ANGEL, a word signifying, both in the Hebrew and Greek, a "messenger,"
and hence employed to denote any agent God sends forth to
execute his purposes. It is used of an ordinary messenger (Job
1:14: 1 Sam. 11:3; Luke 7:24; 9:52), of prophets (Isa. 42:19;
Hag. 1:13), of priests (Mal. 2:7), and ministers of the New
Testament (Rev. 1:20).
It is also applied to such impersonal agents as the pestilence
(2 Sam. 24:16, 17; 2 Kings 19:35), the wind (Ps. 104:4).
But its distinctive application is to certain heavenly
intelligences whom God employs in carrying on his government of
the world. The name does not denote their nature but their
office as messengers. The appearances to Abraham at Mamre (Gen.
18:2, 22. Compare 19:1), to Jacob at Peniel (Gen. 32:24, 30), to
Joshua at Gilgal (Josh. 5:13, 15), of the Angel of the Lord,
were doubtless manifestations of the Divine presence,
"foreshadowings of the incarnation," revelations before the
"fulness of the time" of the Son of God.
(1.) The existence and orders of angelic beings can only be
discovered from the Scriptures. Although the Bible does not
treat of this subject specially, yet there are numerous
incidental details that furnish us with ample information. Their
personal existence is plainly implied in such passages as Gen.
16:7, 10, 11; Judg. 13:1-21; Matt. 28:2-5; Heb. 1:4, etc.
These superior beings are very numerous. "Thousand thousands,"
etc. (Dan. 7:10; Matt. 26:53; Luke 2:13; Heb. 12:22, 23). They
are also spoken of as of different ranks in dignity and power
(Zech. 1:9, 11; Dan. 10:13; 12:1; 1 Thess. 4:16; Jude 1:9; Eph.
1:21; Col. 1:16).
(2.) As to their nature, they are spirits (Heb. 1:14), like
the soul of man, but not incorporeal. 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 (Gen. 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), seem all to indicate some resemblance between
them and the human race. Imperfection is ascribed to them as
creatures (Job 4:18; Matt. 24:36; 1 Pet. 1:12). As finite
creatures they may fall under temptation; and accordingly we
read of "fallen angels." Of the cause and manner of their "fall"
we are wholly ignorant. We know only that "they left their first
estate" (Matt. 25:41; Rev. 12:7,9), and that they are "reserved
unto judgement" (2 Pet. 2:4). When the manna is called "angels'
food," this is merely to denote its excellence (Ps. 78:25).
Angels never die (Luke 20:36). They are possessed of superhuman
intelligence and power (Mark 13:32; 2 Thess. 1:7; Ps. 103:20).
They are called "holy" (Luke 9:26), "elect" (1 Tim. 5:21). The
redeemed in glory are "like unto the angels" (Luke 20:36). They
are not to be worshipped (Col. 2:18; Rev. 19:10).
(3.) Their functions are manifold. (a) In the widest sense
they are agents of God's providence (Ex. 12:23; Ps. 104:4; Heb.
11:28; 1 Cor. 10:10; 2 Sam. 24:16; 1 Chr. 21:16; 2 Kings 19:35;
Acts 12:23). (b) They are specially God's agents in carrying on
his great work of redemption. There is no notice of angelic
appearances to man till after the call of Abraham. From that
time onward there are frequent references to their ministry on
earth (Gen. 18; 19; 24:7, 40; 28:12; 32:1). They appear to
rebuke idolatry (Judg. 2:1-4), to call Gideon (Judg. 6:11, 12),
and to consecrate Samson (13:3). In the days of the prophets,
from Samuel downward, the angels appear only in their behalf (1
Kings 19:5; 2 Kings 6:17; Zech. 1-6; Dan. 4:13, 23; 10:10, 13,
The Incarnation introduces a new era in the ministrations of
angels. They come with their Lord to earth to do him service
while here. They predict his advent (Matt. 1:20; Luke 1:26-38),
minister to him after his temptation and agony (Matt. 4:11; Luke
22:43), and declare his resurrection and ascension (Matt.
28:2-8; John 20:12, 13; Acts 1:10, 11). They are now ministering
spirits to the people of God (Heb. 1:14; Ps. 34:7; 91:11; Matt.
18:10; Acts 5:19; 8:26; 10:3; 12:7; 27:23). They rejoice over a
penitent sinner (Luke 15:10). They bear the souls of the
redeemed to paradise (Luke 16:22); and they will be the
ministers of judgement hereafter on the great day (Matt. 13:39,
41, 49; 16:27; 24:31). The passages (Ps. 34:7, Matt. 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.
The "angel of his presence" (Isa. 63:9. Compare Ex. 23:20, 21;
32:34; 33:2; Num. 20:16) is probably rightly interpreted of the
Messiah as the guide of his people. Others have supposed the
expression to refer to Gabriel (Luke 1:19).