Host of Angels. This painting by Mike Moyers depicts the Christmas story of the angels' visit to the shepherds.By Christopher Reese

Like a number of significant figures from the Bible, angels have become part of the fabric of contemporary culture. They capture the imaginations of both Christians and non-Christians, and one can easily find depictions of angels in books, songs, movies, TV shows, paintings, and all manner of other places.

Yet, there’s a great deal of misinformation about angels in popular culture because ideas about them tend not to be drawn from Scripture but from speculation and portrayals in movies and TV shows. To know the truth about angels, we need to go back to the original source, which are the accounts of angels in the Bible, God’s authoritative word. Below we’ll answer several common questions about angels and see what Scripture reveals about these mysterious beings—including the role they play in believers’ lives today.

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What Are Angels?

Angels are spiritual beings that existed before the creation of the universe. God revealed to Job that the angels witnessed him creating the universe and “sang together” and “shouted for joy” in the midst of it (Job 38:7). The author of the book of Hebrews refers to angels as “spirits” (Hebrews 1:14). Scripture doesn’t tell us why God created angels, but we can reasonably infer it was for the same reason he created humans—to share his love and glory with other beings.

What Are Some Common Misconceptions About Angels?

One common misconception about angels is that human beings become angels when they die. Scripture makes a clear distinction between humans and angels. As just noted, angels existed long before humans and are solely spiritual beings. Humans, on the other hand, possess both a spirit and a body (Matthew 10:28), and when Christ returns all believers will be given a new body that will last for eternity (Philippians 3:21; 1 Corinthians 15:42-44). Thus, important differences exist between humans and angels and Scripture doesn’t state or imply that we become angels when we die.

A second common mistake is the view that all or most angels have wings. Scripture does describe types of angelic beings that have wings, and refers to some of them as cherubim and seraphim (Ezekiel 10:3-5; Isaiah 6:2). However, when angels physically appear to humans in the Bible, they always take the form of a human, though they often appear shining and glorious (e.g., Genesis 18:1-19:1; Judges 13:3-6; Mark 16:5; Acts 10:30-33).

A third misconception, which we’ll address below, is that all angels are good.

What Are the Archangels?

The archangels in Scripture are angels who have a higher rank or authority. The term “archangel” occurs only twice in the Bible (1 Thessalonians 4:16; Jude 9), and Jude tells us Michael is an archangel. Michael is also mentioned in the book of Daniel in the Old Testament as a “great prince” who protects the people of Israel (Daniel 10:13; 12:1). Although not stated, it’s likely that Gabriel in the Bible is also an archangel. Gabriel announced both the births of John the Baptist and Jesus, and proclaimed to Zechariah (the father of John the Baptist), “I stand in the presence of God” (Luke 1:19), which seems to indicate a privileged position. Interestingly, Michael and Gabriel are the only (good) angels who are named in the Bible.

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What Do Angels Do?

Though we lack space here to answer this question in detail, in general, angels worship and praise God, deliver his messages, and accomplish other tasks that God sends them to do (e.g., Psalm 148:2; Matthew 2:13; Psalm 103:20). Scripture also makes clear that one of their primary duties is to minister to God’s people, which we’ll say more about below (Hebrews 1:14).

Are All Angels Good?

Since most references to angels in the Bible refer to those who serve God and his people, we rarely hear about angels that are evil. Yet Scripture has much to say about these evil angels and their leader, Satan. Satan appears at the very beginning of the Bible, in the book of Genesis. There he appears to Adam and Eve in the form of a serpent, and persuades them to disobey God (Genesis 3).

Scripture doesn’t directly address Satan’s origin, but many biblical scholars believe Isaiah 14:12-15 and Ezekiel 28:11-19, though addressed to pagan kings, also narrate Satan’s early history. Taken together, they describe a beautiful and exalted heavenly being who became arrogant and attempted to replace God as supreme ruler. In addition, Revelation 12:4 seems to indicate Satan persuaded one-third of the heavenly angels to follow him in his rebellion, and like him they were cast down to earth (Luke 10:18). In Scripture, these rebellious angels are known as demons and, like their leader, they seek to disrupt and destroy God’s kingdom and people (1 Peter 5:8).

Yet, Jesus went to the cross “so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death” (Hebrews 2:14-15). And in the end, Satan and his angels will be thrown into the lake of fire, bringing their evil rebellion to a final conclusion (Revelation 20:7-15).

[Read the Bible Gateway Blog post, The Hum of Angels: An Interview with Scot McKnight]

How Do Angels Relate to Christians Today?

The most illuminating Scripture passage about the relationship between angels and followers of Christ is Hebrews 1:14, which says, “Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?”. Although angels have existed longer than we have, and are much more powerful and intelligent, God has assigned them the task of ministering to his human followers.

Based on Matthew 18:10 and other passages, many believe God assigns a guardian angel to every person. In that verse, which refers to children, Jesus says, “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.” Other portions of Scripture refer to angels providing physical protection, such as Psalm 34:7: “The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them.” Angels attended to and strengthened Jesus after his wilderness temptation and at Gethsemane, shortly before his crucifixion (Matthew 4:11; Luke 22:43), and twice freed one or more of the apostles from jail (Acts 5:19; 12:6–11).

Angels are also closely involved in the lives of humans in other ways. They rejoice when a sinner repents (Luke 15:10), and closely observe what God’s people do (1 Corinthians 4:9; 1 Timothy 5:21). Jesus referred to angels carrying away to heaven the faithful who die (Luke 16:22).

Although numerous Christians have reported having encounters with angels, their activity is normally invisible to us—though nonetheless effective and beneficial. On this topic, the great church leader and theologian John Wesley wrote that angels “minister to us in a thousand ways which we do not now understand. They may prevent our falling into many dangers, which we are not [aware] of; and may deliver us out of many others, though we know not whence our deliverance comes. How many times have we been strangely and accountably preserved . . . ! And it is well if we did not impute that preservation to chance, or to our own wisdom or strength. Not so: it was God (who) gave His angels charge over us, and in their hands they bore us up.”

[Quoted in The Angel Answer Book by Robert J. Morgan (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2015), from Wesley, Sermons on Several Occasions, Vol. 2, 137.]

Thus, we can rejoice as believers that God’s angels watch over and minister to us, and we should look to Scripture as our primary source of information about angels, and let it guide all of our beliefs about them.

BIO: Christopher Reese (MDiv, ThM) (@clreese) is a freelance writer and editor-in-chief of The Worldview Bulletin. He is a general editor of the Dictionary of Christianity and Science (Zondervan, 2017) and Three Views on Christianity and Science (Zondervan, 2021). His articles have appeared in Christianity Today and he writes and edits for Christian ministries and publishers.

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