Who is the destroying angel?

Question
Who is the destroying angel?
Answer
I'm going to assume you are referencing the angel(s) in Scripture and not the ones called the Danites by Brigham Young, the founder of Mormonism. For that I would refer you to Brigham's Destroying Angel, by Bill Hickman and also Brigham Young's, Journal of Discourses, V. 5, p. 6 and Vol. 6, p. 176 where he mentions them.

Angels in the Bible are divine creatures, beings, or spirits created by God at some point in the beginning of all things (Job 38:7). There are elect angels and non-elect ones (1 Tim. 5:2; 2 Pet, 2:4; Jude 1:6; Rev. 20:2). They are not eternal, and they have their being in God and not in themselves. They are not glorified human beings; Scripture is careful to distinguish between angels and the spirits of just men made perfect (Heb. 12:22). It is also noteworthy that Christ did not take upon himself the nature of an angel but rather the seed of Abraham (Heb. 2:6; cf. Matt. 1:1; Gal. 3:16).

They are incredible beings who display moral judgment and have high intelligence. However, they are not omniscient (all-knowing), omnipotent (all-powerful), or omnipresent (all-present). While they are mighty beings and at times appear in bodily form (Matt 28:5; Heb. 13:2), they are not to be worshiped (cf. Rev. 19:10; 22:8-9). Unless they make themselves known (Num. 22:31; 2 Kings 6:17; Luke 2:13), they cannot be seen by human beings. Their normal activities include protecting and guarding the saints (Psa. 34:7; 91:11; Heb. 1:14) and giving worship to God (Heb. 12:22). We’re told we will judge angels (1 Cor. 6:3). (Please see, "Angels: Are There Angels Around Us?" below.)

It must be said that we don't know much about this destroying angel, but we do know it is an angel executing God's judgment. We're told God "makes his angels winds, and his ministers a flame of fire" (Heb 1:7; cf. Psa. 104:4) and, in Scripture, fire is often associated with judgment. So, God often uses heavenly beings to bring his judgment.

The destroying angel is also known as the "Angel of Death" (GNT). The most referenced visit from a destroying angel is cited from Exodus 12:23 (cf. destroyer, ESV, KJV; death angel, NLT). However, the word "angel" is not actually in the Hebrew text, so some state that it was the Lord himself that struck Egypt (cf. Exod. 12:12-13). However, God is sovereign and often operates his will through his angels to carry out his divine plan. Hebrews 11:28 says the being in Exodus 12:23 was the angel of death. And Psalm 78:49 states it was "a band of angels." We might reconcile the single and plural references by understanding that there is a hierarchy of divine beings, and in this case one angel of death in charge of other angels of destruction (for plurality of angels, see 2 Kings 6:17).

This angel of the Lord is referred to numerous other times in Scripture. He raged among the people in Jerusalem (2 Sam. 24:15-17), struck down 185,000 men in the Assyrian camp (2 Kings 19:35), and was seen as having a drawn sword in his hand stretched out over Jerusalem (1 Chron. 21:15). Also, an angel of the Lord struck down Herod (Acts 12:23) and is mentioned elsewhere in the New Testament as well (1 Cor. 10:10).

We should also note that the name "Abaddon" (aka: "Apollyon") appears in Revelation 19:11. In Hebrew, Abaddon means, "place of destruction,” and in Greek, Apollyon means "the destroyer." However, these are not the same words as used in Exodus 12:23. The LXX Greek translation of the Hebrew word for destroyer in Exodus 12:23 is olethreyonta, which is different than Apollyon, and the Hebrew term Abaddon is not even used in Exodus 12:23.

Related Topics

Angels: Are There Angels Around Us?

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (IIIM).