Angels and Divine Integrity
The word AGGELOS [a)ggeloj] is found 67 times in the book of Revelation, seven times in chapters 2 & 3 for the angel of these churches and twice in chapter one in verse 20 that the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches. Aside from those eight uses the other 59 uses in the book all refer to this supernatural order of created beings that we find in God's creation. But that still leaves the question as to why the angels received this information.
What we have seen so far is the AGGELOS is a word from standard Greek usage that means messenger, from the Hebrew mala'ak which also means messenger, which indicates something about the essential role of the angels in terms of carrying out missions given to them by God. They are not just created for the simple purpose of sitting around in heaven and praising God, they were given roles to perform. God created them before He created the universe. Job 38:7, "When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?" They had a role in the pre-Genesis 1:1 universe. What that was we are not told, but we are told that at some point after the creation of the universe and before the events of Genesis 1:2 through the end of the chapter the highest of the angels, Lucifer, fell into arrogance, lusted after the power and authority of God, and enticed one third of the angels to follow him in rebellion against God. So at some time in eternity past this angelic revolt breaks out and we don't know how long it lasted between the time that sin was discovered in Lucifer to the time that God holds a trial. Apparently God holds a trial because in Matthew 25:41 we are told by Jesus that the lake of fire was created for the devil and his angels. It has been determined that the devil and his angels are destined f0or the lake of fire. That is their punishment and that is the decree from the justice of God. The question then is: If God has created the lake of fire and has already determined that that is their destiny—that is the judicial sentence, why then has this been postponed? They aren't even cast out of heaven yet. We don't see the devil and his angels evicted from heaven until the mid point of the Tribulation.
The answer is that God is demonstrating certain things about His integrity—His righteousness, justice, love and grace—through the experiment of the human race. So the entirety of human history is a demonstration of the integrity of God. What does this do? It is so important for us to focus our thinking on reality because what we are describing here is how to understand the whole purpose and structure of human history, and within that is your life and my life in the church. What is doing here as a church? Because what we are seeing in these seven letters to the seven churches is that there is an evaluation process that is coming from the Supreme Court of heaven related to each corporate entity of the local church. These are directed to corporate local churches, so it is not just to these seven local churches but to every congregation, and each congregation has an accountability within the framework of the angelic conflict. It is not just you as an individual believer. Personal responsibility is there, but there is also this other factor—corporate responsibility, that we are members of one another, we are to pray for one another, teach one another, encourage one another, admonish one another. This is the life of the congregation, and what we see in Revelation chapters one and two is that there is an evaluation of the corporate life of the local church. This isn't just talking about individuals, it is talking about the evaluation of a local congregation. So there is an evaluation for individual believers but there is also an evaluation within the framework of a local church entity.
Within this context what we see is that angels are observing us as confirmatory witnesses, as legal witnesses of how God interacts with His creatures in human history within the framework of this overall trial in heaven. There was the fall of Satan in eternity past, and there is an appeal. So God decides to demonstrate His integrity. In other words, that He is completely fair, honest and correct in my procedures in sentencing Satan and his followers to eternity in the lake of fire. He demonstrates the consequences of what Satan has done in rebellion against Him. It is not just the very fact of rebellion but it rips the fabric of the universe in such a way that it introduces untold suffering and consequences throughout eternity. So the challenge is to the integrity of God which includes His righteousness, the standard of His character. It concludes His justice, which is the application of that standard. It includes His love, which is the foundation of His relationship to His creatures, all of which is expressed in grace.
Notice: Righteousness and justice is foundational in divine integrity, so we are looking at a scenario that relates to legality. This is the framework for understanding all of history. What comes out of this legal structure that this is this appeal trial. First of all, from the very beginning we see in Scripture that there is an emphasis on covenants. A covenant is a legal document that puts certain obligations on the party of the first part and party of the second part. So what God does is enter into these legal contractual relationships with man. That is what a covenant is, it is a contract. Only the God of the Bible enters into a contract with the human race. We don't find this in any of the pagan gods. This emphasizes the trustworthiness of God. God is binding Himself to certain conditions. He is willing to do that because it is going to be a witness within this overall appeal trial: that God is faithful to those covenant, legal stipulations that he outlines in His contracts with man. The second thing that we see is that in terms of salvation, salvation is frequently portrayed in terms of legal language. We have terms like imputation, justification, even the term forgiveness, which are all couched in Scripture within the framework of legal language. Even the idea of sin is often couched in legal language: failure to fulfill God's law. We have in terms of Satan, satan as the name of Satan means a legal accuser. It is like a legal accuser in a courtroom. He is pictured like a prosecutor who is making a case against God's people. Then we look at Jesus Christ as he is pictured in 1 John 2:1 where He is our advocate. As a result of failure to meet legal stipulations the consequences are that there is legal condemnation and judgment. Those terms "condemnation" and "judgment" are terms that are related to guilt before a courtroom. It is not that God is "mad" and is up there throwing a temper tantrum, but that His righteousness has been violated and therefore His justice must condemn man and bring punishment on man. This is brought to completion in human history during the period of the Tribulation, which is referred to both as the time of the wrath of the Lamb and the wrath of God. The term for wrath is the term for judicial condemnation.
Angels are part of the dispensing of God's judgment, and they are also witnesses to the fact in history that God's righteousness and justice and love are consistent in their operation, and that God is demonstrating in His dealings with the human race that when anyone sins it brings about such great consequences; such horrible consequences of sin and suffering that God is completely justified in condemning creatures to the lake of fire. We see this in the role of angels in Revelation. The question that we have to address in any kind of Bible study is that when you look at a phrase like "To the angel of the church at Smyrna, etc., we have to ask, In the framework of Revelation what do angels do? What is being argued here is that the role of angels in these letters is not any different from the role that angels play in the rest of the book of Revelation.
The first mention of the term "angel" after chapter three is in the heavenly scene in chapters four and five. These two chapters picture what is taking place in the heavenly courtroom at the beginning of the Tribulation. The major event that is taking place here is that there is a scroll mention in 5:1, which is written on the inside and the outside. This scroll is presented as a legal document that is outlining the charges against the human race, as it were. It is sealed with seven seals, and there is a string angel who proclaims: "Who is worthy to open the scroll and to loose its seals?" The question is: Who is qualified to take this legal document, which is a condemnation on the human race for their rejection of God, to execute the judicial sentence against the human race? That is the thrust of the question. The angel is functioning within the framework of a court. The angel comes forth and tells John not to weep because there was one who was worthy, and that is the Lamb. Revelation 5:11, 12: "And I beheld, and I heard the voice of many angels round about the throne and the beasts and the elders: and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands; saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing." They are praising God. This is the second picture we see as a result of the Lamb coming forward to take the scroll because He is worthy to execute judgment on the human race for their disobedience.
The next picture of angels we see in chapter seven. In 7:1 we red: "And after these things I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that the wind should not blow on the earth, nor on the sea, nor on any tree." So they are being used by God in the execution of this judgment. They are holding back the wind so that no wind is going to blow. Imagine the meteorological consequences of no wind! What is that going to do to climate, to crops, to agriculture? What effect is that going to have on any number of aspects of the environment? Then in 7:2 John says, "And I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God: and he cried with a loud voice to the four angels, to whom it was given to hurt the earth and the sea, saying, Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads." So this angel is going to seal or put a divine protection on the 144,000 to protect them from the environmental damage that is going to be executed by these other four angels. So we see is the role of angels in terms of executing blessing and judgment, both of which come from the integrity of God. In 7:10ff we see angels mentioned again: "And cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb. And all the angels stood round about the throne, and about the elders and the four beasts, and fell before the throne on their faces, and worshipped God, saying, Amen: Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might, be unto our God for ever and ever. Amen." So we see angels involved in communicating revelation, in worship, in judgment, in blessing.
In Revelation 8 there are seven angels in verse 2 who stand before God and they are given seven trumpets. Each of them are going to blow on their trumpets and each announces another judgment. Then in verse 3 we are told about another angel who hold's a censer, a golden bowl that holds the incense. As the incense burns the smoke rises and this is a picture of the prayers of the saints rising to God. What are the prayers of the saints in Revelation to this point? The saints are praying that God will execute judgment on the planet. Verse 3, "…and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne." Verse 5, "And the angel took the censer, and filled it with fire of the altar, and cast it into the earth: and there were voices, and thunderings, and lightnings, and an earthquake." This is a picture of an angel executing the judgment that has been called for by the prayers of the saints. Verse 13, "And I beheld, and heard an angel flying through the midst of heaven, saying with a loud voice, Woe, woe, woe, [the last three trumpet judgments] to the inhabiters of the earth by reason of the other voices of the trumpet of the three angels, which are yet to sound!" Again, he is announcing judgment on the planet.
In Revelation 9:1 we have the fifth trumpet. "And the fifth angel sounded, and I saw a star fall from heaven unto the earth: and to him [not a literal star, it is a him] was given the key of the bottomless pit. And he opened the bottomless pit; and there arose a smoke out of the pit, as the smoke of a great furnace; and the sun and the air were darkened by reason of the smoke of the pit." The star that falls from heaven is an angel. This is one thing that locks down the meaning of the word. In Revelation 1:20 we have seven stars, and those seven stars equal the seven angels of the seven churches. The term "star" in the Scripture either refers to a literal star or, as in Genesis 37; Revelation 12, it is representing the tribes of Israel; but in numerous passages such as Job 38:4-7, this passage in 9:1, and then the reference to the dragon taking a third of the stars with him, it refers to the angels. So star refers to the angels. We never have the term used metaphorically to refer to human leaders or to human beings.
The next mention of angels is in 10:1, "And I saw another mighty angel come down from heaven, clothed with a cloud: and a rainbow was upon his head, and his face was as it were the sun, and his feet as pillars of fire: and he had in his hand a little book open: and he set his right foot upon the sea, and his left foot on the earth…" The little book contained an indictment on the human race. So this angel is indicting. Verses 5-7, "And the angel which I saw stand upon the sea and upon the earth lifted up his hand to heaven, and swore by him that lives for ever and ever, who created heaven, and the things that therein are, and the earth, and the things that therein are, and the sea, and the things which are therein, that there should be time no longer: but in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he shall begin to sound, the mystery of God should be finished, as he hath declared to his servants the prophets." He is declaring the end. This happens right at the end of the Tribulation, announcing the seventh trumpet which contains the seven bowl judgments, so this is probably the last six months of the Tribulation period.
In chapter twelve we are told of angels again. There is a war in heaven between Michael and his angels and the dragon and his angels. This shows that the demons are, in fact, angels. And this is a reference to the angelic conflict, and in verse 9 the devil and his angels are cast out of heaven. In verse four is the reference to the fact that his tail drew a third of the stars of heaven and through them down to the earth. Once again, stars = angels. This takes place half way through the Tribulation and the demons are going to be cast to the earth. So they will be visible on the earth. Holy angels are also going to be visible and will be heard by those in the Tribulation.
Revelation 14:6, "And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people, saying with a loud voice, Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters." Here we have angels as evangelists. This is an angel that is going to be visible and is going to be audible, bringing another level of evangelism to the people during the Tribulation. Angels are going to be witnessing to human beings during the Tribulation. Millions of people are going to be saved during the Tribulation and a part of it is going to be angelic evangelism. In verse 8 another angel announces the fall of Babylon, that great end-time empire that the Antichrist heads over against the kingdom of God, "And there followed another angel, saying, Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city, because she made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication."
Verse 9, "And the third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand, the same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb." What is he announcing? If you align yourself up with the Antichrist you are going to experience the judgment of God. So again, these angels are announcing judgment.
Verse 15, "And another angel came out of the temple, crying with a loud voice to him that sat on the cloud, Thrust in thy sickle, and reap: for the time is come for thee to reap; for the harvest of the earth is ripe. And he that sat on the cloud thrust in his sickle on the earth; and the earth was reaped." This temple is in heaven, so what we see is that there is a correspondence between heavenly realities and earthly realities. This is a factor that we must understand in the role of these angels. There is a correspondence between the church on the earth and what is happening on the earth and some things that are happening in heaven. As has been pointed out regarding the letters to the seven churches, it is not that these seven letters are being written to the angel and then the angel delivers them to the church, but the whole book of Revelation is being sent by John to the seven churches. The letters are critiques or evaluations being posted to the angel in relationship to the heavenly courtroom trial, but they are also being sent to the seven churches.
Then in verse 17 another angel comes out of the temple carrying a sharp sickle, and then in verse 18 even another angel comes out from the altar who has power over fire, and he "cried with a loud cry to him that had the sharp sickle, saying, Thrust in thy sharp sickle, and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth; for her grapes are fully ripe." In verse 19 that angel with the sharp sickle mentioned in v.17 executes the judgment and inserts the sharp sickle of judgment into human history.
In chapter fifteen we are introduced to seven more angels. These angels carry the seven bowl judgments and the bowls are filled with the wrath of God. In 16:1 angels are mentioned again and these angels with the seven bowls are commanded to pour out the bowls of the wrath of God on the earth and they begin to carry out their role of executing the judgments. In chapter 17:1 there is an angel who comes to John. "And there came one of the seven angels which had the seven vials, and talked with me, saying unto me, Come; I will show to you the judgment of the great harlot that sits upon many waters." The angel is saying, Come and witness the judgment. Again, he is involved in judgment. Chapter 18:1, "And after these things I saw another angel come down from heaven, having great authority; and the earth was lightened with his glory. And he cried mightily with a strong voice, saying, Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and is become the habitation of demons, and the hold of every foul spirit, and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird. For all nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, and the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth are waxed rich through the abundance of her luxuries." He is announcing the execution of God's judgment on Babylon. Once again, angels are involved in the execution of divine judgment. Chapter 19:17, "And I saw an angel standing in the sun; and he cried with a loud voice, saying to all the fowls that fly in the midst of heaven, Come and gather yourselves together unto the supper of the great God; that you may eat the flesh of kings, and the flesh of captains, and the flesh of mighty men, and the flesh of horses, and of them that sit on them, and the flesh of all men, both free and bond, both small and great." This is the announcement of the final judgment at Armageddon.
Chapter 20:1, "And I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years, and cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal upon him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years should be fulfilled: and after that he must be loosed a little season." He is executing judgment.
Chapter 21:9, "And there came to me one of the seven angels which had the seven vials full of the seven last plagues, and talked with me, saying, Come, I will show you the bride, the Lamb's wife." This is beyond the Millennial kingdom into eternity, but John still identifies this angel as an angel who was involved in the judgment of the seven plagues. The angel is used again in the realm of revelation to show John the bride, the Lamb's wife.
In chapter 22 there are two mentions of angels. Verse 6, "And he said to me, These sayings are faithful and true: and the Lord God of the holy prophets sent his angel to show unto his servants the things which must shortly be done." Angels were involved in revelation, but who is it who appears to John on the island of Patmos? The Lord Jesus Christ. Notice the dual element, and this is what we find in Galatians 3:19. Deuteronomy 32:1, "Give ear, O you heavens, and I will speak; and hear, O earth, the words of my mouth." What is Moses saying? He is calling upon the angels in heaven and the people on the earth to be witnesses to the legal contract that God is making with Israel. So all this is set within this legal framework of the overall appeal trial of Satan.
So in conclusion, what does this mean? It means that lexical evidence clearly indicates that the angel-star combination must indicate a real angel. The next question we should be addressing is, Why do the angels need to know this? Because the angels are being witnesses to God's justice. This is the imagery that we have in Revelation chapter one. Jesus appears clothed with a garment down to the feet and girded about the chest with a golden band. Later on when looking at the description of the seven angels who pour out the bowl judgments, how are they described? They are clothed with a white garment and girded about the chest with a golden band! This is a picture of judgment. The picture of Jesus in chapter one is the judge of the high court, and the angels are clothed the same way because they are the agents of that judgment. The picture in Revelation one is that Jesus is the Priest-Judge, walking in the midst of the seven lampstands which are the churches. It is a function of the integrity of God towards the local church in the process and the scope of the church age. Jesus Christ is utilizing His angels in that process, and angels are witnesses in this appeal trial to how God is executing judgment in the church on an ongoing basis. There is an evaluation going on for the corporate local church, not just the individual. That is what we see in the structure of these letters. You can't separate chapters two and three from chapter one. It is the Lord as he appears in chapter one that is the basis for the evaluation and critique of chapters two and three.