Their loved one dies and they post "She is now an angel in heaven." They'd post "Fly high my angel." Many people believe when someone dies they become an angel. I thought that too. Well actually I'm not sure I really thought about what happens when I die. But I would hear people refer to their loved ones who have passed on as angels and I didn't think a thing of it. I just accepted it because at that time everyone knew more about doctrine than I did. I assumed they were correct in thinking that.
Photo by Marek Studzinski on Unsplash
When the theology professor covered angels he told us, "Angels are not human beings. We do not become angels when we die." Then he went on to teach us about angels.
From that point on I started noting every time I came across "angels" in my Bible study and digging a little deeper.
When I learned that we do not become angels when we die, I wanted to correct people, but I did not. The only time you hear these things is when a loved one has died and then it is just not the appropriate time to correct the grieving person.
And I wondered was I wanting to correct them because of my prideful heart? 'Look at what I know and you don't'? I mean what is the harm if they believe their loved one is now an angel in heaven? Sure is it false doctrine, but it won't keep them from their heavenly salvation if they are a believer and so what is the big deal?
I've heard the term somewhere "triage theology." You all know what triage is in a emergency room. It is "the assignment of degrees of urgency to wounds or illnesses to decide the order of treatment of a large number of patients or casualties." Well some theological false doctrines are urgent because they affect the salvation of a person. For instance not believing Jesus is God or not believing in His atoning sacrifice on the cross would be major. If a person does not believe these things, but still thinks they are a Christian and will be in heaven when they die; it is crucial we should talk to them about it. I would say believing your loved one is an angel when they die is something on the order of needing stitches. It should at some point be corrected, but at the right time.
So I landed on the cringing every time I heard someone say my loved one got their wings, but being quiet about it. It just didn't seem like a big deal. It took me years of studying Scripture, noting verses with angels in them, and reading many commentaries and textual study Bible notes before I began to understand the role of angels in God's redemptive plan. And then I read, 9 Common Lies Christians Believe by Shane Pruitt (affiliate link) and it clicked in my mind.
I've been on this journey to figure out exactly what it is I believe and going deeper to really understand why I believe it. That matters to me personally, but it also matters so that I can give an answer to others who ask me about the hope in me. I Peter 3:15 tells us to sanctify Christ as Lord in our hearts and to answer others with gentleness and reverence.
To understand what the big deal is in wrongly believing people become angels when they die you first have to know what angels are and what is their purpose. Recently I wrote Angels - What We Know About Them. You can read it if you want to find out more about angels. But here is the short version from that article:
God created angels and they are spiritual beings.
Angels are immortal.
There are a lot of angels, but the number of angels is constant. No more are being created.
There are different kinds of angels.
Angels are very powerful and humans are not.
The purpose of angels:
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.
Angels glorify God, they serve God, they bring messages to man, and they minister to us.
Angels are separate ministering spirits and we are humans with a physical body. Different created beings.
Are they not all ministering spirits, sent out to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation? (Hebrews 1:14)
Angels when they were created were given free will. They are like us in that regard. At the beginning of time they made the decision to be on God's side or the decision to reject God and join Satan's side. The angels on Satan's side are fallen angels and we call them demons. Angels made a choice on who they will serve. They are what they are for eternity.
Jesus did not come for angels. Jesus came to redeem mankind! We can be redeemed! Like the angels we have free will and we have this earthly life to make the choice who we serve, whose side we are on, what we believe. It is a profound gift.
The Bible is first and foremost about God. And the Bible reveals God's redemptive plan for mankind to us. The Bible was written for us humans.
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.
I wrote about all of this in Angels - What We Know About Them. But since I wrote that my women's group began studying Hebrews. We are using Jen Wilkin's study Better - A Study of Hebrews (affiliate link to leader kit - there is a separate workbook you can purchase.) Excellent study by the way!
Hebrews connects the Old Testament to the New Testament. It was written to Jewish Christians who were very familiar with their Scripture. The book of Hebrews begins with the superiority of Christ - the superiority of the New Covenant over the Old Covenant. The author of Hebrews lays out a logical argument that we have something better! And the first two chapters of Hebrews have to do with Jesus Christ is superior to angels.
When the homework on Hebrews asked the question:
How can modern believers be guilty of giving misplaced attention - even worship - to the spiritual realm instead of to Christ? Why is it dangerous to do so?
I had an 'aha' moment and wrote a novel in my study book. Ha.
When people believe their loved ones become angels, their focus shifts. They spend time thinking their loved ones watch over them, intercede on their behalf, and have become their guardian angel. Look there is nothing wrong with thinking our loved ones are looking down on us. But angels are more powerful than humans. They have spiritual powers we do not have. In believing that your loved ones are angels, your are attributing power to your loved ones which they don't have. And putting emphasis on them trivializes what Christ has done for us. It takes our focus off of God. We are believing something that is lesser than the wonderfulness of reality.
The reality is way much better than becoming an angel!
Remember angels were created to serve God and to minister to us.
I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I had heard and seen them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who had been showing them to me. But he said to me, “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!”
We should not place any of our worship on angels. They aren't the ones who help us.
Only our Lord and Savior has what we want. For assuredly He does not give help to angels, but He gives help to the descendant of Abraham. (Hebrews 2:16) In other words, to us, to those who believe in Him.
The Bible tells us of God and how He saves us and our loved ones. What Christ suffered for us in order that we might be called children of God and receive our inheritance was profound and should bring us to our knees. It is He who looks down on us, He who protects us, He who can change our circumstances, He who saves us, He who we should worship. Don't diminish His blood atoning sacrifice by attributing any of that power and glory to our departed loved ones.
Humans have a special place with the Lord. He came for our salvation. Angels are lesser than us in that regard. They do not have the same relationship with Jesus Christ that we have with Him. Jesus is sympathetic to us. He identifies with us because He was human. He suffered for us, not that we would become angels, but that we would become glorified humans.
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 be one day!
If your loved one who died knew the Lord, that person is glorified! They know complete joy, peace, and rest because of Jesus. Your grieving heart should be mended by the promises of Scripture. Jesus came so we could be justified, sanctified, and then glorified. That is a special relationship with God only humans can claim. And it is better.
It may seem like I am splitting hairs and like I am making a mountain out of a molehill. But any time we give anyone else or anything else worship underserved, we are trivializing what Jesus did for us. Don't spend your time and put your focus on something less than the truth. Not when reality is so much better.
Humans have glorious hope! And that is how we should comfort each other in our times of grieving. Jesus came to redeem us. Let us be eternally grateful and give Him the glory.