“How lovely to see the Guards here in the North,” said the Queen to the Lord Mayor’s first lady. She was simply making polite conversation, but, rather than simply nodding in agreement, the unfortunate lady made an embarrassing blunder. “Yes,” she replied, with a wistful sigh, “but they only come when YOU’RE here.”
This remark was met by a raised eyebrow and a withering royal response: “Well, of course,” explained Her Majesty, “After all, they are my guards.”
So what, you may think, does this anecdote have to do with angels? The answer is simple. Just as these soldiers are assigned to serve the British monarch, angels too enjoy an immense privilege; that of carrying out the express will of the One who created them - the Universal Sovereign.
And, like the royal guards, angels cannot be ‘summoned’ whenever we humans need a parking space, want to know the future, or require personal protection when boarding a Number 7 bus. Nor do celestial beings help our favourite teams to score those vital goals - not unless commissioned to do so by Almighty God who, as we all know, is strictly impartial when it comes to the World Cup.
So, while angels can and do aid people in extreme circumstances, this is almost always with a specific purpose in view. No human can claim to have their own personal guardian angel; if that were the case, why are some people protected while others are not?
What are angels?
Angels (or ‘messengers’) are invisible and powerful spirits, who are also referred to in the Bible as “Morning stars,” “Holy myriads,” and “Sons of the true God”. According to Vine’s Expository Dictionary, “they have not material bodies as men have; they are either human in form, or can assume the human form when necessary. They are called ‘holy’ in Mark 8:38 and ‘elect,’ 1Tim 5:21, in contrast with some of their original number, Matt 25:41 who ‘sinned,’ 2 Pet 2:4,’ ‘left their proper habitation,’ Jude 6.....Angels are always spoken of in the masculine gender, the feminine form of the word does not occur.”
Created long before mankind, there are a great many angels, as testified by the prophet Daniel who saw “a thousand thousands ministering to God, and ten thousand times ten thousand that kept standing before Him.” (Dan 7:10; Jude 14)
Each angelic being is an individual with free will, but in the scriptures only two are mentioned by name: Michael, whose name means “Who is like God?” and Gabriel who appeared to the virgin Mary in the gospel of Luke. Other angels mentioned in the Bible remain anonymous, no doubt to discourage men from worshipping them, and also because they are sent in God’s name rather than their own. Despite being invisible, when angels did become manifest to faithful humans in Bible times, they either appeared as ordinary humans or as awe-inspiring creatures who could be extremely beautiful.
As previously touched upon by Vine, some angels forsook their heavenly positions to co-habit with human women on the earth. After the flood, however, the ability to take on human form was removed from these unfaithful beings, now commonly known as demons who cause all sorts of havoc on the earth.
Order and Rank
Again using the army as an analogy, angels have ranks, the foremost being the (one and only) Archangel Michael, also described by Daniel as the “great Prince who is standing in behalf of God’s people. Michael is thought by some to be the angel who led Israel through the wilderness (Ex 23:20-23).
Seraphs (“burning ones”) command a high position around God’s throne (Is 6:2,6), shielding their faces and feet with two of their three pairs of wings, denoting their humility and respect for their holy position. Their role includes declaring God’s glory and, possibly, helping to cleanse sin from God’s people.
Cherubs, far from being the chubby-cheeked infants portrayed by Renaissance painters, are extraordinary spirits with immense power. Two cherubs were posted to guard the entrance to Eden after Adam and Eve were evicted (Gen 3:24), and the angel who later became Satan fell from an eminent position due to his overarching pride (Ez 10:1-22)
The rest of the Angels serve as agents, messengers and deputies of the Divine will, protecting and delivery God’s people and destroying the wicked.
Described as “mighty in power,” angels are incredibly strong; in one day, a single angel killed 185,000 Assyrians when they came against Israel. (2 Kings 19:35)
It was an angel who, as described in the book of Daniel, prevented the three Hebrews from burning to death in the fiery furnace when they refused to bow to a Babylonian image, while the mouths of the lions were kept firmly shut after Daniel himself was thrown into their den as an appetising snack!
Angels are fast too, travelling at speeds beyond the limits of physical possibility. And, of course, they’re highly intelligent, being able to communicate with each other and to speak various languages. Even so, they don’t know everything and, in common with humans, there are some things they cannot understand. (1 Pet 1:12)
A Grand Purpose
Compassionate and intensely interested in human affairs, angels rejoice when sinners repent and look forward to seeing humans living peacefully and happily on the planet as intended. To this end, they have relayed messages to the writers of the Bible and are still helping with the preaching work established by first century evangelisers which continues to the present.
Although they no longer appear visibly as in the days of the apostles, angels are still extremely active, doing God’s will by supporting His servants in the spreading of the everlasting good news.