Why did Jesus send letters to angels?

People sometimes dismiss the letters to the Seven Churches because they were addressed to angels. “To the angel of the church in Ephesus; to the angel of the church in Smyrna,” etc. It sounds weird, a bit mystical. Don’t angels live in heaven? Why would Jesus send mail to angels?

He didn’t. At least not to those sorts of angels. Here’s what really happened:

The Apostle John had a vision. Jesus told John to record the vision in a book and then send that book along with some letters to “the seven churches that are in Asia” (Rev. 1:4). This is not the Asia we know, but the Roman Province that was situated on the western end of the Anatolian peninsula in modern Turkey. The letters were for the churches in Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea (Rev. 1:11).

Why these seven churches? What did they have in common?

John probably knew them all. Having lived in Ephesus and traveled around the region, he would have been well acquainted with the challenges facing each one.

Look at the map of the seven cities and you will see that the order of the letters begins with Ephesus, the city closest to John’s exile on Patmos. The sequence then describes an n-shaped route that follows the coast up to Smyrna and Pergamum before heading inland to Thyatira and down to Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. This is the route that would’ve been taken by whoever delivered the letters.

Who delivered the seven letters? It was no a postman, for no postal service existed in first-century Rome. The letters of the New Testament were carried by volunteers. These Christian couriers were organized and hosted by the bishops or pastors of the various churches.

This brings us to the angels…

To the angel of the church in Ephesus write (Rev. 2:1a)

Who is the angel of the church?

Most likely it was the bishop (or lead elder or senior pastor if you prefer).

Each of the seven letters is addressed to an angel. What is an angel? An angel is a messenger. In scripture, angels or messengers can be divine or human. John the Baptist and his disciples were called angels/messengers (Luke 7:24, 27). What sort of angels is Jesus referring to here? People. Why would Jesus send mail to heavenly beings?

The letters were written by John but they would not have been delivered by him. He was far too old. John needed couriers, and those couriers would’ve needed food and accommodation. This is why each letter is addressed to an angel. The angel, or bishop, was the person who received and fed the courier. He was the one who opened the letter from Jesus and read it out loud in church.

Who was the angel of the church at Ephesus?

Most likely it was someone appointed by John.

The church in Ephesus had an impressive heritage. The first angel or leader was the Apostle Paul. He planted the church and led it for a while (Acts 20:31). After him, it was possibly led by Aquila and Priscilla (Acts 18:19, 1 Cor. 16:19), or Timothy (1 Tim. 1:3), then Tychicus (Eph. 6:21, 2 Tim. 4:12). According to the early church fathers, John himself may have led the church. Since John was in Patmos when he wrote the letter, the current angel or bishop or pastor was probably someone appointed by John.

To sum up, John wrote a book (Revelation 4-22), attached some letters from Jesus (Revelation 2-3), and sent the whole package from Patmos to Ephesus and the other six cities. Alternatively, John brought the package back to the mainland when he returned from exile. After settling back in his home church in Ephesus, he arranged for the delivery of the package to the other six cities.

Seven letters for seven churches, but this does not mean each church received only one letter. The seven letters were general letters circulated among all the churches. Thus the Laodiceans heard what Jesus said to the Ephesians and vice versa. There were no secrets here.

In fact, the letters weren’t written exclusively for the seven churches but for the Church as whole. They were written for you and me. And they weren’t written to frighten you, but to encourage you.

Contrary to what you may have heard, the seven letters contain good news. They are full of wonderful pictures of Jesus.

Read the seven letters through the lens of grace and you will grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus. You will find practical promises to help you through just about any trial life may throw at you.

Extracted and adapted from Paul Ellis’s award-winning book, Letters from Jesus.

What book is Paul working on now? Become a supporter on Patreon and get exclusive looks at forthcoming work. You will also get instant access to bonus materials such as a hi-rez version of the above map.

19 Comments on Why did Jesus send letters to angels?

  1. Thanks Paul, the seven letters hold wonderful promises for God’s children, exciting stuff!
    Far from convinced about the seven angels being the lead elder, senior pastor ‘chief shepherd!’ of the seven churches. I know it fits nicely though with the pastor/manager style of leadership narrative seen in 99.9 % of churches today! 😉

  2. Hi,

    You need to be careful with this…The same word in the original language is used for the “angel” of the Lord! Was that a human being as well? When you take a word or even a scripture and not run comparison to where the word/words were used elsewhere it leads to ideas that are not a common thread (truth) throughout the scriptures. I’m sure you mean well.

    • And when you lift things out of context you lose the intended meaning. Why would Jesus tell John to write letters and send them to the angel of himself? That makes no sense at all. Don’t over spiritualize this. Messengers in the Bible included ordinary people as well as divine beings. Jesus called John the Baptist an aggelos or angel (Luke 7:27). The disciples of John and Jesus were also called angels (Luke 7:24, 9:52). In our English Bibles the word is translated as messenger.

    • Not the senior pastor that’s for sure. I’ve heard different arguments, but I am content to wait and ask the Lord when I see him.

      • I appreciate the image of pastoral heirarchy may not mesh well with our understanding of the New Testament church, but can you appreciate that someone had to accommodate the couriers, receive the letters, and read them out in the assembly? That person is called the messenger and that is who Jesus is greeting in these letters.

  3. Jenny Beauchamp // January 9, 2020 at 5:47 am // Reply

    Strong’s Number G32 matches the Greek ἄγγελος (aggelos),
    which occurs 186 times in 181 verses in the Greek concordance of the KJV

    STRONGS NT 32: ἄγγελος
    ἄγγελος, -ου, ὁ,
    1. a messenger, envoy, one who is sent: Matthew 11:10; Luke 7:24, 27; Luke 9:52; Mark 1:2; James 2:25. [From Homer down.]
    2. In the Scriptures, both of the Old Testament and of the New Testament, one of that host of heavenly spirits that, according alike to Jewish and Christian opinion, wait upon the monarch of the universe,
    and are sent by him to earth, now to execute his purposes…

    3. Guardian angels of individuals are mentioned in Matthew 18:10; Acts 12:15. ‘The angels of the churches’ in Revelation 1:20; Revelation 2:1, 8, 12, 18; Revelation 3:1, 7, 14 are not their presbyters or bishops, but heavenly spirits who exercise such a superintendence and guardianship over them that whatever in their assemblies is worthy of praise or of censure is counted to the praise or the blame of their angels also, as though the latter infused their spirit into the assemblies; cf. DeWette, Düsterdieck [Alford] on Revelation 1:20, and Lücke, Einl. in d. Offenb. d. Johan. ii., p. 429f, edition 2; [Bp. Lightfoot on Philip., p. 199f]. διά τούς ἀγγέλους that she may show reverence for the angels, invisibly present in the religious assemblies of Christians, …

    AND, multiple commentaries point to ministers, bishops, pastors. However, why can’t they be both! Spiritual beings prompting Saints (still in their flesh bodies) to move on behalf of God. Either way, it’s a great question for God! Thanks for sharing. Blessings in Jesus!

  4. Thank you, Paul, for bringing out the grace and love in these often misunderstood letters.

  5. A joy to read. Thoughtful and well written. I’ll share on my social channels. I know many will find it interesting and informative.

  6. According to Beale in his commentary, four different interpretations are common…the angels of the churches… are Christ’s hand-selected representatives for them standing before him in heaven. They are representing these churches’ interest before the Great King.

    • I would’ve preferred to hear your thoughts rather than read something you cut and pasted, but thanks for responding. I am familiar with this interpretation but don’t buy into it. The letters were for the churches – real people here on earth. Start conjuring up corporate angels and you’re one step away from angel worship. Look at how quickly John was tempted to bow before angels in Revelation. If the great apostle can be so easily seduced… I don’t believe Jesus would have done anything to encourage that. The letters point to him from start to finish.

  7. Thank you Paul and may you and yours have a truly blessed 2020. keep up the good fight of spreading the “REAL” Good News” that sets us free from trying to die to self daily and instead, resting in his finished work on the cross that has given us freedom to live and have true rest through Christ who saved us”…God Bless you Sir”..

  8. I agree Paul, worship of angels is a no no, Jesus certainly wouldn’t of encouraged it. Nor would of he encouraged the worship of man, which alluding that the seven stars in his hand are men in my opinion is also dangerously close to doing.

    • The difference, of course, is that bowing to angels was no allusion – John actually did it – while no New Testament believer ever worshipped a man. But let’s put all allusions to one side and let scripture interpret scripture. The scriptures state that those who teach the gospel of righteousness are stars (Dan 12:3), while false teachers are called wandering stars (Jude 1:3). The seven stars and the seven angels are the same – church leaders greeted by the Lord at the start of each of the seven church letters. Greeting people is a common practice in the New Testament epistles. It’s a courtesy, an honor. In his letters Paul even greeted leaders by name. Evidently Paul did not share your fear that doing so would lead to man-worship.

  9. Paul never elevated one elder above another? Elders were always plural and equal from what I can see in scripture. I can’t see why Jesus would start in revelation.
    Perhaps you are right Paul, but I don’t think so.

    • I’m all for the plurality of elders and leaders, yet there were occasions where Paul only greeted a single leader in a church. Draw from that what conclusions you may.

  10. Jenny Beauchamp // January 10, 2020 at 4:00 am // Reply

    This helps me…. “The letters were for the churches – real people here on earth. Start conjuring up corporate angels and you’re one step away from angel worship.” Thanks Paul and yes, John did bow down to the angel. This discussion is reminding me that we (believers) are a brand new creation in Christ Jesus! And all because of the finished work of Jesus. Hence, it confirms that we are Saints, no longer sinners! Also, aren’t we going to judge angels?

  11. EDWARD SMITH // January 11, 2020 at 7:59 am // Reply

    The seven Churches spoken of are 7 different type of Churches that are present today. Only 2 of those found favor with Christ. Smyrna & Philidelphia. It is because they know who the “false Jews” are. We had all better find that out if we want to have favor with Christ. This may be of interest here. In the 2 verses of Revelation where John bowed down to an angel, the angel quickly gave his response to “Worship God”. The angles both report that they are “fellowservants” and of our “brethren”. I think to be a fellowservant one would have to be a human. I have not found in scripture where a man is fellowservant with an angel. Also the word brethren is “adelphos”[G80] which means “of the womb”. in Rev 22:9 this angel was even of the prophets. This may be a shocker to some if not most – these 2 angels had been flesh men. They had been born of woman – died – and returned to heaven – as we all do. Jesus said in Matthew 22.30 that “we would be as the angels”.
    Many Christians are taught that angels can not die but that is not what scripture says. in Eze. 28:12-19 it shows where the ” cherub that covereth” a.k.a.- satan- will be destroyed by fire. Just something to think about…

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