Is There An Angel of Death in the Bible?

Is there such a thing as an Angel of Death in the Bible?  If so, is there a death angle still around today?

An Angel Kills a King

In Acts 12:21-23 we read that “Herod, wearing his royal robes, sat on his throne and delivered a public address to the people. They shouted, “This is the voice of a god, not of a man.” Immediately, because Herod did not give praise to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died.”

Here is proof of the power of angels.  The reason the angel killed King Herod was because people shouted “This is the voice of a god, not of man” and he did not deny that he was not a god and since God will not share His glory with another, that was considered blaspheme to God, therefore God sent an angel who “struck him down.”  Was this the infamous, so-called “death angel” that appeared at the time of the Passover during the Exodus where millions of the firstborn were slain?  Is there even a death angel at all?

The Angel of the Lord

When Israel’s King Hezekiah had the threat of the enormous Assyrian army near him it was said that “the Assyrian kings have laid waste these nations and their lands. They have thrown their gods into the fire and destroyed them, for they were not gods but only wood and stone, fashioned by human hands. Now, Lord our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you alone, Lord, are God. Then Isaiah son of Amoz sent a message to Hezekiah” (1 Kings 19:17-20).

The odds were truly against Israel so “That night the angel of the Lord went out and put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand in the Assyrian camp. When the people got up the next morning—there were all the dead bodies! So Sennacherib king of Assyria broke camp and withdrew. He returned to Nineveh and stayed there” (2 King 19:35-36).  God often uses angels to do His work and the power that these angels have compared to human armies…even into the thousands…is incomparable.  By one single, solitary angel, “a hundred and eighty-five thousand in the Assyrian camp” were slain, thereby testifying to the mighty power of angels.  Since God is their Creator too, we cannot even imagine the power that God must have.  Knowing that there are countless angels at God’s disposal (Heb 12:22), there need be only one angel to perform what God assigns them to do because angels are referred to as “mighty angels” (Psalm 103:20; 2 Thess 1:7).

God Controls the Angels

When God sent judgment on a sin of David, “the Lord sent a plague upon Israel from the morning till the appointed time. From Dan to Beersheba seventy thousand men of the people died.  And when the angel stretched out His hand over Jerusalem to destroy it, the Lord relented from the destruction, and said to the angel who was destroying the people, “It is enough; now restrain your hand.” And the angel of the Lord was by the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite” (2 Sam 24:15-16).

Had God not stayed the hand of this angel, untold millions of Israelites would have been slain but God told the angel “It is enough; now restrain your hand” to which the angel’s stopped.  The author of Hebrews says God makes “His angels spirits. And His ministers a flame of fire” (Heb 12:7).  Fire is a symbol of judgment and sometimes God sends them to judge those who are wicked but for those who are God’s children, these “ministering spirits [are] sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation” (Heb 12:14).

Warning about Worshiping Angels

Some believers get so wrapped up in angels that they do everything but worship them and some even do that (mostly unbelievers).  They are so preoccupied with them that they fail to worship God and come dangerously close to worshiping angels even though we are commanded to not do so (Col 2:28).  When the Apostle John, in his vision in the Book of Revelation, saw an angel he “fell down to worship before the feet of the angel who showed me these things. Then he said to me, “See that you do not do that. For I am your fellow servant, and of your brethren the prophets, and of those who keep the words of this book. Worship God” (Rev 22:8-9).  The “host of heaven” are sometimes called angels but God commands that if we would see “the host of heaven, you feel driven to worship them and serve them, which the Lord your God has given to all the peoples under the whole heaven as a heritage” we are told not to do it (Duet 4:19).  This worship of angels could include “any of the host of heaven” (Duet 17:3).  Clearly, we are only to worship God!

Who is the Angel of Death?

When Egypt was not letting God’s people go, God finally had to resort to sending a plague. This plague would be like no other plague in history where all of the first born of man and beast would die.  This plague occurred near the first Passover and finally forced Pharaoh’s hand to let God’s people go.  God’s judgment fell on all those who did not put lamb’s blood on the door posts and the lintels of their houses.  The blood of the lamb is representative of the blood of the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, who would, much later, have His own blood shed for the remission of sins so that God’s wrath of eternal death would “pass over” those who would trust in Him.

We can read of this account in Exodus 11:4-7 where God tells Moses that “About midnight I will go out into the midst of Egypt; and all the firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sits on his throne, even to the firstborn of the female servant who is behind the handmill, and all the firstborn of the animals.  Then there shall be a great cry throughout all the land of Egypt, such as was not like it before, nor shall be like it again.  But against none of the children of Israel shall a dog move its tongue, against man or beast, that you may know that the Lord does make a difference between the Egyptians and Israel.” When a believer trusts in Christ, the wrath of God will “pass over” them and by this sign, the Lord makes a difference, not just “between the Egyptians and Israel” but between those who will be saved and those who will be damned (John 3:16-18).

The Destroyer

God tells Moses that if there is lamb’s blood over the doorposts and the lintels, “the Lord will pass over the door and not allow the destroyer to come into your houses to strike you” (Ex 12:23) and warns all of the Israelites that no one “shall go out of the door of his house until morning.  For the Lord will pass through to strike the Egyptians; and when He sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the Lord will pass over the door and not allow the destroyer to come into your houses to strike you” (Ex 12:22-23). God never calls the “destroyer” an angel and it is not a proper noun or the capitalized name of a specific being so we cannot conclude that there is anyone called “the death angel” nor does this appear to be God Himself.  Perhaps it is an angel that is given a specific duty and so this angel is called “the destroyer” because the Hebrew word used for “destroyer” is “shachath” which means “to destroy, to corrupt, to ruin” so “the destroyer” may not be a specific being, angel or not, as much as it is a job description.  Rather than “the destroyer” being a proper noun, it is an action that is performed.  We call someone who surveys land a “surveyor” but we know that’s not their real name so this remains a mystery and unless we can be dogmatic about it, we simply have to say we don’t exactly know, although God customarily uses angels for judgment.  Which angel, if it is one, can only be speculated on and I simply will not speculate.

Conclusion

We must worship God and not angels and if we have never repented and trusted in Christ, we essentially worship our own selves just as Paul wrote, we “worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator” (Rom 1:25).  Jesus warns “unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:5) and “you will die in your sins; for unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins” (John 8:24).  Can it be any clearer than that?

Another Reading on Patheos to Check Out: What Did Jesus Really Look Like: A Look at the Bible Facts

Article by Jack Wellman

Jack Wellman is Pastor of the Mulvane Brethren church in Mulvane Kansas. Jack is also the Senior Writer at What Christians Want To Know whose mission is to equip, encourage, and energize Christians and to address questions about the believer’s daily walk with God and the Bible. You can follow Jack on Google Plus or check out his book  Blind Chance or Intelligent Design available on Amazon

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