Throughout the letters of the New Testament, several statements are made concerning angels. However, many of the statements are made with little explanation of who angels are. Angels just show up on the scene in the early history of the church. Why the Holy Spirit left us with little explanation is not difficult to understand. Our primary focus as Christians is on Jesus, not the Holy Spirit or angels. The Holy Spirit guided John to record the words of Jesus that when the Holy Spirit came after the ascension of Jesus, “He [the Holy Spirit],” Jesus declared, “will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will declare it to you” (Jn 16:14).
The New Testament writers were inspired to mention angels in different contexts. However, at the same time, the inspired writers did not dwell on the subject of defining the character and nature of angels, nor their ministry on behalf of the saints. The Holy Spirit minimized this information in order that our focus as Christians not be diverted from the central theme of the gospel. The brevity of such information assumes that the Holy Spirit left us with our own imagination concerning the presence and ministry of angels in the lives of the New Testament characters. We would also conclude that the Spirit left us with the task of wondering how the angels would work past the close of the early beginning of the church.
Another thought for why the Holy Spirit left us with little explanation on this matter is in the fact that He wanted us to assume that God’s normal work with the saints throughout history needs no further explanation. As we study the work of angels throughout the history of man in the Bible, God assumes that we will draw the conclusion that He has not parked His angels in reserve until the final day when Jesus comes.
Angels have not gone into retirement. They continue to work on behalf of the saints, though our perception of them and their work is not through our senses. Though they are not perceived, we must not conclude that they are inactive, or are not there. What the Holy Spirit wants us to imagine is that God continues to work through angels on special occasions. They are there, though just beyond our senses. Therefore, we would not be dogmatic about them being there.
In the Colossian epistle Paul attacked the Colossian disciples’ tendency to worship angels. “Let no man disqualify you of your reward by delighting in false humility and the worship of angels” (Cl 2:18). When John fell down before an angel of God at the beginning of the visions of the book of Revelation, the angel said to him, “Do not do that, for I am your fellow servant, and of your brethren the prophets, and of those who keep the sayings of this book. Worship God” (Rv 22:8,9). Since no angel or man on earth has the right to receive the worship that is to be extended to God only, the angel before whom John fell quickly corrected the actions of John. The angel, under no circumstances, would accept worship from John.
From Paul’s admonition in Colossians 2:18, and the event of John falling down before an angel who rebuked him for doing such, we would conclude that angels should never be worshiped. Angels themselves understand that worship is to be directed only toward God. If they accepted worship, then they would be in danger of being cast down to darkness to await the destruction of the final day (2 Pt 2:4).
Jesus now has authority over all angelic beings. He “has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, angels and authorities and powers having been made subject to Him” (1 Pt 3:22). Since Jesus is the King of kings and Lord of lords (1 Tm 6:15), then all those who are of His kingdom reign should be in submission to Him. And since we reign with our King, then in the end, angels also will be subject to us. This seems to be what Paul indicated in 1 Corinthians 6:3 when he mentioned that the saints will judge angels (See Rm 5:17). It is for this reason also that angels watch in reference to the obedience of the saints.
Some sisters among the Corinthian disciples were uncovering their heads as a show of disrespect for authority in the culture. Since angels are aware of the behavior of the saints, Paul exhorted that the sisters continue wearing the symbol of submission in the culture. They should do this for the sake of the angels. Paul wrote in reference to the head covering, “For this reason the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head because of the angels” (1 Co 11:10).
Before the creation there were some angels who did not submit to the authority of their Creator. As a consequence, they were cast down from heavenly places and are now awaiting their just punishment in the fire and brimstone of hell (Mt 25:41). Paul wrote to some Corinthian sisters not to encourage any other angels to do what the rebellious angels did before the creation of the world.
Paul did not want those in Corinth, who had aligned themselves with Jesus as their King and Lord, to arrogantly rebel against the authority of God. In this sense, therefore, Paul could have been exhorting the women of Corinth to manifest continually a spirit of submission for the sake of the angels. Though the head covering in most cultures of the world today does not manifest a position of submission, such did in the culture of Corinth. The women of the time could thus reveal their submission by covering their heads. Nevertheless, in all situations today, the saints must give an example of submission as an example for angels. This thought was surely in the mind of Paul when he wrote, “… submitting to one another in the fear of God” (Ep 5:21).
Angels were often mentioned in the manifestation of the visions that came to John the apostle. Throughout the book of Revelation we are constantly reminded that angels played a key role in the Holy Spirit’s work to reveal the visions to John. It is probably a personification that the word “angel” is used in reference to there being an angel for each of the seven churches of Asia (Rv 1:20). Therefore, it is not necessary to conclude that God assigns an angel to the collective group of disciples in every city throughout the world.
In the book of Revelation, John mentions the “angel of the waters” (Rv 16:5), the angel that “has power over fire” (Rv 14:18; see 7:1; 19:17), and the “angel of the abyss” (Rv 9:11). Mention is also made that there was war in the spiritual realm between Michael and his angels against the dragon and his angelic beings (Rv 12). As previously mentioned, the result of this war was that Satan was cast down. Whether or not this was a picture of what actually happened before creation, we are not told. Nevertheless, we could assume that John was given a vision of what actually happened before the creation in order to use what happened then to illustrate what happened in the spiritual realm at the cross of Jesus when the head of Satan was crushed (See Gn 3:15).
Before the coming of Jesus as the Messiah, a unique theology developed among the Jews concerning the existence and work of angels. Since there was a lack of an intercessory being who would function as Jesus eventually would, the Jews sought for mediators between God and man. This desire for mediators or intercessors led to a concerted effort on the part of Jewish theologians to exalt the place and work of angels between God and man. This exaltation of angels is revealed in the first arguments of the Hebrew writer in order to avert an apostasy of some Jewish saints back to Judaism. In the first two chapters of Hebrews, the writer made a contrast between the place and being of Jesus and that of angels. Throughout the first two chapters, the writer affirmed the proposition that was set forth in a question: “But to which of the angels did He ever say, ‘Sit at My right hand until I make Your enemies Your footstool’”? (Hb 1:13). The fact was, at the time Hebrews was written, God had never exalted any angel, especially to a position of authority.
Though our focus as Christians is to be solely on Jesus, this does not set aside our beliefs, and often speculations, concerning the presence and work of angels in the world today. Angels are still rejoicing over the repentance of sinners. Angels are still working as ministering spirits on behalf of those who will inherit eternal salvation. They are still before the throne of God, giving glory to God.
We are limited to a very small empirical world wherein we can only perceive that which exists through our senses. However, there is a world beyond our senses that is filled with the mystery of God. In this spiritual realm are angels who go about in order to service the needs of the saints. We can speculate concerning the ministry of these angels. We can imagine their presence and being. However, the limitations of our senses frustrates us from visually encountering these heavenly beings. We even say this with caution, since the Hebrew writer indicated that some have entertained angels without their knowledge thereof: “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels” (Hb 13:2).