Last week, and last blog (which you can find here) we talked about worship and understanding that everything we do, from waking to sleeping, is worship and should be seen as such. And that worship, in the New Heaven and New Earth, is singing and praising but it’s also walking with friends and enjoying that which God created. Simply put: We were created to worship God – and worshipping God is what we will do!
But in our last of the 5 part “what’s next” road series – we are tackling angels. Specifically, the theology and belief that humans, when we die, become angels.
Let’s begin with reading our text that will be the backdrop for this blog. Please read Genesis 1:26-27. I’ll wait.
I’m not really sure why it all started – why this confusion of angels and humans began. For me, I remember seeing a FB post about 5-6 months ago from someone who had lost their grandmother. And it was a very sincere post – and while sad it was also hopeful for them. Their “hope” or what turned their sadness into manageable emotions was that while they lost their grandmother they were comforted knowing that they now had a “guardian angel” watching over them (their words, not mine). Their loved one had passed on from here and received her wings – so to speak. And what I then began to notice was that more and more people were embracing this view. I began to talk to some well-intended Christians … and this “human-to-angel” morphology was prevalent.
And while it’s really hard to follow all the different paths this belief has taken us – it appears we can trace it back to a man by the name of Emanuel Swedenborg – a Swedish scientist, philosopher, theologian, and mystic who wrote a book in 1758 titled “Heaven and Hell”. It was massive in its circulation for the time – translated from Latin into many different languages… its reach was vast…it’s theology…speculative. Actually – not even speculative…un-biblical.
1758…it’s now 2017…that’s a lot of years – too many for me to figure out off the top of my head. And what’s really fascinating to me is I really can’t find any theologians or lay-trained ministers who still think this way – and yet…there are still some Christians who place this angel-hope on loved ones.
But we’re also not doing ourselves any help by our financial support of this theology too. We have jewelry that we inscribe our loved ones name on it – jewelry that depicts little angels with wings. And we buy them. We buy poems and pictures and frame them and put them in our house, and we listen to songs about angels and losing loved ones but thank God they now are soaring above, and watching us below – protecting, leading, and guiding us. Those loved ones, now, become our guardian angels – our guides…our comfort…our peace. It’s become prevalent in our culture, and even Christian culture to state that we’ve been “promoted” and received our “wings”. As if all of life we were training for this very moment to become eventual pilots. Heaven’s Pilots…if you will.
I was speaking with a gentleman on Wednesday about this as he asked what I was preaching on – and his comment was, “Yeah…but people find peace and comfort in their loved one’s death if they can picture them as any angel – is that so wrong? Even if the theology is wrong?”
As I have stated since the beginning of this 5 week series – we need to get our theology right. We need to not only understand what we believe but why we believe it. Which means…we need to turn to scripture.
Let’s begin by looking at angels.
The word “angel” simply means messenger of God (in both Hebrew and Greek) – and so our definition really becomes the function – it’s their mission rather than their identity (Morgan and Peterson). They work on God’s behalf to relay messages and work on behalf of God. They hear him, they speak to him, and they are in direct communication with him and receive their orders from him. As one author puts it, they see him “face to face.” And there are two kinds of angels – good and evil. Good would be the cherubim and seraphim, archangels, choirs and hosts of angels – all those we see associated with God. But on the flip side there are evil angels and their deities – all those who associate with the devil.
With God’s angels we see this face-to-face communication with him as they receive his will and are instructed to then do it. In scripture we see them take on bodily form throughout the Old Testament in calling people to action, in delivering news from God and even carrying out missions or work. And of course we see them at the beginning of Job (1:6) as coming and going across the earth and reporting all things back to God.
We see angels calling specific people – like Gideon (Judges 6:11-23), angels bringing needs to people in distress as seen in 1 Kings 19:5-7. We see angels working and present in Sodom and Gomorrah and rescuing Lot (Gen 19). We see them bringing good news in many different places … most specifically – with the announcement of Mary’s pregnancy as well as Christ’s birth. Angels…are everywhere! And all of them are working to God’s glory and his will.
But NOWHERE do we read or see that these angelic hosts and beings…were ever once human. Nowhere do we ever find that these angelic beings were humans that had passed on and received their wings. And yes, arguably, we also don’t see anywhere that we DON’T become angels once we die…but that line of thinking is broken – it’s a fallacy – it’s an argument that doesn’t hold water. Because never should we insert things simply because we don’t see or read about them. But what we CAN do is go towards the other side…let’s look briefly at humans.
Our text today states that humans were created in the image of God. Now that statement alone packs a lot with it. Being created in the “image of God” means simply reflecting who he is – in so many different capacities. Relation, we are like him in love, wisdom, holiness, and justice – we are like him in our life.
And while our understanding of what this means to be made in the image of God has changed throughout time – today’s understanding is actually very close to John Calvin’s – in that “image” is reflected in our relation to one another and to God. It’s the use of these capacities in relation with God and other people that reflect most clearly what it means to be created in God’s image. It’s our spirituality, our heart – it’s what’s inside.
And I bring this up because none of this is what we see with angels. None of this image bearing is reflected in who they are, what they do, and their own separate relationship with God.
A few other things to consider…
If angels were once humans…then that would imply that humans were created before Adam and Eve – on the flip side – we’d have to say that there were NO ANGELS before Adam and Eve if we believed one becomes the other – and yet Job 38:7 reflects an active joyful praising BY ANGELS at creation while the morning stars “sang together.”
Paul writes in 1 Cor 6:3 that humans will judge angels.
Psalm 8:5 proclaims that we, humans, are considered a “little lower” than angels.
What this means is that scripture differentiates between us.
We talked about the “Intermediate State” a few weeks ago and in that Revelation 7:9 text we see the multitudes before the throne worshipping God. Not just angels – but angels and the souls of those who had died. So let me throw this out there: If we became angels – how would that worship as seen in Revelation 7:9 happen? Do we go into a trial period in heaven and don’t becoming angels until we’ve proven we deserve our wings?
Never do we read that we were created one thing and then morph into something new. Nowhere do we read that if we are good – we get our wings, or if we are faithful then we become angelic hosts later on. And I know this sounds silly but it’s absolutely true – humans becoming angels would be like a chicken becoming an eel or a squirrel becoming toad. Two VASTLY different creations.
This whole series that we’ve been on has taken place because it is imperative that we get our theology right. Death is a universal killer. It isn’t racist, sexist, or discriminating in any way. And you and I have hope that there is more than this sinful life that we live…that there is more than the rat-race of our daily runs, that there is more to life and living than work and sleep. There is more to life than daily struggling to pay bills, put food on the table and anything and everything else we experience. Our hope is built on the hope and facts that the Bible lays out.
- Hopes like the fact that we are not alone nor abandoned. God doesn’t leave you where you are and go off to someone else more important. Hebrews 13:5 reminds us of that truth.
- The hope and fact that Jesus Christ came to earth to die for your sins so that you could be with him for eternity. Taking on sin and death, pulling all of that weight upon his shoulders and breathing his last breath for you – his death ushered in life for you. Phil 1:21 reminds us of that truth.
- That fact that in his death we not only gain life but we gain eternity with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Christ’s death made it so that we don’t go to hell, we don’t go to where our sins demand that we be taken – but instead our bodies lay dormant, here on earth, while our souls are taken up to God to be in his presence and glory – in worship and praise of him with the souls of many and angelic hosts of many more – until Christ should come again and bring in the New Heaven and New Earth. Wiping out sin and destruction from this earth and restoring it to what it was – what we typically would call “Eden.”
All of that…biblical truths we live into each and every day.
Understanding our theology, understanding our hope allows us to be in comfort for our loved ones who pass and our own eventual passing that stands before each and every one of us. But it also helps us understand who we are today. Who we were CREATED TO BE.
This whole sermon series came about because of this hope (and that’s the keyword I’ve come to hear: hope) that many believers have placed, that when their loved one passes away they now have an angel watching over them. I don’t know if I’m more concerned with the bad theology that we become angels or the fact that we are placing hope and comfort upon that line of thinking (be it good or bad theology). Our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus Christ my righteousness (as that good old Lutheran hymn proclaims). If we are going to speak of hope, if we are going to speak of peace and comfort when it comes to death, then let it be nothing else than the hope and love and grace of Jesus Christ and his redemptive work upon the cross and the simple and basic fact – our only hope I might add – that he sealed our fate to be with him forever.
I want to close with, what is to me the whole point: Heb 2:6-7, 9 states, “But there is a place where someone has testified: “What is mankind that you are mindful of them, a son of man that you care for him? 7 You made them a little lower than the angels; you crowned them with glory and honor. 9 But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.”
That is our hope and that is our peace and comfort in living and in dying. That is our ONLY hope.
As usual – I’d love to hear your thoughts on this…so what do you think? And for those who followed along on these past 5 weeks – I appreciate you taking the time.
Pt 2: The Intermediate State
Pt 3: The Multitude
Pt 4: An Eternity of Worship
Pt 5: Do We Become Angels?