Malakh is the common Hebrew word that is used in the Old Testament for angels. In the New Testament, the Holy Spirit used the word aggelos. Both words refer to angels as supernatural beings who were sent forth as messengers on behalf of God. And since they were/are sent forth, we must assume that they are doing what God intends that they do. The common definition of the word aggelos is “messenger.” Angels were thus messengers of God who worked in order to carry out the will of God (See Jg 6:11-23; 13:3-5).
A. Old Testament explanation of angels:
Both the Hebrew and Greek words that are translated “angel” are also used in reference to designated people who carried His messengers (See 1 Kg 19:2; Lk 7:24). As God sent forth different individuals to accomplish His work, so He also sent forth angels as His messengers.
When the plural form of malakh was used in the Old Testament, reference was to human messengers. However, when the singular form of the word was used, reference was almost always to the divine messengers of God. The plural form of the word was used to refer to the prophet Haggai (Hg 1:13) and to the priests of Israel (Ml 2:7). The word was even used to refer to the one who was to come as the messenger (John, the Baptist) in order to prepare the way for the Messiah (Ml 3:1).
In the Old Testament there are other Hebrew words that refer to angels. These words are translated in English versions with various English words. Depending on the particular version of the Scriptures that one is using, there will be variations in translation. For example, angels are referred to as “holy ones” (Jb 5:1; Ps 89:5,7; Dn 8:13) and “watchers” (Dn 4:13,17,23). Collectively, they are referred to as a “council” (Ps 89:7), a congregation (Ps 82:1; 89:5), or “hosts.” Because there are so many different translations of the Hebrew word that refers to angels in the Old Testament, the context must be the final authority in reference to who is the “messenger” or “angel” about which the text speaks.
The phrase “hosts of heaven” is applied to angels because there are many angels (Dn 7:10). This host of angels is pictured to be standing at the right and left hand of God (1 Kg 22:19). Angels are there to praise continually the name of the Lord (Ps 103:21; 148:1ff). At least we can conclude from their presence before the Lord that they are heavenly beings. Their proper habitation, therefore, is in a heavenly realm. When they were revealed on earth, they were outside their proper realm of existence.
B. New Testament explanation of angels:
When the word aggelos is used in the New Testament in reference to angels, it is often used with a qualifying phrase that identifies their proper habitation. For example, there are “the angels of heaven” (Mt 24:36), or the “heavenly hosts” (Lk 2:13).
References to angels in the New Testament also infer that there is an order or rank among angels. Paul referred to “Michael the archangel” (Jd 9). He also referred to the “voice of the archangel” (1 Th 4:16). It may also be that Paul included angels when he referred to “principalities,” “powers,” “thrones,” and “dominions” in the context of Ephesians 1.
At least Peter had angels in mind when he spoke of the kingship and lordship of Jesus over all things. He wrote that Jesus “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). Though we may not understand all that is involved in the order or rank of angels, we do know that Jesus is presently ruling as head over all angels. Therefore, what work angels have done since the coronation of Jesus, they do on behalf of Jesus who has authority over all things (Mt 28:18; Ep 1:20-23).
Angels do not have the right to function autonomously in reference to their work. They are now under the total control of King Jesus. Wherever they have showed up in history after the gospel coronation of Jesus to the right hand of the Father in heaven, therefore, they have functioned under the mandate of the King of kings and Lord of lords. There never were, nor will be, any angels who have the freedom to roam about at their own will.
[Next in series: Nov. 4]