The LDS Bible Dictionary states: “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 (reembodied), or else translated, as were Enoch, Elijah, etc. (D&C 129)” (“Angels,” 608).
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LDS scholar Robert L. Millet explained, “An angel may be a resurrected being (D&C 129:1); a translated being; an unembodied spirit, one who has not yet taken a physical body; a disembodied spirit, one who has lived and died and now awaits the resurrection; a mortal who is attentive to the Spirit of God and follows divine direction to assist or bless another; or the Lord himself.”9 Let us briefly examine each of those six categories of angels.
Resurrected beings. Doctrine and Covenants 129:1 refers to “angels, who are resurrected personages, having bodies of flesh and bones.” Angels of this category include Peter and James (D&C 27:12–13; 128:20); John the Baptist (D&C 13; Joseph Smith–History 1:68–72); Moses, Elijah, and Elias (D&C 110:11–16); and Moroni, Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael (D&C 128:20–21). Furthermore, Joseph Smith said of Abel that he “died a righteous man, and therefore has become an angel of God by receiving his body from the dead.”10 Because Jesus Christ was the first person ever resurrected on this sphere, we know that all angelic visitations before the resurrection of Christ were made by either translated beings or spirits.
Translated beings. The prophet Enoch, who is referred to in various passages of scripture (Genesis 5:18–24; Hebrews 11:5; D&C 107:48–57; Moses 6–7), was translated and became a “ministering angel,” together with others whom God “held in reserve to be ministering angels unto many planets.” Joseph Smith taught that Enoch “is a ministering angel, to minister to those who shall be heirs of salvation, and appeared unto Jude as Abel did unto Paul; therefore Jude spoke of him [Jude 1:14–15]. . . .
“Paul was also acquainted with this character, and received instructions from him. . . .
“Many have supposed that the doctrine of translation was a doctrine whereby men were taken immediately into the presence of God, and into an eternal fulness, but this is a mistaken idea. Their place of habitation is that of the terrestrial order, and a place prepared for such characters He held in reserve to be ministering angels unto many planets, and who as yet have not entered into so great a fulness as those who are resurrected from the dead.”11
John the Beloved, a translated being, is also a “ministering angel.” The Lord revealed John’s translated status: “Yea, he has undertaken a greater work; therefore I will make him as flaming fire and a ministering angel; he shall minister for those who shall be heirs of salvation who dwell on the earth” (D&C 7:6; see also 3 Nephi 28:6–7). Likewise, the Three Nephites, as translated beings, “are as the angels of God” (3 Nephi 28:30). Moses and Elijah, on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1–7), were translated beings.
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Unembodied spirits. Unembodied spirits are those that will never receive a body or that have not yet received a body (that is, premortal spirits). Revelation 12 provides examples of unembodied spirits. When John the Revelator wrote of the war in heaven that took place in the premortal sphere, he referred to both Michael’s angels (who were also God’s angels) and Satan’s angels: “And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. And the great dragon . . . was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him” (Revelation 12:7–9).
Another example of an unembodied spirit is recorded in Moses 5, in which an angel converses with Adam (Moses 5:6–7; cf. Moses 5:58). President Joseph Fielding Smith explained, “All angels coming to Adam after the fall were spirits belonging to this earth who had not yet obtained bodies of flesh and bones.”12
Satan and other devils are unembodied spirits who are also described as angels. Jacob called the devil an angel and those who become devils “angels to a devil” (2 Nephi 9:8–9; see also 2 Nephi 2:17). Other texts also refer to the devil’s angels: “the devil and his angels” (2 Nephi 9:16; cf. Mosiah 26:27; D&C 29:28, 37; 76:33, 36, 44); “angels to the devil” (Jacob 3:11); “the devil laugheth, and his angels rejoice” (3 Nephi 9:2; cf. Moses 7:26); “for if God spared not the angels that sinned” (2 Peter 2:4), and so forth.
Disembodied spirits (spirits of “just men made perfect”; Hebrews 12:22–23). Disembodied spirits are those that have received mortal bodies, have died, and now labor in the spirit world while awaiting resurrection.
The Old Testament refers to angels scores of times. The Hebrew word malakh, usually translated “angel,” occurs 213 times in the Old Testament. Examples of Old Testament angels from the Lord include the angel who appeared to Hagar (Genesis 16:7–11), the angel who called “out of heaven” to Abraham (Genesis 22:11, 15), Jacob’s dream of the ladder with “angels of God ascending and descending on it” (Genesis 28:12), the angel who spoke to Jacob “in a dream” (Genesis 31:11), “the angel of the Lord [who] appeared unto [Moses] in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush” (Exodus 3:2), the angel who spoke to Elijah (2 Kings 1:2–15), the angel who “smote in the camp of the Assyrians an hundred fourscore and five thousand” (2 Kings 19:35), and many others. As we have said, it is possible that angels before the resurrection of Jesus Christ (who was the first fruits of the grave, or the first to be resurrected) were either spirits (that is, unembodied or disembodied) or translated beings.
Mortals. Some mortals are like angels (for examples, see Numbers 20:14; 21:21; 22:5). Elder Jeffrey R. Holland spoke of heavenly angels, those beyond the veil, and then he said: “Not all angels are from the other side of the veil. Some of them we walk with and talk with—here, now, every day. Some of them reside in our own neighborhoods. Some of them gave birth to us, and in my case, one of them consented to marry me. Indeed heaven never seems closer than when we see the love of God manifested in the kindness and devotion of people so good and so pure that angelic is the only word that comes to mind.”13
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The Lord. Israel (or Jacob) called God “the Angel which redeemed me from all evil” (Genesis 48:16; see also Exodus 3:2–6; Joshua 5:13–15), and Doctrine and Covenants 133:53 calls Christ “the angel of his presence,” who “saved them [the righteous]; and in his love, and in his pity, he redeemed them.” Also, just as angels are messengers, so the Lord too is called the “messenger of the covenant” (Malachi 3:1) and the “messenger of salvation” (D&C 93:8).
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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.