I remember as a child, hearing a school friend explain her theology of death. When people die, they go to heaven and become angels. This made sense to my young mind. And then a few years later I watched the classic movie It’s a Wonderful Life and it was cinched into my beliefs. Clarence the angel, a deceased individual, works on earning his wings by returning to earth and helping the protagonist, George Bailey, get through all his troubles. That proved it for me. Someday I’ll get to be an angel if I’m good enough! Who would turn that down?
Serious Bible study, however, eventually raised some questions about this view of the afterlife. Mainly, there is no human in the scriptures that’s ever described as transforming into a heavenly cherub or any other angelic form. According to the Bible, humans remain humans even after they die.
Why is that important?
The Roles God Intended
The Bible is clear that angels are spiritual beings created to be God’s servants, messengers, and worshipers (Hebrews 1:14; Luke 1:26-27; Revelation 4:8-11)—sometimes referred to as seraphim and cherubim. Psalm 8:5 says that we were made just a little lower than these heavenly creatures. And while we, in our present physical form, may fulfill similar roles as angels but less gloriously, it appears we were ultimately made for something more. Yes, humans are unique out of ALL creation.
I have often thought of God the Father, His Son, and the Spirit living in perfect unity for all eternity (read post on The Trinity). Their love and mutual submission flowing so perfectly between one another that they, the Godhead, can truly be said to be One. Imagine at a certain point, the Father saying, “We have so much love here in our divine family. Let’s make humans in our image and likeness so they can join us in our fellowship of love.” Sure, that’s not exactly how it’s said in Genesis 1:26. But neither is it a theological stretch to imagine this to be God’s intention. He wanted many sons and daughters to join Him.
We are given the impression that the first humans lived in intimate (family-like) fellowship with God in the Garden. The introduction of sin, however, changed all that. Much of the rest of the Old Testament storyline describes humankind as rebels, resisting God and His purposes. Jesus was then sent to provide a way to make us into those sons and daughters afterall, and show us what our Father is really like (John 1:12, 14:8-9).
No Angelic Children?
Interestingly, there are only three places in the Bible where angels are possibly referred to as children of God. The question is, even though they are called “sons of God,” are they considered members of the Triune God’s family?
Genesis 6:1-4 describes these “sons of God” as having sexual relations with the “daughters of men” and producing giants called Nephilim. While ancient commentators largely understood them to be rebellious angels intermingling with humans, many modern scholars see “sons of God” as referring to a certain group of humans. But whether or not this title is speaking of angelic beings, “sons” can also indicate something other than literal family members. The title of the biker-gang television show, Sons of Anarchy, is an example of using “sons” to describe merely those who are associated with something or someone, not literal children.
The other two biblical references, Job 1:6 and Psalm 29:1 both are thought to refer to angels as well. But again, these beings are like God simply because they’re spirit in nature and not because of any divine family connection.
All the above to say, angels were not created to be an intimate part of God’s family. Hebrews 1:5 says, “For to which of the angels did God ever say, ‘You are my Son, today I have begotten you’? Or again, ‘I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son’?” Only humans are offered the opportunity to cry out “Abba Father” to God (Romans 8:14; Galatians 4:6). We were created to have a different role than the angels in God’s grand scheme—to instead be children, receiving His fatherly inheritance (Ephesians 1:13-14), as well as serving His purposes out of familial affection. And we get to call Him Daddy!
Why is this significant?
I can think of a couple reasons this distinction between humans and angels is important for us.
The first is that a different process of judgment seems to be used. We’re told in 2 Peter 2:4 and in Jude 6 that the angels who disobeyed by abandoning their God-given roles (seemingly referring back to the “sons of God” having relations with the “daughters of men” in Genesis 6) were not given a second chance. But they were put in chains to await their final sentence.
Yet when the first man and woman disobeyed in the Garden, though they experienced serious consequences, an already-established plan for redemption was put into motion. A story thread running through the Bible is that of a merciful Father seeking to draw His rebellious children back into relationship with Himself. The Advent of Jesus is the culmination of this pursuit and the ultimate display of mercy and love. We have been given the possibility of being forgiven our transgressions because we were originally created to be family members with the Godhead. That offer doesn’t appear to be on the table for angelic beings.
Another point of significance in drawing clear lines between humans and angels is that our identity and value as humans are clarified. It is no small thing to be offered a divine destiny as God’s children. We’re told in 1 Peter 1:12 that the Good News of God’s redemptive plan for humankind is so breathtaking that angels are eagerly following the process as it unfolds. Do we truly appreciate this? We are the ultimate reality show for the heavenly host. They are in awe watching us who are so favored to have identities as sons and daughters of God extended to us. For as God’s children, we will one day judge them (1 Corinthians 6:3). I have no idea what that even means. But it is certainly significant to the angelic multitude scrutinizing our responses to God’s offer of forgiveness and cleansing through Jesus.
I wonder sometimes if God’s lavish plans for us were part of what pushed Lucifer over the edge into his angelic rebellion. He likely could not comprehend how such seemingly insignificant creatures could be handed so much of the Almighty’s tenderness, favor and ultimately, exalted places of honor. But that just goes to show, perhaps, how the “irrational” parental love for a child is beyond the comprehension of those it wasn’t meant for. God is the ultimate Father!
Too Good to Ignore!
You and I will never be angels. Sorry. It’s just not our destiny. But we get to embrace something much better! To fulfill the purpose for which we’ve been made, we simply have to respond to God’s offer to bring us back into His family. A way has been made for us to be forgiven and cleansed with the very blood of His Son, our co-heir. Rather than immediately putting us into chains with the rebellious angels because of our sin, He’s done all the work to adopt us back into the family—a deal and level of grace that astonishes the angelic observers. All we must do is humbly lay our rebellious hearts before our Father and King’s throne and say, “Yes.”
There’s a place in the family of God for each of us—if we want it.