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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I just want to thank you for this information. I have been praying for help with my Bible studies for a long time. I love what little I have been able to read as I have been ill since last August. I feel blessed from your outreach. God Bless.
Thank you so much!
I still wonder why the omnipresent God requires an intermediary, other than Himself incarnate,to communicate with His humans. Just where/how do you believe “angels” fit into the scheme?
Charles, shalom. I don’t think that existence of heavenly beings that we call angels needs to be denied if we do interpret “the
angel of the church” to me the “shaliach tzibur” in a first century Jesus-following largely Jewish congregation in Ephesus. In other words one does not exclude the other. The fact that God sens his heavenly beings is a something happens often in the Scriptures and can not be denied, but it does not mean that every time the word MALACH/ANGELOS is used the heavenly messenger is actually in view.
Charles, why wouldn’t our God who is Love and grace and relationship, and who loves law, want to instill these qualities in his creations? Your comment sounds quite presumptuous of God and his plans. He’s not just Thor who hits his hammer and makes things happen. He’s more like… a weaver… a master creator, developing intricacies we’ll be forever in awe of. And the Holy Spirit is always present in the believer. He’s always talking to us, showing us. But most of the time we do not have the hearing ears or the seeing eyes. He also says he will meet every person who comes into this world. No one leaves without meeting him first.
The angels work in the spirit world; we are spirit, bonded with Holy Spirit. They have assignments, gifts, powers of execution… all of which once given are not removed until the day of judgement (hence why the fallen angels still have their authority and power in their places in the heavenlies).
Dr. Eli Thanks for Edifying us with your Wonderful lessons, meanwhile please remember me in your prayers.
Thank you for your encouragement.
Really like Kingsley Fulbrook response…Could John have sent an angel from Patmos to communicate with an angel on watch in Ephesus? That’s something to ponder…thanks
I like Kingsley’s response too, especially because of my honor for Pastor Wurmbrand. On the other hand, the context of the passage is that after telling John the signification of the stars in his right hand, Jesus tells him to write letters to those signified by them. The concerns are Jesus’, not John’s.
Wurmbrand’s idea was to pray an angel take a message he had in mind to someone, not a message he’d written.
But the seven messages in the Revelation are what Jesus wants delivered to the congregations, by the angels (messengers). If these angels were angels of heaven (where Jesus is), Jesus could tell them Himself. Then they could follow orders and deliver them to the congregations. But Jesus wants them written, and read, by messengers to the congregations. That’s why it seems so clear to me that the schaliachim idea is so correct. It makes more sense.
It doesn’t surprise me that a Jewish synagogue in Ephesus has yet to be identified: when I was there last year our guide said that less than half of ancient Ephesus had yet been excavated (it is thought). The Turkish Government don’t seem to care much about Ephesus, incidentally, since it is not even rated as a World Heritage Site yet! The excavations that have been done there were by Germans and Austrians I believe. Your suggestion of the meaning of ‘angel’ in this context as ‘shaliach tzibur’ seems very plausible. The Book of Revelation is full of Hebraisms, more so than any other NT document. On the other hand, John is marooned on Patmos, having long talks with the angels of heaven, and wondering how he is going to get messages to the mainland, so it naturally occurs to him that the angels could take them: that’s what angels do right? A similar thing occurred when Richard Wurmbrand was in solitary confinement in communist Romania. Also, Elijah wrote a letter to Jehoram from heaven after he ‘died’, so maybe it’s possible for such things to happen!
I agree. 🙂
I’m curious…Chris or Dr. Eli. Would you share some of “plenty of literature to show the role of John the Elder at Ephesus”? I am truly a neophyte here. Thanks, J.
I don’t share the views that there are plenty of literature, there are some early testimonies, none of which in anyway conclusive. Chris, can you please, show us why you think I am underrating the evidence?
It is disturbing to see the Roman Empire supported Jewish Christian element this time round rally around the Pauline orbit; there is plenty of literature to show the role of John the elder at Ephesus and also if the dialectics that we see in Acts and the Pauline corpus is maintained here – the Apostles and the rest vs. Paul, who understood God by revelation outside of koinonia – one would hardly see John feature as the pre-eminent leader in Ephesus where the Pauline corpus and Acts is concerned.
Why would a Heavenly messenger or angel, need a letter to communicate? The clarification or explanation of a church communicator, maybe similar to a church secretary; responsible for sending and receiving church communications and relaying them to the group makes contextual sense. Order and sense were very much a part of the Heavenly instructions given to Moses for Isrealite governance.
I am glad you see my point. Thanks for the feedback.
Wonderful! שליח ציבור (shaliach tzibur) – lit. “a public messenger”, lovin’ it.
See also, Act 19:39 and 41;
ἐκκλησία ekklēsia – is properly translated to English as “assembly” ILO “church”, why?
Passage is referencing a riotous mob, but therein may lie a humorous irony 😉
Exactly. It is a word that does not mean to the NT audience what it means to most readers today. Good illustration.
Good point John.The only understanding I get from the scripture is that the Angel is not identified but it seems clear that the Angel is under instructions from Jesus.That’s just how I understand it.I’m not an authority.