Several times I've been told by members of one or the other congregation I served as pastor that they saw an angel standing next to me as I preached. How would you take that remark? True? Active imagination? Listen to John writing in the Revelation:
Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, ... As for the mystery of the seven stars that 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 are the seven churches. - Rev 1:12, 20 ESVWhat is this talk about the mystery? What is a mystery? In the Bible mysteries are generally secrets known only to the initiated. They refer to some hidden counsel or purpose of men or they hide the secret counsels of God, counsels the ungodly will never know. These mysteries are often within a saying of the Bible or seen in a vision or a dream. Listen:
And he (Jesus) answered them, "To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. - Mat 13:11 ESV
Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. - Rom 11:25 ESV
Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages - Rom 16:25 ESV
Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, - 1Co 15:51 ESVBut back to the angels of the seven churches. The word angel doesn't necessarily refer to those wondrous spirits who sang and shouted when the LORD laid the foundation of the earth (Job 38:4-7). The word can simply refer to a messenger. John the Baptist was the messenger / angel who prepared the way for Christ's coming:
As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, "Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way, - Mar 1:2 ESVCould it be that what is written in the next chapters about each individual church is actually addressed first to the pastors or overseers of those churches? That's the frequent application of this mystery. However, nowhere in the NT is the word angel ever used to point to an under-shepherd, a pastor. David A Huston agrees. He believes that the words of Rev. 2-3 are written directly to the members of the congregations, because the local assemblies founded by the apostles were led by teams of men called overseers, not by single pastors.
On the other hand, the word angel is used some 60 times in Revelation to speak about one of these great spirits. Sam Storms discusses a few other options, but finally takes the view that the LORD—through John—is addressing the guardian angels of these seven churches. He doesn't know why Jesus would do so, however, and ends up leaving the identity of these angels still a mystery.
There is a parallel in Daniel's prophecy about a strange man who comes to him to tell him of the angelic princes of Persia and Israel.
Then he said to me, "Fear not, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand and humbled yourself before your God, your words have been heard, and I have come because of your words. The prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days, but Michael, one of the chief princes (Dan.13:1), came to help me, for I was left there with the kings of Persia, and came to make you understand what is to happen to your people in the latter days. For the vision is for days yet to come." - Dan 10:12-14 ESVLater in the Revelation we will see and hear about seven angels with seven trumpets or seven plagues or seven bowls of the wrath of God (Rev. 8:2; 15:1; 16:1). Are they the same seven spoken about here? We'll deal with that later. For now, back to the question of guardian angels of local churches. We hear that little children have angels (Matt. 18:10). Indeed the apostles had guardian angels. Peter's angel got him out of prison (Acts 12:5-15). So if individuals have angels, why not whole assemblies or churches of believers? This brings us back to the question about who is being addressed in the following chapters, the angels or the entire congregation? Certainly the members of the church are held responsible. Why then are the letters address to the various angels of the churches?
Perhaps we are back to viewing the angels as the supervisors, the pastors of the seven churches. To come to that conclusion consider the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the OT. The prophet Haggai is called the angel or messenger of the LORD.
καὶ εἶπεν Αγγαιος ὁ ἄγγελος κυρίου τῷ λαῷ ἐγώ εἰμι μεθ᾽ ὑμῶν λέγει κύριος - Hag 1:13 LXX = Then Haggai, the messenger (angel) of the LORD, spoke to the people with the LORD's message, "I am with you, declares the LORD." - Hag 1:13 ESVLuther Poellot, in his 1962 commentary, says that in the Bible we read about God sending angels as messengers to men, but He never uses men to send messages to angels!
Conclusion: the letters are written to those holding the prophetic office, the shepherds of the seven congregations. They are the messengers who are to convey the messages to their congregants, messages containing both warnings (Law) and words of comfort (Gospel). These same messages can be applied to congregations of believers in our day. We'll talk about that as we open them up.