Angels in the World

Scriptural Teachings on Angels    Angels in the Age of Christ

"... Angels' footsteps pass gently in our midst like falling snowflakes, silent and innumerable. Transparent before us, free of time and space they go unnoticed, but not untouched. Their nature is intertwined with our own, as created beings like ourselves. Immortal spirits, their singular purpose remains hidden, until ... at the Creator's wish they manifest themselves in all their glory. Understated glory perhaps, for to our masked perception all that is given to understand is a mere whisper, dream, or sign. Their secrecy beguiles us. Perhaps all this mystery is with good reason, for if we were to gaze upon an angel's true likeness, we may nearly die from the joy of their celestial light ..."

Next to God and the afterlife, angels are perhaps the most widespread divine objects of belief in the world. Unlike the Virgin Mary or the saints, angels are not unique to Catholicism, or even Christianity. They are present in the traditions of many world cultures. From bookshelves to cinema, they saturate popular culture.

While angels are very popular, what do we really know about them? Like us, angels are created beings, and commonly known to be superior in intelligence and power over the natural laws of nature. We typically consider them to have a narrowly defined purpose with regard to ourselves, acting as either protectors or messengers of God. We believe they are primarily created for the purpose of glorifying God, although we cannot begin to understand this aspect of their nature. In the modern day, the whole topic seems to be driven in large part by popular imagination and a fascination with the surreal. On the other hand, genuine inspired teachings on the subject are in short supply.

So, where does this leave us? Let us begin with what teachings are available on the subject of the existence of angels.

Scriptural Teachings on Angels

Angel is a word signifying messenger, both in Hebrew and Greek. The term is used to denote any agent God sends forth to execute his purposes. The name does not refer to their nature, but rather their office as messengers. Their traditional nature is that of bodiless, immortal spirits, limited in knowledge and power.

And the angel of the Lord said unto him, Why do you ask my name, seeing it is secret? ... For it came to pass, when the flame went up toward heaven from off the altar, that the angel of the Lord ascended in the flame of the altar ... But the angel of the Lord appeared no more to Manoah and his wife. Then they knew that he was an angel of the Lord.    (Judges 13:18,20-21)

They are accepted in the belief of Judaism, Christianity, Islam and other religions. While Judaism has no fixed ordering of classes of angels, Christianity has a specific hierarchy, codified in its classic form in the 5th century by St. Dionysius the Areopagite, in The Celestial Hierarchy. In descending order, the ranks of angels are seraphim, cherubim, thrones, dominations, virtues, powers, principalities, archangels, and angels.

O my lord, what are these? And the angel that talked with me said unto me, I will show thee ... these are they whom the Lord has sent to walk throughout the earth. We have walked to and fro through the earth, and behold, all the earth sits still, and is at rest.    (Zechariah 1:9-11)

Roman Catholics and the Orthodox venerate angels, and the cult of guardian angels is especially extensive in the West (feast of Guardian Angels: Oct. 2). Protestants have generally abandoned the cult of angels. In Christianity, the angels of Hell, or devils, are the evil counterparts of the heavenly host. The chief of them, Satan (or Lucifer), was cast out of heaven for leading a revolt. They are often viewed as the initiators of evil temptations.

The personal existence of angels is implied throughout the old and new testaments.

The angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it. His face was like lightning and his raiment white as snow. The keepers shook out of fear, and became as dead men. The angel answered and said unto the women, fear not, for I know that you seek Jesus, which was crucified.    (Matthew 28:2-5)

Angels are very numerous.

Thousand thousands ministered unto him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him: the judgment was set, and the books were opened.    (Daniel 7:10
Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels?    (Matthew 26:53)

As to their nature, they are spirits, like the soul of man, but not incorporeal.

Neither can they die any more, for they are equal to the angels, and are the children of God, being the children of the resurrection.    (Luke 20:36)
And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold two men stood by them in white apparel.    (Acts 1:10)

They are imperfect creatures, and not all-knowing ...

But of that day and hour no man knows, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.    (Matthew 24:36)

... but they are of superhuman powers and intelligence.

Bless the Lord, ye his angels, that excel in strength, that do his commandments, hearkening unto the voice of his word.    (Psalms 103:20)

As created beings, they are not to be worshipped.

And I fell at his feet to worship him, and he said to me, See thou do it not, I am your fellowservant, and of your brethren that have the testimony of Jesus. Worship God, for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.    (Revelation 19:10)
"If we saw an angel clearly, we should die of pleasure."
-St. Bridget of Sweden

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Angels in the Age of Christ

The AnnunciationThe Incarnation of Christ has apparently introduced 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.

And the angel came to her, and said, Hail, you who are highly favored, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women ... And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary, for have found favor with God. And, behold, you shall conceive in your womb, and bring forth a son, and shall call his name Jesus.     (Luke 1:28,30,31)

Angels ministered to Jesus in His temptation and agony.

Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from Me, nevertheless not my will, but yours, be done. And there appeared an angel unto Him from heaven, strengthening Him.    (Luke 22:42,43)

Angels proclaimed Jesus' resurrection and ascension.

Mary stood at the sepulchre weeping, and as she wept she stooped down, and looked into the sepulchre, and saw two angels in white sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain.     (John 20:11,12)

They are to this day ministering spirits to the people of God.

Take heed that you despise not one of these little ones, for I say unto you that in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven.     (Matthew 18:10)
For there stood by me this night the angel of God, whose I am, and whom I serve     (Acts 27:23)

They rejoice in the accomplishment of God's will.

Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repents.     (Luke 15:10)

They are our Guardians.

No evil shall come upon you; neither shall any plague come to your dwelling. For He shall give His angels charge over you, to keep you in all your ways. They shall bear you up in their hands, lest you dash your foot against a stone.     (Psalms 91:10-12)
"Holy Angels, our advocates, our brothers, our counselors, our defenders, our enlighteners, our friends, our guides, our helpers, our intercessors-pray for us"
-Mother Teresa

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