Meeting the Angel of Death
Is a special angel assigned to take people to heaven or hell?
When it is time for us to pass away, does an "angel of death" come to meet us? Stories make this angel seem very evil. Does the angel of death take people to both heaven and hell?
The idea of an "angel of death" is not found in the Bible, but it does appear in many other ancient writings. The Babylonian angel of death was called Mot. In Islamic theology the angel of death is Azrael. You may remember him from "The Arabian Nights," where he is also called Iblis. In Zoroastrianism there is a demon of death named Mairya. In rabbinic writings there are at least a dozen angels of death. The classic Broadway play "Death Takes a Holiday," in which Death disguises himself as a human being, was adapted from a pssage about the angel of death in the Targum Yerushalmi, or Jerusalem Targum.
Nowadays the angel of death appears frequently in books, movies, and television shows. Sometimes the angel is scary and evil, coming to snatch away people's lives. Other times, as in the television series "Touched by an Angel," the angel of death does not decide when someone will die, but is simply present at the time of death to take the soul from this earth. But all these stories are just fiction.
All we Christians know for certain about the angels who are present at the time of death is what Jesus teachers in Luke 16:22, "The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham's side." "Abraham's side" is another term for heaven. In this verse Jesus is clearly saying that when we die, angels are not only there with us but they carry us to heaven. What a comforting thought!
You also ask what happens to people who may not deserve to go to heaven. Do angels come for them? The Bible does not tell us. Throughout the centuries many people in different religious traditions have speculated about whether the angel of death takes souls to hell, but none of these theories are based on biblical teachings. We simply do not know the answer.
It is important to note that the angels who come for us when we die are not to be confused with the angels who carry out God's judgments. According to Genesis 19, two angels of judgment destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. According to Isaiah 37:36, a single angel of judgment destroyed the entire Assyrian army. Confusing these two different missions of angels—taking souls to heaven and punishing the wicked--might have led to some popular misconceptions of the angel of death as a sinister figure.