Human or Heavenly?


Revelation 1:20   20 The mystery of the seven stars which you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks. The seven stars are the angels [#32 aggelos--angelos]  of the seven churches: and the seven candlesticks which you saw are the seven churches.


Were these “angels” human or heavenly beings?


The answer to this has considerable importance since it is the primary argument for scriptural “evidence” of monarchical bishops or a presiding "pastor/evangelist".  The change in the second century from the oversight of a plurality of elders in every church (Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5) was a significant step leading to the “Great Apostasy.”  It is still argued today. 


One indication as to their nature may be that Rev. 1:20 calls the “angels” “stars”—perhaps suggesting heavenly entities.


The primary evidence that it speaks of angels is the overwhelming use of angelos (#32) as heavenly beings.  Out of 186 times found in the New Testament, only seven times it clearly speaks of men.  We know this because they are so identified.  The general rule  is that unless there is such identification, they were viewed as heavenly messengers.  


Mat. 11:10; Mark 1:2; Luke 7:27 John the Baptist was a “messenger

Luke 7:24  John sent messengers to Jesus

Luke 9:52 Jesus sent messengers ahead of him.

James 2:25 Israel sent out messengers


We have no case where ongelos (#32) is clearly identified as speaking of human messengers of churches.  The Greek word used to describe messengers of the churches was “apostolos” (#652)


Epaphroditus was “messenger” (#652 apostolos) of the church at Philippi, sent to minister to the needs of Paul.   (Philippians 2:25)


2 Corinthians 8:19-23, Paul speaks of those who the churches appointed to travel with him to care for the collected money for the poor as “the messengers (#652 apostolos) of the churches.” 


These certainly were not monarchical bishops.


Being a “messenger” of a church does not prove they presided over the church, and most certainly it does not negate all of the evidence that elders (plural) ruled churches. 


The apostles ordained “elders in every church” (Acts 14:23).


Elders ruled the church.

1 Timothy 5:17  17 Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine.


No letter is addressed “to the bishop” over any church. 


Philippians addresses the saints with special citation of the “bishops and deacons”—plural, no monarchical bishop.  (Philip. 1:1)  “Bishops” was another name for elders, or pastors (Titus 1:5, 7).


Titus was told to ordain “elders” in every city.   


Titus 1:5  5 For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee:


Indeed, the church at Ephesus had existed for years without one-man oversight before Timothy was left there to deal with special problems that had arisen.  Even when he was there Paul says the elders were to "rule" (1Tim. 5:17).  At the time the Ephesian letter was written it gave no indication of a single bishop over the church.  When Paul called the elders from Ephesus to Miletus (Acts 20:17) they were clearly in charge and no single bishop is suggested as having oversight.


The roles of elders ruling, teaching, protecting, overseeing, feeding, shepherding and withstanding the Judaizers clearly established their oversight. 


It is just too great a stretch to make the “seven angels of the churches” in Revelation to be monarchical bishops.


Primary evidence is how the word is used in context of Revelation.  The fact that the book speaks of angels as heavenly beings 76 times with only these 8 providing any opportunity to question is significant and requires strong evidence to be legitimately viewed otherwise. 


How a person commonly uses a word is very important to understanding what he intends.  His usual meaning prevails unless strong evidence shows he is using it differently. 


Examples both before and after Revelation 2 & 3 shows how the word was used.


Revelation 1:1  The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to show unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John:


Revelation 5:2   2 And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, Who is worthy to open the book, and to loose the seals thereof?


Revelation 22:6   6 And he said unto me, These words are faithful and true: and the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, sent his angels to show unto his servants the things which must shortly come to pass.

Revelation 22:8 And I John saw these things, and heard them. And when I had heard and seen, I fell down to worship before the feet of the angel which showed me these things.

Revelation 22:16   16 I Jesus have sent my angel to testify unto you these things for the churches. I am the root and the offspring of David, the bright, the morning star.

Daniel 12:1 shows that nations had angels standing up for them.  There is no problem with having angels pictured as responsible for churches.  (cf. Daniel 10:13, 20, 21)


Two arguments have been made for the exception that men, rather than heavenly beings are intended.


1.  Why would John be told to write to a heavenly being?


2.  The 2nd person singular indicates these “messengers” are accused of doing wrong which would be more likely spoken to men.


Objection: “Why would John be told to write to a heavenly being?”


This rests on a question which is itself inconclusive.  The answer may be that it is just part of the imagery of churches having angels who are spoken of as if they were accountable, as may be the case for angels responsible for nations (cf. Daniel 10:13, 20, 21) or children (Mat. 18:10). 


It is argued that nowhere in the scriptures is anyone told to write to a heavenly being.  However, that does not necessarily indicate it could not be done in the imagery of Revelation.  People did communicate with angels.


Alternatively, we have no case where the word “angelos” (#32) is clearly identified as speaking of a person presiding over a church

When speaking of messengers to churches, not presiding over them, the Greek word used was “apostolos” (#652)

Epaphroditus was “messenger” (#652 apostolos) of the church at Philippi, sent to minister to the needs of Paul.   (Philippians 2:25)

2 Corinthians 8:19-23, Paul speaks of those who the churches appointed to travel with him to care for the collected money for the poor as “the messengers (#652 apostolos) of the churches.” 

In fact, we have no example in scripture of any presiding bishop.  Nor is any evangelist called a “messenger/angel(#652 apostolos or #32 angelos). Why did not Paul, in Ephesians,  write, “to the angel/messenger at Ephesus”? 


If the “angels” in Revelation 2 & 3 were evangelists, why did it not simply say, “to the Evangelist at ........”?  If they were presiding bishops, likewise.  Why this unusual term otherwise used of heavenly beings throughout the letter?


If the “angels of the churches” were men, why were none of them identified?  Angels are rarely named but when speaking to men, it is common to identify them.


If these were presiding bishops, why does the New Testament nowhere indicate any such thing over any church?  If this is speaking of the church leadership, why does he not address even one of these seven churches as having a plurality of “angels/elders,” as revealed in the New Testament?


Furthermore, does it not raise a question that all seven of these churches had an “angel”? When Paul writes letters to churches, in not one did he address any single presiding person.     


These “messengers” could have been sent from the churches to receive revelation from John, or sent by John to the churches but even that is unclear.  These messages are sent to the "angels" of the churches. 


The New Testament knows nothing of a “presiding bishop” over each church. Churches were ruled by a plurality of elders/bishops (Acts 11:30; 14:23; 15:2, 4, 6, 22, 23; 16:4; 20:17; 21:18; Philip. 1:1; 1Tim. 5:17; Tit 1:5; James 5:14; 1Pet. 5:1). 


We don’t even have scriptural teaching or examples for an evangelist presiding over each church.  We know of Philip the evangelist, who was at Caesarea after ten years (Acts 8:40; 10:8), but nothing is said of him presiding over the church.  He may have been using that as a base, as Paul did at Antioch.  The other example is Timothy who is recorded at Ephesus when Paul wrote to him but not there at other times.  There was not even an apostle over every church.  It makes much more sense that it is picturing each church as having a heavenly messenger looking out for its welfare.


Objection: “Some of these ‘messengers’ are accused of doing wrong which would be more likely spoken to men.”




The "angels" were not the ones for whom the messages were intended.  They were directed to the churches (Rev 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22). The messengers were only the means of delivering the messages.  


Rev. 2:10 “Fear none of these things which thou [2nd person, singular] shall suffer, behold the devil shall cast some of you  [2nd person, plural -- people in the church] into prison."  Both the singular and the plural are referring to the church.


Revelation 2:13   13 I know thy [2nd person singular] works, and where thou [2nd person singular] dwells, even where Satan's seat is: and thou [2nd person singular] hold fast my name, and hast not denied my faith, even in those days wherein Antipas was my faithful martyr, who was slain among you [2nd person plural], where Satan dwells.


Rev. 2:24-25But unto you [2nd person plural] I say, and unto the rest in Thyatira, as many as have not this doctrine, and which have not known the depths of Satan, as they speak; I will put upon you [2nd person plural] none other burden. 25 But that which ye have already hold fast till I come.


The above passages addresses the church both in the singular and the plural. 


While the letters are written to the messenger of the churches, the messages are intended for the churches-- sometimes in the singular--the body as a whole, and sometimes in the plural as individuals making up the body.

Use of the 2nd person singular or plural may refer either to the church as a whole or to the members as individuals.  The church is a body composed of many individuals. 


1 Corinthians 12:27   27 Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.




There is no supporting evidence for monarchical bishops and they are clearly contrary to New Testament example and teaching.  If we presume these to be messengers to or from the churches, the claim that they were to blame for the problems does not hold up.  It would appear that the weight of evidence favors the “angels of the churches” as heavenly beings.