The book of Revelation, packed with symbolism, can be a challenge to read and apply. For example, Revelation 1:20 says,
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. – Revelation 1:20
The Savior explains the vision
Jesus has just instructed John to write what He was about to reveal to him, and to start, He begins to explain the meaning behind what John saw in verses 12 and 16. It was a “mystery” to John, and now the Savior would explain it.
The seven stars
Notice that the “seven stars” were in His right hand. The right hand symbolizes power and authority. He has power and authority over these seven stars.
What are these seven stars? The Savior says, “the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches”. There has been much discussion about what these angels are. Some think it refers to actual angels, i.e. something like guardian angels. But it doesn’t make sense that the Lord would rebuke the angels for the church’s misgivings. Others say that the angels are presbyters or pastors or messengers. (The word translated “angels” means simply, “messengers”.)
In any case, the messengers here are representatives of the church, as we see in the fact that the letters written to them coming up in the next couple of chapters is not written to one person, but to the whole church. But human leaders are accountable, as well, so it would make sense if these messengers were actually elders of the churches.
The seven lampstands
The Savior says, “…and the seven lampstands are the seven churches”. So, the stars are the angels of the seven churches and the lampstands are the seven churches themselves.
But surely there were more than just these seven churches. And surely Christ had more than just the seven stars in His hand.
Seven is a number of perfection and completeness, so what likely is going on here is that these seven stars and seven lampstands are representatives of the church as a whole, at the time and throughout church history. The temptations they faced and the weaknesses they had are not unique to them; we face them even today.
And so as we review the letters in the coming days, may we not distance ourselves from these seven lampstands. Instead, we should ask how this book may speak to our churches today.