The peasant feels compassion for the naked man and brings him to his home, where he teaches him to be a cobbler. Eventually the rescued man reveals that he is in fact an angel and that he was being punished for failing to carry out a heavenly assignment to take the soul of a woman who was scheduled to die. He felt sorry for her because she had small children and they might die if left on their own. The fallen angel was told that he had to live as a human and suffer as a human until he “learned what men live by.” One of the most important things he learned was that the woman's soul was taken by another angel and the children did not die because another woman felt love and compassion for them and became a second mother. The fallen angel learned that what men live by is love and caring for one another. When he learned this lesson he was transformed into an angel again and ascended into heaven.
Tolstoy became a devout Christian in his later years and went directly to the words of Jesus in the New Testament, rather than to the rituals and dogma of the Russian Orthodox Church, which ultimately excommunicated him. Jesus commanded his followers to love one another. (“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” John 13:34) Tolstoy considered this the principle message of Christianity. The most important part of his story comes at the end when the fallen angel is ready to return to heaven and tells his rescuer and his wife what he has learned from his experience as a mortal.