The Angels of Revelation

For this week’s blog, I chose a topic near to my heart. As a Catholic, growing up involved a great deal of theology, learning doctrine, dogma, and traditions and being steeped in a specific culture. One of my favourite aspects of that culture was learning about the winged, divine beings that were said to live in heaven, sometimes making special trips to Earth to guide humanity as it fell victim to evil’s pressures.

In Revelation, the word angel (or its plural form) is stated seventy-six times. With only twenty-two chapters in the entire book, the average amount of times “angel” appears in each chapter ranks at 3. So what are these creatures? What is their purpose? Do angels of a ranking system? Who are any of the angels mentioned in Revelation? I searched for these answers.

My first thought was to define an angel and state the creature’s purpose. I found that Christianity, Islam, and Judaism all recognize angels as spiritual beings (Chabad.org), created from light (About.com) and considered intelligent, obedient ministers of God’s will (Catholic Online). The imagery of wings and appearing in the form of a man seems to be anthropological traits given by authors to help humankind understand angels. The word ‘angel’ comes from the Greek word ‘angelos’, meaning messenger; this also translates similarly in Hebrew, as the word for angel is ‘malak’ or messenger (Catholic Online). So these divine beings are extensions of God’s will. Throughout Revelation, God has them perform various tasks from blowing trumpets to breaking seals to guiding the speaker around in the vision to visit various scenes such as the beast rising from the sea (Rev 13:1) or the woman giving birth (Rev 12:1-6).

Each category of angel

So amongst beings of light, I knew there to be a hierarchy according to orthodox or traditional beliefs of nine orders of angels which are further divided into three ranks. Most people have heard of cherubs, archangels, and maybe seraphs, but other ranks of celestial being exist. The highest are closest to the Holy Trinity (God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit) and reside in the throne room of heaven; this hierarchy is comprised of the seraphim, cherubim, and the thrones. The second hierarchy is comprised of the dominions, virtues, and powers. The final and lowest hierarchy of angels are the principalities, archangels, and angels. All of the celestial orders are lumped together under the term ‘angel’ by most people (The Holy Angels). Each have their own specific tasks to do, from being the mediator between God and humanity to doling out justice or from maintaining the physical universe to teaching and guiding humanity (Angelology). In Revelation, it is obvious that certain types of angels are delegated to different tasks.

In fact, some of the angels mentioned have specific phrases which could lead to the possible identification of exactly which of the angels is being mentioned. Only one angel is mentioned by name, Michael. Michael, or the one who is like God, is considered the most powerful of all angels, the general of the heavenly army, and is to be the conqueror of Satan (Angels 101). In fact, Michael battled Lucifer during the war in heaven when he and other angels rebelled against God. In Revelation, Michael and his army will defeat Lucifer again during the end times (Angels About). In chapter 20 of Revelation, it is implied that the angel who binds Satan for a thousand years and casts him into the pit will be Michael.

the Seven Powerful Archangels in the throne room

Other angels to be noticed and whom I wanted to identify included: the angel sent to John to tell him to write Revelation, the seven angels of the churches in chapters 2 and 3, the seven angels of the trumpet, the four angels at the corners of the earth, the angel with the incense, and the angel who made John eat a scroll in chapter 10. My Catholic background gave me a head start on learning the identities of these angels. The traditional announcer of God is Gabriel, so it could be a possibility that the angel sent to John at the beginning of Revelation is Gabriel. The seven angels of the churches could be literal angels, but could also be symbolic of the church leaders that guided the Christians in that area (Bible Hub). The seven angels of the trumpets are seven angels “who stand before God” (Rev 8:2); these are seven throne room archangels. Their names are Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, Uriel, Chamuel, Jophiel, and Raguel (Angelfocus). The four angels at the four corners of the earth are included within the throne room archangels, and are traditionally considered to be the best-known of the archangels, which are Michael, Raphael, Gabriel and Uriel (The Hebrew Cornerstone). The angel with the incense, though not named in modern translations, is said to be Raguel according to early manuscripts of Revelation that scholars have discovered (Angels About). The final angel I chose to identify was that from chapter 10. Most of the sources I found stated that this angel’s identity is actually Jesus because of the “angel’s” authority and his coming “robed in a cloud” like Jesus’ coming in Revelation 1:7 (Lamb & Lion, Bible Gateway, Ray Stedman.org, Bible Info). From context clues throughout Revelation and connections with traditional religious culture, many of the angels mentioned in the book can be identified by name.

So overall, I answered my questions. Angels are divine beings of light, extensions of God’s will, and have many purposes that serve both God and humanity, fighting evil, and spreading the light of what is good. Each angel may be ranked according to a hierarchy system, further delegating what purpose they serve. Finally, the angels of Revelation can be identified both in name and in rank. Angels, a topic deeply steeped in cultural tradition for me, are more complicated than most people would have thought.

The Spread of Christianity after Stephen

This week I chose to do my blog on the significance of the death of Stephen, the first recorded martyr of the early Christian church, because he had been my favourite saint when I was growing up. I was raised in the Roman Catholic tradition, and had always been fascinated with the martyrs; an image of young Stephen, eyes upraised and hands folded with a group of men lobbing stones at him, had been imprinted upon my mind when looking through a book of saints. For those who are unclear, the Catholic Church defines a saint as “persons who were eminent for holiness who distinguish themselves by heroic virtue during life and whom the Church honors as saints either by her ordinary universal teaching authority or by a solemn definition called canonization,” (Catholic Culture) while a martyr is defined as “a person who chooses to suffer, even to die, rather than renounce his or her faith or Christian principles.” (Catholic Culture) One who is martyred is automatically a saint in the Catholic Church.

Stephen

In our text, the story of Stephen is a hero story; he is moving about the people, performing miracles and preaching about Jesus, despite the opposition of many conservatives in the area. Those who opposed Stephen even went as far as to ‘set up false witnesses who said, “This man never ceases to speak words against this holy place and the law, for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses delivered to us.’ ” (The Literary Study Bible, Acts 6:14) In the following chapter, Stephen delivers a history of the Jews, from Abraham through Moses. He chastises the people he is preaching to, which only further enrages them. The boiling point for the large crowd around Stephen is his declaration of his vision of Jesus, in Acts 7:55-56:

“But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And he said, ‘Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.’ ”

Infuriated, the people rushed Stephen and stoned him. What I found interesting was his later mention in Chapter 11 as the cause of persecution of Christians that led to the spread of the Church into Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch. I wanted to know if the historical spread of the Church matched the biblical account.

Stephen’s martyrdom is placed around 34 CE (All About Following Jesus), and this dispersion could be placed from around 30 CE to 313 CE as various Roman emperors offically persecute the fledgling Church (National Geographic). The fear instilled from persecution would be enough to drive any Jew or Christian from their home, seeking a new, peaceful place to live. Every Jewish Christian that fled would take their message to established Jewish communities and synagogues, whispering it to willing and open-minded ears. The entire book of Acts describes the spread of the Church, as various Christian disciples spread the message of Jesus, most famously Paul.

The trio of geographical locations cited in reference to Stephen, Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, are in today’s Lebanon and Syria, Cyprus and Turkey. These three are neighbors, making the trade of both commerce and ideas easy. It makes perfect sense that Christian Jews from Judaea, located just below Phoenicia, would flee northward, away from persecution. They wouldn’t flee to the south because Egypt and the Jews have a history of persecution (Moses, anyone?) as well.

The spread of Christianity into Syria and Lebanon can be attributed to Paul. His converstion was in 34 CE, the year of Stephen’s death. He moved through Phoenicia on his way to Antioch, and by the end of the first century, Christianity had spread through Edessa or Turkey, which containt Antioch. For the next six centuries, Christianity strengthened, grew and spread outwards throughout the Middle East. (EWTN)

The spread of Christianity into Cyprus is attributed to Barnabas and Mark, both apostles, in 46 CE (Orthodox Wiki). However, Paul may also be cited for Cyprus’ Christianization as his first miracle was performed on the island (Ring of Christ). Another striking source for Christianization is from Lazarus, the man Jesus raised from the dead; legend stated that after fleeing Bethany on account of death threats from the chief priests, apparently Lazarus ended up in Cyprus, and was later ordained by Barnabas and Paul to head the church in Cyprus. This was confirmed in 890 CE, when his grave was discovered (Ring of Christ).

The already-mentioned Antioch is obviously attributed to Paul in the mid 30s CE, and the estimated 45,000 Jews that lived in Antioch as well as Gentiles were given the message of Jesus. Barnabas followed a few years later, solidifying the church’s foundation in Antioch, which would eventually spready through Turkey (Silouan). However, a member of the first deacons from which Stephen originated, can also be cited as a source of Christianization for Antioch. This man is Nicolas, who later is attributed to the Gnostic Christian sect called Nicolaitanism (Bible Tools).

Most obviously, the spread of Christianity was swift after the martyrdom of Stephen. Through the work of many disciples including the famous Paul, the Christian church began spreading throughout the Roman Empire, solidifying itself as the next big religion, growing into what we know it as today.