In Revelation 1:20 Jesus is recorded as explaining the mystery of the seven stars resting in his hand: “The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches”. Chapters Two and Three consist of seven letters written to churches in the area, and each one starts with the words, “To the angel of the church in ….. write”. Now, just who or what are these ‘angels’?
Some commentators hold that they are human ‘messengers’, and most modern Bible translations give this understanding as a footnote. The biggest problem with this is that the word aggelos is used on more than 50 other occasions in the book of Revelation and not one of these refers to anything other than an actual heavenly being.
I wrote in a previous post in this series that, ’angels are consistently featured as the narrators, or at least conveyers, of the revelation. In fact, as you will see later, they are the only characters in the book not depicted by symbols and stylised pictures – instead, they are the ones who deliver and help interpret the mysterious pictorial language of revelation’.
Some commentators (Thomas) regard the angels of the churches as messengers sent by John to deliver the letters but this is not mentioned anywhere in the introduction to the Revelation and just doesn’t make sense – why address the person who is simply delivering the message? Other commentators (Beasley-Murray) hold that the angels of the churches are the church leaders, the Elders or Pastors, but while this would make more sense, it fails as an explanation because of the consistent use of the word aggelos throughout the book of Revelation.
So this leaves us with only one feasible solution to the problem; the angels of the churches are guardian angels commissioned to watch over each individual church. The church leader would receive and act on the letter, but the guardian angel of the church would be addressed together with him because of his joint accountability to God for the welfare of the church. This has some profound implications but before exploring these I need to show you that this is a reasonable interpretation.
Revelation contains numerous allusions to the book of Daniel and in Daniel 10 there is reference to the angels of the nations of Persia, Greece, and Israel. Jesus was obviously familiar with rabbinic teachings concerning such guardian angels but He went a step further when He declared that even little children have personal angels who, “always see the face of my Father in heaven” (Matthew 18:10). Then again, Acts 12:15 records how the disciples disbelieved the woman who said that Peter was at the door and said that ‘it must be his angel’ she had seen. Strange words indeed if they did not believe that people had personally assigned angels.
Over the years certain ‘prophetic’ characters like William Branham have claimed to be in communication with their angels who instruct them, empower them, or perform miracles on their behalf. The infamous Todd Bentley was one of the latest of these ministers and just recently I came across a certain James Maloney who claims something similar. I am more than skeptical concerning these men and their claims, not because of the angelic connection, but because of how they claim to interact with these heavenly beings. Angels are sent by God to communicate with or assist His people. Hebrews 1:14 puts it like this: ‘Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?’ However, there is no biblical evidence of angels empowering human beings or working miracles on their request.
On the positive side there is something very wonderful about God assigning angels to His churches. It means that churches have powerful heavenly protection against the powers of darkness. It also means that when we gather to worship God we join with the angels in that we are represented in the heavenly realms as we praise and honor the Lord Jesus. The book of Revelation contains several allusions to this combined church/angelic worship … but that must await a future post.
In my next post I will be giving a summary of what Jesus wrote to the churches and how we need apply that to our churches today. His letters contain warnings and corrections but they are full of affirmation and promise – you are going to love opening them up.