Question: "What does it mean that angels are ministering spirits (Hebrews 1:14)?"
Answer: Hebrews 1:14 includes information about the ministry of elect angels to believers: “Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?” Angels are spiritual beings involved in many different tasks, and part of the elect angel’s work is to serve, or minister to, believers in different ways.
The Greek word for “ministering” refers to being in service to others. Being servants, angels are said to “serve” believers, which in the original Greek has the idea of someone waiting a table. The author of Hebrews refers to angels as ministers or servants to those who have trusted in Jesus for salvation, and the context of Hebrews 1 specifically contrasts the service of angels with the greater work of Jesus, since He is superior to angels (Hebrews 1:5–14).
As “ministering spirits,” angels serve believers in several ways. At times, angels are sent by God to answer prayers. An example of this is when Peter was imprisoned shortly after the execution of James (Acts 12). As Peter was in his cell chained between two guards, “the church was earnestly praying to God for him” (verse 5). “Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him up. ‘Quick, get up!’ he said, and the chains fell off Peter’s wrists” (verse 7). The arrival of an angel to rescue Peter was an obvious answer to the church’s prayer. God can use angels to answer our prayers just as He did in this instance, even if it is not in a visible manner.
Another way that angels are ministering spirits is that they are sometimes sent to encourage believers. In Scripture, angels encouraged and attended the Lord Jesus at least twice: after He was tempted in the desert for 40 days and 40 nights and in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 4:11; Luke 22:43). Paul was encouraged by an angel during a storm at sea (Acts 27:23–24).
Providing protection for believers is another service that angels do for the Lord (see Psalm 91:11). An army of angels surrounded Elisha in 2 Kings 6, protecting him from the Arameans. Daniel was protected in the lions’ den by an angel who “shut the mouths of the lions” (Daniel 6:22). Many people believe in personal “guardian angels”; it could be that every believer has an angel assigned to him for protection, but there is nothing specifically stated in the Bible about personal guardian angels.
Despite the ministries that angels carry out for believers, it is important to remember that the Lord of hosts is our Savior, and He is the one who ultimately sends them. Angels do not act on their own accord, nor are they omniscient or omnipresent (Psalm 148:5). The holy angels do God’s bidding. It is God alone who deserves the praise and glory for the answered prayers, encouragement, protection, and service that angels carry out for believers.
We are grateful for the “ministering spirits” that God has ordained, and we give God praise for His care for us. For all their power and glory, the elect angels know their role as servants of the Most High. Like the angel in Revelation emphatically said to John when the apostle tried to worship him, “Don’t do that! I am a fellow servant with you and with your fellow prophets and with all who keep the words of this scroll. Worship God!” (Revelation 22:9).