Angels are spirit beings, messengers and servants of God. They have a special role in four major events of Jesus’ life, and Jesus referred to them on occasion as he taught about other subjects.
The Gospels are not designed to answer all our questions about angels. They give us only incidental information as angels enter the story.
Angels appear before Jesus does. Gabriel appeared to Zechariah to announce that he would have a son, John the Baptist (Luke 1:11-19). Gabriel also told Mary that she would have a son, Jesus (vv. 26-38). Joseph was told about it by an angel in a dream (Matthew 1:20-24).
An angel announced the birth of Jesus to shepherds, and a host of angels sang praises (Luke 2:9-15). An angel again appeared to Joseph in a dream to tell him to flee to Egypt, and when it was safe to return (Matthew 2:13, 19).
Angels are mentioned again in Jesus’ temptation. Satan quoted a verse about angelic protection, and angels ministered to Jesus after the temptation (Matthew 4:6, 11). An angel helped Jesus in Gethsemane during a later temptation (Luke 22:43).
Angels had an important role in the resurrection, too, as mentioned in all four Gospels. An angel rolled back the stone and told the women that Jesus was risen (Matthew 28:2-5). The women saw one or two angels inside the tomb (Mark 16:5; Luke 24:4, 23; John 20:11). Divine messengers showed the importance of the resurrection.
Jesus could have had legions of angels, but he did not ask for them (Matthew 26:53). He will have them when he returns. Angels will be involved in the judgment (Luke 12:8-9). Perhaps this is when people will see angels “ascending and descending upon the Son of Man” (John 1:51).
Jesus said that “little ones who believe in me” have angels in heaven who care for them (Matthew 18:6, 10). Angels rejoice when people turn to God, and they bring the righteous to paradise (Luke 15:10; 16:22).
Jesus also said that the devil has “his angels” (Matt. 25:41). These are more commonly called demons, or evil or unclean spirits. The chief demon is Satan (which means “the adversary”), also called the devil (one who leads others astray), Beelzebul (lord of the house), the evil one, the enemy, the tempter, or the prince of this world.
More than any other section of Scripture, the Gospels often mention demons — but as with angels, the Gospels do not answer all our questions — they simply give us incidental information about demons as they touch on the story of Jesus. In almost all cases, the stress is that Jesus already has absolute power over all evil spirits.
Demons caused a wide variety of problems for people: illness, muteness, blindness, screaming, partial paralysis, unusual strength, convulsions, wounds and insanity. Some people were completely possessed by multiple demons; others were only partially influenced.
Jewish and pagan exorcists had elaborate rituals and words (Matt. 12:27; Mark 9:38), but Jesus simply told the demons to leave, and they did. He used his own authority over them. He gave that authority to his disciples (Matt. 10:1; Luke 10:17), but they were not always successful (Mark 9:18).
Satan is the chief enemy of the gospel (Matt. 13:19), but he cannot stop it. Jesus defeated him in several ways. Jesus resisted his temptations (Matt. 4:1-11), liberated his captives (Luke 13:16) and thwarted his desire through prayer (Luke 22:31-32).
In a parable, Jesus described himself as tying up Satan and taking his possessions (Matt. 12:29). He spoke of seeing Satan fall (Luke 10:18). Through his death on the cross, Jesus drove Satan out (John 12:31-32). Satan was condemned (John 16:11).
Just as our salvation and God’s kingdom is already here, but not yet in its fullness, so also is Satan’s defeat. He has been defeated, but he still works against the gospel. Jesus predicted that victory would be complete at the end of the age (Matt. 13:39-42; 25:41). There is a time appointed for the devil and his angels to be punished (Matt. 8:29).