I recently read your booklets on Bible topics, and have found them quite interesting, containing a lot of truth but also containing much about which I am unsure as yet. There is one point about which I am quite confused, and that is your belief as to the state of the faithful dead and their ultimate reward.
In your booklets you indicate that you believe that the dead are unconscious and that the unfaithful simply will not be resurrected. You also indicate you believe in a physical resurrection of the faithful to take place at Christ’s return, where they will live eternally on earth as their reward.
However, recent articles in your magazine (Megiddo Message) on angels seem to indicate that you believe that the faithful who died go to heaven and become angels. As a matter of fact, on page 11 of the March issue of ‘95 there is a short article entitled: ‘Called To Be Angels.‘ It starts out by saying: ‘God has called us to become angels …. ‘ so what is all this saying? Do you believe the faithful rest until the return of Christ and are rewarded with eternal life on earth? Or do you believe that the faithful dead go to heaven and become angels? If you could clarify this point for me, I would very much appreciate it!
You raise a thoughtful question, which we will try to address from a Biblical standpoint. It is always important to separate Scripture fact from theological tradition and simple “I think …. ”
First, we must understand God’s view of the human family as it is revealed in the Bible. God looks upon His human creation as divided into two classes:
1) those who live and die without knowing God or His plan
2) those who become acquainted with God and His plan and agree to be subject to it.
The first group, those who have no knowledge of God, are free to spend their lives as they choose, without any obligation to God. When their life ends, that is all they have. God does not promise them anything eternal. At death, this very large class go to the grave and sleep the sleep of death, from which they do not awaken. Their state is described by the Psalmist (Ps. 49:12, 14-15): “Nevertheless man, though in honor, does not remain: he is like the beasts that perish… Like sheep they are laid in the grave; death shall feed on them; the upright shall have dominion over them in the morning; and their beauty shall consume in the grave far, from their dwelling.”
The second group might be assigned the general title of “covenant makers.” This group is comprised of all who learn of God and agree to serve Him. Those in this group are further divided, on the basis of their faithfulness to their covenant, into two subclasses: faithful and unfaithful. However, this division will not be visible until the individuals in this group are called to the judgment seat of Christ at the time of Christ’s second advent. At that time, all in this group will be judged and rewarded for what they have done, either good or bad (John 5:28-29; Eccl. 12:13-14; 2 Cor. 5:10). Because they must be judged, all in this group who are sleeping in death at the time Christ returns must be resurrected. As Jesus said, “You shall be repaid at the resurrection of the just” (Luke 14:14).
This resurrection is described by the prophet Daniel, “And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament; and they who turn many to righteousness like the stars for ever and ever” (Dan. 12:2-3). At the Judgment, the faithful among the covenant makers will be rewarded with eternal life in Christ’s Kingdom on earth (Matt. 5:5; 6:10; Rev. 5:9-10); and the unfaithful will die a penal or “second” death (Rev. 21:8; Rom. 6:23).
To summarize, then, the Bible projects two classes, one who live and die without knowing God or His law or agreeing to serve Him; and the second class who agree to live by the law of God, and who will be resurrected, judged and rewarded for their compliance with that law. The apostle Paul pictured both groups in state of our mortal bodies after the resurrection, that “this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality,” and that only then “shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, ‘Death is swallowed up in victory’ ” (1 Cor.15:53-54).When “this corruptible” puts on “incorruption” and “this mortal” puts on “immortality,” the result is, so far as we can understand, the level of life experienced by the angels of God. And these individuals changed to this state will be living right here on the earth. This was the promise of Jesus in His prayer, “Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10). The same level of life now experienced by the angels in heaven will one day be experienced by individuals right here on earth. Paul also spoke of the change from the mortal state to the immortal when he wrote about the coming of Jesus Christ, who “will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body” (Phil. 3:21).
Those receiving this change, being made like the angels, may have slept in death for many years between the end of their natural life and the time of Christ’s return, when they will be resurrected. And after they are resurrected and judged faithful and receive the change to the state of the angels, they will live forever–not in heaven but on the earth. Jesus said plainly, “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth” (Matt. 5:5). It is written of the saints, that they shall “reign on the earth” (Rev. 5:10). And six times in the 37th Psalm it is stated that the righteous shall inherit the earth, the land, and dwell there for ever (37:9, 11, 22, 29, 34).
Being made like the angels does not in any way presuppose that these individuals go to heaven, or that they are living in heaven. Jesus prayed, “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” In other words, Jesus is saying that whatever state now exists in heaven will one day exist right here on earth. This, too, supports the thought that the level of life which the angels now enjoy will one day be experienced by people right here on earth, who will be in every respect “equal to the angels.” The angels are currently God’s heavenly family, residents of other worlds already glorified (Eph. 3:14-15), and when this earth becomes annexed to heaven, its inhabitants will be like the angels, children of God, whom God has rewarded for their life of faithful service.
So when we say that “God has called us to become angels” …. we mean that God has called us so to live that we may be judged faithful when Jesus comes and be granted the change to the immortal state, made like the angels, never to die.