Angels Who They Are, What They Do, and Why It Matters

“Aren’t angels kind of a—fringe topic?”

I was asking the question of my publisher’s marketing team, who had come to Dallas for a brainstorming session regarding the subject of the next book I was to write. In all my years of bookmaking, this marked the first time a publisher was asking me to cover a specific topic instead of the other way around. Usually I spend weeks or months crafting sermon material born out of a particular book of the Bible or a concept I sense our congregation needs to master, and then, upon delivering those sermons, I look to that well-thought-out, well-researched material to form the backbone of an upcoming book. But not so this time around. My publisher was asking for a book about angels, and I had neither preached a series on angels nor done any real research on angels—ever, in my forty-plus years of ministry. This would be an easy no, I figured, even as they kept adding layer upon layer of rationale.

Several weeks later, while in Florida for a few days, I met good friends of mine Bobbie and Robert Wolgemuth for breakfast. They’d called Orlando home for a number of years and knew of my affinity for golf, and so we met at Bay Hill, Arnold Palmer’s famed lakeside course. The view and the grounds were stunning, but the most significant gain of the morning had nothing to do with scenery. That midmorning conversation over eggs and toast would single-handedly redirect the next twenty-four months of my life.

I’ve known Robert for more than thirty years, and because of his expertise as a literary agent, a few years ago he began counseling me regarding my publishing decisions. This was to be a social meeting, but because that marketing meeting was still on my mind, I raised the issue with Robert and explained that while I understood all the reasons the publisher was vying for a book on angels, I should probably take a pass on the idea.

“Right?” I asked him, trolling for a little reassurance.

Before Robert could respond, his wife, Bobbie, nearly jumped out of her seat. “Oh, but Jack, think of it! Angels! Ones who glorify Jesus perfectly . . . continually . . . without reservation! There is so much we can learn from them, don’t you think?”

I knew that her enthusiasm was not contrived. Bobbie had been battling cancer for some time, and she explained to me that throughout her painful, stressful, debilitating journey of late, angels had been not only interesting to her, but absolutely indispensable to keeping her hope alive. She needed supernatural support, for her natural world was falling apart. She made a series of earnest pleas, to which I had no worthwhile response. I came to the realization during that conversation that angelic intervention in the lives of humankind was an important topic not only for the dying but for the living as well. I phoned my publisher with the good news.

More Questions Than Answers

Even after giving my yes to the publishing team, I harbored serious concerns about crafting an entire book on a subject about which there is precious little information in Scripture. I’d just wrapped up a book—Unseen—in which I devoted a chapter to the exposition of angelic beings, and I felt like I’d said all there was to say. And yet Bobbie’s encouragement kept pushing me forward—despite all the unanswerable questions that remain, what can we learn from the heavenly host?

I pulled out my yellow legal pad and began to meticulously revisit the several hundred references to angels noted throughout Scripture, paying careful attention not only to the descriptions offered about them (the Bible clearly tells us angels were created, don’t reproduce, don’t die, are sometimes named, some have wings, can disguise themselves, exist outside of time and space, remain in the presence of the heavenly Father, and never hesitate to accomplish the mission God has asked them to complete) but also to the demonstrations of aid attributed to them. In various accounts, angels offer encouragement to people just like you and me. They offer direction. Counsel. Confirmation of God’s will. Insight. Strength. Protection. Wisdom. Companionship. As my pen scribbled down verses and takeaways, I realized I’d been short-selling the real-life impact angels have.

Road Signs Pointing Toward Christ

It’s worth noting that the encouragement and support available to us courtesy of the heavenly host is far different from the well wishes we receive from our human counterparts. Think of it this way: Just as a road sign is useful in that it points us toward our desired destination, angels’ input into our lives is useful because it reliably points our feet toward Christ. In all my research, not once did I find scriptural substantiation for angels drawing attention to themselves, acting on their own impulses, or seeking their own glory. Far from it. At every turn, angels respond to the will of God and faithfully point humankind toward Christ. Their counsel carries great weight. Their direction can be trusted. Their protection has our best interests at heart. Angels aren’t just fascinating; it turns out they are utterly functional to the administration of God’s will. And so, while you think you are holding a book about angels, in fact, the focus of our attention across these chapters is on the person of Jesus Christ, the sole conduit of God’s redemption in the created world, the One through whom ultimate peace will arrive.

Angelic presence and protection marked every critical moment in Jesus’ life—it was an angel who declared the name of the Christ child (Luke 1:31); it was an angel who announced the baby’s birth to the shepherds (Luke 2:11); it was an angel who told Joseph to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt in order to survive King Herod’s murderous decree (Matthew 2:13); it was angels who ministered to Jesus after his three-part temptation (Matthew 4:11); it was an angel who kept him company as he sweat drops of blood in the garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:43); it was angels who restrained their great power even as Jesus suffered and died on the cross (Matthew 26:53); it was an angel who informed the women who came to Jesus’ tomb that the Messiah had risen from the dead (Matthew 28:5); it was angels who received Jesus as he ascended back to the Father (Acts 1:10); it will be an angel leading the heavenly trumpet band during the second coming of Christ (Revelation 8); and it will be angels who will someday oversee the final judgment of the quick and of the dead (Matthew 13:39–42).

But perhaps what is most timely to our discussion here is that the same angelic presence and protection that enveloped Jesus Christ at all points along his earthly journey remains in service to those who love God here and now. This same supernatural support is at hand. It is for those who dwell in the shelter of the Most High, Psalm 91 promises, that God commands his angels concerning them, to guide them in all their ways.

This is hardly a fringe topic, I’ve come to see. Couldn’t we all use a little divine guidance throughout our days? Christ is the One who can provide it, and the role of angels is to remind us of that truth. And so, this book. Chapter by chapter, I’ve laid out fifteen key aspects of Christ’s sufficiency made manifest by angelic dealings in the biblical account. Each chapter holds up to the light a different character trait—Christ’s forgiveness, for example, or his perspective, or his strength—and asks you, the reader, to consider what the ancient encounter has to say to us today.

It is a whisper-thin veil that separates the natural from the supernatural, meaning divine activity is all around us. The issue at hand is whether we will have eyes to see it and hearts eager to receive the assistance that God through his mystical messengers longs to provide.

My friend Bobbie went home to be with the Lord during the final writing stage of this book, but her impact on my life—and of course on this project—lives on.