The meanings of angels, their appearance and purposes vary throughout history and the world. Artists have given us their visions of angels as winged creatures, usually beautiful figures that are glowing, shining, floating, in human form or as a voice. Saints as well as everyday people tell about being visited by or helped by angels.
In the bible, angels have appeared as messengers, guides, and healers. They also make up the celestial court. "And I beheld and I heard the voice of many angels round about the throne, and the number of them was thousands of thousands." - St. John, the Evangelist. Angels are even recorded in the Koran, "You shall see the angels circling around the throne, giving glory to their Lord".
The world's great literature and art tell us about many angel characters - some we're familiar with and some obscure to us now. Yet, the common thread that weaves amongst the legends and the lore is the undeniable influence that angels have had upon nearly every culture and religion known to man.
Hebrew concepts formed the background for Christian beliefs concerning heaven and angels. Some scholars say that the earliest religious representation of an angel was found at Ore, the Sumarian capital of the Hebrews. A winged figure is shown descending from heaven to pour water from an overflowing jar into the cup held by a king. Others suggest the earliest depiction of an angel is found in the annunciation scene at the catacombs of Priscilla in Rome dating from the 2nd century AD. But archaeological remains of the earliest Christian church found in Syria that was built or remodeled in 233 AD shows no pictures of angels. A synagogue found in the same spot however shows robed figures attending Moses. For the early Christian church, the time of the angels had not yet come. It wasn't until the reign of Constantine the Great from 306 to 337 AD that Christian art began to flourish and then we began to see the characteristic appearance of angels.
Exodus 23:20 Behold, I send an Angel before thee, to keep thee in the way, and to bring thee into the place which I have prepared. 21 Beware of him, and obey his voice, provoke him not; for he will not pardon your transgressions: for my name is in him. 22 But if thou shalt indeed obey his voice, and do all that I speak; then I will be an enemy unto thine enemies, and an adversary unto thine adversaries.
Acts 7:35 Through the angel who appeared to him in the burning bush, Moses was sent to be their ruler and savior.
Some people entrust their lives to guardian angels, or believe when they die they will be lead to heaven by the angel of death. There are claimed to be warrior angels who lead us into battle. Some churches and museums are decorated with the images of archangels, seraphim and cherubim. The great religions have tried to define and give them names, while theologians and philosophers have argued their nature and meaning.
For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: 1 Thessalonians 4:16,17 / KJV
Throughout the Scriptures there are warnings about dreams, visions and false prophets. The Apostle Paul wrote, "Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind..." Col 2:18.
Matthew 16:27 For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works.
History of Angels in History, World Cultures and Religions Angels have been thought of as creations of a separate order from human beings and also as the spirits of highly evolved humans. Angel scholar, Geddes McGregor, tells us the English word angel is a transcription of the Greek word "agaylos". In Hebrew, angels are called "mal'ak" meaning messenger. "Mal'ak" originally meant shadow side of God. The Hebrews thought of angels as emanations of Yahweh, part of the same divine spirit. In the Christian church, angels were not believed to be emanations of God, but spirits created by God at the time He created the material world. Muhammad said angels were sent by God to seek out those places where men and women honor the deity. The angels then report back to heaven what they have heard. Angels have been thought of as creations of a separate order from human beings and also as the spirits of highly evolved humans.
Socrates tells us that Eros is a spirit who carries messages back and forth between men and gods. Another angel-like figure from mythology is Hermes, the winged messenger. Nike, or Victory, with her great wings served as a model for later depictions of angels according to art scholar Peter Lamborn Wilson. We also find similar beliefs in supernatural beings in the vision of the Shaman. The Shaman takes a bird form, travels in search of the soul of his patient. Primitive cultures generally thought that illness was caused by loss of soul of some kind. There have always been people employed to go and find the soul, whether it's contemporary psychologists or ancient healers.
In the middle ages, St. Augustine described the nature of an angel by relating it to an angel's purpose. The angels are spirits, but it is not because they are spirits that they are angels. They become angels when they are sent. The name angel refers to their office not to their nature. You ask the name of this nature, it is spirit. You ask its office, it is that of angel. In as far as he exists, an angel is a spirit, and as far as he acts he is an angel - St. Augustine.