Blogging the Institutes | 1.14.7-8 | The Mysterious Rank and Number of Angels

“Blogging the Institutes” is my on-going attempt to paraphrase John Calvin’s work, the Institutes of the Christian Religion. You can find out more about the series in the Introduction. For all the posts in this series, check out the Master List

The Mysterious Rank and Number of Angels

I can’t say whether or not every believer has a particular angel assigned to him or her. When Daniel introduces the angel of Persia and the angel of the Greeks, he undoubtedly demonstrates that certain angels are appointed as a kind of guardian over kingdoms and provinces (Daniel 10:13). Again, when Christ says that the angels of children always see the face of the Father, he insinuates that there are certain angels who are tasked with protecting believers. I hold this view with certainty: each of us is cared for, not by only one “personal” angel, but all the angels watch out for us. For all the angels, collectively, experience “joy…over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:10). It is also said that angels (meaning more than one) carried the soul of Lazarus into Abraham’s bosom (Luke 16:22). Elisha also showed his servant the many chariots of fire which were specially appointed for him (2 Kings 6:15-17).

There is one passage which seems to teach most clearly that each individual has a separate angel. When Peter, after his deliverance from prison, knocked at the door of the house where the other believers were gathered, unable to believe it was him, they said that it was “his angel” (Acts 12:15). It seems that it was a common believe that every believer has a single angel assigned to him. We could also believe that it was an angel the Lord had given to watch over Peter at a particular time without implying it was his perpetual guardian. The idea that two angels – one good, one bad – are assigned to each individual is nonsense. It’s not worthy looking into things which don’t really benefit us. After all, isn’t it enough to know that angels are looking out for us than by trying to nail down whether or not we have a “guardian” angel? Those who limit God’s care of us to only a single angel greatly injure themselves and all the members of the Church. There is great value in knowing the promise of many troops who on every side encircle and defend us. This should cause us fight boldly!

Now, those who dogmatically speak about the ranks and numbers of angels would do well to consider on the foundation they rest. As to their rank, I admit that Michael is described by Daniel as a might Prince and by Jude as an Archangel (Daniel 10:13-21; Jude 1:9). Paul also tells us that an archangel will the trumpet which will summon the world to judgment.  How it is possible from these passages to ascertain different ranks among the angels? How can we assign a place and station to each one?

Even the two names, Michael and Gabriel, mentioned in Scripture (or a third, if you choose to add it from the history of Tobit) seem to indicate by their meaning that they are given to angels to accommodate our finite minds, although I’m not totally sure about this.

As to the number of angels, we learn from Jesus that there are many legions and from Daniel that there are many myriads (Matthew 26:53; Daniel 7:10). Elisha’s servant saw a multitude of chariots. Their large number is stated as fact as they encamp around those who fear the Lord (Psalm 34:7).

Angels have no bodily shape. Yet Scripture, to accommodate to us, describe them in the form of winged cherubim and seraphim. The presence of their wings speaks to their incredible speed coming to our aid when need arises. In sum, in regard to both the ranks and numbers of angels, let’s be content to chalk it up to “theological” mystery, the full revelation of which is deferred to the last day.

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