Once an Angel

Thursday Afternoon, May 28th, 2020

Back in the Day.
Once an Angel, Audio Version

From August 1994 to August 2006 I lived in the greater Los Angeles area. First I worked there. Then I studied there. Eventually, my wife and I met there. We got married there. Our daughter was born there. The course of my life was effectively set there. Those twelve years will forever stand in my memory as simultaneously the worst and the best of my life. Bittersweet is an apt word to describe those years. I am grateful for the time I had there. And I am even more grateful that those years are behind me. It was a hard and yet formative period of life.     

For a little while, I was also an angel there. It’s true. I really was briefly an angel in Los Angeles. Just barely, though. Just barely in Los Angeles county, is where I was, I mean. The law firm where I worked as an angel was less than two miles from the county line — maybe even less than that. Had the law firm been a little farther east, I would not have been an angel in Los Angeles. I would have been an angel in San Bernardino, which is nowhere nearly as catchy. Wouldn’t you agree? But I can honestly say that I was an angel in Los Angeles at about the turn of the millennium. Yes, angelic me.

Are you confused? Angels are simply messengers. Please hear that now. They are messengers. That is exactly what the word means. Angel equals messenger. That’s all. 

I was a courier for a law firm. As a courier, I delivered documents and messages. That was my job. I was hired to make speedy deliveries. I was told to drive around Los Angeles County and Orange County delivering highly important legal documents and time-sensitive messages. Sometimes I even got to drive eastward to San Bernardino County or southward to San Diego County. The drive into San Diego is very pretty, by the way. As just mentioned, San Bernardino County was very close; but the law firm did most of its work in LA County and Orange County. My assignment was: “Go, deliver, and bring back certification of delivery. And hurry!” I spent a lot of time driving Interstate 10 into and out of the actual City of Los Angeles. Yes, angelic me. I was very briefly an angel in Los Angeles.       

Dear Pastor, Hang Tough.

This has everything to do with the Book of Revelation. As you read, you will bump into many angels throughout. Various angels are mentioned in Revelation. And most people reading Revelation just assume they know what an angel is. “Surely this entity called angel is an immortal heavenly being, with powerful wings and brilliance of countenance.” And that is often exactly right. But sometimes in Revelation the entity said to be an angel does not fit the description. Sometimes the entity is not described as an immortal heavenly being. Sometimes the entity is not described at all. The entity is simply called an angel. And sometimes it seems like the entity — even though called an angel — might be a mere mortal, just an ordinary hum-drum human being: a courier, or a messenger, like me back around the turn of the millennium.

Lots of people find this claim somehow annoying, alarming, or amazing. “Angel means angel,” they insist. But no, you cannot and should not assume that. Angel does not mean angel, if what you mean is a brilliant, immortal heavenly being, every single time. Immortal heavenly beings can serve as angels, yes and for certain. That’s true, and biblical. But human beings can serve as angels, too. That’s also true, and also biblical. God can call human beings to serve as messengers. Furthermore, God does call human beings to serve as messengers, lots of times. Need I name names? How about Malachi, which means my angel. The prophet Malachi was just a man, though, a mere mortal.

When you bump into an angel in the Book of Revelation, ask yourself this simple question: Is this angel/messenger actually described as a heavenly being or not? If not, please entertain the thought that the messenger might not a brilliant, immortal heavenly being. I say that because the angels/messengers of the seven churches in first three chapters of Revelation seem quite human to me (and to a number of other interpreters). That’s exactly how Jesus treats them, too — like humans. Jesus speaks words of affirmation to them, and words of encouragement, and words of correction, and words of warning. “Get your act together, angel, or else.”

Jesus’ words all make perfect sense if you’re willing to reconsider what the word angel must mean. Here Jesus speaks not to heavenly messengers but to human messengers. Human beings here receive his words of encouragement, and words of correction, and words of warning. It makes much less sense that Jesus would commission John to write a corrective circular letter addressed to brilliant heavenly beings. Why wouldn’t Jesus just directly communicate himself to heavenly beings? Why use a human intermediary? But these angels need to receive a snail-mail letter from John. These terrestrially-tied angels seem less likely to be luminous immortals and more likely to be ordinary mortals; don’t you think? Perhaps these seven angels are simply the head pastors of the seven municipal churches of Roman Asia. That’s what makes the most sense to me. That’s my interpretive suggestion. And I do speak with some authority on the matter. After all, I was briefly an angel.

Why does this matter? It matters because reading Revelation carefully will keep you on your toes. You will need to rethink your categories and reconsider your assumptions. In Revelation, things are not always as they seem on first glance. Revelation does a lot of that, actually. What at first seemed to be this is actually something else. A lion is a lamb is Jesus. A beast is actually the emperor. Another beast is a false prophet. A beautiful bride is actually the church. An angel is actually a pastor. Get used to it. Get used to the use of symbolism and to symbolic shifts. Revelation re-construes reality, because what we perceive and what we assume is often inaccurate. Repeat that last sentence to yourself over and over. Revelation re-construes reality, because what we perceive and what we assume is often inaccurate, and even distorted.

Please don’t blame me for this. I’m just the messenger.

Here We Have Brilliant, Immortal Heavenly Being.