By T.G. Blankenship at The Gethsemane Blog
Many people have a notion that when they die they shall be given wings and transformed into an angel, maybe even a loved-one's guardian angel. It is a popular belief that angels are an elevated form of human; an improved or superior type of being when compared with man. This is part of the reason why people will call a loved one their "angel" (though I like to think people use it to mean that the person is a messenger/servant of God in disguise as seen in the story of Lot when he lived in Sodom).
Some Christians even believe these things about angels and humans to be true. In fact, I recently came across a teaching of a man named Brian Barthrop, a false prophet/teacher, who stated, "The more you grow in the glory the more you feel and actually are an angel with a little body suit on." Because these views are so popular I want to try and set the record straight on the issue of angels, humans, their differences, and resurrection in a few short words.
The word for angel in the greek is 'angelos' (αγγελος) which primarily means messenger. An angel's primary function is to relay messages of God through both words and deed. Scripture shows angels relaying God's messages to humans (Acts 7:53), helping to protect humans (Genesis 19:15, Psalm 91:11), destroying (Psalm 78:49, 2 Samuel 24:16), killing (Revelation 9:15), aiding in judgment (Matthew 13:49), and even ministering to Jesus (Matthew 4:11). From the way angels are spoken of in scripture (especially the ones which depict the return of Christ) we can conclude that while they function here on earth they also derive from another place or plain in which God is present (John 1:51,Mark 13:27 and 32).
The creation account tells us that humans are made in the image of God (imago dei). This is never said of angelic beings. At the same time, both angels and humans have the free will to rebel against God as we see with Satan and the demons. It is debated whether or not these rebellious angels will be able to be redeemed as humans were. Billy Graham argued that they will not get to experience redemption since they rebelled without influence whereas humans were influenced by already rebellious beings. This argument looks to Matthew 25:41 for support. In 1 Corinthians 6:3, Paul makes it clear that humans will one day judge the angels (most likely in reference to rebellious angels which we call demons). A distinction is made between the two created beings in this verse.
In Hebrews 2, the author reminds the reader of Psalm 8:4-6 which states, "...what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet," This speaks of both Jesus (who was to come) and humanity in general. Jesus made himself lower than the angels in bodily form, taking on the form of a human who already was lower in form than the angels.
It is here, through a misunderstanding, that people get the idea that humans shall one day become angels. The passage says that humans and Christ shall, for a while, be lower than the angels. Doesn't this mean there shall come a time when men shall be angels? Not quite. It does mean that humans shall become like angels. This leads us into the discussion on resurrection. Christ was resurrected, the first of all who would be resurrected. When he was resurrected he had a different form of body, a heavenly body. This same transformation is promised to humans upon their resurrection.
In 1 Corinthians 15:35-49, Paul gives some explanation for the differences in the natural/earthly body and the spiritual/heavenly body and why we must first experience the natural/earthly body before experiencing the spiritual/heavenly body. For our purposes we can simply say that the two are different and that we are like Adam in our earthly state but shall be raised and made like Christ in our resurrection state. In Luke 20:36, Jesus also teaches on the post-resurrection nature of humans saying,, "...they cannot die anymore, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection" (Luke 20:36). But what is that post-resurrection body like? How is it no longer lower than the angels? How is it similar or equal?
Right away we can determine from this teaching that angels don't die and their bodies are thus imperishable. This shall be true of those humans who are resurrected. Paul continues his teaching that we examined a moment ago in verses 50-58 by stating that this transformation is a mystery. He also states, "...we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality" (vv. 52-53).
Jesus examples this spiritual body when he visits his followers after his resurrection. Mark 16:12 communicates that Jesus appeared in different forms to different people in this body.* We're told that angels can be disguised as humans (Hebrews 13:2) and we see this happen in the story of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19). It seems that the spiritual body is able to transform in these ways. Luke 24:31 shows the post-resurrected Christ being able to vanish before the eyes of two men. Perhaps this is also a characteristic of such a body. Later in the same chapter Jesus shows the wounds of his hands and feet to the followers to convince them that he is who he is. Perhaps this is part of his ability to transform and perhaps the marks are truly still there (many would argue that the marks remained and that it is not a trick).
Ultimately, being imperishable is the defining characteristic of this spiritual body which the angels already possess and which we shall inherit through the resurrection we receive and share in Christ Jesus. When the scriptures say than humans are lower than the angels it means that they are in bodies which are perishable. One day, those who are resurrected will have imperishable bodies, like the angels, but they will not be angels, they will be resurrected humans.
Matthew 22:30 says that we will be similar to angels after resurrection but it does not say that we will be angels. It is at that point that we shall share more similarities than we currently do, such as not being concerned with earthly bonds as found among spouses, but we will continue to be different from the angels. This passage gives a pretty clear picture as to why the notion of being a guardian angel for a loved one doesn't make sense biblically. When we enter into the resurrection we shall no longer have such concerns for God shall be everyone's all in all. A similar teaching can be found in Luke 20:27-39.
At the end of the day, scripture never gives the impression that a human shall become any angel or that an human has ever been an angel. Rather, scripture tells us directly that certain humans shall be resurrected just like Christ was resurrected and in that time they shall be transformed from a perishable body into an imperishable body. From that time forward humans will also be similar to angels in the way that they will no longer be concerned with things such as marriage or other unique bonds found only upon perishable earth. At no point are we instructed that humans shall return to their previous angel state or that they shall become angels, we are merely told that the two will have similarities as eternal beings who experience God as their all in all in his realized kingdom of heaven.
So the next time someone says you'll become an angel when you die or tries to convince you that you're already an angel in a human disguise, tell them that scripture paints a different picture.
*Some manuscripts don't include this passage.