Skip to main content

The Biblical Role and Significance of Angels

Hebrews 13:2

Do not forget to entertain strangers, for some have unknowingly entertained angels.

Angels have long captured the imagination and fascination of people throughout history. We often depict them as heavenly beings, messengers of God, and guardians of humanity. In Christian art and iconography, angels have been depicted in various forms, from the ethereal, winged beings of Renaissance paintings to the more abstract, geometric representations found in contemporary Christian art. They have also been the subject of countless hymns, prayers, and devotional practices, reflecting the deep fascination and reverence that believers have for these celestial beings.


Angels are created beings, distinct from both God and humans. They are spiritual beings, not bound by the physical limitations of the human body, and they possess a range of supernatural abilities, such as the power to appear and disappear at will, to take on human form, and to travel between the heavenly and earthly realms. While angels are often depicted as being inherently good, the Bible also acknowledges the existence of fallen angels led by Satan, who have rebelled against God and seek to undermine His divine plan.


The term 'angel' is derived from the Greek 'angelos,' which means 'messenger.' This etymological origin is significant because it highlights the primary function of angels in the biblical narrative: to communicate divine messages to humanity. In the Old Testament, angels are often portrayed as emissaries of God, tasked with conveying important information to individuals or communities. For example, in Genesis 18-19, angels inform Abraham of the impending destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and subsequently rescue Lot and his family from the city's annihilation. Similarly, in the Book of Daniel, the angel Gabriel interprets the prophet's visions and reveals God's plan.


In the New Testament, angels continue to play a prominent role in the unfolding of God's plan for salvation. The angel Gabriel announces the birth of John the Baptist to Zechariah (Luke 1:11-20) and the conception of Jesus to Mary (Luke 1:26-38). Angels also feature prominently in the birth narratives of Jesus, appearing to shepherds in the fields of Bethlehem to proclaim the good news of the Saviour's birth (Luke 2:8-14). Angels minister to Jesus during his temptation in the wilderness (Matthew 4:11) and announce his resurrection to the women at the tomb (Matthew 28:5-7).


There are many other instances of angelic encounters throughout the Bible, each of which serves to illustrate the diverse roles and functions of angels within the Christian faith. Some of the most notable examples include:


1. The Angel of the Lord: This figure appears in various passages throughout the Old Testament, often in delivering important messages or providing guidance and protection. Sometimes, the Angel of the Lord is identified with God Himself, as in the story of the burning bush (Exodus 3:2), while in others, the angel serves as a distinct messenger or intermediary, such as in the story of Abraham and Isaac (Genesis 22:11-18).


2. The Archangels: The Bible identifies several archangels who serve as the highest-ranking angels in the celestial hierarchy. The most well-known of these is Michael, described as the chief prince of the angels and the protector of Israel (Daniel 12:1). Other archangels mentioned in the Bible include Gabriel, who delivers the message of Jesus' birth to Mary (Luke 1:26-38), and Raphael, who appears in the apocryphal Book of Tobit as a guide and healer.


3. The Angelic Host: The Bible frequently refers to the "host" or "army" of angels, who serve as God's celestial army and carry out His divine will. This is most famously depicted in the story of the heavenly host appearing to the shepherds at the birth of Jesus (Luke 2:8-14), as well as in the vision of the prophet Isaiah, who sees the seraphim surrounding the throne of God, singing praises, and proclaiming His holiness (Isaiah 6:1-7).


Beyond their role as messengers, the Bible also portrays angels as protectors and guardians of God's people. In Psalm 91:11-12, we read that God "will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone." This protective function is further illustrated in the story of Daniel, who was saved from the lions' den by an angel sent by God (Daniel 6:22). In the New Testament, the apostle Peter is miraculously freed from prison by an angel (Acts 12:7-11), demonstrating once again the protective role of angels in the lives of believers.


From a theological standpoint, we understand angels are spiritual beings created by God to serve and worship him. In the Book of Job, angels are described as being present at the creation of the world, singing for joy at the sight of God's handiwork (Job 38:7). The apostle Paul, in his letter to the Colossians, identifies angels as part of the created order, subordinate to Christ who is "the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation" (Colossians 1:15-16).


Despite their exalted status, angels are not to be worshipped or venerated by Christians, and we are warned to never accept a false gospel regardless of who teaches it (Galatians 1:8), as even Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14). The apostle Paul warns against the worship of angels in his letter to the Colossians (Colossians 2:18), and the Book of Revelation recounts an episode in which the apostle John is rebuked for attempting to worship an angel (Revelation 22:8-9). This prohibition against angel worship serves as a reminder of the exclusive nature of Christian devotion, which is directed solely towards God and in obeying Him.


In conclusion, angels play a significant role in the biblical narrative and Christian theology as messengers, protectors, and servants of God. Their presence in the Bible serves to remind us of the spiritual dimension of reality, which often goes unnoticed in our secular age. As Christians, we are called to acknowledge and appreciate the role of angels in God's plan, while always maintaining our focus on the worship and adoration of the one true God. In doing so, we can gain a deeper understanding the spiritual realm that lies beyond our earthly existence.