Thousands of years ago a priest by the name of Zacharias went into the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem to burn incense "and there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense… And the angel answering said unto him, I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and am sent to speak unto thee and shew thee these glad tiding" (Luke 1:11,19).
Throughout the scriptures, both ancient and modern, we read about angels, but who are they and what do they do?
In both the Hebrew and Greek, the word "angel" means "messenger, envoy, or one who is sent." In Hebrew, it comes from the root word meaning "to dispatch." As such an angel is a someone who is divinely sent to deliver, not his own message but one that comes from God Himself. When Gabriel spoke to Zacharias he said that he stood in the presence of God. From this we can strongly infer that an angel is also someone whom the Lord has authorized to speak in His name.
However, it must be noted that Satan has his messengers as well. Jesus taught that there is an everlasting fire "prepared for the devil and his angels" (Matthew 25:41). In the Book of Mormon Jacob told his people that if it weren't for the atonement of Christ "our spirits must have become like unto him (Satan), and we become devils, angels to a devil, to be shut out from the presence of our God, and to remain with the father of lies, in misery, like unto himself" (2 Nephi 9:9). Therefore, there are two kinds of angels or messengers. One is from God and the other is from Satan. But for this discussion, whenever we use the word "angel" it will exclusively be used to describe those who have been divinely sent.
Many times, angels are sent to deliver a message from God to mortal men, such as what Gabriel did with Zacharias. A little later in the first chapter of Luke we read that Gabriel also appeared to a woman named Mary and delivered a message from God to her. After Jesus was born an angel appeared to a group of shepherds and gave them a message. The scriptures also tell us that twice an angel appeared to a man named Joseph in a dream. The first time was to tell him that he should not be afraid to take Mary as his wife and the second was to warn him to flee to Egypt in order to keep his child safe from Herod's wrath.
The number of instances in the Old and New Testament, the Book of Mormon, and the Doctrine and Covenants where angels have appeared before men to deliver a message from God are too numerous to recount and they make up the most frequently mentioned duty of angels. But what makes the scripture in Luke 1:19 of particular interest is that Joseph Smith taught that Gabriel is the angelic name of the mortal man we know as Noah. Furthermore, he stands next in priesthood authority to Michael, the archangel, whom Joseph Smith taught was Adam (The Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 157).
Since no one had yet been resurrected from the dead when Gabriel made his announcement that means what Zacharias saw was the spirit personage of Noah. That also means that Noah, as a spirit being, while waiting in paradise for the resurrection to occur, was able to be in the presence of God, receive a message from Him and then was dispatched to earth by God to deliver that message.
What this tells us is that the spirits of righteous men who once lived on earth can be sent to appear before mortal men to deliver divine messages. In other words, angels are former mortals who have died and now live in the spirit world.
However, angels can also be resurrected beings. John the Baptist appeared to Joseph Smith as an angel, as did the ancient apostles, Peter, James, and John. Elijah and Moses also appeared to him. The most well known LDS angel is an ancient warrior prophet named Moroni. All of these resurrected men came to deliver a message from God to a mortal man. As such, all of them are angels in the truest sense of the word.
But there are other angels who don't fall into either of these categories.
Adam and Eve were the first humans to live on earth and were placed in a garden where they were allowed to eat from the fruit of every tree except one. When it was discovered that they had eaten of that forbidden fruit, God ordered them to leave the garden. To make sure that Adam and Eve didn't return, "lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever… he (God) placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life" (Genesis 3:22,24).
However, before sending Adam and Eve out of the garden, God not only clothed them with coats of skin but "he gave unto them commandments, that they should worship the Lord their God, and should offer the firstlings of their flock, for an offering unto the Lord….And after many days an angel of the Lord appeared unto Adam, saying: Why dost thou offer sacrifices unto the Lord? And Adam said unto him: I know not, save the Lord commanded me. And then the angel spake, saying: This thing is a similitude of the sacrifice of the Only Begotten of the Father, which is full of grace and truth. Wherefore, thou shalt do all that thou doest in the name of the Son, and thou shalt repent and call upon God in the name of the Son forevermore" (Moses 5:5-8).
Cherubims are a classification of angels. Therefore, the Bible teaches that God dispatched some angels to guard the way to the tree of life. Then, many days later, God dispatched another angel to ask Adam why he was offering sacrifices. When Adam confessed that he did not know, the angel then explained why. However, these angels were not resurrected beings nor were they the spirits of just men who had once lived on the earth. Then who were they? The answer is that they were the spirits of just men who would someday come to live on earth as mortals. We know this is at least partially true because the scriptures tell us about the mortal life of one of these ancient angels.
One of the most repeated phrases in the Bible is "the angel of the Lord." We could perhaps more accurately render this as "the messenger of the Lord." What makes this phrase so interesting is there are several places in the Old Testament where it appears that Jehovah, Himself is described as an angel. And this makes sense since Jesus, who is Jehovah of the Old Testament, did not come to earth teaching His own doctrine but that of His Father. As such, He came as an envoy of God, just as does an angel.
In Acts 3:13 the King James version reads, "The God of our fathers hath glorified his Son, Jesus Christ." However, all the newer and supposedly more accurate translations render this verse as, "The God of our father hath glorified his servant Jesus Christ" (emphasis added). In other words, the original writer of Acts made the point that Jesus came to mankind in the role of a servant of God, which is the definition of an angel.
The Lord Himself verified this to Joseph Smith when He said, quoting John, "Before, in the beginning the Word was, for he was the Word, even the messenger of salvation" (D&C 93:7).
The plan for the redemption of man was not conceived by Jesus Christ but by the Father. Therefore, when Jesus came to earth He came as "the messenger of salvation," delivering the message that God the Father had given Him. In other words, He came as "the angel of the Lord." (For a more in-depth look at this subject, read "The Father" )
What we see is that angels are righteous men who either have lived or will someday live on the earth and who have been called by God to deliver His message to man. But what about righteous men who are already living on the earth?
In the days of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah king of Judah, the word of the Lord came unto Jeremiah saying, "Go and cry in the ears of Jerusalem, saying, Thus saith the LORD… Hear ye the word of the LORD, O house of Jacob, and all the families of the house of Israel…" (Jeremiah 2:2,4). The Lord then proceeded to tell Jeremiah what message He wanted delivered to the Israelites. The same thing happened to Moses on Mount Sinai. The same thing happened to Noah when he was commanded to preach repentance to the people of his generation. In fact, every prophet of God has had a similar commission, and most of them received that commission while in the presence of God.
Jesus had taught His apostles the gospel and trained them to carry on the work of the church after He had ascended to heaven. His final command to them was "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15). As they went forth they delivered to others the message that God had given them. In our day, Joseph Smith literally stood in the presence of Jesus Christ, as did the ancient apostles, and likewise was called to deliver a divine message to mankind. Each of these prophets were acting in the capacity of an angel.
Today, there are living prophets who preside over the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who continue to give to us the "word of the Lord" just as the prophets of old did. As such both ancient and modern prophets are divine messengers of God, which is the definition of an angel.
However, prophets are not the only ones who speak for the Lord. A bishop holds the keys for receiving revelation pertaining to the members of his ward. In addition to that, as bishops give counsel to those seeking his help, very frequently the advice he gives is divinely inspired, as many people can attest to. In such cases, the message delivered by bishops is not their own but that of God. When that happens they are acting in the capacity of an angel. And the same can be said of those who give priesthood blessing, especially patriarchal blessings.
As we take a closer look at each of these angels what we find is that all of them are not only righteous men but all of them also hold the priesthood. Thus, it appears that the position of being an angel is a function of the priesthood. This would make sense since the priesthood is defined as "the authority to act in the name of God." Certainly, delivering a message from God would require someone to have the authority to do so.
But angels do more than just act as spokesmen for God. As Jesus was suffering in great agony in the garden of Gethsemane there "appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him"(Luke 22:43). After Jesus had been tempted in the wilderness by the devil "behold angels came and ministered unto him" (Matthew. 4:11). When Satan tried to tempt Jesus, he quoted Psalm 91:11 which reads, "For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways."
When Daniel was thrown into the lion's den God sent an angel to shut the lion's mouths so he would not be hurt (Daniel 6:22). When king Nebuchadnezzar order Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego to be cast into a fiery furnace, God "sent his angel, and delivered his servants that trusted in him" (Daniel 3:28).
Thus, another duty of angels is to provide comfort, relief, and protection to mankind. However, it would appear that they don't just take it upon themselves to do this on their own. Instead, they are dispatched by the Lord to perform this duty. If this were not the case then they would be acting according to their own authority rather than as "angels" or envoys of the Lord.
As we have already said, angels are not just unseen beings from the spirit world but can also be mortals living here on earth. In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, priesthood holders are given assignments to home teach specific families. Their duty is to watch over and care for the temporal and spiritual needs of those assigned to them. When they accept this calling they are taking on the duty of angels. The same is true of priesthood leaders, especially bishops. As part of their priesthood calling it is their duty to provide comfort, aid, and protection to those over whom they preside.
In the LDS Church, members have been specifically commanded by God to make fast offerings, which, at a minimum, is the cost of two meals not eaten on the first Sunday of each month. Bishops then use this donated money to provide financial relief, aid, and help to those in need. Thus, when we are faithful in making such offerings we are acting as assistants to the angels of the Lord.
But there is yet another duty that angels perform. As we have already discussed, when Adam and Eve were driven out of the garden, God dispatched two angels to guard the way to the tree of life. Thus, another duty of angels is to be guardian sentinels.
In the eighteenth chapter of Genesis we read of a story where two angels were sent to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. An angel was also sent to destroy the city of Jerusalem (2 Samuel 24:16), and there are numerous stories of angels doing battle. The most famous of all battles is the "war in heaven: [where] Michael and his angles fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels" (Revelation 12:7). Thus, another duty of angels is to fight for the Lord and His people.
The apostle Jude exhorted us that we "should earnestly contend for the faith" (Jude 1:3). Even today, Satan's forces are determined to make war against the Lamb of God and all those who believe on Him. Their objective is to destroy God's plan of salvation for mankind. If they can't do that completely, then they at least seek to destroy the individual lives of as many people as they can. Angels, on the other hand, are those who fearlessly answer the call to arms to defend and protect the kingdom of God, including those who belong to it, from the marauding attacks of Satan and his unholy warriors. And this duty belongs as much to those presently living on earth as it does to those who live beyond the veil.
Today there are strong forces trying to destroy the family institution on many fronts, from abortion to gay rights to sexual immorality. But worse yet, there are increasing attacks against Christianity itself. In today's cultural climate, it is a political sin to say anything even remotely offensive about Jews, Muslims, or any ethnic group, but it is perfectly permissible to smear, defame, and impugn anything a Christian says or does. While schools are teaching the Koran to help students better understand the Muslim beliefs, they are banning anything associated with the Bible. Angels are those who are willing to fight against all evil influences and to do battle if necessary to bring about that which God considers to be right and good.
When the disciples of Jesus asked Him to teach them to pray He taught them to say, "Our Father, which art in heaven… thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." God's purpose is to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man. Thus, everything He does is oriented towards achieving that goal. Angels are God's workers whom He uses to assist Him in saving man. When we too do the will of God on earth as it is done in heaven, then we also become the angels of God.