Who Is “the Angel Of The Church” In Revelation?

1 “To the angel of the church in Ephesus, write the following: (Rev 2:1)

The city of Ephesus was one of the most remarkable jewels of the ancient world, in fact possibly number three in population in the Asia Minor (around 150,000 people), which is located in the Modern day Turkey. When Emperor Augustus in 27 BCE moved proconsul of Asia from Pergamum to Ephesus, the great period of political and financial prosperity for the city of Ephesus has officially begun. Years later, Strabo, an important Roman historian, in his writings stated that Ephesus was a city second in greatness only to Rome itself (Strabo, Geography, Vol. 1-7, 14.1.24.) Like all cities of the ancient world this city itself was a religious institution. The Ephesians were the protectors of the cult of Artemis the Great (Acts 19:35), a Greek mother goddess of prosperity well-known and adored throughout the Mediterranean. She in turn was thought to be supremely concerned with the well-being of the city of Ephesus and by extent anyone who paid her homage from any other place in the Greco-Roman world. The Temple of Artemis was said to be so magnificent that it was counted among the seven wonders of the ancient world.

In Acts 19:8 we read that “Paul entered the synagogue and spoke boldly there for three months, arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God.” On the steps of the magnificent Library of Celsus one can even now see a picture of the Jerusalem temple menorah engraved into the stone. This shows that the book of Acts’ testimony about Jewish presence in Ephesus was accurate, even though up-to-date no Jewish synagogue has been identified among its archeological ruins.

The city of Ephesus had also a very interesting and rich history of Christ-followers connected to it. Apostle Saul (Paul) lived and worked there proclaiming the Gospel unhindered for several years (Acts 19:10). It is understood that sometime in mid-60s he wrote his 1st Letter to the Corinthians and several other letters from there. There Saul Paul stated: “…I will stay in Ephesus until Pentecost, for a wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.” (1 Cor. 16:7-9). Luke stated in Acts 19:17 that “Jews and Greeks living in Ephesus… were all seized with fear, and the name of the Lord Jesus was held in high honor.” This description was authored in response to the evil spirit’s rebuke to some Judeans residing in Ephesus who used the name of Jesus and Paul for purposes of healing and exorcism (Acts 19:15-17).

In our English translations this letter is addressed to ἄγγελος (angelos) “the angel” of the Church in Ephesus. There are two terminology issues that need to be mentioned. The use of the word “church” to translate the word ἐκκλησία (ekklesia) is a bit problematic here. We are dealing here with the first century context. In the first century there were no churches, not even Jewish churches as they are sometimes being referred to. A church as an institution is by definition separate in its essences from an Israelite synagogue. Given John’s anti-Roman Jewish attitudes in this letter, we are probably dealing with mixed Israelite and non-Israelite Jesus-following assemblies in the Asia Minor.

As such it is reasonable to suggest that these assemblies would have a shared or at least be very familiar with Jewish synagogue practice. Up until today synagogues have a person, usually called is שליח ציבור (shaliach tzibur) – lit. “a public messenger”. His job was to lead people in prayer, make congregational announcements and present any correspondence received by the assembly among other things. Is it possible that this is what is meant here by the term ἄγγελος “an angel” (angelos/malach/shaliach-tzibur/messenger). This, of course as was already mentioned in other sections, is not the only interpretive option, perhaps heavenly messengers are in fact in view.

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  1. alexaoon

    Thank you for all the information and teaching. In the last 30 years it seems to me that much more is being understood about the book of the Revelation as we get nearer to the end. I was informed that the worship of Artemis at the temple there included a black rock which had fallen from the sky. Perhaps a meteorite. At some point it disappeared.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Glad you read these studies with us!

  2. John la Madrid

    Your Question “Who is the Angel…is not answered to me…your clarification of the word Churches is GREAT! But your question is who is the Angel????
    John la Madrid

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Dear John, not all questions can be answered, at least not with certainly. Sometimes we ask question to learn and explore the topic but that does not mean it is even possible to get to the bottom of things. 🙂

    2. jsusnme

      Perhaps that is why the title emphasizes “the church” using quotation marks.

      1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

        yes, that is the reason.

  3. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

    Dear Jack, we are not working from the standpoint of English. This is simply a misunderstanding. You see English word “church” has its own etymology and creates a particular conception familiar to the modern reader, but totally foreign to the first century audience. No, English word “church” does not mean what you said, but the Greek word ἐκκλησία actually does. And would you be surprised if you found out that this word was used to refer to secular gatherings in 1st century, and even Israel was called by this word as well in LXX. But you would not call Israel a church – would you?

    Thus the term can be misleading from historical point of view. I know what English translations of NT say, no need to quote verses to prove what there was such thing as ἐκκλησία. What I am saying is that 1st century ἐκκλησία is not what most people understand as church in modern English.

    1. Richard Leigh

      And so, might I add, the etymology of the English word “church” is from the Greek κύριος (kúrios), “lord” used, as I recall, by the Saxons (or Vikings?) for the buildings Christians were worshipping in.

      1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

        I have heard this church tradition. It sounds nice, but does not line up with base etymological data.
        http://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/acref/9780192830982.001.0001/acref-9780192830982-e-2759?rskey=FLm0MB&result=2760
        I believe the origin is not Greek kurios but word “circle” in European languages. At least that is what comes to mind.

    2. jsusnme

      I also understand Rev was written at the turn of the century, some 35 or so years later than the mentioned 64 a.d., when John the beloved was an old man.

  4. Jack Prentice

    I am surprised by some of the comments in this article. The word “Church” from the greek literally means “called out” which was not mentioned. The Author does not realize that there were many Churches of Christ in the first century. Revelation was written approximately 64 AD. to 7 churches already flourishing at that time.. Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles was engaged in at least 3 journeys in starting Churches of Christ. Paul in writting to the Church at Rome in 57 -59ad closed by stating to them “The Churches of Christ Salute you” Romans 16:16. Interesting. Please clarify if I am mistaken. With Kind good wishes in Christ. Jack Prentice, Evangelist

  5. David Kritterdlik

    This leads me to think that the word ‘angel’ is not a name, but a messenger. That all angels are messengers and that each angel have an individual name like, Michael and Gabriel.

    1. jsusnme

      Eli mentions: “..synagogues have a person, usually called שליח ציבור (shaliach tzibur) – lit. “a public messenger”, and later he writes: “..the term ἄγγελος “an angel” [referring to] (angelos/malach/shaliach-tzibur/messenger).”

      In other words, angel by itself means ‘messenger’. The ‘shaliach-tzibur’ is a position which includes being the messenger for the community.

      Most angels’ names are not revealed.

      There is great evidence that the term, “The angel”, refers to Jesus throughout all scripture. (some places in new testament say ‘an angel’, but in Greek there is no ‘an’, it’s added in the English, but could distract us from what would be ‘the angel’.

    2. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Angel is a job description

  6. Kat H

    I am intrigued by revelations from heavenly messengers and readings by human messengers (Joshua 8:35). This changes my perception of when and how I was reached and heard the gospel (no church/ little Torah). I had originally understood my revelation of Christ as a twofold “need” I labeled “a Way” Heavenly messengers also explain why our faith or believing is the work of God. Somehow the letter to Ephesians sheds light on replacement theology vs unity. I’m looking forward to more…

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Glad to see that these posts are prompting some reflection, Kat. Be blessed.

      1. John la Madrid

        LOL…Not even sure all questions should even be asked…but…the question you posed was Who is the Angel??? So, don’t be to coy, share what you have studied.

        1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

          John, I refer you back to the article :-). Read it more carefully :-). I am rather clear that I think that either heavenly being or shaliach tzibur synagogal administrator type of person is in view. Eli

          1. Richard Leigh

            Meaning no offense, but I think John was hoping you had an answer to which of the either or you’d mentioned. We students come to you teachers with the hope of an answer, and you teachers always answer “No, no, no, we are only teaching you students to think, question, examine all sides and conclude for yourselves!” 🙂

            I hope John will correct me if I’m wrong.

          2. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

            I am not holding back anything secret 🙂 What I was ready to share I did. I do not wish to be banal, but I can spell things out… It is really all in the article.
            A – Ephesus had a synagogue. Form the Article – “In Acts 19:8 we read that “Paul entered the synagogue and spoke boldly there for three months, arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God.” On the steps of the magnificent Library of Celsus one can even now see a picture of the Jerusalem temple menorah engraved into the stone. This shows that the book of Acts’ testimony about Jewish presence in Ephesus was accurate, even though up-to-date no Jewish synagogue has been identified among its archeological ruins.”
            B – Jesus was known in Ephesus in Jewish context. From the article – “Luke stated in Acts 19:17 that “Jews and Greeks living in Ephesus… were all seized with fear, and the name of the Lord Jesus was held in high honor.”
            C – The word “angel” may refer to a human official. (Answer to the WHO question) Quoting from the article – “Given John’s anti-Roman Jewish attitudes in this letter, we are probably dealing with mixed Israelite and non-Israelite Jesus-following assemblies in the Asia Minor. As such it is reasonable to suggest that these assemblies would have a shared or at least be very familiar with Jewish synagogue practice. Up until today synagogues have a person, usually called is שליח ציבור (shaliach tzibur) – lit. “a public messenger”. His job was to lead people in prayer, make congregational announcements and present any correspondence received by the assembly among other things.”
            If someone wishes to speculate farther than this, by all means… but this supposition seems sufficient and I am comfortable enough with it.

  7. jane z. mazzola

    Just on different note: I am intrigued by graphic used on this post. I have done some research on it but not, successfully.
    Also, I have been reading posts of Dr.(?) Paula Fredriksen. Have a couple of ?? will post there.
    Jane M.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      The art is a 19th century artist Wacław Koniuszko (polish?) it is called Kiddush Levanah, which is a liturgical benediction over the new moon.

      1. jane z. mazzola

        Thank you, as always.

        1. jane z. mazzola

          I did find this artist and some of his other works, AND also, a very informative article @ Jewish liturgical prayer. Wonderful. Thank you again, for all the additional resources that you provide.

          1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

            You are welcome. 🙂

  8. leftfooter

    Strabo ( Στράβων) was a Greek whose family came from Amaseia in Pontus. Your articles are fascintating, and when I have less work I shall sign up.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      You are always welcome here. Out blog posts take only a few minutes to read and we post not more then once a week…. Just remember the words of rabbi Hillel – “Do not say I will study when I will have time, for perhaps you will never have the time”

  9. Edward

    Can we link this with Rev.19:9-11?

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Here is a different matter, the messenger has to be non-human based on context. Angels do not seem themselves superior to humans.

      1. jsusnme

        I thought the ‘bondservant’ was actually a term meaning of the womb, like the one bowing. So the angel would be a human messenger, either translated from heaven (i.e.,possibly another dimension) or earth. Wow, could it possibly have even been Elijah? I’m just saying. If this is the case then the two can be linked as similar.

  10. Wayne

    Intriguing suggestion. Any thoughts on why we don’t see this addressee in any of the Pauline or General letters?

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      This is excellent question, Wayne. Don’t know.

      1. The Angel Of Ephesus

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