God’s Secret Service

November/December 1997
Volume 32, Number 6


Beyond the realm of human senses (sight, feeling, touch, etc.), a mighty conflict rages between the forces of God and the forces of the evil one, The unseen powers of the world are guiding, governing, and helping to determine human destinies. The persons who would be wise in understanding the mysteries of life, and strong in power when facing the battles of life–must know who the invisible forces are, and what they are doing.

God accomplishes His purposes in this world by several means. One of them is through His special messengers, the angels. They are spirits at the service of God (Hebrews 1:14). Angels execute God’s judgments and purposes (Matthew 13:41; Acts 12:23). Angels guide believers (Acts 8:26). Angels assist, protect, and strengthen God’s people (1 Kings 19:5; Daniel 6:22). Angels will accompany the Lord Jesus at His second advent (Matthew 25:31; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-8). Angels announced the birth of Jesus to the shepherds abiding in the fields surrounding Bethlehem at His first advent (Luke 2:8-15). Angels will carry God’s children to Heaven in the hour of death (Luke 16:22).

God sent an angel to protect Elijah when his enemies were determined to destroy him (1 Kings 19:5-7). God sent an angel to protect Daniel when he was thrown into the den of lions (Daniel 6.22) He said,’My God sent his angel and shut the Irons mouths so that they would not hurt me.” The Apostle Peter was twice released from prison by the intervention of angels (Acts 5:19;12:10). We have no way of knowing how often our feet are directed into the right path, or how often we are protected from danger (seen or unseen) by our invisible companions, the angels of God. We only know from the Scriptures that they are here, performing a ministry of protection.

The Bible teaches that demons were once numbered among the good angelic beings. We learn in Jude 6 that some of the angels did not stay within the limits of their proper authority. They fell, and are now Satan’s angels and are seeking to accomplish his purpose of working against God’s purposes. And so, even though we benefit from the protecting ministry of God’s angels, it is the purpose of the evil angels to resist the work of the good angels.

As we approach the end of another year, it will be helpful to study more about the angels. You can do that by reading the material by Craig Alan Myers on the pages that follow.

–Harold S. Martin

God’s Secret Service

by Craig Alan Myers

Alien beings exist. They have powers far greater than humans do. They can cover great distances with great speed. They have supernatural strength far beyond mere men. They travel and work largely unseen and unnoticed by people here on earth. God’s Word reveals the existence of a class of beings that God has created lower than Himself and higher than mankind. Bible calls these beings “angels,” and they are referred to in thirty-four books in the Scriptures. Angels are God’s secret service.

Some years ago, many people in the intellectual and scientific communities scoffed at the existence of angels. They said that they could not believe that such beings existed, or that even a supernatural realm existed. More recently, with the rise of New Age and the occult, people are re-examining the spiritual and supernatural world, including the study of angels. Books, and more recently television programs, on angels have been produced by the dozen.

Sadly, many of these books and programs promote speculations about angels that are foreign to the Bible. They tend to be based largely on supposed experiences and interactions with angels rather than grounded in the Bible. The wise Bible student will seek to avoid undue interest in angelology (the study of angels), but not ignore the Bible’s teaching about angels. We believe in and study angels because they are mentioned in the Word of God.

In this article, we want to consider what the Bible doctrine of angels is. From where did angels come? What are they like? What do they do? We will consider both the good and evil angels and the various roles which they play. We will see that the existence and work of angels encourages us in our Christian walk. We hope to correct some misconceptions which are commonly held but are not Scripturally sound.

What are angels?

Angels are spiritual beings, created by God, higher than mankind. Most angels have remained obedient to God and carry out his will, but some have disobeyed God, and lost their holy condition, and now oppose and hinder God’s work in the earth.

The word, “angel,” is derived from the Hebrew and Greek words which mean simply, “messenger.” Thus, one of their basic duties is to serve as messengers or heralds in the Lord’s service. “The angels,” says Calvin, “are the dispensers and administrators of the divine generosity toward us; they regard our safety, undertake our defense, direct our ways, and exercise a constant watch that no evil will befall us.” Angels are ones who are sent by God with a divine commission. Angels are also referred to as “sons of God” (Job 1:6), “holy ones” (Psalm 89:5, 7), and the “host” (Psalm 89:6; 1 Samuel 17:45).

The Old Testament always presents angels as actual creatures, with over 100 references to their work and life. So, too, does the New Testament–in 165 instances–and specifically Jesus, affirm the existence of angels. Those who question the existence and work of angels must cast doubt on the testimony of our Lord Jesus. He used the state of angels as an illustration of how redeemed humans would live in the resurrection (Matthew 22:29-30), and he taught that angels would regather the nation Israel at the time of the Second Coming (Matthew 25:31-32).

The Origin of Angels

The Bible says in Job 38:4-7 that the angels were singing at the creation of the world. Genesis 1:1 says that “God created the heavens and the earth.” Here, the “heavens” refers not just to the physical stars and matter of the universe, but also where God resides, including the angelic beings. Angels, as far as we know, were the first created beings. Psalm 148:5 says, “Let them (the angels) praise the name of the Lord; for he commanded, and they were created.” They–as all other things–were created by the Lord Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:16). Sometime before the creation of Adam and Eve, angels came from the hand of the Lord.

As far as the number of angels, the Bible does not tell us. It is revealed to us that there is a very large group of angels. Psalm 68:17 says that the angels number “twice ten thousand, and thousands upon thousands.” (In the Hebrew language, the largest number grouping is ten thousand of any thing.) Our Lord Jesus told his captors that he could call twelve legions of angels to free him and destroy the world (Matthew 26:53). A Roman legion consisted of between 3,000 and 6,000 individuals. Hebrews 12:22 says that the angels are “innumerable.” John, in the Revelation, records that there were “thousands upon thousands, ten thousand times ten thousand” angels worshipping God. Possibly the total number of angels could number into the millions.

Because angels were created by God, they have creaturely limitations. They are special, supernatural beings, to be sure, but they do not have the attributes of God. Angels are not self-existent–their very life depends on the grace and mercy of God. Angels are not omniscient, for they do not know when Jesus will return (Matthew 24:36). They are powerfully strong creatures, yet not omnipotent. They are restricted in power, knowledge, and activity (this applies to the evil angels or demons as much as to the holy angels–see 1 Peter 1:11-12). They are subject to God’s judgment (1 Corinthians 6:3).

God made angels as unique beings as much as humans are distinct in their existence. Angels are persons–they are intelligent beings, with their own emotions and wills. Yet there are only a few angels specifically named in the Bible: Gabriel, Michael the archangel, and of course, Lucifer.

Angels are spirit beings (Hebrews 11:4). They do not have physical, material bodies. They may appear as human beings, or in physical bodies, depending on the work they have to do. They do not appear as females, nor do they necessarily have wings. The angels who visited Abraham, and later, Lot, were physically present, as was the angel who awakened Peter from his sleep in Acts 12.

Angels are immortal–as are humans. But they do not have babies (Matthew 22:30), nor do they die. Hence, the total number of angels never changes. Human beings do not become angels when we go to Heaven. Humans will always be humans. Here it is also necessary to note that angels and humans cannot engage in intimate relations. The “sons of God” mentioned in Genesis 6:2 refers to the godly descendants of Seth intermarrying with the pagan descendants of Cain. There is no indication in the Bible that God gave the same procreative ability to angels that he did to men.

There are two main groupings of angels. One group is holy, while the other group is fallen and evil. Jude 6 tells us that all angels were created holy and good. However, some angels, following the leadership of Satan, rebelled with him, and as a result, were cast down from Heaven to the earth. The Bible teaches that some of these fallen angels were imprisoned to await their judgment.

The Bible teaches that there are separate classes of angels. There are principalities (involved in governing the universe), powers (showing greater power that humans), authorities (in relation to the affairs of the world), dominions, and thrones (a reference to the dignity of God’s angels). The Bible is not clear that the cherubim (two winged creatures) and the seraphim (six winged creatures) are even angels. They may be, but they may belong to a completely different kind of spiritual beings.

The occupation of angels

Angels, contrary to popular notion, are not merely occupied with strumming harps and floating on clouds. Indeed, they are busy beings who are working at definite assignments. In relation to God, angels praise and glorify God. At the birth of Jesus, we see them performing this work before a watching group of shepherds, and singing “Glory to God in the highest” (Luke 2:13-14). Angels reveal and transmit God’s message to man. Gabriel, whose name means “hero of God”, brought messages to Daniel (Daniel 8:16; 9:21); to Zacharias (Luke 1:19); and to Mary (Luke 1:26). An angel brought an answer to Daniel’s prayer. These supernatural beings worship God (Hebrews 1:6; Revelation 5:8-13); they rejoice in his works (Job 38:6-7); they serve him (Psalm 103:20), and are instruments of his judgment (Revelation 7:1; 8:2).

Michael is named in the Scriptures as being the archangel, or highest ranking angel. In the Old Testament he is revealed to be the guardian angel of Israel (Daniel 10:21; 12:1), while in the New Testament his voice will be heard at the rapture of the church, and is revealed as the leader of God’s armies in opposition to Satan (Revelation 12:7). Apparently, Michael was involved in the burial of Moses (Jude 9).

Supernatural beings participated closely in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. Angels heralded his conception and birth (Luke 1:26-28), directed his family while he was a boy (Matthew 2:13-21), ministered to him at the beginning (Matthew 4:11) and the end of his ministry (Luke 22:43); rolled away the stone from the empty tomb (Matthew 28:1-2); and witnessed his ascension into Heaven (Acts 1:10-11).

Humans and angels interact, though we are seldom aware of just how much interaction is occurring. Angels help believers (Hebrews 1:14); bring messages from the Lord (Daniel 7:15-27; Revelation 1:1); bring answers to prayer (Acts 12:5-10) and encouragement (Acts 27:23-24); guard believers; transport believers into the presence of Jesus at death (Luke 16:22); and observe believers. Angels are present in our worship services (1 Corinthians 11:10), and they observe the whole plan of salvation with amazement (1 Peter 1:12).

Fallen Angels

No discussion of angels would be complete without reference to those angels who rebelled against God and lost their holy, set apart character. These beings are called demons. Lucifer–or Satan as he is more commonly known–led perhaps one-third of God’s angels in a revolt. As a result of their disobedience, God cast them out of Heaven. Some apparently were committed to eternal imprisonment (2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6); others have populated the earth (Ephesians 6:11-12).

Demons engage in opposing God’s work, through temptation and deception, inflicting disease upon humans, and by means of occasionally possessing–occupying–human bodies. However, Christians should be not preoccupied with the study of evil and evil spirits. Recent fictional works, such as This Present Darkness and Piercing the Darkness, have sensationalized the demonic powers greatly. Christians should “study the whole counsel of God by careful exegesis of Scripture. This might not be as fascinating as sitting around talking about the black mass, voodoo, curses, tarot cards or witch’s paraphernalia, but it will be far more rewarding. It is difficult to produce the sweet savor of godliness while digging in the garbage pails of contemporary thought and morals” (John J. Davis, Demons, Exorcism and the Evangelical, p. 15).

There is a great struggle being waged on the spiritual plane between Christ and Satan. Satan will continue to oppose Christ until the Second Coming. However, Christ won the battle at the Cross and in the Resurrection. Satan and his forces, although powerful and active, are fighting a lost war. Christians must remember that Satan and his hosts are ultimately the servants of the Living God. They are created beings, and as such, must account to their Creator. God uses Satan and his demons as pruning and weeding tools of His kingdom, and the demon-influence world as the fertilizer of His vineyard. Aptly put, “Satan is God’s lackey.” We may not understand the whole picture, but God is God and will always be God (Revelation 11:15).

Implications of the existence of angels

The existence and activity of angels prompt several responses among thoughtful Christians.

  • It awakens us to improve our conduct. Angels are watching every Christian. They are observing the spectacle of salvation. They find it difficult to understand how God could redeem sinful creatures (1 Peter 1:12).
  • It reminds us that a spiritual realm exists, and that there is more to life than that which we can merely gauge with our senses.
  • It alerts us to the fact of the spiritual battles being fought all around us. God revealed to Elisha’s servant the reality of the armies of the Lord (2 Kings 6:17).
  • It encourages us to know that powerful and unseen agents are available to help us at times of need.
  • It humbles us that angels have tremendous strength and authority, yet their tasks go unnoticed by most humans. We are prone to expect encouragement and praise for every task we complete.
  • It animates the believer to consistent, unceasing service of God, following the pattern established by the holy angels.
  • It sobers us to grasp that even angels who were close to God fell into sin and rebellion. We, too, must “take heed lest we fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12).