3.3.1.1.1 The angels

The term "angel" is the translation of the Hebrew word malak or the Greek angelos. Here and there, both words are used in the respective Hebrew or Greek texts of Holy Scripture with the general meaning of "messenger, emissary" [1], but they are mainly used in reference to heavenly messengers of God.

The task of the angels is to worship God, fulfil His instructions, and thereby serve Him. In individual cases angels can, if God wills, become visible. Holy Scripture relates that angels brought messages to human beings at God's behest. There is also much biblical evidence that angels commissioned by God served human beings by offering them help or protection. They are "all ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation" (Hebrews 1: 14). Matthew 18: 10 points out that children are assigned angels who always see the face of God.

The services performed by angels for human beings are always based on the will of God. Thus it is not to the angels, but to God alone, that gratitude and worship are due: "I am Raphael, one of the seven holy angels, which present the prayers of the saints, and which go in and out before the glory of the Holy One. ... For not of any favour of mine, but by the will of our God I came; wherefore praise Him for ever" (Tobit 12: 15, 18).

The formulation "multitude of the heavenly host" in Luke 2: 13 conveys the distinct impression of a great number of angels. The same idea comes across in Matthew 26: 53, where Jesus remarked that His Father could immediately provide Him with more than twelve legions of angels. The angels are described as those "who excel in strength" (Psalm 103: 20) and as holy and majestic beings. They can inspire shock and fear in human beings (Luke 1: 11-12, 29; 2: 9-10).

Likewise, Holy Scripture tells of the cherubim who guarded access to the tree of life after mankind's fall into sin (Genesis 3: 24), and of the seraphim whom the prophet Isaiah saw in a vision serving before the throne of God (Isaiah 6: 2-7).

The biblical account allows us to conclude that there are different ranks within the angelic realm: we read of Michael, the chief prince or archangel (Daniel 10: 13; 12: 1; Jude 9), and of Gabriel and Raphael who stand in the presence of God (Luke 1: 19; Tobit 12: 15) and thus seem to occupy an elevated position. Holy Scripture does not provide specific information on how the angelic realm is ordered.

God's love for human beings is also demonstrated by the fact that He allows the angels to serve them.

[1] One example in Holy Scripture where humans are also described as "angels" can be found in Revelation 2 and 3. The "angels of the churches" mentioned there are to be understood as the respective rectors of the congregations.

See also