Naked cherubs, wings, halos, and cute kindergartners in the Christmas play are some of the images that come to mind when we think about angels. But God’s Word gives us an entirely different picture. Hebrews 1:7 says, “He makes his angels spirits, and his servants flames of fire.” Angels are spirits created to serve God’s purposes.
Scripture gives us only glimpses into the supernatural realm, but it is enough to learn that angels perform a variety of tasks and are used for several purposes:
1. To serve the people God saves. One purpose of angels is to minister to the elect of God: “Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?” (Hebrews 1:14). Paul experienced an angelic visitation during a storm at sea. The angel brought him comfort (Acts 27:23–24). Others who have been served by angels include Elijah (1 Kings 19:3–8) and Peter (Acts 12:6–10).
2. To deliver messages. The word angel literally means “messenger.” In the Bible, angels usually appeared as men when they delivered messages from God to people (see Genesis 18:1–3). The angel Gabriel appeared to at least three people in the Bible. He interpreted a vision for Daniel (Daniel 8:16), told Zechariah about the birth of John the Baptist (Luke 1:19), and proclaimed to Mary that she would be the mother of the Messiah (Luke 1:26). Angels in the form of men also warned Lot of God’s impending judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:1).
3. To wage spiritual battle. Another purpose of angels is to fight the forces of spiritual darkness who try to thwart God’s plans (Ephesians 6:12; Jude 1:9). When an angel appeared to Daniel to deliver the interpretation of a vision, the angel stated that Michael the archangel had to help him fight his way through enemy forces (Daniel 10:10–14). The full extent of angelic warfare is not known to us, but these few glimpses are enough to suggest that a fierce cosmic battle rages just out of sight.
4. To worship God. Angels constantly surround the throne of God, worshiping and shouting His praises (Psalm 148:1–2; Isaiah 6:3, Hebrews 1:6; Revelation 5:8–13). Since angels were created to worship God, their rejection of that purpose is an unforgivable wrong. When Lucifer, a chief angel, refused to worship God and insisted that angels worship him instead, God cast him from heaven (Isaiah 14:12–18). Angels siding with Lucifer were exiled with him.
5. To serve. Angels exist to do the will of their Creator. They go where God sends them, say what He gives them to say, and minister to His children on earth (Psalm 103:20; Revelation 22:9; Hebrews 1:14). After Jesus’ forty-day temptation in the wilderness, angels came and ministered to Him (Matthew 4:11). When the righteous die, it seems that angels carry them straight to the place of God’s rest (Luke 16:22).
6. To execute judgment. Angels are not all radiance and joy. They also carry out God’s orders for destruction. The book of Revelation foretells many angelic acts that will bring about the ultimate destruction of the world (Revelation 7:1; 8—10). When Pharaoh refused to let the people of God leave Egypt, God sent an angel to strike down every firstborn son (Exodus 12:12, 23). Angels were involved in the death of Herod (Acts 12:23), the slaughter of the Assyrian army (2 Kings 19:35), and the punishment of Jerusalem (1 Chronicles 21:15).
7. To aid in the transmission of God’s Word. Hebrews 2:2, speaking of the Mosaic Law, calls it “the message spoken through angels.” Somehow, angels were involved in the process of Moses receiving the law on Sinai, revealing yet another purpose of angels.
God uses angels any way He chooses. Because we hardly know anything about a world outside our physical universe, we cannot possibly understand all the purposes angels fulfill. But Christians have the confidence that God’s holy angels stand ready to protect and deliver God’s mortal children (Psalm 91:11). While angels are created beings, as we are, and should never be worshiped, we can thank the Lord for them and the unseen ways He uses them to impact our lives.