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What Do We Know about Angels?

Dear Roger,
I love to picture the angels singing at Jesus’ birth. I wonder what the shepherds must have been thinking! But I know that my earthly mind can’t possibly comprehend the heavenly reality of angels. Will you please tell me all about angels? What do they look like? What role do they have in God’s plan?
Thank you! - Gina

Christmastime is filled with images of angels atop our trees and lighting our front yards. But very few of us know how powerful they are—and how critical their role is in our lives. Did you know that angels are mentioned over 300 times in the Bible? The earliest books: Genesis and Job, describe their creation, and the last book of the Bible, Revelation, is filled with their actions in heaven and on earth as they carry out God’s work.

One of my very favorite mental pictures of angels comes from the Christmas movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” with Jimmy Stewart. George Bailey, a desperate man in dire straits, is transformed by the appearance of Clarence, his guardian angel. Angels are not imaginary. They are real, and they are deeply involved in God’s work and in our lives.

So, before you hang a cherub on your Christmas tree, why don’t you explain to your children or grandchildren what the Bible reveals about these heavenly creatures?

1. What do angels look like?

Angels are spirit beings (Hebrews 1:14), so they do not have an essential physical form. However, we know that angels have the ability to appear in human form.

When angels appeared to humans in the Bible, they resembled normal males. In Genesis 18:1-19, God and two angels appeared as men and ate a meal with Abraham. When Joshua prepared to attack the fortified city of Jericho, a “man” with a drawn sword stood before him. In Joshua 5:14, he identified himself as the “commander of the armies of the Lord,” a warrior angel appearing as a man.

Other times in Scripture, we read that angels appear as something otherworldly, and their appearance could be terrifying. Often, the first words from these angels were “Do not be afraid” because extreme fear was such a common reaction. The Roman soldiers stationed at Jesus’ tomb became “as dead men” when they saw the angel of the Lord (Matthew 28:4). The shepherds in the fields in Luke 2 were “sore afraid” when the angel of the Lord appeared with the glory of the Lord all around.

2. Are angels superior to Jesus?

No. Hebrews 1:5-14 teaches that “God speaks of his angels as messengers swift as the wind and as servants made of flaming fire; but of his Son He says, ‘Your Kingdom, O God, will last forever and ever; its commands are always just and right.’ No, for the angels are only spirit messengers sent out to help and care for those who are to receive his salvation.”

Jesus is the Son of God, the second Person of the Trinity, there at the moment of creation, and the Savior of the world. Angels serve God as messengers, protectors, and witnesses—they follow God’s specific direction as they serve Him.

3. Are there different kinds of angels?

Yes! Cherubim guard God’s glory. They stood at the Garden of Eden with flaming swords so that Adam and Eve would not try to re-enter (Genesis 3:24). The wings of the cherubim covered the Ark of the Covenant, where God’s glory resided (Exodus 25:18-22). Cherubim also appear as fearsome four-headed creatures before the throne of God in heaven. They continuously sing, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of Hosts” (Ezekiel 10:1-20).

Seraphim are the praise-leaders in heaven. “Holy, holy, holy,” they chant continuously, filling Heaven with their voices. Isaiah’s vision of God’s throne room was like this: “Seraphim stood over him; each one had six wings. With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and they used the remaining two to fly” (Isaiah 6:1-6).

Daniel 4:13-17 teaches that angels are protectors of people and of nations:

While I was watching in my mind’s visions on my bed, a holy sentinel came down from heaven. This announcement is by the decree of the sentinels; this decision is by the pronouncement of the holy ones, so that those who are alive may understand that the Most High has authority over human kingdoms, and he bestows them on whomever he wishes.

I describe these angels as “divine bouncers.” Visiting angels protected Lot and his family and struck their would-be perverted attackers blind (Genesis 19). One angel with a flaming sword scared Balaam’s donkey and prevented the wayward prophet from blessing Israel’s enemy (Numbers 22). An angel army trounced the Syrian army to protect Elisha and his servant (2 Kings 6).

4. Do angels have names?

Only three angels are named in the Bible: Michael, Gabriel, and Lucifer.

Michael fought as a warrior angel to deliver God’s message to Daniel about Israel (Jude 9, Daniel 10, and Revelation 12). Gabriel announced the coming of Jesus to Joseph (Luke 1:19). Lucifer was described as the “son of the morning” or a “fallen angel” in Isaiah 14.

5. How many angels are there?

More than we can possibly imagine! In Deuteronomy, when God gives the law, Moses writes, “the Lord came with myriads of angels.” Luke tells us at the birth of Jesus, there was a “multitude of heavenly hosts” (Luke 2:13). Hebrews 12:22 teaches that we worship with an innumerable company of angels. And in Revelation 5, John writes, “I heard the voice of many angels—10,000 times 10,000 and thousands of thousands.”

6. What do angels do?

Angels do God’s work!

Angels were involved in Jesus’ earthly life many, many times. Gabriel announced Jesus’ birth to the Virgin Mary and her aunt Elizabeth (Luke 1:26-32). He also announced to Zechariah, the priest, that his aging wife was going to bear a son (Luke 1:13-18). Gabriel instructed Zechariah to name his son “John.” Zechariah balked, and Gabriel struck him dumb until the baby was born (Luke 1:19).

Angels sang in the skies over the manger (Luke 2:9-14). Angels warned the young family to escape to Egypt (Matthew 2:12). Jesus received comfort after his forty-day fast and the temptation of Satan (Matthew 4:11). Jesus agonized in the Garden of Gethsemane, sweating drops of blood (Matthew 26:36-46). After Jesus prayed, the angels comforted him. At the Resurrection, an angel rolled away the stone that covered Christ’s tomb (Matthew 28:3).

7. How do angels help us?

Angels watch over you. They are constantly vigilant. They guard you. They rescue you.

Daniel described how he saw the angel of the Lord shut the mouths of the lions when he had been thrown in the den to be devoured (Daniel 4). When Peter was imprisoned in Acts 12, God dispatched an angel to help him escape. He walked home without even being noticed!

I’ll never forget the day a dear friend was rear-ended by a huge 18-wheeler truck going 60 miles per hour. Her car was tiny in comparison. The car was totaled, but she was unharmed. I know angels were dispatched to save her.

When our daughter was a baby, she crawled near a precipice that would have sent her to her death. My wife and I heard an urgent cry to help her—and we were in separate areas of our home. When we asked each other who called out, no one else was there. An angel had preserved her life.

As a pastor, I faced physical threats many times. In fact, I wore a bulletproof vest when I preached every Sunday. At one point, I was threatened by a man who swore to assassinate me. Mysteriously, his truck veered into a guard rail while he was on the way to our home. The police arrested him then and there. My wife and I have no doubt that we were protected by angel guards.

Angels are very real, and they are intimately involved in our lives at God’s command. I’m always watching closely for God’s intervention through His angels. Talk about an incredible reminder of His great love for us!

This Christmas, I pray that God will show you a glimpse of His infinite care for you through His angels. Love, Roger

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Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/izzzy71 

Ask RogerDr. Roger Barrier retired as senior teaching pastor from Casas Church in Tucson, Arizona. In addition to being an author and sought-after conference speaker, Roger has mentored or taught thousands of pastors, missionaries, and Christian leaders worldwide. Casas Church, where Roger served throughout his 35-year career, is a megachurch known for a well-integrated, multi-generational ministry. The value of including new generations is deeply ingrained throughout Casas to help the church move strongly right through the twenty-first century and beyond. Dr. Barrier holds degrees from Baylor University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Golden Gate Seminary in Greek, religion, theology, and pastoral care. His popular book, Listening to the Voice of God, published by Bethany House, is in its second printing and is available in Thai and Portuguese. His latest work is, Got Guts? Get Godly! Pray the Prayer God Guarantees to Answer, from Xulon Press. Roger can be found blogging at Preach It, Teach It, the pastoral teaching site founded with his wife, Dr. Julie Barrier.

Editor's Note: This Ask Roger article features insights from Roger's daughter, Brie Barrier Wetherbee, a sought-after Bible teacher and conference speaker, author, analyst, and Christian theologian. 

Pastor Roger Barrier's "Ask Roger" column regularly appears at Preach It, Teach It. Every week at Crosswalk, Dr. Barrier puts nearly 40 years of experience in the pastorate to work answering questions of doctrine or practice for laypeople or giving advice on church leadership issues. Email him your questions at [email protected].

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