Angels have played a prominent part in the Lord’s plan of salvation in all dispensations, and our own dispensation is no exception. Here are 20 things we know about these heavenly beings and how they interact with us in mortality.
What Are Angels?
Because numerous misconceptions exist regarding angels, let us examine a few things we know from scripture and the teachings of latter-day prophets and apostles.
1. Angels are messengers.
The English word angel is from a Greek word (angelos) that means “messenger.” Likewise, the Hebrew word malakh, usually translated “angel,” also signifies “messenger.” President Charles W. Penrose explained, “Angels are God’s messengers, whether used in that capacity as unembodied spirits, selected according to their capacities for the work required, or as disembodied spirits, or as translated men, or as resurrected beings.”1
As heavenly messengers, angels deliver a variety of messages to mortals—messages of love, comfort, warning, or admonition. Further, angels teach the gospel, declare repentance, explain doctrine, and restore priesthood, keys, powers, authority, and more. Angels’ messages may be spoken, unspoken, or felt, or they may come by some other means.
2. Angels are the offspring of God.
Angels are children of our Heavenly Father. President Joseph F. Smith explained, “When messengers are sent to minister to the inhabitants of this earth, they are not strangers, but from the ranks of our kindred, friends, and fellow-beings and fellow-servants.”2 And Elder Parley P. Pratt wrote that “Gods, angels, and men are all of one species, one race, one great family, widely diffused among the planetary systems, as colonies, kingdoms, nations, &c.”3
3. Angels who minister on this earth have belonged to it or may yet belong to it.
Doctrine and Covenants 130:4–5 states:
In answer to the question—Is not the reckoning of God’s time, angel’s time, prophet’s time, and man’s time, according to the planet on which they reside? I answer, Yes. But there are no angels who minister to this earth but those who do belong or have belonged to it.
Accordingly, the well-known angels Michael, Gabriel, John the Baptist, Peter, James, John, Moroni, and many others are historical persons who have lived upon this earth. Other angels who have ministered on this earth may have done so before they were born in the flesh.
4. Angels operate among men, women, and children.
Angels do not restrict their appearances or communications to a particular gender, age group, tribe, or nation; rather, angels operate among all humankind—men, women, and children—according to the Lord’s divine. Alma 32:23states that God “imparteth his word by angels unto men, yea, not only men but women also. Now this is not all; little children do have words given unto them many times, which confound the wise and the learned.”
The Hierarchy of Angels
The following statements demonstrate that there is a hierarchy, or ranking, of the Lord’s angels.
5. Some angels are Gods.
Elder Orson Pratt stated:
Some angels are Gods, and still possess the lower office called angels. Adam is called an Archangel, yet he is a God. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, no doubt, have the right to officiate in the capacity of angels if they choose, but still they have ascended to their exaltation, to a higher state than that of angels—namely, to thrones, kingdoms, principalities and powers, to reign over kingdoms and to hold the everlasting Priesthood.4
6. Of all the angels—resurrected beings, translated beings, or spirits—Michael (Adam) is the head angel.
The scriptures call him the archangel (1 Thessalonians 4:16; Jude 1:9; D&C 29:26; 88:112; 107:54; 128:21). The term arch—part of such words as patriarch, archetype, archbishop, archenemy, archconservative, and archscoundrel—means “chief,” “principal,” or “preeminent.” Michael, then, is the chief of angels; Joseph Smith explained that Michael stands next in authority to Jesus Christ himself “and presides over the spirits of all men.”5
7. The angel Gabriel, who is Noah, is next in authority after Michael.
Joseph Smith taught:
The Priesthood was first given to Adam; he obtained the First Presidency. . . . He is Michael the Archangel, spoken of in the Scriptures. Then to Noah, who is Gabriel: he stands next in authority to Adam in the Priesthood.6
8. Angels who have bodies of flesh and bone, meaning those angels who are either translated or resurrected, have greater power than beings who are spirits.
Joseph Smith explained: “All beings who have bodies have power over those who have not. The devil has no power over us only as we permit him.”7 The Prophet also taught:
There are three independent principles—the spirit of God, the spirit of man, and the spirit of the devil. All men have power to resist the devil. They who have tabernacles have power over those who have not.8
The powers of angels enable them to fulfill their missions here upon the earth and to assist mortals, who are, in comparison, delicate and frail. As we discuss the extraordinary powers of angels, however, we must remain cautious and open about those powers, because there is so much that we do not know. We must also remember that many scriptural statements, especially those from John the Revelator, contain symbolisms.
9. Angels have power over gravity.
Heavenly beings have no need to stand on the ground or the floor. They may stand above the ground or floor, perhaps to remain elevated above telestial creatures or perhaps because the place where humans stand is considered profane space. In several instances, the Lord, while visiting His prophets, stood on a paved work of precious materials, such as gold (D&C 110:2) or sapphire stone (Exodus 24:10).
Moroni’s feet did not touch the floor during his visits to Joseph Smith on September 21, 1823. While the young prophet was praying, Moroni “appeared at [his] bedside, standing in the air, for his feet did not touch the floor” (Joseph Smith–History 1:30). In addition to his ability to stand in the air, note Moroni’s power to ascend to heaven: “After [Moroni’s] communication, I [Joseph Smith] . . . saw, as it were, a conduit open right up into heaven, and he ascended till he entirely disappeared” (Joseph Smith–History 1:43).
10. Angels have power over the elements.
With regard to angels’ knowledge of the elements and the “laws of nature,” Elder John A. Widtsoe explained that angels are “vivid personages, intelligent beings vastly superior to man, knowing well the laws of nature and therefore able to control them.”9 While president of the Church, Brigham Young made statements regarding the power that angels have over the elements. Other Church leaders, too, have taught about angels’ power over the elements.
Using symbolic language, John the Revelator writes of angels who have many great powers: One angel has “power over fire” (Revelation 14:18), four angels have power over “the four winds of the earth” (Revelation 7:1), and one or more angels have power over the fate of the waters; note that John refers specifically to “the angel of the waters” (Revelation 16:5; see v. 3–5, 12). Furthermore, there are four angels in Revelation, “to whom is given power over the four parts of the earth, to save life and to destroy; . . . having power to shut up the heavens, to seal up unto life, or to cast down to the regions of darkness” (D&C 77:8; see also Revelation 7:1).
Angels have demonstrated power over fire on several other occasions:
For it came to pass, when the flame went up toward heaven from off the altar, that the angel of the Lord ascended in the flame of the altar. And Manoah and his wife looked on it, and fell on their faces to the ground (Judges 13:20).
Also, the Book of Mormon records that a multitude “saw angels descending out of heaven as it were in the midst of fire” (3 Nephi 17:24).
Sometimes the astounding power of angels causes the earth to quake. For instance, on the day of Jesus Christ’s resurrection, the descent of an angel caused the earth to shake: “And, behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven” (Matthew 28:2). Also, “the angel of the Lord appeared . . . 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 upon which they stood” (Mosiah 27:11).
11. Angels can appear to mortals and hide their angelic nature, and they have the ability to appear as mortals.
The angel who saved Peter the night before he was to be executed possessed great powers. This angel miraculously entered the prison and caused Peter’s chains to fall “from his hands” (Acts 12:17; compareAbraham 1:15, which records that an angel unloosed Abraham’s bands). Then the angel and Peter walked unseen “past the first and the second ward,” presumably where guards were stationed: another miracle by the angel (Acts 12:10). When Peter and the angel approached the “iron gate that leadeth unto the city,” it opened by itself; or, rather, it opened because of the angel’s powers. The angel demonstrated four powers: (1) He was able to miraculously enter into a prison although it had locked gates or doors and several guards; (2) he caused the chains that bound Peter’s hands to fall off; (3) he and Peter walked undetected past two sets of guards (“the first and the second ward”); and (4) the angel caused the outer iron gate, which presumably was locked, to open.
*See page 2 for footnotes.
Music and Singing
The most well-known instance of angels singing on earth is when they sang at the Savior’s birth. But we know of many other instances of angelic music and singing.
12. Other angels, besides those who sang at Jesus’s birth, sing praises to God.
In the opening chapter of the Book of Mormon, for example, Lehi “saw God sitting upon his throne, surrounded with numberless concourses of angels in the attitude of singing and praising their God” (1 Nephi 1:8).
13. In our dispensation, angels have joined mortals in singing hymns of praise and worship.
Prescindia Huntington, a contemporary of the Prophet Joseph Smith, bore record that angels sang a hymn while mortal Saints were praying in the temple. She recorded:
At another fast meeting I was in the temple with my sister Zina. The whole of the congregation were on their knees, praying vocally, for such was the custom at the close of the meetings when Father Smith presided; yet there was no confusion; the voices of the congregation mingled softly together. While the congregation was thus praying, we both heard, from one corner of the room above our heads, a choir of angels singing most beautifully. They were invisible to us, but myriads of angelic voices seemed to be united in singing some song of Zion, and their sweet harmony filled the temple of God.10
The following occurrence, recorded in the Church’s Millennial Star, took place at the dedication of the Manti Temple:
On the 21st of May, before the opening exercises commenced, Brother A. C. Smyth, the chorister, seated himself at the organ, and rendered a piece of sacred music, a selection from Mendelssohn, at the conclusion of which, persons sitting near the centre of the hall, and also on the stand at the west end, heard most heavenly voices and singing—it sounded to them most angelic, and appeared to be behind and above them, and they turned their heads in the direction of the sound, wondering if there was another choir in some other part of the Temple.11
14. When he was a young boy, President John Taylor heard angelic voices sing lovely music.
According to his biographer, Elder B. H. Roberts:
Young Taylor possessed a portion of the spirit of God and was very happy. Manifestations of its presence were frequent, not only in the expansion of his mind to understand doctrines and principles, but also in dreams and visions. “Often when alone,” he writes, “and sometimes in company, I heard sweet, soft, melodious music, as if performed by angelic or supernatural beings.”12
Comforters to the Dying
There are documented reports of angels who came to receive individuals near or at the time of their death, including reports by the Prophet Joseph Smith, President Heber C. Kimball, President Wilford Woodruff, and President Rudger Clawson.
15. One who has passed from mortality may visit a person to inform them that they will soon depart from this life.
President Ezra Taft Benson tells the story of his deceased father-in-law, Carl Christian Amussen, who appeared to his wife, Barbara Smith Amussen, to tell her of her approaching death:
This choice woman knew the exact time she was to depart mortal life. Her husband, a Danish convert and Utah’s first pioneer jeweler and watchmaker, Carl Christian Amussen, appeared to her in either a dream or a vision. She admitted, “I’m not sure which, but it was so real it seemed that he was right in the room. He said he had come to tell me that my time in mortal life was ending and that on the following Thursday [it was then Friday], I would be expected to leave mortal life.”13
Sister Amussen was convinced that her husband had appeared to her and that she would pass away the following Thursday. As a result, she made concrete plans: On Sunday at church, she bore her testimony and bade the ward members good-bye. During the following days, she withdrew her savings from the bank, ordered her casket from a local mortuary, paid her bills, and even had the power and water turned off at her home. Then she went to the home of her daughter Mabel to await her passing. Sister Amussen did die that Thursday, just as her deceased husband had told her. President Benson recounted:
On the day of her passing, Mabel came into the room where her mother was reclining on the bed. Her mother said, “Mabel, I feel a little bit drowsy. I feel I will go to sleep. Do not disturb me if I sleep until the eventide.”14
Those were her last words, and she peacefully passed away.
16. Angels may greet a mortal at the time of their death.
On August 10, 1840, Seymour Brunson, a resident of Nauvoo who served as a member of the high council, passed away. About a month later, on September 6, 1840, Vilate Kimball wrote a letter to her husband, Heber C. Kimball, regarding Brother Brunson’s death:
Seymour Brunson is . . . dead, everything was done to save him that could be done, but the Lord had need of him. A short time before he died he told Joseph not to hold him any longer “for” said he, “I have seen David Patten and he wants me, and the Lord wants me, and I want to go.” They then gave him up; at one time as Joseph entered the room, he told him that there was a light encircled him above the brightness of the sun—he exclaimed, “The room is full of angels they have come to waft my spirit home.” He then bade his family and friends farewell and sweetly fell asleep in Jesus.15
Angels may minister to us for a myriad of purposes, according to our temporal and spiritual needs, always in keeping with the Lord’s divine will. The following examples are representative of how angels may minister to us.
17. Angels may help individuals overcome addictions.
In 2010, two members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles directed counsel to individuals who wrestle with addictions of various kinds. Both of those conference addresses indicate that angels are available to render divine assistance to individuals with addictions who desire to forsake them. First, in the April general conference, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland provided these inspired instructions:
Acknowledge that people bound by the chains of true addictions often need more help than self-help, and that may include you. Seek that help and welcome it. Talk to your bishop. Follow his counsel. Ask for a priesthood blessing. Use the Church’s Family Services offerings or seek other suitable professional help. Pray without ceasing. Ask for angels to help you. . . .
Cultivate and be where the Spirit of the Lord is. Make sure that includes your own home or apartment, dictating the kind of art, music, and literature you keep there. If you are endowed, go to the temple as often as your circumstances allow. Remember that the temple arms you “with [God’s] power, . . . [puts His] glory . . . round about [you], and [gives His] angels . . . charge over [you].”16
Later that same year, in the October general conference, President Boyd K. Packer taught:
The twin principles of repentance and forgiveness exceed in strength the awesome power of the tempter. If you are bound by a habit or an addiction that is unworthy, you must stop conduct that is harmful. Angels will coach you, and priesthood leaders will guide you through those difficult times.17
18. Angels may help during trials and severe hardships.
Many individuals in mortality have experienced extreme hardships, such as those experienced by Latter-day Saint pioneers who suffered severe privation as they crossed oceans and plains to journey to Zion. Angels, at times, bore up such individuals. The following story recounted by President David O. McKay serves as a case in point of angels who assisted mortals in times of great need. President McKay cited the testimony of Francis Webster, a member of the Martin handcart company:
I was in that company and my wife was in it. . . . We suffered beyond anything you can imagine and many died of exposure and starvation. . . .
I have pulled my handcart when I was so weak and weary from illness and lack of food that I could hardly put one foot ahead of the other. I have looked ahead and seen a patch of sand or a hill slope and I have said, I can go only that far and there I must give up, for I cannot pull the load through it. . . . I have gone on to that sand and when I reached it, the cart began pushing me. I have looked back many times to see who was pushing my cart, but my eyes saw no one. I knew then that the angels of God were there.18
President Harold B. Lee explained that even Jesus Christ in His extremity had need of ministering angels:
Sometimes when you are going through the most severe tests, you will be nearer to God than you have any idea, for like the experience of the Master Himself in the temptation on the mount, in the Garden of Gethsemane, and on the cross at Calvary, the scriptures record, “And, behold, angels came and ministered unto him” (Matthew 4:11). Sometimes that may happen to you in the midst of your trials.19
19. Angels may provide other kinds of temporal assistance.
Angels have provided other kinds of temporal assistance to mortals. For example, in scripture we read that an angel provided food and water to the prophet Elijah when he fled for his life from Jezebel (1 Kings 19:1–7). In our own dispensation, President Heber C. Kimball spoke of a time when he and Brigham Young traveled together in doing the Lord’s work. They had only $13.50 between them, but along the way they paid for travel, lodgings, and meals. In fact, they paid out more than $87. President Kimball observed:
Brother Brigham often suspected that I put the money in his trunk or clothes, thinking I had . . . money which I had not acquainted him with, but this was not so. The money could only have been put in his trunk by some heavenly messenger who administered to our necessities daily, as he knew we needed.20
President Wilford Woodruff and President Young were conversing about various topics when “the subject of miracles came up.” President Young told Wilford, “I have had a $5 gold piece put into my pocket now two days in succession. I do not know from what source it came from. Brother Kimball said it was an angel.”21
20. Angels may assist in healing the sick.
President Harold B. Lee’s experience on an airplane illustrates the truth that angels may participate in healing a mortal who has an illness. President Lee recalled:
I was suffering from an ulcer condition that was becoming worse and worse. We had been touring a mission; my wife, Joan, and I were impressed the next morning that we should get home as quickly as possible, although we had planned to stay for some other meetings.
On the way across the country, we were sitting in the forward section of the airplane. Some of our Church members were in the next section. As we approached a certain point en route, someone laid his hand upon my head. I looked up; I could see no one. That happened again before we arrived home, again with the same experience. Who it was, by what means or what medium, I may never know, except I knew that I was receiving a blessing that I came a few hours later to know I needed most desperately. . . . Shortly [after we reached home], there came massive hemorrhages which, had they occurred while we were in flight, I wouldn’t be here today talking about it.22
I know that there are powers divine that reach out when all other help is not available. . . . Yes, I know that there are such powers.
President Brigham Young testified:
Supposing we were traveling in the mountains, and all we had or could get, in the shape of nourishment, was a little venison, and one or two were taken sick, without anything in the world in the shape of healing medicine within our reach, what should we do? According to my faith, ask the Lord Almighty to send an angel to heal the sick. This is our privilege when so situated that we cannot get anything to help ourselves.23
Lead image: Looking for Something. © Brian Kershisnik, 2016. Used with permission.
Notes1. “Who and What Are the Angels,”Improvement Era 15 (Aug. 1912): 950.
2. Key to the Science of Theology, 33.3. Key to the Science of Theology, 33; see also Smith, Gospel Doctrine, 112.4. Journal of Discourses, 8:187.5. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 157.6. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 157.7. Ehat and Cook,Words of Joseph Smith, 60.8. Ehat and Cook,Words of Joseph Smith, 74.9. Rational Theology, 72.10. Tullidge, Women of Mormondom, 207–8.
11. “Spiritual Manifestations in the Manti Temple,” Millennial Star 50 (1888): 521.12. Life of John Taylor, 27–28.13. Come unto Christ, 21–22.14. Come unto Christ, 21–22.15. Holzapfel and Holzapfel, Woman’s View, 175.16. “Place No More for the Enemy of My Soul,” Ensign, May 2010, 45–46.17. “Cleansing the Inner Vessel,” Ensign, Nov. 2010, 76.18. “Pioneer Women,” Relief Society Magazine 35, no. 1 (Jan. 1948): 8; see also Olsen, Price We Paid, 2–3.19. Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 192.20. “One York Shilling,” in Best-Loved Stories, 375.21. Journal, Nov. 13, 1856.22. “Stand Ye in Holy Places,” Ensign, July 1973, 123; see also Best-Loved Stories, 1:325–26.23. Journal of Discourses, 4:25. Elder Parley P. Pratt set forth a variety of occasions in which one would wish for a ministering angel, including this one: “Why, if a person is sick they would like to be visited, comforted, or healed by an angel or spirit!” Journal of Discourses, 1:13.