By Dr. Roger Barrier, Crosswalk.com
Recently I attended a funeral service for one of my long-time friends named Randy. There came a moment in the service where the minister invited people to share testimonies of how Randy had touched their lives and what he had meant to them. The first one to speak was Randy's brother, Will, who proceeded to share that he had a guardian angel named Ralph, and that Ralph had a message of love for all the people. Will then shared Ralph's message that God loved them. It all seemed a little quirky to me that Will had a guardian angel named Ralph.
His speech brought up several questions. Do Christians have guardian angels? If so, what do they do? Do they have names? Can they tell us their names? Several of my friends think that departed loved ones actually return to “watch over” them in their lives here on earth. What do you think? Do people become angels when they go to Heaven? Sincerely, "J"
As I read your question, my first thought was, "a guardian angel named Ralph! Are you kidding me! Sounds like another Christian with a 'spiritual screw' loose." Then, I got to thinking, maybe there is more here than meets the eye. If I can name my life-dependant pacemaker "Repeat," then maybe Will can name his guardian angel Ralph!
Guardian Angels in the Bible
Jesus answered the question, “Do we have guardian angels?” in Matthew 18:10. "See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven continually see the face of My Father who is in heaven.” In discussing the worth and value of children, Jesus mentioned that each of us has a guardian angel who is apparently assigned to us when we are children—probably when we were born.
While angelic activity fills the pages of the Bible, the Bible is not very forth coming when talking about the particulars of the ministries of guardian angels. The purpose of the book of Hebrews is to declare the preeminence of Jesus Christ. In the opening chapter the writer to the Hebrews demonstrated the superiority of Jesus' ministry to the ministry of the angels. Angel ministry is powerful, but of course, not as powerful as Jesus' ministry.
In verse thirteen, the author of Hebrews defined the job responsibilities of angels: “Are they not all ministering spirits, sent out to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation?”
What Do Guardian Angels Do?
One thing they do is give us spiritual and physical and spiritual protection.
“At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise. There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then. But at that time your people—everyone whose name is found written in the book—will be delivered.
I’ve heard scores of personal stories from people who have interacted with angels who protected them from physical danger. For example, in our first house Julie and I had a large, floor-level, sunken tiled bathtub when the children were little.
I was working in the front of the house when Julie screamed for me to run to the tiled bathtub. As I raced down the hall way I ran into Julie also racing for the tub. As we reached the bathroom, our two-year-old was tottering on the raised-tile edge about to fall head first into the three-foot deep pool. We grabbed her away from danger.
I said to Julie, “Why did you scream for me when you were already on the way?” She said, “I didn’t scream for you. You screamed for me.” I said, “I never screamed for you.” At that moment we both thought we saw a wisp of white robe departing the room. We were stunned. As we later debriefed the incident, the only conclusion we could draw was that Brianna’s guardian angel was “wide awake” and on duty and screaming for both of us to run to the bathroom as quickly as possible.
It may be a shame that we can't see the protection provided by our guardian angels in the spiritual battles going on behind the scenes for our souls. We would have much more appreciation for our guardian angels. In Job chapters one and two God and Satan were fighting over the righteousness of Job. Job's life was directly influenced by the ebb and flow of the battle behind the scenes. From this we discover that we are in a spiritual struggle with Satan.
Some demons are assigned to attack individual Christians. Others are designed to destroy nations. The demonic hierarchy includes many levels (Ephesians 6:10-18).
"Then he [the angel Michael] continued, “Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them.But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia" (Daniel 10:12-13).
I assume that our guardian angels are always on duty and ready to help. I imagine that their help takes many forms. For example, when I am at the hospital praying with someone before surgery, I always pray for that person’s guardian angel to do everything necessary for a successful surgery and complete recovery. Julie and I pray for the guardian angels assigned to us by Jesus at our births to fight strongly on our behalf in the spiritual warfare realm and to provide protection in the physical realm as well. While we seldom get feedback on how successful our prayers are in these arenas, we both feel certain, based on the verses mentioned above, that they are on duty on our behalf.
Angels Are Messengers
Was Will totally wrong about his guardian angel bringing a message for him to share at the funeral? As strange as it may sound, the word in Greek for "angel" is αγγελων ("angelon") which means "messenger." For example angels brought a number of messages to Daniel. Gabriel brought messages both to Mary (Luke 1:26-35). Why couldn't Ralph bring a message to Will?
Those who think that a departed loved one returns as some sort of spirit to watch over them, need to rethink their thinking. Once we die, we die. Either we go to Heaven or to Hell depending on whether we received God’s free gift of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ (John 1:12 and John 3:16 . It is impossible for those who have died to return to earth in any form whatsoever (Luke 16:19-31).
Julie and I tease that our guardian angels really have names. My guardian angel’s name is “Bring It.” Julie’s guardian angel is named, “Wing It.” Just kidding! While angels do have names (Gabriel in Luke 1:29 and Michael in Daniel 11:1), Julie and I have never been told ours—but wouldn’t it be nice to know!?
Despite conventional wisdom, humans are not transformed into angels when they die. For example, in a discussion of whether or not marriage exists in Heaven, Jesus said, "For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven" (Matthew 24:38). Note that we are like angels—but we are not angels. Paul teaches on many occasions that we keep our own identities, personalities and enough of our earthly features to be recognized by others in eternity (1 Corinthians 13:11-12). While we will be transformed into the likeness of Christ (1 John 3:2), we will remain distinctly who we were on earth—and we will not be angels.
Photo credit: ©Getty Images/mbolina
Editor's Note: This Ask Roger article features insights from Roger's daughter, Brie Barrier Wetherbee, a sought-after Bible teacher and conference speaker, author, analyst, and Christian theologian.
Pastor Roger Barrier's "Ask Roger" column regularly appears at Preach It, Teach It. Every week at Crosswalk, Dr. Barrier puts nearly 40 years of experience in the pastorate to work answering questions of doctrine or practice for laypeople or giving advice on church leadership issues. Email him your questions at [email protected].