[Below is an updated extract, as a little taster, from my upcoming book on the Book of Revelation, The Essential Apocalypse, which will be published initially as an eBook, hopefully in the second week of June, around three weeks from now, available on this website for free download]

EACH OF THE SEVEN LETTERS in chapters 2 and 3 are written “to the angel of the ekklesia in (……), write”. In some circles, it is common to say that each of those angels represents the pastor of each ekklesia. I do not concur with that. Firstly, there was no single “boss” of churches in those days and no one-man ministry ruling the church but a number of ‘elders’ which in Greek are referred to as πρεσβυτέρων, presbyterōn. Secondly, whenever John was referring to elders in a church, he always used the word presbyterōn and never the Greek for angels, ἄγγελος, aggelos. In fact, John uses that Greek word a dozen other times in the Book of Revelation to refer to elders, so why would he not also use that word here? He also uses the Greek word for angels dozens of other times in this Book, yet it always means an actual spiritual being, an angel. I am aware that an alternative (literal) meaning for the Greek word for angel can be ‘messenger’. But how would that tally with this vision for seven churches? It would hardly be a mystery, as in “the mystery of the seven stars”, as it says in our text (chapter 1, verse 20). One guy lording it over a church is not a mystery but a tyranny!

Christ Himself clearly referred to the idea of overseeing angels on a personal level (Gospel of Matthew, chapter 18, verse 10), with a pointedly emphatic “I say unto you…”, which could well have been a way of counteracting the fact that the Sadducees completely disbelieved in angels or angelic ministry (Book of Acts, chapter 23, verse 8). This is supported also in the Acts of the Apostles (chapter 12, verse 15), where the apostle Peter’s angel was referred to, and the Letter to the Hebrews, tells us that angels are ministering spirits sent to serve the disciples of Christ (Letter to the Hebrews, chapter 1, verse 14). After all, angels are extremely interested in, and even fascinated by, the spiritual lives of humans, as Peter revealed (First Letter of Peter, chapter 1, verse 12). I therefore strongly believe that in these first chapters of the Book of Revelation, Christ is revealing here that gatherings of disciples are also overseen by an angel, a spiritual being, who is the heavenly representative of the ekklesia. This is really quite astonishing and beautiful and a very much neglected teaching.

One of the reasons why certain Christians are wary about ascribing to angels a prominent role in ministry to humans (though they may well pay lip service to it when they preach on the Letter to the Hebrews, chapter 1, verse 14!) is their concern that people might start to adulate them. There could be that temptation. But I can assure you that the angels would be the first to deter such behaviour, and vehemently so (Book of Revelation, chapter 19, verse 10; chapter 22, verse 9). Also, some folks may be concerned that people may attract angels from the other side, not knowing any better. It is true that Satan can pose as an angel of light; but really, one has to give credit to disciples knowing how to differentiate between angels and demons. That is why there are teachers in churches: To enable gatherings to develop discernment. Obviously, we should not be soliciting angels directly; we do not pray to angels. But they are here to help us, protect us and encourage us. That is their unique ministry. If you are Christ’s then you will have been ministered to by angels. You might even have entertained them unawares — a comforting thought in time of trouble (Letter to the Hebrews, chapter 13, verse 2).

If the word ‘angels’ in reference to ‘the seven stars’ in the first chapter of the Book of Revelation merely meant human representatives in the form of some pastor, why would that be a ‘mystery’, as it is called in the text? There would be no mystery involved. Christ was revealing something to John here of which he would not have previously been aware to the same degree. Surely, the mystery which Christ is illuminating is that — as well as on an individual level — when disciples gather, they are under the overseeing ministry of an angel. That is a solemn, humbling, and holy thought, and should encourage disciples to examine themselves and their interactions diligently.

Not only that, but there is also the way in which conveying the information to gatherings of disciples that a heavenly being has been assigned for their well-being and protection carries with it the idea that those gatherings, as it were, already have one foot in heaven. Thus, each ekklesia is not merely an earthly institution but a heavenly one. That surely raises the level of consciousness of the members of each ekklesia to a higher understanding of the spiritual nature of their gathering. In other words, a church is not a social club but a palace of spiritual communion with each other and with the Divine.

Let us also never forget that angels have been around for aeons. They do not die and therefore accumulate knowledge and wisdom over vast periods of time and countless battles. We, with our puny knowledge and strategies, must surely benefit from this through their assistance. However, be aware (beware) that fallen angels have also been accruing knowledge over aeons for their dastardly tasks. Therefore, never underestimate them; although you can rely on your God-given guiding angels — personal and ecclesiastical — to deal with them on your behalf.

If you disagree with my conclusion about the seven stars/angels, well that’s fine with me. Disagreement over non-essential details is not a deal-breaker, as far as I am concerned. But if you are now considering stopping reading this little book because of that disagreement, I ask you to question why you would do that. I am aware there is a controversy over the use of the word ‘angel’ in this verse. I have simply stated my conviction. A genuine disciple of Christ needs to be mature enough to have a minor disagreement without it causing a deluge. I would also ask that you give my reasoning a chance. I can absolutely guarantee that there are many more places in this book where people could quibble about my interpretation. Please test them and see if these things could be true rather than knee-jerking away. Then our journey will be productive.