By: J. Hampton Keathley, III
A Simple Definition
Angels are spiritual beings created by God to serve Him, though created higher than man. Some, the good angels, have remained obedient to Him and carry out His will, while others, fallen angels, disobeyed, fell from their holy position, and now stand in active opposition to the work and plan of God.
The Terms Used of Angels General Terms
Though other words are used for these spiritual beings, the primary word used in the Bible is angel. Three other terms undoubtedly referring to angels are seraphim (Isa. 6:2), cherubim (Ezek. 10:1-3), and ministering spirits, which is perhaps more of a description than a name (Heb. 1:13). More will be said on this later when dealing with the classification of angels.
The Hebrew word for angel is mal`ach, and the Greek word is angelos. Both words mean “messenger” and describe one who executes the purpose and will of the one whom they serve. The context must determine if a human messenger is in view, or one of the celestial beings called “angels,” or if it is being used of the second Person of the Trinity as will be discussed below. The holy angels are messengers of God, serving Him and doing His bidding. The fallen angels serve Satan, the god of this world (aiwn, “age”) (2 Cor. 4:4).
Illustrations of uses that do not refer to celestial beings:
(1) For human messengers from one human to another (Luke 7:24; Jam. 2:25).
(2) For human messengers bearing a divine message (Hag. 1:13; Gal. 4:14).
(3) For an impersonal agent, Paul’s thorn in the flesh described as “a messenger of Satan” (2 Cor. 12:7).
(4) For the messengers of the seven churches (Rev. 2-3). It is also used in connection with the seven churches of Asia, “To the angel of the church in …” Some take this to mean a special messenger or delegation to the church as a teaching elder, others take it to refer to a guardian angel.
Thus, the term angelos is not only a generic term, pertaining to a special order of beings (i.e., angels), but it is also descriptive and expressive of their office and service. So when we read the word “angel” we should think of it in this way.
The unfallen angels are also spoken of as “holy ones” (Ps. 89:5, 7). The reason is twofold. First, being the creation of a holy God, they were created perfect without any flaw or sin. Second, they are called holy because of their purpose. They were “set apart” by God and for God as His servants and as attendants to His holiness (cf. Isa. 6).
“Host” is the Hebrew tsaba, “army, armies, hosts.” It is a military term and carries the idea of warfare. Angels are referred to as the “host,” which calls our attention to two ideas. First, it is used to describe God’s angels as the “armies of heaven” who serve in the army of God engaged in spiritual warfare (Ps. 89:6, 8; 1 Sam. 1:11; 17:45). Second, it calls our attention to angels as a multitude of heavenly beings who surround and serve God as seen in the phrase “Lord of hosts” (Isa. 31:4). In addition, tsaba sometimes includes the host of heavenly bodies, the stars of the universe.
Sons of God
In their holy state, unfallen angels are called “sons of God” in the sense that they were brought into existence by the creation of God (Job 1:6; 38:7). Though they are never spoken of as created in the image of God, they may also be called “sons of God” because they possess personality like God. This will be demonstrated later in this study. This term is also used in Genesis 6:2 which tells us the “sons of God” took wives from among the “daughters of men.” Some scholars understand “the sons of God” of Genesis 6:2 to refer to the sons of the godly line of Seth and the “daughters of men” to refer to the ungodly line of the Cainites. Others, in keeping with the use of “sons of God” in Job, believe the term refers to fallen angels who mated with the daughters of men to produce an extremely wicked and powerful progeny that led to the extreme wickedness of Noah’s day. Most who hold to this latter view find further support in 2 Peter 2:4-6 and Jude 6-7.7 Still others believe they refer to despots, powerful rulers. Ross writes:
The incident is one of hubris, the proud overstepping of bounds. Here it applies to “the sons of God,” a lusty, powerful lot striving for fame and fertility. They were probably powerful rulers who were controlled (indwelt) by fallen angels. It may be that fallen angels left their habitation and inhabited bodies of human despots and warriors, the mighty ones of the earth.8
The Angel of the Lord
The second difficulty concerns the identity of “the angel of the Lord” as it is used in the Old Testament. A careful study of the many passages using this term suggests that this is no ordinary angel, but a Theophany, or better, a Christophany, a preincarnate appearance of Christ. The angel is identified as God, speaks as God, and claims to exercise the prerogatives of God. Still, in some passages He distinguishes Himself from Yahweh (Gen. 16:7-14; 21:17-18; 22:11-18; 31:11-13, Ex. 3:2; Judg. 2:1-4; 5:23; 6:11-22; 13:3-22; 2 Sam. 24:16; Zech. 1:12; 3:1; 12:8). That the Angel of the Lord is a Christophany is suggested by the fact a clear reference to “the Angel of the Lord” ceases after the incarnation. References to an angel of the Lord in Luke 1:11; and 2:8 and Acts 5:19 lack the Greek article which would suggest an ordinary angel.
The Origin, Nature, and Number of Angels
Angels Are Created Beings The Fact of Their Creation
That angels are created beings and not the spirits of departed or glorified human beings is brought out in Psalm 148. There the Psalmist calls on all in the celestial heavens, including the angels, to praise God. The reason given is, “For He commanded and they were created” (Ps. 148:1-5). The angels as well as the celestial heavens are declared to be created by God.
Since God is Spirit (John 4:24) it is natural to assume that there are created beings who more closely resemble God than do the mundane creatures who combine both the material and immaterial. There is a material kingdom, an animal kingdom, and a human kingdom; So it may be assumed, there is an angelic or spirit kingdom. However, Angelology rests not upon reason or supposition, but upon revelation.9
The Time of Their Creation
Though the exact time of their creation is never stated, we know they were created before the creation of the world. From the book of Job we are told that they were present when the earth was created (Job 38:4-7) so their creation was prior to the creation of the earth as described in Genesis one.
The Agent of Their Creation
Scripture specifically states that Christ, as the one who created all things, is the creator of angels (cf. John 1:1-3 with Col. 1:16).
The Son’s Creation includes “all” things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible. These indicate the entire universe, both material and immaterial. A highly organized hierarchy of angelic beings is referred to with the word “thrones” (qronoi), “powers” (kuriothtes), “rulers” (arcai), and “authorities” (exousiai). This not only indicates a highly organized dominion in the spirit world of angels, but shows that Paul was writing to refute an incipient form of Gnosticism that promoted the worship of angels in place of the worship of Christ (cf. Col. 2:18). In this, Paul demonstrates superiority and rightful place of worship as supreme (cf. Eph. 1:21; 3:10; 6:12; Phil. 2:9-10; Col. 2:10, 15).10
The Nature and Number of Their Creation
The angels were created simultaneously as a host or a company. God created man and the animal kingdom in pairs with the responsibility and ability to procreate. Angels, however, were created simultaneously as a company, a countless host of myriads (Col. 1:16; Neh. 9:6). This is suggested by the fact they are not subject to death or any form of extinction and they do not propagate or multiply themselves as with humans. Hebrews 9:27 says, “… it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment.” While fallen angels will be judged in the future and permanently confined to the lake of fire (Matt. 25:41; 1 Cor. 6:4; 2 Pet. 2:4; Jude 6), there is never any mention of the death of angels (see Luke 20:36). Nevertheless, they are an innumerable host created before the creation of the earth (cf. Job 38:7; Neh. 9:6; Ps. 148:2, 5; Heb. 12:22; Dan. 7:10; Matt. 26:53; Rev. 5:11; with Matt. 22:28-30; Luke 20:20-36).