What are the 7 angels in Revelation 1:20?

Marko Joensuu         No comments

Revelation 1:20 says:

As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands: the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.

The Son of Man holds the seven stars in His hand. This indicates that the angelic forces represented by the stars are commanded by the Son of Man. They are not independent agents, but they will do only what the Son of Man will command them to do. They are not our servants but God’s servants, fully obedient to Him.

Paul writes in Colossians 2:18-19:

Do not let anyone disqualify you, insisting on self-abasement and worship of angels, dwelling on visions, puffed up without cause by a human way of thinking, and not holding fast to the head, from whom the whole body, nourished and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows with a growth that is from God.

Colossae was located only ten miles from Laodicea, and this problem with angel worship in churches was not unique to this city. Horsley and Luxford present a fascinating study of the epigraphic evidence of pagan angels in Roman Asia Minor. Angels have widely been assumed to come to pagan thinking from Judaism at later date, but their research shows that pagans might have believed in angels a lot longer than thought. For example, there are inscriptions in Roman Asia Minor where angels are subject to Zeus. Also, there are angels that appear as Apollo’s agents in dispensing justice. (Horsley and Luxford 2016, 153, 157) These inscriptions were carved around the time of John and Paul.

In Lykia, there is an inscription from the third century that can be translated as “This is God, and we angeloi [angels] are a small portion of God.” (ibid., 159)

According to Horsey and Luxford (ibid., 177-178), the dichotomy between good and bad angels that developed in Judaism is lacking in the pagan descriptions of angels, perhaps because the pagan system was not monotheistic. There have been suggestions that the angels in Roman Asia Minor had a Persian origin. But perhaps they had multiple origins, and there was no consistent belief system around them.

But we can now understand how it would have been easy for the Greeks coming from a polytheistic religious system to attribute divinity to angels after they converted to Christianity. After all, in the pagan system, the angels were a portion of God, and not that dissimilar from the Greek gods. For them, angels provided a bridge between Christianity and paganism, and talking about angels to pagans would have been a lot less offensive than talking about the crucified Christ.

So, when Paul writes about wrestling against evil principalities and powers in the heavenly realms in Ephesians 6:12, he is perhaps also seeking to debunk an idea that somehow these forces represented by Greek and Roman gods could have been in the service of God.

Instead, Paul says that they represent a separate spiritual system that is hostile to God.

Here John presents in a visual way the supremacy of Christ over the unfallen angels that serve Him. Jesus is almighty, and the mighty angels are mere tools in his hand. They are directed by Jesus’s hand. 

They are God’s messengers.

This is also a vision about Jesus as the King of Kings, as it resembles a popular Roman coin. An aureus—a Roman gold coin valued at 25 silver denarii—of the empress Domitia, the wife of Emperor Domitian, depicts the deified infant son of the emperor seated on the globe and stretching his hands to seven stars (Hemer 2001, 4).

Whereas the Roman coin depicted the son of the emperor reaching out to the Roman gods and being lower than the stars, Revelation portrays Jesus as the Lord over the seven stars, which in this description are angels. This reference to angels as stars will reappear in Revelation 12:4, where one third of the stars follow the dragon. Through this imagery John depicts the gods that the son of the emperor worships as nothing more than fallen stars—demons.

We can begin to see the assault on the Roman belief system and gods, including the deified emperor, which permeates large parts of Revelation, including John’s description of the beast. 

But the most important reference point is not a Roman coin but Habakkuk 3:3-5:

God came from Teman, the Holy One from Mount Paran. Selah. His glory covered the heavens, and the earth was full of his praise. The brightness was like the sun; rays came forth from his hand, where his power lay hidden. Before him went pestilence, and plague followed close behind.

Like the bright stars, rays were flashing from His hand. Both Habakkuk and Revelation present Jesus as God, the Holy One, who will also bring pestilence. Ultimately, all the pestilences that will follow in Revelation are His judgment. We can see how skilfully Revelation weaves together the biblical imagery with the situation that the Christians found themselves in the Roman Empire. But Habakkuk’s text itself is a reference to Moses’ final blessing of Israel in Deuteronomy 33:1-2:

This is the blessing with which Moses, the man of God, blessed the Israelites before his death. He said: “The Lord came from Sinai, and dawned from Seir upon us; he shone forth from Mount Paran. With him were myriads of holy ones; at his right, a host of his own.”

This blessing comes straight after the Song of Moses in Deuteronomy; the Song of Moses is referred to later in Revelation. We begin to see how Revelation is making continual references to the Law and the Prophets: the two witnesses. By using symbolic language that refers to the Old Testament texts, Revelation claims that both the Law and the Prophets testify that Jesus is God. Later in Revelation, we will reencounter these two witnesses. Then, they will testify against Jerusalem.


Hemer, Colin J. The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia in Their Local Setting. W.B. Eerdmans Pub., 2001.

Horsley, G. H. R., and J. M. Luxford. ‘Pagan Angels in Roman Asia Minor: Revisiting the Epigraphic Evidence.’ Anatolian Studies 66 (2016): 141–83.

For more on the Book of Revelation, you can read my book Understanding Revelation.

Published by Marko Joensuu

Marko Joensuu has worked for over sixteen years in the publishing and media ministries of Kensington Temple. He is an author, publisher and screenwriter.
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