On Angels in Worship

angels worship God

I hadn’t given any thought to the notion regarding angels in worship until I dug deeper into the Scriptures. Were you and me to open our Bibles to Psalm 138, we’d read David’s words as saying, “Before the gods I will sing praises to You” (v. 1). However, in the Greek Old Testament and even the Latin Vulgate (Psalm 137), this passage does not say “gods,” but “angels.” The early church used the Septuagint and, later, in the West the church used the Latin Bible. Both of those give us the idea that the early Christians would have believed that their worship was an exercise, in a sense, of heaven on earth. The church sang to the Lord in the presence of and with angels, so it was believed. Even early church testimony on this viewpoint of worship is rather common among ancient Christian writers such as Origen and Gregory the Great.[1]

When God created the earth, the language used of His creating the ceiling of earth was architectural in the Hebrew which leads the reader to the conclusion that the earth was meant to have been God’s Temple, if you will. Because the earth was God’s Temple, He dwelt among humanity and His creation. However, when sin entered the picture, God cast humanity from His garden and had it guarded by cherubim with the flaming sword. Centuries later, God would give instructions to the Israelites to construct the tabernacle, and, later, the Temple. There in each, depictions of those sacred places closely resembled the presence of God’s throne room in heaven when one compares the descriptions of the Tabernacle/Temple and heaven and notes the similarities.

After Christ had been crucified, the church and Christians became the Temple of God (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19) so that worship of God was no longer limited to one physical location. Rather, God sent His Christians, the church, throughout the world to live out the kingdom of God so that He would be worshiped and the nations would flock to Him. Therefore, what we do in worship as the Israelites did, ought to mirror what already takes place in heaven. This is why right worship is so important.

When we gather on the Lord’s Day (Sunday) to worship our God, we who are confined by time and space on earth join in on something that is already ongoing in God’s very presence. Dean Bell said it this way, “We are caught up in a heavenly rhythm that originates outside of us.”[2] As such, we join the chorus of angels and archangel(s) in the worship of God. There can be no purer worship marked by spirit and truth than what the angels continuously offer to God, and since that worship takes place in His very presence, we know that we may mimic it so that our worship is also acceptable to God here on earth as a foretaste of heaven.


If we believe that Isaiah, Ezekiel, and John were prophets and received visions, we can dispense with the notion that John’s vision as given in Revelation was a plagiarism of Isaiah and Ezekiel. Rather, what John saw in his apocalypse was in spite of, given the Jewish nature of his writing,[3] having been familiar with Isaiah and Ezekiel. The vision he was given was one that was prophetical and a reflection of similar visions already disclosed in written works. Looking at John’s apocalypse, notably chapters four and five, and comparing it with Isaiah 6 and Ezekiel 1 & 10 suggests a uniformity of worship (i.e., liturgy; cf. Acts 13:2) in heaven before God.

The heavenly society is noted in Revelation 4:8 as unendingly worshiping God. Therefore, the manner of their worship, we may conclude, is acceptable to God. This can serve as a  model to inform our earthly worship to God more so than modern conventions and theorems regarding divine worship as something spontaneous and thrown together. When John was given a glimpse into the throne room of heaven in Revelation 4, he noted that around the throne were creatures reminiscent of those noted in Ezekiel 1 & 10 as cherubim. They, without rest, proclaimed a hymn similar to that of the seraphim in Isaiah 6, and they did such while the elders, supposedly other angelic beings, [4] cast their golden crowns before God. When John wrote his gospel, he identified the Lord from Isaiah 6 as Christ (John 12:41; cf. 1:14; Sirach 50:11–21). Therefore, the thrice holy hymn of the angels (Trisagion) in Revelation receives a Christological interpretation from John’s gospel.[5] This endless praise of God is also well attested to in other literature outside the canonical Scriptures.[6]


We also note that the angels present the prayers of the saints to God in Revelation 5:8 and also in Revelation 8:3–4. While our prayers are depicted as incense ascending to God (cf. Psalm 141:2; Luke 1:8–13), angels are those who bring it before Him. This belief is not without precedent. In the apocryphal book Tobit—written sometime between the fourth and second centuries BC—the angel Raphael brings prayers before God from Tobit and his family as well as prayers of the saints (Tobit 12:12, 15; cf. 1 Enoch 99:3).

The Roman centurion Cornelius was engaged in prayer when an angel appeared to him (Acts 10:1–3). The ninth hour was a prescribed prayer time, and Cornelius had been fasting and praying during this particular time (Acts 10:30–31; cf. 3:1), much like we read of Daniel when Gabriel appeared to him (Daniel 9:20–23). What’s particularly striking on this occasion is that the Greek in Acts 10:4 is similar to that of Tobit 12:12. In Acts 10:4, the angel informs Cornelius that his prayers and alms have come up as “a memorial” (μνημόσυνον) to God while Raphael, in Tobit 12:12, states that he brought to “remembrance” (μνημόσυνον) the prayer of Tobit and his family to God.

In both Acts and Tobit, the presence of language, an angel, and prayer support the belief as depicted in Revelation that angels present our prayers to God. Those prayers were often represented, as Revelation and other passages clearly state, by incense. The angels brought the incense to God’s remembrance, or into His presence. Therefore, when we pray, angels carry our prayers as incense to God. Not only that but from Revelation 8:3–4, angels also seem to add to our prayers as represented by their adding incense to what’s given to them. This does not at all indicate that we should pray to angels (cf. Colossians 2:18). Rather, we pray as we always have, and they take up the prayers to God and add to them. This may very well be the medium through which the Holy Spirit operates to aid us in our prayers (cf. Romans 8:26–27)—by using angels.


We note two passages that suggest to us that angels are present in our worship assemblies. First, there’s a passage from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, “For this reason the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels” (11:10). The discussion on head coverings notwithstanding, what’s clear from this passage is that angels are indeed as present in our worship assemblies as we are, though we cannot see them. This passage has been suggested as a part of the whole of a worship context and going from 1 Corinthians 11–16.

Second, the very mysteries proclaimed in the assembly, though not exclusively in the assembly of worship, contain wisdom into which the angels long to look (1 Peter 1:12). Since the deeds accomplished by Christ were in the flesh, the contents of the mysteries of the gospel as accomplished in the flesh are intriguing to the angels. We’ve noted how they are presently and continually praising and praying to God, something that can be one in the same (cf. Acts 16:25), but their apparent absence from the Lord’s Supper and preaching may very well be because these are mysteries into which they want to look. Therefore, they would be present in a capacity of praise to God over such mysteries but are not otherwise depicted in Scripture as participating in these two parts of worship.

[1] Robert Louis Wilken, “With Angels and Archangels,” Pro Ecclesia 10, no. 4 (Fall 2001): 460–74.

[2] Dean M. Bell, “With Angels and Archangels: Some Thoughts on Real-Time Worship,” Logia 11, no. 1 (Epiphany 2002): 35–43.

[3] Elaine Pagels, Revelations: Visions, Prophecy, & Politics in the Book of Revelation (New York: Viking, 2012), 46–47.

[4] Cf. Athanasius, On Luke 1.22. See also Timothy M. Willis, “Yahweh’s Elders (Isa 24:23): Senior Officials of the Divine Court,” Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 109, no. 3 (1991): 375–85; Larry W. Hurtado, “Revelation 4–5 in the Light of Jewish Apocalyptic Analogies,” JSNT 25 (Oct. 1985): 105–24.

[5] Bryan D. Spinks, The Sanctus in the Eucharistic Prayer (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 46–48.

[6] 2 Enoch 19:3–22:3.

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