What Does the Bible Say About Angels?
Angels have not always existed. Numerous biblical passages affirm that God, in the beginning, created all angels. Job alludes to angelic choirs filling the heavens with praise to God in the event of creation, “when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy” (Job 38:7). Though spiritual beings, angels are distinct from the Triune God and do not possess eternality. A clear difference is made in Nehemiah 9:6 between the God of heaven and his creation, “You are the Lord, you alone. You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host…and the host of heaven worships you.” Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274), known affectionately as the “Angelic Doctor,” is concerned throughout his writings with firmly establishing the creation and existence of angels. According to Aquinas, one of the purposes of God in the work of creation was to show forth his own glory. Therefore, another way to demonstrate the perfection of the cosmos is that it reflects God’s inherent perfection. Aquinas argues that since God possesses perfect intelligence and that there must be creatures within his creation which are also intelligent. He believes the angels contribute to the glory of God and bear a likeness to God in their operations as well as in their substance.
The early church father, Augustine (354–430), is quick to emphasize that the creation account revealed in Genesis does not directly mention the creation of angels and is in fact surprisingly silent on the matter, giving more consideration to the creation of God’s other creatures. For Augustine, the creation of the angels is a matter of textual and theological speculation. He alludes to the angelic creation when examining the opening chapters of the book of Genesis and speculates that the creation of “heaven” in Genesis 1:1 inaugurates the ex nihilo creation of spiritual beings, while the creation of “light” in Genesis 1:3 serves as the time in which those celestial creatures come to the light, launching them forth as servants of God. Within his discussion, Augustine was careful to point out that though the creation account in Genesis does not directly mention the creation of angels, it was conceivable that God created the angels preceding the creation of the cosmos––or that the angels were created in tandem with the establishment of the cosmos. For Augustine, the most vital element remains that angels must be comprehended in a manner that fully and completely sets them apart from being co-eternal with the Triune God.
The New Testament writers also affirm the creation of angels. For instance, in Colossians 1:16, Paul states, “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities––all things were created through him and for him.”
In the New Testament, Paul states, “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities––all things were created through him and for him” (Col 1:16). A close survey of Scripture demonstrates that the angels are created by God and derive their being from him as their supreme Creator.
In addition, God firmly established the number of the angels at the precise moment of their creation (Neh 9:6). In other words, God is not continually creating angels, but their existence and number was firmly fixed in the beginning. Scripture never indicates the exact number of the angels that were created, but it often alludes to innumerable hosts. On Mount Sinai, God, “came from ten thousand of holy ones, with flaming fire at his right hand” (Deut 33:2). In Psalm 68:17, the psalmist identifies “the chariots of God are twice ten thousand, thousands upon thousands.” When believers enter the presence of God in worship, we enter into the presence of “innumerable angels” (Heb 12:22). John recounts, “I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands” (Rev 5:11). Regardless of their population, we can be certain that God created the necessary number of angels to carry out his will and to render appropriate praise to their Creator.
Angels are Not Humans
While the Bible asserts the creation of the angels by God, it also insists that they do not exist in the same way in which human beings do. For instance, unlike humans, God created the angels to neither procreate (Matt 22:20) or die. The author of Hebrews proposes that all angels are “spirits”––“are they not all ministering spirits…?” (Heb 1:14). When Jesus appeared to his disciples between the resurrection and ascension, he avows that a “spirit” does not have “flesh and bones” as he does (Luke 24:39). In the Bible, angels are not usually visible to humans unless God reveals them (see Num 22:31; 2 Kings 6:17; Luke 2:13). However, from time to time angels took on a bodily form and appeared to various people in Scripture. The angel said to the woman at the empty tomb of Jesus, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified, he is not here, for he has risen” (Matt 28:5–6). In addition, Jesus instructed that angels do not marry, for in the future resurrection people “neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like the angels in Heaven” (Matt 22:30).
Angels are Powerful
Angelic power is clearly evident in both the Old and New Testaments. In Psalm 103:20, the angels are identified as “mighty ones.” In Ephesians 1:21, angels are defined as “powers,” while in Colossians 1:16 as “authorities.” In the Old Testament, angels rescued people, destroyed cities, devastated armies, and even caused blindness. In the account of 2 Samuel 24:10–17, angels struck down seventy thousand men in Jerusalem. The holy angles also appear to be in constant warfare with fallen angels (demons) in the “heavens” (Dan 10:13; 20–21). Throughout the New Testament, angels play a significant role. An angel moved the stone away from the entrance to the tomb of Jesus (Matt 28:2; Mark 16:3–4) and released Peter from prison (Acts 12:7–11). Herod was struck with a fatal case of worms by an angel (Acts 12:20–23). Paul referred to angels as “mighty” (2 Thess 1:7), and Peter called them “greater in might and power” than humans” (2 Pet 2:11). In Revelation, angels exercise power over nature (Rev 7:1–3). Angels will evict Satan and his angels permanently from heaven (Rev 12:7–9). An angel will bind and incarcerate Satan (Rev 20:1–3).
Angels are Not to be Worshipped
The “worship of angels” was one of the false doctrines being taught at Colossae (Col 2:18). In Revelation, an angel warns John not to worship him: “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brethren who hold the testimony of Jesus. Worship God” (Rev 19:10). In addition, we should never pray to angels. God alone is able to answer prayer. Paul warns us against thinking that any other “mediator” can come between us and God, “for there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5). If we were to pray to angels, it would implicitly give them a status equal to God. There are no examples in Scripture of anyone praying to an angel or asking an angel for help. Moreover, Scripture gives no warrant to seek appearances of angels. They manifest themselves unsought. To seek such appearances would seem to indicate an unhealthy curiosity or a desire for some kind of spectacular event rather than a love for God and devotion to him and his work. Though angels did appear to people at various times in Scripture, the people apparently never sought those appearances. Our role is rather to talk to the Lord, who is himself the commander of all angelic forces. However, it would not seem wrong to ask God to fulfill his promise in Psalm 91:11 to send angels to protect us in times of need.
This article first appeared on December 19, 2018 in Tabletalk magazine.