The Ministry of Angels, Part 1: About God’s Business

In my years of studying Scripture, I don’t recall ever taking a strong interest in angels. For reasons only the Holy Spirit fully knows, the topic of angels has caught my attention and curiosity recently.

For one thing, I have traveled quite a bit, and I believe I’ve encountered angels while being lost, losing things, having car troubles, or needing other practical assistance, and this happened very recently. They looked like humans, and I can’t verify that they were angels after the fact, but the manner and timing of their appearance, and their complete willingness to serve me in moments of distress seemed beyond accident or coincidence.

More significantly, I’ve begun noticing just how often angels are part of biblical narratives, in both the Old and New Testament. Sometimes they appear in dreams or visions, sometimes as visitors, sometimes as rescuers from danger, and sometimes as messengers.

The Hebrew and Greek words for “angel” signify a messenger, broadly understood to “denote any agent God sends forth to execute his purposes…but its distinctive application is to certain heavenly intelligences whom God employs in carrying on his government of the world.”[1]

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The author of the book of Hebrews, comparing the admittedly inferior ministry of angels to that of Jesus the Son, describes them as “ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation” (Heb. 1:14). Angels are created beings who serve us in many ways as they are appointed by Jesus, their commander.

I wish the author of Hebrews had elaborated a bit on this ministry of angels; that was not his primary focus. But we can learn much by observing angelic appearances in the Scriptures and see how they might come to life in our own experiences.

An appropriate example of angelic visitation at this time of year is in the stories of events surrounding the birth of Jesus. Mary’s betrothed, Joseph, received several communications from angels in his dreams. First, an angel prevented Joseph from divorcing Mary, revealing the divine origins and nature of the child she was carrying. Second, when Herod the madman conspired to kill all the male children aged two and under throughout Judea, an angel warned Joseph and he fled with his family to Egypt. Third, when it was safe again, an angel gave Joseph an “all clear” sign and he returned to Israel.

Joseph is one of the Bible figures I look forward to meeting in eternity. I respect him. I appreciate that he didn’t dismiss the messages of these angels but acted on their counsel without hesitation. He preserved the life of the Savior of the world, who, being an infant at the time, needed his earthly father’s protection. God would have protected his Son in some other way if Joseph refused to listen and obey, but Joseph trusted that these angels were sent from God to help and inform him in his important role.

A few chapters later, angels figure twice in the story of Satan tempting Jesus in the wilderness. The first is when Satan suggests that Jesus should jump off the roof of the temple, quoting Psalm 91:11-12,

“For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.”

Though Jesus didn’t take the bait but shot back a response from Deuteronomy (engaging in what you might call a spiritual, Scriptural swordfight), this quote from Psalm 91 still stands as a testimony of the angels’ role in protecting God’s people from harm. (That doesn’t mean we should do foolish things like jumping off high places to test God, as Jesus makes clear).

I think the second mention of angels in the passage is beautiful. After Jesus dealt with Satan’s cruel nonsense, Satan skulked away, and “the angels came and attended him” (Mt. 4:11). It doesn’t say exactly what the angels did for Jesus, but he hadn’t eaten or drunk anything for 40 days and nights and had no physical comfort or warmth in that barren place. My guess is that they attended to all of his physical needs, strengthening him to return to civilization and launch his ministry.

To amplify these aspects of the ministry of angels, I offer a few OT examples angelic intervention:

  • Lot would have been burnt toast if the angels had not warned him to flee the wickedness of Sodom and Gomorrah.
  • Jacob found a new identity and became a true worshiper of God through his encounters with angels.
  • In spite of Israel’s rebellion in the wilderness, God remained faithful and dispatched his angels: “Human beings ate the bread of angels; he sent them all the food they could eat” (v.25).
  • Psalm 103 reveals that God’s angels are “mighty ones who do his bidding, who obey his word” (v.20).  
  • Job’s story shows us that angels (including Satan and his contingent) have the ability to “present themselves before the Lord and converse with him” (Job 1:6; 2:1). They are in a position to serve him because they can draw near to hear his instruction.

So, we see that angels are God’s created supernatural beings that:

  • Can manifest themselves to humans in a variety of ways
  • Are messengers and ministers who serve humans in a variety of ways
  • Are not to be worshipped, but are to be taken seriously and obeyed, because they represent God

I invite you to reflect on times in your life when an angel may have intervened to deliver a message, protect you from harm, or provide a need as an agent of God’s sovereignty and goodness. Like me, you may not be able to prove that it was an angel, but it is worthwhile to consider. Be assured that Scripture attests to God’s employment of angels throughout all of human history, to deliver guidance, provision, strength, and protection to the “heirs of salvation.” That is us, his beloved children.

Next time, we’ll look at the specific functions of angels in our current age of grace, in behalf of individuals and the church. We will look at what angels know, and what they don’t know, what they do, and what they don’t do.

I will never exalt angels above the Father, the Son, or the Holy Spirit. There are several NT warnings about this because overemphasis on angels has historically been one path toward doctrinal corruption.

Angels are important and powerful, but they are ultimately servants who worship with us at the throne of God.


[1] “angel,” Easton’s Bible Dictionary, https://www.biblegateway.com/resources/eastons-bible-dictionary/Angel

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