What are angels?

There are 306 biblical verses containing specific references to an angel or angels. A singular angel is mentioned 210 times; angels are found together 96 times. An angel is first mentioned in Scripture when God sends angelic help to Hagar (Genesis 16:7). Angels are last mentioned in Revelation 22:16 when Jesus says, “I have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches.”

Sixteen of the 39 Old Testament books contain references to angels; Judges and Zechariah tie for the most references with 21 each. Seventeen of the 26 New Testament books contain angelic references; Revelation contains by far the most such references with 79. (Biblical statements which probably refer to angels but do not state so specifically, such as the “three men” who visited Abraham in Genesis 18, are not included in these numbers or the following survey.)

Surveying the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, here’s the angelic ministry promised to us by the word of God. When you need such help and hope, turn to one of these references and make its truth your own.

Angels help us
Angels were created by God to be “ministering spirits” (Hebrews 1:14). All through God’s word we find them serving his people. Here is the earliest reference to such angelic ministry: “The angel of the Lord found Hagar near a spring in the desert; it was the spring that is beside the road to Shur” (Genesis 16:7). Hagar was running away from her home to a certain death before God’s angel found her, saving her life (cf. Genesis 21:17).

God sent his angel to bring his people out from Egypt (Numbers 20:16). An angel fed Elijah as he fled from Jezebel (1 Kings 19:4-9), saving his life and enabling him to anoint Elisha his successor before he ascended into heaven. Angels exist to help God’s people fulfill God’s will for our lives.

Angels protect us
Perhaps the most powerful way angels help us is to protect us from our enemies. Long before an angel kept Daniel from the lions, we find angelic guardians extending the power and protection of the Lord to his people.

The first reference to such protection in Scripture is found in the tragic episode of Sodom and Gomorrah, as angels worked to protect Lot and his family. Two angels arrived at evening and were able to save Lot and his daughters from the catastrophic judgment soon to befall those wicked cities (Genesis 19). An angel delivered Jacob from harm (Genesis 48:16), the Hebrews from Egyptian armies (Exodus 14:19-20); and the Israelites from their enemies in Canaan (Exodus 23:20-23; 33:2-3). An angel saved Hezekiah and his people from Assyrian annihilation (2 Kings 19:34-36; 2 Chronicles 32:20-21; Isaiah 37:36). In fact, his angels protected his people across their biblical history (Isaiah 63:9).

An angel rescued Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego from the fiery furnace (Daniel 3:25, 28); Daniel was protected from the lions by angelic help (Daniel 6:21). Angels guard children (Matthew 18:10), rescued the apostles from prison (Acts 5:17-19) and Peter from death (Acts 12:6-11). God promises the same protection to his people today (Psalms 34:7; 91:11-12).

Angels guide us
An angel directed Hagar back to Sarah (Genesis 16:9, 11), and Abraham with the sacrifice of Isaac (Genesis 22:11-12). Abraham’s servant found Rebekah through angelic direction (Genesis 24:7, 27), as Jacob returned to his native country by angelic guidance (Genesis 31:11, 13). An angel led Moses to deliver the Hebrews (Acts 7:35), and led the nation through him (Exodus 32:34). An angel gave the Law to Moses and his people (Acts 7:38; Gal 3:19; Hebrews 2:2).

An angel guided the prophet Balaam through his donkey (Numbers 22:23-35). An angel brought Gideon to national leadership (Judges 6:11, 21-22); an angel promised a son to Manoah and his wife, and consecrated Samson to God’s use (Judges 13:3-21). An angel led Joseph to marry Mary (Matthew 1:20, 24) and Philip to an Ethiopian (Acts 8:26-27).

An angel spoke through the prophet Zechariah (Zechariah 1:9), to the father of John the Baptist (Luke 1:11-13), and to the mother of Jesus (Luke 1:26-37). Angels revealed the resurrection (Matthew 28:2, 6; Luke 24:23; John 20:12-13). An angel sent the apostles to preach the risen Christ (Acts 5:20), spoke to Cornelius (Acts 10:3-8) and Paul (Acts 27:23-25), and to John on Patmos (Revelation 1:1-2; 22:16). One day angels will address the entire world (Revelation 14:6-11).

Angels bring judgment and reward
Angels mediate God’s judgment and punishment, as when they judged Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:13, 24); Egypt (Psalms 78:49); Israel when she criticized Moses (1 Corinthians 10:10-11); Israel in Canaan (Judges 2:1-5); the people of Meroz (Judges 5:23); and David’s people for his sin (2 Samuel 24:15-17; 1 Chronicles 21:12-30). Angels will bring judgment at the end of history (Matthew 13:39-50; 16:27; 24:31; 25:31; 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9; Mark 8:38; Luke 12:8-9; Revelation 5:2; ch. 8; 9:11-16; chs. 10, 16, 17; 20:1-3).

Angels also reveal God’s plan to prosper and bless his people in paradise: an angel showed John the “river of the water of life” (Revelation 22:1) and said to him, “These words are trustworthy and true. The Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, sent his angel to show his servants the things that must soon take place” (v. 6).

God’s angels are stronger than we are. They are also stronger than our demonic enemies (Revelation 12:7-9). If you are on God’s side, they are on your side. As they helped Jesus (Luke 22:43), so they wait to help his people. Even now you are surrounded by an angelic guard you cannot see with human eyes (2 Kings 6:8-23). However, believing is seeing.

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