This document reflects commonly held beliefs based on scripture which have been endorsed by the church's Commission on Doctrinal Purity and the Executive Presbytery.
Does contemporary society’s depiction of angels agree with biblical teaching and examples? Should believers look to angels for divine help? Does every person have a guardian angel? Can we, or others see angels?
There are nearly 300 references to "angel" or "angels" in the Bible. At least 15 references are found in the words of Jesus. Without a doubt these special beings were created (Colossians 1:16) for a special purpose. They are described as "ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation" (Hebrews 1:14).
But that raises other questions. Does every person have a guardian angel? Do unbelievers have angels watching over them, or do only born-again Christians benefit from the watchful care of angels? The Bible’s wording, "Ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation" suggests that followers of Jesus Christ receive special attention through the ministry of angels. But in God’s sovereign dealings with unbelievers, it’s possible that angels could be sent to make them aware of God and of His desire for a personal relationship with them.
Most artistic renditions of angels show them as creatures with wings. But, angels are spirit beings. So normally they are not seen as physical beings. There are, however, instances in Scripture when angels took on a human form as men (e.g., Genesis 19) or as radiant, glowing figures (e.g., Luke 2:9). One should also note, that there appears to be a hierarchy of spiritual beings separate from angels in the generic sense; i.e., cherubim, seraphim, and archangels. Unlike angels, the cherubim figures on the Ark of the Covenant had wings (Exodus 25:20, 37:9), as do the seraphims and the living creatures described in prophetic passages of Scripture. But appearances of angels to Old and New Testament saints seldom mention wings on the angels. Even the familiar Christmas story of the angels appearing to the shepherds (Luke 2:15) does not mention wings. It might be that wings are simply an accommodation to our earthly frame of reference, as a spirit doesn’t need wings to move about. However, it is not necessary to change all the artistic renditions of angels, as long as we understand that angels are spirit creatures.
In reference to gender, many Christmas and Easter renderings use women to play the part of angels. Yet the angelic appearances in Scripture mention a man rather than a woman. Human attempts to portray spirit beings typically find it necessary to portray them as either a male or a female. But the Bible clearly settles the issue for us. Jesus, describing our spiritual bodies after the resurrection from the dead, said when we rise from the dead, we will "neither marry nor be given in marriage; [we] will be like the angels in heaven" (Mark 12:25). So references to angels in Scripture as men probably reflects an accommodation to our human limitations and understanding.
Some people believe that every believer has a guardian angel. Others believe that each little child has a guardian angel. These ideas are based on specific interpretations of brief biblical references. Psalm 91:11,12 is a precious promise often quoted by Christians. "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." There is no indication in that promise that every believer has his or her personal angel. But all of God’s angels are at His command to meet us in times of need.
The belief that each child has a guardian angel might bring a measure of comfort to parents. But the passage on which this assumption is based does not make that claim. It says simply, "See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven" (Matthew 18:10). The "little ones" may refer to little children, or as the context might also suggest, to weaker or newer believers. But again, we can be assured that God commissions angels to protect us from the wiles of "the devil and his angels." God’s punishment awaits Satan and the fallen angels who in pride rebelled against God’s benevolent rule (Matthew 25:41, Revelation 12:9).
Society has developed a fascination with angels. The topic is now discussed in the secular world and media more than in church. But most articles about angels in secular publications center on a mystical view rather than Biblical truth. For this reason, the Christian must turn to God’s Word to understand and grasp the ministry of angels.
Scripture records numerous accounts of angels interacting with people. In these accounts they were involved with leading and rescuing believers from danger (Gen. 19:15-17, Dan. 3:28, Dan. 6:22, Acts 12:5-10), bringing assurance and comfort to believers in times of distress and fear (e.g., Judges 6:11-12, Luke 1:28-31, Acts 27:23-24), and providing God’s children with short-term guidance and instruction (e.g., Judges 13:3-5, 2 Kings 1:15-16, Act 8:26). Still, other duties await angels in the end times as outlined in Revelation.
Though the subject of angels may warm the heart of true believers, the Bible puts this important subject in proper perspective. "Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you for the prize. Such a person goes into great detail about what he has seen, and his unspiritual mind puffs him up with idle notions. He has lost connection with the Head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow" (Colossians 2:18,19).
On two occasions, an angel appeared to the apostle John with such a dramatic impact that John felt impelled to worship the messenger angel. He describes one experience this way, "I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I had heard and seen them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who had been showing them to me. But he said to me, "Do not do it! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers the prophets and of all who keep the words of this book. Worship God!" (Revelation 22:8,9; see also Revelation 19:10).
We must never confuse Christ, the Head, with the angels He instructs. Sadly today, some Christians feel more comfortable talking about angels than they do in sharing the salvation they enjoy through the Savior, the One who died and rose again for their conversion. Angels, of course, should never be worshipped. And neither should they hold more of our attention, fascination, or love than we bestow on our blessed Savior Jesus Christ. If God uses an angel to minister to our needs, we should not thank the angel. Instead, we are to give all the glory to God who sent the angel.
Angels do not possess the matchless attributes of the Godhead. When Christ came to earth to live and die for our salvation, He was made "a little lower than the angels (Hebrews 2:7,9). Angels are superior to humans in that they are part of the spirit world. But in the spirit world, they are less, much less, than the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Angels have greater powers and knowledge than humans have. But they are not all-powerful or all-knowing as are the members of the Godhead.
From Genesis to Revelation, angels are frequently encountered throughout Holy Scripture. So we can conclude that they are active in the world today. Why then do we not see them on a daily basis? The appearances in Scripture are seen as crisis situations where a dramatic intervention was needed. The same provision is present for us today.
As Pentecostals we must realize, just as angels are not to be worshipped, they are also not common companions that we need in our daily lives. The Holy Spirit is the Paraclete, the One who comes alongside to be with us in every part of our existence. He endues us with power and gifts to handle the everyday challenges we face. But what a blessing to know that when the crises situation arises, and immediate intervention is needed, God can commission an angel, or even a host of angels, to meet the supernatural challenge. Yet the Holy Spirit has even greater authority and power than an angel. Either way, as people of the Kingdom we have all the provisions for this life and the life beyond.
The above statement is based upon our common understanding of scriptural teaching.
All Scripture quotations are from the New International Version (NIV) unless otherwise specified.