September 29th is historically known as “Michaelmas,” or, the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels, a day of the year set aside as the celebration of the angels in the Church.
Angels are discussed throughout Scripture as winged beings, some with two wings (1 Kings 6:24), some with four wings (Ezekiel 1:6), and some with six wings (Isaiah 6:2). Sometimes, though, they appear in human form (Gen. 19:1-5), so that, as the writer to the Hebrews says, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (Hebr. 13:2).
There are a number of ranks among the angels, each seemingly designated a special purpose. The cherubim are described by Ezekiel (1:5-14, 10:20), and are the same type that adorn the ark of the covenant (1 Sam. 4:4). It would seem, then, that the cherubim are a kind of honor guard to the throne of God.
The seraphim are often described in a glorious light, and would seem to be the messengers who spoke to the shepherds at Jesus’ birth (Luke 2:13-14).
Archangels are the highest order of angel, their name meaning “chief angels.” Michael is the only one explicitly named as an archangel, so it is unclear whether he is the only one or whether there are several others.
Michael is also one of only two angels given names in the Bible, the other being Gabriel. Whereas Michael is usually considered a royal and warrior-type of angel, Gabriel is a messenger and a herald. Michael’s name means “Who is like God?” and Gabriel’s means “Strong man of God.” There is another angel given a name in the Apocrypha, Raphael, whose name means “God heals,” but his existence may by mythical.
The angels may have different specific purposes, but they are unified in one common overarching purpose: service in the kingdom of God. The word “angel” literally means “messenger,” and our word “evangelism” comes from the same word. Angels are therefore those tasked with delivering the messages of God—which we see accomplished in many of their appearances throughout Scripture, such as appearing to Mary and to the shepherds to announce the birth of Jesus, likewise coming to Abraham to tell of the impending destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.
But they are also soldiers in God’s armies. Jesus said he could call down legions of angels to defend him in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:53), and in Revelation 12:7-12 they are pictured as a fighting force that defeats Satan and the evil angels. They are also the protectors of God’s people, as when Daniel was in the lions’ den “God sent his angel and shut the lions’ mouths” (Dan. 6:22).
Ultimately, the angels serve God and, therefore, his followers: “Are [the angels] not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?” (Hebr. 1:14); “Let all God’s angels worship him” (1:6); “For he will command his angels concerning you / to guard you in all your ways” (Ps. 91:11). Therefore, the doctrine of guardian angels is sound.
We can take comfort in the protection of God’s mighty angels, but, even greater, at the command of our conquering Lord these angels have cast Satan out of heaven, signifying that the devil has no power to blot our names from the Book of Life.