Angels and the Afterlife

Let me say one thing before we get to more important matters. We don’t become Angels when we die. Maybe more shocking to you, there is no reference to Angels having wings (those are Cherubim/Seraphim which is something different), no reference to female Angels, nor any reference to baby angels.

These beliefs flow into the void of information about Angels, and are frequently expressed by those who have only a casual acquaintance with the Bible. They have seen a Bible. Never really read it. It is also the product of medieval and Renaissance art.

Angels are a species of their own. There is no detailed description of what they look like, but the lack of description lends to the understanding that they are human-like, maybe even enough to pass for a human. In Acts, Stephen’s face is described as being “like the face of an angel.”, but there is no explanation of what that means. Hebrews suggests that we may “entertain” Angels unaware of their identity. It is implied that they look like humans.

The name angelus means messenger. Being a messenger from God is the main function we see Angels fulfilling. The species may not be called “Angels”, that is the moniker we have placed on them for lack of other terms. People, especially pastors, can be called angelus in the Bible.

One observed ability that Angels seem to have is the ability to be in Heaven or on Earth. I think this is a bigger idea than simply being able to travel. My assumption is that Heaven is a different time-space plane. One would not necessarily have a physical presence in another time-space plane unless you were made for it. In the case of humans, we acquire a heavenly body once we are in Heaven. We might not have one now.

Since Angels are creatures that properly reside in Heaven, they will be a part of our afterlife while we are in Heaven and possibly in the New Earth as well. What will our relationship be like? Other than to say good, it is hard to say the types of interactions we will have with Angels.

Currently, the Bible suggests that they assist us now behind the scenes. The book of Daniel speaks of Angels assigned to whole nations. In the case of Israel it is Michael. Michael might be a type of super-angel, however. In Matthew 18:10, Jesus speaks of the Angels assigned to little children, and suggests that they have favored access to God. In Acts 12:15, a servant girl mistakes Peter (who was supposed to be in prison) with his Angel. Together these passages may suggest that many or all of us have a “guardian Angel”.

In the Bible, Angels demonstrate the ability to break into prisons and blind guards to what is happening, to physically fight or block someone’s way, and to gather God’s people from around the planet. Hebrews describe humans as being “a little lower than the angels”, which I would take to mean that we have similar but inferior abilities for now.

A possible reference to Angels is found in Genesis 6:2:

the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose.

Genesis 6:2

Whoever the “sons of God” were, it would seems that this move was displeasing to God as it is at this point that God dials back the length of human life from potentially 900+ years to 120. It may suggest enough similarity to interbreed.

This passage and Jesus’ words in Matthew 22 bring into question the sexual nature of Angels and our own future sexuality. Jesus said,

At the resurrection people will neither marry or be given in marriage; they will be like the Angels in Heaven.

Matthew 22:30

Jesus never says what the Angels are like. We can infer that they do not marry, but this doesn’t say that they or humans after the resurrection will be asexual.

Like humans, Angels had their falling out with Satan. Revelation 12 suggest that around one third fell away, and now we equate them with demons. If fallen Angels are not demons, then we have no means to account for what a demon actually is. These Angels will share the fate of the damned.

God’s plan of salvation through Jesus’ death and resurrection definitely benefits humans, its also “redeems” creation so that there is a new Earth with a new nature on it. Does it impact Angels? Colossians 1 might refer to this:

For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him (Jesus), and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on Earth or things in Heaven, by making peace though his blood, shed on the cross.

Colossians 1:19-20

What that means for Angels is not clear. “All things” and “in Heaven” suggest that it means something. Any guess as to what is merely speculative.

From what we are told, we can expect to interact with, worship along side of , and enjoy an eternal relationship with Angels. The possibilities of what that will be like are as intriguing as what it will be like to interact with other humans who no longer are under the influence of sinful nature.

The Citizens of Heaven

We have a sketchy picture of what Heaven is like.  We have an even more cryptic description of who or what will be there.

As you read through the Old Testament it is never revealed that humans had any hope of being citizens of Heaven.  There are a few visions of Heaven, but nothing more.  Old Testament believers understood that they were heading first to Sheol (preferably a good part of it) and that their ultimate hope was their resurrection from the dead and a New Earth.

I don’t believe that this means that Heaven wasn’t in the plans for humans or that the idea of going to Heaven was a “development of theology” or borrowed from other cultures at a later time.  Our place in Heaven had to be secured before it was promised.  Satan held some leverage over us.  Our species were rebellious sinners just like he was and like a significant minority of angels.  As long as humans were “under the Law”, we were stuck.

Jesus’ fulfillment of God’s Law as a human and His sacrifice of Himself to reconcile creation to God caused some major reorganization.  Satan and his minions lost their legal leverage and being inferior in power to God were cast out (Revelation 12:7-10). Humans were lead in a victorious procession in.  (Ephesians 4:7)  So for now, Heaven is the destiny of redeemed humanity until Judgment Day and a New Earth.

Who else will we find in Heaven?  Angels are one form of resident.  It is said of angels that they are “spirits”.  What does that mean exactly?  I think it means that they are properly citizens of Heaven’s dimensional space and not properly a part of this universe.  They can take on a form here or not, but it is not necessarily their form.  So what does an angel in Heaven look like?  We don’t know.  How many are there?  Beyond saying that there are many, we don’t know.  What are their abilities?  We can say that they are intelligent beings and that in some ways have higher capabilities than we presently have.  The name by which we know them, “angels”, speaks more to their function as “messengers” than as a proper name of their species.  I would expect them to be human-like in many ways.

Angels should be distinguished from Cherubim/Seraphim.  Isaiah 6, Ezekiel 1 and Revelation 4 described these beings as “living ones”(cherubim) or “burning ones” (seraphim).  They are described as intelligent and powerful beings who surround the throne of God.  Their physical description may be more symbolic than actual.  The description includes multiple faces, four to six wings, and covered with eyes–a rather frightening appearance.  Satan is described as being a disowned, guardian cherub (Ezekiel 28), beautiful, part of the council of God, and blameless until wickedness was found in him.

The only other citizens of Heaven that are described in the Bible (that doesn’t mean that their aren’t others) are a mysterious group of 24 elders. Who are these beings?  What are they?  They could be humans.  They do not appear in the only other descent description of God’s throne room in Daniel 7.  They are described in Revelation 4.  Since Revelation is full of symbolism, this could be a group symbolic of a greater portion of humanity.  Or not.  It is intriguing to think about how the picture given in Revelation 4 (a New Testament if not future picture) relates to references to a divine council found throughout the Old Testament.  More about this in my next blog.

Like the Angels

It is common axiom of what I call “folk Christianity” to believe that when we die we become angels.  This falsehood has been fostered by various movies and TV shows through the years, and probably has deep roots in history.  One such movie is the Christmas classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life”.  In it the character Clarence is some guy who died years ago, but was still struggling to earn his wings.  It’s a feel good movie with absolutely ignorant theology in it.  People don’t become angels.  There is nothing in the Bible to say angels have wings either.  They fly, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they have wings.  The winged creatures of the Bible, who are found in the presence of God, are called Seraphim (burning ones) or Cherubim (living ones).  They are not angels either.

Angels are a species unto themselves.  They appear to be humanlike in appearance, though precious little is actually said about how they look. Nothing to suggest that they don’t look like humans is ever noted.  Angels serve God and help people.  They are often messengers.  In fact, the word “angelos” means messenger, so a person could literally be an angel in that sense.

Today I would like to focus on one particular passage in which angels are mentioned, Luke 20:34-36:

Jesus replied, “The people of this age marry and are given in marriage.  But those who are considered worthy of taking part of that age and in the resurrection of the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage, and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels.  They are God’s children, since they are children of the resurrection.”

Jesus’ reply is to a line of reasoning presented by the Sadducees who did not believe a physical resurrection of the dead was possible.  They reasoned that if a woman had multiple spouses during her lifetime, then at the resurrection there would be an unacceptable mess, because she would have multiple husband’s all at once.  Jesus’ statement says only this:  there will be no marriage after the resurrection and angels don’t get married.

Many people conclude that this means that there will be no sexuality or reproduction.  The text does not say this, nor can it be inferred.  We simply do not know what kind of situation exists with the angels.  Isaiah 65, which is a strange passage, says this about the New Earth (which is after the resurrection):  “They will not toil in vain or bear children doomed to misfortune.”   At least on the surface, this would seem to suggest that there is procreation.

Jesus’ death and resurrection are the means by which we can have the eternal life that God has planned for us.  He is the only way one can be “considered worthy”.  We will not become angels, but angels will be among us.  Much of what life will be like is unknown, and it is difficult if not unwise to read between the lines of Scripture.  We can be sure of this, however, eternal life in Heaven and the New Earth will be awesome.