Angels and the Three Nephites: 3 Extraordinary Powers Each Possess

In October 1998, President Gordon B. Hinckley stated in general conference, “I think about the power and force of angels that stand among us.”1 Indeed, scriptural texts indicate that the Lord’s angels have extraordinary capabilities and powers, making them formidable beings. Angels may have power over the elements, and the various earthly forces that exist in this telestial world do not bind them. These great 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.

The miraculous powers of angels build confidence among mortals who understand angelic authority and powers. Not all angels, of course, have equal power and authority: Angels with resurrected bodies have greater power than do translated beings, which in turn have greater power than do angels who are either unembodied or disembodied spirits. Depending on their rank and status and the errand on which they are sent, angels may have some or all of the following powers:

  • Power over gravity
  • Power over the elements
  • Other superhuman powers and capabilities, including the power to appear seemingly out of nowhere and vanish in an instant; to cause doors to open of their own accord; to cause chains to fall from bound prisoners; to mingle undetected with mortals; to pass through walls, closed doors, and ceilings; to escape earth’s pits and depths; to remain unharmed in fiery furnaces and among wild beasts

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 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). Joseph Smith testified that “when the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air” (Joseph Smith–History 1:17).

President Lorenzo Snow saw the resurrected Lord in the Salt Lake Temple standing “about three feet above the floor” and remarked that “it looked as though he stood on a plate of solid gold.”2 Elder George F. Richards had an inspired vision of Jesus Christ during which, he stated, “I was in the presence of my Savior as he stood in mid-air.”3

There are also recorded instances of angels standing in the air. 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). Oliver Cowdery testified before a court that he saw a “glorious messenger from heaven, dressed in white, standing above the ground, in a glory I have never seen anything compare with, the sun insignificant in comparison.”4

These accounts demonstrate that heavenly beings have the power to stand, apparently unsupported, in the air; additionally, several scriptural passages relate that angels descended from heaven, thus providing additional evidence that they have power over gravity. For example, the angel who appeared to Alma and the sons of Mosiah “descended as it were in a cloud” (Mosiah 27:11), and Nephi and Lehi and about three hundred persons witnessed “the heavens open; and angels came down out of heaven and ministered unto them” (Helaman 5:48). The multitude of Saints who were with the resurrected Jesus “saw the heavens open, and they saw angels descending out of heaven as it were in the midst of fire” (3 Nephi 17:24). Further, the phrase “angels came down out of heaven” is found, with minor variations, in such other scriptural passages as “angels did come down out of heaven” (3 Nephi 19:14) and “[John] saw another mighty angel come down from heaven” (Revelation 10:1; see also 18:1; 20:1).

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.”5 While president of the Church, Brigham Young made statements regarding the power that angels have over the elements.6 Other Church leaders, too, have taught about angels’ power over the elements.7

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 vv. 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). Again, using symbolic language, John the Revelator states that “a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone, and cast it into the sea, saying, Thus with violence shall that great city Babylon be thrown down, and shall be found no more at all” (Revelation 18:21; cf. Jer. 51:60–64). This action by an angel symbolizes the destruction of wickedness in the last days. Although this angel is unnamed, the fact that he is mighty is significant, as is the idea that God will empower one of his angels to destroy Babylon.

Angels who have power over fire (again, watch for the symbolism) include the angel spoken of in Exodus 3, which records that Moses encountered an angel appearing “in a flame of fire”: “And the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed” (Exodus 3:2). This must have been an astonishing scene for this man who was tending flocks in the desert. The account of the angel appearing in a flame of fire was of such significance that Stephen, more than a millennium later, twice referred to it in his speech to the Sanhedrin (Acts 7:30, 35). In sum, the angel’s appearance in fire signifies a great miracle.

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).

Angels have many other superhuman powers and capabilities.

In addition to having power over gravity and the elements, angels possess many other extraordinary abilities. For example, angels can appear seemingly out of nowhere and then vanish (see chapter 7). They can appear to mortals and hide their angelic nature, and they have the ability to appear as mortals (see chapter 8).

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; cf. Abraham 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.

Chains binding prisoners are no obstacle to angels. Elder Parley P. Pratt, after spending several months in a Missouri dungeon, was freed by an angel. Neither the walls and the doors nor the chains that bound Elder Pratt could prevent the angel’s freeing him. “On the grand national Anniversary of American independence, the glorious 4th of July, [Parley] being instructed and warned, by an Angel of the Lord, in a vision of the night, burst his chains, threw open his prison doors, and emerged forth from his prison: and after wandering for near a week, night and day, almost without food, he avoided all pursuit and arrived at the residence of his family.”8

Yet another account pertains to the great power of angels. When he was called to deliver the Israelites from their foes, Gideon expressed his feelings of inadequacy: “Oh my Lord, wherewith shall I save Israel? behold, my family is poor in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house” (Judges 6:15). The Lord responded by promising, “Surely I will be with thee, and thou shalt smite the Midianites as one man” (Judges 6:16). Then to give Gideon confidence that the Lord would fulfill his word, God’s angel performed a great miracle: “And the angel of God said unto him, Take the flesh and the unleavened cakes, and lay them upon this rock, and pour out the broth. And he did so. Then the angel of the Lord put forth the end of the staff that was in his hand, and touched the flesh and the unleavened cakes; and there rose up fire out of the rock, and consumed the flesh and the unleavened cakes. Then the angel of the Lord departed out of his sight” (Judges 6:20–21). After these events, the Lord empowered Gideon to defeat the Midianites (Judges 7:2–8:21). Gideon became so great in the eyes of the Israelites that they invited him to become king, but he refused (Judges 8:22–23).

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). And “with their own eyes they had beheld an angel of the Lord; and his voice was as thunder, which shook the earth; and they knew that there was nothing save the power of God that could shake the earth and cause it to tremble as though it would part asunder” (Mosiah 27:18). And also, “I have seen an angel face to face, and he spake with me, and his voice was as thunder, and it shook the whole earth” (Alma 38:7).

The Three Nephites: Extraordinary Capabilities and Powers.

Jesus promised the Three Nephites extraordinary powers: “For ye shall never taste of death. . . . And ye shall never endure the pains of death. . . . And again, ye shall not have pain while ye shall dwell in the flesh, neither sorrow save it be for the sins of the world” (3 Nephi 28:7–9). The phrases “ye shall never taste of death” and “ye shall never endure the pains of death” specify that they will never die because of diseases, illnesses, plagues, pestilence, accidents, weapons, calamities or disasters, natural causes, aging, or a thousand other things that mortals die of. The phrase “ye shall not have pain while ye shall dwell in the flesh” indicates that they will not suffer from such painful human conditions as injuries, sicknesses, diseases, aches, sores, wounds, cuts, broken bones, and more. As Joseph Smith explained, “Translation obtains deliverance from the tortures and sufferings of the body, but their existence will prolong as to the labors and toils of the ministry, before they can enter into so great a rest and glory.”9

Mormon explained the change in the Three Nephites’ mortal condition so that they would “not taste of death”: “I have inquired of the Lord, and he hath made it manifest unto me . . . that they might not taste of death there was a change wrought upon their bodies, that they might not suffer pain nor sorrow save it were for the sins of the world. Now this change was not equal to that which shall take place at the last day; but there was a change wrought upon them, insomuch that Satan could have no power over them, that he could not tempt them; and they were sanctified in the flesh, that they were holy, and that the powers of the earth could not hold them” (3 Nephi 28:37–39).

Mormon described additional powers of the Three Nephites: “They were cast into prison by them who did not belong to the church. And the prisons could not hold them, for they were rent in twain. And they were cast down into the earth; but they did smite the earth with the word of God, insomuch that by his power they were delivered out of the depths of the earth; and therefore they could not dig pits sufficient to hold them. And thrice they were cast into a furnace and received no harm. And twice were they cast into a den of wild beasts; and behold they did play with the beasts as a child with a suckling lamb, and received no harm” (3 Nephi 28:19–22).

In sum, the Three Nephites demonstrated authority over earthly powers and elements: Prison walls could not hold them, earth’s pits and depths were no threat to them, fiery furnaces had no power to destroy them, and even wild beasts could not harm them.

^1. “To the Boys and to the Men,” Ensign, Nov. 1998, 52.

^2. Deseret News, Apr. 2, 1938.

^3. Kimball, “The Cause Is Just and Worthy,” Ensign, May 1974, 119.

^4. Nibley, Missionary Experiences, 296. Other accounts of angels standing in the air include, for example, the accounts of Wilford Woodruff (Journal, Nov. 8, 1857) and Benjamin Brown, a contemporary of Joseph Smith (Harper, “‘Pentecost and Endowment Indeed,’” in Welch and Carlson, Opening the Heavens, 336).

^5. Rational Theology, 72.

^6. See, for example, Journal of Discourses, 15:127; 16:113; 19:36–37.

^7. See, for example, Taylor, Gospel Kingdom, 31; Kimball, Journal of Discourses, 4:2; Hyde, Journal of Discourses, 6:368; and George Q. Cannon, “A Dream,” Juvenile Instructor 32, no. 21 (Nov. 1, 1897): 656.

^8. “Biography of Nathan Pratt,”Times and Seasons 5 (Jan. 15, 1844): 414.

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Get more fascinating insights into angels and how they help us in our lives in Angels: Agents of Light, Love, and Power.

Stories are told around the world of persons who have received help or comfort from someone they couldn't see—an angel or spirit who guided them or in some other way gave them assistance from beyond the veil.

But just who are these angels? Are they even real?

Although angels are a vital part of Latter-day Saint history and doctrine, their roles and purposes are often misunderstood. In this inspiring volume, author Donald W. Parry discusses in a clear and understandable way what we can learn from the scriptures and from modern prophets and apostles about angels and their missions.

Here you will find answers to such questions as the following:

  • What are angels?What powers and abilities are angels given?How do angels communicate with mortals?What are the assigned missions and roles of angels?How do angels reveal truth and teach the doctrines of the gospel?How do angels minister to and comfort mortals?What is the role of guardian angels in the modern world?
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