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The Blue Letter Bible

Don Stewart :: Who Are Angels?

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Don Stewart
Angels are spirit beings, created to do the work of the Lord. The Bible says their nature is one of "spirit."

Of the angels He says, "He makes His angels spirits, and His ministers flames of fire" (Hebrews 1:7).

Are not all angels spirits in the divine service, sent to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation? (Hebrews 1:14).

Angels And Spirits Different?

Some have argued that angels and spirits are actually different from one another. This is based upon a statement in the Book of Acts.

The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, or angel, or spirit; but the Pharisees acknowledge all three. Then a great clamor arose, and certain scribes of the Pharisees' group stood up and contended, "We find nothing wrong with this man. What if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?" (Acts 23:8,9).

More likely, angels may be part of a larger category of creatures called "spirits," rather than being a distinct group.

Old Testament

The Hebrew word translated "angel" is mal'ak. This term, used 103 times in the Old Testament, simply means "messenger." It refers to one who brings a message in the place of another person. The term is mainly used of heavenly messengers.

And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it (Genesis 28:12).

Used Of Humans In Old Testament

However the term is also used of earthly messengers- such as a prophet in the Book of Haggai, and a priest in the Book of Malachi.

Then Haggai, the messenger [angel] of the LORD, spoke to the people with the LORD's message, saying, I am with you, says the LORD (Haggai 1:13).

For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and people should seek instruction from his mouth, for he is the messenger [angel] of the LORD Almighty (Malachi 2:7).

New Testament

The Greek word angelos, translated "angel," likewise means messenger. It has the idea of someone who speaks or acts in the place of the one who sent him. It is used 175 times in the New Testament - the great majority of the time it refers to heavenly messengers.

Word Also Refers To Humans

However, on six occasions in the New Testament, the term angel refers to human beings.

This is the one about whom it is written, 'See, I am sending My messenger [angel] ahead of you, who will prepare Your way before You' (Matthew 11:10).

Other examples of the word "angel" referring to humans are found in Mark 1:2; Luke 7:24,27; 9:52; and James 2:25 (the spies).

The Apostle Paul uses the phrase "messenger [angel] of Satan" (2 Corinthians 12:7) when referring to some physical ailment that he had.

Often we find in the New Testament qualifying phrases such as "angels of heaven" (Matthew 24:36) when referring to angelic creatures. These phrases make it clear that angelic personages are in view. The context usually makes it clear whether we are dealing with earthly or heavenly messengers.

Our concern is with the heavenly creatures called "angels." What do we know about them?

1.Created Beings

Angels are created beings - they have not existed eternally. Though the Genesis creation account does not record the creation of angels, we know from other passages that they were directly made by the power of God Almighty. The psalmist speaks of the creation of angels.

Praise Him, all His angels; Praise Him, all His heavenly hosts!. . . . Let them praise the name of the LORD, for He commanded and they were created (Psalm 148:2,5).

The Lord made the celestial bodies as well as the angels by His spoken Word.

And Ezra said: "You are the LORD, You alone; You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. To all of them You give life, and the host of heaven worships You (Nehemiah 9:6).

"All things" would include the angels. The phrase "host of heaven" probably refers to the angels.

2.Created By Christ

The Bible says that Jesus Christ created all things, visible and invisible.

for by Him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers -all things have been created through Him and for Him (Colossians 1:16).

Specifically mentioned in the things that Christ created are thrones, dominions, rulers, and powers. These are terms that refer to ranks of angels.

3.Dependent Creatures

Because the angels have been created, they are dependent creatures - they need God to exist. Like humanity, they have no independent existence apart from God. God is the only being who is, by nature, self-existent- He needs nothing else to exist. Paul wrote.

Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to beings that by nature are not God (Galatians 4:8).

Only the Lord, is God by nature.

4.Separate Creation From Humanity

Angels are a different creation than humans. We have nothing in common with them that binds us together. Though all humans are racially bound together, we are separate from the angels. Even in our resurrection bodies we will not become angels.

5.Created Above Humans

The Bible teaches that angels are a distinct created order above humanity. Speaking of humans the Bible says:

You have made them for a little while lower than the angels; You have crowned them with glory and honor (Hebrews 2:7).

Angels are the highest creation in the heavenly sphere as humans are the highest creation on the earth.

6.Not A Race

Angels are a company of beings rather than a race. They do not marry, neither are they male or female. They are sexless, unmarriageable, creatures who do not propagate their own kind. Jesus said.

For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven (Matthew 22:30).

7.Invisible Spirit Beings

Angels are spirit beings who are invisible to the human eye.

Of the angels He says, "He makes His angels spirits, and His ministers flames of fire" (Hebrews 1:7).

By nature, they have no physical form. Jesus made this point when referring to His resurrection body.

Look at My hands and My feet; see that it is I Myself. Handle Me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have (Luke 24:39).

Their spirit-form does not necessarily imply that they have no body at all, merely that it is not a human body- they have a different makeup from humanity. Whether angels are pure spirit, such as God, or have some type of material existence, such as humans, is a much debated point. Like so many issues dealing with this subject, the Bible does not comment on it. What we can safely say is that angels do not have any form, or substance, like humans. Beyond this is only speculation.

8.Have Angelic Nature

Angels have their own unique nature. The spirit-nature of angels is not the same as God's spirit nature, or our human nature. God's nature, or essence, is that of spirit.

God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth (John 4:24).

However God is an uncreated Spirit- a Being that has always existed. Angels are created, invisible, spirit-beings. Humans and angels will keep their distinction in the ages to come. Humans will not become angels, and angels will not become human.

9.Not Subject To Natural Law

Therefore angels, as spirit-creatures, are not limited to physical or natural conditions. They are not subject to the laws of nature. Angels can pass back and forth from the spiritual realm to the natural realm.

Suddenly the angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He touched Peter on the side and woke him, saying, "Get up quickly." And the chains fell off his hands (Acts 12:7).

Physical boundaries present no obstacles for them.

10.Can Assume A Body

Though they have no physical form, angels can, at times, assume a body as the Lord allows them. This is known as an "angelophany"- the appearance of an angel.
For example, an angel rolled the stone away from the tomb of Jesus.

And behold there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descended from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it (Matthew 28:2).

Angels are unseen until God chooses a time when they are to appear. We cannot be exactly certain whether the bodies these angels assumed were real bodies, or only appeared to be real. There is not enough information to know for certain. We do know that angels are capable of materializing only when God wills- they cannot do something like this on their own.

On one occasion we find them eating (Genesis 18:8). This indicates, at least for that one episode, the angels took on a real body.

11.They Move Rapidly

Scripture tells us that angels can move rapidly. They are represented as flying.

Then I saw another angel flying in the middle of heaven, with the everlasting gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth -to every nation and tribe and language and people (Revelation 14:6).

The fact that they are represented as flying gave rise to the notion that they have wings. Wings for flight apply to beings who function in our world. Angels do not need wings to move rapidly in the unseen world.

Cherubim And Seraphim

Two distinct types of angels, the cherubim and seraphim, are represented as having wings. However, the angels which have appeared to humans are not described as having wings.


The Scripture teaches that the number of angels is very great. This is expressed in various ways.

With mighty chariotry, twice ten thousand, thousands upon thousands, the Lord came from Sinai into the holy place (Psalm 68:17).

Daniel saw an innumerable amount of angels before God's throne.

A stream of fire issued and flowed out from His presence. A thousand thousands served Him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood attending Him. The court sat in judgment, and the books were opened (Daniel 7:10).

Armies Of Angels

At the birth of Jesus, armies of angels appeared.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying (Luke 2:13).

Jesus told His disciples that He could command more than twelve legions of angels to appear and protect Him.

Do you think that I cannot call on My Father, and He will at once send Me more than twelve legions of angels? (Matthew 26:53).

A legion consisted of about three to five thousand men. Twelve legions of angels would have been a way of saying an extremely large number of angels were at His disposal.


The Bible also says.

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels (Hebrews 12:22).

The Book of Revelation speaks of the countless number of angels.

Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne, the living creatures, and the elders; and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands (Revelation 5:11).

If this number were to be taken literally, it would be two hundred million!

13.Limited Number

Though numerous, the number of angels in limited. Since they cannot propagate their own, angels cannot, by themselves, bring other angels into existence. Scripture also indicates that all the angels have already been created - the creation of angels does not now happen.

for by Him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers - all things have been created through Him and for Him (Colossians 1:16).

The Bible also tells us that God has ceased creating anything new - including angels.

Thus the heavens and the earth were completed, and all their host. And on the seventh day God finished the work that He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all the work that He had done (Genesis 2:1,2).

The "host of heaven" is another designation for angels.


Angels are not subject to death - they are immortal. Their immortality has been given to them by God who Himself is immortal. Paul wrote the following about the nature of God.

It is He alone who has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see; to Him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen (1 Timothy 6:16).

Angels do not possess immortality in and of themselves. Like humans, their immortality is derived from God. Jesus told the Sadducees that resurrected believers would be like angels.

Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like the angels. They are children of God, being children of the resurrection (Luke 20:36).

Death is something that humanity has experienced because of sin. Since these angels did not sin, they will not experience death. Because they are eternal beings and do not possess human bodies, they do not understand either growth or death. The number of angels, therefore, cannot decrease.

15.They Are Personal Beings

Angels are personal beings - they can be interacted with. They have every feature of personality such as intelligence, thought, and choice. We know that at least two of the angels, Michael and Gabriel, have personal names.

They Have Desire To Know

The Bible says that angels have desired to look into the glorious things of salvation.

It was revealed to them [the prophets] that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels have desired to look into these things (1 Peter 1:12).

This desire on their part is a sign of personality. The personality of angels can further be seen by the fact they have powers of speech, memory, and the ability to ask and answer questions. Like humanity, angels were created with choice. The fact that some angels decided to rebel against God demonstrates that each of them could choose whom they would serve. This is a further example that God made the angels as personal beings.


Angels are invisible, personal spirit-beings created by God. They have been made above humanity in the created order. These personages have no physical form like humans, but in the past, they have at times, assumed a physical form for the sake of humanity. They are sexless, deathless, creatures who are ministering spirits. The function of the righteous angels is to do the will of God.
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