Doesn’t Acts 12:15 indicate that dead people become angels?

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After the Holy Spirit descended on the apostles, they preached with a new fire. It was after the first time that Peter and John were arrested, that this once shy and timid Peter proclaimed the following in the courts of the Sanhedrin:

Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders of Israel: If we this day are judged for a good deed done to a helpless man, by what means he has been made well, let it be known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by Him this man stands here before you whole. This is the ‘stone which was rejected by you builders, which has become the chief cornerstone.’ Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:8-12)

Acts 12

On another occasion later, Acts 12 tells us that King Herod put to death James the brother of John. Because the king saw that it pleased the Jews, he also caught Peter and put him in prison during the Days of Unleavened Bread. But the church members prayed for Peter that he would not be put to death. So, it was God’s will that their prayers would be answered and sent His angel to save Peter. And the angel opened the prison gates and delivered Peter out. Then, Peter went to the house of Mary, the mother of John, whose surname was Mark, where many were gathered together to pray for him (Acts 12:1-12).

“And as Peter knocked at the door of the gate, a damsel came to hearken, named Rhoda. And when she knew Peter’s voice, she opened not the gate for gladness, but ran in, and told how Peter stood before the gate. And they said unto her, thou art mad. But she constantly affirmed that it was even so. Then said they, it is his angel” (Acts 12:13-15, King James Version). The living translation puts it this way, “It must be his angel. They must have killed him.”

Jewish misconception

When Rhoda shared the good news that Peter was at the door, the faithful could not believe her. They did not have enough trust to believe that God had answered their prayers and delivered Peter from death, despite her insisting that it was true. The New American Standard Bible and the New International Version word Acts 12:15 very similar:

“You’re out of your mind,” they told her. When she kept insisting that it was so, they said, “It must be his angel.”

Since God provided His children with guardian angels (Matthew 18:10; Psalm 34:7), they concluded, the young woman must be out of her mind and that the person at the door was a  heavenly messenger sent by Peter. It wasn’t until after the disciples opened the door that they realized that this was in fact Peter.

The Jews believed that a guardian angel was assigned to each person, and that when the angel appears in human figure, he does assume man’s likeness. It was during the intertestamental era, that the Jews adopted different beliefs on angelology. In this case, the assumption might have been that an angel came to give notice of the death of Peter.

Dead people don’t become angels

Today, some wrongly assume that Acts 12:15 teaches that dead people become angels. But this is not true because of the following facts:

1-Angels are not of the same order as human beings.

Angels are spirits. The apostle Paul writes, “Who makes His angels spirits and His ministers a flame of fire” (Hebrews 1:7). On the other hand, humans are souls. The prophet Ezekiel states, “The soul who sins shall die”(Ezekiel 18:20).

Unlike angels that are spirits, humans have flesh and bones. After the resurrection, Jesus confidently affirmed to His disciples, who thought He was a spirit, that He had a human body, “Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have” (Luke 24:39).

2-Humans are lower than angels in rank.

Paul writes, “What is man that You are mindful of him, or the son of man that You take care of him? You have made him a little lower than the angels; You have crowned him with glory and honor, and set him over the works of Your hands” (Hebrews 2:6, 7 also Psalm 8:5).

3-Angels existed before people were even created.

“Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding…When the morning stars (angels) sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy? (Job 38:4-7).

And angels existed before any person ever died; angels existed in the Garden of Eden. “So He drove out the man; and He placed cherubim at the east of the garden of Eden, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life” (Genesis 3:24).

4-Angels are God’s special heavenly servants.

The angelic host of heaven is God’s army. David writes “Bless the Lord, you His angels, who excel in strength, who do His word, heeding the voice of His word. Bless the Lord, all you His hosts, you ministers of His, who do His pleasure” (Psalm 103:20, 21).

5-Angels minister to God’s children.

Paul records about angels, “Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation?” (Hebrews 1:14). On a global scope, angels hold back the evil forces that it may not destroy the world (Revelation 7:1) until the work of God on human hearts is complete and the people of God are sealed in their foreheads (Revelation 6:17). Angels can do that because they are “greater in power and might” (2 Peter 2:11).

On an individual scope, angels deliver messages from God to men (Daniel 7:16; 8:16,17) and protect God’s children (Matthew 18:10). They visit humans with special missions of deliverance, help and guidance (Hebrews 13:2). Such was the experience of Abraham (Genesis 18:1–8), of Lot (Genesis 19:1–3), and of Manoah (Judges 13:2–4, 9–21).

Someday soon, God’s angels will come down from heaven to gather the saints at the second coming of Christ. The Bible says, “He will send His angels, and gather together His elect from the four winds, from the farthest part of earth to the farthest part of heaven” (Mark 13:27). At that glorious time, humans will get to fellowship with these heavenly beings.

Conclusion

The Bible doesn’t teach, in Acts 12:15, that dead people become angels. Unlike humans, who are physical beings that have flesh and blood, angels are spirit beings that are higher than men in rank. And they are God’s special heavenly servants that carry on His commands.

Check out our Bible Answers page for more information on a variety of topics.

In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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