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.
There is no reason to believe you are seeing angels. I took your question to an eye doctor who told me that the lights you see might be the result of an eye condition. The doctor said there are many things that could cause them, including damage to your retina, trauma, or aging. Many people report seeing such lights and are helped by medical science. Do make an appointment to see an eye doctor and talk about the lights you are seeing.
Is what I saw really an angel?
Several Beliefnet members have written to talk about times when they were sure they had seen an angel. What confused them was that the figures were not what they expected angels to look like. They ask, "Is what I saw really an angel? Do angels ever look like that? Do you know of anyone who saw an angel like that?" Here are two specific questions that Beliefnet members have asked about seeing angels:
Standing half a foot off the ground was a huge figure in a crimson red gown that looked like a choir gown. I could not see the full figure; it was so big I could not see the shoulders or the head. I also didn't see feet or hands. Did I see an angel? My faith is strong, and I want to be sure what I saw was real.
My wife is suffering from terminal breast cancer that has moved to her brain. A couple of months ago when she was hospitalized, she kept saying that she saw angels around her; however, they did not have faces. She did not say that their faces were so bright that the features could not be seen--only that they did not have faces. Is it common to see angels without faces?
Yes, Donna, other people have seen angels that were huge, as huge as you described, and dressed in crimson red. And Garry, although it is not a common occurrence, others have reported that they saw angels without faces. While the Bible contains many descriptions of angels, the overwhelming evidence is that angels appear in many other sizes, shapes, forms, and colors besides those recorded in the Bible. My wife, Marilynn, and I have personally talked to and received written reports from people who have experienced angels in their lives. We are impressed with the variety of ways that angels appear, sometimes seen but more often unseen. You can read many of these accounts in our book "A Rustle of Angels."