What do we really know about angels, and how do they reveal themselves to us? How do angels appear to people in the Bible?
3 Ways Angels Appear in the Bible
Angels appeared to people in the Bible in three ways. First, some angels appeared to people in a recognizable form, even seeming to be human. For example, the angel that announced the virgin birth to Mary appeared in some kind of recognizable form (Luke 1:26-38), as did the angel who appeared to the shepherds and the angelic multitude who praised God (Luke 2:8-15). The angels who appeared to Abraham and Lot in Genesis 18-19 were humans from the men’s standpoint.
Second, other angels appeared to people in dreams. This was especially true surrounding the birth of Jesus. An angel appeared to Joseph, the man engaged or betrothed to Mary, in a dream to tell him to take Mary as his wife and that their son would be Jesus, the Messiah (Matthew 1:20-21). An angel also appeared to Joseph in another dream to warn him to flee to Egypt with his family (Matthew 2:13).
Third, some angels appeared to people in visions. This was true of Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1 and 10), as well as John’s vision in Revelation. These visions were distinct from dreams, as they took place when the individuals were awake. However, these visions were also different from appearances in which angels came to people in a recognizable way, or as humans, and could be seen by others.
Most of us seem to know very little about the existence and ministry of Angels. We use them to decorate our Christmas trees, to wear as jewelry, to decorate our nurseries or carve into our tombstones. Children don cherub costumes for Christmas programs.
Angels have a lot to do, especially for those who have eyes to see. I believe that most of their work goes on behind the scenes where they are usually not noticed.
Let me give you a short Biblical primer on the nature and work of angels.
16 Things We Know about Angels
1. God created the angels before He created anything else in the universe.
The angels watched God work and shouted for joy at the results of the creation (Job 38:4-7).
2. All of the angels were created simultaneously.
They are unable to procreate (Matthew 22:28). The number of angels has always been constant.
3. The number of angels is incomprehensible.
Revelation 5:11 records the number of Angels: “Ten thousand times ten thousand and thousands and thousands.”
4. Some angels rebelled against God.
Lucifer, who was in charge of guarding the throne of God and with bringing God praise and worship, chose to rebel (Isaiah 14).
A huge number of angels rebelled with him. Fallen angels (demons) live in one of two places today: (1) On earth, attacking and discouraging humans; and (2) In Tartarus, a prison cell in the lowest hell, waiting to be released during the Great Tribulation.
5. Angels are powerful.
Only one angel was needed to wipe out 185,000 Assyrians in a single night (2 Kings 19).
6. Angels were created to praise and worship God around His throne.
Revelation 5:11-12: “In a loud voice they sang, “Worthy is the Lamb, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!”
7. Angels are charged with the responsibility of guiding the affairs of nations.
We learn from Daniel 10 that angels are intricately involved in guiding our heads of state. Every nation also has a demon charged with the responsibility of bringing that nation to destruction (Ezekiel).
Daniel also revealed that every nation has a demonic spirit assigned to it to bring pain and destruction.
8. Angels fight Satan and his demons until the victory is won at the end of time.
Revelation 12:7-9: “And there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back…”
9. Every church is assigned an angel to watch over it and to help protect it.
Revelation 1:20: “The mystery of the seven stars . . . the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.”
10. Angels will separate the wheat from the weeds at the final judgment (the saved from the lost).
Matthew 13:38-42: “The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.”
11. Angels minister to those who believe in Christ.
Jacob’s dream of a ladder, by which angels ascended and descended between heaven and earth, is a beautiful picture of their incessant activity for us (Genesis 28:12).
12. Angels provide for the physical needs of believers as in the case of Elijah under his juniper tree (1 Kings 19:5-7).
After a Wednesday night service several years ago, a lady told me of an angelic protection. Driving on a lonely desert road in her VW with her children the car’s engine caught fire. She stopped and tried to open the hood. She couldn’t; it was too hot. Suddenly, another car pulled up behind her. She thought that this was strange because she’d seen no other cars on the road.
He pulled out this big pair of asbestos gloves, opened the hood, and used a fire extinguisher to put out the blaze. She turned to thank the man and he was gone. Both he and the car had disappeared.
13. Angels protect believers from danger.
As in the case of watching over the three Hebrews in the furnace (Daniel Chapter 3), or by watching over Daniel in the lions’ den (Daniel chapter 6).
Once when Brianna, our oldest daughter, was just learning crawl, Julie heard me yell from the back bathroom. “Julie, come quickly!” At the same time, I heard Julie call from the back bathroom, “Roger, come quickly.” We both ran quickly to discover Brianna about to tumble headlong onto the tile of our three-foot-deep sunken tub. We grabbed her just in time.
Julie said, “I’m sure glad you called me to get back here quickly.”
“I didn’t call you,” I said. “You called me.”
“I didn’t call you,” she said.
We had an angelic visitation from Brie’s guardian angel!”
Experiences like these make Psalm 34:7 come alive: “The Angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear God and deliver them.”
14. Angels sometimes reveal the Lord’s plans.
15. Angels minister to us at our time of death.
Luke 17:22: “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side.”
A cold chill runs up many of our backs to think that sometime in the future, and perhaps in the very near future for some of us, the Death Angel will be dispatched from Heaven to Earth.
If we are Christians, we need not be afraid of the Death Angel. They may be our rod and staff which brings us through the Valley of the Shadow of Death.
D.L. Moody, a Billy Graham type evangelist from a previous generation, saw angels on his death bed: “Earth recedes, Heaven opens before me… this is no dream, it is beautiful… angels, usher me into the presence of God. God’s allowing me to see beyond the veil that separated this life from the next. I see the faces of loved ones long lost.”
Dying patients today are given so many drugs that we don’t seem to hear many stories like these anymore. But to those who face death in Christ, it is a glorious experience. It’s a guaranteed angelic escorted journey into the presence of God.
16. Not all angels are good.
Galatians 1:8-11: “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned. …I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.”
This reminds me of the story of the Angel Maroni giving to Joseph Smith the golden plates upon which Mormonism stands. I have no doubt that an angel appeared to Smith. However, the angel was not from God.
How do you know? The Angel was preaching another gospel than the gospel of Jesus Christ which Paul was preaching!
Have you ever wondered about guardian angels?
Matthew 18:10: “See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.”
I pray often for my guarding angel. I pray for him/her (it?) to be “strong” on my behalf in the spiritual battles that I fight. When I am praying for someone about to undergo surgery, I never fail to pray for their guardian angel, assigned to them at birth, to help guide the hand of the surgeon for a successful surgery. I want him/her (it?) and me to be good friends. I am looking forward to seeing him/her (it?) in heaven.
I hope that this short primer on angelology is helpful to you in understanding the work and ministry of angels.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/umbertoleporini
Dr. Roger Barrier retired as senior teaching pastor from Casas Church in Tucson, Arizona. In addition to being an author and sought-after conference speaker, Roger has mentored or taught thousands of pastors, missionaries, and Christian leaders worldwide. Casas Church, where Roger served throughout his 35-year career, is a megachurch known for a well-integrated, multi-generational ministry. The value of including new generations is deeply ingrained throughout Casas to help the church move strongly right through the twenty-first century and beyond. Dr. Barrier holds degrees from Baylor University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Golden Gate Seminary in Greek, religion, theology, and pastoral care. His popular book, Listening to the Voice of God, published by Bethany House, is in its second printing and is available in Thai and Portuguese. His latest work is, Got Guts? Get Godly! Pray the Prayer God Guarantees to Answer, from Xulon Press. Roger can be found blogging at Preach It, Teach It, the pastoral teaching site founded with his wife, Dr. Julie Barrier.
Editor's Note: This Ask Roger article features insights from Roger's daughter, Brie Barrier Wetherbee, a sought-after Bible teacher and conference speaker, author, analyst, and Christian theologian.
Pastor Roger Barrier's "Ask Roger" column regularly appears at Preach It, Teach It. Every week at Crosswalk, Dr. Barrier puts nearly 40 years of experience in the pastorate to work answering questions of doctrine or practice for laypeople or giving advice on church leadership issues. Email him your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.