The theology of angels varies between individuals and denominations. In the fifth century, Christian philosopher Pseudo-Dionysius divided angels into 3 hierarchies with 9 orders, listing seraphim as the highest order and angels like Gabriel as the lowest. Only a few of Pseudo-Dionysius’ orders directly correspond to Scriptural proofs, but his observations about angels’ activity overlap with other listings of angels. He claimed angels can be divided into the following categories: seraphim, cherubim, thrones, dominions, virtues, powers, principalities, archangels, and angels.
His categories of angels as dominions, virtues, powers, or principalities are rooted in Ephesians 6:12, which is a verse about spiritual warfare in the heavenly realms. However, these words in the Greek refer to general governing authorities, not to specific categories of angels.
However, the context of the Ephesians passage does use these terms to speak to the hierarchy of demons—principalities, powers, rulers of darkness, and spiritual forces of evil—are the spirit beings that we should be doing warfare against through the mighty power of God (Ephesians 6:10-12). These verses set up the argument for the famous armor of God passage that follows (verses 13-18). The war being waged in the spirit world is precisely the reason we need armor, prayer, and the Holy Spirit’s power.
Perhaps a more provable angel hierarchy is supported by modern theologians (Dr. Charles Ryrie uses a similar list) who place the archangels at the top (Michael and possibly Gabriel), followed by other categories of angels. Sometimes, angels are divided into these groups: archangels, chief princes, ruling angels, guardian angels, seraphim, cherubim, elect angels, and living creatures, which are all terms used in Scripture. Note the following Scriptural references and determiners for each:
-Archangels—authoritative representatives for God; the Bible refers to archangels (plural), but only gives Michael’s name in connection to this term, as well as “chief prince.” (Jude 9, Revelation 12:7-8, 1 Thessalonians 4:16.). The angel Gabriel (Daniel 8:16, Daniel 9:20-21, Luke 1:19-27) is not given a title in Scripture, but many theologians consider him to be an archangel as well, since he and Michael are the only named angels in Scripture, besides Lucifer. Daniel 10 references the existence of more than “one of the chief princes.” Gabriel is certainly the most important angel messenger. He lists his credentials while appearing to Zechariah in Luke 1 by saying, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God. I have been sent to speak to you.” He also appears to Daniel and Mary. Lucifer (“light-giver” or “morning star”) is the angel who goes by “Satan” (“deceiver”) after his fall from heaven. He may have also been an archangel, given his name and influence in heaven.
-Chief princes—have authority and influence over earthly principalities and dominions (Daniel 10:13). Daniel 10 is a provocative look at angel hierarchy and duties. The messenger could not reach Daniel without the help of Michael. Perhaps chief princes are also archangels, or perhaps they are a sub-category of angels in leadership.
-Ruling angels—authoritative in the heavenly realm (Ephesians 3:10)
-Guardian angels—protect people, including children (Hebrews 1:14, Matthew 18:10, Psalm 91:11-12, Acts 12:15)
-Seraphim—designated to continually worship the Lord in heaven (Isaiah 6:1-3)
-Cherubim—guard the holiness of God, in heaven and on earth (Genesis 3:22-24, Ezekiel 10:1-22, Psalm 18:10, Exodus 25:18-22)
-Elect angels—with Jesus, they watch over earthly leaders (1 Timothy 5:21)
-Living creatures—celestial creatures who surround God (Ezekiel 1:5-14, Revelation 4:6-8)
Considering an angel hierarchy can broaden our understanding of the breadth of God’s love for mankind and the structure he has put in place to protect and communicate with us. An angel hierarchy provides a structure for understanding the complexities of the spirit world. It shows us the importance God places on spiritual warfare and the protection of the saints.
Daniel 9 and 10 contain a few sections where we can see the role of angels and the actual spiritual battle they are waging against Satan’s host of demons. While Revelation is apocryphal, the book of Daniel is a mixture of historical events and prophetic dreams. In Daniel 9, Gabriel comes to Daniel “in swift flight” while he is fasting and praying to deliver a prophetic message. In the next chapter, Daniel is visited by a different angel after another three weeks of fasting and prayer. The angel declares that when Daniel began to humble himself in prayer, the angel tried to bring him an answer. Yet for 21 days, the demon in charge of the Persian King Cyrus (demons also have a hierarchy) fought to keep the angel from reaching Daniel. Michael arrives to fight with this angel against the demon assigned to Cyrus. Together, Michael and the angel break off the evil spirit’s power, and the angel delivers the Lord’s prophecy to Daniel, who writes it down for God’s people to read. This passage reveals that angels and demons are assigned to humans—demons are assigned to deceive, injure, and kill, while angels are assigned to direct, protect, and wage war over their human charges.
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