Have you noticed? Angels are everywhere you look--on television, and in stores, movies, and magazines. A 1994 Gallup poll found that 72% of Americans believe angels exist; and 76% of teens and people under 21 believe in the heavenly hosts. For Christians, the figure is 83%, with 89% of Catholics expressing belief in God’s angels.
But where do we get our information about these celestial beings? In 1990, there were only eight books in print on angels. In his 1975 book," Angels, God’s Secret Agents," Billy Graham wrote that he had never heard a sermon about angels. Most people today, even regular churchgoers, have not heard one either.
For many people, all they know about angels is what they have learned from movies and television programs. When my wife and I give talks about angels, we ask if anyone can name the angel in the classic film starring Jimmy Stewart, "It’s a Wonderful Life." The majority of the audiences correctly respond, "Clarence." But when we ask for the names of three angels mentioned in the Bible, few are able to come up with the answer. (In the Protestant Bible, the angels named are Michael, Gabriel, and Satan, the fallen angel. The Catholic Apocrypha books also include Raphael.) Today's AQ (Angel Quotient) does not include much information from the historic Judeo-Christian view.
The Mainstream Christian View of Angels
The following are several of the basic beliefs that have been held by Christians throughout the centuries.
Angelic Job Descriptions
In the popular culture, the main focus is on what angels do on earth. But the noted theologian Karl Barth wrote that most of what angels do they do in heaven. In heaven, the worship of God is the crowning jewel of all activity (Revelation 4). But the Bible only infrequently draws back the curtain and gives us a glimpse of the unseen world. We have little idea of what is happening there. The Bible does indicate that the angels are active in the administration of this vast area of God’s creation and that they willingly and enthusiastically carry out God’s will (Psalm 103:19-22).
God also assigns angels to do many things on earth. They are ministering spirits sent to serve those who believe (Hebrews 1:14). Angels are God’s messengers. In fact, the word "angel" in the original languages of both the Old and New Testaments means "messenger." The angelic message remembered most often is when Gabriel announced to Mary that she would be the mother of Jesus.
God still uses his angels to give messages. They bring encouragement and needed guidance. But the main way God gives us messages today is through the Bible, the teachings of Christ, and the work of the Holy Spirit within a believer.
Some of the heavenly hosts are assigned to be guardian angels (Psalm 91:11). They carry out God’s will by protecting and delivering their charges from harm. They also engage in spiritual warfare. There are law-and-order angels.
Angels were present at the giving of the Ten Commandments (Deuteronomy 33:2), and they carry out God’s justice (Acts 12:23). Jesus taught that at the time of death, angels carry believers to heaven (Luke 16:22).
Angels are not just a fad. The heavenly hosts have been with us since the beginning of creation and will continue to do their work, whether or not we humans pay attention to them. Those looking for reliable information about angels will do well to go beyond the ideas popularized in motion pictures and television. A study of what the Bible teaches about these magnificent, mystical beings is fascinating and rewarding.