Does Every Church Have It’s Own Angel + How Can We Really, Really Know Jesus Rose From the Dead? #349
Happy Thursday, friends! Today we’re reading 2nd Chronicles 10, Zephaniah 2, Luke 24, and Revelation 1. Since Luke 24 is a key resurrection chapter, and you know that is literally my favorite thing in the Bible to talk about – you know we’re going to talk Jesus rising from the dead…but first, a little side road in Revelation 1, which is also one of my favorite chapters in the Bible.
In this chapter, which is full of so many interesting and somewhat mysterious verses, we find John ‘in the Spirit’ on the Lord’s day. All of the sudden, he hears a voice behind him, turns, and it is the resurrected and glorified Jesus, and He has a message for John. Let’s read that message, and pay particular attention to any mention of angels!
So here’s the key verse for today’s discussion, “The mystery of the seven stars you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.” Revelation 1:20
After this passage, Jesus is going to dictate a letter to each of seven churches, and all of the letters begin somewhat like the first letter, which is to the church at Ephesus:
“Write to the angel of the church in Ephesus: Thus says the one who holds the seven stars in his right hand and who walks among the seven golden lampstands: Revelation 2:1
Here’s the question: Does this mean that each church has an angel – like an angel assigned to that particular church? Does the church I go to – Valley Baptist in Salinas – have an angel assigned by God to that church? Does your church have an angel? It’s a great and interesting question to grapple with. In order to answer this question, we need to know something about the Greek word for angel, which is ‘ἄγγελος ággelos.‘ Interestingly, this word can mean angel as in the heavenly being OR it can mean messenger. Angels definitely serve in messenger capacity, but there are a few times in Scripture where ‘ἄγγελος ággelos‘ seems to refer to a human, not heavenly messenger. For instance:
24 After John’s messengers left, he began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swaying in the wind? Luke 7:24
25 In the same way, wasn’t Rahab the prostitute also justified by works in receiving the messengers and sending them out by a different route? James 2:25
10 This is the one about whom it is written: See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way before you. (Matthew 11:10, referring to John the Baptist)
All three verses translate the Greek word ‘ἄγγελος ággelos‘ as messenger.
Of further interest, the word angel does not indicate alignment or allegiance. What I mean by that can be demonstrated easily from these two verses:
41 “Then he will also say to those on the left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels! Matthew 25:41
7 Then war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon. The dragon and his angels also fought, Revelation 12:7
Thus we see that there are evil angels that serve Satan!
This doesn’t answer our question, but it does complicate it a bit. We can eliminate one possibility right off the bat – it is certain that Jesus is not saying to send a letter to a church’s angel of satan. But, is He saying to send a letter to a church’s angel, or a church’s messenger – perhaps in a metaphorical sense referring to a human pastor or leader of the church. The preponderance of the evidence seems to favor angel in the heavenly being sense, because of the 186 times ‘ἄγγελος ággelos‘ is used in the Bible, 179 of those times seem to be clearly referring to a heavenly being, and only 7 of those times does it appear to refer to a human messenger. Of further evidence in that direction, we can see that John never uses ‘ἄγγελος ággelos’ to refer to anything but a heavenly being in either the gospel of John, the epistles of John, or Revelation.
Does this prove that a church has an angel? I don’t suppose it does, but it does certainly seem to point in that direction. Two qualifiers: #1 Each of the letters is written to the church of a city. That’s important! I don’t live in a huge city in Salinas, population 160,000…but it is big enough that we have dozens and dozens of churches. Does each of those churches have its own angel, or is there an angel of the church of Salinas? That is, all of the body of Christ that lives in this city. God knows the answer to this question, but I certainly don’t. Qualifier #2 – it could be that churches in the first century had angels, but they don’t now…I suspect that it has stayed the same, but since this is observational theology, rather than clearly stated…then we just don’t know for sure. One more tidbit: I actually believe, but can’t prove, that Jesus here used an ambiguous term quite intentionally. Why? Because we know that these letters were actually sent and received by human messengers…because we still have a copy of them, because they circulated around the churches. Thus I think it likely that Jesus sent these letters both to human envoys and to angelic ones.
Finally, let’s talk a bit about the resurrection, since Luke 24 is focused on that. We’ll read the chapter, and then I’d like to read a short portion from my book Easter Fact or Fiction, which lists 20 reasons to believe Jesus factually rose from the dead.
Have you ever stopped to consider how odd it is that Christians worship a person that was tried and convicted and executed by the government? It is one of the central oddities of Christianity, and the fact is that Christians don’t treat this as something to be covered up and buried, but it represents a core part of the story. How could people worship a criminal executed by the state? It defies belief…and yet, for hundreds of years, Christians have done just that. I consider it evidence that Jesus factually rose from the dead…otherwise, how else could it be that anybody would worship a convicted and executed person? Here’s the last half of a chapter in my book that explores this:
And now consider, given the gut-shredding horrors of the crucifixion, how it came about that followers of Jesus glorified and worshipped Him as the son of God afterwards. If you deny the resurrection, what could you possibly propose in its place that would be strong enough to erase the memory of the crucifixion to the point that the early church worshipped Jesus?
Consider also Willie Francis. Whom, you might ask? One of the first things you will note about Willie Francis is that millions of people don’t worship him, and yet he shares a few things in common with Jesus. Willie was convicted of murder in Louisiana in 1945 for an act that he allegedly committed when he was 15. Despite the fact that he was underage; despite the fact that he was not tried by a jury of his peers (his jury was all white); despite the fact that most of the physical evidence against Willie disappeared; and despite the fact that the gun used to kill the victim actually belonged to a deputy sheriff that had threatened to kill the victim in the past – despite all of those things, Willie Francis was convicted and electrocuted in May of 1946. Only, he didn’t die. Francis was one of the few people that have ever survived a round with the electric chair, and he did so due to a drunk guard setting things up improperly. Sadly, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it wasn’t cruel and unusual to re-execute a teenager, and Francis was re-executed in May of 1947.
Aside from the multiple and disgusting racial injustices of that situation, I need to point out to you that nobody worshipped Francis during that year after his first execution attempt failed. Nobody tried to start a religion around him, or anything like that. Similarly, no religion has started around John ‘Babbacombe’ Lee, nor Joseph Samuel, despite the fact that both men survived multiple hanging attempts. Why not? Why not venerate, honor and worship people like Lee, Francis and Samuel? Because…that would be incredibly odd to worship a convicted criminal who somehow managed to escape death. Take away the resurrection, and it is unexplainably strange, to worship Jesus of Nazareth. Sure – he was a great teacher. Socrates was a great teacher also, and he was also unjustly killed, but nobody is going to roll up to First Socrates Baptist church this Sunday and celebrate Easter, are they? I submit that it is very difficult to explain why so many Christians followed Jesus after His terribly bloody, painful, and embarrassing crucifixion if there was not a literal and actual resurrection that took place three days later. If you’d like a demonstration of how odd it is that somebody would worship a man crucified on a cross, then try wearing a flashy gold electric chair necklace sometime, and when people ask you about it, tell them that you worship an executed criminal. The look on their face will tell you all you need to know about how first century Jews would have responded to claims about Jesus if He didn’t literally and truly rise from the dead.