God’s Ministering Spirits


Dr. John Hoole




Before teaching on the topics of angels, I read hundreds of stories describing angel sightings and encounters.  Some may be far-fetched and go beyond the bounds of what Scripture allows as being reliable.  For instance, the Bible gives no indication angels will respond if we pray directly to them for help.  In fact, in Scripture we don’t find any instances of people even asking God to send their angels of protection.


More importantly, Scripture gives no basis for assuming angels will serve and help non-Christians.  Certainly, God could dispatch angels to help unbelievers, but Hebrews 1:14 tells us angels “are ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation.”  This makes it clear that those being described here are those who have accepted Christ as their Savior.


Today, I want to discuss four question about angels.





The Scriptures give interesting insight into this question, though perhaps not all we would wish to know.  Medieval scholastics reported argued over how many angels could dance on the head of a pin.  But that is pure speculation.


We are told that at the birth of Christ, a “multitude” of angels (or heavenly host) were praising God.  Undoubtedly, this is not all the angels of God.  We are also told that at His betrayal, Christ could have called upon God to send 12 legions of angels (Matthew 26:53).


Psalms 68:17 KJV


17      The chariots of God are twenty thousand, even thousands of angels: the Lord is among them, as in Sinai, in the holy place.


Deuteronomy 33:2 NIV


2    He said: "The Lord came from Sinai and dawned over them from Seir; he shone forth from Mount Paran. He came with myriads of holy ones from the south, from his mountain slopes. 


Daniel 7:10 NKJV


10    A fiery stream issued And came forth from before Him (Ancient of Days – vs. 9). A thousand thousands ministered to Him; Ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him. The court was seated, And the books were opened.


We don’t know how many angels there are.  Their number seems to approach infinite.  When the apostle John was taken to heaven, their number beggared his imagination.  We read a description of his in Revelation 5.


Revelation 5:11 NKJV


11    Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne, the living creatures, and the elders; and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands,


Ten thousand time ten thousand equals 100 million.  That’s a fairly specific amount.  But it is not that specific in the Greek language.  The Greek phrase used here is, muriades muriadoon.  The root word in Greek is, Murias (moo REE as).  This word does not translate to ten thousand.  “Murias” was the largest number that the Greek language could express.  It is the root of our English word, Myriad.  So, we are really talking about an incalculable number of angels


For this reason, the NASU renders the Revelation 5:11 as:


11    Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne and the living creatures and the elders; and the number of them was myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands,


The Greek word, MURIAS, is used eight times in the New Testament.  Notice how it is translated in Hebrews 12:22.


Hebrews 12:22 NKJV


22    But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels,


                The same Greek word is translated “innumerable” here.


The bottom line to our initial question is that we do not know how many angels there are.  There are countless citizens of God’s heaven.  And these millions and possibly billions surround the throne of God.  That throne room must be huge.


The Bible does relate how unfallen angels do provide a number of important functions.  They worship and serve God, they execute God's judgment on the wicked, and they war with fallen angels, called demons.


Angels also have a definite functions to carry out with regard to believers.  Hebrews 1:14 speaks of angels as "ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation."


And Psalm 91:11 promises,


        “For He will command His angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.”


Actually, the Bible presents to us several ways that angels minister to believers.  Let's look at some of them.


A    They bring provisions to people - (Elijah when fleeing from Jezebel)


The Lord has used, and continues to use, his angels to physically provide for His own.  It was an angel who brought Elijah bread and water while fleeing from Jezebel after his victory on Mt. Carmel  [1 Kings 19:5-6].


Here is a true story that has been around for some time.  In 1944, the penniless wife of a pastor and evangelist in Switzerland, Susie Ware prayed, “God, I need five pounds of potatoes, two pounds of pastry flour, apples, pears, a cauliflower, carrots, veal cutlets for Saturday, and beef for Sunday.”


A few hours later, someone knocked on the door, and there was a young man with a basket, who said, “Mrs. Ware, I am bringing what you asked for.”  It was precisely what she’d prayed for – down to the exact brand of pastry flour she wanted.  Pastor and Mrs. Ware watched as the young man slipped away, but he never exited the room – he just disappeared.


B.   Guidance - (Joseph to take Mary and Jesus Egypt)


Sometimes, angels give guidance so God’s people will know what He wants us to do .  For instance, an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream, instructing him to take Mary as his wife and to name her baby Jesus (Matthew 1:20-21).  And it was an angel who told Philip where to go in his travels so that he could meet the Ethiopian Eunuch and lead him to Christ (Acts 8:26).


C.   Encouragement - (Paul on board ship during a storm)


Angelic ministry to us can include powerful encouragement.  When Paul and his shipmates were caught in a horrible storm and faced shipwreck, and angel appeared to him, assured him that not a life would be lost, and that he would live to stand trial before Caesar (Acts 27:23).


D.   Protection - (Daniel in the lion's den)


This world is a dangerous place at times, and God’s angels can provide supernatural protection.  Daniel 6 tells the story of how an angel shut the mouths of the lions when he was thrown into their den.


A young lady named Myra worked in the inner-city ministry of Teen Challenge in Philadelphia.  One neighborhood gang liked to terrorize anyone who tried to enter the Teen Challenge building, and they harassed Myra as well.  One night, when she was alone in the building with the gang banging on the door, she felt she should continue to try to reach out to them with the gospel of Jesus.  As she opened the door, she breathed a prayer for protection.


The boys suddenly stopped their shouting, looked at each other, turned and left quietly.  Myra had no idea why.  Later on, as the staff people were able to build relationships with the gang members, the ministry director asked them why they dropped their threats against Myra, leaving her alone that night.


One young man spoke up, saying, “We wouldn’t dare touch her after her boyfriend showed up.  That dude had to be 7 feet tall.”  The director said, “I didn’t know Myra had a boyfriend.”  “But”, the director said, “I know Myra was alone that particular night.”  Another gang member insisted, “No, we saw him.  And he was right behind her, big as life in his classy white suit.”


E.    Rescue - (3 Hebrew men)


Sometimes, angels rescue people in danger.  It was an angel – probably it was The angel of the Lord – which is none other than Jesus Himself, who joined Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace, rescuing them from the flames (Daniel 3).


The ministry of angels captures the imagination in a special way.  The prophet Elisha prayed that the Lord would open the eyes of his servant, so he could see the mighty angelic army of God protecting them.


These are awesome and important functions of angels.  But there is possibly one more function of angels that may be often overlooked.  That has to do with the ministry of angels at the time of death of a believer.  The question has been raised as to what part angels play in the death of a believer.


Do angels carry a believer to Heaven after they die?


The idea of this function of angels is expressed as part of the old spiritual, "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot."


        Swing low, sweet chariot,

        Comin' for to carry me home!


        I looked over Jordan and what did I see,

        Comin' for to carry me home!

        A band of angels comin' after me,

        Comin' for to carry me home!


Where does this idea come from?  Is it just wishful thinking, or does the Bible really say anything about it?


Luke 16:19-31 speaks of the account Jesus told of the death of a rich man and a poor beggar named Lazarus.


There was this poor beggar named Lazarus whose body, we are told, is covered with sores.  The neighborhood dogs would gather to lick these sores.  One day, this beggar dies - read how it is told in Luke 16.


Luke 16:22 NIV


22    The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried.


What an experience this must have been for poor Lazarus.  One moment he was collapsed at the gate of a very rich man, a dying beggar, and the next moment he was being carried by angels to paradise.  In this life his companions were dogs licking his sores.  But in death, mighty angels came, swept him into their embrace, and carried him into paradise with Abraham.


Are there other examples of angels transporting people from earth to heaven (paradise)?  I think we may have a hint that this actually may have happened to Christ.  Most of you are familiar with the account of Christ's final few moments with his disciples.  In Acts 1, we find them on the Mount of Olives.


Acts 1:9-10 NIV


9      After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.

10    They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them.


I don't think there is any disagreement that these two men dressed in white are angels.  But, you may ask, the account doesn't say anything about them carrying Jesus to heaven.  That is correct, but were there other angels present?


Luke, the writer of the book of Acts, also mentions this event in his Gospel account.  The ending of the Gospel of Luke overlaps with the beginning of the book of Acts.  In the last chapter of the Gospel of Luke - chapter 24, it speaks of Christ blessing His disciples.  But notice the last half of verse 51.


Luke 24:51 NKJV


51    Now it came to pass, while He blessed them, that He was parted from them and carried up into heaven.


Jesus is said to have been carried to heaven.  Most translations use the words "carried to heaven."  A few, including the NIV and NLT reads: Taken up to Heaven."  Mark, in his Gospel also says Christ was "taken up to heaven."


Now, I understand that angels are not mentioned as taking Christ up to heaven.  But doesn't that make the most sense?  They were involved in other aspects of this event.  We also know that angels will have a part in the return of Christ, and in Acts 1:11, the two angels we are told about, make the statement: This same Jesus that was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner.


Why would we need angels to carry us to heaven when we die?  I like what David Jeremiah says in his book, What the Bible says About Angels.  David Jeremiah is a popular Bible teacher on the Turning Point radio program.  Here is what he writes in his book.


"One reason may be related to the fact that Satan is described as 'the ruler of the kingdom of the air' (Ephesians 2:2).  Perhaps we must cross this 'kingdom of the air' in going from earth to heaven.  Our temporary home here and our permanent home there may be separated by an immense stretch of enemy territory.  It's a trip angels must take often, so it will be a great comfort to have them at our side as we traverse it ourselves."


In his book Angels: God's Secret Agents," Billy Graham echoes this same idea:


"Death is robbed of much of its terror for the true believer, but we still need God's protection as we take that last journey.  At the moment of death the spirit departs from the body and moves through the atmosphere.  But the Scripture teaches us that the devil lurks there.  He is 'the prince of the power of the air."  If the eyes of our understanding were opened, we would probably see the air filled with demons, the enemies of Christ."


It would be just like Satan to try to hijack us on our way to heaven.  He will never win, but that doesn't mean he will not try.  If some of Satan's demons could impair for three weeks a holy angels from God send to Daniel, then it is not past his trying to do the same when we cross his territory.


Guardian angels






It may surprise you that the Bible does not give a definitive answer on this subject.  We do know, however, that our Lord said, in Matthew 18:10,


 “See that you do not look down on one of these little ones.  For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.”


And Psalm 91:11 promises,


        “For He will command His angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.”


I have relayed to you only a few of the thousands of stories that are documented about angels who protected and rescued people, both Christians and non-Christians.  But a nagging question continues to arise:  Where are the angels when ladies are raped, and drunk drivers crash headlong into a car of teenagers, and evil people blow up buildings with hundreds of innocent people in them?


The angels are still there, continuing to minister in pain and death.  We usually don’t realize the role of angels in the midst of horrible circumstances, because their work is usually unseen and often unfelt.


Behind the question of “Where are the angels?” is the very difficult problem of why a good God would allow pain and suffering.  While that is a subject that can and should be addressed – and I believe the Bible does, it is not the prime topic for today.


However, let me make a couple of points here.  The book of Job gives us two important insights into the problem of pain and suffering.


First, when disasters and suffering assail us in the physical realm, there may be something bigger and more important going on in the unseen spiritual realm.


Second, God never gives Job an answer to his demand to know the “Why?”.  He just says, “I am the sovereign Lord, acting in ways you cannot understand.  You just need to trust Me, that I know what I’m doing.”


The fact that God is in control – that he allows difficulties to come into our lives for a purpose, is something we need to keep in mind when it seems like the angels have forsaken us.  They haven’t because God hasn’t.