If I didn’t tell you what book of the New Testament the following quote was from, or who said it, who would you initially guess that this sounds the most like?
“I am a fellow bondservant with you (σύνδουλός σού εἰμι) and your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus.”
For me, it immediately brought to mind Paul’s writings. Paul was all about the theological acknowledgement that he was formerly a slave (δοῦλος) to sin but now a slave (or bondservant) to Christ, and sometimes introduced himself as a slave/bondservant in his letters. He also referred to his fellow ministers as fellow bondservants (σύνδουλός; Colossians 1:7; 4:7).
Yet today I encountered the above quoted verse not in Paul’s letters but in Revelation 19:10. The one who was speaking was an angel! It called itself a bondservant —a slave— and a “fellow” one with a human! And while not identical, the circumstance in which it was spoken bears some similarity to aspects of another situation which Paul and Barnabas once found themselves in (as described in Acts 14) which can help us understand why the angel called itself a bondservant. While the words used by each party in the two accounts are not the same, the responses are essentially consistent with one another. We will examine that below.
A Comparison of Responses
We must ask: what is the importance of the angel’s confession, “I am a fellow bondservant with you”? What truth is it emphasizing? Let us compare the stories in Revelation 19 and Acts 14 briefly to see.
In the angel’s case, John had fallen down before it and began worshiping it (Revelation 19:10). Its response showed deference to God as the higher power and the rejection of the worship. In an instructive account to compare, Paul and Barnabas on one occasion were in Lystra, and after a man was miraculously healed the Lyconians began calling them both gods and started sacrificing to them (Acts 14:11-13). They faced a situation where they encountered an audience awed with the revealed power of God and they too were being worshiped.
Notice how each responded to this improper worship by repudiating it:
“Do not do that!” [NASB] (Ὅρα μή – Literally “see that [you do] not” [NASB footnote]) — Rev. 19:10
“Men, why are you doing these things?” [NASB] (Ἄνδρες, τί ταῦτα ποιεῖτε;) — Acts 14:15
They both also affirm equal status (as either fellow servant or fellow humans) with whom they are speaking to set themselves clearly below God:
“I am a fellow bondservant (σύνδουλός) with you and your brothers.” [NASB] — Rev. 19:10
“We are also men, of the same nature (ὁμοιοπαθεῖς) as you.” [NASB] — Acts 14:15
Then they point to testimony of who is truly worthy of worship and worthy of turning one’s life over to: God. They also associate the testimony/witness with revelatory evangelistic and prophetic proclamation:
“…who hold the testimony (τὴν μαρτυρίαν) of Jesus; worship God! (τῷ θεῷ προσκύνησον) For the testimony (ἡ γὰρ μαρτυρία) of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy (προφητείας)” [NASB] — Rev. 19:10
“…preaching the gospel (εὐαγγελιζόμενοι) to you, to turn from these useless things to a living God (ἐπιστρέφειν ἐπὶ θεὸν ζῶντα)… He did not leave Himself without witness (οὐκ ἀμάρτυρον)…” [NASB] — Acts 14:15, 17
How interesting that the angels as well as the apostles and their fellow workers sharing the Gospel are each represented as fellow bondservants whose task is to point to the revelatory witness of God. Such is their role as God’s creations, to act as ministers to Him (Romans 15:16; 2 Corinthians 3:6; Hebrews 1:7) and to elevate Him rather than themselves. This is something in God’s divine plan that humans and angelic beings alike share in their purpose and designated roles within the cosmos in order to bring glory to Him.