I think all five of my counterparts have (at some point) mentioned that the Greek word for angel (angellos) is the same as the Greek word for messenger, and was sometimes also used for bishop or pastor. The word is intended to describe anyone—human or supra-human—who delivers God’s word on God’s behalf.
In this section of The Revelation, amidst all the cool stuff about the marriage supper of the lamb, I’m most struck by John’s proclivity to worship the angelic messenger. The message is that Babylon has fallen and will never rise, that Christ has won the decisive victory, and that it is now time to celebrate. It’s a fantastic message. But John does what we all tend to do, he falls in love with the messenger because he’s so overwhelmed by the good news.
This happens all the time. We idolize our pastors and spiritual leaders because they teach us good news from God, and we erroneously transfer our gratitude from God to God’s messenger. I’ve done this, and as a pastor, I’ve had others do this to me. It’s incredible!
The truth is that idolatry is not simply a sin committed by satanists and weirdos. We are all idolaters. Anytime we remove right-worship from God and give it to someone else, or something else, we’ve made the same mistake John made in Revelation 19. The biggest difference between us and him is that most of the time we’re not worshipping people who will say ‘don’t do that!’ like the angel did. We’ve got to be the ones who stop ourselves from idolatry. Which can prove spectacularly difficult. Consider: John spent most of the early chapters of the Revelation warning Christians against idolatry, only to fall into it later on. Twice. (He makes again in 22.) If he can screw it up, you better bet yer bonbons we will too. And yet—I’ve never actually met a Christian person who will willingly concede that they’ve made an idol of someone or something. Strangely, despite the fact that even one of the biblical writers fell into this trap, we would rather sin twice as much than repent half as often. We sin (first) through idolatry, then (second) by lying to cover it up. Wouldn’t we be better served by acknowledging that we—like John—struggle to keep giving God (and only God) glory and honor forever?
To that end, let me publicly repent of my idolatries, both past and present. I have idolized my father, my brothers, and my heroes—both academic and athletic. I have idolized preachers, teachers, songwriters and artists. I have idolized possessions, entertainment, and spiritual experiences. I am not proud of these idols. I have done my best to smash them. But I can’t ever believe my heart will truly be free of their influence without the grace and penetrating presence of Christ.
How about you? Ever confuse with messenger with the originator? Ever have the guts to repent for it?