the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26
Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature
Angels, a word signifying, both in Hebrew and Greek, messengers, and therefore used to denote whatever God employs to execute his purposes, or to manifest his presence or his power. In some passages it occurs in the sense of an ordinary messenger (Job 1:14; 1 Samuel 11:3; Luke 7:24; Luke 9:52): in others it is applied to prophets (Isaiah 42:19; Haggai 1:13; Malachi 3): to priests (Ecclesiastes 5:6; Malachi 2:7): to ministers of the New Testament (Revelation 1:20). It is also applied to impersonal agents; as to the pillar of cloud (Exodus 14:19): to the pestilence (2 Samuel 24:16-17; 2 Kings 19:35): to the winds ('who maketh the winds his angels,' Psalms 104:4): so likewise, plagues generally, are called 'evil angels' (Psalms 78:49), and Paul calls his thorn in the flesh an 'angel of Satan' (2 Corinthians 12:7).
But this name is more eminently and distinctively applied to certain spiritual beings or heavenly intelligences, employed by God as the ministers of His will, and usually distinguished as angels of God or angels of Jehovah. In this case the name has respect to their official capacity as 'messengers,' and not to their nature or condition. In the Scriptures we have frequent notices of spiritual intelligences, existing in another state of being, and constituting a celestial family, or hierarchy, over which Jehovah presides. The practice of the Jews, of referring to the agency of angels every manifestation of the greatness and power of God, has led some to contend that angels have no real existence, but are mere personifications of unknown powers of nature: but there are numerous passages in the Scriptures which are wholly inconsistent with this notion, and if Matthew 22:30, stood alone in its testimony, it ought to settle the question. So likewise, the passage in which the high dignity of Christ is established, by arguing that he is superior to the angels (Hebrews 1:4, sqq.), would be without force or meaning if angels had no real existence.
That these superior beings are very numerous is evident from the following expressions, Daniel 7:10, 'thousands of thousands,' and 'ten thousand times ten thousand;' Matthew 26:53, 'more than twelve legions of angels;' Luke 2:13, 'multitude of the heavenly host;' Hebrews 12:22-23, 'myriads of angels.' It is probable, from the nature of the case, that among so great a multitude there may be different grades and classes, and even natures—ascending from man towards God, and forming a chain of being to fill up the vast space between the Creator and man—the lowest of his intellectual creatures. This may be inferred from the analogies which pervade the chain of being on the earth whereon we live, which is as much the divine creation as the world of spirits. Accordingly the Scriptures describe angels as existing in a society composed of members of unequal dignity, power, and excellence, and as having chiefs and rulers (Zechariah 1:11; Zechariah 3:7; Daniel 10:13; Judges 1:9; 1 Thessalonians 4:16).
In the Scriptures angels appear with bodies, and in the human form; and no intimation is anywhere given that these bodies are not real, or that they are only assumed for the time and then laid aside. The fact that angels always appeared in the human form, does not, indeed, prove that this form naturally belongs to them. But that which is not pure spirit must have some form or other: and angels may have the human form; but other forms are possible. The question as to the food of angels has been very much discussed. If they do eat, we can know nothing of their actual food; for the manna is manifestly called 'angels' food' (Psalms 78:25), merely by way of expressing its excellence. The only real question, therefore, is whether they feed at all or not. We sometimes find angels, in their terrene manifestations, eating and drinking (Genesis 18:8; Genesis 19:3); but in Judges 13:15-16, the angel who appeared to Manoah declined, in a very pointed manner, to accept his hospitality.
The passage already referred to in Matthew 22:30, teaches by implication that there is no distinction of sex among the angels. In the Scriptures indeed the angels are all males: but they appear to be so represented, not to mark any distinction of sex, but because the masculine is the more honorable gender. Angels are never described with marks of age, but sometimes with those of youth (Mark 16:5). The constant absence of the features of age indicates the continual vigor and freshness of immortality. The angels never die (Luke 20:36). But no being besides God himself has essential immortality (1 Timothy 6:16): every other being therefore is mortal in itself, and can be immortal only by the will of God. Angels, consequently, are not eternal, but had a beginning, although there is no record of their creation.
The preceding considerations apply chiefly to the existence and nature of angels. Some of their attributes may be collected from other passages of Scripture. That they are of superhuman intelligence is implied in Mark 13:32 : 'But of that day and hour knoweth no man, not even the angels in heaven.' That their power is great, may be gathered from such expressions as 'mighty angels' (2 Thessalonians 1:7); 'angels, powerful in strength' (Psalms 103:20); 'angels who are greater [than man] in power and might.' The moral perfection of angels is shown by such phrases as 'holy angels' (Luke 9:26): 'the elect angels' (1 Timothy 5:21). Their felicity is beyond question in itself, but is evinced by the passage (Luke 20:36) in which the blessed in the future world are said to be 'like unto the angels, and sons of God.'
The ministry of angels, or that they are employed by God as the instruments of His will, is very clearly taught in the Scriptures. The very name, as already explained, shows that God employs their agency in the dispensations of His Providence. And it is further evident, from certain actions which are ascribed wholly to them (Matthew 13:41; Matthew 13:49; Matthew 24:31; Luke 16:22); and from the Scriptural narratives of other events, in the accomplishment of which they acted a visible part (Luke 1:11; Luke 1:26; Luke 2:9, sq.; Acts 5:19-20; Acts 10:3; Acts 10:19; Acts 12:7; Acts 27:23), that their agency is employed principally in the guidance of the destinies of man. In those cases also in which the agency is concealed from our view, we may admit the probability of its existence; because we are told that God sends them forth 'to minister to those who shall be heirs of salvation' (Hebrews 1:14; also Psalms 34:7; Psalms 91:11; Matthew 18:10). But the angels, when employed for our welfare, do not act independently, but as the instruments of God, and by His command (Psalms 103:20; Psalms 104:4; Hebrews 1:13-14): not unto them, therefore, are our confidence and adoration due, but only unto him (Revelation 19:10; Revelation 22:9) whom the angels themselves reverently worship.
It was a favorite opinion of the Christian fathers that every individual is under the care of a particular angel, who is assigned to him as a guardian. They spoke, also of two angels, the one good, the other evil, whom they conceived to be attendant on each individual; the good angel prompting to all good, and averting ill; and the evil angel prompting to all ill, and averting good. The Jews (excepting the Sadducees) entertained this belief. There is, however, nothing to authorize this notion in the Bible. The passages (Psalms 34:7; Matthew 18:10) usually referred to in support of it, have assuredly no such meaning. The former, divested of its poetical shape, simply denotes that God employs the ministry of angels to deliver his people from affliction and danger; and the celebrated passage in Matthew cannot well mean anything more than that the infant children of believers, or, if preferable, the least among the disciples of Christ, whom the ministers of the church might be disposed to neglect from their apparent insignificance, are in such estimation elsewhere, that the angels do not think it below their dignity to minister to them [SATAN].
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Angels'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature". https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​kbe/​a/angels.html.