People do not become angels when they die. The Bible makes a very clear distinction between men and angels and it’s never implied that we cross over into that other state of being when we die.
However, if you walk into any Christian bookstore today, you’re likely to find a trove of art, pillows, fridge magnets and cards all depicting the same thing: people ascending and becoming one with the angels when they die.
This exact concept isn’t as widely spoken as it once was, but the principle remains in social media posts and popular Christian articles that gently refer to the dead as “gaining their wings.” This is usually followed up with a less-angelic reference of running the streets of gold, or playing in heavenly fields. But there’s no doubt that in this expression, people insinuate that “wings” = “angel wings.”
While Jesus makes mention in both Luke 20:35 and 36 and Matthew 22:30 of how men will one day “be like angels in heaven,” he was referring to their customs—specifically in regards to marriage. Jesus was saying that we would live like angels do (i.e., unmarried), not that we would become angels in that future time.
So, what are the distinctions the Bible makes here? First, and perhaps most obviously, angels are spirit beings and humans are not. In fact, even Jesus himself is still “flesh and bone,” powered by spirit…as witnessed by the nail marks in his hands when he appeared before his disciples in Luke 24. When the resurrection comes, when the dead are raised, it’s true that we will have exalted, heavenly bodies—but that does not mean we will be angels.
We’re also told that we’re privy to matters into which angels long to look (1 Pet. 1:12); that angels were created before mankind, and are therefore separate beings; and that mankind, created in the image of God, will actually judge angels in the future (1 Cor. 6:3). It’s also important to note that “angel” is a broad term that people use to refer to multifarious spiritual beings that serve God, including seraphim, cherubim, messengers, watchers, and even a divine council that advises and serves God (Rev. 4:4; Dan. 7:10; Gen. 1:26). These angels vary from some human-like form to many-eyed creatures with wings, etc.
God also has a separate and distinct role for angels to fulfill in His plans and purposes. They are fierce warriors engaged in the spiritual battle, messengers braving the trenches of the battlefield to assist mankind, and powerful supernatural beings that all serve alongside God and Jesus in the battle between good and evil.
The Bible shows many records of angels doing their part in the spiritual battle; one of the most well-known accounts takes place in the Book of Daniel, where our titular prophet was deeply troubled by some strange dreams. Daniel prayed for clarification, and three weeks later the angel God dispatched at the time of Daniel’s prayer finally showed up. Daniel was probably thinking, “Um, dude. Where were you? Car trouble?”
The angel lifted the curtain for Daniel and all of us in posterity when he revealed that he was “opposed for 21 days” by the leader of the kingdom of Persia—a nasty provincial demon who had power over the realm of Persia at that time. In fact, the rumble between this angel and his demonic counterpart was so intense that Michael, one of the chief angelic leaders (archangels) had to step in and aid him in the conflict.
Few scriptural records so plainly paint the interaction between men and angels, angels and demons, and the spiritual turmoil taking place “behind the scenes” as this one. We can see from this record that angels are serving God and His people in the spiritual war, just as God created them to—an entirely separate purpose from the one He created us to fulfill.
When all of the facts are laid out, we can see there’s no actual scriptural evidence that people are transformed into angels when they die. Angels are God’s messengers and soldiers, and we are also God’s soldiers, and for the most part that’s where the similarities seem to end. We are distinct beings that fulfill distinct roles in the plans and purposes of the One who created us.