Psa. 104:4 π Mt. 5:14 π Mt. 25:25 π Jn. 4:24 π Acts 2:17 π Rom. 12:5 π 1 Cor. 2:11 π 1 Cor. 3:16 π 1 Cor. 12:20 π 2 Cor. 2:15 π Eph. 3:9-11 π Phlp. 4:18 π 1 Ths. 4:17 π 2 Ths. 2:1 π Heb. 1:7 π Heb. 10:25 π Jude 13 π Rev. 1:13 π Rev. 1:16 π Rev. 1:20; 2nd π Rev. 2:1 π Rev. 2:6 π Rev. 2:8 π Rev. 2:12 π Rev. 2:15 π Rev. 2:18 π Rev. 3:1 π Rev. 3:7 π Rev. 3:14 π Rev. 22:16Greek Words Mentioned in This Article
Angel – angelos –  π Star – aster –  π Assembling Together – episunagoge – 
Seven times in the book of Revelation, Jesus says to John, “To the angel (Greek angelos [ 32 ]) of the ekklesia in…” ( Rev. 2:1 , 8 , 12 , 18 , 3:1 , 7 , 14; top ) Who or what is He speaking to here? Historically there are two interpretations as to just what these “angels of the seven ekklesias” are. In these two views, the “angelos” has historically been seen as either an angelic being or the bishop. Neither of these two views fit everything the Bible has to say yet men have polarized themselves into one of these two camps nonetheless.
There is no real likelihood that the “angelos” is a bishop (or “pastor”) over a “church.” At the time the letters were written, there were no bishops elevated over the other elders nor over the assembly and there were no “pastors” as we know them today. This Nicolaitan teaching and then practice ( Rev. 2:6 , 15; top ) did not come into the thinking of the people of Christ until after Ignatius of Antioch (died c. 110 a.d.) came and went. Nor were there the isolated sects huddled in the isolated, specialized buildings that we normally call “churches” today – the first “church” building would not come into existence until around 200 a.d. and even then it was only a modified house. There simply is not much basis on which to claim that letters written to an existing ekklesia in 95 or 96 a.d. would have anticipated these later errors – nor would they speak of them as if they were an acceptable norm.
There is not much likelihood either that we can translate “angelos” as merely some angelic being who acts as some kind of messenger between God and the ekklesia. The letters are addressed to the “angelos” of the assembly but the whole language of all the letters is to all the people of the ekklesias. Why would Jesus speak to an angel about the works of the people as “your works” and why would angels be told to repent? Other spiritual beings also created by and subservient to God, no matter what role they have in interacting with the people, cannot be forced to share in the sins of the assembly. Nor would a bishop (Greek episkopas) – even if the bishop was supposed to be over an assembly (which is an unscriptural assumption and this passage cannot be used to support the Nicolaitan/bishop error of the “church”) – be charged with the whole of the assembly’s sins. For these same reasons, the “angelos” of the ekklesia cannot possibly be a reference to the Spirit of God as God certainly has no reason to repent and no reason to tell Himself to repent! What alternative then are we left with?
We can only reasonably and spiritually conclude that both of the classical arguments are wrong, that something has historically been missing from our ability to interpret this passage. That we have not been able to accurately understand this phrase tells us that either God has not opened up this understanding yet and it is still a mystery held in the secret counsels of God or that we have settled for looking at this from the prism of men’s understandings and failed to consider how God might be using this term. That men have nonetheless polarized themselves around these two misconceptions clearly speaks of just how carnal we still are in our approach to spiritual realities, to the Scriptures and to one another!
But there is something to be gleaned from a deeper understanding of what these beings are. When we seek to identify just what these “angelos” are, we need to look first at Jesus’ explanation. John had seen “in the midst of the seven lampstands One like the Son of Man…” holding “in His right hand seven stars.” ( Rev. 1:13 , 16 ) Then Jesus explained, “The seven stars are the [angelos] of the seven ekklesias, and the seven lampstands which you saw are the seven ekklesias.” ( Rev. 1:20; top )
We cannot separate the “angelos” from the fact that they are also “stars” in His right hand. Though some have used the stars to “confirm” the “angelos” as an angelic being in that theory, “stars” [ 792 ] are used for other beings as well. Apostates are called “wandering stars” ( Jude 13 ) and Jesus Himself says that He is the “bright, morning star.” ( Rev. 22:16; top )
God is a Spirit ( Jn. 4:24 ) but angels are also said to be ministering spirits. ( Heb. 1:7 , Psa. 104:4 ) Humans have spirits too. ( 1 Cor. 2:11 , etc.; top) Perhaps we should look more closely at our ignorance about our own existence and nature of being.
One scholar offers this insight:
“The real difficulty [in translating this phrase] is probably that the image belongs to a context and genre which eludes the logic of modern categories. angelos must be rendered verbally as ‘angel,’ but the verbal equivalence does not sufficiently explain the underlying thought. The ‘angel’ is perhaps something like a heavenly counterpart of the [ekklesia]. In practice we may visualize this as amounting to a personification of the church, even as this does less than justice to the connotation of the original concept.” (“Angels of the Churches,” New Bible Dictionary, 1962, p. 38)
This scholar has hit the nail on the head. The usual translating tactics come up short of rendering this phrase because both the English and the Greek languages fail to convey the original intent of the Spirit of Christ who authored this phrase and this phrase is just not a natural part of the modern and intellectual categories men regularly use to understand and describe themselves. We must also take into account that this is apocalyptic, or prophetic, writing. That is,
- there is an element in which these seven letters apply to the spiritual condition and actions of all individuals from the time of the writing until the time of Christ’s return.
- there is an element in which these seven letters apply to the spiritual condition and actions of all groups who have met in the name of Christ and who will meet in His name until the time of Christ’s return.
- there is an element in which these seven letters apply to the original seven ekklesias as named in the letter.
- there is an element in which these seven letters apply to the overarching historical characteristics and progression of the whole of the ekklesia over what we commonly call “church history.”
None of these various elements eliminate the other elements and none distort the meaning of the other elements. This is how transcendent our God is! The Spirit of God is using human terms to convey spiritual truth while simultaneously preserving portions of truth hidden until the time when the revelation would be given and it would then be understood. And our difficulty in translating this phrase is still further complicated because we have failed to take into account the viewpoint of God. We do not see as God sees and yet we have tried, unsuccessfully for centuries, to force this phrase through human understanding and we have routinely come up short.
The phrase “angelos of the ekklesia” comes completely from God’s perspective and we need to ask the Lord to show us several things in order to see this concept from His perspective.
First, what is the ekklesia? The local ekklesia is symbolized as a candlestick ( Rev. 1:20 ) showing that we are to be a light unto the world. ( Mt. 5:14; top ) If one were to picture a nighttime aerial photograph of the ground as seen from an airplane or satellite high overhead, we grow near to seeing one way that, at the time of the writing of the New Testament at any rate, only God could see the ekklesia. With the making of maps and the onset of technology, we can now more easily envisage this but I believe this is what Jesus was saying here through John in the koine Greek language. That is, in a aerial night photograph, all one will see are the little points of light of houses, villages, towns and cities. Each light shines over a small area and brings light only to that area. This is an analogy of the circles of influence that the ekklesia has in the world though the landscape is certain to be lighted much more differently spiritually than our electric lamps do physically! And one might suspect that if one could gain a distant enough perspective of all those dots, the overall picture would coalesce into a likeness of Christ Jesus!
As points of light around the world and stretched out across the centuries, the whole of the ekklesia cannot be assembled together in totality ever - except by the King who will indeed do that at one point in the near future. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians regarding an event he called “the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him.” ( 2 Ths. 2:1 ) In his previous letter, he had told them:
“Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with [the dead in Christ] in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.” ( 1 Ths. 4:17; top )
Our “gathering together to Him” (Greek, episunagogue [ 1997 ]) as the whole ekklesia is a one-time event. Interestingly this word is used in only one other place in the New Testament – we are told not to forsake our being assembled into the one body which will one day be gathered together in one place at one time. ( Heb. 10:25; top ) These two unique usages of this interesting word are yet more evidence that the genuine local ekklesia stands at the crossroads of time and eternity! Each ekklesia shines as a single light or lampstand in this dark world but it simultaneously casts a light or sends a message into the spiritual and heavenly realms of eternity.
With this much larger picture of the ekklesia in view (and completely forsaking all images of the counterfeit “church” apostasies and errors about buildings and hierarchies and carnal meetings and agendas), we may again turn to consider how to translate this phrase.
If we render the verses in the following manner, we may grasp the sense which the Lord was trying to convey.
“To the message-carrying spirit of the group of people who assemble in…”
What message do we as a group of people convey into the heavenly realms? That the ekklesia is to be a message-carrying entity is seen in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. He wrote, “God created all things through Jesus Christ; to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the ekklesia to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places, according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.” ( Eph. 3:9-11; top )
A similar aspect of the “message” we deliver to God and the heavenly realms is seen in Paul’s description of himself and his fellow workers - “For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved…” ( 2 Cor. 2:15 ) and in his description of the gifts from the Philippians delivered by Epaphroditus as “a sweet-smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God.” ( Phlp. 4:18; top )
What this points to is our corporate identity – and this is not a concept readily available to individuals spiritually and intellectually poisoned and saturated with the philosophy of relativism and extreme, “rugged” individualism. But we are, nonetheless, called to be His body – we are many members but one body. ( Rom. 12:5 , 1 Cor. 12:20 , etc.) Paul spoke of the believers saying, “You (plural) are the temple (singular) of God.” ( 1 Cor. 3:16 ) Though God created each man, woman and child to be a unique creature and He calls and gifts them each in their own special unique and individual way, there can be no place in God or Christ Jesus for isolated loners who have no use for or interaction with their brothers and sisters in Christ. Such a one can only be compared to the third servant who buried his one talent in the ground because he feared his master’s wrath. ( Mt. 25:25; top )
This rendering also explains why the letters speak directly to the people because they are addressed to the people. It is addressed to the corporate body, bodies and individuals who claim to, have ever claimed to or will ever claim to belong to Christ – all at the same time! It is not addressed to one man sinfully exalted over the congregation nor is it addressed to some spiritual, angelic being who acts as a messenger between God and men – a rather outdated mode of communication now that the Spirit has been poured out on all flesh. ( Acts 2:17; top ) It is addressed to the spiritual “corporate essence or existence” (“aroma”) that is presented to God in the heavenly realms when our spirits gather together in holy (or not so holy) assembly in His name.
All ekklesias convey a message back to God and to the other heavenly elements of creation. That we don’t know this speaks most of our blindness and ignorance and our complete unfamiliarity with the mind of Christ, our almost complete inability to see as God sees.
Let he who has ears hear.
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