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What is the hierarchy of angels?


hierarchy of angels
Question: "What is the hierarchy of angels?"

Answer:
Some branches of Christian theology have proposed a 9-level hierarchy of angels as follows:

Highest/First Order:
Seraphim
Cherubim
Thrones

Middle/Second Order:
Dominions
Virtues
Powers

Lowest/Third Order:
Principalities
Archangels
Angels

The difficulty is that the Bible identifies no such hierarchy of angels. In the Bible we see that there could be different kinds of angels, and, if there are different kinds, there might be some sort of hierarchy. If a hierarchy exists, the Bible does not tell us about it explicitly. If it were important for us to know about it, the Bible would have told us. The term angel simply means “messenger” and emphasizes the work that angels do.

Seraphim (singular seraph) is simply a word that means “fiery” or “bright.” Seraphim are mentioned as angelic beings only in Isaiah 6:1–4: “I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.’ At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.” Since the word seraphim is simply a description, it may be that the seraphim are simply “fiery beings” that may or may not be a distinct “kind” of angel.

Cherubim (singular cherub) are mentioned numerous times in Scripture. After Adam and Eve were driven out of the Garden of Eden, cherubim were placed there to guard the entrance (Genesis 3:24). The vast majority of the instances where cherubim are mentioned are in connection with the ark of the covenant, as the likeness of two cherubim adorned the cover of the ark (Exodus 25:18 –20; 37:7 –9; 1 Samuel 4:4). David sings a song of praise to God in which he says that God “mounted the cherubim and flew; he soared on the wings of the wind” (2 Samuel 22:11). When Ezekiel sees the glory of God leaving the temple, he also sees cherubim carrying the throne of God (Ezekiel 10). In verse 14, the cherubim are described as having four faces, those of a cherub, a human being, a lion, and an eagle. However, since angels are essentially spirit beings, it may be that they simply appeared to Ezekiel in this form for that particular revelatory vision.

There is only one archangel named in Scripture: Michael. He is mentioned in Jude 1:9. The voice of the archangel is heard in 1 Thessalonians 4:16, with no mention of his name. Revelation 12:7 describes war between Michael and his angels and the devil and angels. In Daniel 10:13, 21 and 12:1, Michael is described as an angelic prince. Michael’s being the leader of the angels would fit with both the title archangel and the role he plays. Archangel may be a role rather than a distinct kind of angel.

Another individual angel, Gabriel, is also named in Scripture. Gabriel delivered messages regarding the birth of John the Baptist (Luke 1:19) and Jesus (Luke 1:26). In speaking to John’s father, he describes himself as one who stands in the presence of God. There is no mention of what “kind” of angel Gabriel may be. He also delivered messages to Daniel in answer to his prayer (Daniel 8:16; 9:21). Daniel describes him as a man, which means that Gabriel appeared in human form. Again, as angels are essentially spirit beings, they do not have physical bodies, but it seems they may appear in various forms.

Michael and Gabriel are the only angels mentioned by name, but we know there are untold myriads of angels who serve God. It should be noted that, although angels have greater power and glory than human beings, it is human beings who are created in God’s image, and it is human beings, not angels, who will reign with Christ (Hebrews 2:5). It is human beings, not angels, who have been redeemed by the blood of Christ (Hebrews 2:16). Angels are servants of God who minister to believers (Hebrews 1:4). From one perspective, angels are certainly greater than people, yet, from another perspective, human beings occupy the primary place in God’s created order, and angels are to some extent excluded. They do not understand redemption in the way that God’s children understand it (1 Peter 1:2).

The term guardian angel is never mentioned in Scripture, although this concept is commonly assumed. Perhaps it is based on Matthew 18:10, “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.”

Finally, there are fallen angels. Jude 1:6 clearly mentions them: “And the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their proper dwelling—these he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day”; as does Revelation 12:7–9: “Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. 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.”

In summary, speculation abounds, but there is no elaborate hierarchy of angels revealed in Scripture. Seraphim and cherubim are mentioned in close connection with the throne and glory of God. Since seraph simply means “fiery,” it may be a description of an angel rather than a separate kind. The cherubim and seraphim are generally described as other-worldly creatures. Michael is the archangel, which would indicate that he has a distinct role, but not necessarily that he is a distinct kind of angel. Gabriel is an important messenger for God. When Gabriel appears, he is normally identified as being a “man,” as are other angels when they appear to humans. Angels do an important work, but we are never encouraged to fixate on them, and, of course, we are forbidden from worshiping them (Colossians 2:18). Overcome by the glory of his visions, John records, “At this I fell at [the angel’s] feet to worship him. But he said to me, ‘Don’t do that! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers and sisters who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God!’” (Revelation 19:10). Angels simply serve in the background and bring glory to God.

Recommended Resource: Angels: Elect & Evil by C. Fred Dickason

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Related Topics:

What does the Bible say about angels?

What are cherubim? Are cherubs angels?

Do angels have wings?

Do we have guardian angels?

What are seraphim? Are seraphs angels?

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