“Heaven gained another angel today in the passing of my aunt.”
“My grandpa died five years ago and for these five years I’ve had the best guardian angel ever.”
“Today is the anniversary of my dad passing away. I woke up to a beautiful sunrise and I knew he sent it to remind me he’s always with me. Thanks, dad!”
Have you seen statements like these? I’m sure you have. These kind of sentiments are very common and often said to help people deal with the death of a loved one. There’s a slight problem with statements like the ones above, however. None of them are even remotely true.
Rather than look to human emotion, let’s check out what the Bible has to say about angels. Angels are mentioned quite a bit throughout Scripture. (For a more thorough look at this topic, read the “What About” series pamphlet What About Angels.) Yes, God sends His angels to watch and protect us, our “guardian angels,” if you will. Psalm 91:11-12 tells us “He will command His angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.” In Matthew 18:10, Jesus is speaking about children and refers to “their angels in heaven.” Hebrews 1:14 calls angels “ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation.” But angels are separate created beings, completely different from human beings. Jesus came to earth to suffer and die and rise again for humanity, not for angels. 1 Peter 1:12 points out that the plan of salvation, the incarnation and work of Jesus, was revealed to humans, and angels can’t even comprehend it—“Even angels long to look into these things.”
So if we don’t turn into angels, what happens to us when we die? Our physical bodies are left behind on earth until the final Judgment Day, but our souls depart. The souls of unbelievers are doomed to hell, while the souls of believers are taken to heaven. In the story of the rich man and Lazarus, both of these truths are shown in Luke 16:22-23. “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side.” Angels escort our souls to heaven, but we do not become angels ourselves.
Philippians 3:21 tells us that when we are in heaven, Jesus “will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body,” and 1 Corinthians 15:35-57 speaks at more length about the resurrection bodies we will have in heaven. Revelation 7:9-17 distinguishes between the “great multitude…from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb” (verse 9) and “all the angels [who] were standing around the throne” (verse 11). Angels and human beings are distinct from one another. You will not become an angel when you die.
But isn’t is sort of comforting to think that your loved one is watching over you, sending you rainbows and sunsets and beams of light to remind you of their presence? Honestly, if you really think about it, that’s not comforting at all. Who sends rainbows and sunsets and rays of light beaming down from heaven? God Himself. Don’t rob Him the honor due His name by trying to attribute those things to a human being. God alone is the Creator, He is the one who deserves the praise. And think about this. I mean, really think about it. As far as deceased relatives watching out for you, would you really want your dead grandfather watching every little thing you do? I wouldn’t! Would you want him to look down from heaven where he’s worshiping His Savior only to see you yelling at your kids or gossiping about someone or cursing someone out who cuts you off in traffic? Would you honestly want your grandpa to see your entire life—the good, the bad, and the ugly? There’s only One who sees everything I do and still loves and forgives me, and that’s the Triune God. God knows everything we do, say, and think, and He knows full well we don’t deserve heaven. But because of Jesus’ work on our behalf, we are forgiven. Only God could know every single fault of mine and still love me and want me to spend eternity with Him. That’s where real comfort is to be found—in knowing that God knows you completely and still loves you and calls you His own.
Recently a friend wrote to tell me of the death of his grandfather. He wrote, “My grandpa has passed away, certain of his salvation in Jesus Christ.” What a beautiful, comforting assurance to believers. No, his grandpa isn’t hovering around on earth watching over him. He is enjoying something far better than those of us still on earth can ever imagine—fellowship with His Savior. No offense to my future grandchildren, but when I die I really don’t want to hang around to watch them. God’s own angels are perfectly capable of that. I’d much rather be singing in the heavenly choir, worshiping “with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven,” seeing my Redeemer face to face. And thanks to Jesus, that’s exactly what will happen.