From time to time, in the face of wickedness, the Lord dispatches an angel to destroy one or more persons. In fact, both the scriptures and modern prophets use the expression “destroying angel.”
Destroying Angels in the Old Testament
During the lifetime of Moses and Aaron, an angel destroyed the firstborn in Egypt (Exodus 12:11–12, 29), but the Lord prepared a way for his people to receive protection from this destroying angel (see Exodus 12:21–23). On the night of the first Passover, Israelites ensured that the destroying angel would pass over them by placing the blood of the Passover lamb on their doorposts before the destruction of the firstborn of Egypt. The blood of the lamb, signifying the blood of Jesus Christ, protected the children of Israel from the destroying angel.
A passage in the Doctrine and Covenants refers to the destroying angel of Exodus 12. After revealing the Word of Wisdom to Joseph Smith, the Lord made a promise to those who would obey this commandment: “And I, the Lord, give unto them a promise, that the destroying angel shall pass by them, as the children of Israel, and not slay them. Amen” (D&C 89:21).
How may we avoid the destroying angel? Elder Dallin H. Oaks taught: “Among many blessings I have received from gospel teachings are those promised for keeping the Word of Wisdom. For me these have included health and knowledge and the capacity to ‘run and not be weary, and . . . walk and not faint,’ and the fulfillment of the promise that ‘the destroying angel shall pass by them, as the children of Israel, and not slay them’ (D&C 89:18–21).”1
A second example in the Old Testament of a destroying angel is in the account of King David’s commission of certain sins (see 1 Chronicles 21:1–30). A third example is in the account of the reign of King Hezekiah, when the Assyrian army was advancing toward Jerusalem with the intent of conquering the city. With thousands of enemy soldiers camped outside of Jerusalem’s gates, waiting to destroy the city’s inhabitants, Hezekiah petitioned the Lord through prayer in the temple. In response to Hezekiah’s humble prayer, the Lord sent his prophet Isaiah to the king to promise deliverance from the Assyrians. Isaiah assured Hezekiah that Jerusalem’s inhabitants need not fear, for the Lord would not permit the Assyrians to enter the city (see Isaiah 37:34). The Lord heard Hezekiah’s prayer and sent an angel, who destroyed 185,000 soldiers in the Assyrian camp, thus saving Hezekiah and his people from destruction (see Isaiah 37:36).
Destroying Angels in the New Testament
The New Testament likewise contains examples of destroying angels. Acts 12 refers to an angel that destroyed an infamous ruler. The narrative relates that Herod Agrippa I, a member of the notorious Herodian family, had already “killed James the brother of John with the sword” (Acts 12:2). Because this wicked act made Herod popular among the people, he apprehended and imprisoned Peter, presumably with the intent of slaying him after Easter. Through the faith and prayers of Peter and other Church members, however, an angel helped Peter to escape from prison. Sometime after Peter’s miraculous escape, Herod himself was slain by the Lord’s angel. The narrative states: “And upon a set day Herod, arrayed in royal apparel, sat upon his throne, and made an oration unto them. And the people gave a shout, saying, It is the voice of a god, and not of a man. And immediately the angel of the Lord smote him, because he gave not God the glory: and he was eaten of worms, and gave up the ghost” (Acts 12:21–23).
4 Destroying Angels in the Last Days
In his vision, John the Revelator saw “four angels standing on the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that the wind should not blow on the earth, nor on the sea, nor on any tree” (Revelation 7:1). These are God’s angels who will hold great power and authority in the last days. The symbolic language of the book of Revelation shows the angels’ great power: “Standing on the four corners of the earth” shows ascendancy or control (see Revelation 10:2, 5). “Four corners of the earth” means the entire earth. “Holding the four winds of the earth” indicates that the four angels have power over the winds, or the elements, of the earth. Elsewhere in the book of Revelation, angels are described as having control over fire (the angel “which had power over fire”; Revelation 14:18) and water (“the angel of the waters”; Revelation 16:5).
Joseph Smith taught many things regarding these four angels. He explained that the four angels of Revelation 7:1 are “four destroying angels holding power over the four quarters of the earth.”2 They are “sent forth from God, to whom is given power over the four parts of the earth, to save life and to destroy; these are they who have the everlasting gospel to commit to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people; 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). The Prophet also explained, “The servants of God will not have gone over the nations of the Gentiles, with a warning voice, until the destroying angel will commence to waste the inhabitants of the earth, and as the prophet hath said, ‘It shall be a vexation to hear the report.’”3 Moreover, “four destroying angels holding power over the four quarters of the earth until the servants of God are sealed in their foreheads, which signifies sealing the blessing upon their heads, meaning the everlasting covenant, thereby making their calling and election sure.”4
Protection from the 4 Destroying Angels
On another occasion, the Prophet Joseph revealed the power of temples and temple work in connection with destroying angels. He specifically referred to sealing families together in preparation for the time when the four destroying angels would be loosed: “I would advise all the Saints to go to with their might and gather together all their living relatives to this place [the temple] that they may be sealed and saved that they may be prepared against the day that the destroying angel goes forth and if the whole Church should go to with all their might to save their dead seal their posterity and gather their living friends and spend none of their time in behalf of the world they would hardly get through before night would Come when no man Could work.”5
President Joseph Fielding Smith wrote of these four destroying angels: “These are now at work in the earth on their sacred mission.”6 And on several occasions before that, President Wilford Woodruff spoke to large audiences about these four angels. On Sunday, June 24, 1894, President Woodruff said to a group of temple workers in the Tabernacle 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 to these things. Remember this, and reflect upon these matters. If you do your duty, and I do my duty, we’ll have protection, and shall pass through the afflictions in peace and safety. Read the scriptures and the revelations. . . . It’s by the power of the gospel that we shall escape.”7
Less than a month later, President Woodruff once again spoke of these four angels. On July 15, 1894, again in the Tabernacle, President Woodruff taught: “These angels that have been held for many years in the temple of our God have got their liberty to go out and commence their mission and their work in the earth, and they are here today on the earth. I feel bold in saying this to the Latter-day Saints. There is meaning in these judgments. The word of the Lord cannot fall unfulfilled.”8 In yet another discourse, he cited Doctrine and Covenants 86:5–7 and said: “I want to bear testimony to this congregation, and to the heavens and the earth, that the day is come when those angels are privileged to go forth and commence their work. They are laboring in the United States of America; they are laboring among the nations of the earth; and they will continue.”9
In his June 24, 1894, address, President Woodruff spoke of how the Saints would receive protection from the four destroying angels: “What protection have this vast body of human being[s] [on earth] to enable them to escape those tremendous judgments, which God has proclaimed shall come to pass and be poured out upon the wicked in the last days, before the coming of the Son of Man? . . .
“I will answer the question for you. Wherever the eternal, everlasting and holy priesthood or its influence dwells, there is protection and salvation and nowhere else. . . .
“The Lord revealed to Joseph Smith the prophet, and said that angels were standing in the Temple in Heaven, holding in their hands sharp sickles, and crying unto God day and night, saying let us go down and reap down the fields. . . . I now bear testimony to this assembly that that day has come. These destroying Angels are sent forth to visit the earth and have commenced to pour out the judgments of God upon the wicked, and will continue until the scene is wound up and all fulfilled that God has promised. Therefore judgment awaits the wicked.”10 In sum, the “eternal, everlasting and holy priesthood” and its influence will provide “protection and salvation” from God’s destroying angels to many of the earth’s inhabitants in the last days.
Lead image from Wikimedia Commons
^1. “The Gospel in Our Lives,” Ensign, May 2002, 34.
^2. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 321.
^3. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 87.
^4. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 321.
^5. Ehat and Cook, Words of Joseph Smith, 318–19.
^6. Church History and Modern Revelation, 1:300–301. Other apostolic witnesses have declared that these angels have begun their mission. Said Elder Bruce R. McConkie: “Peace has been taken from the earth, the angels of destruction have begun their work, and their swords shall not be sheathed until the Prince of Peace comes to destroy the wicked and usher in the great Millennium.” “Stand Independent above All Other Creatures,” Ensign, May 1979, 93.
^7. Gates, “Temple Workers’ Excursion,” Young Woman’s Journal 5 (1894): 512–13; see also Stuy, Collected Discourses, 4:110.
^8. “Revelation and Judgment,” Deseret Weekly 49 (Aug. 25, 1894): 289–90; see also Woodruff, Millennial Star 56 (Oct. 8, 1894): 643; Stuy, Collected Discourses, 4:127.
^9. Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, 252. For other statements by President Woodruff regarding the four angels, see Bateman, Prophets Have Spoken, 1:90; Woodruff, Journal, May 1834; May 29, 1847.
^10. Journal, June 24, 1894.