Do humans gain wings when they die? I find myself confronted with this question repeatedly on social media as I see family and friends losing loved ones. It’s often the case that when someone dies, humans often find euphemisms or ways of saying something without coming right out and saying it. For example, the phrase “kicked the bucket” is a terrible euphemism used to describe when someone dies, but the whole point of such harsh, stern (and even rude) sayings is to avoid saying or stating the obvious. “Kicked the bucket” may be a terrible euphemism, but it’s better to some than saying “she stopped breathing” or “she had a seizure,” etc. The last thing we want to do in times of tragedy is recreate the graphic and tragic details of a person’s demise.
So in this post, I want to be delicate to the losses that we’ve experienced. No matter the individual, we have all faced death in some form or fashion and lost loved ones. I just read within the past 2 days of a dear friend at seminary whose daughter’s boyfriend lost his life in a tragic accident. He was way too young, and it’s something her daughter will need some serious time to get over. Let us continue to pray for those who have lost loved ones this holiday, as well as those who still continue to hurt over the loss of loved ones in years past. Grief doesn’t disappear in a year or two.
And yet, while sympathizing and empathizing with those who have lost loved ones (this is my second Thanksgiving without my biological father in the world and my third Thanksgiving without my best man, my maternal grandfather, the man who raised me), I also want to emphasize the importance of being faithful to Scripture. Why? Because, as Paul says in his letter to the Romans, it is “through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures” that “we might have hope.” And we don’t want to create false hope when the Bible gives real, living hope, right?
It is in the spirit of fidelity to God and Scripture, while still being really present in the lives of those we know that have lost loved ones, that I write this post.
do humans gain wings when they die? what saith the scriptures?
does god have wings?
Do humans gain wings when they die? If we’re going to be comforted by the Scriptures, then we have to look in them to see what the Word of God says concerning humans, death, and the gaining of wings, as it were.
First, let’s take a look at God.
The Scriptures use the wings idea with regard to God, to be sure. Moses says this in Deuteronomy 32:
“He found him in a desert land
And in the wasteland, a howling wilderness;
He encircled him, He instructed him,
He kept him as the apple of His eye.
11 As an eagle stirs up its nest,
Hovers over its young,
Spreading out its wings, taking them up,
Carrying them on its wings,
12 So the Lord alone led him,
And there was no foreign god with him. (Deuteronomy 32:10-12, NKJV)
According to Deuteronomy 32:11-12, “as an eagle stirs its nest,” protects its young, and then carries them for extra protection, the Lord led Jacob. And yet, this doesn’t mean that the Lord God Himself has literal, physical wings. The Lord is not a “Divine Bird” that guides Israel (or Jacob, representative of Israel) on His literal wings.
Boaz uses the analogy of God having wings in his commendation of Ruth:
10 So she fell on her face, bowed down to the ground, and said to him, “Why have I found favor in your eyes, that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?”
11 And Boaz answered and said to her, “It has been fully reported to me, all that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband, and how you have left your father and your mother and the land of your birth, and have come to a people whom you did not know before. 12 The Lord repay your work, and a full reward be given you by the Lord God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge.” (Ruth 2:10-12, NKJV)
In Ruth 2:12, we see Boaz commending Ruth, telling her that he prays the Lord reward her for all she has done for her mother-in-law, Naomi, since the loss of her husband and her departure from the land of her birth. If you remember, Orpah was the other daughter-in-law who went back to the land of her people; Ruth, on the other hand, did not. So for all Ruth’s sacrifice and love for her mother-in-law, Boaz said that the Lord would repay her for her kindness. But when Boaz says “under whose wings you have come for refuge,” he wasn’t saying that God literally has wings and that Ruth was coming under those literal wings for shelter and protection.
Boaz was saying that Ruth had become a God-fearer, a follower of the God of Israel (remember her words to Naomi, “your people shall be my people, and your God my God?”), and that, as a result, she had come to the God of Israel for protection and provision. The truth Boaz conveys here is not that “God is a bird with wings,” but rather, that Ruth had made the one true God her God and that God, protecting His own, would look out for her and meet her needs.
There are other statements in the Psalm, such as Psalm 17:8 which says “hide me under the shadow of your wings,” Psalm 57:1 says “under the shadow of your wings will I make my refuge,” Psalm 61:4 says “In the shadow of your wings I will rejoice,” and others, but these statements show that we can rest in God’s protection and safety, not that God has literal wings that we rest under. When we sing songs like “Safe in His arms” at church, we’re not singing that because we believe God has literal arms. No, we’re singing that because being in someone’s arms is a human analogy that we use to describe safety, peace, escape from harm and danger, comfort, security, and reassurance.
As Scripture teaches us, the Lord is our protection and refuge. The Lord is our fortress, but we don’t sing “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” and think of God as a literal fortress built by man’s hands. The Lord is too great for that (Exodus 20:4-5, 23-25). We know that God is not a fortress built by man’s hands or a statue that man has carved out of rock.
do angels have wings?
Birds have wings. We know this because of everyday observances when we look at the sky. We see National Geographic shows on TV and see birds sporting their wings. We can think of birds that have wings. Scripture records that the ostrich and hawk are two birds with wings, along with eagles (Deuteronomy 32:11, Job 39:13, 26; Ezekiel 17:3).
Additionally, angels have wings. This isn’t a surprise to anyone.
For example, in Isaiah 6, when Isaiah sees the Lord, he also sees seraphim angels with 6 wings, two of which they used to fly (Isaiah 6:1-3, 6). Angels use their wings for flying capabilities, though they can use their wings for other purposes as well. In Revelation 4, we see four living creatures who proclaimed something similar to the angels in Isaiah 6. Like the seraphim of Isaiah 6, these four living creatures each have six wings (Revelation 4:8). These angelic creatures in Revelation 4 are distinct from the 24 elders in Revelation 4:10 who fall down and worship God, so we know that the elders are distinctly human and separate from the “four living creatures” who, despite having one face like a man (Revelation 4:7), are still angelic in their nature and behavior.
These four living creatures are likely angels who, in their faces, are bearing features of the nature and character of God. Jesus is described as “the Lion of Judah” (Genesis 49:9-10; Hosea 5:14); He is like an eagle in that Scripture speaks much to His “wings”; He definitely came to earth as a man when He took on flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14). We also know that angelic beings can take on human form, which is why the writer of Hebrews reminds us to do good to everyone because we may be entertaining angels unawares (Hebrews 13:2).
From what God has created, we can see that winged creatures are able to fly. Butterflies have wings and can fly. Eagles have wings and can fly. Bees have wings, as do mosquitos, and they all fly. Gnats and flies of all kinds have wings and can fly; to prevent a winged creature from flying around the house, all you need to do is stop it from flying. Angels, as creations of God, have come down from Heaven within biblical history to do God’s bidding. They must have some sort of flying or floating mechanism to do that. In Exodus 25:18-20 and Hebrews 9:5, we see that the cherubim are above the mercy seat and they “shall stretch out their wings” and “cover the mercy seat with their wings.” If they don’t have wings, as we see seraphim and cherubim have in Scripture (even when designing cherubim above the mercy seat in the tabernacle), then what flying mechanism do they have? I wouldn’t know outside of Scripture.
do humans have wings?
Do humans have wings? No, they don’t. Angels can assume human form and “trans-form,” in some sense (which means to change their form), but humans do not get this capability. They are not born with wings. Despite the fact we call newborn babies “little angels,” they are not angelic beings as the angels are. Babies are human beings, which makes them mortal beings. Human beings can bleed; angels, on the other hand, cannot. The whole reason why God had to become man, or, as the Latin phrase says, Cur Deus Homo? (Latin for “why God became man”), is so that He, the Divine, could shed His blood on the Cross for the remission of sins; for, as Hebrews 9:22 says, “without the shedding of blood, there is no remission of sins.” Jesus could not atone for the sins of man without taking on flesh and being born of a human woman.
Angelic or divine beings do not shed blood; humans do. So that’s at least one trait or characteristic that separates humanity from divinity. But there are others, more specifically, bearing wings. Humans do not have wings. In discussions of divine sovereignty and human responsibility, Calvinists often accuse Arminians of holding to “free will” as if we can just will anything to be. But my Christian Apologetics professor gave a brilliant example of how faulty this thinking is when he asked in lecture one day, “Can a human will himself or herself to fly?” The answer is clearly “no.” Free will is not absolute free will in which man is his own God, but rather, limited in nature. There are only certain things man can do that God allows. One of those, unfortunately, doesn’t involve the ability to fly. Man cannot will himself to fly just because he wants to.
are humans equal to angels?
Man cannot will himself to fly, so he cannot become an angel simply because he has free will.
So with that said, humans are not equal to angels.
We are told the following in Psalm 8:
3 When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,
The moon and the stars, which You have ordained,
4 What is man that You are mindful of him,
And the son of man that You visit him?
5 For You have made him a little lower than the angels,
And You have crowned him with glory and honor.” (Psalm 8:3-5, NKJV)
According to Psalm 8:5, man is made “a little lower than the angels.” If man were an angel, man and the angels would be on the same plane, the same level. However, according to Scripture, man is “a little lower than the angels.” Man has glory and honor (as the end of Psalm 8:5 says), but he doesn’t have the same glory and honor as the angels. Angels were not created from the dust of the ground; humanity was. Angels are immortal, but human beings are mortal. Humans have an immortal component, the soul, which lives forever and never dies. Humans will one day have immortal bodies, but we are not born with immortal bodies. When man was created from the dust of the ground, angels had long been created and existed. Unlike humans, angels live forever and do not die. Now, according to Scripture, man only dies once, but man must still die a physical death. Angels do not die and cannot die, now or ever.
This is also clearly seen in the discussion of giants such as Goliath, who was said to be 9 feet, 9 inches tall. Giants in the Old Testament days back in Genesis 6 were referred to as “Nephilim.” The Nephilim were a direct result of “the sons of God came in to the daughters of men and they bore children to them” (Genesis 6:4). Now, keep in mind that this is mentioned in a chapter where God decides to bring judgment on humanity for sin. Additionally the “sons of God” mentioned here “took wives for themselves of all they chose” (Genesis 6:2) from these human daughters. Why is this mentioned here? Because it is a perverse act, not blessed by God but cursed by Him, that also resulted in the divine decision to bring a flood upon the earth and to wipe man from the face of it.
The phrase “sons of God” here refer to fallen angels. First, the phrase “sons of God” is also used by Jesus in the New Testament to refer to how humans will be “like” angels in the resurrection. Angels neither marry nor are given in marriage, Jesus says in Luke 20:35-36, so the sons of God giving themselves in marriage in Genesis 6 would have to be fallen angels. These fallen angels are the one-third of the angelic host that sided with Lucifer in The Great Rebellion. Lucifer and the rebellious angels were all expelled from Heaven. So, having fallen from their original state, it doesn’t seem beneath them to marry human women and procreate with them. Of course, angelic/human marriage and sexual intercourse are opposed to the divine design, but God wouldn’t oppose this if humans and angels were equal to one another.
So, humanity is not made equal to the angels according to Scripture. Man is made beneath the angels. While that may seem sad to some, there is good news: Jesus only dies for humanity. He doesn’t die for the angels. As Hebrews 2:16 says, Jesus dies to give aid to “the seed of Abraham,” that is, humanity, but He “does not give aid to angels.” Jesus does not die to redeem angels, but redeem humanity back to God the Father. What this means is that, when Lucifer and the one-third of the fallen host were expelled from Heaven, they can never repent and return to God. Universalism will tell you that it is possible, but Lucifer is never coming back to God. He can never come back because Jesus didn’t die for him or the fallen angels. Jesus did, however die for you and for me, for atheists who say they will never believe, and for those who do believe.
do humans gain wings at death? the bible speaks
At death, do humans gain wings? We don’t read of anything of the sort when someone dies. According to our discussion, humans and angels are not equal to one another. Angels are immortal by design, while humans are born mortal with an immortal component (soul). Humans bleed, angels do not. Humans die a physical death, but angels do not. Humans can marry and give in marriage and procreate, but angels do not. Humans can repent of their sin and change their eternal destiny while angels cannot.
So, since angels have wings and humans do not (and cannot will themselves to fly), can humans gain wings at death?
From what the Bible says, the answer is no. Humans do not gain wings at death.
In Luke 20:34-36, we read that humans who die and arrive at the resurrection 1) neither marry nor 2) are given in marriage, nor 3) die anymore. In this, humans are “like” the angels. We also receive an immortal body, according to the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:50-54.
But are we like the angels in that we get wings, too? I would have to answer that question with a “no.”
There is a passage that provides some insight into this question. In Luke 16 in the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, it says that “the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom” (Luke 16:22, NKJV). First the text says that the man died. Lazarus died. This is interesting because we want to answer what happens at death. So when Lazarus dies, the angels carry him to Abraham’s bosom, to Heaven. The angels carry him. We don’t read of Lazarus carrying himself, or of Lazarus flying away to Heaven on his own. So if there was any flying going on when he died, it was being done by the angels that escorted him to glory — not Lazarus. Had Lazarus flown himself to Heaven, he wouldn’t have needed any help from the angels themselves.
I happen to believe that the same way Lazarus was carried by the angels to Heaven is the same way you and I and those who believe will be carried to Heaven.
The Problem With “Gaining Wings”: Conclusion
What is the problem with the deceased “gaining wings” when they die? Well, as we’ve seen above, Lazarus didn’t gain wings when he died. The whole point of the parable is to teach the audience and us today what it will be like for those who struggle here and those who live in selfish arrogance here. If the parable doesn’t teach us something about what happens when we die, I don’t know what will. Lazarus didn’t gain wings, so much so that the angels had to carry him to Abraham’s bosom.
Next, “gaining wings” implies that humans can morph or transform into angelic creatures when we die. Humans will not morph into angelic creatures. We will not become angels when we die. The reason? God has not given humanity the capability to transform into an angelic creature. We don’t have the free will to become angels now, and we won’t gain that just because we cross over. God has work for the angels to do, and you nor I will be competing for “best angel” while tossing Gabriel and Michael off their duties. Gabriel and Michael will still have work to do in the coming Kingdom, as will you and me.
Next, to “gain wings” implies that wings are the reward for faithfulness to Christ here. They aren’t. The reward for faithfulness to Christ here is eternal life, for all those who love Him and His appearing (Romans 2:7; 6:23; 1 Timothy 6:12, 19; Titus 3:7; 1 John 2:25; 1 John 5:11; Jude 1:21). Eternal life is superior to gaining wings.
Even with humanity gaining immortal bodies, not marrying, and not dying, humanity will still be distinct from the angels. Perhaps there are some surprises with regard to what humanity in Heaven will be like. When Paul says that it “hasn’t entered into the hearts of man the things that God has prepared for them that love Him” (1 Corinthians 2:9), I believe there are surprises in store. And yet, we cannot let our minds run wild with all sorts of wild speculation for which we have no biblical proof or precedent. To allow such wild speculation will put us all on the road to madness.
Sadly, it could lead some to spiritual destruction, and to a shipwreck of their faith.