In the Christian Bible, angels are supernatural beings that reside in heaven with God, acting as his servants and messengers. Taking a human form, they act as a point of contact between heaven and the human world. In art we often see angels depicted as strikingly beautiful people bearing huge wings and halos, and surrounded by auras of divine, heavenly light. There are more than a hundred references to angels in the Bible, but only a small number play a definitive role within the Biblical narrative.
Some of these angels are named, and have a close relationship with God, who are referred to as the ‘heavenly host’, while others are ‘fallen angels’, who began their lives as angels in heaven but betrayed God, and were cast into hell. Below are four of the most important angels referenced in the Biblical text, who played a significant role during different stages of the story.
The Angel Gabriel
The Angel Gabriel appears in four different passages of the Bible, each time delivering a different message to the human world directly from God, travelling ‘by flight.’ When the visionary prophet Daniel began experiencing a series of strange visions he prayed for help; Gabriel visited him on two occasions to help him make sense of them. Daniel was so terrified at the first sight of this formidable angel that he fell unconscious, and was ill for several days after. Next Gabriel came to visit the priest Zechariah in order to deliver the news that his formerly barren wife would have a son, named John the Baptist, who would fulfil the coming of Elijah.
When Zechariah expressed disbelief of his vision, the angel struck him dumb until the child was circumcised. Finally, Gabriel’s most important role was to deliver a message to Mary, mother of Jesus, telling her she was pregnant with Jesus, the son of God and the savior of the world, a story known as The Annunciation.
The Archangel Michael
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The archangel Michael appears in four different passages of the Bible. He is described as an ‘archangel’, meaning the ‘chief prince’, ‘chief messenger,’ or ‘angel of the highest rank.’ Michael is a warrior who engages in spiritual combat against the forces of evil, making him one of the most powerful beings in heaven. He is also a great protector of the people – the prophet Daniel is told that Michael the archangel is “the great prince who protects your people,” his people being the Jews. Michael plays a significant role in the end times, battling against the dragon (Satan) and hurling him to the earth, from where Satan “went off to wage war against… those who keep God’s commands and hold fast their testimony about Jesus.”
Lucifer: The Fallen Angel Who Became Satan
Lucifer is the fallen angel who became Satan following his attempted rebellion against God. Before his fall from grace, Lucifer was described as beautiful and wise, and the cherub assigned to guard and protect the garden of Eden. But he became vain and prideful, which corrupted his innocence. He was subsequently banished from heaven and sent to live on earth, where he briefly became the prince of power in control of air. But his corruption of people and attempts to lead the world astray led him to be banished forever into eternal fire upon the return of Christ.
The Angel of Destruction: Abaddon/Apollyon
With a name meaning ‘destruction,’ Abaddon, also known as Apollyon, only makes a single, brief appearance in the Bible, as ruler over a bottomless pit called the Abyss. He is a fallen angel who resides in a terrible place of doom and destruction. During the end times, God wields Abaddon as an instrument of Judgement, suggesting his role is somewhere between good and evil.