Angels: Officers of the Court
Now we are going to break into some new territory. This will open up what may be a new vista for some in understanding what is going on in the angelic conflict in terms of our own individual spiritual life as well as the spiritual life of a congregation. We will focus on the last verse of Revelation chapter one as it sets us up for understanding the framework of the next two chapters.
Revelation 1:20, "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."
Notice first that there is a distinction made between the stars and the angels of the seven churches and the churches themselves. In the image there are seven lampstands and the ascended Lord is walking in the midst of those lampstands as the Priest-Judge who is pictured as one who is evaluating the seven churches. Distinct from the churches is something that he holds in His right hand. This is completely distinct from the seven individual lampstands. That is the first observation. These starts are defined as the angels of the seven churches. What are the angels of the seven churches?
When we come to this term "angels" it can have a couple of different meanings. So what does angel mean here? The Greek word AGGELOS [a)ggeloj] and it means messenger. The first option here is that it refers to a human messenger. We only have a couple of instances in all of the New Testament where AGGELOS refers to a human messenger. One of these is in Luke 9:59 where Jesus sends some messengers ahead to secure lodging for Him and the disciples as they are on their way to Jerusalem. In the context of Luke 9:59 the messengers are not announcing anything, they are not teaching the Word, they are not the disciples, they are simply sent forward as envoys to secure lodging for the night. Another passage that is frequently cited to try to support the idea that the AGGELOI of Revelation 1-3 is simply a human messenger is Matthew 11:10, as well as parallel passages in Mark 1:2 and Luke 7:27. They are really quoting an Old Testament passage, Malachi 3:1 which talks about the fact that there would be a messenger that would go before the Messiah. Of course, that was fulfilled in John the Baptist. These passages are really talking about a prophet and are quoting an Old Testament passage which uses the Hebrew word mala'ak, the same word used the majority of times for an angel, referring to the function of this supernatural class of being that God created to carry out certain functions in the universe. But this is only one aspect of the use of this word AGGELOS.
Some take this word in Revelation chapter one to refer to a pastor-teacher. The reason people go to this is because when we think about it just on the surface of what is going on here is the question of what an angel is doing in connection with a church. An angel isn't seen, and an angel isn't directly communicating to a local church. The angel is one showing up with this epistle from John on the Island of Patmos? So why would an angel be involved. Furthermore, it appears that these epistles are addressed to the angel. There are those who attempt to say that this isn't just a human messenger but refers to a pastor-teacher. The problem is that the concept of a human messenger is rarely attested in the New Testament. AGGELOS almost always refers to an angel, a supernatural being. It never refers to a pastor per se. In Malachi 3:1 it refers to a prophet and a prophet was considered the mouthpiece of God. In the Old Testament a priest represented the people to God, but a prophet was the one through whom God spoke to the people. So it is different from a pastor-teacher. A pastor-teacher is not God's mouthpiece, a pastor-teacher is teaching or communicating and explaining what has already been revealed, he is not involved in the process of revelation like a prophet was in the Old Testament. The third option is to identify this as an angel. The reason many people have not taken this option is that they can't explain why an angel would be involved in this process.
There are a couple of principles to recognize. First, whenever you do a word study you have to recognize that a word's meaning must follow its normal usage unless the context provides a strong reason for doing otherwise. The passage must be evaluated, and even if the meaning that is there seems to be awkward and difficult to explain, you have to go with the view that the primary meaning or its major usage is your first orientation. Just because we can't provide a complete answer for why an angel would be involved in this process wouldn't exclude this from being an option. An example is the argument about the "sons of God" in Genesis chapter six. The question is raised about how an immaterial being could have sexual relations with a physical being, but every time that phrase "sons of God" is used it refers to angelic beings, never to human beings. Therefore, we have to go where the evidence takes us. The same thing is true when we come to Revelation. We look at this and see that these letters were addressed to the angel of these churches, so let's stop and see if we can't see a reason why angels would be addressed as opposed to a pastor-teacher that might give us a greater understanding of the dynamics of these letters and maintain the integrity of the meaning of the word AGGELOS in the interpretation of this passage.
The first thing that we should note is that in the book of Revelation this word AGGELOS is used 67 times. It is used only 175 times in the whole New Testament. In Revelation, of those 67 uses 59 of them refer to supernatural beings. This weights the evidence in that direction. You really have to come up with sound evidence to make it a human messenger, and to demonstrate that it is not an angel. So word usage pushes us in the direction of a supernatural being. We just can't get away from that, AGGELOS never, not one place in secular literature or the New Testament, refers to a pastor.
1) The first line. What is a mystery? A mystery is previously unrevealed truth. So we have here an identification of the angels with the stars. The claim of the liberals is that the early church went to secular imagery to provide some sort of substance to Jesus' birth, for example. You never see them come from the position that secular history is borrowing from Christianity and from the Bible, which is much more likely. The Bible often, with tongue-in-cheek, is poking at secular imagery and mythology. For example, at the time that John wrote this Domitian was the emperor. Domitian pictured himself with seven stars on a gold coin that was minted about 83 AD, about 8-10 years before Revelation was written. He pictured himself sitting on the globe of heaven playing with these seven stars, and it is a picture of him as the Caesar being in control; he is the sovereign and controller of the universe. This symbolism of seven stars or seven planets originated in Crete in the ancient world, which is where the mystical god Zeus was born, and on ancient Cretan coins Zeus is pictured on a heavenly globe with these seven stars in his hands. What the Scripture does is show God's poking fun at this. It is not Zeus that controls, not Domitian, it is Jesus Christ who has the seven stars. The ext of the Bible itself tells us how to interpret the symbolism. The seven stars are the seven angels.
2) We have a problem. If we want to take these stars as referring to pastors then we have to come up with some form of biblical corroboration for taking stars as pastors. If we go through the Bible stars are used in specific ways. The stars in most usage refer to literal light-bearing bodies that God created and scattered throughout the universe. This is first mention in Genesis 1:16. Other passages are Genesis 15:5; 22:17. The second way that builds off that literal meaning is that the stars were used to symbolize the innumerable descendants of Abraham. Genesis 22:17; 26:4; Exodus 32:13. A third way the word stars is used is to symbolize the twelve tribes of Israel. Genesis 37:9; Revelation 12:1. In three Old Testament passage, though, stars represent angels. Job 38:7; Isaiah 14:13; Daniel 8:10. In the New testament there are four passages that refer to angels as stars, and they are all in Revelation: 1:16, 20; 2:1; 12:4. Stars never represent human leaders anywhere in the Scriptures. So we see that there is a strong reason for sticking with an angelic interpretation of this word.
3) There is another line of evidence that we need to follow, and that is how angels are represented in the book of Revelation. There are 67 uses of the word so that means that there is a heavy emphasis on angels in the book of Revelation. One of the major functions of angels in the book of Revelation is operating, as it were, as officers of the heavenly court, the Supreme Court of heaven, and as witnesses for the court of the execution of divine judgment and the execution of God's judicial sentences in human history. This is important because the entire book of Revelation deals with this whole theme of judgment, that eventually every one of us is going to be held accountable. We are going to be standing before God in one of three basic judgments. We will stand before the Lord at the judgment seat of Christ, which is for believers only. The issue there is not whether or not your destiny is heaven, it is how well you did as a believer in terms of your advance. To guarantee that you are going to be at the judgment seat of Christ you need to believe that Jesus Christ died on the cross for your sins. You trust in Christ as your savior. It is not about good works, morality, ritual, or what church you belong to, but about the Lord Jesus Christ. If you put your faith alone in Christ alone then you will appear before the judgment seat of Christ, and you will be evaluated not on the basis of sin but on how obedient and how mature you became, and then there are rewards that are given out. The second judgment that is mentioned in the sheep and goat judgment that occurs at the end of the Tribulation which is the separation of believers and unbelievers in the Tribulation period. The third judgment is for unbelievers only. This occurs at the end of the Millennial kingdom, it is the great white throne judgment. The issue there is whether you trusted Christ as your savior. Once again, the issue there is not sin. Sin was paid for on the cross by Jesus Christ, totally.
All of this is simply to point out that if we go through the book of Revelation chapter by chapter and study what the angels are doing they are all involved in one way or another with the announcement of judgment or the execution of judgment. So if we look at the first three chapters of Revelation and we see this identification of stars with angels which is consistent throughout the rest of the book of Revelation, and we come to an understand that the picture of the Lord Jesus Christ walking in the midst of the seven churches, that he is pictured as a Priest-Judge, then it fits the scenario that what we have here is angels of the churches who are involved in some way judging or evaluating those churches.
This is not an unusual scenario. Angels are involved in judgment all throughout the Old Testament. When we think about angels we recognize that God created angels in eternity. They were the first of God's creatures. He created angels before He created man or the universe. Job 38:7 says that all the sons of God (angels) sang for joy when God laid the foundations of the earth. So God created the angels and then He created the earth. Somewhere in there Lucifer fell victim to his own arrogance and decided that he wanted to be like God. This is clearly described in Isaiah 14:12-14; Ezekiel 28:12-15. The picture in Ezekiel 28:15 can't be the garden of Eden. It talks about this personage being in Eden the garden of God. But he is on a mountain and this is a totally different topography from what was in Genesis chapter two. This is not a garden of vegetables that was the case in Genesis two, but this is a garden of minerals because there are so many rocks and minerals that are mentioned in the surroundings of Ezekiel 28. In these two passages we are told that this creature decides he wants to be like God. He wants to elevate himself over all the stars, the angels, and we infer from Matthew 25:41 which states that the lake of fire was created for the devil and his angels that God must have determined the penalty for these angels but postponed its execution for some reason. The lake of fire has already been prepared for the devil and his angels. It is already for them, so why aren't they there?
The answer we pull together from a number of different passages. First of all, Satan challenges God's authority. In this Satan wishes to demonstrate that God is basically a tyrant and won't let His creatures do what they want to do. Satan wants to be god and wants t run the universe. As a result of this, as Satan is rebelling against God's authority, what God is going to demonstrate in human history is that just the opposite of that kind of arrogance and rebellion is what is necessary on the part of the creature to have any level of success. This is basically seen in the famous kenosis passage in Philippians passage in chapter two. The Lord Jesus Christ was obedient to God by humbling Himself to the point of death. It is this kind of humility, placing one's self completely under the authority of God that is 180 degrees the opposite of what Satan demonstrated. The second thing is that Satan challenges God's love. It can be expressed by the question: How can a loving God send His creatures for eternity to the lake of fire? What Satan is asking here is to think about the punishment for a minute, that it is incredibly cruel—eternity in torment in a lake of fire. He says the judgment doesn't fit the crime, that he just wanted to run things on his own. The issue at stake here is what is meant by love and where the focus is put. Satan is putting the focus on himself; God is putting the focus on all of the victims of the creature's rebellion.
When we look at the garden of Eden and how things started for the human race the test was whether or not they would obey God, not eating from the frit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. It was an innocuous act, a victimless crime. They didn't do anything to anybody, they simply ate something. But the act of eating was in disobedience to the creator. That simple act of disobedience had consequences that reverberated throughout all of the universe. It affected the spiritual dimension of the universe, the physiology of the universe. It changed physical laws. At that point the second law of thermodynamics went into effect and everything began to run down. It changed the biology of the human race, it changed the function of the womb in the woman. The serpent, instead of walking upright is now walking on its belly. It changed botany so that now the ground is producing thorns and thistles and it is now difficult to produce vegetation and to raise crops as opposed to harmonious relationship. This simple act of disobedience just ripped through the entire universe. Because of that simple act of eating the fruit we now have war, famine, disease, suffering, perversion, violence, hatred. All of the horrible things that we can think of in history are all the consequences of that simple act of creaturely rebellion. These are the unintended consequences that the woman didn't think of when she ate the fruit and the man didn't think of when he at the fruit. What God is demonstrating to Lucifer is that simple act of rebellion on his part wasn't so inconsequential. It was just a simple act of the creature wanting to do it his way. The reality is structured in such a way that the only way that a creature can have meaning and value and significance, that there can be harmony in the universe, is through a one hundred per cent obedience to God. When that is disrupted it just rips everything apart and destroys everything. So God is demonstrating through human history all of the vast options and permutations of disobedience than can possibly take place and showing how nothing works. A creature can never find any meaning or any value apart from obedience to God. Thirdly, Satan challenges God's justice. So God must demonstrate that he is just. What does this bring into the picture? This brings in a concept for us of a courtroom. Whenever we are talking about judgment, what are we talki8ng about? A judge and justice is embedded in the context. God is demonstrating that he is just, and this is why when it comes to salvation we have all of these judicial terms such as imputation, justification, propitiation, even forgiveness.
So when we come to Revelation 2 & 3 and we want to understand the function of angels we have to plug this into the angelic conflict. We will begin to see how the role of angels fits into this. So when we come to these seven letters to the seven churches what we will see is that they are not epistles like the other epistles in the New Testament. These are evaluation statements, and the angels are functioning as overseers of God's judgments, as officers of the court. What these angels are doing is they are part of the angelic witness to the execution of God's justice in history. It is not that these letters are being written to the angels to then give them to the church, but there are two copies just as when two copies of the law were made. One went into the ark of the covenant. This was God's copy. Here one copy goes to the angel. This angel is responsible for overseeing the execution of God's judgment in the church age for its congregation. The other copy goes to the congregation. It is not one copy going to the angel and then he gives it to the church. One copy goes to the angel and he is going to be a witness to how that message is applied to that individual congregation. The congregation gets its own copy to see where they stand before God.