I am tickled that this week's question comes from one of my children. She asks, "When we die, don't we become angels?"
Angels have received a lot of press over the past couple years. Their current popularity stems from the New Age Movement where the importance of angels has taken on new heights.
Not that angels aren't important. They are. Angelology is a part of nearly every great religion including Judaism and Christianity. Angels play a significant role in dozens of stories from the Bible, but with the media's portrayal of angels, Angels in the Outfield, and It's a Wonderful Life, to name a few, it isn't surprising many are confused about the role of angels.
Angels throughout scripture are shown as primarily messengers and servants for God. The first angels appear in Genesis 3 when Adam and Eve are sent from the Garden of Eden and cherubim, an order of angels, stand guard at the entrance to prevent the humans from returning. However, most scriptural accounts present angels as heavenly messengers. In Genesis 16 an angel brings a message for Hagar regarding Ishmael. Angels brought messages to most of the prophets, many of the kings, and many others. Most are familiar with Gabriel's messages about a son to Elizabeth and Zechariah in Luke 1 and his "annunciation" (announcement) to Mary regarding her impending pregnancy.
But angels have other roles too. According to Matthew 18.10 Jesus says they are our guardians. In Revelation 1-2 angels are shown as protectors of our churches. And angels will serve God in the apocalypse (lit. "after the revelation") as warriors, as bailiffs, and as protectors of the saints. The multiplicity of angelic roles in the scripture and in tradition is exhaustive.
But when we die, do we become angels?
No. Scripture clearly distinguishes between "risen saints" and angels in the hereafter. For instance, Hebrews 1.14 describe angels as " . . . spirits in divine service, sent to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?" Now, if angels are servants of those who will "inherit salvation" then they can't be those who have "inherited" salvation already. Indeed, in 1 Corinthians 6.3 Paul writes, "Do you not know that we are to judge angels?" We can't be angels if one day we will judge angels.
Finally, and perhaps the most convincing passage, is 1 Corinthians 15.35-50. Here Paul answers the question, "How are the dead raised? What kind of body do they come with?" (15.35). His answer is theologically fraught with polemics and apologetics, but with regards to our question it comes to this: if after death we become angels, Paul would have simply said so. Instead he wrote a lengthy treatise on life after death describing the spiritual bodies we do inherit. This body is likened to that of Jesus' resurrection bodyand Jesus was/is no angel (cf., Hebrews 1).
Angels were created to serve God and have been divinely directed to serve humanity. After death our spirits are lifted above the angels so that we are "just a little lower than God" (Psalm 8.5). So in answer to my daughter's question, after death we do inherit a spiritual body like that of the risen Christ, but no, we do not become angels.