Are there angels in our world today? Do they intervene in our lives? The answer may surprise you.
Angels in the Bible
6 Reasons God Created Angels
What Angels Want Us to Know About Them
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.
Praying throughout the night, the Patons threw themselves on God's mercy and asked for deliverance. When the first rays of sunlight came the following day, John and his wife were amazed to discover 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 not burned down the building, the chief surprised him with a question of his own: "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 explained 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.1
While experiences like the Patons' are uncommon, they are not unprecedented. Similar, credible stories of angelic activity emerge more often than you would think.
Angels in the Bible
Angels are mentioned 108 times in the Old Testament and 165 times in the New Testament. In the Bible, an angel cooked 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. At times, angels fought battles for men. One wrestled all night with a man, and another saved a man from sacrificing his son. After an angel broke a man out of jail, the man who escaped was mistaken for an angel.
And there are many more angels. In Revelation, John reports seeing ten thousand times ten thousand and thousands of thousands of angels around the throne. To give you a perspective on how many angels this is, the average football stadium in America holds about 50,000 people. It would take some 2,000 stadiums of that size to hold 100,000,000 people. The total number of angels John saw may have far exceeded 100,000,000—"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.
6 Reasons God Created Angels
Millions of angels are involved in our world and 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 serve in various capacities.
1. 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."
2. Angels Guide Us
In the book of Genesis, we find the story of Sodom and Gomorrah's destruction. Abraham pled with God to protect Lot and his family. As Abraham prayed to God, the Lord dispatched some angels to guide Lot and his family out of 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."'
3. Angels Encourage Us
When the Angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon in Judges 6:12, he announced, "The Lord is with you, you mighty man of valor!" And when Mary learned she would be the Messiah's mother, Gabriel said to her, "Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!" (Luke 1:28)
• What Does the Bible Say About Angels? Understanding Heaven's Mighty Warriors
• Do I Have a Guardian Angel? And Other Questions Answered About Angels
• What Do Angels Look Like?
4. Angels Deliver Us
During Daniel's captivity, it was an angel who protected him in the lions' den. After surviving the ordeal, he explained, "My God sent His angel and shut the lions' mouths, so that they have not hurt me, because I was found innocent before Him" (Daniel 6:22). When Peter was in prison, the angel of the Lord came and told Peter to get up quickly, "And his chains fell off his hands" (Acts 12:7).
5. 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).
6. Angels Empower us
When Jesus was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, the Bible says, "Then an angel appeared to Him from heaven, strengthening Him" (Luke 22:43).
What Angels Want Us to Know About Them
It is fascinating to consider what angels can and will do in our lives. But we need to remember our standard is the Word of God. Much that is going on in the name of angels in our world is not biblical, and we need to take care that we do not get caught in the web of popular opinion. As God's servants, angels would want us to understand four fundamental truths.
1. Angels Are Not a Substitute for God in Our Life
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 Are Nothing Like Their Pop Culture Portrayals
In the Bible, angels of God always appear in the masculine. Feminine angels appear in some historical accounts and personal experiences, but never in the Bible. It is also worth noting that God's angels never appear as animals or birds in Scripture.
According to the Bible, angels are a created class of beings, not spiritually progressed men. In other words, people do not evolve into angels. Angels do not age, nor do they spend time trying to earn their wings. God's angels exist eternally in the same form He created them.
Even some secular sources recognize the disparity. A Time magazine article reports, "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."2
3. Angels Should Not Be Worshiped
A desire for angels that is greater than a desire for the Creator will lead to trouble. 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."
One reason why angels rarely materialize to humans may be that we would be tempted to worship them if we could see them. Man, who has been known to worship the works of his own hands, would hardly be able to resist the worship of angels were they before his eyes.
Twice in the book of Revelation, John was so overcome by the appearance of an angel that he tried to worship him. Both times the angel admonished him to worship God instead.
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, our gratitude belongs to God, the God we know in Christ. It is wrong to "ask your angel" something. Scripture never directs us to pray to angels. We pray to God, and He sends the help we need.
4. Not Every Angel Is From God
There are two kinds of angels in the world. There are the faithful angels of God, and then there are what the Bible calls "angels of light." Angels of light are fallen angels. Second Corinthians 11:14-15 says, "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 his ministers 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 who wasn't telling the truth. First John 4:1 warns, "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world."
How do we "test the spirits"? We evaluate any encounter in the light of Scripture. God's angels work day and night for God's glory and our benefit.
We cannot allow popular culture to cheapen our understanding of angels. There is true joy in knowing that God dispatches His angels to minister to us. Understanding the truth about angels will prompt our hearts to magnify the One they and we serve.
1Billy Graham, Angels (Dallas: Word Publishing, 1975), 5-6.
2Nancy Gibbs, "Angels Among Us," Time (December 27, 1992): 56.