The first chapter of Revelation in one of my favorites Bible passages. I find the first vision of John to be extremely relevant and encouraging. John sees “One like the Son of Man”. That “One” is, of course, to be identified as Jesus Christ. This “Someone, like the Son of man” (vs. 13) walks among seven golden lampstands, while he holds seven stars in his right hand.
Some symbols in the Revelation are hard to decode, but in this case the explanation is given straight away. The lampstands symbolize the churches in Asia Minor to which the message that follows is to be sent. And the stars stand for the “angels” of the seven churches.
I have always doubted whether the traditional application of the letters to the seven churches in the chapters 2 and 3, as seven periods in church history, is correct. There seems to be nothing in the text that brings us to that conclusion. These messages were intended for seven literal congregations in what is now the coastal area of Western Turkey. However, the very fact that Providence has seen to it that the Apocalypse became a part of the Word of God suggests that it has a meaning that goes beyond the first century, and has something to say to Christians, everywhere and in all times. The seven letters in chapters 2 and 3 reflect the diversity in religious experience of the church universal. Therefore, the picture of Jesus walking among the lampstands, while holding seven stars in his right hand, continuous to be meaningful.
What an encouraging thought, that Jesus walks among his churches. He did so in the time of John and he does so today. And when reading the word “churches” we must think of local congregations rather than denominations. Let us hope and pray that Jesus also walks in the corridors and meeting rooms of denominational headquarters, but in Revelation 1 the focus is on local faith communities. I know of no perfect local church. But it is clear from the descriptions of the churches of Ephesus and the other churches that are mentioned by John that none of these churches were perfect either. However, in spite of all their imperfections, Christ walks among them!
But what about the stars? The stars, we are told, are the “angels” of the churches. Who are these “angels”? Are they perhaps guardian angels that each have a specific assignment in watching over one particular church? That does not seem very probable. (In any case, the existence of “guardian angels” has no biblical basis.) The word “angel” is the translation of the Greek word “angelos”. This simply means “messenger” and can refer both to heavenly and human messengers. Clearly, in this passage in Revelation it refers to the leaders of the churches. Christ holds these in his right hand–the symbolic expression for power and authority.
What a marvelous thought, also for elders and pastors in local churches today. They can feel safe. They may face problems in their churches, perhaps rivalry or opposition. They may at times feel insecure and misunderstood. But they need not have such feelings. Christ holds his “angels” in the churches in his mighty right hand. I take the liberty to assume that this also includes emeritus-”angels” like myself.
Let me just add one further thought. If Christ cares so much for his “angels”, perhaps that should inspire church members also to take greater appreciation for their local leaders. Their job can be difficult and challenging. God’s “angels” in your church need your love and support. Say with words that you support them and show it in tangible ways!