Christianity values the powerful spiritual beings called angels who love God and serve people on divine assignments. How many angels are there? The Bible says that a tremendous amount of angels exist -- more than people can count. In Hebrews 12:22, the Bible describes “an innumerable company of angels” in heaven.
It can be overwhelming to think about so many angels, unless you think in terms of how God has organized them. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have all developed hierarchies of angels to answer the question: “What are angel types?”. Here’s a look at who’s who among Christian angels:
Theologian Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite studied what the Bible says about angels and then published an angelic hierarchy in his book The Celestial Hierarchy (circa 500 A.D.), and theologian Thomas Aquinas gave additional details in his book Summa Theologica (circa 1274). They described three spheres of angels consisting of nine choirs, with those closest to God in the inner sphere, moving outward toward those angels who are closest to human beings.
First Sphere, First Choir: Seraphim
The Seraphim angels are in charge of guarding God’s throne in heaven, and they surround it there, constantly praising God. In the Bible, the prophet Isaiah describes a vision he had of Seraphim angels in heaven calling out: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory” (Isaiah 6:3). The Seraphim (meaning “burning ones”) are lit from within with brilliant light that manifests their passionate love for God. One of their most famous members, Lucifer (whose name means “light bearer”) was closest to God and known for his bright light, but fell from heaven and became a demon (Satan) when he decided to try to wrest God’s power for himself and rebelled. In Luke 10:18 of the Bible, Jesus Christ described Lucifer’s fall from heaven as looking “like lightning.” Since Lucifer’s fall, Christians consider the angel Michael to be the most powerful angel.
First Sphere, Second Choir: Cherubim
The Cherubim angels protect God’s glory, and they also keep records of what happens in the universe. They are known for their wisdom. Although Cherubs are often portrayed in modern art as cute babies sporting tiny wings and big smiles, art from earlier eras depicts the Cherubs as imposing creatures with four faces and four wings that are completely covered with eyes. The Bible describes Cherubim on a divine mission to guard the tree of life from humans who had fallen into sin: “After he [God] drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life” Genesis 3:24).
First Sphere, Third Choir: Thrones
Throne angels are known for their concern for God’s justice. They often work to right wrongs in our fallen world. The Bible mentions the Thrones angelic rank (as well as the Principalities and Dominions) in Colossians 1:16: “For by him [Jesus Christ] were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him.”
Second Sphere, Fourth Choir: Dominions
Members of the Dominion angelic choir regulate the other angels and supervise how they perform their God-given duties. Dominions also often act as channels of mercy for God’s love to flow from Him to others in the universe.
Second Sphere, Fifth Choir: Virtues
Virtues work to encourage human beings to strengthen their faith in God, such as by inspiring people and helping them grow in holiness. They often visit Earth to perform miracles that God has empowered them to perform in response to people’s prayers. Virtues also watch over the natural world God has created on Earth.
Second Sphere, Sixth Choir: Powers
Members of the Powers choir engage in spiritual warfare against demons. They also help human beings overcome the temptation to sin and giving them the courage they need to choose good over evil.
Third Sphere, Seventh Choir: Principalities
The Principality angels encourage people to pray and practice spiritual disciplines that will help them grow closer to God. They work to educate people in the arts and sciences, communicating inspiring ideas in response to people’s prayers. Principalities also oversee the various nations on Earth and help deliver wisdom to national leaders as they face decisions about how best to govern people.
Third Sphere, Eighth Choir: Archangels
The meaning of this choir’s name is distinct from the other use of the word “archangels.” While many people think of archangels as the highest-ranking angels in heaven (and Christians recognize some famous ones, such as Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael), this angelic choir is made up of angels who mainly focus on the task of delivering God’s messages to humans. The name “archangel” is from the Greek words “arche” (ruler) and “angelos” (messenger), hence the name of this choir. Some of the other, higher-ranked angels do participate in delivering divine messages to people, however.
Third Sphere, Ninth Choir: Angels
Guardian angels are members of this choir, which is closest to humans. They protect, guide, and pray for people in all aspects of human life.