Michael is the commander-in-chief of the heavenly host and the designated defender of Israel. Gabriel is God's special messenger. The Seraphim are worship leaders. The Cherubim are guardians. The Four Living Creatures of Revelation are either identical with the Cherubim or else they are special representatives of all God's creation. Like the Seraphim, they praise God without ceasing (Revelation 4:8-9).
Regarding the host of regular angels, the Bible makes it clear that they are servants of God who have a variety of tasks. One of those tasks is indicated by their name. The very word, angel, is derived from the Greek word, angelos, which means "messenger." The Hebrew equivalent, malakh, also means "messenger." Accordingly, angels are often pictured in the Scriptures as delivering messages from God. The examples abound throughout the Scriptures. To mention only a few —
- The Law was given to Moses through angels (Acts 7:53 and Galatians 3:19).
- Angels are portrayed as mediums of revelation to God's prophets (Daniel 4:13-17, Zechariah 1:9-11, and Hebrews 2:2).
- Abraham was informed by angels that his wife would have a child (Genesis 18:1-10).
- Lot was warned by angels of the impending destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:1-16).
- Joseph was visited by angels three times in dreams. He was assured that Mary was a virgin (Matthew 1:20). He was told to take his family and flee to Egypt (Matthew 2:13). And he was informed when it was safe to leave Egypt and return to Nazareth (Matthew 2:19-20).
- Cornelius, the first Gentile convert, was told by an angel to send for Peter to receive a special message from God (Acts 10:1-8).
A second major role of angels is to minister to the needs of saints. They were sent to provide food and drink for Elijah as he lay dying in the wilderness (1 Kings 19:1-8). In like manner, angels were dispatched to minister to Jesus after His exhausting 40 days of temptation in the wilderness (Matthew 4:11). An army of angels surrounded the prophet Elisha to protect him when his life was endangered (2 Kings 6:15-19). In the New Testament, we are told that Peter was released from prison by an angel (Acts 12:5-11).
An equally significant role of angels is to execute judgments of God. They were sent to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:12-15). An angel of the Lord killed 185,000 Assyrian soldiers in one night to prevent them from attacking Jerusalem (2 Kings 19:35). Psalm 78:49 speaks of a "band of destroying angels" that was sent to torment the Jews in the wilderness when they rebelled against God. The New Testament makes it clear that God will execute His end time judgments on the nations through angels (Matthew 13:49- 50 and Jude 14-15).
Some angels seem to have highly specialized responsibilities that relate to the natural universe. Revelation 16:5 refers to "the angel of the waters." Another is called the angel "who has power over fire" (Revelation 14:18). In Revelation 7:1 four angels are pictured who have control of the winds of the earth.
The most popular concept of the role of angels is that of guardians. Most people seem to believe that God has assigned a guardian angel to each person. The Bible never says this, but it does indicate a guardian role for angels. As I have already mentioned, the Archangel Michael is the protector of Israel (Daniel 12:1). Jesus indicated that children have guardian angels. He is quoted in Matthew 18:10 as saying, "See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven continually behold the face of My Father..."
Hebrews 1:14 indicates that believers may have guardian angels: "Are they [angels] not all ministering spirits sent out to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation?" I love this verse, and I often claim it in prayer. For example, when I have to travel out of town, I always pray for the Lord to post an angel at my home to watch over my wife. And I always pray for the Lord to surround my airplane with angels to guarantee a safe flight.
A companion verse to Hebrews 1:14 can be found in Psalm 91:11-12 —
11) For He will give His angels charge concerning you, to guard you in all your ways.
12) They will bear you up in their hands, lest you strike your foot against a stone.
The letters Jesus dictated to John for the seven churches of Asia Minor are addressed to "the angel" of each church. Some believe this is a reference to the pastor, and that could very well be, but I cannot help but imagine that the Lord has assigned an actual angel to guard each of His true churches.
With one exception, which we will see later, angels are never given the responsibility of proclaiming the Gospel. This is the work of the Holy Spirit through human evangelists, pastors, and laymen. But angels are often portrayed as playing an active role in evangelistic preparation. Thus, it was an angel who directed the evangelist Philip to the location of the Ethiopian enunch so that the Gospel could be shared with him (Acts 8:26). The situation is reversed with the Roman soldier, Cornelius. An angel appeared to him in order to direct him to Peter so that Peter could share the Gospel with him. Angels guide, but the Holy Spirit instructs (Acts 8:29).
Several verses indicate that angels are active and involved eyewitnesses to what is going on in the Church and in the lives of believers (1 Corinthians 4:9, 11:10 and 1 Timothy 5:21). Surely the "cloud of witnesses" referred to in Hebrews 12:1 must include the angels as well as saints who have gone to be with the Lord. In this sense I think we can consider the angels to be our cheerleaders! We know for certain that they celebrate when a sinner repents and is saved (Luke 15:10). The Bible also indicates that they attend the death of a believer. In His story about Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16:19-31), Jesus left us with the comforting concept that when a believer dies, his spirit is ushered into the Lord's presence by angels (Luke 16:22).
Dr. Vance Havner commented on the impact of angels as observers in his book, Though I Walk Through the Valley (1974). He tells the story of the pastor of a small country church who was working late into the night on a sermon. His wife asked him why he was spending so much time on a message that would be given to such a small congregation. He replied, "You forget, my dear, how large my audience will be!" Dr. Havner added, "Nothing is trivial here if Heaven looks on. We shall play a better game if, 'seeing we are encompassed,' we remember who is in the grandstand."
What are the future roles angels will play in the end times? Find out in the last installment of this series on the ministry of angels!