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2. Characteristics of Angels

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What are characteristics of angels? We’ve considered some by considering the titles used of angels; however, Scripture teaches much more about them.

Angels Are Created Beings

It is clear that angels, like humans, were created by God. Psalm 148:2 and 5 says: “Praise him, all his angels! Praise him, all his heavenly assembly! … Let them praise the name of the Lord, for he gave the command and they came into existence.” With that said, Scripture does not explicitly say when they were created; however, it appears they were created early in the original six days of creation. Exodus 20:11 says: “For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth and the sea and all that is in them, and he rested on the seventh day.” Everything within the heavens, including angels, were created within the first six days. Also, Genesis 2:1 (ESV) implies the same thing: “Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them.” Host is a word commonly used of angels.

In addition, Job 38:4-7 indicates that angels were present at the forming of the earth, early on day one of creation. In it, God says to Job:

Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you possess understanding! Who set its measurements—if you know— or who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were its bases set, or who laid its cornerstone—when the morning stars sang in chorus, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?

This may be further implied by Genesis 1:1-2, as Wayne Grudem describes:

There may be a hint at the creation of angelic beings on the first day of creation when we read that “in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1), and then immediately after we read that “the earth was without form and void” (Gen. 1:2), but with no mention of the heavens in this second verse. This may suggest that the uninhabitable state of the earth is contrasted with the heavens where, perhaps, God had already created angelic beings and assigned them various roles and orders. This idea is made more plausible when we read that “the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy” at the time when God laid the “cornerstone” of the earth and sunk its “bases” in the process of forming or founding it (Job 38:6–7). If the angels (“the sons of God”) shouted for joy when God was making the earth inhabitable, this could imply that God created the angelic beings early on the first day.1

Number of Angels

How many angels did God create? Again, Scripture does not clearly say. In Matthew 22:30, Christ said this about humans and their resurrection, “For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.” Therefore, since angels weren’t made to marry and procreate, the implication is that their number is fixed. In addition, since they are immortal, no angels will die. Luke 20:36, again comparing resurrected humans to angels, said, “In fact, they can no longer die, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, since they are sons of the resurrection.”

With that said, the actual number of angels seems to be vast and innumerable. Revelation 5:11, in describing the heavenly worship of angels and twenty-four human elders, says:

Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels in a circle around the throne, as well as the living creatures and the elders. Their number was ten thousand times ten thousand—thousands times thousands

There were ten thousand times ten thousand angels. In Hebrews 12:22, the angels worshiping God are said to be “innumerable” (ESV).

Some have speculated that the number of angels is equal to the stars, since angels are at times called stars. Job 38:7 says, “when the morning stars sang in chorus, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” Also, Revelation 12:4 says, “Now the dragon’s tail swept away a third of the stars in heaven and hurled them to the earth.” If that is true, that means there are trillions of angels who worship God and serve people.

In considering demonic angels, which isn’t the focus of this study, it is notable that one man potentially had 6,000 demons assigned to him. When Christ demanded to know the name of the demoniac in Mark 5:9, the demons responded, “My name is Legion, for we are many.” A legion typically consisted of 6,000 men.2 If Satan can spare 6,000 demons for one human, their number must be vast. Therefore, the total number of angels must be too many to count.

The Fall of Angels

Sometime after angels were created, they experienced a fall, as Satan, one of the chief angels, led one-third of the angels in rebellion against God (Ez 28:14 ESV, Rev 12:3-4, Lk 10:18). Apparently, like humans, angels had a probation period where they were supposed to demonstrate their obedience to God (cf. Gen 2:16-17). During that period, angels were holy but still able to sin. However, after the fall, fallen angels (demons) are now not able to not sin, even as fallen humans. The angels that did not rebel are called “elect” and are now not able to sin (1 Tim 5:21).

As mentioned, the angelic rebellion was led by Satan, who originally was a high-ranking angel who became prideful and desired to be like God (Is 14:12-15, Ez 28:11-19, 1 Tim 3:6). Satan and demons will be more thoroughly considered in Satanology instead of Angelology.

Angels Are Spirit Beings

Unlike humans who have a material body, angels are immaterial beings. In Scripture, they are called “spirits.” Hebrews 1:14 says this about holy angels, “Are they not all ministering spirits, sent out to serve those who will inherit salvation?” Evil angels are at times called evil or unclean spirits (Luke 8:2; 11:24, 26). Luke 8:2 says, “and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and disabilities: Mary (called Magdalene), from whom seven demons had gone out.” And, in Ephesians 2:2, Satan is called “the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience.”

Though angels are spirits, in Scripture, they at times appear as humans when accomplishing a mission. Every time this happens, they take on male form. Three men visited Abraham’s home in Genesis 18—two of them were angels and one was God. In Daniel 10:5, a male angel appeared to Daniel to share with him about the future of Israel, including the kingdoms that would rule over her. With that said, there is one time in Scripture where angels might appear as females; however, it is inconclusive. In a vision in Zechariah 5:9-11, two women with wings take a basket filled with wickedness to Babylon. Verse 9 says, “Then I looked again and saw two women going forth with the wind in their wings (they had wings like those of a stork) and they lifted up the basket between the earth and the sky.”

It should be noted that though angels are spirit beings like God (John 4:24)—meaning they have no material nature—they are finite beings and not infinite beings like God. As creatures, they are limited. They are not omnipresent—they cannot be in more than one place at once. They are not omniscient—they do not know all things, including what we are thinking. And they are not omnipotent—though powerful, they are not all-powerful. They are finite.

Angels Are Personal Beings

Angels are personal beings in that they demonstrate the qualities of personhood—intellect, emotion, and will. Their intellect is demonstrated in their ability to carry out God’s commands and converse with humans. No doubt, they have greater intellects than humans. (1) Certainly, this is true because they were created in a higher position than humans, and therefore they innately know more. As mentioned, Hebrews 2:7 says, humans were made “lower than the angels for a little while.” (2) Also, angels have existed since the original creation, allowing them to observe and learn more than humans.

Furthermore, angels demonstrate emotions. In Luke 15:10, Jesus described how the angels rejoice when a sinner repents. He said, “In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of God’s angels over one sinner who repents.” Finally, angels demonstrate will in that the holy angels chose to obey God and not follow Satan, while the demons chose to rebel against God. With that said, like all creatures, angels are subject to God’s will. Ephesians 1:11 says God “accomplishes all things according to the counsel of his will.” Angels submit to and obey God’s will as their first priority. Demons must submit to God’s sovereign will as well, which is a mystery. Even Satan had to get permission from God to tempt and try Job (Job 1:12, 2:6), and at times, we see demons explicitly obey God in Scripture. In 1 Samuel 16:14, God sends an evil spirit to torment Saul because of his disobedience, and in 1 Kings 22:22, a lying spirit is sent by God to deceive King Ahab, so God could destroy him (v. 20). These are mysteries which demonstrate God’s sovereignty over all his creation (Eph 1:11, Col 1:17).

Angels Are Glorious Beings

Since angels are “sons of God” and display aspects of his image, this is seen in how glorious they are. When angels appear in Scripture, they are often magnificent in appearance and revealed in a shining light. Consider Daniel 10:5-6, which details Daniel seeing an angel. It says,

I looked up and saw a man clothed in linen; around his waist was a belt made of gold from Upaz. His body resembled yellow jasper, and his face had an appearance like lightning. His eyes were like blazing torches; his arms and feet had the gleam of polished bronze. His voice thundered forth like the sound of a large crowd.

Daniel said the angel’s face appeared like “lightning” and his eyes like “blazing torches.” The vision was so powerful, Daniel fell to his face and his energy was drained (v. 8-9). Also, in Acts 12:7, when an angel appeared to Peter while he was in prison, it says, “Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared, and a light shone in the prison cell…” In Luke 2:9, when an angel appeared to the shepherds to announce the birth of Jesus, the text says, “An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were absolutely terrified.” Throughout Scripture, angels are shown to be glorious beings—appearing with great light.

Angels Are Powerful Beings

In Scripture, angels are also seen to be powerful beings, much more powerful than humans. In 2 Peter 2:10-11, Peter talks about how false prophets often boastfully insult fallen angels, though holy angels who are much more powerful do not even do so. He says: “Brazen and insolent, they are not afraid to insult the glorious ones, yet even angels, who are much more powerful, do not bring a slanderous judgment against them before the Lord.”

In 2 Samuel 24:15-17, angelic power is seen in how God used a single angel to destroy 70,000 Jewish men as a judgment for David pridefully conducting a census of Israel. Also, in Revelation 7:1, four angels hold “back the four winds of the earth so no wind could blow on the earth, on the sea, or on any tree.” Angels have tremendous power, much more than humans.

Angels Are Functional Beings

Angels are functional beings in that they serve God in a variety of ways:

1. Angels worship God.

In Scripture, they are often seen continually praising God for his characteristics and works. Revelation 4:8 describes angels worshiping God day and night. It says,

Each one of the four living creatures had six wings and was full of eyes all around and inside. They never rest day or night, saying: “Holy Holy Holy is the Lord God, the All-Powerful, Who was and who is, and who is still to come!”

Also, Isaiah says this about two angels in his vision: “They called out to one another, ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord who commands armies! His majestic splendor fills the entire earth!’” (Is 6:3).

2. Angels execute God’s commands.

This includes many things. (1) Angels commonly bring God’s judgment. In Acts 12:23, when Herod failed to give praise to God when the Israelites were calling him a god, an angel struck and killed him. In Revelation, angels are seen bringing various judgments on the earth. Revelation 16:1 says, “Then I heard a loud voice from the temple declaring to the seven angels: ‘Go and pour out on the earth the seven bowls containing God’s wrath.’” (2) Angels at times control (or manifest) the weather in obedience to God (cf. Ez 1:4, 13). Revelation 7:1 says, “After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth so no wind could blow on the earth, on the sea, or on any tree.” Likewise, Hebrews 1:7 (ESV) says, “Of the angels he says, ‘He makes his angels winds, and his ministers a flame of fire.’” (3) Angels seem to have a role in guarding and possibly guiding nations (cf. Dan 10:20-21). In Daniel 12:1, Michael, the archangel, is called “the great prince who watches over your people”—referring to Israel. Likewise, two demonic angels are called the “prince of Persia” and the “prince of Greece” in Daniel 10:20. (4) Angels fight against demonic forces (cf. Dan 10:20-21). In Revelation 12:7-8, Michael, the archangel, leads an angelic war against Satan and his demons. Satan and his demons were defeated, removed from heaven, and no longer had access to it. It says:

Then war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But the dragon was not strong enough to prevail, so there was no longer any place left in heaven for him and his angels.

3. Angels minister to believers.

Certainly, this is done in obedience to God as well. Hebrews 1:14 says, “Are they not all ministering spirits, sent out to serve those who will inherit salvation?” (1) They minister to believers by giving God’s messages to them and may be involved in enlightening believers when they study Scripture. Galatians 3:19 says they were involved in giving the law to Moses:

Why then was the law given? It was added because of transgressions, until the arrival of the descendant to whom the promise had been made. It was administered through angels by an intermediary.

An angel gave Daniel understanding of future events concerning Israel (Daniel 9 and 10). (2) They at times aid in leading people to Christ. In Acts 8:26, an angel told Philip to go down the road towards Gaza where he eventually met an Ethiopian eunuch and led him to Christ. Likewise, in Acts 10, an angel told a Roman centurion named Cornelius to call for Peter, who shared the gospel with him and his family. (3) They protect believers. In Matthew 18:10, Jesus said, “See that you do not disdain one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.” It is not clear whether this refers to each believer having a guardian angel or angels in general that are always ready to respond to God by defending believers. (4) Angels at times strengthen and comfort believers. In Acts 27:23-25, an angel appeared to Paul, telling him that he must arrive in Rome to testify to Caesar, and therefore, God would protect him and the crew of the ship who were lost at sea. Also, in Luke 22:43, when Christ was weary as he prayed in Gethsemane before his death, an angel appeared and strengthened him. It says, “Then an angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him.” (5) Angels assist in answering the prayers of believers. When Daniel was fasting and praying to understand Israel’s future, an angel appeared to answer his prayer. In Daniel 10:12, the angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Daniel, for from the very first day you applied your mind to understand and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard. I have come in response to your words.” Also, in Revelation 8:3-5, angels are seen offering the prayers of the saints to God and possibly executing them:

Another angel holding a golden censer came and was stationed at the altar. A large amount of incense was given to him to offer up, with the prayers of all the saints, on the golden altar that is before the throne. The smoke coming from the incense, along with the prayers of the saints, ascended before God from the angel’s hand. Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and threw it on the earth, and there were crashes of thunder, roaring, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake.

(6) Angels have a role in bringing the spirits of deceased believers into heaven. In Luke 16:22, Christ describes a poor man named Lazarus who died and was taken to Abraham’s side by angels. He said, “Now the poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side.”

Angels Are Organized Beings

Angels, both holy and evil ones, are clearly organized. Several verses describe this: Colossians 1:16 describes how Christ created the order in the invisible realm of angels. It 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.

When Paul says, “whether thrones or dominions, whether principalities or powers,” these describe some type of governmental structure amongst angels. Likewise, in Ephesians 6:12, Paul says the same about demonic angels, which no doubt, mimic God’s created order. He says, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens.” “Rulers,” “powers,” “world rulers of this darkness,” and “spiritual forces of evil,” probably represent something like colonels, generals, and presidents. In fact, in Daniel 10:20, as previously mentioned, an angel refers to battling with the “prince of Persia” and the “prince of Greece,” who were high-ranking demonic angels. In Daniel 10:13, he refers to a holy angel called Michael who was a “leading prince.” He is also called the “archangel” or “chief angel” in Jude 1:9. In Daniel 10, these high-ranking angels were battling in the heavenlies. Consider the verses below:

However, the prince of the kingdom of Persia was opposing me for twenty-one days. But Michael, one of the leading princes, came to help me, because I was left there with the kings of Persia.

Daniel 10:13

He said, “Do you know why I have come to you? Now I am about to return to engage in battle with the prince of Persia. When I go, the prince of Greece is coming.

Daniel 10:20

Holy angels, no doubt, have organization so they can effectively accomplish God’s plans. In considering this, Charles Ryrie gives practical insight for Christians:

An important practical point emerges from this. Angels are organized; demons are organized; yet Christians, individually and in groups, often feel that it is unnecessary that they be organized. This is especially true when it comes to fighting evil. Believers sometimes feel that they can “go it alone” or expect victory without any prior, organized preparation and discipline. It is also true when it comes to promoting good. Believers sometimes miss the best because they do not plan and organize their good works.3

Conclusion

Scripture teaches us many characteristics about angels: They are created beings, probably created early on the first day of creation, as they rejoiced at the creation of the earth. They are spirit beings, as they don’t have material bodies. They are personal beings who demonstrate intellect, will, and emotions. They are glorious beings who often appear in a shining light. They are powerful beings—much more powerful than humans. They are functional beings who worship God, execute his commands, and serve believers. And, finally, they are organized beings, which allows them to effectively serve God and help people.

Reflection

  1. What stood out most in the reading and why?
  2. What are some of the characteristics of angels?
  3. When were angels created and how many are there?
  4. What were the circumstances of the angelic fall?
  5. What is the difference between a holy angel and an evil angel?
  6. What are some of the functions or jobs of holy angels?
  7. What other questions or applications did you take from the reading?

Copyright © 2020 Gregory Brown

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1 Grudem, W. A. (2004). Systematic theology: an introduction to biblical doctrine (pp. 401–402). Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House.

2 Guzik, D. (2013). Mark (Mk 5:9–13). Santa Barbara, CA: David Guzik.

3 Ryrie, C. C. (1999). Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth (p. 146). Chicago, IL: Moody Press.

Related Topics: Angelology

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