise, Paul speaks disapprovingly of those who were “worshipping angels” when writing to the church at Colossae (Colossians 2:18). Finally, we should be aware that to worship anything created (including angels) is to partake in false worship and idolatry (Romans 1:25).
In closing, here are a couple of resources that I’ve found helpful concerning all the Bible says about angels:
- Dr. Wayne Grudem’s magnum opus, Systematic Theology, contains one of the best organized treatments of angels (and demons) that I’ve read (see chs. 19 and 20). The title of the book may be bland, but Grudem organizes everything well and keeps things very simple.
- I believe Dr. David Jeremiah’s cd/book is the most concise explanation of the biblical view of angels that I’ve ever heard. You can order the package here: Angels: The Complete Study Set.