in the Bible
'Angel' means 'messenger' or 'divine communication'. So an angel is a
spirit who carries a message, or performs a mission, for God.
They are celestial, spiritual beings with a nature superior to human
nature, but lower, much lower, than God's nature.
They are traditionally shown
Angels can be
between God and human beings
part of the Heavenly Host
a special angel with a particular task, such as the Angel of God or the
Angel of Death
a spirit assigned to each person to look after and guide them.
gradations or ranks among the angels - such as archangels, angels,
cherubim and seraphim.
There are fallen angels, who once disobeyed God -
Lucifer springs to mind.
They sometimes appear in human form, as to
Abraham, Hagar, Lot and
Moses. They announce great events, as at the
Annunciation or at the birth of Jesus or at the
Resurrection. They even
break people out of prison, as they did for Peter
and Paul. Some of the
more important angels are given a name: Gabriel and Michael spring to
Look at the different paintings at ANGELS to see how artists through the centuries have
Angels as Messengers
Paintings of angels are wonderful, but can a modern person really believe in them?
the word 'angel' mean?
In ancient mythology, the gods often lived in a remote and inaccessible place which they rarely left. So if mortals wanted to contact the
gods to ask for protection or help, they had to use a messenger or go-between.
Face-to-face contact with the Divine was too frightening. But an angel
like Gabriel (see right) could be an intermediary, almost like a buffer,
confidence to speak to God or listen for God's response to their
People in the ancient world were not fools. They did not make up the
idea of an angel for the sake of a pretty picture or a reassuring story. What they were trying to do was express an idea by putting it into story form. Angels were real to them because the concept behind the image was real. They
were confident that a loving God would want to communicate an idea to them, or
tried to guide them towards a course of action.
Today, if we were putting this into modern language, we would say that a person prayed and then felt a deep conviction that they should act in a particular way. This would be a real experience for them, a real message from God. This
message was the 'angel'.
The Heavenly Host
The Old Testament refers to supernatural beings such as Cherubim, Seraphim, the 'heavenly host', the 'holy
ones', etc. For example, the cherubim are the keepers of Eden:
'at the east of the Garden of Eden God place the cherubim, and a sword, flaming and turning to guard the way to the tree of life' (Genesis 3:24). Or
'... iniquity was found in you... and the guardian cherub drove you out
from among the stones of fire.' (Ezekiel 28:11-19).
When people tried to visualize God, they sometimes saw him like an
earthly king surrounded by his courtiers, except that God was surrounded
by winged beings who served as a chariot on which God rode in glory.
These beings followed and worshipped God, glorifying and exalting him -
just as earthly courtiers did with an earthly king in the ancient world.
The Nine Choirs of the Heavenly Host were:
But sometimes the elite angels acted independently, without carrying out the divine will - like Lucifer, who rebelled against the authority of God. In these cases
the concept of a 'bad' angel was probably drawn from ancient pagan sources reflecting the struggle between
Good and Evil.
The Angel of God
The 'Angel of God', a being quite separate from God, occupied a special position. In a sense, he was the guardian angel of the nation of Israel.
He appeared as Israel's representative in moments of crisis, such as
the moment when Abraham came close to sacrificing his son Isaac, or
during the exodus from Egypt.
In later tradition he was called Michael, a warrior angel who protected God's people. The
painting at right shows the great battle for supremacy between Michael
(good) and Lucifer (evil); click on the image to enlarge - it's worth
As well, this 'Angel of God' carried out practical missions: preceding the Israelites in the Exodus, smiting Sennacherib's army (2 Kings 19:35), guiding
Jacob in his dream (Genesis 32).
The Angel of God could not act independently of God, since authority and direction came only from God.
The Angel of Death
'Angel of Death' was a divine messenger who had the task of taking the soul from
its body. It is described in the Apocalypse of John.
In the Old Testament, this angel is one of the host of 'destroying angels'.
It is mentioned in several Psalms in a way that suggests that this
particular angel may have been based on the Canaanite god Mot, god of death and the underworld.
This angel was associated with Satan, prince of demons, the tempter - an angel who defied God by choosing evil rather than good.
The biblical writers constantly emphasised that Good (God) rather than Evil (the Devil) would triumph.
Jesus and Angels
At the time of Jesus, people believed that angels
The sections of Matthew's and Luke's gospels describing the birth and infancy of Jesus stress the role of angels and visions as a means by which God made His will known to His servants - such as the angel Gabriel's meeting with
Mary at Nazareth.
The Letter to the Hebrews (2:5-18) lays special emphasis on the fact that angels were created by God and that they
were subordinate to Jesus Christ.
The Guardian Angel
The gospel of Matthew 18:10 suggests there was a special angel assigned to each person. In the passage just before the Parable of the Lost Sheep, Jesus says
"Take care that you do not despise one of these little ones; for I tell you, in heaven their angels continually see the face of my Father in
heaven." The 'little ones' are not necessarily just children.
They may be those who are weak in faith.
Every believer may have been thought to have a guardian angel with
access to God to report on the soul in his charge. Psalms 91:11 says
that God 'will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all
your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not
dash your foot against a stone...'
This idea, of a spirit who can protect us and carry our prayers to God, has brought comfort to many people for hundreds of years.
Click on this link to see a wonderful range of different paintings of ANGELS