The Angels of Revelation 1 as Bishops
Recall that in Revelation 20, it’s “an angel” who binds the gates of Hades during the millennium. While the word “angel” takes on a number of meanings throughout John’s vision, consider its usage in Revelation 1:20. John tells us about “seven stars,” which are “the angels of the seven Churches” he’s writing to; and he also mentions “seven lampstands,” which are the Churches themselves. In order to figure out who these “angels” are, let’s first consider their assigned symbol: stars.
As I’ve explained before, the stars are associated with royal authority in Scripture. Genesis 1:16-18 tells us that the heavenly lights “rule” the day and night, a word typically used to describe the authority that kings exercise over their territory (cf. 1 Kg. 9:19, Jer. 34:1). This is why, throughout the prophets, astrological signs are associated with political change (cf. Is. 13:10). And importantly, the NT consistently associates royalty with the ecclesiastical hierarchy; even the very word “pastor” or “shepherd” is a call back to the royal shepherds of Israel (cf. 1 Chron. 11:1-2, 17:6). Thus, if John’s angels are “the stars” of the Asian Churches, then they’re the ones who “rule” over these Churches; they’re the monarchical bishops.
If you’re not convinced, consider how each angel is assigned to a Church, and these Churches are symbolized by “lampstands.” This should call our minds back to Exodus 25:31-40, where we’re first told about lampstands. We learn that all of the Tabernacle’s lampstands had lights on top of them, and these lights were “cups made like almond blossoms (מְֽשֻׁקָּדִ֞ים)” (Ex. 25:33-34). This imagery of “almond blossoms” is very unique, however it shows up again in Numbers 17:8 when “almonds” (שְׁקֵדִֽים) blossom from Arron’s rod, confirming Levi as the priestly tribe.
Thus, if almond blossoms represent Israel’s priesthood, then the Tabernacle’s almond-like lights seem to do the same. This is because the Aaronic priests were “the lights” of Israel, tasked with guiding and instructing her (cf. Deut. 17:8-13). They were even anointed with the very same olive oil that fueled the lampstands (Ex. 27:20 cf. 30:24)! It’s no wonder, then, why the Menorah was placed across from the Table of Shewbread. This Table contained twelve loaves of bread (Lev. 24:5-6), which represented Israel’s tribes. The priestly Menorah overlooked this Table to represent the Levitical priests’ oversight of the twelve tribes of Israel.
Coming back to Revelation, remember how “the angels” of the Churches are described as “stars.” Along with their connection to royal authority, the heavenly lights are also just that: “lights” (Gen. 1:14-18). And as James Jordan shows, Exodus 25 recapitulates the days of creation, with the lampstand Menorah corresponding to the fourth day, i.e. the creation of the stars. This means that, just as the almond-like lights stood on top of the lampstands in the Tabernacle, so do the angels of John’s vision stand as lights on top of the lampstand-Churches. And just as the Menorah’s lights represented the Aaronic priesthood overseeing Israel, so do the angels represent the bishops of the NT overseeing their respective Churches. This is indeed where the word “bishop” comes from; it literally means “overseer.”