On the night that Jesus was born, an angel announced the good news to the shepherds in the fields of Bethlehem. “Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel” and joined in praise to God (Luke 2:13). Most hymnals include “The Doxology,” one of the great hymns of the faith, and that song includes the line “Praise him above, ye heavenly host.” In both of these contexts, the heavenly hosts are God’s holy angels who dwell in God’s presence.
Basically, the word host refers to a great number of individuals or to an army. Modified by the word heavenly, hosts becomes a great number of angelic beings forming a celestial army under God’s command. There is a suggestion of rank and orderliness, of companies and divisions within that heavenly army. The heavenly hosts were created by God and are controlled by God.
One of God’s names is “LORD of hosts,” which occurs often in the Old Testament. In Hebrew, it is Yahweh Sabaoth, meaning “Lord of the heavenly armies” or “God of the heavenly hosts.” The NIV translates the name as “LORD Almighty.” See 1 Samuel 1:3; Psalm 24:10; Isaiah 22:14; Jeremiah 2:19; Amos 4:13; Haggai 2:9; Zechariah 8:6; and Malachi 2:16.
There are places in Scripture where the heavenly hosts include fallen angels, such as in 1 Kings 22:19. The prophet Micaiah relates a vision of God’s throne room, where he saw “the whole heavenly host” standing on God’s right and left (HCSB). One of these beings in the divine presence is a “deceiving spirit” (verse 22), so the term heavenly hosts can refer broadly to all angelic beings, holy and unholy.
Psalm 148:2 equates the parallel terms angels and heavenly hosts: “Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his heavenly hosts.” Psalm 103:19–21 gives further information: “The Lord has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all. Praise the Lord, you his angels, you mighty ones who do his bidding, who obey his word. Praise the Lord, all his heavenly hosts, you his servants who do his will.” In this passage, the psalmist praises God for the extent of divine authority—there is no part of creation that is not under God’s rule; His throne is “established.” The heavenly hosts (the angels) praise the Lord; they are, in fact, God’s servants who are at His beck and call. They dutifully obey God’s commands, carry out His bidding, and acquiesce to His will.
As believers, we will someday inhabit heaven with God and the heavenly hosts. According to Hebrews 12:22, we have been called to the place where dwell “thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly.” When Jesus returns to earth to establish His kingdom, “the armies of heaven [will be] following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean” (Revelation 19:14). In this context, the heavenly hosts are all those who inhabit heaven at that time: the redeemed of the church age, Old Testament believers, martyrs of the tribulation, and angels. The angelic army will be augmented by humans redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. We will not become angels, but we will be with them in glory.