The Unseen World of Angels
God’s invisible agents
Many think that angels are just a myth, a product of one’s imagination. However, in the bible God has explained their role as inhabitants of the unseen world. There is more to life and the universe than what the eye can see. Our eyes only sense the visible part of the electromagnetic spectrum.
Scientists use gamma rays, X rays, ultra-violet rays, infra-red waves, microwaves and radio waves to probe parts of the universe that are not visible to the eye. But even they cannot sense the presence of angels. There is more to life and the universe than what can be detected using the whole electromagnetic spectrum.
The Unseen World
The bible is the only reliable source of information about angels. It teaches that God’s creation has two components: that which is visible and that which is invisible (Col. 1:16).
The “unseen” or “invisible” part of God’s world is inhabited by personalities with intelligence, emotions and wills – not by “forces” or “influences”. These personalities comprise two categories: the divine (God); and the created, such as angels, demons and human spirits (Jn. 4:24; Rom. 8:38-39). Note that angels are not divine and they are not human spirits
What is this unseen part of the world like? In the New Testament,“spirit” is the same Greek word as “wind”. It is used for things that are invisible and powerful. Forces with these characteristics are electricity that flows through a conductor, or gravity that acts across space, or nuclear forces that hold us all together. But angels are invisible and powerful personalities, not forces. Their power is under God’s control.
The unseen world can be visualised as being like a fifth dimension to our four dimensional world of space and time. It is always present, but we can’t sense it directly and we do not know how it interacts with our physical world of space, mass and time.
The unseen world is eternal, it will never end; “what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Cor. 4:18 NIV). Angels are immortal (Lk. 20:36). Also, the two natures of good and evil, or the divine and the sinful, are both in the unseen world. The two great leaders of these domains are God and Satan, and their purposes are carried out by angels and demons.
Between the time of the Old and the New Testaments there was much speculation about angels by Persians and Greeks. Detailed hierarchies of different types of angels were constructed. They were viewed as “mediators” between God and humanity. Here we will see that “servants” is a better metaphor for the role of angels.
Although angels are always spoken of in the masculine gender, they do not marry, so it appears as though there is no equivalent to gender in the unseen world (Mt. 22:30).
The New Testament emphasises that Christ is superior to angels (Heb. 1:4-14). This passage mentions the key roles angels play: they worship Christ (v.6), they are God’s servants and ministers (v.7), and their service and ministry is directed towards believers – they are “ministering spirits sent to serve” (v.14). The same two Greek words for “service” and “ministry” are included in 2 Cor. 9:12. Consequently, there is a similarity between angels helping Christians and Christians helping each other.
We are to worship God, not angels (Col. 2:18). They do not know everything, but God does (Mt. 24:36). When John fell at an angel’s feet to worship him, the angel said “I am a fellow-servant with you … Worship God!” (Rev. 19:10; 22:8,9).
Angels are God’s invisible agents, whose mission is to help Christians (1 Pet. 3:22, Heb. 1:14). Five of their main tasks are described below.
The Greek word “angelos” means messenger. God uses angels to proclaim important messages. There are many examples of this in the Bible.
Gabriel interpreted a vision and gave insight and understanding in response to prayer (Dan. 8:16; 9:21). He also announced the conception of John the Baptist and of Christ (Lk. 1:11-20; 26-38).
Angels revealed that Mary’s baby was to be named “Jesus” and announced His birth (Mt. 1:20,21; Lk. 2:9-14). They also rolled the stone away from His tomb, and proclaimed His resurrection and His second coming (Mt. 28:2-7; Lk. 24:4-7; Acts 1:9-11). Michael, the chief angel, will announce the rapture, when Christ comes for believers (1 Th. 4:16).
Angels sent Philip to the Ethiopian treasurer and told Cornelius to send for Peter (Acts 8:26; 10:3-7). They also revealed the future to Daniel and John (Dan. 9:20-12:13; Rev. 1:1).
Angels watch eagerly as spectators of God’s drama of salvation and actually express joy when a sinner repents (1 Pet. 1:12; Lk. 15:10).
We are not alone, the angels are present with us (1 Tim. 5:21). They watch us individually and collectively. Paul felt he was on display like a spectacle to the whole universe, including angels (1 Cor. 4:9). Angels can see God’s wisdom through the church, which has unity and order although comprising different members (1 Cor. 11:10; Eph. 3:10).
Angels can be God’s agents of judgment. When two angels went to rescue Lot from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, they told him, “we are going to destroy this place” (Gen. 19:13).
After Hezekiah’s prayer, one angel killed 185,000 in the Assyrian army and delivered Judah from an enemy (2 Ki. 19:35). Another angel killed King Herod Agrippa I after he accepted worship as a god (Acts 12:23).
In the coming period of global tribulation and punishment, angels will inflict seven trumpets and seven bowls of God’s judgement on the earth (Rev. ch. 8-16). They will also accompany Christ when He is “revealed from heaven in blazing fire with His powerful angels” (2 Th. 1:8). The word “dynamite” is derived from the Greek word used here for “powerful”. This will be an awesome display of angelic power.
At the end of the tribulation, angels will separate the righteous from the wicked who will be sent to the fiery furnace where they will suffer (Mt. 13:41-50). They will also bind Satan for 1,000 years (Rev. 20:1-3).
Angels praise God. Many angels praised Him at Christ’s birth: “A great company of the heavenly host appeared … praising God and saying ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom God’s favour rests’” (Lk. 2:13-14).
After they have finished their earthly ministry, numerous angels will encircle God’s throne and sing in a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honour and praise!” Then all creatures in the physical world and the unseen world will praise the Lord, who rules and who died for the world (Rev. 5:11-14).
The climax of God’s drama of salvation involves all the angels, together with all God’s people, praising and worshipping God. Thousands of angels will share in this great celebration (Heb. 12:22; Rev. 7:9-12).
Angels are God’s security agents. They provide help and protect His people wherever they go and keep them safe (Ps. 91:11,14).
Our difficulties in life originate from the unseen world, where the angels battle against Satan and his demons (Eph. 6:12). In the final war, Satan’s forces will be defeated and cast out of heaven (Rev. 12:7-12). Angels will also protect God’s people from the coming judgement (Mt. 24:31).
An angel went ahead of Moses and guarded him as he took possession of the promised land (Ex. 23:20-23). When Elijah was in despair as he fled from Jezebel, an angel strengthened him so that he could travel for 40 days (1 Ki. 19:5-8).
Elisha, surrounded by the army of the king of Aram, said “Don’t be afraid. Those who are with us are more than those who are with them”. After praying “O Lord, open his eyes that he may see”, the protective angels were revealed as horses and chariots of fire. (2 Ki. 6:16-17).
An angel shut the lions mouths to protect Daniel, released Peter from prison, and encouraged Paul during a storm (Dan. 6:22; Acts 12:7-11; 27:23-25).
Angels helped Jesus after Satan’s temptation and as He faced His betrayal and crucifixion (Mt. 4:11; Lk. 22:43). In fact, He could have called on thousands of them (Mt. 26:53).
At death, the spirits of believers are carried by angels into God’s presence (Lk. 16:22).
The Bible seems to support the concept of specific “guardian angels” as children have “their angels in heaven” and the early church believed in them (Mt. 18:10; Acts 12:15).
Angels help Christians
Christians serve an invisible God, and angels are His invisible agents. They inhabit the eternal unseen world and are mentioned from the beginning of time in Genesis through to the end time of Revelation. Sometimes God uses them to achieve His purposes, although we are usually unaware of their work.
They are ministering spirits that serve believers. Here are five ways:
- Angels proclaim God’s messages. Are you waiting for the shout of the archangel?
- Angels are always present. We are not alone. They watch our individual and collective behaviour. Do we give them much cause for rejoicing?
- Angels execute God’s punishment with awesome power. Trust God and avoid the fiery furnace!
- Angels praise God. Will you be there to join in the heavenly choir?
- Angels protect believers. They are stronger than Satan and his demons. Like Elisha, don’t be afraid; those who are with us are more than those who are with them.
Believers have a security that is not based on things that can be taken away; “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom. 8:31). Angels can strengthen us inwardly, as they did the Lord. One day we will know the full extent of the care and protection the angels have given us (1 Cor. 13:12).
Let’s praise God as the angels do. Who knows when they protect and strengthen us?
Published, December 1999
See the other article in this series:
– The unseen world of demons