This article originally appeared on Beliefnet in 2002.

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.

  • God created angels as angels (Colossians 1:16). They have never been anything else. People do not become angels when they die. We do not know how many angels there are, but the Bible refers to them as an innumerable company (Hebrews 12:22).
  • God created the angels as spirit beings (Psalm 104:4). Because they are spirits, they are unseen by human eyes. An angel takes on a form that can be seen temporarily if this will help an angel do his assigned task on earth. In the Bible, angels are highly diverse in appearance. They are usually so awesome when they appear that their first words are, "Fear not." Angelic appearances in the Scriptures include being seen as a bright light, fire, having wings (but never a halo), or like an ordinary person. As spirit beings, angels are not only invisible but also immortal. They never get sick or die. They are without gender as we know it, being neither male nor female, and they do not marry (Matthew 22:28-30).

  • A major characteristic of the angels is their strength. Angels are extremely powerful beings. In the Bible, they are described as "mighty ones" (Psalm 103:20) and God’s powerful angels. One angel was able to destroy the entire Assyrian army or destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. But they are not all powerful; only God is omnipotent. Angels sometimes require assistance from the Lord in their conflict with evil (Jude 9).
  • Angels have great knowledge and wisdom. They know more than people do, but they do not know everything. Only God is omniscient. The heavenly hosts also have emotions. In the Bible, we read that they rejoice, sing for joy, and express awe and reverence in their worship of God. Even as their intelligence is greater than humans, so we may also suppose their ability to have deep and sensitive emotions is greater.
  • 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.

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