1. Angelic TitlesRelated Media
What are titles or names for angels in Scripture? By considering their titles, we learn something about their character and purpose.
In both the Old and New Testament, the words used for angels (malak and angelos) simply mean messenger1 —one who is sent to act and speak for another.2 In Scripture, they are commonly seen giving messages to people from God and acting on behalf of him. In Daniel 9, Daniel receives a prophetic message from an angel about the future of Israel (v. 20-27). And, the entire book of Revelation is given to John by an angel. Revelation 1:1 says, “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must happen very soon. He made it clear by sending his angel to his servant John.” Angels are messengers from God.
Sons of God
In the Old Testament, angels are commonly called “sons of God” (Job 1:6, 2:1, 38:7). Job 1:6 says, “Now the day came when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord—and Satan also arrived among them.” The title “sons of God” pictures how God is the father of angels. The same title is used of Adam in Matthew’s genealogy of Christ because Adam was created by God in his likeness (Matt 3:38; cf. Gen 1:26-28). Though angels are never said to be made in God’s image as humans are, they may in fact be made in God’s image, as the title “sons of God” suggests (cf. Gen 5:3). Certainly, in some ways, they bear God’s characteristics more than humans. They are stronger, wiser, more powerful, and have greater authority than humans. For a season, humans were made a little “lower than the angels” (Heb 2:7). With that said, apparently after Christ’s coming, believers will judge angels and therefore be in authority over them (1 Cor 6:3; cf. Eph 1:20-22, 2:6). It seems that in the same way God placed humans on the earth to rule (Gen 1:28), angels were placed in the heavenlies to rule. Consider these verses that describe their ruling function: Ephesians 3:10 says, “The purpose of this enlightenment is that through the church the multifaceted wisdom of God should now be disclosed to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly realms.” Also, Colossians 1:16 says,
for all things in heaven and on earth were created by him—all things, whether visible or invisible, whether thrones or dominions, whether principalities or powers—all things were created through him and for him.
Angels are sons of God; they are called to rule the heavens under God, even as humans are called to rule the earth under God.
In Scripture, angels are at times called “holy ones.” In Psalm 89:5 and 7 (ESV), the Psalmist says,
Let the heavens praise your wonders, O Lord, your faithfulness in the assembly of the holy ones! … a God greatly to be feared in the council of the holy ones, and awesome above all who are around him?
Angels are holy because they were created to be pure and righteous, and because they attend to the holiness of God. In Isaiah 6:3, the angels in the presence of God continually cry out, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord who commands armies!”
Angels are at times called “hosts” (Ps 89:6, Is 31:4, 1 Sam 17:45), which refers to them as God’s heavenly army. First Samuel 17:45 says,
But David replied to the Philistine, “You are coming against me with sword and spear and javelin. But I am coming against you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel’s armies, whom you have defied!
Angels often fight God’s battles on behalf of believers against demons and evil people (Dan 10:20-21, 12:1, Heb 1:14).
Angels are at times called “watchers” (Dan 4:13, 17, 23). Daniel 4:13 (ESV) says, “I saw in the visions of my head as I lay in bed, and behold, a watcher, a holy one, came down from heaven.” This term pictures them as watching God’s activity throughout the earth and specifically watching humans. Further evidence of their watching activity is demonstrated in the following verses: In 1 Corinthians 4:9, Paul said, “For, I think, God has exhibited us apostles last of all, as men condemned to die, because we have become a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to people.” Likewise, Peter spoke specifically about how angels watch believers to learn about the implications of the gospel. First Peter 1:12 says,
They were shown that they were serving not themselves but you, in regard to the things now announced to you through those who proclaimed the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things angels long to catch a glimpse of.
Why do angels watch humans so intently? As mentioned, it seems they are particularly interested in understanding the practical applications of salvation. Some have speculated that since the angels were never offered grace and mercy after some rebelled against God, they have a strong understanding of God’s holiness, wrath, and justice, but little understanding of God’s grace and mercy—God’s underserved and unmerited favor. They, no doubt, understand these mentally but not experientially. They learn about the out-workings of salvation from humans, and since knowing and honoring God is their chief function, they are intensely interested in understanding it. Charles Ryrie’s comments on this are helpful:
Probably the statements about angels observing the conduct of redeemed people startle our thinking as much as any of these truths. The reason for their interest in us may stem from the fact that since angels do not personally experience salvation, the only way they can see the effects of salvation is to observe how it is manifest in saved human beings. We are indeed a theater in which the world, men, and angels make up the audience (1 Cor. 4:9). Let us put on a good performance for them as well as for the Lord before whom all things are naked and open.3
In Ephesians 2:7 and 3:10, Paul sheds more light on this reality, as he describes how God uses the church to teach angels:
to demonstrate in the coming ages the surpassing wealth of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus … The purpose of this enlightenment is that through the church the multifaceted wisdom of God should now be disclosed to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly realms.
Angels are watchers because they study God’s work in redeemed humans to learn more about God and worship him more thoroughly.
Angels are messengers as they speak God’s Word and act on behalf of him. They are sons of God because they were created by him and reflect his likeness in various ways. They rule the heavens even as humans rule the earth. They are holy ones because they have been set apart by God to be righteous and attend to his holiness. They are hosts because they fight God’s battles. And finally, they are watchers as they study redeemed humanity to understand God’s grace—his unmerited favor on behalf of those who are undeserving.
- What stood out most in the reading and why?
- What are some angelic titles in Scripture and what do they mean or represent?
- Are angels made in the image of God? Why or why not?
- Why do angels watch believers?
- What other questions or applications did you take from the reading?
Copyright © 2020 Gregory Brown
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1 Aaron, Daryl. Understanding Theology in 15 Minutes a Day: How can I know God? Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
Related Topics: Angelology