When we die, do angels carry us to heaven?
John Hoole - June 12, 2011
Note: Some of the source for this lesson comes from Mark Hitchcock's book: "55 Answers to Questions about Life After Death."
Over the past several weeks, we have been investigating what the Bible says about death and what happens thereafter. We have discussed the fact that death speaks of separation, whether speaking of physical or spiritual. At physical death, there is a separation of the spirit and soul from the body. James 2:26 says, "the body without the spirit is dead."
The question has been raised as to what part angels play in the death of a believer. The Bible does related how unfallen angels do provide an number of important functions. They worship and serve God, they execute God's judgment on the wicked, and they war with fallen angels, called demons.
Angels also have a definite functions to carry out with regard to believers. Hebrews 1:14 speaks of angels as "ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation."
And Psalm 91:11 promises,
“For He will command His angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.”
Actually, the Bible presents to us several ways that angels minister to believers. Let's look at some of them.
A They bring provisions to people
The Lord has used, and continues to use, his angels to physically provide for His own. It was an angel who brought Elijah bread and water while fleeing from Jezebel after his victory on Mt. Carmel [1 Kings 19:5-6].
Here is a true story that has been around for some time. In 1944, the penniless wife of a pastor and evangelist in Switzerland, Susie Ware prayed, “God, I need five pounds of potatoes, two pounds of pastry flour, apples, pears, a cauliflower, carrots, veal cutlets for Saturday, and beef for Sunday.” A few hours later, someone knocked on the door, and there was a young man with a basket, who said, “Mrs. Ware, I am bringing what you asked for.” It was precisely what she’d prayed for – down to the exact brand of pastry flour she wanted. Pastor and Mrs. Ware watched as the young man slipped away, but he never exited the room – he just disappeared.
Sometimes, angels give guidance so God’s people will know what He wants us to do . For instance, an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream, instructing him to take Mary as his wife and to name her baby Jesus (Matthew 1:20-21). And it was an angel who told Philip where to go in his travels so that he could meet the Ethiopian Eunuch and lead him to Christ (Acts 8:26).
Angelic ministry to us can include powerful encouragement. When Paul and his shipmates were caught in a horrible storm and faced shipwreck, and angel appeared to him, assured him that not a life would be lost, and that he would live to stand trial before Caesar (Acts 27:23).
This world is a dangerous place at times, and God’s angels can provide supernatural protection. Daniel 6 tells the story of how an angel shut the mouths of the lions when he was thrown into their den.
A young lady named Myra worked in the inner-city ministry of Teen Challenge in Philadelphia. One neighborhood gang liked to terrorize anyone who tried to enter the Teen Challenge building, and they harassed Myra as well. One night, when she was alone in the building with the gang banging on the door, she felt she should continue to try to reach out to them with the gospel of Jesus. As she opened the door, she breathed a prayer for protection.
The boys suddenly stopped their shouting, looked at each other, turned and left quietly. Myra had no idea why. Later on, as the staff people were able to build relationships with the gang members, the ministry director asked them why they dropped their threats against Myra, leaving her alone that night.
One young man spoke up, saying, “We wouldn’t dare touch her after her boyfriend showed up. That dude had to be 7 feet tall.” The director said, “I didn’t know Myra had a boyfriend.” “But”, the director said, “I know Myra was alone that particular night.” Another gang member insisted, “No, we saw him. And he was right behind her, big as life in his classy white suit.”
Sometimes, angels rescue people in danger. It was an angel – probably it was The angel of the Lord – which is none other than Jesus Himself, who joined Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace, rescuing them from the flames (Daniel 3).
The ministry of angels captures the imagination in a special way. The prophet Elisha prayed that the Lord would open the eyes of his servant, so he could see the mighty angelic army of God protecting them.
These are awesome and important functions of angels. But there is possibly one more function of angels that may be often overlooked. That has to do with the ministry of angels at the time of death of a believer.
The idea of this function of angels is expressed as part of the old spiritual, "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot."
Swing low, sweet chariot,
Comin' for to carry me home!
I looked over Jordan and what did I see,
Comin' for to carry me home!
A band of angels comin' after me,
Comin' for to carry me home!
Where does this idea come from? Is it just wishful thinking, or does the Bible really say anything about it?
In our discussion during previous lessons about what happens following death, we noted what Jesus said in Luke 16:19-31. This Passage speaks of the account Jesus told of the death of a rich man and a poor beggar named Lazarus.
There was this poor beggar named Lazarus whose body, we are told, is covered with sores. The neighborhood dogs would gather to lick these sores. One day, this beggar dies - read how it is told in Luke 16.
Luke 16:22 NIV
22 The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried.
What an experience this must have been for poor Lazarus. One moment he was collapsed at the gate of a very rich man, a dying beggar, and the next moment he was being carried by angels to heaven. In this life his companions were dogs licking his sores. But in death, mighty angels came, swept him into their embrace, and carried him into paradise with Abraham.
Are there other examples of angels transporting people from earth to heaven (paradise)? I think we may have a hint that this actually may have happened to Christ. Most of you are familiar with the account of Christ's final few moments with his disciples. In Acts 1, we find them on the Mount of Olives.
Acts 1:9-10 NIV
9 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.
10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them.
I don't think there is any disagreement that these two men dressed in white are angels. But, you may ask, the account doesn't say anything about them carrying Jesus to heaven. That is correct, but were there other angels present?
Luke, the writer of the book of Acts, also mentions this event in his Gospel account. The ending of the Gospel of Luke overlaps with the beginning of the book of Acts. In the last chapter of the Gospel of Luke - chapter 24, it speaks of Christ blessing His disciples. But notice the last half of verse 51.
Luke 24:51 NKJV
51 Now it came to pass, while He blessed them, that He was parted from them and carried up into heaven.
Jesus is said to have been carried to heaven. Most translations use the words "carried to heaven." A few, including the NIV and NLT reads: Taken up to Heaven." Mark, in his Gospel also says Christ was "taken up to heaven."
Now, I understand that angels are not mentioned as taking Christ up to heaven. But doesn't that make the most sense? They were involved in other aspects of this event. We also know that angels will have a part in the return of Christ, and in Acts 1:11, the two angels we are told about, make the statement: This same Jesus that was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner.
Why would we need angels to carry us to heaven when we die? I like what David Jeremiah says in his book, What the Bible says About Angels. David Jeremiah is a popular Bible teacher on the Turning Point radio program. Here is what he writes in his book.
"One reason may be related to the fact that Satan is described as 'the ruler of the kingdom of the air' (Ephesians 2:2). Perhaps we must cross this 'kingdom of the air' in going from earth to heaven. Our temporary home here and our permanent home there may be separated by an immense stretch of enemy territory. It's a trip angels must take often, so it will be a great comfort to have them at our side as we traverse it ourselves."
In his book Angels: God's Secret Agents," Billy Graham echoes this same idea:
"Death is robbed of much of its terror for the true believer, but we still need God's protection as we take that last journey. At the moment of death the spirit departs from the body and moves through the atmosphere. But the Scripture teaches us that the devil lurks there. He is 'the prince of the power of the air." If the eyes of our understanding were opened, we would probably see the air filled with demons, the enemies of Christ."
It would be just like Satan to try to hijack us on our way to heaven. He will never win, but that doesn't mean he will not try. If some of Satan's demons could impair for three weeks a holy angels from God send to Daniel, then it is not past his trying to do the same when we cross his territory.