A Guide To Understanding the World of Angels
The origin and nature of angels
- Angels are created beings (Psalm 148:2, 5; Col. 1:16)
- They are non-human spirit beings (Heb. 1:14)
- They cannot die (Luke 20:36)
- They cannot be numbered (Heb. 12:22)
- They are normally invisible but can manifest themselves to us (Num. 22:22-31)
- They have no gender (Matt. 22:30)
- There are elect angels (1 Tim. 5:21)
- They were created without gender (because that is a biological function) but occasionally appear as males in Scripture (Genesis 19:12-13).
The categories and character of angels
There are different kinds of angels:
- seraphim (Isaiah 6:3)
- cherubim (Ezekiel 41:18; Genesis 3:24; 1 Samuel 4:4)
- archangels (1 Thessalonians 4:16; Jude 9) Michael is the only angel referred to as an archangel in the scriptures
- rulers and powers (Ephesians 6:12)
- fallen angels (Revelation 12:3-4).
Some angels are good (Gen. 28:12; Psalm 91:11)
Some are evil (2 Pet. 2:4; Jude 6). These are fallen angels who rebelled and became evil angels and are referred to as demons. Satan is such an angel (Isaiah 14:12-16; Ezekiel 28:12-15).
The names of angels
Only three angels are mentioned by name in the scriptures:
- Gabriel (Dan. 8:16; 9:21)
- Michael (Dan. 10:13, 21; 12:1)
- Lucifer (Luke 10:18).
Michael is always mentioned in the context of battle (Dan. 10:13) and Gabriel as a messenger (Luke 1:26). Of course, Lucifer, who became Satan, is the one who opposes God.
The function of angels
They do the will of God (Psalm 103:20)
They guide (Gen. 24:7, 40), protect (Psalm 34:7; Psalm 91.11-12) and comfort (Acts 27:24) believers (heirs of salvation)
They perform a range of different functions as revealed in the Scriptures such as:
- announce the birth of Jesus (Matthew 1:20-21)
- deliver the law (Acts 7:53; Hebrews 2:2)
- gather the elect (Mark 13:27)
- gather the wicked at the end of the age (Matthew 13:39-41)
- guard the tree of life (Genesis 3:24)
- minister to people (Genesis 16:7-10)
- return with Christ at his second coming (Matthew 25:31; Mark 8:38).
The fallen angels rebelled and became evil angels and are referred to as demons. Satan is such an angel (Isaiah 14:12-16; Ezekiel 28:12-15).
The Angel of the LORD
There are many references to “the Angel of the LORD” in scripture. In these references, unlike any other angelic reference, this Angel manifests the characteristics of deity. Who is both deity and yet a distinct person from the LORD? Since no one has ever seen God the Father (John 1:18; 1 Tim 6:16) and since the Holy Spirit never takes on bodily form, this suggests that the supernatural Being to which this expression refers is the second member of the Trinity (also compare Exod 3:14 with John 8:58). Therefore, the angel of the LORD was a temporary manifestation of the LORD Jesus Christ in a preincarnate form, known in theology as a Theophany (appearance of God to a human) or Christophany. Theophanies in the Old Testament anticipate and foreshadow the permanent coming of God into creation in the incarnation of the Son.
The angel Gabriel
The angel Gabriel is a messenger who was entrusted to deliver several important messages on God’s behalf. Gabriel appears to at least three people in the Bible: first to the prophet Daniel (Daniel 8:16); next to the priest Zechariah to foretell and announce the miraculous birth of John the Baptist (Luke 1:19); and finally to the virgin Mary to tell her that she would conceive and bear a son (Luke 1:26–38). Gabriel’s name means “God is great,” and, as the angel of the annunciation, he is the one who revealed that the Savior was to be called “Jesus” (Luke 1:31).
The first time we see Gabriel, he appears to Daniel after the prophet had a vision. Gabriel’s role is to explain the vision to Daniel (Daniel 8:16). Gabriel’s appearance was that of a man (Daniel 8:15; 9:21). When Gabriel visited Daniel a second time, he came to him “in swift flight at the time of the evening sacrifice” (Daniel 9:21). Gabriel’s “flight” might suggest wings, but wings are not mentioned. It is also clear that Gabriel’s appearance was rather terrifying, as Daniel fell on his face at the sight of him (Daniel 8:17) and was sick for days after his experience with the angel and the vision (Daniel 8:27).
In Daniel 10 we see another interaction between the prophet and “one in the likeness of the children of men” (verse 16); however, no name is given to this messenger. The angel says he has come to help Daniel understand his vision, so it is very possible that this passage is also referring to the angel Gabriel. From the language in the passage, it is also possible that there are actually two angels with Daniel—one speaking to him and another strengthening him so that he can respond (Daniel 10:16, 18). The angel also refers to a battle occurring in the spiritual realms. This angel, who we can reasonably assume is Gabriel, and the angel Michael were apparently engaged in battle with a series of demonic kings and princes, including those called the prince or kings of Persia (verse 13) and the prince of Greece (verse 20).
Gabriel says that he was sent from heaven in specific answer to Daniel’s prayer. Gabriel had left to bring the answer as soon as Daniel started praying (Daniel 10:12). But Gabriel ran into trouble on the way: “The prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days” (Daniel 10:13) and actually kept him from coming to Daniel as quickly as he might have otherwise. Here we have a glimpse into the spiritual world and the battles taking place behind the scenes. The holy angels such as Gabriel are performing God’s will, but they are resisted by other spiritual beings who only want wickedness in the world.
Gabriel’s message to the priest Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, was delivered in the temple as Zechariah was ministering before the Lord. Gabriel appeared to the right of the altar of incense (Luke 1:11), a symbol of prayer, and told Zechariah that his prayers had been heard (verse 13). Zechariah’s barren wife, Elizabeth, was going to conceive and bear a son; this miraculous child was to be named John, and he would fulfill the prophecy of the coming of Elijah (verse 17; cf. Malachi 4:5). Gabriel’s message was met with disbelief, so Gabriel struck the doubting priest dumb until the day of the child’s circumcision (Luke 1:20, 59–64).
Gabriel’s appearance to Mary was to announce the virgin birth of the Lord Jesus Christ. The mother of the Messiah was assured of her favor with God (Luke 1:30) and told that her Son would fulfill the Davidic Covenant: “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end” (verses 32–33). In response to Mary’s question about how this was to happen, since she was a virgin, the angel Gabriel said the conception would be the result of the Holy Spirit’s work in her, and therefore “the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God” (verse 35).
In all three appearances, Gabriel was met with fear, and he had to begin his conversations with words of comfort and cheer for Daniel, Zechariah, and Mary. It is possible that Gabriel was also the angel that appeared to Joseph in Matthew 1:20, but this is not certain, since that angel is unnamed in Scripture. What we do know is that Gabriel is one of God’s good and holy angels. He has a favored position as an angel who “stands in the presence of God” (Luke 1:19), and he was selected to deliver important messages of God’s particular love and favor to individuals chosen to be part of God’s plan.