Tuesday, 1 September 2020
The mystery of the seven stars which you saw in My right hand, and the seven golden lampstands: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands which you saw are the seven churches. Revelation 1:20
John is in the process of writing “the things which are” from the previous verse. That is now explained by the Lord, saying, “The mystery of the seven stars which you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands.” In the Greek, there is a difference in these words than of those in verse 1:16. There it said, “in His right hand.” Here, it says, “upon My right hand.” Thus, it appears as if His hand is open, and resting upon it are these seven stars.
The word “mystery” does not signify something unknowable. Rather, it signifies something that cannot be known until it is revealed. For example, the gospel, the rapture, the uniting of the church with Christ, and so on, were called mysteries by Paul. None of those things could be known apart from them being revealed by God.
So it is true with this. Jesus has these objects which typologically represent something else. In the Old Testament, there was a menorah, a table of showbread, an altar of incense, the veil, the Ark of the Covenant, and so on. All of those things were merely types and shadows of other things found in Christ. For example, the veil is said explicitly in Hebrews 10:20 to be the flesh of Christ. The meaning of the implements is unknown, and it cannot be known without God revealing it. But now, Christ is going to do so.
In this, He says, “The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches.” The translation is not correct. In the Greek, there is no article before “churches.” It says, “The seven stars are the angels of seven churches.” The general nature of the words provides us with insight into the fact that what will be said to them is a generalization of any church at any given time which will then fall into one of the seven categories set forth by the Lord. There were many more churches than just these seven at John’s time, but the Lord selected these for His specific reasons.
Next, the word “angels,” in both Hebrew and Greek, signifies “messengers.” It can speak of divine or human messengers. In this case, there are quite a few possibilities as to what is being referred to. A few for reference are:
1) Heavenly beings. The term is certainly used this way many times in Revelation and elsewhere in the New Testament. But this then begs the question as to why John would be instructed to write to these beings to repent, or refer to them in human terms such as being “alive” and “dead” (meaning in a spiritual sense), and so on? Heavenly angels do not control churches, nor do they communicate with churches. Angels are ministering spirits as described in Hebrews, but John would not be writing such things to a ministering spirit.
2) The angels are actually a representation of the church itself. In other words, John is writing to a church that is represented by the people in the church. However, this is shown to be incorrect because the churches are called “the seven lampstands” in this verse. Therefore, they are two separate entities. Further, this is again confirmed in verse 2:5 where the Lord says that unless certain action is taken, He will take the lampstand away. The address is in the singular, meaning to the “angel.”
3) The angels are the leaders of the individual churches. This is not without precedent. In Daniel 12 it says this of proper teachers –
“Those who are wise shall shine
Like the brightness of the firmament,
And those who turn many to righteousness
Like the stars forever and ever.” Daniel 12:3
Similarly, such a term is used of false teachers in Jude –
“These are spots in your love feasts, while they feast with you without fear, serving only themselves. They are clouds without water, carried about by the winds; late autumn trees without fruit, twice dead, pulled up by the roots; 13 raging waves of the sea, foaming up their own shame; wandering stars for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever.” Jude 1:12, 13
Therefore, this is the most likely meaning of the word “angels” here, and thus a better translation for the verse would be “messenger.” This is how the word in Hebrew, malak, is translated in Malachi 2:7 when speaking of the priest in Israel –
“For the lips of a priest should keep knowledge,
And people should seek the law from his mouth;
For he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts.”
The seven “stars,” symbols of authority, represent the seven leaders of the church. They are the messengers of the word of God and the gospel message to the body of believers.
Understanding this is the case, the next words of Jesus are, “and the seven lampstands which you saw are the seven churches.” Again, the translation is incorrect. There is no article before “churches.” It should read, “and the seven lampstands which you saw are seven churches.” Again, the generalization is given to avoid misanalysing what is being conveyed. Error has arisen in many commentaries because of the improper inserting of a definite article which does not belong in the text.
It is certain that all true leaders are under the authority of Christ. Likewise, all true churches – even with their many problems – are a part of the one true church. The representation of Christ having seven stars in His right hand, and also walking among the seven golden lampstands, must be taken as symbolic of all true leaders and all true churches throughout the church age. Seven then – the number of spiritual perfection – is given to represent all of the true church.
The seven lampstands represent the churches. As a lampstand issues forth light, so the churches are intended to issue forth light as well. This is the intent of what is said. And this is exactly how Paul explains the gospel in 2 Corinthians 4:4 and 2 Timothy 1:10, meaning “light.” The church is the focal point for where that gospel message is to be proclaimed.
Life application: After this verse, there are only 21 exciting chapters left. The coming pages are gloriously filled with the splendor of God, the majesty of Jesus Christ, and the judgment of the ages coming upon an unrepentant world. In the midst of this is the salvation of God’s long-wayward and yet beloved people Israel.
Before that, there will be the letters to review that John has been instructed to write. Of those churches, a lot of negative words from Jesus will be conveyed to its leaders. However, having lampstands indicates that the churches are accepted by Jesus as functioning properly, at least to some degree. A lampstand is intended to give light. If a church is failing to be a light as intended, then the lampstand is removed.
This has certainly occurred over the ages as individual churches fail to properly preach and teach the gospel. When a church apostatizes, or “falls away” from the truth, it is no longer a valid church and its lampstand is removed; it becomes a haunt of darkness and uncleanliness. Be sure to evaluate the church you are in right now. Is it following the Bible? Is it straying? Has it completely left the Lord’s commands? Take time to evaluate where you attend and, if necessary, make the move to a congregation the Lord would approve of.
Lord Jesus, in Your hand is all of the rule and authority over Your church. Help the churches that we attend to be properly functioning ones that will bring You and Your glorious gospel the honor it is due. Help us to be responsive to the needs of our congregations, and to be people who will help keep our churches in line with Your word. May it be so to Your glory. Amen.