The Work Of Angels

by David Padfield

Thousands of books have been written on the history of mankind. However, the one chapter that is usually missing from such books is the one which would describe the role of Angels in human history. There is scarcely any important event in sacred history that does not involve Angels.

On the morning when this celestial ball on which we live was created, the Angels of heaven "shouted for joy" (Job 38:4-7). Angels are not Divine, but were themselves created but Christ, "For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers" (Col. 1:16). Angels were created with a freewill. The apostle Peter reminds us that "God did not spare the Angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment" (2 Pet. 2:4).

How Many Angels?

The number of Angels is hard to describe. The Hebrew writer tells us of the "innumerable company of angels" (Heb. 12:22). When God gave the Law at Sinai, "He came with ten thousands of saints; from His right hand came a fiery law for them" (Deut. 33:2). The Psalmist said, "The chariots of God are twenty thousand, even thousands of thousands; the Lord is among them as in Sinai..." (Psa. 68:17).

In a night vision Daniel saw the throne of the Ancient of Days, and before Him "a thousand thousands ministered to Him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him" (Dan. 7:9-10). Hovering over the plains around Bethlehem a "multitude of the heavenly host" sang the praises of God when our Savior was born (Luke 2:13). In the Garden of Gethsemane our Lord told Peter His Father could provide "more than twelve legions of angels" (Matt. 26:53). In a vision John saw Angels around the throne of God, "and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands" (Rev. 5:11).

Only two Angels are mentioned by name in the Bible. "Michael the Archangel" is referred to in Jude 9. The term "Archangel" means "chief or captain of the angels." In Daniel 10:13 he is called "one of the chief princes." The Bible also speaks of "Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God" (Luke 1:19). Jewish Apocryphal books also speak of two other Angels, named Raphael and Uriel.

Two Classes Of Angels

In a vision the prophet Isaiah saw the Seraphim who stand before the throne of God and cry out, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!" (Isa. 6:1-3). This is the only Old Testament passage where Seraphim are mentioned. Each Seraphim had feet, a face and six wings. This vision made a tremendous impression upon Isaiah, for his favorite designation of God is "the Holy One of Israel," a phrase occurring some twenty-six times in his book.

Ezekiel tells us of the Cherubim who were present when the glory of God left the temple in Jerusalem (Ezek. 10:1-21). "And the sound of the wings of the Cherubim was heard even in the outer court, like the voice of Almighty God when He speaks" (Ezek. 10:5).

One of the vessels of ministry used in both the tabernacle and the temple was the Ark of the Covenant. It is interesting to note that two Cherubim of beaten gold were on top of the Ark, on the mercy seat, facing each other. "The Cherubim spread out their wings above, and covered the mercy seat with their wings. They faced one another; the faces of the Cherubim were toward the mercy seat." (Exodus 37:9).

The Purpose Of Angels

The Hebrew writer summed up the purpose of Angels when he said, "Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation?" (Heb. 1:14). Angels are interested in the salvation of men. Angels were intrigued when prophets of old spoke of "the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow" (1 Pet. 1:10-12).

In the course of human history Angels sometimes appeared as men. Abraham, the friend of God who dwelt under the oak tree at Mamre, was visited by Angels in human form (Gen. 18:1-5; 19:1-3). An Angel of the Lord appeared to the wife of Manoah to tell her about the birth of her son, but the woman though it was a man who spoke to her (Judges 13:3-6). The women who came to the tomb of Jesus saw a "young man clothed in a long white robe" (Mark 16:5), but John tells us it was an Angel (John 20:12). The Hebrew writer admonishes us, "Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained Angels" (Heb. 13:2).

Angels have often been involved in giving help to mortal men, such as feeding Elijah in the wilderness (1 Kings 19:5-6), protecting Daniel from the lions (Dan. 6:22), delivering Hezekiah from the Assyrians (Isa. 37:36), and freeing Peter from prison (Acts 12:7-10).

Angels are not always visible when they serve the human race. When the king of Syria made war against Israel he determined to take the life of Elisha, the man of God. The king "sent horses and chariots and a great army" to Dothan and surrounded that city at night (2 Kings 6:13-14). The next morning a servant of Elisha was greatly afraid when he saw his city was surrounded by horses and chariots. Elisha told the servant , "'Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.' And Elisha prayed, and said, 'Lord, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.' Then the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw. And behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha." (2 Kings 6:16-17).

On one occasion our Lord gave us a glimpse into the realm beyond the grave. Our Savior told us about the rich man and Lazarus, and how when the rich man died he was buried, but Lazarus "was carried by the Angels into Abraham's bosom" (Luke 16:22).

Providential Care

In the New Testament we can read of the providential aid Angels have given in bringing men to Christ. Philip the evangelist was told by an Angel of the Lord to journey "along the road which goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza" where he found the Ethiopian eunuch "sitting in his chariot ... reading Isaiah the prophet" (Acts 8:25-28). As far as the sacred record indicates, the Ethiopian knew nothing of the appearance of the Angel to Philip.

In the city of Caesarea Maritima there was a devout Gentile "called Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian Regiment" (Acts 10:1). While this devout man was engaged in prayer an Angel of God appeared to him and told him to send for a preacher, Simon Peter, who "will tell you what you must do" (Acts 10:6). The Angel did not save Cornelius or preach to him in any way—he simply pointed the way to the preacher of the gospel.

The concern Angels have for us is also shown by the fact that "there is joy in the presence of the Angels of God over one sinner who repents" (Luke 15:10).

Christ And The Angels

Angels were constant attendants during the earthly ministry of our Lord—they came to Him in times of distress, peril and want. Angels announced His birth (Luke 2:9-13), and ministered to Him after His temptations in the wilderness (Matt. 4:11). When He knelt in prayer in Gethsemane, Angels came and strengthened Him (Luke 22:43). At His death they stood guard over His tomb (Luke 24:4), and after His resurrection they made the glad announcement that, "He is not here, but is risen!" (Luke 24:6).

When He ascended into heaven, it was two Angels who stood by His apostles and said, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven." (Acts 1:11).

Guardian Angels

Our Lord said, "Take heed that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that in heaven their Angels always see the face of My Father who is in heaven" (Matt. 18:10). Does this mean each of us has a "guardian Angel"? I don't think so. While Jesus assures us that we have Angels who work on our behalf, He did not say there is an Angel who is assigned for every person.

However, Jewish people had a common belief that every Israelite had a guardian Angel. When Peter was released from prison he went "to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose surname was Mark, where many were gathered together praying" (Acts 12:12). When Peter knocked on the gate, a woman named Rhoda "recognized Peter's voice, because of her gladness she did not open the gate, but ran in and announced that Peter stood before the gate" (Acts 12:14). Those in the house said, "'You are beside yourself!' Yet she kept insisting that it was so. So they said, 'It is his Angel.'"

At The Judgment

Angels will accompany the Lord when He returns—the voice of the Archangel will be heard when the Lord descends to judge the world—and all of His holy Angels will be with Him (Matt. 25:31). At the judgment, Angels will assist in the separation of the wicked from the righteous. Christ will return "with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ" (2 Thes. 1:7-8).

In the parable of the wheat and tares, Jesus tells us how at the judgment "the Son of Man will send out His Angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth." (Matt. 13:41-42). And then in the parable of the dragnet, He tells us how "the Angels will come forth, separate the wicked from among the just, and cast them into the furnace of fire" (Matt. 13:49-50).

If Angels of heaven shouted with joy when the earth was born—if the Angels hailed with "Hosannas" the Babe born in Bethlehem, what will be their "Hallelujahs" when they accompany the King in all His triumphant glory?