Are angels the spirits of departed humans?
No. Scripture teaches that Christ Himself created all the angels (Colossians 1:16; see also John 1:3). One moment, they didn’t exist. The next moment they did.
Humans and angels are seen to be distinct throughout Scripture. For example, Psalm 8:5 indicates that human beings were made lower than the angels, but shall be made higher in the afterlife (in heaven). In Hebrews 12:22-23 the “myriads of angels” are clearly distinguished from the “spirits of righteous men made perfect.” First Corinthians 6:3 tells us that there is a time coming when believers (in the afterlife) will actually judge over the angels. As well, 1 Corinthians 13:1 draws a distinction between the “tongues” (or languages) of human beings and those of angels. It is clear that angels and humans are different classes of beings.
Why are angels sometimes called “sons of God”?
Angels are sons of God in the sense of being created directly by the hand of God (Christ) (Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7). One must keep in mind that angels do not give birth to other baby angels (Matthew 22:30). Hence, we never read of “sons of angels.” Since every single angel was directly created by the hand of God (Christ), it is appropriate that they be called “sons of God.”
This is completely unlike the meaning of “Son of God” in reference to Christ. When used of Christ, the term means likeness of nature or sameness of nature. Hence, Christ as the Son of God is, in fact, God. This is why, when Jesus claimed to be the Son of God, the Jews tried to kill Him for committing blasphemy (John 5:18; 19:7). They understood His words to be a claim to deity.
Why are angels called “ministering spirits”?
In Hebrews 1:14, we read of angels: “Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?”
This brief statement is packed with meaning. The word “ministering” comes from a Greek word meaning “serve.” Angels are spirit-servants who render aid, and this aid is rendered to the heirs of salvation in the outworking of God’s purposes on earth.
What form does this service take? Such ministry can involve protection (Psalm 91:11), guidance (Genesis 19:17), encouragement (Judges 6:12), deliverance (Acts 12:7), supply (Psalm 105:40), empowerment (Luke 22:43), as well as occasional rebuke (Numbers 22:32) and judgment (Acts 12:23). And angelic service is rendered largely unseen and often unrecognized (2 Kings 6:17; Hebrews 13:2).
How many angels are there?
Scripture makes reference to a “multitude of the heavenly host” (Luke 2:13). Their number is elsewhere described as “myriads of myriads” (Revelation 5:11). (The word myriad means “vast number,” “innumerable.”) Daniel 7:10, speaking of God, says that “ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him.” The number “ten thousand times ten thousand” is 100,000,000 (one hundred million). This is a number almost too vast to fathom. Job 25:3 understandably asks, “Can his forces be numbered?” These many angels are engaged in fulfilling a variety of roles among us.
Are angels invisible?
Yes. Theologians say they are “incorporeal” and invisible (Hebrews 1:14). The word incorporeal means “lacking material form or substance.” Angels, then, are not material, physical beings; they are spiritual beings and are hence invisible. Angels are localized beings too. Scripture portrays them as having to move from one place to another (Daniel 9:21-23).
Do all angels have wings?
No, not all. Some Bible verses describe angels as having wings (Isaiah 6:1-5; Ezekiel 1:6; Revelation 4:8), whereas others do not (Hebrews 13:2). Because there are different kinds of angels (including the cherubim and the seraphim), we would expect them to have some different characteristics.
Can God’s angels take on human appearance?
Yes, they can. Though angels are by nature incorporeal and invisible, they can nevertheless appear as men. In fact, their resemblance to men can be so realistic that they are actually taken to be human beings. Hebrews 13:2 thus instructs us: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” In keeping with this, Acts 1 speaks of Jesus’ ascension into heaven, as witnessed by some disciples. We read: “While they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven’” (verses 10-11). These two “men” were actually angels.
Abraham once welcomed three “men” in the plains of Mamre (Genesis 18:1-8). These “men” walked, talked, sat down, and ate—just like normal men—but they were not men; they were angels (see Genesis 18:22; 19:1).
We have no scriptural evidence that angels need food for sustenance. However, based on this passage of Scripture, they can apparently appear as men and eat like men during the course of fulfilling their assigned task in the realm of humanity.
Do guardian angels watch over us?
There are two verses in the New Testament that relate to guardian angels. Matthew 18:10 says, “See that you do not despise one of these little ones [children]. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven” (insert added for clarification). Then, in Acts 12:15, we find a woman named Rhoda recognizing Peter’s voice outside the door of the house, and the others inside—thinking Peter was still in jail—said: “‘You are out of your mind.’ But she kept insisting that it was so, and they kept saying, ‘It is his angel.’”
Some conclude from these two verses that every believer must have his or her own guardian angel. Others, however, argue that this is flimsy support for such an idea. For example, the angels of the little ones in Matthew 18:10 are said to be in heaven, not specifically with the little ones. These argue that Scripture seems to indicate that many multitudes of angels are always ready and willing to render help and protection to each individual Christian whenever there is a need.
For example, we read in 2 Kings 6:17 that Elisha and his servant were surrounded by many glorious angels. Luke 16:22 indicates that several angels were involved in carrying Lazarus’s soul to Abraham’s bosom. Jesus could have called on 12 legions of angels to rescue Him if He had wanted (Matthew 26:53). Psalm 91:11 says that God “will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.” So it would appear that many angels are watching over us.
What other roles do angels have among us?
Messengers. The word angel literally carries the meaning, “messenger.” Angels serve as God’s messengers—bringing revelation, announcements, warnings, and other information to the people of God (for example, Daniel 9; Matthew 1). For example, Gabriel brought a message to Daniel in Old Testament times and a message to Mary in New Testament times.
Restraining Evil. Angels sometimes restrain evil among humans. For example, in Genesis we read about angels that struck some wicked men with blindness so they could not carry out their evil intentions when they came to Lot’s house (Genesis 18:22; 19:1,10-11).
Executing Judgments. Angels are sometimes found in Scripture executing God’s judgments. A prime example is found in Acts 12 where an angel executed the wicked Herod in judgment (Acts 12:22-23).
Ministry at Death. At the moment of death, when the soul separates from the body, angels are there to escort the believer’s soul into his or her eternal inheritance (Luke 16:22).
Does God need the angels?
Though God does not need angels, He nevertheless created them for His own pleasure and for His own glory. He uses them to carry out various functions in His universe and before His throne. Among other things, Scripture indicates that God created angels to minister and show forth God’s special concern for us as His children (Hebrews 1:14). Hence, His use of angels does not detract from His personal love and concern for us, but rather is an illustration and expression of it.
What is ironic is that in the angel craze of the 1980s and 90s, many acted as if angels exist without there being a personal God. Or, if they acknowledged God’s existence, they pushed Him off of center stage and relegated Him to a place of irrelevance. What they failed to realize is that the holy angels themselves insist on human beings recognizing that God alone is to remain on center stage. This is illustrated when John beheld a glorious angel and he bowed before the angels in an act of worship. The angel responded: “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers the prophets, and with those who keep the words of this book. Worship God” (Revelation 22:8-9).
What is the difference between “elect” angels and “evil” angels?
All the angels in God’s universe were originally created in a state of goodness and innocence (Jude 6; Genesis 1:31; 2:3). It is inconsistent with the holy character of God that He could create anything wicked—such as evil angels.
All the angels, however, were subjected to a period of probation. Some retained their holiness and did not sin, while others—following Lucifer’s lead—rebelled against God and fell into great sin (Revelation 12:4; Ezekiel 28:12-16; Isaiah 14:12-17).
Once the angels were put to the test, their decision seems to have been made permanent in its effect. Those who passed the probationary test are permanently confirmed in that original holy state. Those who failed are now permanently confirmed in their evil, rebellious state.
The good angels are called “elect” angels in 1 Timothy 5:21, not because they sinned and then were elected unto redemption (remember, these angels never sinned during the probationary period). Rather they are called “elect” because God intervened to permanently confirm (or “elect”) them in their holiness so there would be no possibility of future sin on their part. Good angels are hence now incapable of sinning. The lines have been drawn, and the lines are now absolute.
The evil angels who rebelled against God are nonredeemable. Those that followed Satan’s rebellion fell decisively, and are permanently locked in their evil state without the possibility of redemption. They are destined for eternal suffering (Matthew 25:41).
For those interested in studying more about angels, see my book The Secret Life of Angels (Harvest House Publishers).