The Seven Angels of the Seven Churches
May 28th, 1961 @ 10:50 AM
THE SEVEN ANGELS OF THE SEVEN CHURCHES
Dr. W. A. Criswell
Revelation 1:20; 2:1
5-28-61 10:50 a.m.
In our preaching through the Bible we are in the Book of the Revelation. And after about five full months, preaching in the first chapter, we have come to the last message and are beginning these introductory messages into the second and third chapters. Revelation chapter 1, verse 20; chapter 2 and verse 1, and the title of the sermon is The Seven Angels of the Seven Churches. Revelation 1:16: “And He had in His right hand seven stars.” Revelation 1:20:
The mystery of the seven stars which thou sawest in My right hand, and the seven golden lampstands.
The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches;
and the seven lampstands which thou sawest are the seven churches.
Then begins chapter 2:
Unto the angel of the church at Ephesus write…
Unto the angel of the church at Smyrna write…
Unto the angel of the church in Pergamos write…
[Revelation 2:1, 8, 12]
Unto the angel of the church in Thyatira…in Sardis…in Laodicea, write…
[Revelation 2:18, 3:1, 14]
“The mystery of the seven stars which thou sawest in My right hand” [Revelation 1:20]: the seven stars are the angeloi, translated here “angels” of the seven churches. The star is the angelos; the aster is the angelos. The star is the angel; therefore, the angel is not a symbol, because the star is the symbol, and for the symbol to be a symbol of a symbol would be to reduce the Apocalypse into enigmatic riddle. You could never find your way through it. It would be divested thereof of all semblance of reason and rationality. Therefore the aster, the star, refers to somebody who is in charge of the church at Ephesus, at Smyrna, in all of the seven congregations.
Now our trouble lies in the translation of the word, “The seven stars are the angeloi, the angels of the seven churches” [Revelation 1:20]. And immediately, to us, the word angel brings to our mind those mediaeval dreams and those poetic fancies of heavenly beings who come down with glorious wings, and halos, and brightness, and all of those things, none of which is in the Word of God. You will never find in the Bible that an angelos has wings, or halos, or any of those things, for, you see, the word in the Hebrew describing these people is just exactly like the word in the Greek language describing those same people. In Hebrew it is malak, in Greek it is angelos, and both words mean a messenger, somebody who has been committed with a communication. Now, the messenger, the malak, the angelos, can be from heaven, one of God’s servants from the hosts sent with a special communication from God, or, most of the time, it is a man who has been commissioned from the Lord to bear a message from God Jehovah. So the aster, the star, is a messenger, an angelos, a malak, sent from God with a divine word. He is a prophētēs, a prophet, an out-spokesman, a speaker-out for the Lord. He is an apostolos, “one who is sent from God.”
Now this morning we took time to turn to these verses. I want to do it very rapidly, so just let me turn to it, just to see that in the Bible. In Haggai 1:13: “Then spake Haggai,” the Lord’s malak, angelos,” translated here in the King James, “messenger.” “Then spake Haggai,” the Lord’s angel, the Lord’s messenger, “in the Lord’s message unto the people, saying.” You see that word angelos? That is the way the Greek Septuagint translates it; the word malak in the Hebrew, or the “messenger” as I have it in this King James Version [Haggai 1:13]. In the third chapter of Malachi, I find the same thing: malak, “messenger”; malaki, “My messenger” [Malachi 3:1]. That was not doubtless the man’s name. We do not know who the man was. He is just designated as “My messenger, My angel” [Malachi 3:1]. Now, in the second chapter of Malachi, verse 7: “For the priest’s lips should keep knowledge, and they should seek the law at his mouth: for he is the angelos—he is the malak—he is the “messenger” of the Lord of hosts” [Malachi 2:7]. When I turn to the third chapter:
Behold, I will send My angelos, My malak, My “messenger,”
and he shall prepare the way before Me—
talking about John the Baptist—
and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to His temple,
even the Messenger of the covenant.
Here I think it would have been beautiful to translate it “the Angel of the covenant,” referring many times in the Bible like that—the Angel of the covenant—referring to Jesus Christ. When I turn to the seventh chapter of the Book of Luke, the same thing: “And when the messengers of John came, when the angeloi, the messengers, the angels of John were departed, Jesus began to say…” [Luke 7:24]. And He said, “This is he of whom it is written: Behold, I send My angelos before Thy face—My messenger, My malak, before Thy face” [Luke 7:27]. Just one other: the pastor of the church at Jerusalem, James, in his letter, chapter 2 verse 25, wrote, “Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the angeloi, the messengers, and had sent them out another way?” [James 2:25]. Therefore, when I turn to the Revelation, I know exactly from the Book what these angels are. The seven stars, the asteroi, are the angeloi, the messengers, God’s appointed servants over each one of these seven churches [Revelation 1:20].
I know these angels are men; they are pastors, they are God’s prophets, they are God’s spokesmen. I know it because, for one thing, there is no intimation in the Bible that the churches are under the administration or supervision or tutelage of heavenly beings. In the Book of the prophet Daniel, there were nations there that were under the guardianship of angels [Daniel 10:13] but no intimation of such in the Bible regarding His churches. God’s churches are under the tutelage and the instruction and the administration of God’s messengers, God’s prophets, God’s spokesmen, God’s preachers, God’s angels; God’s messengers.
I know another thing: as I look at this passage and read it, ah! what the Spirit of God says to these messengers—these angels, you have it translated [Revelation 1:20]. He cuts their wings, if they have got wings; He burns them up, if they are combustible. Now, these words of rebuke and denunciation, for example, turn to what Jesus has to say to the angel of the church at Laodicea [Revelation 3:15-16]. Why, it would be impossible to conceive of those heavenly creatures up there that wait on the ministry of God around His glory, those perfect, pure celestial hosts that adore God day and night—it would be impossible to conceive that they could be rebuked, and denounced, and threatened like Jesus does to these angels that head the churches here in Asia. They were men, just like men guide the destiny of God’s churches today; they were the pastors, they were His prophets and preachers, and messengers. And what the Lord had to say to them was sometimes commendatory, many times an exhortation and encouragement; but every time except one, rebuke, and judgment, and warning, and threat! So they were men, they are called stars because they are illuminators. Filled with the Holy Spirit of God, they declare God’s Word in light and in glory to God’s people, and they are called angeloi, “messengers,” because they are bearing a communication from heaven. As Paul said, “We are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: be ye reconciled to the Lord” [2 Corinthians 5:20]. Or as he said, “We are stewards; we are keepers, guardians of the mysteries of God” [1 Corinthians 4:1].
Now when I read here in the Revelation, it is a marvelous thing that you find. For one thing, the message of God which is addressed to the angel is a word from heaven for all of the people in the churches. Each one of these seven times, it ends in the same way, “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.” [Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22] Though the message is addressed to the angel—the messenger, God’s preacher, yet the message is for God’s people. “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit of God saith unto the churches.” Then the angel is the great medium of communication between the courts of heaven and the will of God, and the people that make up His holy, and saved, and blessed congregations.
Then I know another thing from it: I know, therefore, that there is an ordained, ecclesiastical ministry that God, in the economy of His grace and in the infinite wisdom of His soul, has provided for the building up of His churches, and for the leading of souls into eternal life. There is, therefore, there is an ecclesiastical ministry which is ordained of God for the shepherdly care of His people! [Acts 20:28].
Some summers ago, for the first time in my life—and the only time in my life; I have never had opportunity otherwise—in the state of Pennsylvania I attended a service. Those people who under William Penn had founded the colony and had made it a great state; the first time I was ever in a service of that church; they do not believe, that wing of it at least, does not believe in the ministry, does not believe in the ordinances. And when we went to church, and we sat there in silence for all the service, and at the end of the hour of service and silence, one man shook hands with his wife. And another fellow reached over his hand and shook hands with me, and that was the sign that the service was over. “It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe” [1 Corinthians 1:21]. It is the ordinance of God that our souls should be led to eternal life through the delivery of the message of God! These stars are ministers [Revelation 1:20], called and set aside of God for the delivery of God’s message to His people; so I know that in the house of the Lord, when it is arranged according to the mind of God, you will find over the congregation a servant of Christ, a minister of the gospel of the Son of God. “To the angel, to the angeloi, of the churches at Ephesus and Smyrna write this,” said God! [Revelation 2:1,8].
Now I know another thing as I read the passage: I know, therefore, the ministry and the office of the true angel, the true messenger, the true servant of God—what he is to be, what his calling is, the definition of his duties and responsibilities. What are they that he would be the lord over God’s heritage? That he be an imperious, contumacious dictator? That he would be an impossible egotist? No, he is the servant of God for God’s people, and he receives the word, not by commandment of men, but of God. Then I know that the angel of the church, the pastor of the church, the messenger of God set over the church, I know he is to hear the word of God. Let him listen, let him be quiet and listen. I know he is to receive the message from God for God’s people, then let him open his soul and his heart and be filled with the Spirit of God [Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 3:6, 13, 22], and then, and then, let him answer for the people, delivering God’s Word and God’s communication for His people [2 Timothy 4:2]. This is the great responsibility of the minister over God’s church. He is to be an undershepherd; he is to be a guardian; he is to be a watchman.
I have set thee, O son of man, for a watchman over My people, Israel. Thou shalt hear the word at My mouth and warn them of Me. When I say, O wicked man, thou shalt surely die; if he turns, he will be saved! If he will not heed, he shall die, but his blood I will not require at the watchman’s hand; thou hast delivered thy soul
Then I know that the savor of life unto life, and death unto death, is in the hands of God’s preacher, the angel of the church, God’s spokesman [2 Corinthians 2:15-16]. And when we listen to the spokesman, we listen to God, if he is true and faithful in the delivery of the Word. And if we despise the spokesman, we despise God, if he is delivering the Word of the Almighty. Now, I have that from the Lord Himself.
May I exegete here for just a moment? In the sixteenth chapter of the Book of Matthew and the nineteenth verse:
And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
And lest somebody come along, like a certain denomination, and say, “We, we believe that Simon Peter alone was given those keys”; lest somebody say that, in the eighteenth chapter of the Book of Matthew and in the eighteenth verse it says, “Verily I say unto you,” and then our Lord speaks this to all of His preachers, all of them, to all of His disciples, the apostles: “Verily, truly I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” [Matthew 18:18]. That looks a great deal different as you look at it here in the English than when you look here in the Greek. In the Greek there are periphrastic future perfects: “Whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven” [Matthew 18:18]. That is, when God’s man stands in the power of the Holy Ghost and delivers the message of God, the thing that he does is the thing that has been ordained in heaven: and the thing that he doesn’t do is the thing that has been ordained in heaven that he not do. “Whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven. And whatsoever thou loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven”; God has committed that to His angels, to His messengers [Matthew 18:18]. I see the same thing when our Lord, in the twentieth chapter of the Gospel of John, verses 22 and 23, appeared to His disciples, and He breathed on them and said, “Receive ye the Holy Breath”—the Holy ruach, the Holy pneuma—“Receive ye the Holy Spirit”—the Breath, the life of God; then, “Whosoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whosoever sins ye retain, they are retained” [John 20:22-23].
That is, God in His wisdom has committed to the keeping care of His prophets, of His apostles, of His preachers, of His angeloi, of His messengers—God has committed unto them the saving of the souls of men! [1 Corinthians 1:21]. And no man is ever saved apart from the announcement, and the preaching, and the declaration, and the proclamation of the gospel of the Son of God! [Romans 10:13-15]. But the heathen say he has never heard the gospel of Christ; his blood, yes, is on our hands, yes [Acts 20:26]. And our great commission, and authority, and task, and mandate is to preach the gospel to him, that if he turns he might be saved. For the opening of the kingdom of heaven to him is given into the hands of God’s angeloi, God’s messengers.
For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.
But how shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed?
And how shall they believe on Him of whom they have not heard?
And how shall they hear without a preacher?
And how shall they preach, except God send them?
And we help God to do it. Oh, these angels, these stars that God hath appointed for the salvation of the world, the proclamation of the gospel of the Son of God! [Revelation 1:20].
Now may I speak a brief word of the background against which all of this is presented to the Lord’s people? Where there are stars and where there are lampstands, then there is night and there is darkness and there is stygian blackness; so the star is to shine and the lampstand is to burn—so the preacher is to preach and the church is to shine! [Romans 10:13-15]. Well, is that correct, that it is against the background of darkness and of midnight blackness that the preacher stands and the church works? Oh! How true, tragically so. For this earth is in a night and in a darkness. If for no other reason, just the fact that it is a vast illimitable cemetery points up the power of Him who reigns over every man’s life and over every man’s destiny. Yesterday, we buried one of our godly deacons, and today, just as I came over to this pulpit, the little note was handed to me—after I had buried one of our saintly deacons just a little while ago—while her sister was here at Sunday school, his wife passed away and died, Mrs. Sam Smith.
Knocking at every door, coming at every house, this whole world is a vast cemetery! And our place, if He tarries, is already plotted and laid out and is known to God. And the darkness of this world and the darkness of this life is not only found in the driving of the pale horseman, but it is also seen—despite the glory of man and the grandeur and power of nations—it is seen in the savage, depraved brutality that lies just underneath! In my lifetime twice, twice in my lifetime, have I been horrified and amazed in astonishment at the awful depravity, savagery, merciless ruthlessness of humanity! I read it in the paper, and in some instances, in the East and in the West, I’ve gone to look at it for myself. Culture and brilliance and training, all captured for darkness and for night; the depravity of the human heart and the ruthlessness of the human hand. That’s the world, the Book says, the background against which the star shines and the church lamp burns! [Philippians 2:15].
You have that when the gospel was announced to the world. You don’t read in public the first chapter of the Book of Romans. It is just a simple description of life in the Roman Empire [Romans 1:17-32]. And in those days, in those days messengers from God came, announcing and heralding the truth of the light and life of the Son of God! And how were they received? Read the eleventh chapter of the Book of Hebrews. They were sawn asunder; they were despised and mocked cruelly; they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; destitute, afflicted, tormented—“Of whom the world was not worthy” [Hebrews 11:37-38]. And even the Son of God they nailed on a tree and raised Him up between the earth and the sky [Matthew 27:32-50], and His apostles they martyred in their own blood. This world is a night, and the eclipse becomes more oppressive and fearful and awesome with every passing scientific advancement.
Well then, why the star and why the lampstand? [Revelation 1:20]. “Unto the angel of the church at Ephesus write…” [Revelation 2:1]. “The mystery of the seven stars…in My right hand…the stars are the angeloi, the preachers of the churches” [Revelation 1:20]. Then why the preacher and why the church if the night is so oppressive and dark? Because, because, because wherever a preacher stands to preach the truth of the Son of God, and wherever a church is established, there to burn for Christ, there will you be finding some who are turning “to the light of the knowledge of the gospel of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” [2 Corinthians 4:6], anywhere in the world. In Africa some have come to the burning, and in Asia some have drawn near to the light, and in America some turn aside to bow in repentance and faith at the feet of Jesus the Son of God [Romans 10:9-10; Ephesians 2:8]. And there they are together, the light and the darkness, the wheat and the tares, Christ and Antichrist, good and evil, in an ever-increasingly intensive war, until the great Harvester shall come and send forth His reapers and divide the one from the other [Matthew 13:30]. And until that holy and final and consummating day comes, He will have His man, God’s man, delivering God’s message, and he will have around him a band of people who have turned in faith and in trust to the gospel of the Son of God [2 Timothy 2:2].
I close with a poem I found dedicated to the angels, the messengers, the preachers of God’s churches:
Still hold the stars in Thy right hand,
And let them in Thy luster glow,
The lights in a benighted land,
The angels of Thy Church below.
Give them an ear to hear Thy word;
Thou speakest to the churches now:
And let all tongues confess their Lord;
Let every knee to Jesus bow.
[“Draw Near, O Son of God, Draw Near,” Charles Wesley]
“To the angel of the church at Ephesus write … [Revelation 2:1]; To the angel of the church at Smyrna write…” [Revelation 2:8]. For these are the words of God to His people: “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches” [Revelation 2:7]. Oh, how heavenly that God should place us in this holy, holy, hour; in this holy, holy house! God’s sainted people gathered ‘round the delivery of the word from heaven, leading us to life everlasting, to a saving faith in Christ [Ephesians 2:8], a knowledge of Him whom to know aright is life in this world and life in the world that is yet to come [John 17:3].
And that’s our invitation to your heart this glad, holy Sabbath day. In this balcony round, there’s a stairway on either side, at the back and at the front; this great throng of people on this lower floor, there’s an aisle right next to you. Coming down a stairway, coming down an aisle, one of you, two of you, a family of you, as the Spirit of God shall lead in the way, make it today. At the 8:15 hour, God gave us a marvelous harvest coming by baptism, coming by letter. May God do it again this morning.
We will still be on the radio. If you haven’t given your heart to Jesus, driving down that road in an automobile, stop. Stop. Pull to the side of the road, bow your head over the steering wheel, and say, “Lord, today I take Thee as my own personal Savior, to live, to die in the blessed hope of Christ.” Or at the home, in the living room, or in the bedroom, kneeling by the side of the bed, kneeling by the side of a living room chair: “Lord, I give my life, my soul, my destiny to Thee. Here I am. God save and keep me forever” [Romans 10:9-10]; or the throng of people in God’s house this morning, you, coming to Christ, coming to us, while we stand and while we sing.
THE ANGELS OF THE SEVEN CHURCHES
Dr. W. A. Criswell
Revelation 1:20, 2:1
A. The aster is the angelos – the star is the angel(Revelation 1:20)
1. The angel is not a symbol because the star is the symbol
2. The star refers to somebody who is in charge of the church in all of the seven congregations
B. Hebrew malak and Greek angelos both mean “messenger”
1. The star is a messenger sent from God with a divine word
2. Can be from heaven, or a man commissioned to bear the message(Haggai 1:13, Malachi 2:7, 3:1, Luke 7:24, 27, James 2:25)
C. These messengers are men
1. No intimation in Scripture that the churches are under the administration of heavenly beings
a. In Daniel there were nations under guardianship of angels, but no such thing regarding churches
2. The delinquencies laid to the charge of these angels
a. The angel at Laodicea
D. They are earthly messengers authorized to exercise their ministry in the name of Christ
1. Called stars because they are illuminators
2. Called messengers because God sent them(2 Corinthians 5:20, 1 Corinthians 4:1)
A. The message addressed to the angel is a word for all of the people (Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 29, 3:6, 13, 22)
B. There is an ordained, ecclesiastical ministry that God has provided for the building up of His churches and bringing souls into eternal life
1. Quaker service in Pennsylvania(1 Corinthians 1:21)
C. Definition of messenger’s duties and responsibilities
1. Not a lordship, but a servant
2. He receives the word not by commandment of men, but of God
3. It is his business to hear, receive and answer
4. To be an undershepherd, guardian, watchman(Ezekiel 3:17-19)
5. If we listen, we listen to God; if we despise him, we despise God(Matthew 16:19, 18:18, John 20:22-23)
6. God has committed unto them the saving of the souls of men(Romans 10:13-15)III. The background
A. Where there are stars and lampstands, there is night, darkness
B. How dark this world
1. Despite the glory of man and grandeur of nations, humanity is savage, depraved and brutal
C. When the gospel was announced to the world it was against background of the Roman Empire(Romans 1:22-32)
1. When God’s messengers came with light, truth, how were they treated?(Hebrews 11:36-38)
2. Even the Son of God they nailed to a tree, and martyred His apostles
D. Wherever a preacher stands to preach the truth of the Son of God, burning for Christ, there you find some who are turning to the light (Revelation 1:20, 2:1, 2 Corinthians 4:6)
1. Together, light and darkness, the wheat and the tares, until they are divided at the consummation
2. Poem, “Draw Near, O Son of God, Draw Near”