Updated: Jun 29
I sat in Theology class hanging on to every word he said and taking notes furiously. I highly admired him as I put a lot of stock in degrees and he had his M.Div. and Ph.D. from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and had done advanced study at Vanderbilt University and Oxford University in England. He was the fourth president of a well known seminary. I felt fortunate to be taking this class. When he covered angels he told us, "Angels are not human beings. We do not become angels when we die." I remember it so well because my entire life I had thought when we die we become angels in heaven. Where had I gotten that idea?
His teaching on angels interested me and afterwards I started noting angels every time I read about them in the Bible. What was the Bible verse telling me about them?
Angels are mentioned 108 times in the Old Testament and 175 times in the New Testament. That's a lot of references to angels. Here's what we know about angels from studying Scripture. The information we can say we know about angels has to come from Scripture which as the Word of God is authoritative for our lives.
The word "angel" is aggelos in Greek and mal'ak in Hebrew.
They both mean "messenger."
God created angels. When did He do that? We don't know, but it was probably with the creation of the heavens in Genesis 1:1. God is not creating any more of them and because they are immortal they do not die. The number of angels is not increasing or decreasing. The number of angels is constant.
Angels are spiritual beings and do not have physical bodies like humans do. Jesus said, "... for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have." (Luke 24:39) Angels can take the form of a person when they need to do so. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it. (Hebrews 13:2) Two angels entered Sodom and the men of Sodom thought they were regular men. (Genesis 19) There are numerous places in the Bible where angels have an appearance of men.
There are a lot of angels. Armies of them! "Or do you think that I cannot appeal to My Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions of angels?" (Matthew 26:53) A legion in a Roman army was about 6000 men. Hebrews 12:22 says in the city of the living God there are "myriads of angels." Revelation 5:11 tells us there are "myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands" of angels, living creatures and the elders praising the Lamb on His throne. Lots of angels.
There are different kinds of angels. Archangels, cherubim, and seraphim are three kinds named in the Bible. Archangels are angels of the highest rank. Only Michael is identified in the Bible as an archangel. Cherubim are angels which guarded the way to the tree of life in the Garden of Eden. (Genesis 3:24) And we find golden cherubim on the mercy seat of the ark of the covenant. (Exodus 25:18,20) Cherubim have wings. Seraphim seem to be high ranking in the angel hierarchy. They have six wings each and are in constant adoration of God. (Isaiah 6:2) Most references to angels in the Bible don't mention anything about wings or flying. We only know the name of two angels - Michael, an archangel, and Gabriel who was a special angel who delivered messages from God to Daniel, Zacharias, and Mary. [Catholics believe in an angel named Raphael who is mentioned many times in Tobit - see Tobit 5:4. Tobit is a book of the Apocrypha and is not in Protestant Bibles. The Roman Catholic Church says Raphael is an archangel.]
Angels are very powerful. Angels are greater in might and power than humans are. (2 Peter 2:11) A single angel struck down and killed 185,00 men of the Assyrian army! (2 Kings 19:35) Even though angels are powerful, they aren't as powerful as God is. Only God is omnipotent.
Apparently when angels appear in the glory of the Lord, they are a scary thing to behold! The normal reactions when humans would see an angel is to fall on their face in fear. The angels always tell them, "Do not be afraid."
And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people." (Luke 2:9,10)
There are good angels and evil angels. Angels are similar to humans in that they have free will. Satan was an angel who rebelled against God. He took one third of the angels with him. (Revelation 12:3,4; 9) We call the fallen evil angels "demons." Demons are going to try to appear to us as good angels. But we are to test the spirits. There is a spiritual battle going on between the angels and the demons. While demons are powerful, we have the power of the Spirit in us. In the name of Jesus there is no need to fear demons. God will bring demons to a final defeat.
Angels have a purpose.
Their number one purpose it to praise God. Angels always give glory to God.
Angels are messengers. They carry God's will and instructions to mankind.
They often provide for people and meet their physical needs.
They protect God's people and keep us out of harm's way from physical dangers.
Angels have delivered people out of dangerous situations.
They will strengthen and encourage God's people. Angels are ministering spirits.
Sometimes God uses angels to answer our prayers.
Sometimes God uses angels to destroy His enemies.
Angels carry our spirit to heaven when we die.
Often people wrongly believe that when someone dies they become an angel.
Does it matter?
After anyone dies, people comment something like "Heaven got another angel." This is simply not true. I had thought the same thing before I took that theology class and looked into what we know about angels. I wondered why people believe that. I think I believed it because others had told me that. It had to come from somewhere. For years I tried to figure it out. Perhaps it comes from great movies like It's a Wonderful Life where Clarence is trying to get his wings.
The only Scripture verse I can find that people might misinterpret is Luke 20:34-36.
Jesus said to them, "The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage; for they cannot even die anymore, because they are like angels, and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection."
We are "like" angels in that there will be no marriage, no procreation, no death. Resurrected believers cannot die. It does not mean we become angels. (See also the matching verses in Matthew 22:30 and Mark 12:25)
You won't hear a minister at a funeral say the person who died is an angel because they aren't an angel.
Angels and humans have some things in common and in some ways we are "like" them. That does not mean we become angels. We were both created by God meaning we have a starting point. We both have free will and can choose to be with God or reject Him. Angels made that choice at the beginning of time. We have the chance to make the choice during our lifetime.
Angels are separate ministering spirits.
Are they not all ministering spirits, sent out to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation? (Hebrews 1:14)
Angels serve God and minister to us.
But does it matter if people believe they will become or their loved ones who have died have become angels? And this is a question I wrestled with for years. I wanted to correct people when I'd hear them say it, but the only time I heard it was when someone died. And that is certainly not an appropriate time to correct grieving people - especially if it really doesn't matter.
And then I recently read why it does matter in the book, 9 Common Lies Christians Believe by Shane Pruitt (affiliate link.) I went, "Oh!"
Angels can't be redeemed. There is nothing in the Bible that indicates they can be saved. Angels either chose to glorify God or they rejected Him and fell from grace and then became demons. Once they made that choice, that is their eternity. Angel or demon.
Humans on the other hand can be redeemed!
The crux of the Bible is God's redemptive plan for mankind.
For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.
Jesus came as a human. He taught us. He was crucified. He was resurrected.
He was the sacrificial atonement for our sin. He is the Mediator of a new covenant in His blood. And whoever believes will in Him have eternal life.
What Jesus did was for us, not angels.
For assuredly He does not give help to angels, but He gives help to the descendant of Abraham. (Hebrews 2:16)
Who is the "descendant of Abraham"? We believers are. Our belief in Jesus Christ makes us children of God. We are adopted in to His people. Jesus came to redeem us.
That is a truth we can hang our hat on. Believe it to your core.
If your loved one who died knew the Lord, that person is more alive than you are right now. They know complete joy, peace, rest. They are glorified! They no longer suffer. They no longer are depressed. They are no longer held hostage by sin. Every tear has been wiped away. They will never be dead!
Jesus Christ's resurrection was literal and physical. His body was able to be seen, it was real, it could be touched and was recognizable. And so will our resurrected bodies! Angels are spirits and there is nothing in Scripture that says they will have bodies like us.
Your broken heart should be mended by the promises of Scripture.
We do not grieve as others do who have no hope.
We are to comfort each other with the hope we have been given.
The biblical view of what happens to us when we die from my theology class notes:
We remain conscious. Our spiritual eternal decisions are sealed. We go to a place that reflects our choice. We are judged. We go to heaven or apart from God for eternity.
Angels aren't redeemed. They made that choice a long time ago whether to worship and serve God or to reject Him. They are what they are.
Humans can be redeemed!
Praise the Lord!
[I once had an encounter with an angel. At least I think I did. I know that sounds unbelievable to most people. But at the time I thought it was an angel. I still believe that over a decade later. Entertaining Angels]