Angels in New Testament
In the New Testament the angles appear with their own personalities. They are creatures endowed with free will and intellect. They are distinct and superior to men but inferior to God. Their duties are to manifest and execute the divine will. They offer up prayers and intercede for those who are faithful. They incite men to do good and serve them in difficult times. We also learn that each child is given a guardian angel that is an integral part of our earthly life.
In our Orthodox services we offer the following prayer: "An angel of peace, a faithful guide, a guardian of our souls and bodies, let us ask of the Lord." As we learn about the role of angels on the story of our Lord, let us gain new meaning about this petition so it is nota vain repetition. May we reply with conviction, "Grant this O Lord!"
Gabriel's Appearance to Zachariah
God's aim is to redeem His people and he did not do this with a bolt of lightning and clap of thunder. He came quietly without great fanfare. The people had been expecting the Messiah for some time and God sent His angel to warn that the time was coming. Luke describes the appearance of an angel to Zachariah, a priest in the temple in Jerusalem. It was his turn to burn the incense which was burned twice a day. The incense was offered inside the temple on the golden altar of incense that stood before the veil of the Holy of Holies with the image of a cherubim embroidered on it. The officiating priest went into the temple alone while the other priest worshipped outside. It was the most solemn part of the service. As He was performing this duty, standing alone in the Temple watching the perfume laden incense ascend toward heaven, an angel appeared to him on the right side of the altar. The angel spoke to him telling him that his messianic prayers were about to be answered and he and his old and barren wife Elizabeth would have a child, a son who would be the Lord's forerunner. The angel's name was Gabriel. He struck Zachariah dumb until after the birth of his son John. When he emerged from the sanctuary to pronounce the customary blessing he could only make the jesters but no words came from his mouth. The people realized he had experienced a vision and the stage was set for the coming of the Lord.
Gabriel appears to Mary and Joseph to announce the coming birth of Jesus
Gabriel also appeared to Mary in her home uttering "Hail, thou art highly favored the Lord with thee: blessed art thou among women!" He told her, even though she was a virgin, that she would have a child that was the Son of God and she was to call him Jesus. Mary was startled and concerned but not afraid. The scene was a meeting of two persons, one earthly and the other heavenly. One brought the will of God and the other offered her obedience. (Lk. 1:26-28) Gabriel also appeared to Joseph, who Mary was betrothed, in a dream to comfort him. (Mt. 1:20, 21) Angels are no less real to us in dreams than in our waking hours. This is when our guardian angel is more accessible due to our relaxed state of mind.
Angels at Bethlehem
At the birth of Christ angels appeared to the Shepherd guarding their flocks. (Lk 2:8-14) Shepherds spend long times in the natural environment and are in communion with nature. They can read the signs of the heavenly bodies with ease. They tend to be humble and simple people. They are given to contemplation as they spend long periods of time alone with their flock. The angels brought the message of Christ's arrival first to the poor and those of the lower class. The angels appeared so suddenly that the shepherds were fear struck so the angels reassured them, "Fear not," They glorified God, "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good will to men." (Lk 2:14).
Likewise, the wise me who were the scientist of their day were warned in a dream not to return to Herod (Mt. 2:12). They followed this divine direction and returned directly to their homeland without returning to see Herod.
The Flight to Egypt
An angel also appeared to Joseph in dream to take the Child and His Mother into Egypt . "Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young child to destroy Him" (Mt. 2:13). Then while Joseph was in Egypt, an angel of the Lord again appeared to him, telling him to return to Israel (Mt. 2:19, 20).
We need to listen for the word of the Lord like Joseph and to go where we are sent just like Joseph was sent not to where he desired to go.
The psalmist says, "For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in al thy ways. They shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone" (Ps 90:11-12).
Angels Appear at Jesus' Temptation
Angels ministered to Jesus after the temptation in the mount [Mt. 4: 11; Mk. 1: 13].
"then the devil left him (for a while) and behold the angels ministered to him." After his trials in the desert after the Baptism, the heavenly host surrounded Him to minister to Him with love and care.
Jesus said to his disciples, "Take head that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven." (Mat 18:10)
Not only do we have an angel as a child, but also at the time of death. In the parable of Lazarus and the rich man it says, "the beggar died , and was carried by the angels to the bosom of Abraham." (Lk 16:22)
The angels await to see our attitude towards Christ. They expect us to be true to our Lord before they will show friendship. Jesus says, "whoever shall confess me before me, shall the Son of Man also confess before the angels of God" (Lk 12:8)
To believe in the holy angels and to trust our guardian is unquestionably part of Christ's teaching.
Prayer to our Guardian angel:
Angel of the Lord, my holy guardian, who art given me of God to shield me: I earnestly pray thee enlighten me this day and from all harm protect me; in all good things advise me; and on the path of redemption guide me. Amen
When Jesus was about to be crucified his mortal body did not want to die. He begged for his closest friends to watch with Him and not to leave Him alone. But they were tired and did not understand the dept of His grief and agony. Jesus want back to them twice as if seeking reassurance, but they slept. As he prayed in agony "there appeared an angel unto Him from heaven strengthening Him" (Lk 22:43) No one at that moment recognized in the man "despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief," (Is 53:3) – the King of Glory! But the angels did!
Crucifixion and the Tomb.
In the icon of the Crucifixion we see the angels depicted hovering above the Cross. While Scripture does not tell us, we can suppose that they were there and that they accompanied the Lord even as he descended into Hades. The angels were the guards to the entrance of Paradise and with Christ's resurrection the gates were now opened so the angels also signal the opening of paradise.
Who removed the stone from the Grave? The Pharisees feared that friends of Jesus would remove the body and claim he had risen from the dead? So they begged Pilot to set a guard at the tomb which he eventually agreed to do. It was these guards who saw the angel roll away the stone. "...There was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it. His continence was like lightning and his raiment white as snow: And for fear of him the keeper did shake, and became as dead men" (Mt 28:2-4).
The angel of the Resurrection was a messenger of power, purity and struck fear into men's hearts and held them speechless and in awe.
When the women came to attend to the tomb and found it empty you can imagine the fear this raised. But as they went inside, "two men stood by them in a shining garment. Then, as they were afraid and bowed their faces to the earth, they said to the women, 'Why do you seek the living among the dead?' He is not here but is risen. Remember how He spoke to you when He was still in Galilee, saying, 'The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.'" (Lk 24:4-7)
The angels announce the Resurrection. They were surely with the Lord throughout His life on earth. They are part of His glory.
When we gather on Easter night we leave the darkened Church behind chanting "The Angels in Heaven O Christ our savior, sing Thy resurrection, enabling us on earth, to glorify Thee with a pure heart." We then stand behind the close doors and after the reading of the Holy Gospel we shout with joy, Christ is Risen! The doors are open and we enter into the fully lighted church singing Christ has risen!
"Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, who also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.” (Acts 1: 9-11). "
In the icon for this event we see the angels present among the disciples. ANd we see angels carrying Jesus aloft accompanying Him in a cloud of glory.
"Lift up your heads, O you gates!
And be lifted up, you everlasting doors!
And the King of glory shall come in.
Who is this King of glory?
The LORD strong and mighty,
The LORD mighty in battle.
Lift up your heads, O you gates!
Lift up, you everlasting doors!
And the King of glory shall come in.
Who is this King of glory?
The LORD of hosts,
He is the King of glory.(Ps 24(23):7-10)
The Second Coming
Jesus describes the second coming: "Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other." (Mat 24:30-31)
And after His parable on the ten virgins He says, "When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory" (Mat 25:31).
Saint Paul tells us: "For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord."(1Thessalonians 4: 16-17).
Angels in the Young Church
Saint Peter and Saint John
After the Ascension the Apostles were aware of the holy angels in their midst and remained so throughout their lives. Today wetend to take the appearance of angels lightly and often with disbelief. But this is not the attitude of the Apostles.
The Jewish Priests hoping to frighten the followers of Jesus into silence had Peter and John arrested. The Sanhedrin forbid them to preach. The Apostles had disregarded this and were apprehended an put into prison. When the officials sent for them to be brought to trial, the cell was found to be empty. Luke tells us how this took place: "But at night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out, and said, 'Go, stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this life.'" (Acts 5:19-20) The Apostles then returned to the same place and continued to preach. God's power was so clear to them that they did not have fear of even death. Therefore, they could stand with strength when faced with any peril.
Saint Peter Escapes
After the followers of Jesus became to be called Christians, there were severe persecutions. James the brother of John had just been executed. Peter was thrown into prison and securely confined so he could not possibly escape. Luke records the event: "That night Peter was sleeping, bound with two chains between two soldiers; and the guards before the door were keeping the prison. Now behold, an angel of the Lord stood by him, and a light shone in the prison; and he struck Peter on the side and raised him up, saying, “Arise quickly!” And his chains fell off his hands. Then the angel said to him, “Gird yourself and tie on your sandals”; and so he did. And he said to him, “Put on your garment and follow me.” So he went out and followed him, and did not know that what was done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision. When they were past the first and the second guard posts, they came to the iron gate that leads to the city, which opened to them of its own accord; and they went out and went down one street, and immediately the angel departed from him. And when Peter had come to himself, he said, “Now I know for certain that the Lord has sent His angel, and has delivered me from the hand of Herod and from all the expectation of the Jewish people.”" (Acts 12:2-11)
Peter was rescued by a messenger from God. This was not a guardian angel. Guardian angels assist us in doing good helping us obey God's will. An angel of the Lord acts outside of man's free choice through man's obedience to God's call. God's messengers are associated with those who have obedience to God's will.
Saint Stephen, a deacon, was the first Christian martyr. He was arrested for preaching the news about Christ and His Resurrection. While speaking in his defense he spoke of Moses saying:
“And when forty years had passed, an Angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire in a bush, in the wilderness of Mount Sinai. When Moses saw it, he marveled at the sight; and as he drew near to observe, the voice of the Lord came to him, saying, ‘I am the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ And Moses trembled and dared not look. ‘Then the LORD said to him, “Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground. I have surely seen the oppression of My people who are in Egypt; I have heard their groaning and have come down to deliver them. And now come, I will send you to Egypt.”’
“This Moses whom they rejected, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge?’ is the one God sent to be a ruler and a deliverer by the hand of the Angel who appeared to him in the bush. He brought them out, after he had shown wonders and signs in the land of Egypt, and in the Red Sea, and in the wilderness forty years.
Among those present was a young man named Saul who stood silently. Later Saul (Paul) was to utter similar thing: "It [the law] terms were dictated by angels, acting through spokesmen" (Gal 3:19) and "The old law which only had angels for its spokesman" (Heb 2:2). The angels of the Old Testament ordained the law but once the Lord took the redress of the world on his won shoulders, the angels became friends of man.
saint stephen was stoned to death.
Saint Stephan was of a superior spirituality and the Lord transfigured Him at the trial. It is said by those seeing him at the trial that they "...fastened their eyes on him, saw his face looking like the face of an angel" (Acts 6:15). Stephen bears the marks of a heavenly prototype.
As Peter was praying on a housetop in Jopa he had a vision in which the Lord asked him to eat non-kosher food. About this time he was informed that a Gentile delegation was waiting for him outside the door of the house asking him to come
to see Cornelius a Roman Centurion. Not only was the timing more than a coincidence it was quite an unusual request of a Roman centurion.
Cornelius' action came from a vision with instructions from an angel. "About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God coming in and saying to him, “Cornelius!” "And when he observed him, he was afraid, and said, “What is it, lord?” So he said to him, “Your prayers and your alms have come up for a memorial before God. Now send men to Jopa, and send for Simon whose surname is Peter." (Acts 10:3-5).
As a reuslt Peter came and preached and baptized Cornelius. This conversion is an important milestone in the history of the early Church.
It seem angels were sent to help the new Christians in their difficult task of converting people and bringing them into God's truth.
After Saint Stephen's death the Apostles spread abroad and beag to carry out their Mission to take the Word to "all nations." Philip was also a deacon who preached in Samaria. An angel directed him and he obeyed. The angel appeared to Philip and said, "Arise and go towards the south unto the way that goeth down from Jerusalem into Gaza which is desert. And he arose and went" (Acts 8:26-27). As Phillip journeyed he came upon an Ethiopian Eunuch who was an important member of the Queen's court. The Ethopian was searching for an interpretation of a passage in Isaiah. Phillip now knew the reason for his trip. He enlightened the Eunuch, converted, and baptized him. Since Eunuchs were outside the community of Israel this was part of the Apostles mission to carry the word to all people.
Luke recounts an experience of Paul's on the island of Malta. This is not hearsay because Luke was with Paul on the boat. The boat they were on was caught in a powerful storm. All hope for the survival of the small boat was given up. Paul stood and said, "there stood by me this night the angel of God..., saying, Fear not Paul; thou must be brought before Caesar: and lo God hath given thee them that sail with thee" (Acts 27:23-24). This message gave Paul great courage. He was able to convince the soldiers guarding him not to kill the prisoners. The sailors listened to him and all landed safely on the island.
Angels in Paul's Epistles
There are numerous references to angels in Paul's epistles. He refers to them naturally and not in a theoretical manner. He also gives us a warning. " Let no one cheat you of your reward, taking delight in false humility and worship of angels, intruding into those things which he has not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind" (Col 2:18)
It is chiefly from Saint Paul's writings that the angelic choirs have been named. Here are the Scriptural passages where they can be found:
First Choir: Seraphim (Is 6:2-6); Cherubim (Ezek 1:10); Thrones (Col 1:16)
Second Choir: Dominions (Eph 1:12); Virtues (Authorities) (1 Cor 15:26); Powers (Eph 1:21)
Third Choir: Principalities (Rom 8:38; Eph 1:21); Archangels (1Thess 4:16; Jude 9); Angels (many)
It was an anonymous mystic of the fifth century that came up with this arrangement. He is know as Dionysius the Areopagite. The name used was one of Paul's disciples. Maybe he chose this because it was from Paul's writings that he conceived this magnificent organization of the celestial Hierarchy.
Saint Paul saw the angels as worshipers and executers of divine will. By their own volition they acted neither for or against men. They were obedient to God, the source of good and could only themselves be good.
Book of Revelation
The Book of Revelation is filled with accounts of the angels. The book opens declaring a revelation of Jesus Christ having been sent forth by His angel [Rev. 1: 1]. Then we are told that "the seven stars are the angels of the seven Churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven Churches. " The seven angels of the seven Churches of Asia are discussed from Rev. 1:20-3:22. In Rev. 5:2, we read of a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the book and to loose the seals of it?" In Rev. 7: 1, Saint John says, "I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth." He then saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun having the seal of the living God [Rev. 7:2]. Saint John also writes about seven angels and seven trumpets, and an angel of the incense: "I saw the seven angels, the ones who stand before God, and there were given to them seven trumpets. And another angel came and took his stand at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given to him much incense, in order that he should give it with the prayers of all the saints upon the altar, the golden one, which is before the throne [Rev. 8:2, 3]. "
The evangelist then speaks of the seven angels of the seven thunders: “The seven thunders spoke their own sounds. And when the seven thunders spoke, I was about to write; and I heard a voice out of the heaven saying, ‘Seal up the things which the seven thunders spoke, and do not begin to write them [Rev. 10: 3, 4]. ‘ “ With them, the evangelist describes an angel, standing on the sea and on the land, with his right hand lifted up, who "swore by the one living to the ages of the ages [Rev. 10:6]." He was "clothed with a cloud and the rainbow was on his head, and his face was as the sun, and his feet as pillars of fire; and he had in his hand a book having been opened. And he cried with a loud voice even as a lion roareth [Rev. 10: 1-3]. "
Saint John then speaks of the angel with a little book who commanded the evangelist to eat it. "I took the book out of the hand of the angel and ate it up, and it was in my mouth sweet as honey; and when I ate it, my belly was made bitter. And they say to me, 'It is needful for thee again to prophesy because of many peoples and nations and tongues and kings [Rev. 10: 10,11].’ “
In chapter 14 of Revelation, the evangelist declares, "I saw another angel flying in mid-heaven, having the everlasting Gospel to announce the good tidings to those sitting on the earth,..saying in a loud voice, 'Fear the Lord and give glory to Him, for the hour of His judgment is come; and make obeisance to the One having made the heaven and the earth and the sea and fountains of the waters [Rev. 14:6, 7].' And another, a second angel, followed, saying, 'It is fallen, it is fallen, Babylon the great, which hath made all nations to drink out of the wine of the anger of her fornication [Rev 14:8]. ' And another, a third angel, followed them, saying in a loud voice, 'If anyone maketh obeisance to the beast and his image, and receiveth his mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also shall drink out of the wine of the anger of God which hath been mixed undiluted in the cup of His wrath, and he shall be tormented in fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goeth up to the ages of ages; and they have no rest day and night, the ones making obeisance to the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name [Rev. 14:9-1 1].'...Another angel was then seen coming out of the temple, crying with a loud voice to the One sitting on the cloud, 'Send Thy sickle and reap, for the hour is come to reap, for the harvest of the earth is become dry [Rev. 14:15].'... And another angel came out of the altar, having authority over the fire; and he gave utterance with a great cry to the one having the sickle, the sharp one, saying, 'Send thy sickle, the sharp one, and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth, for the grape of the earth did ripen [Rev. 14:18].' And the angel threw his sickle into the earth and gathered the vine of the earth, and threw it into the wine-vat, the great one, of the anger of God [Rev. 14:19]. "
The evangelist then saw "seven angels having seven plagues [Rev. 15: 11. " Saint John then heard "the angel of the waters saying, 'Righteous art Thou,...because Thou didst judge these things; for they poured out the blood of saints and prophets, and blood hast Thou given to them to drink. They are deserving [Rev. 16:5, 61. "' The evangelist then saw "another angel coming down out of the heaven, having great authority, and the earth was illuminated by reason of his glory. And he cried with a strong voice, saying, 'It is fallen, it is fallen, Babylon the great, and is become a habitation of demons,...and the kings of the earth committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth became rich by the power of her wantonness [Rev. 18:1-3]. "' Saint John then writes of seeing an angel coming down out of the heaven, having the key of the abyss and a great chain upon his hand [Rev. 20: 1]. Thus from the above we see the angels executing God's holy will and being set in charge of physical elements.
Above is adapted from:
The Great Synaxaristes of the Orthodox Church - Nov, pp 225-228, Trans. from Greek by Holy Apostles Convent, Buena Vista, Co.