Occasionally, the word angels is used of men: “When the messengers (angelos) of John were departed, Jesus began to say unto the multitudes concerning John … This is he of whom it is written, Behold I send my messenger before thy face.” Jesus also sent messengers (angelous) before his face “on his way to the Samaritans”. And Rahab the harlot was “justified by works, in that she received the messengers (angelon), and sent them out another way”. They were, of course, spies from the Israelites (Luke 7:24–27; 9:52; Mal. 3:1; James 2:25).
Characteristics of Personality
It is impossible for mortals fully to understand the nature of the heavenly angels, who are immortal. Of God Himself Jesus said that He is “Spirit”; but what this means we cannot know. After his resurrection, the immortal Jesus was able to appear and disappear through closed doors, yet he was still able to eat food! Therefore, we may infer that normally the heavenly angels are disembodied “spirits”, having all the characteristics of personality, but not needing a body of flesh to manifest them to God and to one another (John 4:24; Luke 24:33–43).
When sent on a mission by God, the angels can exercise tremendous power, as when “two angels came to Sodom at even; and Lot saw them and rose up to meet them”. He invited them to stay with him and take a meal. Later, they struck with blindness a group of depraved men who wanted to abuse them. So the angels warned Lot, his wife and two daughters to flee, because they were going to destroy Sodom and all the cities of the plain (Gen. 19:4–28).
It has been assumed by many that the heavenly host of angels were involved in the original creation of the heavens and the earth; but if we carefully examine the Scriptures we shall discover some surprising facts about the beginning of creation.
Notice what Genesis 1:2 says about the state of the earth when God began the creation of it: “It was waste and void (empty).” The Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, made nearly three centuries before Christ, gives an interesting variation of this verse: “The earth was unsightly and unfurnished.” It is possible that God later created His angelic hosts in His immortal image so that they could help to furnish the earth with all that man would need; hence the assertion: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” What mortal could be made in the form or image of God?
Tragically for Adam and Eve, yet mercifully for us, they sinned and were banished from the paradise that had been provided for them, and the Lord God placed, at the east of the garden, “the cherubim, and the flame of a sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life”. These cherubim were a manifestation of the glory of the Lord, and their angelic function was the correction and salvation of man, on God’s behalf (Gen. 3:24; Ezek. 2:6, 10, 18).
Representations of the cherubim are frequently referred to in the Old Testament. When craftsmen made the Ark from acacia wood, overlaid inside and outside with pure gold, they were instructed to complete it with a “mercy-seat of pure gold, and to fashion on it two cherubs of gold with their wings outspread and facing each other toward the mercy-seat. The mercy-seat was indeed a holy place, for upon it the Lord was to “dwell”. Inside the Ark was to be kept the “Testimony” that the Lord would give to Moses. Later, such likenesses were woven into curtains, as well as being carved on the walls and doors of the Temple (Exod. 25:20–21; 2 Chron. 3:7, 14).
Angels seem to have been given differing ranks, according to the importance of the tasks allotted them by God. As far as we can judge from Scripture, Michael was the chief prince of God, for when the Lord God said to Moses: “Behold, I send an angel before thee, to keep thee by the way, and to bring thee into the place which I have prepared”, he was also told: “Take heed of him and hearken unto his voice … for my name is in him” (Exod. 23:20–21). Many centuries after the Exodus, Daniel called him “one of the chief princes” of God, and also “Michael the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people”. Thus it appears that Michael was chosen by God to be His special envoy to deal with any adversaries or opponents (satans) to His purpose, and with those slanderers or false witnesses (devils) against His servants or His childen (Dan. 10:13, 21; 12:1).
Michael was mentioned in connection with an incident regarding Moses: “Michael the archangel (the highest rank), when contending with the devil he disputed about the body of Moses, durst not bring against him a railing judgement (Gk. a judgement of railing, that is blasphemy), but said, the Lord rebuke thee” (Jude 6). What was this dispute about the body of Moses? It possibly suggests that there were leaders in Israel who wished Moses to be buried ceremonially so that his body would remain among them as a memorial. But, as we know the Lord decided otherwise. As Enoch “who walked with God, and he was not; for God took him”, so Moses was buried in Moab (Deut. 34:5–6).
The last mention of Michael occurs in Revelation: “There was war in heaven (among the rulers on earth), Michael and his angels going forth to war with the dragon and his angels (messengers).” The identity of the dragon is given: “The great dragon was cast down, the old serpent, he that is called the devil and satan, the deceiver of the whole world … and his angels were cast down with him.” Thus will be destroyed the sinful powers that have brought death to all mortals since Eden. It is only at the end of the Kingdom age that this will finally take place (Rev. 12:7–11; 1 Cor. 15:24–28).
In the hierarchy (ranks) of angels, there is another prince of God, Gabriel, who appeared to Daniel to explain a vision he had seen, and he said to him: “Understand, O son of man; for the vision belongeth to the time of the end.” Gabriel also appeared to Zacharias to tell him that his barren wife would bear him a son who was to be called John (the baptizer) who would be filled with the Holy Spirit, and would preach in the spirit and power of Elijah” (Dan. 8:15–27; 9:20–27; Luke 1:11–25). Six months later, Gabriel appeared to the virgin Mary to tell her that she was to be the mother of “the Son of the Most High”. Thus Michael and Gabriel were highly privileged to bring wonderful news to earth; but what of the vast host of nameless angels (Luke 1:26–38)?
An angel appeared to the shepherds to tell them of the birth of Jesus when suddenly a vast host of nameless angels filled heaven and earth with praise: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men in whom he is well pleased” (Luke 2:8–14). These (same?) nameless ones were also present with Jesus after his temptation in the wilderness, when they came and ministered to him. And those who become like “little children” must not be despised because, said Jesus, “Their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven.” Thus every angel has the responsibility of caring for every “little child” of God and His Son (Matt. 4:11; ; 18:1–10).
As the angelic host rejoiced over the birth of Jesus, so they rejoice over the rebirth, through water and spirit, of every new “adopted” child of God: “There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.” Jesus further stressed this when he said: “Every one who shall confess me before men, him shall the Son of man also confess before the angels of God” (Luke 15:10; 12:8–9).
The Revelation to John revealed the highly exalted honour of every believer through the sacrifice of Jesus, and John began this reference with a profound tribute of praise: “Unto him that loved us and washed us from our sins in his own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever” (Rev. 1:5–6).
In this work we will labour not only with our brethren and sisters, but also with the angels! When John fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who had revealed so much of what he was to write in his Revelation, he was told: “See thou do it not, I am a fellow-servant with thee and with thy brethren the prophets, and with them which keep the words of this book: worship God” (Rev. 22:8–9).
Finally, every sacrifice we may make for the sake of the Lord Jesus; any suffering, physical or mental that we may experience; the problems we may have to face; the heartaches we shall feel, are not beyond our spiritual strength if we keep constantly in our minds that the angels are indeed the “ministering spirits sent forth to do service for the sake of them that shall inherit salvation” (Heb. 1:14, R.V.).