Michael S. Heiser
“Every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings.”
These are familiar words for those of us who make a holiday tradition of watching the classic film It’s a Wonderful Life. The angel Clarence helps George Bailey discover the unseen but tremendous significance his mundane life played in the lives of others. It’s a heartwarming story, full of hope and encouragement. But what about its theology? Are guardian angels—like Clarence—really biblical?
Jesus’ words in Matthew 18:10 suggest the answer is yes: “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.” The passage affirms that children have angels who represent them before God. Where did Matthew get such an idea?
In Job 5:1, angels are presented as mediators between God and people. Job’s friend Eliphaz challenges him: “Call now; is there anyone who will answer you? To which of the holy ones will you turn?” Eliphaz presumes that angels would act as mediators between God and Job.
This understanding was common in the biblical world. Ancient Mesopotamians, for example, believed that humans had “personal gods” who could appeal for them before the assembly of gods.
We no longer need a mediator. Through His death and resurrection, Jesus now intercedes on our behalf before God (1 Tim 2:5). But the New Testament still describes angels as having an immediate ministry to believers, as demonstrated by Hebrews 1:14: “Are they [angels] not all ministering spirits, sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?”
Also, the narrative in Acts 12 shows us a continued connection between angels and people. After an angel frees Peter from prison and execution, Peter goes to the house of his fellow believers (12:6–10). Those inside don’t believe the servant girl’s report that he is at the door. They reply, “It is his angel!” (12:15). This statement testifies to the early Christian belief that humans had angels who acted as a kind of celestial double—attached to a person for their welfare.
The concept of angelic guardianship and activity in our lives is something we have often left to the imagination. Apparently, Hollywood gets some biblical things right. God’s agents are commissioned to act on our behalf, at His direction.
Biblical references are from the English Standard Version (ESV).