Walk into any bookstore and you will find many books—perhaps even a whole section—on angels. One major network aired a prime-time, dramatic series called "Touched by an Angel." Other popular television shows, movies and print media deal with angels, demons and the supernatural on a regular basis.
In many religions, angels are gaining popularity as "personal guides and protectors." An increasing number of people—Christians of every stripe, New Agers, Hindus, Buddhists, even Jews—are calling upon their personal spirit or guardian angel for guidance during the course of their daily lives. Much of this popularity has come about as a result of the New Age religions' heavy emphasis on "spiritualism" and its frequent appearances in the media.
But are they really angels? Yes, but not the benevolent, holy angels who serve God. In reality, these spirit guides are demonic beings ready and willing to fill the empty place in the hearts and minds of misguided people, deceiving them into accepting them as angels of light (II Corinthians 11:14-15). Ultimately, this leads to the person rejecting the sovereignty of the true God.
In contrast, the angels who remained loyal to God are powerful, responsible, purposeful, faithful and obedient beings who have been given the responsibility of ministering to God's elect. As revealed in the Scriptures, God's angels work and act far differently than popularly expressed today by those who are fascinated with them.
The Angels' Function
Angels are personal spirit beings, each having a mind of greater capacity and ability than ours. They are capable of attitudes, purposes and intentions. But as wonderful and powerful as angels are, they have no authority apart from God. In Matthew 28:18, Christ said, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth." Our Savior has complete control over all spirit beings. We should, therefore, direct all our requests for our needs to God, not to angels.
As the chief servants of God Almighty, angels do His will in all things, whether toward His future sons or against the wicked. The Bible shows some of the ways God uses them to carry out His will. Against sinners, God used them to destroy Sodom for its perversions (Genesis 19:1, 13); to curse Meroz because the people refused to help Israel (Judges 5:23); to bring pestilence upon Israel when David numbered them (II Samuel 24:15-17); to kill Herod for not giving glory to God (Acts 12:23); and to avenge those who persecute the saints (Psalm 35:5-6).
Conversely, the ministry of the holy angels to the elect includes guiding, providing for, protecting, delivering, comforting and gathering. The author of Hebrews calls them "ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation" (Hebrews 1:14). To minister means "to do service for." Holy angels are sent forth to do service for the saints, the elect of God, those going on to perfection and inheriting eternal life. They are here to save us from accidents or premature death and to help us attain eternal life. The ministry of angels to the elect is an inspiring and encouraging proof of God's care and concern for us.
An analogy may help to explain how the holy angels minister to us today under God's direction. Consider the relationship between a wealthy man's young son and the man's servant. Being older and more knowledgeable, the servant is responsible for caring for the boy even though he has much less potential than the son. When the son has matured, he inherits his father's wealth, influence and power. But the guardian remains at the same stature. As servants, angels are older, more knowledgeable, more powerful, and since they are spirit, they are better developed mentally. Yet our potential as sons of God is far greater than the angels (Hebrews 2:6-8; I Corinthians 6:2-3).
How Angels Serve
God has commissioned His angels to guide events for the benefit of the elect. When Abraham spoke to his servant about finding a wife for Isaac, he said, "He [God] will send His angel before you" (Genesis 24:7). Later, the servant repeated Abraham's instructions to Bethuel and Laban, Rebekah's father and brother: "The Lord, before whom I walk, will send His angel with you and prosper your way" (verse 40). Prosper in this context means "to make successful." Abraham knew that God would send one of His angels to oversee the servant's efforts of finding a wife for Isaac and make the trip a success. By using an angel to guide specific events, God provided Rebekah for Isaac.
The angels also provide for the elect, especially in times of need. In I Kings 19:1-8, Elijah escaped into the wilderness from Jezebel, who had just massacred most of the prophets of Israel. While the prophet slept, an angel appeared. "Then as he lay and slept under a broom tree, suddenly an angel touched him, and said to him, ‘Arise and eat'" (verse 5). So Elijah ate the cake and drank the water that the angel provided for him. Then he laid down again. "And the angel of the Lord came back the second time, and touched him, and said, ‘Arise and eat, because the journey is too great for you'" (verse 7). Elijah rose, ate and drank again and traveled a great distance on the strength of that food for forty days and forty nights. The angel was the instrument through which God provided for His prophet. He does the same for us, using angels to perform the specific tasks necessary to maintain our lives.
The angels sometimes have to comfort God's people. In Acts 27, Paul is taken to Rome to be brought before Caesar. While he was on a ship at sea, a tempestuous wind arose, and the situation became critical. Afraid that the ship would run aground or sink, the crew began lightening the ship, even to the point of throwing the ship's tackle overboard. After many days of unrelenting, torrential rain and rough seas, they thought they were going to die. But an angel appeared to Paul and said, "Do not be afraid, Paul; you must be brought before Caesar; and indeed God has granted you all those who sail with you" (Acts 27:24). The specific responsibility of assuring Paul that they would survive was performed by God's angel.
In the future, God will commission His angels to gather the elect to Christ at Jerusalem. When He returns in great power and glory, Jesus will "send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other" (Matthew 24:31). God plans ahead. He has already determined the specific duties the holy angels will perform at our Savior's return.
Protection and Deliverance
God often sends His angels to protect and deliver His elect. After David pretended madness before Abimelech, who drove David away, David wrote, "The angel of the Lord encamps all around those who fear [revere] Him, and delivers them" (Psalm 34:7). Here we see that God expects loyalty and obedience as a prerequisite to giving His protection. Similarly, Psalm 91 shows that God has given His angels charge over us:
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. (Psalm 91:11-12)
When Daniel became one of the three main governors in the Medo-Persian Empire in the sixth century BC , he distinguished himself above the other governors and satraps. King Darius considered placing Daniel over the whole realm. The other governors became extremely jealous and conspired to have Daniel killed. These politicians played upon the king's vanity, convincing him to sign a decree demanding that whoever petitioned any god or man other than Darius during the ensuing thirty days must be cast into a den of lions.
Daniel knew about the decree, but as he had done most of his life, he continued praying and giving God thanks on his knees three times a day. The politicians very quickly reported Daniel to the king. Saddened by Daniel's predicament, but obligated to the law of the Medes and Persians, Darius commanded that the sentence be carried out. After spending a night in the lions' den, Daniel told an amazed Darius,
My God sent His angel and shut the lions' mouths, so that they have not hurt me, because I was found innocent before Him; and also, O king, I have done no wrong before you. (Daniel 6:22)
Here, Daniel indicates two reasons why God sends his angels to protect and deliver His people: He was innocent of breaking God's law and he respected the leadership God had placed over him (Romans 13:1-5). God uses His angels to keep His faithful servants from harm.
God continues to deliver His servants through angels in New Covenant times. James, the son of Zebedee, had just been killed by King Herod Agrippa I, which pleased the Jews. Confident that he had the backing of the people, Herod seized Peter during the Days of Unleavened Bread and put him in prison to await execution. The church offered constant prayer to God for him (Acts 12:1-5).
On the night before Herod planned to execute him, Peter was awakened by an angel.
Now behold, an angel of the Lord stood by him, and a light shone in the prison; and he struck Peter on the side and raised him up, saying, "Arise quickly!" And his chains fell off his hands. (verse 7)
As a parent would treat a child, the angel awakened Peter and instructed him in every detail. Knowing that Peter was groggy, the angel carefully instructed Peter to dress himself and tie on his sandals. Peter thought he was having a vision. Not until he saw that he was outside the city walls and that the angel had left him did he realize what had transpired. He said, "Now I know for certain that the Lord has sent His angel, and has delivered me from the hand of Herod" (verse 11).
After this, Peter went to Mary's house, the mother of John Mark, where many of the brethren had gathered to pray. When Peter knocked at the door, a girl named Rhoda came to answer. When she recognized Peter's voice, she was so startled that, instead of opening the door, she ran to tell the brethren that Peter was standing outside. Even though she insisted, they did not believe her. "So they said, ‘It is his angel'" (verse 15). Although they were praying for God to intervene, they were in disbelief that God had answered their prayers so miraculously. God had intervened, sending his angel to deliver Peter from certain death.
Angels were created to be ministers, agents and helpers in God's creation. The holy angels who have remained loyal to God realize that He made them to be servants of the God Family. John writes in Revelation 22:8-9:
I fell down to worship before the feet of the angel who showed me these things. Then he said to me, "See that you do not do that. For I am your fellow servant. . . . Worship God."
Under God's direction the ministry of angels is to guide, provide for, protect, deliver, comfort and watch over the elect. These holy angels of God are greater beings than we are now but our potential is far greater. They are loyal and dedicated servants of God commissioned to help us attain salvation. Yet angels are helping us to attain levels in the God Family far greater than they have. They will remain servants while we become born sons of God! How many human beings could function with a pure attitude without jealousy toward those who will soon be in authority over them? We may have underestimated the loyalty and dedication of God's holy angels!
We should certainly appreciate the work of these "ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation." They do so much for us that we never see. Praise and thank God for His loyal angels!