Have you ever had an encounter with an angel? Perhaps I should rephrase that: Have you ever been aware of an encounter with an angel?
As a little girl, I often asked God to allow me to see His angels. I would look up during church services, hoping to see an angel peering at our attempts to worship God, and often wondered what they thought of us. These powerful, supernatural, created beings stand in the presence of God, seeing Him in all His holiness and glory. It occurs to me that our worship might appear irreverent or lacking an appreciation for who God really is, from their point of view.
In case you’re wondering, I never did get a glimpse. I still ask God, sometimes.
1 Peter 1:12 reminds us that the gospel is a mystery to angels. When the angel, Lucifer, fell from heaven (the prophecies of Isaiah describe this event in Isaiah 14), it is said that he took one-third of the angels with him in rebellion. This idea comes from Revelation 12:3-4, in which the dragon’s tail sweeps one-third of the stars of heaven and throws them to the earth. Jesus told His disciples He “was watching Satan fall from heaven like lightning” (Luke 10:18); in context He declares His disciples have authority over all the power of the enemy – evil spirits described as serpents and scorpions. The fallen angels were not offered redemption; therefore, the gospel is a mystery into which they long to look.
This teaching leads us to acknowledge that there are two kinds of angels: fallen angels, who became the evil spirits subject to their leader, Satan, and those angels who remained faithful and loyal to God and serve at His pleasure from heaven. These faithful servants of God are the topic of this article.
How Are Angels Different from Humans?
Like humans, angels are created beings (Colossians 1:16), but they are eternal. They do not marry (Mark 12:25). Scripture only names three angels (Michael, Gabriel, and Lucifer) – all male, but many references to angels do not indicate whether they are male or female. They can move from heaven to earth as spirit beings, and appear often in human form, yet are recognizable as supernatural beings with great power.
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What Do Angels Do?
The Greek word in the New Testament is angelos, defined as a messenger, an envoy, or one who is sent. In the Old Testament, angel comes from mal'āḵ, again meaning messenger or representative, one dispatched as a deputy. Angels are servants sent out by God to proclaim a message or perform a work for Him. Several scriptures indicate there are an innumerable host of angels, all created to carry out God’s will (Hebrews 12:22, Revelation 5:11, Daniel 7:10, Matthew 26:53).
God used angels to deliver important messages to individuals He chose for specific purposes. The angel Gabriel spoke to Zechariah, telling him he and his wife would bear the child, John, as a forerunner to “make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (Luke 1:5-25). Gabriel was also sent to the young virgin, Mary, to deliver the news that she would bear the Savior, Jesus (Luke 1:26-38). Finally, Gabriel is named as the angel who gave Daniel the prophecies about the end times (Daniel 9:21).
Angels appeared to the shepherd announcing Jesus’ birth (Luke 2), to Mary’s husband, Joseph, in several dreams (Matthew 1-2), to the Gentile centurion, Cornelius (Acts 10), and to Paul (Acts 27:23). When God has something to say, He can dispatch His angels to deliver the message.
Angels are seen in Scripture interacting with humans in many ways. The very first mention of angels are the two who visited Lot and rescued him and his daughters from Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:1). An angel spoke hope to Hagar in a desperate moment (Genesis 21:17), helped Abraham’s servant find a wife for his son, Isaac (Genesis 24:7,40), and multitudes appeared in Jacob’s dream, going up and down a ladder into heaven (Genesis 28).
The pillar of fire and cloud that protected and led the children of Israel through the wilderness were God’s angels (Exodus 14:19). Angels carried out God’s judgment on the disobedient (2 Samuel 24:16-17, 1 Chronicles 21:15). They ministered to Elijah when he fled from Jezebel (1 Kings 19:5-8), rescued Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego from the fiery furnace (Daniel 3:25-28) and appeared to Nebuchadnezzar in a dream (Daniel 4:13-17).
Angels shut the lions’ mouths to protect Daniel (Daniel 6:22) and are said to patrol the earth (Zechariah 1:11). God often spoke His prophecies through angels (Zechariah 1:13; 3:1-10; 4:1-6). Angels were very active in the New Testament, ministering to Jesus after His temptation in the wilderness (Matthew 4:11), rolling away the stone and proclaiming Jesus’ resurrection (Matthew 28), and rescuing Peter from prison (Actus 12:7-8). In the last days, when God wraps up this age, angels will play a large part in the unfolding judgments against the wicked; the book of Revelation mentions angels 71 times, far more than in any other book of the Bible.
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Who Is “the Angel of the Lord?”
In the Old Testament, the Bible uses the phrase “angel of the Lord” or “the angel of God.” If you read these scriptures in context, you will find clear evidence that when “the angel of the Lord” is speaking, it is also indicated that God Himself is speaking, leading us to conclude that these are appearances of the pre-incarnate Christ (known as a Christophany) or God Himself appearing (a Theophany).
The angel of the Lord appeared to Hagar, and she called Him El Roi, the God who sees (Genesis 16:13). He appeared to Abraham, calling out to him just in time to prevent the sacrifice of Isaac (Genesis 22:11-15). He appeared to Jacob, urging him to leave Laban and return to his family home (Genesis 31:11-13). It was this same “man” who wrestled with Jacob and injured his hip on the night he renamed him Israel (Genesis 32:30); Jacob said he had “seen God face to face.”
The angel of the Lord appeared to Moses in the burning bush, and it is revealed it is God speaking to Him (Exodus 3:2). He met Balaam and was recognized first by the donkey (Numbers 22:32-35). The angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon (Judges 6:11-24), and to Samson’s parents before his birth (Judges 13).
Does Everyone Have a Guardian Angel?
The idea that God has assigned specific angels to watch over us is not a biblical concept. The idea likely comes from Jesus’ words in Matthew 18:10, where he warns the disciples about preventing children from coming to Him. “See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven continually see the face of My Father who is in heaven.”
There is no indication that a specific angel is assigned to a specific child. The angels’ attention is on the face of the Father, which should lead us to conclude that it is God Himself who is aware of every moment in our lives, and that if and when we need supernatural help or protection, He only has to indicate that by a look to one of His angels, and they are immediately dispatched to carry out His will.
David reminds us that “the angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear Him and rescues them” (Psalm 34:7). Again, “the angel of the Lord” most always refers to Jesus. We are reassured that it is God who directs the angels in Psalm 91:11, where the psalmist says, “for He will give His angels charge concerning you, to guard you in all your ways.”
I believe the Bible teaches that angels were, and still are, actively involved in the lives of God’s children – both those who have believed, and those who will believe. In the context of teaching that Jesus is far above and far better than angels, the author of Hebrews tells us their value to God’s kingdom purposes.
Hebrews 1:14 – “Are they not all ministering spirits, sent out to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation?”
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What Role Do Angels Have in Spiritual Warfare?
Ephesians 6:12 describes the spiritual warfare that is taking place all around us. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.”
Daniel 10:10-21 gives us a glimpse into the hierarchy of angelic warfare. The angel who appears to Daniel tells him he was delayed in coming as he battled the “prince of Persia.” He reveals that Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help him as he was left there with “the kings of Persia.” Later on, he says he must return to fight against the prince of Persia, as well as the prince of Greece, but that Michael would stand with him. He calls Michael “your” prince, indicating that just as there are demonic angelic beings given authority over the kingdoms of Persia and Greece, there are corresponding angels in God’s army assigned to nations, in this case, the people of Israel.
The prophet Elisha was aware of the great spiritual warfare that takes place in the heavens, even though it is not often revealed in the natural realm. In 2 Kings 6:8-23, the king of Aram goes to battle against the king of Israel. The city of Samaria is outnumbered, surrounded by the enemy. Elisha’s attendant is afraid, thinking the battle is a lost cause. Elisha response is a good word we all ought to memorize!
“So he answered, ‘Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.’ Then Elisha prayed and said, ‘O Lord, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.’ And the Lord opened the servant’s eyes and he saw; and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha” (2 Kings 6:16-17).
It was a similar horse and chariot of fire that Elisha had watched take his mentor, Elijah, up to heaven (2 Kings 2:11). Elisha had seen what most of us haven’t been privileged to observe; there is an unseen world of angels, all standing ready to do God’s bidding on behalf of His people. We don’t need a particular “guardian angel” to watch over us; we have armies of heavenly hosts to protect us, all ready to act at the moment God says, “Go.”
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Should We Worship Angels?
In a world that denies the deity of Jesus and the need for salvation, but recognizes the reality of spiritual beings, we can be deceived into thinking that angels are to be sought after and worshipped. We are, after all, spiritual beings who live in a physical body, and we were made to worship. But Scripture is clear that God is the only one to be worshipped.
Colossians 2:18-19 – “Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind, and not holding fast to the head [Jesus], from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God.”
In the very last chapter of the Bible, after God had revealed the amazing, unbelievable, supernatural things that angels will do for Him at the end of the age, John falls down before an angel to worship. He was obviously overcome by the angel’s brilliance and wisdom, knowing that the angel stood in the presence of God. Immediately the angel rebukes John.
“But he said to me, ‘Do not do that. I am a fellow servant of yours and of your brethren the prophets and of those who heed the words of this book. Worship God’” (Revelation 22:9).
Angels know their place in God’s kingdom. They worship God, just as we do, and do not desire human beings to supplant the rightful place of the Savior for the poor substitute of a created being.
Scripture teaches us that God has untold numbers of angels, a mighty army, ready at any time to minister to the saints. Should we look for them? Well, the writer of Hebrews tells us that we might encounter an angel, and ought to be careful how we respond to strangers (Hebrews 13:2 – “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.”) Regardless, they are not the focus of our adoration, and we do not depend on them or trust in them; they are simply God’s servants, created to bring Him glory by their obedience.
Don’t look for your guardian angel. Instead, look for the God who commands the heavenly hosts, and trust that if you need supernatural help, He is fully capable and prepared to accommodate you.
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Author Sheila Alewine is a pastor’s wife, mother, and grandmother of five. She and her husband lead Around The Corner Ministries, which serves to equip Christ-followers to share the gospel where they live, work and play. She has written several devotionals including Just Pray: God’s Not Done With You Yet, Grace & Glory: 50 Days in the Purpose & Plan of God, and her newest one, Open The Gift, as well as Going Around The Corner, a Bible study for small groups who desire to reach their communities for Christ. Their ministry also offers disciple-making resources like One-To-One Disciple-Making in partnership with Multiplication Ministries. Sheila has a passion for God’s Word and shares what God is teaching her on her blog, The Way of The Word. Connect with her on her blog, Facebook, and Instagram.