God’s love and grace always surpass our expectations. He loves us so much that he gave his Son to be our atoning sacrifice, and our Lord and savior. He gave us his word to guide our walk, and he gave us his Spirit as our guide and empowerer. But wait … that is not all. He has also given us an army of spirit beings to assist us as well. These are the angels.
The author of Hebrews sought to prevent readers of that epistle from getting sidetracked from the gospel message. Those first century believers needed to realize that there was nothing more important than Christ. He is supreme – there is no one greater.It is in that context that angels and their ministry are described. They are “ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation.” From this brief description, a number of useful starting points for understanding angels can be inferred.
Angels are spirit beings. They can manifest their existence in bodily form, but they do not have to. They are not omnipresent, like God is. Perhaps they have spiritual bodies similar to the kind that believers will have after our resurrection.Much of what is taught about them is speculation. They cannot always be sensed the way humans can. They cannot be everywhere at the same time, but there are angels in heaven, on earth, and in tartarus – wherever that is. The limits to the places they can go (if sent) are not our limits. The conditions in which they can exist are not the same conditions which limit us.
There is a spirit realm. This appears to be what Paul was referring to when he said that “do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” They are here, but they are elsewhere too. It seems hard to think about without veering off into science fiction, but it is not fiction. We interact with another world while living on this one.
There are some cultures who have a better grasp of this reality than others. The secular western world has done its best to deny its existence. It seeks to explain every testimony of encounter with the supernatural as coincidence combined with myth, delusion or wishful thinking. Christians from the secular west (or influenced by it) can fall into this trap. If believers exclude the spirit realm from their worldview, they will probably fail to recognize the numerous times in their lives when the two realms collide. That would be a shame.
God’s Spirit understands the things of God. Human spirits understand the things of our world. It is not preposterous to infer that if there are myriads of spirit beings in a spirit realm somewhere – they can function in that environment. They are adapted to the task of moving throughout the universe to accomplish their mission. They can understand that mission.
Sent out to serve
The mission evidently has a great deal to do with humanity. It is not improbable that angels oversee the other creatures in the universe, but the Bible definitely records their interacting with humanity. In the 2011 film The Adjustment Bureau, angels are depicted as agents who look after humanity to make sure they do not foul things up by exercising free will. They are pictured as the ones who make all the important decisions behind the scenes. This is not how the Bible describes them. True, angels are powerful, but their power is always harnessed to another’s will. Either they serve God, or (in the case of the fallen angels) they have conspired to join Satan in his rebellion against him. The angels are not gods who are running around meddling in the affairs of the universe for their own amusement. They are sent out on a mission.
For the sake of those who are to inherit
The nature of that mission is centered around God’s promise for the future of the believer. What they do is not always perceived as good or beneficial because the recipients of their actions often think only of the present. The angels are sent to make sure that God’s ultimate will is achieved – to ensure the eternal inheritance of the saints. Even those cultures which have a more developed appreciation for angels tend to see them only as rescue agents, sent to get people out of present danger. They are involved in rescue, but not rescue for rescue’s sake. They are tasked with preserving the destinies of the sons and daughters of eternity.
One of the tasks of God’s angels is that of observation. They are the watchers who observe all that is happening on the planet. The primary purpose of their watching is not to pass on information about us. They are not cosmic spies. A watcher in biblical times was someone who kept watch over a city or vineyard or flock or herd to protect it from predators. When it comes to these spiritual watchmen, the predators may be of the flesh, or they may be other spirit beings. The angels watch to see what Satan is scheming so that they can prevent attacks. They are defending angels, or guardian angels.
The unfortunate thing about good defenses is that when they are working their best – nothing happens. When an enemy realizes that strong forces are guarding the camp, he reconsiders attacking. Most of angelic energy is probably expended preventing open warfare.Believers should be more perceptive of this fact, and more thankful during those times when the worst things do not happen.
The term is a translation of the normal word for messenger in both testaments. In fact, there are several references in the Bible where it is unclear whether spirit beings or human messengers are being referred to. For example, when Rhoda reported that Peter was at the gate, the other disciples there thought that she was mistaken. They said, “It is his angel!” But did they mean his guardian angel, or a messenger he had sent? Likewise, when Jesus sent epistles to each of the seven churches in Asia Minor, he addressed each epistle to the messenger of the respective church. Was he writing to spirit beings, or to the people who would be tasked to carry the epistles from Patmos to their respective church?
Regardless what one decides in exegeting any of those passages, most of the references to the term clearly imply actual spirit beings. The use of the term indicates that these spirit beings can communicate God’s will as well as defend his chosen ones. Angelic visitations are prominently recorded in the Bible. It may be that the reason such events figure prominently in the biblical record is that Scripture is a means of communication.Angels sometimes communicate face to face, and sometimes through actions, visions or dreams.
In addition to defensive and communicative capabilities, angels can go on the offensive and make war. They are the armies of the God of armies. He sends them out to accomplish his will as well as to ensure it, and to reveal it. At crucial times in history, God has used his angelic hosts to rout human armies. He also has armies of angels in reserve for the day of Christ’s return. They will accompany the Lord for two purposes. They will rescue believers – both living and dead – and escort them to the appointment at the marriage supper of the Lamb. They will also attack the fallen angels and defeat them in the battle of Armageddon.
Most human beings – including most believers – have never seen this invading host. Most never will until the day when heaven’s king returns to set up his kingdom on earth.
Warnings about angels
The Bible warns believers not to get so caught up in fascination about angels that we lose our devotion to Christ. He must remain supreme in our hearts and minds. We should never pray to angels, or worship them. They are subservient to our God, and his servants for our sake.
Fallen angels constitute a major problem for believers during this age. The reason is not that they are more important than the good angels who work for our benefit. It is important for believers to understand just exactly how fallen angels can interfere with their lives. The faithful in Christ must do battle in the spirit realm against these spirit beings. Although it is not appropriate to pray to angels, it is most certainly appropriate to pray to God so that he can unleash his army of good angels to combat our enemies as we do spiritual warfare against evil angels.
By Rev. Jefferson Vann
(Rev. Jefferson Vann is a graduate of Berkshire Christian College, Columbia International University and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He and his wife Penny have been involved in Advent Christian ministry since 1984, serving as missionaries in the Philippines and New Zealand. Jeff is the author of “An Advent Christian Systematic Theology” and “Another Bible Commentary” and is a contributing editor to “Henceforth …”)
 Gen. 28:12; Matt. 18:10; 22:30; 24:36; Mark 12:25; 13:27, 32; Luke 2:15; John 1:51; 2 Thess. 1:7; 1 Pet. 3:22; Rev. 12:7.
 Gen. 19:1; 28:12;Rev. 7:1f; 8:13; 12:9; 16:1.
 2 Peter 2:4. This is the only reference to Tartarus in the New Testament. The Greeks viewed it as a place for the punishment of errant gods. Peter was probably referring to the punishment of some fallen angels by imprisonment as they await judgment.
 Ephesians 6:12.
 1 Corinthians 2:11.
 Daniel 4:7.
 1 Sam. 14:16; 2 Sam. 18:24ff; 2 Kings 9:17f, 20; 11:18; 2 Chr. 23:18; Job 27:18; Psa. 127:1; 130:6; Song 3:3; 5:7; Isa. 21:6, 11f; 52:8; 56:10; 62:6; Jer. 6:17; 31:6; 51:12; Ezek. 3:17; 33:2, 6f; Hos. 9:8; Mic. 7:4.
 Psalm 91:11; Matt. 1:20, 2:13,19; 18:10; Acts 12:7.
 Acts 12:15.
 Revelation 2:1, 8, 12, 18; 3:1, 7, 14.
 Matthew 28:5.
 Numbers 22:23.
 Acts 10:3; 12:9.
 Genesis 31:11; Matthew 1:20; 2:13, 19.
 1 Sam. 1:3, 11; 4:4; 15:2; 17:45; 2 Sam. 5:10; 6:2, 18; 7:8, 26f; 1 Kgs 18:15; 19:10, 14; 2 Kgs 3:14; 1 Chr. 11:9; 17:7, 24; Psa. 24:10; 46:7, 11; 48:8; 59:5; 69:6; 80:4, 7, 14, 19; 84:1, 3, 8, 12; 89:8; Isa. 1:9, 24; 2:12; 3:1, 15; 5:7, 9, 16, 24; 6:3, 5; 8:13, 18; 9:7, 13, 19; 10:16, 23f, 26, 33; 13:4, 13; 14:22ff, 27; 17:3; 18:7; 19:4, 12, 16ff, 20, 25; 21:10; 22:5, 12, 14f, 25; 23:9; 24:23; 25:6; 28:5, 22, 29; 29:6; 31:4f; 37:16, 32; 39:5; 44:6; 45:13; 47:4; 48:2; 51:15; 54:5; Jer. 2:19; 5:14; 6:6, 9; 7:3, 21; 8:3; 9:7, 15, 17; 10:16; 11:17, 20, 22; 15:16; 16:9; 19:3, 11, 15; 20:12; 23:15f, 36; 25:8, 27ff, 32; 26:18; 27:4, 18f, 21; 28:2, 14; 29:4, 8, 17, 21, 25; 30:8; 31:23, 35; 32:14f, 18; 33:11f; 35:13, 17ff; 38:17; 39:16; 42:15, 18; 43:10; 44:2, 7, 11, 25; 46:10, 18, 25; 48:1, 15; 49:5, 7, 26, 35; 50:18, 25, 31, 33f; 51:5, 14, 19, 33, 57f; Hos. 12:5; Amos 3:13; 4:13; 5:14ff, 27; 6:8, 14; 9:5; Mic. 4:4; Nah. 2:13; 3:5; Hab. 2:13; Zeph. 2:9f; Hag. 1:2, 5, 7, 9, 14; 2:4, 6ff, 11, 23; Zech. 1:3f, 6, 12, 14, 16f; 2:8f, 11; 3:7, 9f; 4:6, 9; 5:4; 6:12, 15; 7:3f, 9, 12f; 8:1ff, 6f, 9, 11, 14, 18ff; 9:15; 10:3; 12:5; 13:2, 7; 14:16f, 21; Mal. 1:4, 6, 8ff, 13f; 2:2, 4, 7f, 12, 16; 3:1, 5, 7, 10ff, 14, 17; 4:1, 3; Rom. 9:29; Jam. 5:4.
 Colossians 2:18.