I had mentioned in an earlier post that we would come back to John’s idea of “seven churches” and seven “spirits.” In Revelation 1:20, these “sevens” are unavoidable and cause the present day reader to finish chapter one scratching his head and thinking, “Huh?” John’s about to transition to the vision of Jesus walking among the seven churches when he writes in 1:20, “As for the mystery of the seven stars that 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 are the seven churches.”
Now, it is absolutely obvious that the seven lampstands are the following seven churches in chapters 2-3. And, when we take into consideration that seven is the number of completeness, we can make the conclusion that Jesus not only walks among these seven particular churches but all true churches throughout history. What we must slow down and take notice of is a previous verse that is meant to comfort the church of Jesus Christ. In 1:16, the reader to hearer notices that these churches are in the hands of the glorified Christ himself. What a comfort this must have been to the pastoral and beloved shepherd John who is confined to Patmos, longing to be with the people of God? So, the lampstands are clearly the seven churches, and before we get to the exegetically difficult topic of the seven stars, let’s look at the Old Testament allusion own has in mind in regards to the seven lampstands.
OLD TESTAMENT ALLUSION IN REVELATION 1:20
In the book of Zechariah, we are drawn into a context of God’s people recently delivered home to Jerusalem after 70 years of exile. God has called his people to rebuild the Temple but it ends up lacking it’s previous splendor and glory. The people of God are remembering the golden menorah that God had Moses place in the Tabernacle to symbolize the light of the Lord (Richard Phillips, Reformed Expository Commentary: Revelation, 69). But in Zechariah chapter 4, we get a vision of a golden lampstand that Zechariah himself is confused about (this gives us hope because if a prophet of God is confused, it’s okay if we are as well). After the confusion settles, God says to Zechariah in 4:6, “Not by might, nor by power, but by the Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.”
When we take the Lord’s declaration into account, we realize that God built his Temple and is building his church by the power of the Spirit. Again, what a comfort to the exiled Apostle John to know that the church is in Christ’s hands and God the Spirit will build the church?
WHAT/WHO ARE THE SEVEN STARS?
Throughout church history, the identity of the seven stars has been debatable, primarily resulting in two primary interpretations: First, the seven stars are the pastors of the seven churches. This is primarily because the Greek word for angel (ἄγγελοι) is the same word for “messenger.” Second, and I think the more persuasive view, is that John is writing about actual angels, supernatural servants of God. As Richard Phillips notes, “It is probably best, then, to see Jesus as referring to guardian angels assigned to the churches they represent” (Ibid., 70). However, what drives my conclusion even more than Phillips conclusion is that John’s use of Daniel always connects angels as the messengers to God’s people. Also, the whole book of Revelation is a genre that is meant to pull back the curtains of reality to see a glimpse of the great warfare going on between good and evil. In that regard, it makes sense that these angels are in fact angels sent from God.
WHY THIS MATTERS?
There are a number of important applications from this text that could be useful and encouraging. However, I am going to take this down a road that applies to those who love Christ’s bride. As a pastor, I often go through seasons of great love and affection for the church I see, and other seasons of struggle. Over my recent sabbatical though, I did not attend the church I serve at. And you know what? I missed her severely. There were days my gut hurt to not be with the people of God. I read this text, knowing that John is most likely restrained to a prison cell, miles away from his beloved people, only seeing water surrounding the little island of Patmos. Where there were none of his sheep in sight, the comfort of knowing that the church is in the hands of Christ and that the Spirit of God will build the church must have allowed John to rest easy. The question is, do we love and serve Christ in our local church in a way that believes Jesus is ruling among us? Or do we judge the health of the church by it’s programs, songs, and preaching? As we get into chapters 2-3 next, we will see what a great comfort and challenge it is to know that Christ himself walks among his bride.