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Dictionaries :: Angels

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Below are articles from the following dictionary:
Smith's Bible Dictionary


By the word "angels" (i.e. "messengers" of God) we ordinarily understand a race of spiritual beings, of a nature exalted far above that of man, although infinitely removed from that of God whose office is "to do Him service in heaven, and by His appointment to succor and defend men on earth."

I. Scriptural use of the word.

There are many passages in which the expression "angel of God," "the angel of Jehovah," is certainly used for a manifestation of God Himself. This is especially the case in the earlier books of the Old Testament, and may be seen at once by a comparison of Genesis 22:11 with Genesis 22:12, and of Exodus 3:2 with 6 and 14; where He, who is called the "angel of Jehovah" in one verse, is called "God," and even "Jehovah," in those which follow, and accepts the worship due to God alone (contrast Revelation 19:10, 22:9. See also Genesis 16:7, 13; Genesis 31:11, 13; Genesis 48:15-16; Numbers 22:22, 32, 35, and compare Isaiah 63:9 with Exdodus 33:14). It is to be observed, also, that side by side with these expressions, we read of God's being manifested in the form of man; as to Abraham at Mamre (Genesis 18:2; 22; compare Genesis 19:1) to Jacob at Penuel (Genesis 32:24; 30) to Joshua at Gilgal (Joshua 5:13; 15 etc.). It is hardly to be doubted that both sets of passages refer to the same kind of manifestation of the Divine Presence. This being the case, since we know that "no man hath seen God" (the Father) "at any time," and that "the only‐begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath revealed Him" (John 1:18) the inevitable inference is that by the "Angel of the Lord" in such passages is meant He, who is from the beginning the "Word," i.e. the Manifester or Revealer of God. These appearances are evidently "foreshadowings of the Incarnation." By these God the Son manifested Himself from time to time in that human nature which He united to the Godhead forever in the Virgin's womb. Besides this, which is the highest application of the word ‒angel," we find the phrase used of any messengers of God, such as the prophets (Isaiah 42:19; Haggai 1:13; Malachi 3:1) the priests (Malachi 2:7) and the rulers of the Christian churches (Revelation 1:20).

II. Nature of angels

Little is said of their nature as distinct from their office. They are termed "spirits," (as in Hebrews 1:14); but it is not asserted that the angelic nature is incorporeal. The contrary seems expressly implied by the words in which our Lord declares, that, after the Resurrection, men shall be "like the angels" (Luke 20:36); because (as is elsewhere said, Philippians 3:21) their bodies, as well as their spirits, shall have been made entirely like His. It may also be noticed that the glorious appearance ascribed to the angels in Scripture (as in Daniel 10:6) is the same as that which shone out in our Lord's Transfiguration, and in which St. John saw Him clothed in heaven (Revelation&nbsp1:14-16); and moreover, that, whenever angels have been manifest to man, it has always been in human form (as in Genesis 18; Genesis 19; Luke 24:4; Acts 1:10; etc.). The very fact that the titles "sons of God" (Job 1:6; Job 38:7; Daniel 3:25 compare with 3:28) and "gods" (Psalm 8:5, 97:7) applied to them, are also given to men (see Luke 3:38; Psalm 132:6, and compare our Lord's application of this last passage in John 10:34-37) points in the same way to a difference only of degree, and an identity of kind, between the human and the angelic nature. The angels are therefore revealed to us as beings, such as man might be and will be when the power of sin and death is removed, partaking in their measure of the attributes of God, Truth, Purity, and Love, because always beholding His face (Matthew 18:10) and therefore being "made like him" (1 John 3:2). This, of course, implies finiteness, and therefore (in the strict sense) "imperfection" of nature, and constant progress, both moral and intellectual, through all eternity. Such imperfection, contrasted with the infinity of God, is expressly ascribed to them in Job 4:18; Matthew 24:36; 1 Peter 1:12. This finiteness of nature implies capacity of temptation; and accordingly we hear of "fallen angels."

Their number must be very large (1 Kings 22:19; Matthew 26:53; Hebrews 12:22) their strength is great (Psalm 103:20; Revelation 5:2; 18:21) their activity marvelous (Isaiah 6:2-6; Matthew 26:53; Revelation 8:13) their appearance varied according to circumstances, but was often brilliant and dazzling (Matthew 28:2-7; Revelation 10:1-2).

Of the nature of their temptation and the circumstances of their fall, we know absolutely nothing. All that is certain is, that they "they left their first estate," and that they are now "angels of the devil" (Matthew 25:41; Revelation 12:7, 9) partaking therefore of the falsehood, uncleanness, and hatred, which are his peculiar characteristics (John 8:44). On the other hand, the title especially assigned to the angels of God, that of the "holy ones" (see Daniel 4:13, 23; 8:13; Matthew 25:31) is precisely the one which is given to those men who are renewed in Christ's image, but which belongs to them in actuality and in perfection only hereafter (compare Hebrews 2:10, 5:9; 12:23).

(III.) Office of the angelsp>Of their office in heaven, we have, of course, only vague prophetic glimpses (as in 1 Kings 22:19; Isaiah 6:1-3; Daniel 7:9-10; Revelation 6:11; etc.) which show us nothing but a never‐ceasing adoration. Their office towards man is far more fully described to us. They are represented as being, in the widest sense, agents of God's Providence, natural and supernatural, to the body and to the soul. The operations of nature are spoken of, and under angelic guidance fulfilling the Will of God. Thus the pestilences which slew the first‐born (Exdodus 12:23; Hebrews 11:28) the disobedient people in the wilderness (1 Corinthians 10:10) the Israelites in the days of David (2 Samuel 24:16; 1 Chronicles 21:16) and the army of Sennacherib (2 Kings 19:35) as also the plague which cut off Herod (Acts 12:23) are plainly spoken of as the work of the "angel of the Lord." Nor can the mysterious declarations of the Apocalypse, by far the most numerous of all, be resolved into mere poetical imager. (See especially Revelation 8 and 9). More particularly, however, angels are spoken of as ministers of what is called supernatural Providence of God; as agents in the great scheme of the spiritual redemption and sanctification of man, of which the Bible is the record. In the Book of Genesis there is notice of angelic appearance till after the call of Abraham. Then, as the book is the history of the chosen family, so the angels mingle with and watch over its family life, entertained by Abraham and by Lot (Genesis 18; 19) guiding Abraham's servant to Padan‐Aram (Genesis 24:7, 40) seen by the fugitive Jacob at Bethel (Genesis 28:12) and welcoming his return at Mahanaim (Genesis 32:1). Their ministry hallows domestic life, in its trials and its blessings alike, and is closer, more familiar, and less awful than in after‐times. (Contrast Genesis 18 with Judges 6:21-22; 13:16, 22). In the subsequent history, that of a chosen nation, the angels are represented more as ministers of wrath and mercy. It is, moreover, to be observed, that the records of their appearance belong especially to two periods, that of the Judges, and that of the captivity which were transition periods in Israelitish history; the former one destitute of direct revelation or prophetic guidance, the latter one of special trial and unusual contact with heathenism. During the lives of Moses and Joshua there is no record of the appearance of created angels, and only obscure reference to angels at all. In the Book of Judges angels appear at once to rebuke idolatry (Judges 2:1-4) to call Gideon (Judges 6:11, etc.) and consecrate Samson (Judges 13:3, etc.) to the work of deliverance. The prophetic office begins with Samuel, and immediately angelic guidance is withheld, except when needed by the prophets themselves (1 Kings 19:5; 2 Kings 6:17). During the prophetic and kingly period angels are spoken of only (as noticed above) as ministers of God in the operations of nature. But in the captivity, when the Jews were in the presence of foreign nations, each claiming its tutelary deity, then to the prophets Daniel and Zechariah, angels are revealed in a fresh light, as watching, not only over Jerusalem, but also over heathen kingdoms, under the Providence, and to work out the designs, of the Lord. (See Zechariah passim, and Daniel 4:13, 23; 10:10, 13, 20-21, etc.) The Incarnation marks a new epoch of angelic ministration. "The Angel of Jehovah," the Lord of all created angels, having now descended from heaven to earth, it was natural that His servants should continue to do Him service there. Whether to predict and glorify His birth itself (Matthew 1:20; Luke 1:2) to minister to Him after his temptation and agony (Matthew 28:2; John 20:12; Acts 1:10-11) they seem now to be indeed "ascending and descending on the Son of Man," almost as though transferring to earth the ministrations of heaven. The New Testament is the history of the Church of Christ, every member of which is united to Him. Accordingly, the angels are revealed now, as "ministering spirits" to each individual member of Christ for His spiritual guidance and aid (Hebrews 1:14). The records of their visible appearance are but infrequent (Acts 5:19; 8:26; 10:3; 12:7; 27:23); but their presence and their aid are referred to familiarity, almost as things of course, ever after the Incarnation. They are spoken of as watching over Christ's little ones (Matthew 18:10) as rejoicing over a penitent sinner (Luke 15:10) as present in the worship of Christians (1 Corinthians 11:10) and, perhaps, bringing their prayers before God (Revelation 8:3-4) and as bearing the souls of the redeemed into Paradise (Luke 16:22). In one word they are Christ's ministers of grace now, as they shall be of judgment hereafter (Matthew 13:39, 41, 49; 16:27; 24:31, etc.). That there are degrees of angelic nature, fallen and unfallen, and special titles and agencies belonging to each, is clearly declared by St. Paul (Ephesians 1:21; Romans 8:38) but that their general nature is, it is useless to speculate.


The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.

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