Angels are spiritual beings created by God. Images of angels can be found throughout Western art. Even those who may profess no religious faith at all often believe in the existence of angels. Moreover, demons—those angels who rebelled against God—also fascinate us. Stories and movies about demons abound. Angels and demons are important not only for these reasons but because the Word of God testifies to their existence. Throughout the Bible, angels and demons play important roles as messengers, warriors, and more.
Angels, according to Hebrews 1:14, are “ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation.” The Greek word for “angel,” angelos, and one of the Hebrew words for “angel,” malakh, both refer to one who is a messenger. Angels also serve as warriors and involve themselves in warfare in behalf of God’s people. Revelation 12:7 describes the war between the archangel Michael and Satan, the great and evil dragon. An angel helped to turn Assyria back from conquering Judah in the days of King Hezekiah (2 Chron. 32:20–23). In addition, angels play an important role in worship in Scripture. Isaiah 6:1–6 describes many six-winged angels (seraphim) worshiping the Lord God in heaven. These are probably the same beings described in Revelation 4:6–8 whose job seems to be the perpetual, unending worship of God. Under the old covenant, angelic images adorned the tabernacle and temple. Images of winged cherubim sat on the cover of the ark of the covenant, and they were woven into the tabernacle’s curtain (Ex. 25:18–20; 26:1, 31).
It seems that at least some angels are able to take on the form of men and make appearances on earth to people. Two angels who looked like men came to Lot to warn him of the destruction of Sodom (Gen. 18–19). An angel came to minister to Elijah when he was exhausted (1 Kings 19:4–8). An angel appeared to Zechariah to tell him about the birth of John the Baptist (Luke 1:8–17). These and many other instances could be cited. One important type of angel seen throughout the Old Testament is the “angel of the Lord.” This angel speaks to Abraham in Genesis 22. He tells Abraham not to harm his son, and the angel refers to God in the first person (v. 12). Many commentators have therefore identified this angel with the preincarnate Son of God.
Three Hebrew words are used for angelic beings in the Old Testament—malakh (pl. malakhim), cherub (pl. cherubim), and seraph (pl. seraphim). It is not clear, however, whether these refer to different kinds of angels or if they all refer to the same kind of angel. Within the angelic host, some angels have a leadership role. Scripture refers to the archangel, that is, head or chief angel. One archangel is named Michael (Dan. 10:13, 21; 12:1; Jude 9; Rev. 12:7). He takes a leading role in the angelic army, and he may, in fact, be the only archangel. Some people believe that the angel Gabriel is an archangel, but Scripture never names him as such. Ancient Jewish tradition spoke of several other named archangels, including Raphael, who are named in extrabiblical writings. None of these figures appears in Scripture. An archangel will announce the return of Christ (1 Thess. 4:16), but we do not know if this archangel will be Michael or another unnamed figure.
Unlike angels, who are defined in Hebrews 1:14, demons have no official definition in Scripture. From various passages in Scripture, however, it is clear that they are the evil counterparts to angels. They oppose God and His people in several ways. Demons are spiritual beings who were created good but became twisted and evil. Based on texts such as Revelation 12:7–9, Christian theology has generally held that demons are fallen angels and that one in particular, the being now known as Satan, led many angels in rebellion against the Lord sometime before the fall of mankind. These evil angels were then cast out of heaven and became demons. Scripture does not tell us how these angels turned from good to evil. Many passages in Scripture explain that when people worship anyone other than the God of the Bible, they are actually worshiping demons (Deut. 32:17; 1 Cor. 10:20). False doctrines often originate from demons (1 Tim. 4:1). Satan, and presumably other demons, can wear the disguise of an “angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14), indicating that they take on the appearance of goodness in order to promote falsehood.
While Christians should not fear that they can become demon possessed, the New Testament does indicate that demons are able to possess and control those who do not belong to Christ. In some cases, demons also oppress people and even perhaps cause illness (Mark 5:1–20; Luke 9:37–43). These examples do not prove that all instances of mental and physical illness are caused by demons, but they suggest that some of them are.
Demons are powerful and organized, but they are not invincible. As Martin Luther wrote in his famous hymn, Satan’s “doom is sure.” Jesus has already secured their final defeat (Col. 2:15), and at the end of days, Satan and his demons will be cast into the lake of fire forever (Rev. 20:7–10).
And though this world, with devils filled,
Should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed
His truth to triumph through us:
The Prince of Darkness grim,
We tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure,
For lo! his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.
“A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”
Angels are the ministers and dispensers of the divine bounty towards us. . . . They watch for our safety, how they undertake our defense, direct our path, and take heed that no evil befall us.
Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1.14.6
Angels and demons alike are created beings. They are not equal with God.