Our church is enduring a season in which many beloved saints have died. Having now experienced our fifth funeral in eight weeks, we are weary of the sting of death, which persists until Christ returns. With the grief of death many gather to express condolences and offer comfort; this is a great ministry of the body of Christ. But as we receive and offer encouragement, we must be careful that we offer gospel-centered, scriptural comfort, testing all our words with Scripture. While undoubtedly well-intentioned, sometimes statements are made that suggest departed saints are now “angels in heaven, watching over us” or serving as “our guardian angel, giving protection and guidance.” Heartfelt though these remarks might be, they suffer from at least two mistakes. First, speaking with reference to our own family who recently lost our much beloved “Popaw,” we must emphatically say that Popaw is not an angel. Second, though meant with love, the suggestion that Popaw is an angel is actually not the compliment it seems. Let me explain.
To the first point, nowhere does the Bible teach that Christians become angels after death. Maybe it’s the former popularity of television shows like “Highway to Heaven” and “Touched by an Angel” that has caused this idea to seep into our consciences. Or maybe we just have poor theology. But Scripture is clear: angels are ministering servants (Heb 1:14) created by God to do his will. Yes, they are sinless—aside from the rebellious demons that followed Satan in spurning the authority of God. But they are sinless because they have no alternative; once they had chosen loyalty to God they perpetually remained in that state. Humans, by contrast, are created in the image of God. In creating humanity, God did not primarily create servants, but beings who would correspond and relate to him for the express purpose of displaying God’s glory (Isa 43:7). To highlight the contrast: angels were created for service. We humans were created for fellowship. After this life, we will behold the glory of God with unveiled faces and look upon him with human eyes in glorified human bodies (1 Cor 15:42–49) as we gather around the throne in worshipful fellowship. Popaw is not an angel. He is a human being, created in the image of God and mercifully loved and redeemed by him.
This brings us to our second point. While being compared to an angel is not quite an insult, the analogy misses the true glory of humanity. This glory is that God created us to be a people for his own possession—his sons and daughters. Human sin marred God’s creative purpose, but God demonstrated the depth of his love and displayed the richness of his character by redeeming a rebellious creation through the incomprehensible sacrifice of his only Son. As the writer of the book of Hebrews states it, “surely it is not angels that [God] helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham” (Heb 2:16). Angels did not require redemption, but the elect offspring of Abraham did. Because of God’s rich mercy and great love God purchased a people for himself from every tribe, tongue, and nation to forever worship and know him, and he did this by the precious blood of his Son. God never died for an angel. God did die for the sons and daughters of Abraham. In the ages to come these will revel in the immeasurable riches of his grace as they reign as heirs with Christ.
In our family’s case, because of his faith in Jesus Christ, our beloved and now departed Popaw is not an angel. He is a redeemed saint and a son of the most high God. And this is true for every person who dies in Christ. Church, we are sons and daughters of the most high God, and we will enjoy eternal, face-to-face fellowship with him. Let this be our gospel-rooted, scriptural hope. Let us encourage one another with these things. And let us look forward with eager anticipation to the day of Christ’s return when the sting of death will once and for all be swallowed up in his glorious victory!