Do Christians become angels when they die? When you see a white feather, is that your dead loved one communicating with you? When grieving, how do we turn to Jesus for our comfort rather than traditions that make us feel good but draw us away from Him? This is post #14 in our Healthy Living series from Colossians. In this article, we will discern truth from error when we need comfort for grief. This will help us to stay spiritually healthy in an unhealthy world.
Using a 3-step process to discern truth from error
Several years ago, I listened as a woman shared about her Christian friend whose godly mother had recently died. This sorrowing friend was grieving and needing comfort. To help with her grief, she drew from something she had heard in the culture—that her mother had now become an angel and was present with her, communicating with her. This discussion brought up lots of other cultural traditions regarding what happens after a loved one dies. What is biblically true?
In the Healthy Living Bible Study of Colossians, we use a 3-step process to examine such teachings in light of Scripture to discern truth from error. Then, we think of a gracious response to someone we meet who is grabbing at anything when she needs comfort for her grief. We will follow that process here to answers those questions I asked at the beginning and others like them.
For a more detailed discussion about death and life after death issues, read our “Death Swallowed Up in Victory” series of articles.
Step #1: Define the terms and issues.
Talking about the death of loved ones and cultural traditions that seemed to help someone in grief, our discussion encompassed three specific issues:
- Do Christians become angels when they die? (See our What Doesn’t Happen to the Soul at Death post.)
- Can our loved ones in heaven see what is happening in our lives on earth and communicate with us? (See our Frequently Asked Questions about the Dead post.)
- When grieving, how do we turn to Jesus for our comfort rather than traditions that make us feel good but draw us away from Him?
Though very emotionally charged, these are not heavy doctrinal or denominational issues. They deal more with practices and the outworking of our faith. How we deal with grief can make us draw closer and more dependent on our Lord as the supplier of our needs. Or it can draw us away to other things that are emotional substitutes for Him.
Since a life of faith is a life of dependence on the living Christ and His Spirit in us, we should consider graceful, biblical responses to these three issues that crop up when a loved one dies.
Step #2. Ask questions and support your answer with Scripture.
Do Christians become angels when they die?
Blame this popular idea that people become angels when they die on the classic 1946 American movie It’s a Wonderful Life, in which a guardian angel named Clarence occasionally refers to events of his life (and death) as a human being on earth.
Actually, it goes further back than that—to the 18th century Swedish mystic and philosopher named Emanuel Swedenborg who taught that all angels and demons were once humans.
What is the truth? The Bible is adamantly clear in the distinction between angels and human beings. Never will you find any verse saying that good humans become angels when they get to heaven.
Angels are beings created by God (Colossians 1:15-17) and are entirely different from humans. They are God’s special agents to carry out His plan and to minister to the followers of Christ (Hebrews 1:13-14). There is no indication that angels were formerly humans or anything else—they were created as angels.
Our greatest confirmation of this is Jesus Himself. When Jesus was raised from the dead, He did not appear to His followers as an angel. He appeared in His glorified human body. The same kind we will receive after we die. We read in 1 Corinthians 15:6 that more than 500 people saw Him at once. No one claimed that Jesus came back as an angel.
After we die, we go to be with Christ (2 Corinthians 5:8), then we get a new human body.
…we also eagerly await a savior from there [heaven], the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform these humble bodies of ours into the likeness of his glorious body by means of that power by which he is able to subject all things to himself. (Philippians 3:20-21)
We get the likeness of His body, not the likeness of an angel.
…we will be like him, because we will see him just as he is.” (1 John 3:2)
We will be like Him, not like an angel.
One more strong evidence:
After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” He did not know what to say, they were so frightened. (Mark 9:2-6)
Peter, James, and John recognized Elijah and Moses as themselves on the Mount of Transfiguration. Elijah and Moses had not transformed into angels. If anyone would have become an angel, it certainly would have been Moses, right?
Here’s the truth we can know: People become like Christ when they die, not like angels.
Can our loved ones in heaven see what is happening in our lives on earth and communicate with us?
Let’s take the first part of this concept to its logical conclusion.
Can a dead parent, sibling, child, or other person see what you are doing on earth?
Most of the time when this is said, someone is referring to the public things that you don’t mind people seeing. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want my parents in heaven to now see me in the bathroom, having an argument with someone, or during intimacy with my spouse. It is hard enough knowing that God sees those things.
The Bible does not clearly tell us if people in heaven are able to observe what happens on earth. Some passages given as proof that they can see us are speculative, but they are not a clear teaching of truth.
What about the parable of the rich man and Lazarus found in Luke 16?
Though this is a parable not a historical narrative, in it the rich man referred to his brothers whom he had known before death were unbelievers. The passage never says that the rich man could see his brothers.
What about the cloud of witnesses in Hebrews 11?
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, (Hebrews 12:1)
The great cloud of “witnesses” are the people whom God commends for their faith in Hebrews chapter 11 who are now in heaven. They are witnesses not in watching us but in the value of living a life by faith, especially faith in Jesus. Their lives bear witness that they did it. Therefore, we can do it, too.
What about the appearances of Moses and Elijah to Jesus in Luke 9?
About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. (Luke 9:28-31)
Moses and Elijah were prophets of God during their earthly lives, meaning they delivered God’s messages to His people. In this instance, they are delivering a message of encouragement to Jesus about what would soon happen to Him in Jerusalem. There is no other indication that they were aware of anything else happening on earth.
What about the martyrs in Revelation 6?
When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. They called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the full number of their fellow servants, their brothers and sisters, were killed just as they had been. (Revelation 6:9-11)
The tribulation martyrs ask God how long will it be before He avenges their deaths. They remembered what happened to them. It does not say they could see people on earth. It simply says that they knew they deserved justice and desired the Lord to take action.
Conclusion: There is no biblical evidence that our loved ones in heaven can see what is happening to us on earth.
Now, let’s look at the second part.
Can a dead parent, sibling, child, or other person communicate with you?
The Bible does teach that we on earth are not to communicate with the dead.
Let no one be found among you who sacrifices their son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord; because of these same detestable practices the Lord your God will drive out those nations before you. You must be blameless before the Lord your God. (Deuteronomy 18:10-13)
Communicating with the dead is against God’s will. It is detestable to Him. People in heaven are without sin and will not do anything against God’s will. Your dead loved one will not try to communicate with you. Neither are we told in the Bible that they can act on your behalf.
What about those cultural traditions recognizing certain things as “signs your dead loved one is communicating with you.” Those “signs” might include seeing a white feather, a penny, stopped clocks, phones ringing once, etc. Those are simply normal events. Do not attribute those signs to a loved one communicating with you. They are just superstitions, not truths. The danger is they can draw you away from Jesus and toward seeking such “signs” during your grief.
Heed this warning from the Lord:
The secret things belong to the Lord, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever. (Deuteronomy 29:29)
Conclusion: We cannot know if our dead loved ones can see anything happening on earth. That is a secret thing the Lord has not revealed. We can know that our dead loved ones will not try to communicate with us from heaven because they will not disobey God. You and I must humbly accept that which we cannot know.
When grieving, how do we turn to Jesus for our comfort rather than traditions that make us feel good but draw us away from Him?
Our God wants us to turn to Him for comfort.
[God] is the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. (2 Corinthians 1:3-5)
Our God claims to be a God of comfort. He promises it, and fulfills that promise. We see that in our study of 2 Corinthians. We are to turn to Jesus first for our comfort and let Him choose how He does that for us.
What does Jesus use to comfort us in our grief? He uses people, reminders, memories, and His own love in our hearts (Romans 5:5).
- People give us hugs, listen to us as we share about our loved one, cry with us, and help us when we are weak. They do this on Jesus’ behalf.
- Memories of our loved ones can be stimulated by sounds, sights, places, smells, and many other reminders associated with that person in our lives. We can take comfort from those stimulated memories and thank God for them.
- The Holy Spirit pours out Jesus’ love in our hearts so we can inwardly feel loved by Him during those times of grief. Counting on being loved by our God gives us comfort.
Jesus can also use His angels to serve us.
Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?(Hebrews 1:14)
Angels are servants of God who are sent by God to render service for the sake of believers. Angels are present around us even though we cannot see them. They can influence things happening in order to minister to us. They have that authority under Jesus. If you feel someone close to you, it is not your dead loved one’s spirit. It is likely an angel Jesus has sent to be near you at that time. Thank Him for that comfort.
Give the credit to Jesus, who is Lord over all. If you give that credit to someone or something else, then you are looking to a powerless substitute rather than Jesus and His Holy Spirit living inside of you. Jesus is the greatest power in the universe who loves you dearly.
Look at John 11:1-44. When Lazarus died, Jesus personally went to be with Martha and Mary. He cried with His friends. Then, He did something to help them in their grief. He will do the same for you.
Conclusion: Jesus uses people, memories, His spirit, His love, and His angels to comfort you in a time of grief.
Step #3. Come up with a graceful response.
Suppose you are with someone who is grieving the loss of a loved one now in heaven and needs comfort. If they think their dead loved one is an angel helping them and communicating with them, how do you give comfort without perpetuating the lie? That is tough. You do it graciously—affirming their grief and pointing them to a true source of comfort. You can say something like this:
“I feel how much you are hurting since your mother’s death and how much you miss her. While you loved your mom so much that thinking of her as an angel gives you comfort, the Bible teaches this truth that God is giving her a wonderful resurrected human body like Jesus has, not an angel’s body. You have wonderful memories of your mom that will crop up through places, smells, sights, and other reminders of your life with her. And Jesus will comfort you in your grief through those memories, through people He sends to cry with you and help you, through His Spirit pouring love into your heart, and through true angles who will be near you to minister to you in amazing ways during this sad time. Stay focused on the comfort you will receive from Jesus and let your heart just be completely hugged by Him.”
Discern truth from error when you need comfort for grief. This will help you to stay spiritually healthy in an unhealthy world.
Learn more about staying spiritually healthy in an unhealthy world through our Healthy Living Bible Study of Colossians and Philemon (11 lessons).
Related Podcasts, Bible Studies, & Blogs
- Healthy Living Bible Study on Amazon
- Graceful Living Bible Study on Amazon
- Satisfied Series 3 Podcasts (Colossians series)
- TRUTH Is the Prescription for Healthy Living
- Tame the “Look-Imagine-See” Dragon
- Escape the Cultural Captivity Infection
- Resist the “Tyranny of the Urgent” Infection
- Stop the “Jesus Is Not Lord over All” Infection
- Conquer the “Manipulation by Guilt” Infection
- Flee the Spiritual Substitutes Infection
- Delete the Karma Infection
- Wipe Out the Narcissism Infection
- Counter the “Work Is Secular” Infection
- Overcome the “Holy Huddle” Infection
- Defeat the Victim Infection
- Angels, feathers, and needing comfort for grief
- Death Swallowed Up in Victory! blog series
- Angels, God’s Ministering Spirits on Bible.org
- Do we become angels after we die? On gotquestions.org
- Can people in heaven look down and see us? On gotquestions.org
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