what do angels do?

The word angel simply means ‘messenger’. This name already gives us a good clue to what angels are and do. Let me first tell you what angels are not. They are not some heavenly creatures with wings who fly around all the time. We hear a couple of times about these heavenly creatures, the cherubim. They symbolize the holiness of God (they were on the ark of the covenant – Exodus 25:18-20 – and maybe Ezekiel saw them when he saw the glory of God – Ezekiel 1:5-14). But these creatures are not to be confused with the angels!

So who are the angels and what do they do? Angels look like you and me. That’s why many people didn’t recognize them right away or some didn’t recognize them at all. (See e.g. Hebrews 13:2). But their name says exactly what their main purpose is: To be a messenger of the Lord. Angels spoke the Word of the Lord in special situations. Hagar meets an angel in the desert who tells her about the future of her son Ismael (Genesis 16:7-12; This angel is a very special angel, it is the ‘angel of the Lord’. We hear about Him a couple of times in the Old testament and it seems to be the angel above all other angels. That’s why many people believe this angel is no other than the Lord Jesus Himself before his becoming flesh/human).
So in a way angels are not very different from the prophets. The name of the last Prophet in the Old Testament, Malachi, means: ‘My messenger’, but you might also translate it as ‘My angel’, because that’s the same in the Hebrew and in the Greek language! So angels speak the Word of God.

Yet the book of Hebrews in the New Testament tells us a bit more about angels. The author tells us: ‘Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?’ (Hebrews 1:14). So this is their broader purpose: To serve those who will inherit salvation. This can be very practical help. An angel liberated Peter when he was in prison (Acts 12:6-10). Angels served Jesus at several occasions (Mark 1:13; Luke 22:43). So this serving contains very practical help in many ways.

Yet it is clear that angels do not appear very often. They appear in special situations, when the need requires it. God can use other people to be his helpers too. In cases when people in the Bible meet angels and become aware that they are angles (which as I said before is not always the case), they are always full of awe because of the special and holy presence of these angels. Hagar, when she has met the angel, shows her amazement. In this angel she met the Lord Himself: ‘She gave this name to the LORD who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.”’ God uses his angels in special situations.

Yet Jesus says about the children: ‘See that you do not despise 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 Bible does not say much about angels. Yet this word of Jesus suggests that every child of God has his or her own angel. They may help them in special occasions, but even when God doesn’t send them to do so, they still are somehow occupied serving Gods children.

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