Angels are mentioned nearly 300 times in the Bible but remain something of a mystery. They are spirit-beings – not human but not God. They belong to a unique part of creation, made before the earth existed. They are not usually visible. But throughout history many people have had encounters with them.
The Bible suggests there are millions of angels. They act as God’s ambassadors and messengers. Sometimes they bring good news such as the birth of Jesus Christ; sometimes they bring a warning, telling people to change their behaviour or they will face disaster. They also help and keep watch over humanity. They are part of our lives even if we can’t see them. The Bible book, Psalms, says angels guard us in all our ways and lift us up in their hands. Another part of the Bible says angels celebrate when any person becomes a Christian.
Angels are more powerful than people. Part of their role in serving God is to bring justice on his behalf. The Bible documents an occasion when one angel defeated an entire army, another when an angel struck dead a Roman-appointed king and another time when one brought retribution for Egypt’s ill-treatment of Jewish slaves by killing all its first-born sons.
The Bible says angels celebrate when any person becomes a Christian.
They are able to speak and are credited with intelligence and emotions. They don’t seem to be male or female. They don’t marry or reproduce. They have the ability to appear and disappear suddenly. But, unlike God, they are not all-seeing.
Although angels are usually invisible, their appearance must be awe-inspiring and terrifying because often the first thing they say to those who do see them is ‘Don’t be afraid’. The Bible books of Daniel and Revelation speak of angels’ immeasurable beauty, amazing variety and brilliance. But the Bible describes other occasions when angels are less intimidating and seem to have human form.
Angels played a significant role in the Christmas story about the birth of Jesus Christ. The Bible book, Luke, explains how God sent an angel called Gabriel to a woman called Mary to tell her that she would miraculously conceive and give birth to Jesus. The Bible book, Matthew, tells us how an angel explained this to her fiancé, Joseph, in a dream. And on the night of Jesus’ birth, celebrating angels appeared to shepherds on the hills outside Bethlehem to tell them the news and where they could find the baby. One angel says, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy…. a Saviour has been born to you…. He is Christ the Lord…’ Later when Jesus was an adult, angels served and supported him when he spent 40 days alone in the desert. And when he was arrested, Jesus said he could call on help from thousands of angels if he wanted.
The early days of the Christian church, 2000 years ago, included several significant interventions involving angels. It was an angel who moved the stone which had been placed in front of Jesus Christ’s tomb after his execution to stop the body being stolen. The same angel told two women who came to fetch the body that Jesus had risen from the dead. Later an angel appeared to one of Jesus’ followers, Philip, sending him to meet a senior Ethiopian official. Another angel appeared in a dream to a Roman centurion, Cornelius. And an angel miraculously helped another follower, Peter, to escape from prison. Over the centuries since then, many Christians have reported experiences that they can only explain as encounters with angels. TheBible book, Hebrews, suggests that angels can and do intervene in people’s lives… ‘Do not forget to entertain strangers for by doing so some people have entertained angels without knowing it’.
Encounters with angels in the Bible are always a surprise to the people who meet them. The Bible never suggests that people should go about looking for angels or attempting to contact them. And nowhere in the Bible do angels command or accept worship. In the book of Revelation (chapter 22 verses 8-9), for example, we read this: ‘I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who had shown me these things. But he said to me, “Do not do that! I am a fellow servant with you… Worship God!”’
Archangel Michael, Gabriel and Lucifer
There is a hierarchy within angelic beings. For example, as well as angels, the Bible refers to seraphim and cherubim, which seem to have more minor roles. There are also a few references to individual angels. One, Michael, is described as an archangel – the most senior angel. Another mentioned by name is Gabriel. He brought the message to Mary that she would give birth to Jesus Christ.
‘Do not forget to entertain strangers for by doing so some people have entertained angels without knowing it’.
Lucifer was a senior angel who rebelled against God and was ejected from his presence. He is more commonly known as Satan or the devil. Other angels joined his rebellion and suffered the same fate. The Bible has a few references to this confrontation. Although the evil in the world is the result of human actions and decisions, many Christian recognise that there are spiritual forces of good and bad at work in a way beyond our immediate understanding.