One of the key verses about what angels are and do is Hebrews 1:14. It says that all angels are “ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation.” Before looking at this statement though, I want to observe that it is just one sentence about what angels ARE mentioned in passing after thirteen verses about what they are NOT: they are not what Jesus is.
And what is Jesus? Some people believe Jesus is a good man. Or a great teacher. Or even a real prophet. And a few would go further and say Jesus is not a mere human, that He is an angel.
But even that is not the full truth about Jesus.
So the author of this chapter quotes from at least seven different Old Testament passages to prove his point that Jesus is More Than an Angel. (And if He’s more than an Angel, He’s also more than your parents or your bank account or a good teacher or anything else you could trust in, so proving this point proves a bunch of others!). He argues that Jesus is not even the Biggest, Best Angel of All–Jesus is actually God.
The seven Old Testament passages quoted and applied to Jesus are all about things Jesus gets to do that angels don’t. Jesus gets to be king, with all the signs of kingship: a throne, a scepter, anointing with oil (verse 8). He is called over and over again “The Son” (verses 2, 5, 6, 8). Twice, the writer makes the point that Jesus finished His mission and was invited to sit down next to God Himself (verses 3, 13). In contrast, it’s interesting that when the angel Gabriel had to tell a skeptical man why his message should be believed, he said, “I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news” (Luke 1:19) The angel Gabriel stands and he was sent. The picture is of angels like the servants, soldiers, messengers, and attendants in the throne room, standing at attention and ready to be sent on missions and deliver messages, while Jesus gets to sit on the throne beside His Father and be the King who sends them.
In fact, God actually told all His angels to worship His Son (Hebrews 1:6). The Son is said to be the eternal Creator of both the heavenly and earthly realms (verse 10). Jesus is not an angel, He is the Angel Maker!
So here the crucial boundary lines are drawn:
Jesus is the worshipped. Angels are the worshippers.
Jesus is the Creator. Angels are the created.
Like us, they are created worshippers. As different as they may seem from you and me, we have the identity of created worshippers in common (though currently, the angels are sure a lot better at it than we are!)
And after making this thorough case for why we should worship Jesus as God, not just admire Him as an extra special angel, the writer thinks to address, “By the way, what ARE angels anyway?” and throws it in as a rhetorical question,
“Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?” (verse 14).
Now, the point of all this is not that angels are irrelevant or totally insignificant, because that would detract from the point about Jesus. Angels are as impressive as wind and fire (verse 7) and Jesus is so awesome that all the angels worship Him!
And the statement about angels, while brief, is packed with profound truth:
They are spirits.
They are servants of God.
They are sent out to serve.
And here’s the really amazing part: they are sent out to serve human beings God is going to save.
And that is mind-blowing because the first holy angelic being mentioned in the Bible was not so friendly to humans. It says that after Adam and Eve disobeyed God and were “banished” and “driven out” from their home in the garden of Eden, God “placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life” (Genesis 3:24). The first angel-on-assignment we read about had a flaming sword and was there to keep us out, to stop us from going back to what we had lost. It was enforcing our punishment and our banishment. And throughout the Old Testament, there are stories where holy angels are sent to kill human beings who oppose God’s plans (Numbers 22:32-33; 2 Kings 19:35; 2 Samuel 24:16). That’s a thing.
So what changed? Why are the angels now said to be sent to serve us, not to kill us or keep us out?
That would be Jesus. I mentioned that the passage said Jesus finished His mission and got to sit down next to God. What was Jesus’ mission? “He provided purification for sins” (Hebrews 1:3). That’s another thing Jesus did that no angel could do: Jesus paid to cleanse us from sin by giving up His own life.
To put it simply, we can’t be friends with angels without being friends with Jesus. Why? Because angels are on the good side of God’s war against evil, and unless Jesus purifies us from the evil we’ve chosen and become, we aren’t. And it is a mind-blowing revelation of God’s grace and mercy that He wants to send His fiery spirit-servants out into His physical creation to take good care of us rather than to eradicate us, to help us rather than to punish us. And it shows just how much Jesus accomplished on the cross that serving us is indeed what the angels are doing, even how they are defined. They serve humans who are going to be saved.
No wonder angels worship God! It must be amazing for an angel who witnessed the Fall of humanity and the exile from Eden that any humans are going to be saved at all. Why should they be asked to serve us? The holy angels are much, much better behaved than we are. But God doesn’t ask us to serve them. He sends them out to help clean us up and get us ready for our inheritance. That’s because God’s kingdom isn’t based on what people deserve but on what He does.
Receiving Jesus changes our position from God’s rebellious enemies to God’s beloved children. And that changes our relationship with God’s servants, too. When you are the King’s rebellious enemy, the King’s servants will stand guard to keep you out of the King’s house at swordpoint or be sent into battle to fight against and kill you. When you are the King’s beloved child, the King’s servants will be your nannies and nursemaids to change your diapers and teach you to behave like the prince or princess that you really are.
Friendly and helpful angel servants are just one of the millions of reasons we have to thank King Jesus for coming to rescue us.