What Are Angels?
Perhaps the most important thing to understanding angels is knowing what/who they are and why and how they were created!
The Bible says that they are created beings. They were created by God to be angels. They are not people that have 'become' angels. Like the rest of creation, they were made by and for Jesus to glorify and praise God 1.
15 He [Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.
16 For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.
17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.
The Bible also says that angels were created before the earth and they might well have actually had an active part in the creation of the earth. They were certainly excited about it 2!
3 Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me.
4 “Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation? Tell me, if you understand.
5 Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it?
6 On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone—
7 while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?
1 Praise the LORD. Praise the LORD from the heavens, praise him in the heights above.
2 Praise him, all his angels, praise him, all his heavenly hosts.
3 Praise him, sun and moon, praise him, all you shining stars.
4 Praise him, you highest heavens and you waters above the skies.
5 Let them praise the name of the LORD, for he commanded and they were created.
6 He set them in place for ever and ever; he gave a decree that will never pass away.
God's angels live in heaven with God and belong to Him. On several occasions, Jesus refers to angels as belonging to God and being in heaven 3.
8 “I tell you, whoever acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man will also acknowledge him before the angels of God.
9 But he who disowns me before men will be disowned before the angels of God.
10 In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
51 He then added, “I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”
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.
36 “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.
There are lots of them! Jesus describes being able to call on 144,000 angels and twice over 100 million angels are described as worshipping God in heaven 4.
53 [Jesus speaking] Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?
22 But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly,
17 The chariots of God [another term for angel] are tens of thousands and thousands of thousands; the Lord has come from Sinai into his sanctuary.
10 A river of fire was flowing, coming out from before him [God]. Thousands upon thousands attended him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him. The court was seated, and the books were opened.
11 Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders.
A legion in the Roman army was made up of 12,000 soldiers. So being able to call on 12 legions of angels meant a lot! Ten thousand times ten thousand equals 100 million, but also in the greek language, at the time these verses were written, ten thousand was the largest number you could have. So ten thousand times ten thousand was a number so big that you couldn't really imagine it!
Angels are 'spirit' beings and don't have bodies as we think of them. They also seem to be a higher level of creation than man (on earth) 5.
14 Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?
4 What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?
5 You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor.
Angels are also described as being like winds and fire. In fact, both the Hebrew and Greek words for 'spirit' can also mean 'breath' or 'wind' 6.
4 He [God] makes winds his messengers, flames of fire his servants.
But this doesn't mean that they are 'wishy washy floaty' things! They have thoughts, intelligence (they can speak God's heavenly language as well as the languages of earth) and emotions 7.
17 “And now your servant says, ‘May the word of my lord the king bring me rest, for my lord the king is like an angel of God in discerning good and evil. May the LORD your God be with you.’”
1 Samuel 14:17
20 ... My lord has wisdom like that of an angel of God—he knows everything that happens in the land.”
1 Samuel 14:20
12 It was revealed to them [God's Prophets] that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things.
1 Peter 1:12
1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
1 Corinthians 13:1
Angels don't die, marry or pro-create so, they were probably all created at the same time 8.
30 At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.
25 When the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.
34 Jesus replied, “The people of this age marry and are given in marriage.
35 But those who are considered worthy of taking part in that age and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage,
36 and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels. They are God's children, since they are children of the resurrection.
Luke 20: 34-36
God's angels also know their rightful place, as created beings of God. They exist to worship and serve God – not be worshipped themselves 9.
8 I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I had heard and seen them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who had been showing them to me.
9 But he said to me, "Do not do it! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers the prophets and of all who keep the words of this book. Worship God!"
Angels do have free will to make their own choices. Towards the beginning of creation, one of the highest ranking angels, Lucifer – also now known as Satan or 'The Devil' rebelled against God and decided he wanted God's power. There was a great battle and Lucifer and his followers (about a third of all the angels) lost, were punished and thrown out of heaven. They now work against God and his holy angels to try and stop people knowing God 10.
7 And there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back.
8 But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven.
9 The great dragon was hurled down--that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.
His [Satan's] tail swept a third of the stars [Angels] out of the sky and flung them to the earth...
Angels (and the 'fallen' angels) are not normally 'visible' to our eyes. It may be that they can choose to reveal themselves to us (or when God allows us to see them) 11.
31 Then the LORD opened Balaam's eyes, and he saw the angel of the LORD standing in the road with his sword drawn. So he bowed low and fell facedown.
17 And Elisha prayed, "O LORD, open his eyes so he may see." Then the LORD opened the servant's eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.
2 Kings 6:17
Having said that, angels, if allowed by God, can also appear as 'normal' men, as described in the Bible when Abraham and his nephew Lot were visited by 'men' 12.
1 The LORD appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day.
2 Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground.
3 He said, "If I have found favor in your eyes, my lord, do not pass your servant by.
4 Let a little water be brought, and then you may all wash your feet and rest under this tree.
5 Let me get you something to eat, so you can be refreshed and then go on your way—now that you have come to your servant." "Very well," they answered, "do as you say."
6 So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah. "Quick," he said, "get three seahs of fine flour and knead it and bake some bread."
7 Then he ran to the herd and selected a choice, tender calf and gave it to a servant, who hurried to prepare it.
8 He then brought some curds and milk and the calf that had been prepared, and set these before them. While they ate, he stood near them under a tree.
22 The men turned away and went toward Sodom, but Abraham remained standing before the LORD.
1 The two angels arrived at Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gateway of the city. When he saw them, he got up to meet them and bowed down with his face to the ground.
Another example is at the empty tomb when Jesus was raised from the dead 13.
1 When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus' body.
2 Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb
3 and they asked each other, "Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?"
4 But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away.
5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.
6 "Don't be alarmed," he said. "You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him.
7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter, 'He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.'"
They don't all have wings! Only certain types of angelic/heavenly beings are described as having wings. For more about this, please see the 'What do Angels Look Like' page.
Angels also don't know everything and can't be everywhere. They serve God and follow his commands 14.
32 "No one knows about that day or hour [When Jesus will return], not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.
20 Praise the LORD, you his angels, you mighty ones who do his bidding, who obey his word.
As well as being under God's control we're told in the Bible, that in heaven Christians will actually judge angels 15!
3 Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life!
1 Corinthians 6:3
Wow! But remember that's only in heaven: we can't tell them what to do here on earth. The best way of knowing what angels are like here, is by knowing their and our creator, God. And the only way to know God is through Jesus, the Son of God 16.
6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
7 If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”