Nature and Classifications of Angels

The Hebrew word mal'akh and the Greek word aggelos (pronounced angelos) both mean "messenger." This indicates the term "angel" can be used of either men or spirits. For example, in Mark 1:2 aggelos is applied directly to John the Baptist, "Behold, I send my messenger (aggelos) before thy face," and Hebrew word mal'akh is used in the corresponding prophecy of Malachi 3:1.

Because the meaning of the word "angel" is simply that of "messenger," the context determines if it is a human or angelic messenger, although in rare cases it is difficult to determine which is meant. By far, the most common biblical use of the term is of a godly spirit messenger, what we normally think of as a good angel.

When Scripture uses the term "holy angel" or "angel," it refers to the godly and unfallen spirits created directly by God (Mark 8:38; Luke 9:26; Acts 10:22; Revelation 14:10). When it refers to "evil spirits," "unclean spirits," and so on, it refers to fallen angels who serve Satan (Matthew 12:24; 25:41).

The word "angel" appears some 300 times in the 24 books of the Bible. But this does not include synonyms used for angels, such as "sons of God," holy ones," "morning stars," "cherubim," "seraphs," "ministering spirits," "watchers," and such. In all, the term "angel" or its equivalent is found in 35 books of the Bible.

Angels are spirit beings created directly by God prior to the creation of the universe (Job 38:7). They were created as servants of God, and the church in order to perform the will of God in the earth (Hebrews 1:6, 14). Apparently innumerable in number, they are of various ranks and abilities, and they have numerous duties (Revelation 5:11; 8:2; 9:15; 12:7; Ephesians 1:21; Colossians 1:16).

Angels are clearly personal spirits. They have personal wills (Hebrews 1:6), and they expressed joy at the creation of the world (Job 38:7). They rejoice over a sinners repentance (Luke 15:10), and they convey concern and consternation, as when the apostle John wrongly attempted to worship an angel (Revelation 22:9). They are curious (1 Peter 1:10-12); they talk to each other (Revelation 14:8); and they worship and praise God (Revelation 7:11). And when in human form, they can communicate directly with men (Genesis 19). Angels command other angels (Revelation 7:3; 14:17-18) or battle demons (Daniel 10:13; Revelation 12:7-8). They appear in dreams (Matthew 1:20) or visibly as mere men (Genesis 18:1-8). They are described as beings of incredible brightness or clothed in shining garments (Luke 24:4). When they appear directly to men, the result is usually one of emotional shock or fear, hence the common biblical refrain of the angels, "Fear not" (Luke 1:12-13; 2:9). In the Bible, only three angels are named: Michael, Gabriel, and Lucifer.

Angels are immortal and can never die (Luke 20:36). As we will see, they are incredibly powerful, and they have great intelligence and wisdom. They may use the same measurements as men (Revelation 21:17) and may eat either human food or angelic food (Genesis 19:3; Psalm 78:23-25).

Angels never marry (Luke 20:35-36). Angels apparently have spiritual bodies for Scripture tells us that in the resurrection the redeemed in their glorified bodies will be "like" the angels (Philippians 3:21; Matthew 22:30).

In their natural (spiritual) state, angels move at tremendous speeds and are not bound by space or time, at least not in the manner we are. They can be present in great numbers in limited space, as evidenced by the seven demons simultaneously inhabiting Mary Magdalene. And it seems that thousands of demons inhabited at least one man (Mark 16:9; Luke 8:30). Angel's may also be aware of things like men's prayers and future events (Luke 1:13-16). However, despite their abilities, they are not omniscient or omnipotent (Daniel 10:13; Matthew 24:36; 1 Peter 1:11-12; Revelation 12:7).

morally, there are two kinds of angels: the holy or elect (1 Timothy 5:21) and the fallen who are described in the Bible as evil spirits or demons. These rebellious angels will not be redeemed (Hebrews 2:11-17), and their final end is the lake of fire (Matthew 25:41). However, while some of these fallen angels are free to roam, others are currently kept in the eternal bonds (Jude 1:6; 2 Peter 2:4).

Different classifications among angels include the cherubim, seraphim, and the archangels. Apparently cherubim are the highest class of angels, having indescribable beauty and power. Cherubim were placed at the east of the Garden of Eden to guard the way to the tree of life after man was expelled (Genesis 3:24). They appear in connection with the dwelling place of God in the Old Testament (Exodus 25:17-22; cf. Hebrews 9:5) and are primarily concerned with the glory and worship of God. For example the four living creatures (beasts) are cherubim (Ezekiel 10:4, 18-22). The cherubim are never termed angels, probably because they are not specifically messengers. Their chief purpose is to proclaim and protect God's glory, sovereignty, and holiness. Satan was apparently part of the cherubim class, making his rebellion and fall all the more significant.

Another class compromises the seraphim, who are consumed with personal devotion to God (Isaiah 6:2-3). There are also archangels, such as Michael, angels of yet lower rank, and special groups of angels (Revelation 1:1; 8:2; 15:1, 7).

It should be mentioned here that the specific term "angel of the LORD" (Malach-YHWH), which is used throughout the Old Testament (e.g. Genesis 22:11-12; Exodus 3:2; 2 Kings 19:35), does not refer to a created angel. It refers to the Old Testament theophanies of Jesus Christ, who appeared to people before His incarnation as "the angel of the LORD." The angel's identity as Jesus Christ is indicated not only by the attributes of deity He possess, but also because the Jews themselves held this angel to be the divine Messiah (Angels: Elect and Evil, Chicago: Moody Press, 1975, ch 6).

In addition, angels have incredible supernatural power. Peter is putting it mildly when he says that they "are greater in power and might" (2 Peter 2:11). For example, only one angel was sent to destroy the entire city of Jerusalem (1 Chronicles 21:15), and only two angels were sent to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:13, 24-25). One lone angel is even able to bind Satan himself for ten centuries (Revelation 20:1-3). Destroying angels produced the ten plagues on Egypt, including the death of all Egypt's firstborn (Exodus 12:12-13, 23, 29-30; Psalm 78:43, 49; Hebrews 11:28). The four angels of Revelation have power over the winds of the whole earth (Revelation 7:2-3).

Other angels are indirectly associated with the destruction of one-third of the heavens and earth, and one-third of the seas, the rivers, the vegetation, the sun, moon, and stars (Revelation 8-9). In Revelation 9:14-15, four angels destroy one-third of the earth's population.

At the end of the world, angels will gather all the spirits of the saved and the unsaved. They gather believers at Jesus Christ's return to earth (Matthew 24:30-31), and the gather the unbelievers for eternal judgment (Matthew 13:39-43). Truly, angels excel in strength (Psalm 103:20). But what is most amazing is that God tells believers in Christ that they will one day judge, and perhaps rule, angels (1 Corinthians 6:2-3).

Edited from A Comprehensive Guide to the New Age by John Ankerberg and John Weldon

Return to the Protestant Apologetics and Theology page