This is a brief overview of angels and some of the things we may learn about them from the Bible. This is in no way meant to be an exhaustive study, but one that should be a good start down the angelic path.
The word used for angel in Hebrew is malawk. It literally means messenger. While this highlights one of the primary tasks of angels, it is only the beginning of what they do. Let’s start with the angels the Bible tells us about by name.
THE ANGEL OF THE LORD
The Angel of the Lord is mentioned many times in the Old Testament. It is apparent that this is sometimes a generic term for a messenger of God, but at other times describes the most unique of all the angels. The features of this angel include speaking not only for God, but as God. Some examples of this include Gen. 16:6-13, where Hagar is fleeing from Sarah. The Angel of the Lord appears to Hagar and speaks for God in verse 9, then speaks as God in verse 10. Again in Gen. 18:1-14 we see three angels appear as men to Abraham. Abraham actually prepares food for them which they eat! (vs. 10) In verse 1 of this chapter one of the men is actually identified as Yahweh, the Lord Himself. In Gen. 22:9-18 Abraham again encounters the Angel of the Lord as he is taking his son, Isaac, up to Mount Moriah to offer him as a sacrifice. In verse 12 the angel speaks both for God and as God in the same verse. Furthermore, in vs. 15-18 the Angel again speaks as God, pronouncing the great blessing upon Abraham as though the Angel Himself were God. In Gen. 28 and 31 Jacob interacts with the Angel of the Lord in dreams. In Gen 32:23-31, Jacob wrestles with a man (vs. 24), but this man goes on to rename and bless Jacob, giving him the new name of Israel (ruling with God or God prevails vs. 28). In verse 30 Jacob renames the place Peniel, meaning the face of God, as Jacob had “wrestled with God” face to face and prevailed, at least to the extent of receiving the blessing of the Lord. This is confirmed in Hosea 12:4-5.
So we have here an example of an angel (messenger) of God speaking for God but also as God. This is called a theophany, meaning an appearance of the Son of God before His incarnation through the Holy Spirit and Mary. This being necessary because as we read in Jo. 1:18 and 5:37, no one can look upon God or hear Him directly. God is holy, and we who are unholy would not survive being in His presence. The Angel of the Lord was a necessary intermediary in the Old Testament, but in the New Testament, with the incarnation of the Son of God in Jesus Christ, His appearing as the Angel of the Lord became no longer necessary. We now have the face and voice of God available to all believers. Jesus Christ in the flesh is now our intermediary. We see similar encounters in Ex. 3:1-6 with Moses at the burning bush, and Josh. 5:13-15 where Joshua encounters the Angel of the Lord in the appearance of a man before the fall of Jericho. We see the Angel again in Jud. 6:11-24, where He appears to inspire and direct Gideon in the deliverance of his people. There are other passages referring to the angel of the LORD in the Old Testament, but it’s not certain that all of these are referring to theophanies.
Michael is an archangel (chief) of God. His name means “Who is like God”. (Dan. 10:13, 21, 12:1, Jude 9 and Rev. 12:7.) Michael appears in scripture to be the head of God’s armies of angelic beings (see Rev. 12:7) and has personally contended with Satan (Jude 9). In Hebrew tradition and alluded to in Dan. 12:1, Michael is the “Prince of Israel”, or the spiritual defender of Israel. We read of other angelic princes in Daniel 10:13 and 20, those of Persia and Greece. We can deduce from those passages that these Princes are the spiritual authorities ruling over those areas of the world.
It should be added here that the idea of “principalities” or angelic princes reigning governing the earth, with different angels covering different parts of the world is mentioned in scripture. In Deut. 32:8 we are told that God set the bounds of the people on earth according to the angels of God. While the KJV of this verse says “sons of Israel”, the Septuagint, the scriptures Jesus used, has rendered this accurately. This tells us that spiritual governance of this world is divided amongst “principalities”, powerful angels of God. The bad news for us in this is that most of these angels are fallen.
Getting back to Michael, in Dan. 12:1 we are told that in the last days “shall Michael stand up”. The word for stand up here is amad, and is used twice in verse 1. It means to stand, or take a stand. This is the explicit meaning the first time it’s used in verse 1, but the second time it’s used it would mean to “cease” from standing. We are told in the second half of Daniel 12:1 that after Michael ceases from his activity which initiates the “time of Jacob’s trouble”, centered on Israel, which has never been seen before. This verse explains “the restrainer” or the one who holds back (Satan in this case) in 2 Th. 2:6. Michael is the only angel who has been shown to engage and eventually defeat Satan (Rev. 12:7), and he is the spiritual protector of Israel. Dan. 12:1 indicates that when Michael ceases to restrain Satan, then the time of great tribulation or Satan’s wrath (Rev. 12:12) begins. Michael is the one who restrains. It has become popular for those supporting the pre-tribulation view of prophecy to claim the Holy Spirit is the Restrainer who is removed, but there is no scriptural basis for this claim. It should be noted that restraining humanity in not listed as a function of the Holy Spirit anywhere in scripture.
Gabriel interestingly means “man of God”, and apparently appears and speaks like a man. He also seems to be a herald of God, that is, one who is sent before the King to announce His coming. (Dan. 8:16, 9:21, Lk. 1:19, 26). He not only appears to announce prophecies relating to the coming Messiah to Daniel, but also appears to Mary to announce that she would soon be pregnant by the Holy Spirit with the Savior of the world.
The cherubim are powerful angels usually mentioned as being in the immediate presence of God. They first appear in scripture as guardians of the way into the Garden of Eden after the fall of Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:24). In scripture they bear the throne of God (Ps. 18:10, 2 Sam. 22:11-12), and the Lord sits between them (Ps. 99:1). God communed with Moses from between the cherubim on the Mercy Seat (Ex. 25:22). They have four faces, those being a man, a lion, an eagle and a ox/bull. The ox is said to be the face of the cherub in Ezek. 10:14. Satan is called the “anointed cherub” in Ezek. 28:14.
The cherubim are part of an amazing vision that Ezekiel relates in chapters 1 and 10. Part of this vision mentions the ophan, or wheels. The ophanim would be yet another class of angels if they are indeed separate from the cherubim. These amazing “wheels within wheels” are described in Ezek. 1:15-21 and 10:9-13. The wheels and the cherubs move in connection with the Throne of God, and we are told this is because the spirit of the living creature (cherub) was in the wheel. We are also told these ophan are dreadful to look at and are covered with eyes!
We have briefly mentioned the Cherubim, but there are two other classes of angels mentioned in scripture. The Seraphim (fiery, burning ones) and the Nephilim (fallen ones). The Seraphim are mentioned in Is. 6:2, where they are described as having six wings, two with which they cover their eyes, two with which they cover their feet, and two with which they fly. The cry Holy, Holy, Holy in the Presence of the Lord. These same beings appear to be described in Ezek. 1:13 as part of the moving angelic throne of God, also consisting of the cherubim and ophan. Rabbis called this angelic combination that makes up the throne of God the “merkabah”.
We also read of fiery chariots and horseman, the “chariot of Israel” that carries Elijah away in 2 Ki. 2:11-12. In 2 Ki. 6:17, Elisha’s servants eyes are opened so that he may see a “mountain full of horses and chariots of fire”. These may be a general class of angels, most likely the Lord’s attendants as it is written in Ps. 104:4. He “makes His angels spirits, His ministers (attendants) a blazing fire”.
There are also several verses mentioning the “saraphs” that are “fiery flying serpents” (Num. 21:7, Deut. 8:15, Is. 14:29, 30:6). These serpents are a curse to the murmuring Israelites in the wilderness, and a prophetic warning to the areas of Palestine (Is. 14:29) and Egypt (Is. 30:6). These verses do not make these seraphim evil, but rather instruments not only of God’s immediate service but also of judgment to the wicked. They also appear to be of the same angelic class as the worshipping angels in Is. 6:2.