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Angel or Messenger?

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Angel or Messenger?

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Jul 12, 2021

Revelation / Chapter 2-3

 

To the angel of the church in Ephesus write:
To the angel of the church in Smyrna write:
To the angel of the church in Pergamum write:
To the angel of the church in Thyatira write:
To the angel of the church in Sardis write:
To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write:
To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ~Rev 2-3

 

In the second and third chapter of Revelation, the Lord gave instructions to the seven churches of Asia. Through the seven letters, the Lord reviewed the strengths and weaknesses of the seven churches – the things that they ought to continue to do and the sins that they needed to repent from. All seems well, except when we question who the recipients of the letters were, we begin to encounter some difficulties. The letters were written to the “angels” of the churches which could otherwise be translated as “messengers” of the churches. So to whom exactly were the letters addressed to? Were the letters written to messengers or angels? And how does the identity of the recipients of the letters affect the understanding of these letters?

 

“Angel” in the passage comes from the Greek word “aggelos” and is also translated as “messenger,” used in both singular and plural forms. Based on these seven verses alone, it is not possible to determine whether the recipient is an angel or a messenger. We need to know the Lord’s own explanation for “angel” by referring to the previous chapter before we can begin to understand to whom the letters were addressed to.  

 

I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone "like a son of man," dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet… In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword … "Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later. The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.” ~Rev 1:12-20

 

The word “angels” in the verse “The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches,” uses the same original Greek word “aggelos.” Based on how the Lord explained it, the seven lampstands were seven churches and the seven stars were the angels (or messengers) of the seven churches.

 

The reason why “aggelos” was translated as “angel” instead of “messenger” could be because “stars” being heavenly lights of the skies were unique and different from common lights on earth. Since angels came from Heaven, they were likened to “stars” in the heavenly skies. Furthermore the word “angel” was used more than fifty times throughout the book of Revelation, and they were also the ones to announce God’s judgements upon the nations on earth. Therefore, it only seemed natural to use angels as representatives to receive the letters written to the seven churches. However, there are some issues with such reasoning. For example, this could suggest that in every church there is a guardian angel assigned by God. This will no doubt introduce mysticism to our Christian belief and could develop into an unhealthy adoration of angels even to the extent of worshipping them.

 

Other bible versions translate “aggelos” as “messenger” and most would agree that they referred to the pastors or leaders of the church. Since they were the ones leading the churches in spiritual growth, it was therefore fitting for them to represent the churches in receiving these letters. They would then be responsible to convey the messages to the congregations. Such an interpretation is conservative and consistent with the teaching in the bible, it would also eliminate the ill effects of translating it as angel. But on the other hand, these messengers – the church pastors and leaders, had now become the “seven stars” held in the Lord’s right hand. By this, they assumed important status and even became the glory of the Lord. Though this interpretation may prevent us from worshiping angels, we may soon find ourselves on the road to idolizing these church leaders.

 

Although there are positive aspects with the use of either “angel” or “messenger,” there are some drawbacks which indicate that both “angel” and “messenger” are still not the accurate translations of its meaning in original Greek text. 

 

To be able to know the true identity of the recipient, we should go back to the Old Testament and study the significance of the earthly lampstand. It will shed light on what the heavenly lampstand symbolizes and therefore help the understanding of angels or messengers in the book of Revelation.

 

One bud shall be under the first pair of branches extending from the lampstand, a second bud under the second pair, and a third bud under the third pair—six branches in all. The buds and branches shall all be of one piece with the lampstand, hammered out of pure gold. Then make its seven lamps and set them up on it so that they light the space in front of it. ~Ex 25:35-37

 

Command the Israelites to bring you clear oil of pressed olives for the light so that the lamps may be kept burning. ~Ex 27:20

 

In Revelation, there were seven heavenly lampstands being mentioned. In the Old Testament, the seven earthly lampstands gave off light using olive oil; whereas in Revelation, the light came from the brilliance of the seven stars. Each lampstand gave off light from its own individual star, therefore, the brilliance of the seven lampstands came from the radiance emitted from the seven stars. The earthly lampstand gave off earthly light lit with olive oil while the heavenly lampstand gave off heavenly light radiating from a heavenly star. We need to ascertain that these seven stars were the light source of the seven lampstands and they were not two independent entities; for the Lord said “The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.” 

 

Now, with the help of the Old Testament scriptures and Jesus’ own explanation, we are able to know the true identity of the recipients of the seven letters.

 

The Lord Himself explained the mystery of the seven stars and seven lampstands: “The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.” The Lord not only made it plain to John the meaning of the seven stars and seven lampstands, at the same time, it was a fulfilment to the symbol of the seven lampstands and the seven lights used in the Old Testament Temple. The Lord in the book of Matthew, while giving the sermon of the mount, teaches that Christians are the light of the world. In the book of Philippians, we are told that we are the blameless and innocent children of God that shine like stars in the universe. Many of us may think that the “angels” of the seven churches were the representatives to receive the letters from John who would then communicate the messages to the believers in the seven churches. We have all been mistaken! The Lord had made it clear that these seven letters were written to the “angels,” they were not aids to help convey the messages, but they were the actual recipients of the letters. These recipients were neither angels nor church leaders, but they were the churches themselves. The church herself was the “messenger” of the Lord! These seven churches were the ones that had been sent by the Lord to this dark and sinful world to shine for Him as His messengers. These churches were the light of the world, not mere ordinary light but starlight – celestial and spiritual light radiated from the most glorious King of Heaven. Therefore the bible used “aggelos” a word to describe angels to describe the churches, it signified the status of the churches as the heavenly messengers sent from the spiritual kingdom of our Lord Jesus. Hence when the Lord wrote these letters to the seven churches, He evaluated the churches based on how well they fulfilled their role as the messengers of Christ in the world. 

 

By rephrasing the bible verses concerning “angel,” will help us to understand what the Lord actually has to say:

 

The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the glory of the Lord made manifest by the messengers – the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.

 

To the church in Ephesus as the messenger of Christ write:
To the church in Smyrna as the messenger of Christ write:
To the church in Pergamum as the messenger of Christ write:
To the church in Thyatira as the messenger of Christ write:
To the church in Sardis as the messenger of Christ write:
To the church in Philadelphia as the messenger of Christ write:
To the church in Laodicea as the messenger of Christ write:

 

The Church today, represents the seven stars held in our Lord’s hand to illumine this sinful world. Have we been faithful messengers of Christ, to shine forth the spiritual light that He has entrusted to us?