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What is an…

Hebrew: מֲלְאָךְ —transliteration: malak or mal'ak

Greek: ἄγγελος —transliteration: aggelos

In both languages, the word means “messenger,” and is used to describe any agent God sends to do his will. It does not always refer to Heavenly beings.

► For much more information, see Questions about angels answered

The appearances of “the Angel of the Lord” to Abraham at Mamre (Genesis 18:2, 22 / compare 19:1), to Jacob at Peniel (Genesis 32:24, 30), to Joshua at Gilgal (Joshua 5:13, 15), were of the pre-incarnate Jesus Christ. They were “foreshadowings of the incarnation,” revelations before the “fullness of the time” of the Son of God.

Heavenly angels

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Abraham was visited by three heavenly messengers.
  1. These superior beings are very numerous. “Thousand thousands” (millions) “innumerable,” etc. (Daniel 7:10; Matthew 26:53; Luke 2:13; Hebrews 12:22-23).

  2. They have different ranks in dignity and power (Zechariah 1:9, 11; Dan. 10:13; 12:1; 1 Thess. 4:16; Jude 1:9; Ephesians 1:21; Col. 1:16).

  3. They are spirits (Hebrews 1:14), like the soul of man, but without a physical body, although they can sometimes take on the appearance of a human (“some have entertained angels without knowing it” —Hebrews 13:2 NASB).

  4. Such expressions as “like the angels” (Luke 20:36), and the fact that whenever angels appeared to man it was always in a human form (Genesis 18:2; 19:1, 10; Luke 24:4; Acts 1:10), and the titles that are applied to them (“sons of God,” Job 1:6; 38:7; Dan. 3:25; compare 28) and to men (Luke 3:38), all seem to indicate some resemblance between them and the human race.

  5. They were created with a free-will.

  6. Imperfection is ascribed to them (Job 4:18; Matthew 24:36; 1 Peter 1:12). As free-willed creatures, they may fall under temptation; and thus we read of “fallen angels.” We can only guess at the cause and manner of their “fall.” We know only that fallen angels “left their first estate” (Matthew 25:41; Rev. 12:7, 9), and that they are “reserved unto judgment” (2 Peter 2:4).

  7. Angels never die (Luke 20:36).

  8. They possess superhuman intelligence and power (Mark 13:32; 2 Thess. 1:7; Psalm 103:20).

  9. They are called “holy” (Luke 9:26), “elect” (1 Timothy 5:21).

  10. The redeemed in glory will be “like the angels” (Luke 20:36).

  11. They are not to be worshipped (Col. 2:18; Rev. 19:10).

  12. They have many functions.

    1. In the widest sense, they are AGENT’S OF GOD’S PROVIDENCE (Exodus 12:23; Psalm 104:4; Hebrews 11:28; 1 Corinthians 10:10; 2 Samuel 24:16; 1 Chronicles 21:16; 2 Kings 19:35; Acts 12:23).

    2. They are especially God’s agents in carrying on his great WORK OF REDEMPTION. There is no clear report of angelic appearances to man till after the call of Abraham. From that time onward there are frequent references to their ministry on Earth (Genesis 18; 19; 24:7, 40; 28:12; 32:1). They appear to rebuke idolatry (Judges 2:1-4), to call Gideon (Judges 6:11-12), and to consecrate Samson (13:3). In the days of the prophets, from Samuel downward, the angels appear only on their behalf (1 Kings 19:5; 2 Kings 6:17; Zechariah 1-6; Dan. 4:13, 23; 10:10, 13, 20-21).

    3. When Jesus Christ came to Earth to die, a new era was begun in the ministry of angels. They came with their Lord to Earth to assist him while here. They predict his advent (Matthew 1:20; Luke 1:26-38), minister to him after his temptation and agony (Matthew 4:11; Luke 22:43), and declare his resurrection and ascension (Matthew 28:2-8; John 20:12-13; Acts 1:10-11).

    4. They now minister to the people of God (Hebrews 1:14; Psalm 34:7; 91:11; Matthew 18:10; Acts 5:19; 8:26; 10:3; 12:7; 27:23). They rejoice over a repentant sinner (Luke 15:10). They carry the souls of the redeemed to paradise (Luke 16:22); and they will be the ministers of judgment on the great day of judgment (Matthew 13:39, 41, 49; 16:27; 24:31).

    5. GUARDIAN ANGELS?—The passages (Psalm 34:7, Matthew 18:10) usually referred to in support of the idea that every individual has a particular guardian angel have no such meaning. They merely indicate that God employs the ministry of angels to deliver his people from affliction and danger, and that the angels do not think it below their dignity to minister even to children and to the least among Christ’s disciples.

Angel of His Presence

The “angel of his presence” (Isaiah 63:9. Compare Exodus 23:20-21; 32:34; 33:2; Numbers 20:16) sometimes referred to in the Bible is probably referring to the Messiah as the guide of his people. Others have supposed the expression to refer to Gabriel (Luke 1:19).

When the manna is called “angels’ food” in Psalms, this is merely to describe its heavenly excellence (Psalm 78:25).

Author: Matthew G. Easton, edited by Paul S. Taylor.

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Article Version: May 11, 2019