Who Are the Church ‘Angels’?
The mystery of the seven stars which you saw in My right hand, and the seven golden lampstands: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands which you saw are the seven churches (Rev. 1:20).
Who are these “angels”? The Greek term aggeloi means “messengers.” Each of the seven messengers was assigned to one of the seven churches, and each received Jesus’ remarks to his church. Are they heavenly “spirit-messengers,” as the term is usually used? Or are they human messengers?
Aggelos is used 176 times in the New Testament (67 times in Revelation), almost evenly divided between plural and singular. Of these occurrences, 169 refer to heavenly spirit-messengers. Seven times the word is translated “messenger(s)” when it clearly refers to human beings (six times) and Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” (“A thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me,” 2 Cor. 12:7). Three times aggelos refers to John the Baptist (Mt. 11:10; Mk. 1:2; Lk. 7:27) and three times to men sent as messengers by John (Lk. 7:24), Jesus (Lk. 9:52), and Joshua (Jas. 2:25).
Its overall usage favors interpreting “the angels of the seven churches” as heavenly spirit-messengers. But the context and nature of such an understanding raise difficult questions. Why would the resurrected Jesus instruct John to write a letter on parchment to heavenly spirit-messengers? Would Jesus not talk to them directly? Would not heavenly spirit-messengers already know the things Jesus communicates to them here? Are these angels to be identified with the respective messages to their churches? Were these angels to appear (angelically or humanly) to read these letters to their churches? Were they to communicate mystically with their respective churches? Does each church have a heavenly spirit-messenger today?
On the other hand, understanding these aggeloi as human messengers answers many of these questions. If each aggelos was the minister or bishop of his church, it makes sense that Jesus would write to them through John. The written message would provide an evaluation that would enable each minister to lead his congregation better.
Understanding aggeloi as humans also explains why they do not already have the heavenly perspective. So they were given direct revelation from Jesus, authenticated by an apostle. They did identify (notice the predominance of second-person singular pronouns), to one degree or another, with the divine message.
It would seem that Jesus was affirming the singular leadership office (overseer) of the local church, as exemplified by the Jerusalem church under James’s leadership (Acts 21:18). Perhaps the plural elders’ leadership (Acts 14:23) was designed as a temporary measure until mature leaders emerged.