How Many Are There?
One of the grandest spectacles along the parade of events marching towards Christ’s birth was when Heaven’s choir broke out in song way above the heads of the lowly country shepherds. The Gospel of Luke tells of this glorious event in the Christmas story (Luke 2:8-14):
Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them…And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”
As impressive as that worship service sung by the heavenly choir must have been, the Apostle John described an even more spectacular display of angelic vocals in Revelation 5. John had been taken up to Heaven and had just seen the resurrected Jesus — the Worthy Lamb. He watched as Jesus took the seven-sealed scroll out of the right hand of His Father who sat on the throne. Upon taking this scroll, which was the title deed to the earth, all Heaven erupted into praise!
I’d imagine John, as a visitor to the biggest worship service there has ever been, must have torn his eyes away from the Lamb for just a few moments to scan across the celestial crowd. The sheer number of worshiping angels must have boggled the Elder’s mind. Later, when John had returned to his Patmos cave to finish writing down all that he saw while visiting Heaven, he recorded how many angels had been involved in worshiping Jesus. He wrote, “And the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands” (Rev. 5:11).
That verse begs the question: Just how many angels were up there in Heaven participating in that glorious worship service? And, larger in scope, just how many angels are there altogether?
Well, that’s tough to calculate. With 108 references to angels in the Old Testament and 176 references to them in the New Testament, not one of those verses provides us with an exact angelic count. The reader is left pecking through the various Bible verses like a puzzler picking through a pile of puzzle pieces in the search for the ones that, when connected, form a particular corner of the puzzle. Some of these “puzzle pieces” are:
- Describing an encounter with God, Moses said, “The LORD came from Sinai…And He came from the midst of ten thousand holy ones…” (Deuteronomy 33:2).
- When Daniel was given a vision of God’s heavenly throne, he proclaimed that he saw: “thousands upon thousands…attending to Him” (Daniel 7:10).
- When Peter tried to defend Jesus at His arrest, Jesus told him He needed no defense because His Father could supply Him “with more than twelve legions of angels” (Matthew 26:53).
- The writer of the New Testament book of Hebrews referred to the heavenly Jerusalem as a place where there are “myriads of angels.” (Hebrews 12:22).
With so vague a numbering system, it’s no wonder that one of Job’s friends exclaimed, “Is there any number to His troops?” (Job 25:3). There are so many angels that, when God answered Job out of a whirlwind, He compared the angels to the countless morning stars all singing together (Job 38:7). How many stars are there in the universe? Space.com estimates that our own single Milky Way galaxy could contain some 200 billion stars or more, and there are 2 trillion galaxies in the observable universe spanning a mind-blowing 48 billion light-year’s radius, for a total of 1 septillion stars!1
Theologians, such as Ron Rhodes, report more conservative figures based on the Scriptures.2 Bearing in mind that angels do not procreate and never die, that means there remains a fixed number. The Jewish Kaballists have estimated 301,655,722. With such a massive number of angels, Thomas Aquinas concluded that there are clearly more angels than there are human beings.
I think we can conclude that there’s not a single person, other than God, who knows exactly how many angels there are. The angels themselves may have lost count, like a child attempting to number the stars in the night sky.
And so, the vague biblical counting of angels is meant to convey a great but indefinite figure. I suppose it is one that will stagger the human imagination one day when we learn their true numbers. One thing we know for sure, as one commentator has observed: “[Angels] meet us at the beginning of the Bible, at its close and almost everywhere in between.”3
1) Elizabeth Howell, “How Many Stars Are In The Universe?,” Space.com, (May 17, 2017), www.space.com/26078-how-many-stars-are-there html.
2) Ron Rhodes, What Does the Bible Say About . . .? (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 1997), pages 234-235.
3) Herbert Lockyer, All the Doctrines of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1964), page 128.