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Angels

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Angel Moroni visit Joseph Smith Mormon
The Angel Moroni visited Joseph Smith at the Hill Cumorah © Intellectual Reserve

The Nature of Angels

Angels are messengers from God who are directly concerned with the doings of this earth. Rather than mythical beings with wings, they are men, in a spirit state or in a resurrected state. The Bible Dictionary (LDS annotated King James Version of the Bible) states the following:

These are messengers of the Lord, and are spoken of in the epistle to the Hebrews as "ministering spirits" (Hebrews 1:14). We learn from latter-day revelation that there are two classes of heavenly beings who minister for the Lord: those who are spirits and those who have bodies of flesh and bone. Spirits are those beings who either have not yet obtained a body of flesh and bone (unembodied), or who have once had a mortal body and have died, and are awaiting the resurrection (disembodied). Ordinarily the word angel means those ministering persons who have a body of flesh and bone, being either resurrected from the dead (re-embodied) or else translated, as were Enoch, Elijah, etc. (Doctrine and Covenants 129).
One might ask, “Why were angels so prominent at the Savior’s birth? And why were they such an important part of His life and ministry?” The answers are twofold. The first pertains to the nature and mission of the personage whom they were heralding—a divine Being, the Son of God, the Only Begotten in the flesh who came to earth to save all of God’s children. The second concerns the ushering in of a new dispensation, a period of time when the gospel would be restored in its fulness. The ministry of angels is to assist in the ushering in of dispensations (see Moroni 7:29–31).[1]

Moroni taught that angels play a special role in the early stages of a new dispensation. He indicated that “the office of their ministry is … to prepare the way among the children of men, by declaring the word of Christ unto the chosen vessels [prophets] of the Lord, that they may bear testimony of him. And by so doing, the Lord God prepareth the way that the residue of men may have faith in Christ, that the Holy Ghost may have place in their hearts” (Moroni 7:31–32).

Angels are sent from the heavenly realm to "deliver God's messages, to minister to His children, to teach them the doctrines of salvation, to call them to repentance, to give them the priesthood and its keys, to save them in perilous circumstances, to guide them in the performance of His work, to gather the elect in the last days, to perform all needful things relative to His work." [2]

President Joseph F. Smith gave us some insight about angels who minister to those on the earth: “When messengers are sent to minister to the inhabitants of this earth, they are not strangers, but from among our kindred, friends, and fellow-beings and fellow-servants. The ancient prophets who died were those who came to visit their fellow creatures upon the earth. They came to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob; … such beings … waited upon the Savior and administered to him on the Mount. … Our fathers and mothers, brothers, sisters and friends who have passed away from this earth, having been faithful, and worthy to enjoy these rights and privileges, may have a mission given them to visit their relatives and friends upon the earth again, bringing from the divine Presence messages of love, of warning, or reproof and instruction, to those whom they had learned to love in the flesh.” [3]

Angels in the Eternities

After all men have been resurrected and judged, those who are not exalted become angels in eternity. Rather than act as messengers to the earth, which will have been transformed into a kingdom for the exalted, they will minister to exalted beings.

The Devil's Angels

"The scriptures speak of the devil's angels. These are those spirits who followed Lucifer and were thrust out in the war in heaven and cast down to the earth. (See Revelation 12:1-9; Doctrine and Covenants 29:36-38; Moses 4:1-4; Abraham 3:27, 28.)[4] After the millennial reign of Jesus Christ on the earth, Satan and his angels will be loosed for a short season, during which they will again have the ability to tempt mankind. Then they will be conquered and cast out into "outer darkness," where they will enjoy none of Heavenly Father's light or glory. (Read more about the kingdoms of heaven and outer darkness in Section 76 of the Doctrine and Covenants, the account of a vision of heaven and hell experienced by Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon.)

Angels Mentioned in Scripture

The Book of Mormon

When the prophet Nephi was seeking to understand the meaning of the tree of life, an angel showed him in vision a beautiful virgin in the city of Nazareth and asked the question “Knowest thou the condescension of God?” Nephi indicated that he knew God “loveth his children” but did not “know the meaning of all things.” The angel then showed Nephi a woman “carried away in the Spirit for the space of a time.” Nephi then saw her “bearing a child in her arms.” The angel said to Nephi, “Behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Son of the Eternal Father (1 Nephi 11)! [5]
Angel appears to Mormon Alma
An Angel Appears to Alma as recorded in the Book of Mormon © Intellectual Reserve
Alma the Younger (in the Book of Mormon) had a personal experience with ministering angels. As a young man, he was numbered among the unbelievers and “led many of the people to do after the manner of his iniquities.” One day, “while he was going about to destroy the church of God” in company with the sons of Mosiah, an “angel of the Lord appeared unto them; and he descended as it were in a cloud; and he spake as it were with a voice of thunder, which caused the earth to shake.” The angel then cried out, “Alma, arise and stand forth, for why persecutest thou the church of God?”
Alma was so overcome by this experience that he fainted and had to be carried to his father. Only after his father and others had fasted and prayed for two days was Alma restored to full health and strength. He then stood up and declared, “I have repented of my sins, and have been redeemed of the Lord; behold I am born of the Spirit.” Alma went on to become one of the greatest missionaries in the Book of Mormon. Yet in all his many years of missionary service, he never spoke of the angel’s visit. Instead, he chose to testify that the truth had been made known to him by the Holy Spirit of God. [6]
Miraculous events have not always been a source of conversion. For example, when Laman and Lemuel (also in the Book of Mormon) physically mistreated their younger brothers, an angel appeared and warned them to stop. The angel also reassured all of the brothers that Laban would be delivered into their hands. Nephi, on the one hand, believed and claimed the brass plates from Laban. Laman and Lemuel, on the other hand, did not believe, nor did they change their behavior as a result of the angelic visit. As Nephi reminded them, “How is it that ye have forgotten that ye have seen an angel of the Lord” (1 Nephi 7:10)?
Angel at the empty tomb mormon
An Angel at the Empty Tomb © Intellectual Reserve

The New Testament

An angel appeared to the priest Zacharias. As he entered the Holy of Holies in the temple, he saw an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar. The angel said, “I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and am sent to speak unto thee, and to shew thee … glad tidings” (Luke 1:19). Gabriel explained to Zacharias that he and his wife, Elisabeth, would have a child and that he was to be named John. Gabriel also explained John’s mission as an Elias, or forerunner for Christ (see Luke 1:11–17). A short time later, this same angel, Gabriel, appeared to Mary and announced that she would be the mother of the Son of God.

The next angelic appearance occurred in the fields near Bethlehem when an angel of the Lord announced to lowly shepherds the Savior’s birth. The angel declared: “I bring you good tidings of great joy. … For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10–11). Other angelic hosts appeared, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” (Luke 2:14).

Joseph was warned by “the angel of the Lord” to take Mary and Jesus into Egypt and “be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him” (Matthew 2:13). When Herod died, Joseph was once more instructed by the Lord’s messenger to “take the young child and his mother, and go into the land of Israel” (Matthew 2:20).

In the Garden of Gethsemane “there appeared an angel unto [Christ] from heaven, strengthening him” (Luke 22:43). Then, at the tomb on the Sunday morning following the Resurrection, the women came early to the tomb with spices and ointments to care for the body, which had been hastily encased as the Sabbath approached. To their surprise, they found the stone had been rolled away from the sepulcher. Two men in “shining garments” stood before them and said: “Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen: remember how he spake unto you when he was yet in Galilee, Saying, The Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again” (Luke 24:4–7). Again, at Jesus’s ascension, two men in white apparel assured the Galileans that “this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11).

The Old Testament

The propet Daniel had many visions in which he saw angels. (See Daniel 8:16; 9:21; 10:13, 21; and 12:1.) An angel preserved Daniel when he was thrown into the den of lions. In some passages, such as Genesis 22:11-12, an angel speaks as the Lord himself. An angel stayed the hand of Abraham as he was about to sacrifice his son, Isaac.

Angel and Abraham Mormon
An Angel Saves Abraham © Intellectual Reserve

The Pearl of Great Price

The Pearl of Great Price reveals that Abraham himself was chosen as a youth as a sacrifice to the Gods of Egypt. An angel saved him:

And as they lifted up their hands upon me, that they might offer me up and take away my life, behold, I lifted up my voice unto the Lord my God, and the Lord hearkened and heard, and he filled me with the vision of the Almighty, and the angel of his presence stood by me, and immediately unloosed my bands (Abraham 1:15).

(Read the full account here.)

The Pearl of Great Price also contains an early history of Joseph Smith, including his account of visitations from the Angel Moroni, a Book of Mormon prophet.

(Read the account here.]

The Doctrine and Covenants

Angels constantly visited and taught Joseph Smith and other leaders and prophets of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The following sections of the Doctrine and Covenants contain descriptions of angelic visitations:

Doctrine and Covenants, Section 13
Doctrine and Covenants, Section 27
Doctrine and Covenants, Section 61
Doctrine and Covenants, Section 76
Doctrine and Covenants, Section 110
Doctrine and Covenants, Section 128
Doctrine and Covenants, Section 137
Doctrine and Covenants, Section 138

Guardian Angels

Beings in the heavenly realm, especially ancestors, have an interest in man's doings on earth and are occasionally sent to protect, physically save, comfort, or uphold mortal men. There is no evidence that guardian angels constantly attend every earthly being. The companionship of the Holy Ghost helps one perceive angels sent to comfort an individual. Deceased loved ones occasionally are allowed to visit mortal relatives, and there are many accounts of such happenings in the journals of Latter-day Saints.

Whether or not each individual has a “guardian angel” is a topic addressed some years ago by Elder John A. Widtsoe: Undoubtedly angels often guard us from accidents and harm, from temptation and sin. They may properly be spoken of as guardian angels. Many people have borne and may bear testimony to the guidance and protection that they have received from sources beyond their natural vision. Without the help that we receive from the constant presence of the Holy Spirit, and from possible holy angels, the difficulties of life would be greatly multiplied.
The common belief, however, that every person born into the world has a guardian angel assigned to be with that person constantly, is not supported by available evidence. … An angel may be a guardian angel though he come only as assigned to give us special help. In fact, the constant presence of the Holy Spirit would seem to make such a constant, angelic companionship unnecessary.
So, until further knowledge is obtained, we may say that angels may be sent to guard us according to our need; but we cannot say with certainty that there is a special guardian angel, to be with every person constantly. [7]

That said, angels are suddenly present at the very second we need them, indicating that some sort of intimate watch-care is going on every minute, whether through the presence of angels, or not.

Destroying Angels

Destroying angels are mentioned in scripture, especially the Book of Revelation. John the Revelator spoke of the four angels who stood at the four corners of the earth waiting to destroy it. Modern prophets have referred to these destroying angels:

On December 6, 1832, the Savior told the Prophet Joseph Smith that these angels were crying unto Him day and night for permission to reap down the earth and burn the tares (Doctrine and Covenants 86:4-7). Zechariah 6:7 states that the angels could not go forth upon the earth until given permission by the Lord.[8]
Sixty-one years after the revelation in section 86 of the Doctrine and Covenants was given, President Wilford Woodruff declared that the Lord had released those destroying angels and they were then upon the earth separating the tares from the wheat in preparation for the burning that would soon take place: "God has held the angels of destruction for many years, lest they should reap down the wheat with the tares. But I want to tell you now, that those angels have left the portals of heaven, and they stand over this people and this nation now, and are hovering over the earth waiting to pour out the judgments. And from this very day they shall be poured out. Calamities and troubles are increasing in the earth, and there is a meaning in these things. Remember this, and reflect upon these matters. If you do your duty, and I do my duty, we'll have protection.[9]

The Tongue of Angels

“But, behold, my beloved brethren, thus came the voice of the Son unto me, saying: After ye have repented of your sins, and witnessed unto the Father that ye are willing to keep my commandments, by the baptism of water, and have received the baptism of fire [that is the conferring] of the Holy Ghost, [ye] can speak with a new tongue, yea, even with the tongue of angels” (2 Nephi 31:13–14).
“Do ye not remember that I said unto you that after ye had received the Holy Ghost ye could speak with the tongue of angels? And now, how could ye speak with the tongue of angels save it were by the Holy Ghost?
“Angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost; wherefore, they speak the words of Christ. Wherefore, I said unto you, feast upon the words of Christ; for behold, the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do” (2 Nephi 32:1–3).
Nephi explained that angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost, and you can speak with the tongue of angels, which simply means that you can speak with the power of the Holy Ghost. It will be quiet. It will be invisible. There will not be a dove. There will not be cloven tongues of fire. But the power will be there.[10]

The Ministering of Angels

I would like to say a word about the ministering of angels. In ancient and modern times angels have appeared and given instruction, warnings, and direction, which benefited the people they visited. We do not consciously realize the extent to which ministering angels affect our lives. President Joseph F. Smith said, “In like manner our fathers and mothers, brothers, sisters and friends who have passed away from this earth, having been faithful, and worthy to enjoy these rights and privileges, may have a mission given them to visit their relatives and friends upon the earth again, bringing from the divine Presence messages of love, of warning, or reproof and instruction, to those whom they had learned to love in the flesh.” Many of us feel that we have had this experience. Their ministry has been and is an important part of the gospel. Angels ministered to Joseph Smith as he reestablished the gospel in its fulness.[11]
What does it mean to you to be in a position to have angels minister unto you? It means that you are entitled to have inspiration and guidance in all phases of your life....It provides protection to you from evil and danger.[12]
...the ministering of angels can occur through personal appearances and “can also be unseen. Angelic messages can be delivered by a voice or merely by thoughts or feelings communicated to the mind. … Most angelic communications are felt or heard rather than seen” [13]

Aaronic Priesthood Keys

The Aaronic Priesthood is a great gift of spiritual power that the Lord conferred upon Aaron and his sons. It holds “the key of the ministering of angels and the preparatory gospel” and also includes “the gospel of repentance, and of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins.” The Aaronic Priesthood was conferred upon Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery by the resurrected John the Baptist:

“Upon you my fellow servants, in the name of Messiah I confer the Priesthood of Aaron, which holds the keys of the ministering of angels, and of the gospel of repentance, and of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; and this shall never be taken again from the earth, until the sons of Levi do offer again an offering unto the Lord in righteousness” (Doctrine and Covenants, section 13).
Moroni and Joseph Smith Mormon
Moroni Appears to Joseph Smith © Intellectual Reserve

Joseph Smith and Ministering of Angels

Joseph Smith received the ministering of Angels often, as he went about the work of establishing the kingdom in the "Last Dispensation of Time." Much knowledge was revealed from heaven, along with the authority and keys to act in God's name. Moroni, the last prophet to write in the Book of Mormon, visited him many times, identifying and elaborating on the work to be done, delivering unto Joseph the gold plates for translation, and taking them back unto himself again:

While I was thus in the act of calling upon God, I discovered a light appearing in my room, which continued to increase until the room was lighter than at noonday, when immediately a personage appeared at my bedside, standing in the air, for his feet did not touch the floor.
He had on a loose robe of most exquisite whiteness. It was a whiteness beyond anything earthly I had ever seen; nor do I believe that any earthly thing could be made to appear so exceedingly white and brilliant. his hands were naked, and his arms also, a little above the wrist; so, also, were his feet naked, as were his legs, a little above the ankles. His head and neck were also bare. I could discover that he had no other clothing on but this robe, as it was open, so that I could see into his bosom.
Not only was his robe exceedingly white, but his whole person was glorious beyond description, and his countenance truly like lightning. The room was exceedingly light, but not so very bright as immediately around his person.
He called me by name, and said unto me that he was a messenger sent from the presence of God to me, and that his name was Moroni; that God had a work for me to do; and that my name should be had for good and evil among all nations (Joseph Smith History 1:30-33).


Prophecies, revelations, and decrees of the Almighty, as it were, surrounded that man [Joseph Smith], and he had to be taught, not by man nor by the will of man, but he required the angels of God to come forth and teach him; it required revelations of God to teach him, and he was taught for years by visions and revelations, and by holy angels sent from God out of heaven to teach and instruct him and prepare him to lay the foundation of this church. [14]
The principles which [Joseph Smith] had, placed him in communication with the Lord, and not only with the Lord, but with the ancient apostles and prophets; such men, for instance, as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Noah, Adam, Seth, Enoch, and Jesus and the Father, and the apostles that lived on this continent as well as those who lived on the Asiatic continent. He seemed to be as familiar with these people as we are with one another” (Journal of Discourses, 21:94).

Interestingly, as time went on, Joseph Smith received revelations and heavenly visitors in the presence of other people. Oliver Cowdery was present when John the Baptist appeared to confer the Aaronic Priesthood, and when Peter, James, and John appeared to confer the Melchizedek Priesthood. Angels were seen by many in attendance when the Kirtland Temple was dedicated, and Sidney Rigdon was in the company of Joseph Smith in that temple when Moses, Elijah, and Elias appeared to confer various keys for moving the gospel forward.

References

  1. Merrill J. Bateman, “A Season for Angels,” Ensign, Dec 2007, 10–15.
  2. Bruce R. McConkie, Gospel Doctrine, 1966 ed., p. 35.
  3. Gospel Doctrine, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1970, pages 435–36.
  4. Bible Dictionary
  5. Merrill J. Bateman, “A Season for Angels,” Ensign, Dec 2007, 10–15.
  6. James E. Faust, “A Royal Priesthood,” Ensign, May 2006, 50–53.
  7. The Improvement Era, April 1944, page 225.
  8. Old Testament Student Manual, 1 Kings to Malachi, p. 344.
  9. "The Temple Workers' Excursion," Young Women's Journal, August 1894, pp. 512 - 513.
  10. Boyd K. Packer, “The Gift of the Holy Ghost: What Every Member Should Know,” Ensign, Aug 2006, 46–52.
  11. James E. Faust, “A Royal Priesthood,” Ensign, May 2006, 50–53.
  12. Robert L. Backman, “The Hope of Israel,” New Era, May 2001, 45.
  13. Dallin H. Oaks, in Conference Report, Oct. 1998, 51; or Ensign, Nov. 1998, 39.
  14. Wilford Woodruff, President and Prophet of the Church from 1889 to 1898, Teachings of the Presidents of the Church:Wilford Woodruff, p. 17.

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