Rev. 1:20 The mystery of the seven stars which thou sawest in my right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks. The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches: and the seven candlesticks which thou sawest are the seven churches.
Rev. 2:1, et al. Unto the angel of the church of....write...
Who are the ‘angels’ in Revelation 2-3? A common interpretation -- perhaps the most common -- is that the seven angels represent the seven pastors of each of the seven churches of Asia. Baptist, Evangelical and Protestant commentators provide some examples:
“The candlesticks represent the churches; the stars represent the messengers or pastors of the churches...” -- B. H. Carroll, The Seven Churches of Asia
“...the seven stars which John saw in Christ’s right hand, represent the angels, or pastors of the seven churches of Asia, and in them all the pastors and ministers of the churches in all the periods of time until Christ’s second coming.” -- John Gill’s Exposition of the Bible
“These messengers were probably the pastors of these churches or prophets through who the message was to be delivered to the congregation.” -- John F. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ
“With the meaning of the seven stars, that they are the ministers of the churches...” Matthew Henry’s Complete Commentary on the Bible
“But by Angel in this and all the other epistles written to the seven churches in Asia, we are to understand the episcopacy, presbytery, and ministry in each particular church, unto whom the charge, oversight, care and government thereof was committed by the Holy Spirit...So the word ‘Angel’ in all these seven epistles, is a noun collective, comprehending all the bishops and presbyters, called elders, in this Church of Ephesus, so in all other churches of Christ in Asia, and elsewhere.” -- Hanserd Knollys, An Exposition on the Book of Revelation
The notion that angels represent pastors runs very deep in the mindset of many. But the deep-seated nature of that interpretation may disguise a lack of proof that pastors are angels or that angels are pastors.
Revelation 1:20 is “epexegetical” -- that is, it interprets itself; or (perhaps more technically) it is a verse in which the explanation or interpretation is supplied. John hears a voice, sees a vision. It is the Alpha & Omega, the beginning and the end, He who was dead and is alive forevermore. In the vision John sees Him -- the Lord Jesus Christ -- in the midst of seven golden candlesticks, holding seven stars in His hand. The vision ends with a command to write -- and an explanation of the mystery of the seven stars and seven candlesticks. The seven candlesticks are the seven churches of Asia to whom John is commanded to write. The seven stars are the angels of those seven churches. Now at once we must decide: has Jesus given the interpretation of the mystery, or has He only interpreted half the mystery and left the other half for us to decide? All seem to agree that the interpretation of churches is churches. Yet perhaps only a minority accept that Jesus’s interpretation of stars as angels actually means the stars are angels. Some may accept angels on the surface. But rather than understanding angels as the spiritual beings we most commonly think of when we hear the word, they interpret them in regard to the basic meaning of the term -- a messenger.
I believe the stars are angels:
1. Because of the interpretation of Jesus. If the stars are not angels, but rather pastors, that leaves the interpretation provided by our Lord as no interpretation or explanation at all. Stars are angels. Candlesticks are churches. The mystery is revealed. Or not?
2. Because the most common use of “angel” (Gk. angelos) means angelic/spiritual beings, ministering spirits. According a search engine I consulted (if done correctly), angel or angels occur 75 times in the KJV English version of the book of Revelation. 67 occurrences clearly refer to angelic beings. If 1:20, 2:1,8,12,18, 3:1,7,14 do not refer to angelic beings, they are exceptions to the rule throughout the book. Chapter 1 opens with an angel who is an angel. Chapters 2-3 do not clearly indicate any reason for a difference from the other usage throughout the book. The following chapters continually portray angels who are angels. It is unlikely that angel differs only in chapters 2-3, with no explanation. Everywhere in the book of Revelation the angels are angels.
3. Because the stars who are angels in Rev. 12: 3-9 are angelic spirit beings, not human beings. The dragon drew a third of the stars of heaven, verse 4. In verses 7 through 9 we find that the dragon is the Devil, and the stars are angels!
I do not believe the stars are angels who are angels who are pastors:
1. Because the interpretation breaks down. Rather than following the interpretation given by the Lord himself, one must continue on to reinterpret it. Jesus says the stars are angels. Men say the stars are pastors who are only called angels. If pastors are called angels here, we find no confirmation of it elsewhere in the Scriptures. Pastors/elders/bishops are not called angels in the Bible.
2. If the angels are pastors, the greetings/salutations of the letters to the seven churches of Asia are inconsistent with the greetings of other church letters found in the New Testament. No other New Testament church letter was written to the pastor alone. Rather, they were written to the church, i.e., the entire local congregation of saints in a particular place. Compare some of the salutations given by Paul in his letters: 1 Thessalonians 1:1; 1 Corinthians 1:1-2; 2 Corinthians 1:1; Colossians 1:1; Ephesians 1:1; and Philippians 1:1.
3. If the angels are single pastors the condition of these churches in Revelation is not consistent with the rest of the New Testament praxis. In Acts 20, for example, the church at Ephesus had several overseers/elders: Acts 20:17 “And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus, and called the elders of the church.” They were preaching/teaching elders: Acts 20:28 “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.” During these days, there was a plurality of elders in every church (Acts 14:23). These elders were bishops, or overseers. Local assemblies in the Bible are consistently portrayed as led by elders, plural.
The popularity of the angel=pastor interpretation may arise for two main reasons: 1). The angels as pastors just “makes sense”. Why would God send the message to the church to an angel? When Jesus’s simple explanation of Rev. 1:20 finds hard ground, it is carried away and another substituted for it. 2). Familiarity and commonality breeds popularity. It is the interpretation we hear most; it is the interpretation we are taught. It “makes senses” and isn’t challenged, so why should we seek another interpretation?
Does it make any sense that the Lord would address the letter to the church to “the angel”? Does it matter whether it does? The Lord said the stars are angels. The star is the symbol. The angel is the interpretation. Perhaps there is a lesson here to accept what the Lord says at face value even if it doesn’t “make sense”!