Who or what are the angels to the seven churches? (Rev 1:20)
A noted feature of the book of the Revelation is that signs and symbols used are usually explained. For example, in chapter 17 we read, “the seven heads are seven mountains” and “the woman is that great city.” The obvious intent is that the reader will understand what the symbol represents. In Revelation 1:20 we read, “the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches and the seven candlesticks … are the seven churches.” Here we have two symbols representing two objects. The angels and churches are not symbols to be interpreted, but objects to be understood.
The simplest answer to the question is to see an angel representing each church. The word angelos is used some 76 times in the Revelation, and other than in chapters 1-3, it seems clear that “spirit beings” are meant, (a possible exception is 9:14). In the book of Daniel it seems spirit beings are associated with kingdoms (Prince of Persia-Prince of Grecia). Yet the seven letters are given by the Lord Jesus to John. How are we to understand that John then writes them to angels, when clearly the content of each letter is intended for that church, and indeed for all the churches. Some suggest that the angel represents, not a spirit being, but the spiritual state of the church. Now we have the added difficulty that the “star” is a symbol of the angel but the word angel is a symbol of something else, and John writes to that.
While angelos is generally translated “angel,” there are seven occasions in the New Testament when it is translated “messenger.” Six of these obviously refer to human beings. For example John the Baptist was the messenger (angelos) sent before the Lord. In each of the seven uses, the “messenger” represents the one who sent him. Furthermore Haggai the prophet is spoken of as the Lord’s messenger (Hag 1:13) and in Malachi 2:7, the priest is also spoken of as the Lord’s messenger. The word angel then is used of a messenger. The apostle Paul wrote of being received as “an angel of God” (Gal 4:14). Thus our verse could read; “the seven candlesticks are the seven churches and the seven stars are messengers to the seven churches.” Yet, now the problem arises, who are the messengers?
In support of religious tradition, many see the messenger as either a bishop or a minister/pastor; but this is based on unwarranted assumptions. One assumes each city has more than one church to justify the position of bishop. The other assumes each church has a single minister/pastor. The Apostle Paul met with the elders (plural) of Ephesus about 30 years before John wrote Revelation, and there was no single bishop or pastor then. Later still, Paul wrote the Ephesian letter and it was addressed to the saints, not to any single leader.
Church practice should be based on New Testament teaching, and there is no such teaching as one man over several churches, nor one man over one church. The Scriptures speak of bishops, pastors, and elders, but the terms should be examined in the context. In Acts 20:17 the Apostle Paul sent for the elders (presbuteros) of the church of Ephesus. He reminded them that the Holy Spirit had made them overseers (episkopos), they were told to feed (poimaino; pastor) the church.
The same thing is seen in 1 Peter 5:1-2. It is evident that the terms are synonymous, and elders (plural) are the responsible leaders in a local church. Is it not simpler and in keeping with Scripture that the Lord’s messenger, then, is “the presbytery” (presbuterion – singular) whose responsibility is the local church?