What Are Angels?
While God’s word does not offer us a detailed description of how and when God made the angels, or of what exactly they look like, we can nevertheless gather truths and principles from various Scripture passages that teach us about these beings that are in eternal service of God.
You have probably seen pictures, movies, or cartoons portraying angels, but it’s likely that none of them portrayed angels in any way close to what they are actually like! What does the Bible say?
Angels are created beings. First, the Bible is clear that angels, like humans, are created and living beings, made by God. In Psalm 8, the psalmist points out that human beings have been made “a little lower” than the angels and “crowned . . . with glory and honor” (Ps. 8:5).
Angels, then, have greater glory and honor than humans; it is noteworthy that the natural human response to these beings when they appear is first fear and then worship. Nevertheless, angels were created by God, and therefore are less than God. They are another kind of living being that God made.
Angels are eternal, nonmortal beings. Jesus makes it clear that angels—unlike human beings—are eternal and nonmortal (they do not share in human institutions such as marriage, for example; see Matt. 22:30). Angels were created by God to live forever; they do not grow old and die. While it seems that angels can certainly take on physical form, they are spiritual beings.
Angels are servants of God. Primarily, angels were created by God to be his servants (we will talk much more about what their service looks like in the next section). You saw this in the passage from Revelation 22 that you read just above. John was tempted, as we discussed above, to bow down and worship the angel who was showing him this vision of heaven. The angel stopped him, though, reminding him that, although glorious, he was nothing more than a “fellow servant” of God with John (Rev. 22:9). Angels are not to be worshiped; they are servants of God, who alone is worthy of worship and praise.
Angels dwell in heaven with God. Angels, unlike human beings, never have lived on earth and never have been subject to the fall in the same way that human beings are. Angels, then, do not have sinful natures; they are not guilty of sin, rebellion, and death. We know this because they are portrayed (in Rev. 4, for example) as dwelling closely with the holy God in heaven. Sinful beings would not be able to do that! So the permanent dwelling place for angels is in heaven with God.
The Purpose of Angels
Now that we have considered what angels are, we are going to dig a bit deeper into their purpose, as we see it revealed in the Bible. We will identify several of the chief roles that we see angels filling in Scripture as they obey God and help his work to move forward in the world he made. While we are not certain about the work of angels in the world today, we can look at how they have worked throughout the history of God’s people.
Above all, the Bible presents angels to us as servants of God. This was the point that the angel in Revelation made clear to John when John attempted to worship him (Rev. 22:9). But what do these servants do? What is their purpose? In the Bible, we see them acting in several key ways:
Announcement. This is the purpose that you saw in the passage from Luke that you read just above. The angel Gabriel (one of the few angels who is named in Scripture) was sent to Mary to announce the coming birth of Jesus Christ, God’s Son. The angels had a busy season, as another heavenly messenger (perhaps Gabriel again) was sent to Mary’s soon-to-be husband Joseph as well (Matt. 1:20–21). God was clearly using this angelic servant to make important announcements to his people about his coming salvation and powerful work in the world through his Son. We also see angels making announcements to people in the Old Testament from time to time.
Protection. At various points in the Bible, angels are presented to us as God’s means to protect his people. Psalm 91:11–12 mentions this protective role of angels. Likewise, in Daniel 6, after his deliverance from the lions’ den, Daniel explains to the king of Babylon that the lions’ mouths were shut by God, who sent his “angel” to take care of him (Dan. 6:22).
Worship. Revelation 4 and 5 make it clear that, among other purposes that angels fulfill, one seems to be simply worshiping God and singing praises to him in heaven. Revelation 4, in particular, shows us a scene from the throne room of heaven, which John sees as a part of his vision. In this scene, he sees angels singing praises to God continually (Rev. 4:8).
Provision. At various times in Scripture, angels are shown to provide for the needs of God’s people—even in tangible ways. In the life of Jesus, in fact, when he was in the wilderness being tempted by Satan and went without food for forty days, we are told that angels were “ministering” to him (Matt. 4:11).
Carrying out God’s purposes. There are other ways in which angels carry out the purposes of God in the pages of Scripture, including guarding the garden of Eden, defeating God’s people’s enemies in battle, and rescuing righteous people from a city about to be destroyed by God’s judgment (see the story of Lot in Genesis 19). Clearly angels do God’s bidding and carry out his purposes in this world, whatever they may be.
As noted earlier, we are not sure how angels function today, but we can be sure that God is still using these faithful heavenly servants to carry out his work in the world—probably in ways that we will not fully understand until we meet them in heaven.
God alone is worthy of worship; prayer should be directed to him alone, in the name of Jesus Christ alone.
The Christian Response to Angels
Having learned about the essence and purpose of angels, we can now think about the right relationship that Christians are to have with them.
Some people tend to be overly obsessed with angels, talking about them a lot and even focusing on them in a borderline worshipful way. Other people act as if angels and the spiritual realm do not even exist at all. Hopefully, based on what we’ve discussed so far, you can see why both of these responses are a bit unbalanced—and unbiblical.
Another common idea is that there is a “guardian angel” for each person, but this is not taught in Scripture. That does not mean it is not possible for people to have individual angels “assigned” to them, but the Bible does not explicitly teach anything about this.
Our goal is to work toward the right way for Christians to think biblically about angels and properly relate to them. The biblical response to these heavenly beings is somewhere between worship and obsession on the one hand, and a total denial of their existence on the other. Christians can learn from Scripture how to relate to angels as they follow the great God and Savior of the world.
What should be our response to angelic beings as we seek to live for Jesus Christ in this world?
We should worship and thank God because of angels. First and foremost, the existence, work, and purpose of angels throughout history and now (though we do not always see it) should drive us to give more praise and worship to God himself. John’s response to the angel in Revelation 22 reminds us that angels are beings with beautiful and terrifying glory, yet they do not even begin to compare in glory and power to the almighty God of the universe.
We should see angels as our fellow servants. Second, we should—as the angel said to John in Revelation 22—see angels as “fellow servants” of God with us. We should recognize that, as they are made for God’s purposes, actions, worship, and service, they stand alongside us in service and praise of him.
This means, of course, that Christians are not to pray to angels or worship them in any way. God alone is worthy of worship; prayer should be directed to him alone, in the name of Jesus Christ alone. As glorious and powerful as angelic beings may be, they are to be seen as servants of God, who is the Creator of them and us.
We should look forward to sharing heaven with angels. Finally, as we look ahead toward eternity, we should be hopeful for the day when we will share heaven with angels and join in praise and worship of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit with them! We know from Revelation 4 that angels are praising God in heaven constantly; we also know that they are spiritual beings who do not die. So we can biblically assume that these angelic beings will be with us in the new heaven and the new earth; they will be our worship “partners” as we live eternal lives in praise and worship of our great God.
This article is adapted from Knowing God’s Truth: An Introduction to Systematic Theology by Jon Nielson.
Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”
Should angels be worshiped? Into what do angels long to look? What about guardian angels?
Revelation 5:8–12 portrays a similar scene, with multiplied thousands of voices singing of the worthiness of God and the Lamb. That is the song of heaven. I cannot wait to hear it.
Scripture indicates that in heaven we will join the angels in worshiping God around his throne.