Asks HaRav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv zt”l: Why is the Gemara saying ‘if’ they were like angels? Is there any doubt that the earliest Sages were on an incredibly high level?!
However, he explains, it is only a matter of how we look at it: If we look at the earliest Sages as Angels; if we realize that we cannot fathom their holiness -- then that shows that we are human beings.
But, says Rav Elyashiv zt”l; if we (Chas V’Shalom) look at them as ordinary people, similar to our own level, then Chazal say something not very complimentary about us…… (From The Light of Torah; p. 5).