Angels are perhaps the most well-known mythological beings found in Christian, Islamic and Jewish tradition.
The primary role of angels were that of messengers of God, whether the message was a blessing or a punishment.
This raises the question: what powers and abilities do angels possess that allow them to complete their mission?
Angels have extensive powers and abilities, the most important of which is to deliver God’s messages, or inflicting divine punishments upon humanity. Other notable powers include changing shape into humans, the control of winds, flight, dream control and more.
16 Angel powers and abilities
Ability to change shape and take human form
In several Bible passages, it is revealed that Angels have the ability to change their shape and take on human form.
One example is in Hebrews 13:2, where one is instructed to show hospitality to strangers, for they may be angels:
Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.
Another possible example is Genesis 18-19, where three seemingly angelic figures visit Abraham and Lot in the form of men.
The Lord appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day. Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground.
Divine understanding of good and evil
In the Old Testament, angels are described as having the power to discern good and evil, the wisdom that knows everything and the certainty of choosing right. They undoubtedly draw this power from their connection to God, who is the ultimate judge of morality.
Perhaps the best example of this can be found in the Gospel of Matthew (13:49-50).
There, Jesus tells a parable in which angels will separate the wicked from the righteous at the end of the age:
“So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Powers of flight
In some Biblical passages such as Isaiah 6:2 and Ezekiel 1:5-9, angels are depicted as possessing wings and using them for flight.
Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew.
And from the midst of it came the likeness of four living creatures. And this was their appearance: they had a human likeness, but each had four faces, and each of them had four wings. Their legs were straight, and the soles of their feet were like the sole of a calf’s foot. And they sparkled like burnished bronze. Under their wings on their four sides they had human hands. And the four had their faces and their wings thus: their wings touched one another.
Judging from some Bible passages, angels appear capable of moving instantaneously from one place to another. This is seen in the Bible in Acts 8:39, where the angel who was speaking to Philip suddenly disappears.
When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing.
Power to protect mankind from evil
Angels commonly take on the role of guardians or protectors. This is seen in the Bible in Matthew 18:10, where Jesus speaks of “guardian angels”.
See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.
Another example of angels protecting mankind can be found in Psalm 91:11, where God commands his angels to guard the faithful in all their ways.
For He will command His angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.
Powers of divine punishment
Angels are often described as carrying out God’s judgments. This is seen in the Bible in Revelation 16, where angels pour out bowls of God’s wrath upon the earth.
Then I heard a loud voice from the temple saying to the seven angels, “Go, pour out the seven bowls of God’s wrath on the earth.”
The first angel went and poured out his bowl on the land, and ugly, festering sores broke out on the people who had the mark of the beast and worshiped its image.
The second angel poured out his bowl on the sea, and it turned into blood like that of a dead person, and every living thing in the sea died.
The third angel poured out his bowl on the rivers and springs of water, and they became blood. […]
The fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and the sun was allowed to scorch people with fire. 9 They were seared by the intense heat and they cursed the name of God, who had control over these plagues, but they refused to repent and glorify him.
The fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and its kingdom was plunged into darkness. People gnawed their tongues in agony and cursed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, but they refused to repent of what they had done.
The sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up to prepare the way for the kings from the East. […]
The seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air, and out of the temple came a loud voice from the throne, saying, “It is done!” Then there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder and a severe earthquake. No earthquake like it has ever occurred since mankind has been on earth, so tremendous was the quake. The great city split into three parts, and the cities of the nations collapsed.
In another situation, an angel sent by God nearly destroys the city of Jerusalem, but is stopped at the last moment:
When the angel stretched out his hand to destroy Jerusalem, the Lord relented concerning the disaster and said to the angel who was afflicting the people, “Enough! Withdraw your hand.” The angel of the Lord was then at the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.
When David saw the angel who was striking down the people, he said to the Lord, “I have sinned; I, the shepherd, have done wrong. These are but sheep. What have they done? Let your hand fall on me and my family.”
Record Keeping & measuring souls
In Islamic tradition, angels are described as keeping records of human actions. This is seen in the Quran in Surah Infithar (82:10-12), where angels recording deeds are mentioned.
And indeed, [appointed] over you are keepers,
Noble and recording;
They know whatever you do.
While not mentioned in the Bible, early Christian art depicted Archangel Michael as a judge of souls, weighing them during the Last Judgement.
Angels are commonly believed to have the power to heal.
In the Jewish Book of Tobit, the angel Raphael heals Tobit of his blindness (Tobit 11:7-13) and also rids Sarah of a demon that had been plaguing her (Tobit 8:1-3).
Raphael said to Tobias, before he had approached his father, “I know that his eyes will be opened.
Smear the gall of the fish on his eyes; the medicine will make the white films shrink and peel off from his eyes, and your father will regain his sight and see the light.”
Tobias went up to him, with the gall of the fish in his hand, and holding him firmly, he blew into his eyes, saying, “Take courage, father.” With this he applied the medicine on his eyes, and it made them smart.
Next, with both his hands he peeled off the white films from the corners of his eyes. Then Tobit saw his son and threw his arms around him, and he wept and said to him, “I see you, my son, the light of my eyes!”
In Islam, the Prophet Muhammad was visited by the angel Gabriel and another angel when he was a young boy. The angels opened his chest, took out his heart, and removed a black spot from it, symbolizing a spiritual cleansing or healing.
Anas Malik reported that [the Archangel] Gabriel came to the Messenger of Allah while he was playing with his playmates. He took hold of him and lay him prostrate on the ground and tore open his breast and took out the heart from it and then extracted a blood-clot out of it and said:
That was the part of Satan in thee. And then he washed it with the water of Zamzam in a golden basin and then it was joined together and restored to it place. The boys came running to his mother, i. e. his nurse, and said: Verily Muhammad has been murdered. They all rushed toward him (and found him all right) His color was changed, Anas said. I myself saw the marks of needle on his breast.
As divine beings, angels are not subject to death in the same way as humans or other creatures since they do not possess physical bodies that can die or decay.
Similarly, the long life or immortality of angels can be deduced from the Bible, since the Archangel Michael is present from the beginning of Creation all the way to the Apocalypse and beyond.
Control Over Winds
Angels have control over the winds since in the Bible in Revelation 7:1, four angels are said to hold back the four winds of the earth.
And after these things I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that the wind should not blow on the earth, nor on the sea, nor on any tree.
Ability to deliver God’s messages
Angels primarily function as messengers of God, delivering divine revelations (or punishments) to humans.
This is seen in both the Bible and the Quran, where the archangel Gabriel in particular plays a prominent role. Some examples include:
Angel Gabriel and the Annunciation: In the Christian tradition, the Angel Gabriel visits Mary to announce that she will conceive and give birth to Jesus. This event, known as the Annunciation, is described in the Gospel of Luke (1:26-38).
[…] God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” […]
But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”
Archangel Gabriel and the Revelation of the Quran to Prophet Muhammad: In the Islamic tradition, the Angel Gabriel is believed to have revealed the Quran to the Prophet Muhammad over a period of 23 years. This began with the first revelation, which is described in the Quran in Surah Al-Alaq (96:1-5).
Powers of Spiritual Warfare
Particularly in Christian and Muslim texts, angels are described as the forces of good fighting against evil in all its forms.
In the Book of Revelation 12:7-9, Archangel Michael leads a host of angels in a war against the dragon (identified as Satan or the devil) and his angels. Michael and his angels prevail, and Satan and his angels are thrown down to the earth.
Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.
In Islamic tradition, angels are said to have fought alongside the Muslims in the Battle of Badr. This is mentioned in the Quran in Surah Al-Anfal (8:9-12), where it is said that God sent down angels to reinforce the believers in battle.
˹Remember, O Prophet,˺ when your Lord revealed to the angels, “I am with you. So make the believers stand firm. I will cast horror into the hearts of the disbelievers. So strike their necks and strike their fingertips.”
It is for this reason that many medieval rulers and military leaders asked God and his angels to be on their side during combat. After all, it never hurts to have God’s favor in battle.
Perhaps more importantly however, for the ordinary soldier the thought that angels were on their side reinforced the idea that their cause was good and just.
Carrying Souls After Death
In the Christian New Testament, Luke 16:22 describes an angel or angels carrying the beggar Lazarus to “Abraham’s side” (a term for paradise) after his death.
The time came when the beggar [Lazarus] died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried.
Also in Christian tradition, the Archangel Michael is often seen as a psychopomp, a guide for the souls of the dead. This role is not explicitly stated in the Bible but is part of Christian folklore and tradition, especially in Catholicism.
In Islam, angels are described as carrying the souls of the deceased. A passage in the Quran from Surah Anfal (8:50), describes how angels are said to take the souls of those who die in disbelief.
And if you could only see when the angels took away the souls of the unbelievers, striking them on their faces and backs, saying: ‘Taste the torment of burning!’
Power to Inspire Fear or Awe
Because of their divine nature and power angels inspire fear or awe in humans who see them.
In Luke 2:9 the shepherds are terrified when an angel appears to announce the birth of Jesus.
An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.
Ability to Influence Dreams
Particularly in Christianity, angels possess the ability to influence or appear in dreams, usually as a way to deliver God’s messages.
In the Christian New Testament, an angel appears to Joseph in a dream to tell him that Mary’s child was conceived by the Holy Spirit and that he should not be afraid to take Mary as his wife (Matthew 1:20).
But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him [Joseph] in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.
Later, an angel appears in Joseph’s dreams to warn him of danger and instruct him to flee to Egypt (Matthew 2:13), and then again to tell him when it’s safe to return (Matthew 2:19-20).
Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.
After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt 20 and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.”
Ability to guide mankind
Angels often act as guides to humans, protecting from being led astray by evil or temptations, or simply helping them find the right path when humans do not know where to go.
In the Old Testament and Hebrew beliefs, God sends an angel to guide Moses and the Israelites out of Egypt and towards the Promised Land.
Behold, I send an Angel before you to keep you in the way and to bring you into the place which I have prepared. Beware of Him and obey His voice; do not provoke Him, for He will not pardon your transgressions; for My name is in Him.
Similarly in Islam, the Archangel Gabriel acts as a guide to the Prophet Muhammad during the Isra and Mi’raj, the night journey and ascension to the heavens.
Gabriel takes Muhammad from Mecca to Jerusalem and then through the seven heavens, where he meets various prophets and has the five daily prayers established.
- Man, Myth & Magic by Richard Cavendish, Cottie Arthur Burland, Brian Innes
- Dictionary of deities and demons in the Bible Edited by: Karel van der Toorn, Bob Becking and Pieter W. van der Horst
- A Dictionary Of Angels by Gustav Davidson
- Angels by Nancy Grubb
- What the Bible says about angels and demons by Victor Knowles
- Entities : angels, spirits, demons by Joe Nickell
- The encyclopedia of demons and demonology by Rosemary Guiley
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