For this week’s blog, I chose a topic near to my heart. As a Catholic, growing up involved a great deal of theology, learning doctrine, dogma, and traditions and being steeped in a specific culture. One of my favourite aspects of that culture was learning about the winged, divine beings that were said to live in heaven, sometimes making special trips to Earth to guide humanity as it fell victim to evil’s pressures.
In Revelation, the word angel (or its plural form) is stated seventy-six times. With only twenty-two chapters in the entire book, the average amount of times “angel” appears in each chapter ranks at 3. So what are these creatures? What is their purpose? Do angels of a ranking system? Who are any of the angels mentioned in Revelation? I searched for these answers.
My first thought was to define an angel and state the creature’s purpose. I found that Christianity, Islam, and Judaism all recognize angels as spiritual beings (Chabad.org), created from light (About.com) and considered intelligent, obedient ministers of God’s will (Catholic Online). The imagery of wings and appearing in the form of a man seems to be anthropological traits given by authors to help humankind understand angels. The word ‘angel’ comes from the Greek word ‘angelos’, meaning messenger; this also translates similarly in Hebrew, as the word for angel is ‘malak’ or messenger (Catholic Online). So these divine beings are extensions of God’s will. Throughout Revelation, God has them perform various tasks from blowing trumpets to breaking seals to guiding the speaker around in the vision to visit various scenes such as the beast rising from the sea (Rev 13:1) or the woman giving birth (Rev 12:1-6).
So amongst beings of light, I knew there to be a hierarchy according to orthodox or traditional beliefs of nine orders of angels which are further divided into three ranks. Most people have heard of cherubs, archangels, and maybe seraphs, but other ranks of celestial being exist. The highest are closest to the Holy Trinity (God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit) and reside in the throne room of heaven; this hierarchy is comprised of the seraphim, cherubim, and the thrones. The second hierarchy is comprised of the dominions, virtues, and powers. The final and lowest hierarchy of angels are the principalities, archangels, and angels. All of the celestial orders are lumped together under the term ‘angel’ by most people (The Holy Angels). Each have their own specific tasks to do, from being the mediator between God and humanity to doling out justice or from maintaining the physical universe to teaching and guiding humanity (Angelology). In Revelation, it is obvious that certain types of angels are delegated to different tasks.
In fact, some of the angels mentioned have specific phrases which could lead to the possible identification of exactly which of the angels is being mentioned. Only one angel is mentioned by name, Michael. Michael, or the one who is like God, is considered the most powerful of all angels, the general of the heavenly army, and is to be the conqueror of Satan (Angels 101). In fact, Michael battled Lucifer during the war in heaven when he and other angels rebelled against God. In Revelation, Michael and his army will defeat Lucifer again during the end times (Angels About). In chapter 20 of Revelation, it is implied that the angel who binds Satan for a thousand years and casts him into the pit will be Michael.
Other angels to be noticed and whom I wanted to identify included: the angel sent to John to tell him to write Revelation, the seven angels of the churches in chapters 2 and 3, the seven angels of the trumpet, the four angels at the corners of the earth, the angel with the incense, and the angel who made John eat a scroll in chapter 10. My Catholic background gave me a head start on learning the identities of these angels. The traditional announcer of God is Gabriel, so it could be a possibility that the angel sent to John at the beginning of Revelation is Gabriel. The seven angels of the churches could be literal angels, but could also be symbolic of the church leaders that guided the Christians in that area (Bible Hub). The seven angels of the trumpets are seven angels “who stand before God” (Rev 8:2); these are seven throne room archangels. Their names are Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, Uriel, Chamuel, Jophiel, and Raguel (Angelfocus). The four angels at the four corners of the earth are included within the throne room archangels, and are traditionally considered to be the best-known of the archangels, which are Michael, Raphael, Gabriel and Uriel (The Hebrew Cornerstone). The angel with the incense, though not named in modern translations, is said to be Raguel according to early manuscripts of Revelation that scholars have discovered (Angels About). The final angel I chose to identify was that from chapter 10. Most of the sources I found stated that this angel’s identity is actually Jesus because of the “angel’s” authority and his coming “robed in a cloud” like Jesus’ coming in Revelation 1:7 (Lamb & Lion, Bible Gateway, Ray Stedman.org, Bible Info). From context clues throughout Revelation and connections with traditional religious culture, many of the angels mentioned in the book can be identified by name.
So overall, I answered my questions. Angels are divine beings of light, extensions of God’s will, and have many purposes that serve both God and humanity, fighting evil, and spreading the light of what is good. Each angel may be ranked according to a hierarchy system, further delegating what purpose they serve. Finally, the angels of Revelation can be identified both in name and in rank. Angels, a topic deeply steeped in cultural tradition for me, are more complicated than most people would have thought.