Verse-by-Verse Bible Commentary

Revelation 1:20

As for 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 are the seven churches.
New American Standard Version

Bible Study Resources

Nave's Topical Bible - Angel of the Churches;   Candlestick;   Church;   Minister, Christian;   Seven;   Stars;   Vision;   Scofield Reference Index - Angels;   Christ;   Church;   Churches;   Theophanies;   Thompson Chain Reference - Angels;   Churches, the Seven;   Ministers;   Names;   Seven;   Titles and Names;   Torrey's Topical Textbook - Candlestick;   Stars, the;   Titles and Names of the Church;   Titles and Names of Ministers;  
American Tract Society Bible Dictionary - Candlestick;   Mystery;   Prophets;   Bridgeway Bible Dictionary - Lamp;   Seven;   Baker Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology - Apocalyptic;   Christians, Names of;   Hand, Right Hand;   Mystery;   Charles Buck Theological Dictionary - Angel;   Ascension of Christ;   Easton Bible Dictionary - Angel;   Mystery;   Stars;   Fausset Bible Dictionary - Angels;   Candlestick;   Mystery;   Number;   Synagogue;   Timothy;   Holman Bible Dictionary - Angel;   Revelation, the Book of;   Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible - Angels of the Seven Churches;   Asia;   Mystery;   Stars;   Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament - Angels;   Angels of the Seven Churches;   Apocalypse;   Bishop, Elder, Presbyter;   Gold ;   Lamp Lampstand;   Mystery ;   Numbers;   Numbers (2);   Olive ;   Star;   Star (2);   Type;   The Hawker's Poor Man's Concordance And Dictionary - Golden candlesticks;   Laodicea;   People's Dictionary of the Bible - Mystery;   Seven;   Smith Bible Dictionary - Angels;   Synagogue;   Wilson's Dictionary of Bible Types - Angel;   Candlestick;   Church;   Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary - Candlestick;   Mystery;  
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia - Angel;   Angels of the Seven Churches;   Astronomy;   Candle;   Candlestick, the Golden;   Mystery;   Number;   Revelation of John:;   Sacraments;   Kitto Biblical Cyclopedia - Angels;  
Every Day Light - Devotion for October 30;  

Adam Clarke Commentary

The mystery - That is, the allegorical explanation of the seven stars is the seven angels or ministers of the Churches; and the allegorical meaning of the seven golden lamps is the seven Churches themselves.

  1. In the seven stars there may be an allusion to the seals of different offices under potentates, each of which had its own particular seal, which verified all instruments from that office; and as these seals were frequently set in rings which were worn on the fingers, there may be an allusion to those brilliants set in rings, and worn επι της δεξιας, Upon the right hand. In Jeremiah 22:24, Coniah is represented as a signet on the right hand of the Lord; and that such signets were in rings see Genesis 38:18, Genesis 38:25; Exodus 18:11; Daniel 6:17, Haggai 2:23. On close examination we shall find that all the symbols in this book have their foundation either in nature, fact, custom, or general opinion. One of the cutchery seals of the late Tippoo Saib, with which he stamped all the commissions of that office, lies now before me; it is cut on silver, in the Taaleck character, and the piece of silver is set in a large gold ring, heavy, but roughly manufactured.
  • The Churches are represented by these lamps; they hold the oil and the fire, and dispense the light. A lamp is not light in itself, it is only the instrument of dispensing light, and it must receive both oil and fire before it can dispense any; so no Church has in itself either grace or glory, it must receive all from Christ its head, else it can dispense neither light nor life.
  • The ministers of the Gospel are signets or seals of Jesus Christ; he uses them to stamp his truth, to accredit it, and give it currency. But as a seal can mark nothing of itself unless applied by a proper hand, so the ministers of Christ can do no good, seal no truth, impress no soul, unless the great owner condescend to use them.
  • How careful should the Church be that it have the oil and the light, that it continue to burn and send forth Divine knowledge! In vain does any Church pretend to be a Church of Christ if it dispense no light; if souls are not enlightened, quickened, and converted in it. If Jesus walk in it, its light will shine both clearly and strongly, and sinners will be converted unto him; and the members of that Church will be children of the light, and walk as children of the light and of the day, and there will be no occasion of stumbling in them.
  • How careful should the ministers of Christ be that they proclaim nothing as truth, and accredit nothing as truth, but what comes from their master!
  • They should also take heed lest, after having preached to others, themselves should be cast-aways; lest God should say unto them as he said of Coniah, As I live, saith the Lord, though Coniah, the son of Jehoiakim, were the Signet Upon My Right Hand, yet would I pluck thee thence.

    On the other hand, if they be faithful, their labor shall not be in vain, and their safety shall be great. He that toucheth them toucheth the apple of God's eye, and none shall be able to pluck them out of his hand. they are the angels and ambassadors of the Lord; their persons are sacred; they are the messengers of the Churches, and the glory of Christ. Should they lose their lives in the work, it will be only a speedier entrance into an eternal glory.

    The rougher the way, the shorter their stay, The troubles that rise Shall gloriously hurry their souls to the skies.

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    Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on Revelation 1:20". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". 1832.

    Albert Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible

    The mystery of the seven stars - On the word “mystery,” see notes on Ephesians 1:9. The word means, properly, “what is hidden, obscure, unknown” - until it is disclosed by one having the ability to do it, or by the course of events. When disclosed, it may be as clear, and as capable of comprehension, as any other truth. The meaning here, as applied to the seven stars, is, that they were symbols, and that their meaning as symbols, without a suitable explanation, would remain hidden or unknown. They were designed to represent important truths, and John was directed to write down what they were intended in the circumstances to signify, and to send the explanation to the churches. It is evidently implied that the meaning of these symbols would be beyond the ordinary powers of the human mind to arrive at with certainty, and hence John was directed to explain the symbol. The general and obvious truths which they would serve to convey would be that the ministers of the churches, and the churches themselves, were designed to be lights in the world, and should burn clearly and steadily. Much important truth would be couched under these symbols, indeed, if nothing had been added in regard to their signification as employed here by the Saviour; but there were particular truths of great importance in reference to each of these “stars” and “lampbearers,” which John was more fully to explain.

    Which thou sawest in my right hand - Greek, “upon my right hand” - ἐπὶ τῆς δεξιᾶς μου epi tēs dexias mougiving some support to the opinion that the stars, as they were seen, appeared to be placed on his hand - that is, on the palm of his hand as he stretched it out. The expression in Revelation 1:16 is, that they were “in ( ἐν en) his right hand”; but the language used here is not decisive as to the position of the stars. They may have been held in some way by the hand, or represented as scattered on the open hand,

    The seven golden candlesticks - The truth which these emblematic representations are designed to convey.

    The seven stars are - That is, they represent, or they denote - in accordance with a common usage in the Scriptures. See the notes on Matthew 26:26.

    The angels of the seven churches - Greek, “Angels of the seven churches:” the article being missing. This does not refer to them as a collective or associated body, for the addresses are made to them as individuals - an epistle being directed to “the angel” of each particular church, Revelation 2:1, Revelation 2:12, etc. The evident meaning, however, is, that what was recorded should be directed to them, not as pertaining to them exclusively as individuals, but as presiding over or representing the churches, for what is recorded pertains to the churches, and was evidently designed to be laid before them. It was for the churches, but was committed to the “angel” as representing the church, and to be communicated to the church under his care. There has been much diversity of opinion in regard to the meaning of the word “angels” here. By the advocates of Episcopacy, it has been argued that the use of this term proves that there was a presiding bishop over a circle or group of churches in Ephesus, in Smyrna, etc., since it is said that it cannot be supposed that there was but a single church in a city so large as Ephesus, or in the other cities mentioned. A full examination of this argument may be seen in my work on the Apostolic Church (pp. 191-199, London edition). The word “angel” properly means a messenger, and is thus applied to celestial beings as messengers sent forth from God to convey or to do his will. This being the common meaning of the word, it may be employed to denote anyone who is a messenger, and hence, with propriety, anyone who is employed to communicate the will of another; to transact his business, or, more remotely, to act in his place - to be a representative. In order to ascertain the meaning of the word as used in this place, and in reference to these churches, it may be remarked:

    (1) That it cannot mean literally an angel, as referring to a heavenly being, for no one can suppose that such a being presided over these churches.

    (2) it cannot be shown to mean, as Lord (in loco) supposes, messengers that the churches had sent to John, and that these letters were given to them to be returned by them to the churches; for:

    (a)there is no evidence that any such messenger had been sent to John;

    (b)there is no probability that while he was a banished exile in Patmos such a thing would be permitted;

    (c)the message was not sent by them, it was sent to them “Unto the angel of the church in Ephesus write,” etc.

    (3) it cannot be proved that the reference is to a prelatical bishop presiding over a group or circle of churches, called a diocese; for:

    (a) There is nothing in the word “angel,” as used in this connection, which would be especially applicable to such a personage - it being as applicable to a pastor of a single church, as to a bishop of many churches.

    (b) There is no evidence that there were any such groups of churches then as constitute an episcopal diocese.

    (c) The use of the word “church” in the singular, as applied to Ephesus, Smyrna, etc., rather implies that there was but a single church in each of those cities. Compare Revelation 2:1, Revelation 2:8, Revelation 2:12, Revelation 2:18; see also similar language in regard to the church in Corinth, 1 Corinthians 1:2; in Antioch, Acts 13:1; at Laodicea, Colossians 4:16; and at Ephesus, Acts 20:28.

    (d) There is no evidence, as Episcopalians must suppose, that a successor to John had been appointed at Ephesus, if, as they suppose, he was “bishop” of Ephesus; and there is no probability that they would so soon after his banishment show him such a want of respect as to regard the see as vacant, and appoint a successor.

    (e) There is no improbability in supposing that there was a single church in each of these cities - as at Antioch, Corinth, Rome.

    (f) If John was a piclatical “bishop,” it is probable that he was “bishop” of the whole group of churches embracing the seven: yet here, if the word “angel” means “bishop,” we have no less than seven such bishops immediately appointed to succeed him. And,

    (g) the supposition that this refers to prelatical bishops is so forced and unnatural that many Episcopalians are compelled to abandon it. Thus, Stillingfleet - than whom an abler man, or one whose praise is higher in Episcopal churches, as an advocate of prelacy, is not to be found - says of these angels: “If many things in the epistles be directed to the angels, but yet so as to concern the whole body, then, of necessity, the angel must be taken as a representative of the whole body; and then why may not the angel be taken by way of representation of the body itself, either of the whole church, or, which is far more probable, of the concessors, or order of presbyters in this church?”

    (4) if the word does not mean literally “an angel”; if it does not refer to messengers sent to John in Patmos by the churches; and if it does not refer to a prelatical bishop, then it follows that it must refer to someone who presided over the church as its pastor, and through whom a message might be properly sent to the church. Thus understood, the paster or “angel” would be regarded as the representative of the church; that is, as delegated by the church to manage its affairs, and as the authorized person to whom communications should be made in matters pertaining to it - as pastors are now. A few considerations will further confirm this interpretation, and throw additional light on the meaning of the word:

    (a) The word “angel” is employed in the Old Testament to denote a prophet; that is, a minister of religion as sent by God to communicate his will. Thus in Haggai 1:13 it is said, “Then spake Haggai, the Lord‘s messenger (Hebrew: angel, מלאך יהוה mal'ak Yahweh- Septuagint: ἄγγελος κυρίου angelos kuriouin the Lord‘s message unto the people,” etc.

    (b) It is applied to a priest, as one sent by God to execute the functions of that office, or to act in the name of the Lord. Malachi 2:7, “for the priest‘s lips should keep knowledge, for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts” - מלאך יהוה צבאות mal'ak Yahweh tsebaa'owt- that is,” angel of the Lord of hosts.”

    (c) The name prophet is often given in the New Testament to the ministers of religion, as being appointed by God to proclaim or communicate his will to his people, and as occupying a place resembling, in some respects, that of the prophets in the Old Testament.

    (d) There was no reason why the word might not be thus employed to designate a pastor of a Christian church, as well as to designate a prophet or a priest under the Old Testament dispensation.

    (e) The supposition that a pastor of a church is intended will meet all the circumstances of the case; for:

    (1)it is an appropriate appellation;

    (2)there is no reason to suppose that there was more than one church in each of the cities referred to;

    (3)it is a term which would designate the respect in which the office was held;

    (4)it would impress upon those to whom it was applied a solemn sense of their responsibility.

    Further, it would be more appropriately applied to a pastor of a single church than to a prelatical bishop; to the tender, intimate, and endearing relation sustained by a pastor to his people, to the blending of sympathy, interest, and affection, where he is with them continually, meets them frequently in the sanctuary, administers to them the bread of life, goes into their abodes when they axe afflicted, and attends their kindred to the grave, than to the union subsisting between the people of an extended diocese and a prelate - the formal, infrequent, and, in many instances, stately and pompous visitations of a diocesan bishop - to the unsympathizing relation between him and a people scattered in many churches, who are visited at distant intervals by one claiming a “superiority in ministerial rights and powers,” and who must be a stranger to the ten thousand ties of endearment which bind the hearts of a pastor and people together. The conclusion, then, to which we have come is, that the “angel of the church” was the pastor, or the presiding presbyter in the church; the minister who had the pastoral charge of it, and who was therefore a proper representative of it. He was a man who, in some respects, performed the functions which the angels of God do; that is, who was appointed to execute his will, to communicate his message, and to convey important intimations of his purposes to his people. To no one could the communications in this book, intended for the churches, be more properly entrusted than to such an one; for to no one now would a communication be more properly entrusted than to a pastor.

    Such is the sublime vision under which this book opens; such the solemn commission which the penman of the book received. No more appropriate introduction to what is contained in the book could be imagined; no more appropriate circumstances for making such a sublime revelation could have existed. To the most beloved of the apostles, now the only surviving one of the number; to him who had been a faithful laborer for a period not far from 60 years after the death of the Lord Jesus, who had been the bosom friend of the Saviour when in the flesh, who had seen him in the mount of transfiguration, who had seen him die, and who had seen him ascend, into heaven; to him who had lived while the church was founded, and while it had spread into all lands; and to him who was now suffering persecution on account of the Saviour and his cause, it was appropriate that such communications should be made. In a lonely island; far away from the homes of people; surrounded by the ocean, and amid barron rocks; on the day consecrated to the purposes of sacred repose and the holy duties of religion - the day observed in commemoration of the resurrection of his Lord, it was most fit that the Redeemer should appear to the “beloved disciple” in the last Revelation which he was ever to make to mankind. No more appropriate time or circumstance could be conceived for disclosing, by a series of sublime visions, what would occur in future times; for sketching out the history of the church or the consummation of all things.

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    Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Revelation 1:20". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". 1870.

    Coffman Commentaries on the Bible

    The mystery of the seven stars which thou sawest in my right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks. The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches: and the seven candlesticks are seven churches.

    Seven stars are the angels of the seven churches ... All kinds of efforts have been made to identify these "angels" of the seven churches as the ruling bishop, the pastor, the chief elder, or other human representative of the church; but such a view cannot be otherwise than incorrect. As Plummer said:

    Whatever may be the exact conception, "the angel" is identified with and made responsible for the church to a degree wholly unsuited to any human officer ... he is punished with it; he is rewarded with it.[55]

    Erdman, Earle, Plummer, and many many others have understood the angel to be a personification of the church itself; but the best explanation this student has uncovered is that of R. H. Banowsky, thus:

    The angels are the symbolical representatives of the churches ... in toto. The angels then are all those members of the church who are actively engaged in carrying out God's commands ... in any or all congregations throughout the world. Christ holds them in the hollow of his hand and gives them the strength and protection that only He can give.[56]

    In keeping with this interpretation is the fact that in spite of the seven letters being directed in each case to "the angel" of the church, it is not an angel, but the church itself which is addressed. "Hear what the Spirit saith to the churches" is the injunction repeated no less than seven times, applying in each case to the message that was written to "the angel" of the various churches. It is clearly the members of the church who are addressed; hence, the conclusion must be that in some kind of metaphorical language, the members are individually represented under the figure of an angel, that is a star, in Christ's right hand.

    The consideration should also be noted that, if any such thing as a metropolitan "bishop" had been intended by this, there can be no doubt whatever that the primitive church would have preserved this title for "bishop."

    The seven candlesticks are seven churches ... It was noted under Revelation 1:13 that in the vision, these churches are not joined in one corporate unity, as was the case with the Jewish candlestick, familiar to all as depicted on the Arch of Titus. No. They were separate and independent, indicating the autonomy and completeness of each local unit of the church of Christ. Also, there is another lesson to be received from this, when the illustration is compared with the words of Jesus who warned that a person's religious life, his spiritual life, should not be hidden under a bushel, under a bed, or under a vessel; but that it should be put "on a stand!" (Luke 8:16 and its parallels). The application is that a truly spiritual life is always identified with the local congregation of the Lord's people. In plain words, this simply means that every Christian should "put his membership in the church." If he does not do so, he is not likely to have any spiritual life whatever within a very short time.

    It is characteristic of Revelation that, even after it has been "explained," the mystery and uncertainty often remain. It must be admitted that the interpretation we have received concerning the "angels" of the churches still leaves many questions about it. Significantly, this is true even after the heavenly voice has itself told us what the stars in Jesus' hand represent. For those interested in a further pursuit of this, Beckwith has given a somewhat extensive review of the various solutions proposed by scholars. He concluded the review with the solution that both the lampstand and the angels represent the churches. "The lampstand represents the outward organic life of the church; the star symbolizes the angel which is the invisible spiritual life of the congregation."[57]

    [55] A. Plummer, op. cit., p. 8.

    [56] R. H. Banowsky, The Revelation of the Holy City (Fort Worth, Texas: The J. E. Snelson Printing Company, 1967), p. 12.

    [57] Isbon T. Beckwith, op. cit., p. 446.

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    Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Revelation 1:20". "Coffman Commentaries on the Bible". Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.

    John Gill's Exposition of the Whole Bible

    The mystery of the seven stars which thou sawest in my right hand,.... The sense is, that John was to write the mystery of these stars, or the mystical sense of them:

    and the seven golden candlesticks; the mystery, or mysterious sense of them also; for the words are in a continued connection with Revelation 1:19, and have respect to the following interpretation of them, and to the epistles in the following chapter, which are mystical, and prophetical of the state of the churches in all succeeding ages:

    the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches; that is, the seven stars which John saw in Christ's right hand, represent the angels, or pastors of the seven churches of Asia, and in them all the pastors and ministers of the churches in all the periods of time until Christ's second coming. Here it may be observed, that the ministers of the Gospel are not only compared to "stars", for which see Gill on Revelation 1:16; but likewise to "angels", which signifies "messengers", as ministers are sent forth by Christ with the message of the Gospel to publish to the sons of men; and as the angels are Christ's ministering spirits, so are the preachers of the Gospel the ministers of Christ, that wait upon him and serve him in the ministry of the word, and in the administration of ordinances; and there is some agreement between them in holiness, knowledge, zeal, diligence, and watchfulness, in their work; as also they may be so called for the honour and esteem in which they are, both with Christ and his churches; and who like the angels rejoice at the conversion of sinners, and the enlargement of the interest of Christ:

    and the seven candlesticks which thou sawest are the seven churches; represent the seven churches, of Asia, and in them all the churches of Christ, in successive ages, to the end of time; the reasons why these are signified by "candlesticks"; see Gill on Revelation 1:12; and that they are prophetic of the churches of Christ in the several periods of time, until he comes again, will appear from the following considerations: the whole book is called a prophecy, and a revelation of things that were shortly to come to pass, and it would be very strange, and very unsuitable to its title, should the three first chapters contain nothing prophetic in them; the characters of the divine Person under which these seven churches are saluted, as he which is, and was, and is to come, the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, show that the things written to them belong to the Gospel church state, from the beginning to the end of it, for what other reason can be given for such a peculiar use of them? the very grand and illustrious appearance of Christ, antecedent to these epistles, when compared with the appearance of God, previous to the opening of the sealed book, and the seven seals of it, may induce one to conclude, that as the latter introduces the book prophecy in this revelation, so the former introduces the church prophecy; nor does it seem that such a magnificent appearance is necessary to the bare sending of some letters of advice to some particular churches: moreover, as there are some things in these epistles too common to all the churches and ministers to be restrained to some particular ones, such as Christ's affording his presence among them, signified by his walking amidst the candlesticks, and his care of, and respect unto the ministers of the Gospel, expressed by holding seven stars in his right hand; for can it be thought that Christ only granted his presence to the seven churches in Asia? or that the pastors of those churches were the only ones Christ holds in his right hand? so there are others too particular to certain periods to belong to those churches, as that Smyrna should have a crown of life, Pergamos hidden manna and a white stone, Thyatira the morning star, and Philadelphia be delivered from a temptation that would reach all the world, and is not yet come; for which no reason can be given in the literal sense of these epistles; and it is strange that only seven churches should be sent to, and these only in Asia; why not to the churches in Africa and Europe? and these churches also, all but Ephesus, very obscure ones; why not to the churches at Antioch, Corinth, Rome, &c. and it is stranger still, if, as Epiphanius saysF23Contra Haeres. l. 2. Haeres. 51. , there was no church at Thyatira till after the writing of these letters: nothing can account for all this but their being prophetic, there being something in the number, names, situation, and case of these churches, which were emblematical of the state of the church in successive periods of time; to which may be added, that the epiphonema at the close of every epistle, "he that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches", shows that each epistle to every church is not designed for that church only, but for churches; and for what churches but for those who are represented in that period of time, since they must be unsuitable to one another? and besides, this concluding sentence shows, that what is contained in each epistle is something intricate, abstruse, and parabolical, it being only used when some such thing is delivered; see Matthew 11:15. There is one observation more to be made, and which runs through all the epistles, and that is, that the names of the several churches, and the titles which Christ assumes in writing to each, as well as the subject matter of the epistles, have respect to the several distinct periods of the church; all which will more clearly appear in the following notes upon them,

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    Gill, John. "Commentary on Revelation 1:20". "The New John Gill Exposition of the Entire Bible". 1999.

    Geneva Study Bible

    14 The mystery of the seven stars which thou sawest in my right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks. The seven stars are the l angels of the seven churches: and the seven candlesticks which thou sawest are the seven churches.

    (14) That is, the thing which was mystical signified by the particulars of the vision before going.

    (l) By angels he means the ministers of the Church.

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    Beza, Theodore. "Commentary on Revelation 1:20". "The 1599 Geneva Study Bible". 1599-1645.

    Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible

    inGreek,upon My right hand.”

    the mystery  …  candlesticks — in apposition to, and explaining, “the things which thou hast seen,” governed by “Write.” Mystery signifies the hidden truth, veiled under this symbol, and now revealed; its correlative is revelation. Stars symbolize lordship (Numbers 24:17; compare Daniel 12:3, of faithful teachers; Revelation 8:10; Revelation 12:4; Judges 1:13).

    angels — not as Alford, from Origen [Homily 13 on Luke, and Homily 20 on Numbers], the guardian angels of the churches, just as individuals have their guardian angels. For how could heavenly angels be charged with the delinquencies laid here to the charge of these angels? Then, if a human angel be meant (as the Old Testament analogy favors, Haggai 1:13, “the Lord‘s Messenger in the Lord‘s message”; Malachi 2:7; Malachi 3:1), the bishop, or superintendent pastor, must be the angel. For whereas there were many presbyters in each of the larger churches (as for example, Ephesus, Smyrna, etc.), there was but one angel, whom, moreover, the Chief Shepherd and Bishop of souls holds responsible for the spiritual state of the Church under him. The term angel, designating an office, is, in accordance with the enigmatic symbolism of this book, transferred from the heavenly to the earthly superior ministers of Jehovah; reminding them that, like the heavenly angels above, they below should fulfil God‘s mission zealously, promptly and efficiently. “Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven!”

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    Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Revelation 1:20". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible". 1871-8.

    William Godbey's Commentary on the New Testament

    20. The seven candlesticks are the seven Churches. From these Scriptures we see the sanctified, Holy Ghost religion is the essence of the Church; and Jesus holds the sanctified pastor in His right hand. When a Church falls below these conditions, she is no longer the Church of God.

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    Godbey, William. "Commentary on Revelation 1:20". "William Godbey's Commentary on the New Testament".

    Robertson's Word Pictures in the New Testament

    The mystery of the seven stars (το μυστηριον των επτα αστερωνto mustērion tōn hepta asterōn). On the word μυστηριονmustērion see note on Matthew 13:11; and note on 2 Thessalonians 2:7; and note on Colossians 1:26. Here it means the inner meaning (the secret symbol) of a symbolic vision (Swete) as in Revelation 10:7; Revelation 13:18; Revelation 17:7, Revelation 17:9; Daniel 2:47. Probably the accusative absolute (Charles), “as for the mystery” (Robertson, Grammar, pp. 490, 1130), as in Romans 8:3. This item is picked out of the previous vision (Revelation 1:16) as needing explanation at once and as affording a clue to what follows (Revelation 2:1, Revelation 2:5).

    Which (ουςhous). Masculine accusative retained without attraction to case of αστερωνasterōn (genitive, ωνhōn).

    In my right hand (επι της δεχιας μουepi tēs dexias mou). Or “upon,” but εν τηιen tēi etc., in Revelation 1:16.

    And the seven golden candlesticks (και τας επτα λυχνιας τας χρυσαςkai tas hepta luchnias tas chrusās). “The seven lampstands the golden,” identifying the stars of Revelation 1:16 with the lampstands of Revelation 1:12. The accusative case here is even more peculiar than the accusative absolute μυστηριονmustērion since the genitive λυχνιωνluchniōn after μυστηριονmustērion is what one would expect. Charles suggests that John did not revise his work.

    The angels of the seven churches (αγγελοι των επτα εκκλησιωνaggeloi tōn hepta ekklēsiōn). Anarthrous in the predicate (angels of, etc.). “The seven churches” mentioned in Revelation 1:4, Revelation 1:11. Various views of αγγελοςaggelos here exist. The simplest is the etymological meaning of the word as messenger from αγγελλωaggellō (Matthew 11:10) as messengers from the seven churches to Patmos or by John from Patmos to the churches (or both). Another view is that αγγελοςaggelos is the pastor of the church, the reading την γυναικα σουtēn gunaika sou (thy wife) in Revelation 2:20 (if genuine) confirming this view. Some would even take it to be the bishop over the elders as επισχοποςepiscopos in Ignatius, but a separate αγγελοςaggelos in each church is against this idea. Some take it to be a symbol for the church itself or the spirit and genius of the church, though distinguished in this very verse from the churches themselves (the lampstands). Others take it to be the guardian angel of each church assuming angelic patrons to be taught in Matthew 18:10; Acts 12:15. Each view is encompassed with difficulties, perhaps fewer belonging to the view that the “angel” is the pastor.

    Are seven churches (επτα εκκλησιαι εισινhepta ekklēsiai eisin). These seven churches (Revelation 1:4, Revelation 1:11) are themselves lampstands (Revelation 1:12) reflecting the light of Christ to the world (Matthew 5:14-16; John 8:12) in the midst of which Christ walks (Revelation 1:13).

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    Robertson, A.T. "Commentary on Revelation 1:20". "Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament". Broadman Press 1932,33. Renewal 1960.

    Vincent's Word Studies

    Mystery ( μυστήριον )

    See on Matthew 13:11. Depending in construction upon the verb write, and in apposition with the things which thou sawest.


    Symbols of pre-eminence and authority. See Numbers 24:17; Daniel 12:3. False teachers are wandering stars (Judges 1:13). Compare Isaiah 14:12.

    Angels ( ἄγγελοι )

    The exact meaning of the term here is uncertain. The following are the principal interpretations:

    1. The officials known as angels or messengers of the synagogue, transferred to the Christian Church. These were mere clerks or readers; so that their position does not answer to that of the angels presiding over the churches. There is, besides, no trace of the transfer of that office to the Christian Church.

    2. Angels proper Heavenly guardians of the churches. This is urged on the ground that the word is constantly used in Revelation of a heavenly being; by reference to the angels of the little ones (Matthew 18:10), and to Peter's angel (Acts 12:15). It is urged that, if an individual may have a guardian angel, so may a Church. Reference is also made to the tutelar national angels of Daniel 10:21; Daniel 12:1.

    But why should the seer be instructed to write to heavenly messengers, with exhortations to repentance and fidelity, and describing them as “rich,” “poor,” “lukewarm,” etc. (Revelation 2:4; Revelation 3:1, Revelation 3:16)?

    3. The angels are a personification of the churches themselves: the Church being spoken of as if concentrated in its angel or messenger. But in Revelation 1:20, they are explicitly distinguished from the golden candlesticks, the churches.

    4. The rulers ard teachers of the congregation. These are compared by Daniel (Daniel 12:3) to stars. See Malachi 2:7, where the priest is called the messenger (angel) of the Lord; and Malachi 3:1, where the same word is used of the prophet. See also Haggai 1:13. Under this interpretation two views are possible. (a) The angels are Bishops; the word ἄγγελος sometimes occurring in that sense (as in Jerome and Socrates). This raises the question of the existence of episcopacy towards the close of the first century. (b) The word is used of the ministry collectively; the whole board of officers, including both presbyters and deacons, who represented and were responsible for the moral condition of the churches. See Acts 20:17, Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:1-5.

    Dr. Schaff says: “This phraseology of the Apocalypse already looks towards the idea of episcopacy in its primitive form, that is, to a monarchical concentration of governmental form in one person, bearing a patriarchal relation to the congregation, and responsible in an eminent sense for the spiritual condition of the whole … . But even in this case we must insist on an important distinction between the 'angels' of the Book of Revelation and the later diocesan Bishops. For aside from the very limited extent of their charges, as compared with the large territory of most Greek, Roman Catholic, and Anglican Bishops, these angels stood below the Apostles and their legates, and were not yet invested with the great power (particularly the right to confirm and ordain) which fell to the later Bishops after the death of the Apostles … . The angels, accordingly, if we are to understand by them single individuals, must be considered as forming the transition from the presbyters of the apostolic age to the Bishops of the second century” (“History of the Apostolic Church”).

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    Vincent, Marvin R. DD. "Commentary on Revelation 1:20". "Vincent's Word Studies in the New Testament". Charles Schribner's Sons. New York, USA. 1887.

    Wesley's Explanatory Notes

    The mystery of the seven stars which thou sawest in my right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks. The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches: and the seven candlesticks which thou sawest are the seven churches.

    Write first the mystery - The mysterious meaning of the seven stars - St. John knew better than we do, in how many respects these stars were a proper emblem of those angels: how nearly they resembled each other, and how far they differed in magnitude, brightness, aa& other circumstances.

    The seven stars are angels of the seven churches — Mentioned in the eleventh verse. Revelation 1:11 In each church there was one pastor or ruling minister, to whom all the rest were subordinate. This pastor, bishop, or overseer, had the peculiar care over that flock: on him the prosperity of that congregation in a great measure depended, and he was to answer for all those souls at the judgment seat of Christ.

    And the seven candlesticks are seven churches — How significant an emblem is this! For a candlestick, though of gold, has no light of itself; neither has any church, or child of man. But they receive from Christ the light of truth, holiness, comfort, that it may shine to all around them. As soon as this was spoken St. John wrote it down, even all that is contained in this first chapter. Afterwards what was contained in the second and third chapters was dictated to him in like manner.

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    Scofield's Reference Notes


    The natural explanation of the "messengers" is that they were men sent by the seven churches to ascertain the state of the aged apostle, now an exile in Patmos (cf) Philippians 4:18 but they figure any who bear God's messages to a church.


    The messages to the seven churches have a fourfold application:

    (1) Local, to the churches actually addressed;

    (2) admonitory, to all churches in all time as tests by which they may discern their true spiritual state in the sight of God;

    (3) personal, in the exhortations to him "that hath an ear," and in the promise "to him that overcometh";

    (4) prophetic, as disclosing seven phases of the spiritual history of the church from, say, A.D. 96 to the end. It is incredible that in a prophecy covering the church period, there should be no such foreview. These messages must contain that foreview if it is in the book at all, for the church does not appear after Revelation 3:22. Again, these messages by their very terms go beyond the local assemblies mentioned. Most conclusively of all, these messages do present an exact foreview of the spiritual history of the church, and in this precise order. Ephesus gives the general state at the date of the writing; Smyrna, the period of the great persecutions; Pergamos, the church settled down in the world, "where Satan's throne is," after the conversion of Constantine, say A.D. 316. Thyatira is the Papacy, developed out of the Pergamos state: Balaamism (worldliness) and Nicolaitanism (priestly assumption) having conquered. As Jezebel brought idolatry into Israel, so Romanism weds Christian doctrine to pagan ceremonies. Sardis is the Protestant Reformation, whose works were not "fulfilled." Philadelphia is whatever bears clear testimony to the Word and the Name in the time of self-satisfied profession represented by Laodicea.

    mystery (See Scofield "Matthew 13:11").

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    John Trapp Complete Commentary

    20 The mystery of the seven stars which thou sawest in my right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks. The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches: and the seven candlesticks which thou sawest are the seven churches.

    Ver. 20. The mystery] In this whole book there are so many words, so many mysteries, which made Cajetan forbear to comment upon it; {a} though many monks (far less able than he) thought it a goodly thing to be meddling in these mysteries, which they as little understood as he that derived Apocalypsis of απο, re, et clipsor, quod est velo, quoth Faber the Augustinian monk.

    Are the angels] Ministers are fitly called stars, which affect these inferior things by motion, light, and influence.

    Are the seven churches] Lighted by Christ the High Priest morning and evening continually; and thereby as much differenced from the rest of the world, as Goshen was from Egypt in that palpable darkness. But now (alas) they have sinned away the light, and are fearfully darkened. Let us take heed how we put our light, not under a bushel but under a dunghill, as do our libertines, so that we may well cry out with Polycarp, Deus, ad quae nos tempora reservasti? Lord, what times are these?

    {a} Apocalypsim fateor me nescire exponere iuxta sensum literalem: exponat cui Deus concesserit.

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    Sermon Bible Commentary

    Revelation 1:20

    Note the fitness of the symbol of the golden candlestick.

    I. In its position. The golden candlestick stood within the Holy of holies, hidden from the view of all without by the curtain, formed in blending shades of blue, scarlet, and purple, curiously embroidered with figures of cherubim. The high-priest was guided by its soft yet steady light when he entered the holy place once every year to make atonement for the sins of the people. The Church of Christ still waits without the veil, and sheds a blessed light to show the world the Saviour.

    II. Again, the symbol of the golden candlestick reminds us very beautifully of the office of the Church. It does not sanctify, nor save, but it does hold forth the true light and shed its brightness on a darkened world. The Holy of holies had no window to let in the light, and had the golden candlestick been taken away, or its lamps left untrimmed, all would have been profoundest darkness. How eloquently does this symbol speak of the necessity for the Church to stand up as the light-bearer of Him who is "the Light of the world."

    III. The golden candlestick symbolically taught the unity of the Church. The seven branches were not separate lamp-bearers, but parts of the same candlestick, the seven lights all blending harmoniously into one. And so with the several apostolic branches of the Holy Catholic Church: all belong to Christ, and borrow light from Him.

    IV. Again, the symbolical teaching of the text points out the source of life to the Church. Day by day the golden lamp was supplied with fresh oil by the attendant priest—oil made from olives bruised in a mortar. Even the consecrated lamp, set apart for the uses of the sanctuary, required to be constantly fed. In like manner the Church would be left in darkness and gloom should the illuminating grace of the Holy Spirit be withdrawn.

    V. The symbol suggests the beauty of the Church and its holy services.

    VI. The image of the text reminds us of the value of the Church.

    J. N. Norton, Golden Truths, p. 105.

    Reference: Revelation 1:20.—Expositor, 1st series, vol. viii., p. 202.

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    Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary

    20.] the mystery of the seven stars which thou sawest upon (held in, and so standing over, as a wreath) my right hand ( τὸ μυστ. is in apposition with ἃ εἶδες κ. τ. λ., and governed by γράψον. Lyra interprets the word well, “sacramentum stellarum,” i. e. “sacrum secretum per ipsas significatum:” see reff.), and the seven candlesticks of gold (elliptic construction for ‘and the mystery of the seven candlesticks,’ &c.). The seven stars are (the) (the prefixed predicate ἄγγελοι, though on that account wanting the article, is rendered definite by the definite gen., τῶν ἑπτ. ἐκκ., which follows) angels of the seven churches: and the seven candlesticks are seven churches (the import of the ἄγγελοι has been much disputed. Very many Commentators take them for the presiding presbyters, or bishops, of the churches. So Primas(12), Bed(13), Joach., Lyra, Alcas., Corn.-a-lap., Ribera, Bossuet, Beza, Grot., Calov., al. m. So also Vitr., Whitby, and with some modification, Hengst. This view is variously supported. It derives probability from the analogy of the vision itself, in which, seeing that the candelabra represent the churches themselves, existing vessels containing much light, the stars, concentrated sparks of light, should represent some actually existing persons in or connected with the churches. Again it is supported by our finding that throughout the seven Epistles the angel is treated as representing and responsible for the particular church. But before we pass on to the other great section of interpretation, we may at once dismiss those forms of this one which make ἄγγελος the ideal representative of the governing body (as Hengst.), or an ideal messenger from the church (as Ebrard), or a proleptic idea of the office of Bishop, not yet instituted, as Rothe, or, in short, any idealism at all. As the ἐκκλησία is an objective reality, so must the ἄγγελος be, of whatever kind. This consideration will also affect the current of interpretation which takes the angels to be the churches themselves. So Andreas and Arethas (in Cat.,— ἄγγελον τῆς ἐφέσου, τὴν ἐν αὐτῇ ἐκκλησίαν λέγει. οὐ γὰρ ὁ προστατῶν ἄγγελος ἡμαρτήκει, ὥστε δεῖν ἀκοῦσαι μετανόησον, ὁ διʼ ἁγιότητα ἐν τῇ δεξιᾷ τοῦ κυρίου ὑπάρχων ἀστὴρ ὢντίς δὲ καὶ χρεία γράφειν τῷ ἐν τῇ δεξιᾷ τοῦ διαλεγομένου παρόντι; κ. τ. λ.). The second line of interpretation is that which regards the ἄγγελοι as angels, in some way representing the churches. In favour of this is 1) the constant usage of this book, in which the word ἄγγελος occurs only in this sense: 2) the further usage of this book, in which we have, ch. Revelation 16:5, the ἄγγελος τῶν ὑδάτων introduced without any explanation, who can be none other than the angel presiding over the waters: 3) the expression of our Lord Himself Matthew 18:10, οἱ ἄγγελοι αὐτῶν ἐν τῷ οὐρανῷ διὰ παντὸς βλέπουσιν τὸ πρόσωπον τοῦ πατρός μου τοῦ ἐν οὐρανοῖς, coupled with the saying of the church in the house of Mary the mother of John Mark, Acts 12:15, with regard to their disbelief of Peter standing at the door, ὁ ἄγγελός ἐστιν αὐτοῦ: both asserting the doctrine that angels are allotted to persons, and are regarded as representing them: a subject full of mystery, and requiring circumspect treatment, but by no means to be put aside, as is commonly done. 4) The extension of this from individuals to nations in the book of Daniel, which is so often the key to apocalyptic interpretation. See Daniel 10:21; Daniel 12:1; an analogy according to which there might well be angels not only of individuals, but of churches. 5) The fact that throughout these Epistles, nothing is ever addressed individually as to a teacher, but as to some one person reflecting as it were the complexion and fortunes of the church in a way in which no mere human teacher or ruler could. That there is no exception to this in ch. Revelation 2:20, see maintained in note there.

    6) To the objection advanced in the comment of Arethas above, οὐ γὰρ ὁ προστατῶν ἄγγελος ἡμαρτήκει κ. τ. λ., the reply may be made, with advantage to this interpretation, that there evidently is revealed to us a mysterious connexion between ministering angels and those to whom they minister, by which the former in some way are tinged by the fates and fortunes of the latter. E. g., in our Lord’s saying cited above, the place of dignity there asserted of the angels of the little children is unquestionably connected with the character of those whose angels they are: and it cannot be following out such a revelation too far to say that, if some of the holy angels are thus and for this reason advanced to honour, others may be similarly, and for the opposite reason, placed in less honour and relatively disgraced. That this idea is found expressed in the Rabbinical writings (see in Wetst.) is a mark of the further development of the truth which seems to have been first revealed to Daniel 7) It will be perceived that this interpretation does not lie under any of the objections stated above as idealizing that which ought to be an objective reality. For it contemplates the angels of the churches as really existent, not as ideal beings. It is only when this latter is the case, that those objections can apply. 8) It will also be perceived, that both the circumstances, which were cited as making for the former interpretation, tell equally for this: viz. a) that just noticed, the actual existence of these persons in or belonging to the churches, and b) the fact that in the Epistles the angel is treated as representing and responsible for the particular church.

    So that I cannot but regard this second view as far the more likely one. It has been taken by Origen, Greg.-Naz(14), Jerome, Andr(15), Areth(16) (in Catena: holding as above, the churches themselves to be virtually meant, inasmuch as the angel himself could not need repentance, &c.: but never doubting that by ἄγγελοι the angels are meant), Wetst., Züllig, Wahl, Bretschneider, Bleek, De Wette (see above), al.

    The attempt to defend the interpretation of ἄγγελοι as bishops by the analogy of the שליח צבור, legatus Ecclesiæ, in the synagogue, appears to be futile, inasmuch as that officer held quite an inferior place, in no way corresponding to a bishop, or any kind of president of the church.

    I may also notice, that the weight laid by Brightmann, al., and recently by Ebrard, on the omission of the art. before ἄγγελοι is worth nothing (see the rendering above). Such a sentence as Ebr. suggests in case ἄγγελοι had been definite, οἱ ἑπτ. ἀστ. οἱ ἄγγελοι τῶν ἐκκ. εἰσιν, could hardly be written in Greek: it would have stood εἰσὶν οἱ ἀγγ. τῶν ἐκκλ. The fact, that each succeeding epistle is addressed τῷ ἀγγέλῳ τῆς ἐν.… ἐκκλησίας, should have guided Commentators aright in this matter.

    As regards the symbolism, stars are the symbols of the angels of the churches, inasmuch as angels are beings of light, Hebrews 1:7 (from Psalms 104:4), where see note; Job 38:7, where they are called the morning stars. The same symbolism is used in the prophets of Lucifer, the day-star, the son of the morning, Isaiah 14:12 ff., who would exalt his throne above the stars of God, ib. Isaiah 14:13; Revelation 12:4; Revelation 12:9. See also Luke 10:18. That stars are also used to symbolize earthly authorities, is what might be expected from the very nature of the symbol, and should never have been alleged here as a reason against the literal interpretation of ἄγγελοι.

    The churches themselves are represented by candlesticks, agreeably with the universal symbolism both of the prophetic and evangelic Scriptures. Cf. Proverbs 4:18; Isaiah 60:1; Isaiah 60:3; Matthew 5:14; Matthew 5:16; Luke 12:35; Philippians 2:15).

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    Heinrich Meyer's Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament

    Revelation 1:20. τὸ μυστήριον τῶν ἑπτὰ ἀστέρων, κ. τ. λ., is to be regarded as dependent upon γράψον. This idea is already correctly explained by N. de Lyra: “the sacrament of the stars, i.e., the sacred secret signified by them.” ΄υστήριον and ἀποκάλυφις are correlate ideas; for a μυστήριον is all that man understands, not by himself, but only by divine publication and interpretation,(848) such as immediately follows.(849) When, now, John has seen the mystery of the seven stars which are at the Lord’s right hand,(850) and is to write of the mystery of the seven golden candlesticks, this is in no way undone by the second half of Revelation 1:20, where only the simple explanation of the mysterious symbol is given. As the words τὸ μυστηρ.

    χρυσᾶς(851) are formally equivalent to the words εἶδες

    ταῦτα, so, also, the mystery of the seven stars and candlesticks in substance corresponds thereto. The command to write this mystery is fulfilled by nothing else than the entire book: for the prophetic development of the hope of the victorious completion of the Church of Christ by his return depends upon the mystery of the seven stars in Christ’s hand, and the seven candlesticks in whose midst Christ walks; i.e., that Christ is the protector of his Church, vanquishing all enemies. This consolatory hope, perceptible only to believers, is the chief matter in the mystery of the stars and candlesticks which the prophet beholds, and whose meaning he is to testify to the churches.(852) If now, before the mystery of the seven stars with the entire treasures of prophetic admonition, warning, and comfort, be stated in this sense,(853) an express interpretation of the symbols beheld by John be given,(854) this is just the key to the entire mystery,—the fundamental meaning, from which the correct application of all that follows depends. The essential meaning of the two symbols is unmistakable: the candlesticks are an easily understood figure of the churches,(855) which have received their light from Christ, and continue to be sustained by the Lord, who walks in their midst.(856) An allied idea must lie, however the ἄγγελοι be understood, in the symbol of the stars in Christ’s right hand, whereby, at all events, the ἄγγελοι of the churches are described, and that in such a way that to the churches themselves belongs(857) what is ascribed to their angels.(858) So far, all interpreters are unanimous. The controversy centres upon the word ἄγγελοι. This must mean either “messenger”(859) or “angel.” To the former meaning, Ebrard holds, by understanding messengers of the churches to John: not “ordinary letter-carriers, but delegates of the churches, who report to him, and are again to convey his apostolic prophecies to the churches; who therefore hold a similar position between him and the churches to that which Epaphroditus probably held between Paul and the Philippians;”(860) yet these messengers are represented as existing not in reality, but “only in vision.” “Beneath the stars, John is to regard himself the ambassador of the churches.” Against the unnaturalness of such an opinion, Vitr.,(861) Wolf, Schöttgen, Beng., Eichh., Heinr.,(862) Ewald, etc., have guarded, who understand the “messenger” of the Christian churches, after the manner of the Jewish שְׁלִיחֵ צִבּוּר, of an officer subordinate to the priest, who has to read, pray, and care for external matters of many kinds. But apart from the question as to whether this messenger of the synagogue existed already in apostolic times, the same can only with difficulty be regarded a type of the Christian bishop or elder; for only that officer, and not the deacon,(863) dare at any rate be regarded such representative of the entire church, as the ἄγγελος appears in the seven epistles. The latter view is taken by those who, appealing to Malachi 2:7; Malachi 3:1,(864) and, as to what refers to the symbol of the stars, to Daniel 12:3, understand the ἄγγελοι, i.e., angels, as superintendents (Vorsteher), teachers, as bishops or presbyters.(865) So also R. Rothe,(866) who, however, in the angels of the churches perceives only “a prolepsis of bishops in the idea,” i.e., regards the bishops as an ideal whose realization is still to be expected. Here finally belongs, also, Hengstenb., who nevertheless(867) regards the angels of every individual church, not as an individual, but as “the entire church government,” i.e., the body of presbyters,—eventually with a bishop at the head,—together with the deacons. This manner of exposition, which in its original simplicity always commends itself more than in its elaborate modifications by Rothe and Hengstb., is at variance partly with the use of the word ἄγγελος otherwise in the Apoc., and partly with the decisive circumstance, that, in the epistles which are directed to the ἄγγελος of each congregation, the relations of the congregations themselves are so definitely and directly treated, that, for the full explanation of this appearance, the view that the bishops or the entire governing body of the church are the representatives of their churches, besides not being in itself entirely justified, is not at all sufficient. Thus the view still remains, that, as Andr. and Areth. already say, the angel of the church is the church itself. In a certain analogy with Revelation 14:18, Revelation 16:5,(868) where the angel of the elements, as the nations and the individuals are called, the ἄγγελος of a church can be regarded(869) the personified spirit of the church.(870) This conception is not identical with that of the ἄγγεγος ἔφορος,(871) according to which, e.g., among the rabbins, the fundamental principle obtains, “God does not punish any people below without first casting down its chief from above,”(872) but has been formed in dependence thereon.(873) Against this, the objection cannot be made valid, that the article is absent before ἄγγελοι: for the question has to do only with what is comprised in ἄγγελοι τ. ἐκκλ., which is symbolized by the figure of the stars, without its being expressly marked here that the seven stars signify at any time one angel of the seven churches; just as, in the succeeding words, it is only expressly said that the seven candlesticks mean the seven churches, but not that the precise churches mentioned in Revelation 1:11 are meant. But, as this designation of the conception is self-evident from the connection, so it is clearly inferred, from the superscription of the epistles which follow, that the angels of particular churches are meant. The most plausible objection against our exposition is made by Rothe; viz., that it is not proper, that, by the symbol of the stars, another symbol, viz., that of the angels, should be represented, especially alongside of the real ideas of the churches, which, also represented by a special symbol, are clearly distinguished from the ἄγγελοι τ. εκκλ. But(874) the ἄγγελοι τ. εκκλ. are to be regarded not at all as a symbol, but as—of course ideally—reality; and, according to this conception, to be in fact distinguished from churches that have been observed. If the ἐκκλησία, which is symbolized by the candlesticks, is considered, it appears variously composed of individual elements of various kinds, each of which is especially judged and treated of by the Lord; while, on the other hand, the ἄγγελος τ. ἐκκλησίας appears as the living unity of the one organism of the church, which, as it were, in mass clings to the Lord. Thus it is, that the epistles are directed, not to the angels of the churches, and besides to the churches, as must be expected even according to Rothe’s meaning, but only to the angel of each church; and yet in such way that their entirety as one person, one spiritual body, is declared. [See Note XXVII., p. 125.]

    In conformity with the vision, Revelation 1:12 sqq., and the epistles which in chs. 2 and 3 are directed to the seven churches,(875) must be the answer to the question as to what is the significance of these churches in the sense of the writer of the Apoc. Of the two chief views that are possible, according to which they appear either in purely historical definiteness, or in a certain typical position, the latter in the nature of the case has to be presented with many modifications, which, taken together, depend more or less upon an historical view; while, according to the former view,(876) there is no denial of a more general significance of the seven churches, at least in the sense that the epistles directed to them share the universal ecclesiastical relation of all the apostolic writings to particular congregations.(877) But against this opinion of Hengstenb.,—who, in accordance with his false view of the relation of the section Revelation 1:4 to Revelation 3:22 to the whole book,(878) comprehends the seven churches collectively with the utmost limitation,(879)—is, first, the number seven;(880) and, secondly, the meaning of that vision wherein Christ appears in the midst of the seven candlesticks, i.e., churches, which therefore cannot be without a typical significance, since Christ is Lord and Saviour of all the churches (with which it also harmonizes well, that Christ writes to the angels of the churches; a conception, which, since it is of a more ideal nature, especially adapts itself to the fact that the churches, while appearing in all their historical definiteness, yet at the same time are found in a typical sense); and, thirdly and finally, the contents themselves of the letters, whose pertinence to the universal Church(881) is not only expressly emphasized,(882) but also concurs in its essential leading features with the chief thoughts of the entire book. But the significance of the seven churches is not to be limited to the entire Church of Asia Minor,(883) which only then, through this intermediate member, attains its further reference to the Church universal: rather, in the seven churches, the entire Church of Christ is regarded,(884) since it is a peculiarity of the writer of the Apoc. to present the general and ideal realistically, and in a definite, plastic way.(885) But with this it is also established, that all further determinations which have been connected, even by a play of words, with the names of the individual congregations,(886) are entirely arbitrary. This applies especially to the strange controversy as to whether, in the seven epistles, the conditions of the Church of Christ be understood synchronistically, and that, too, eschatologically, i.e., so that only “at the end of Church history,” immediately before Christ’s return, are we to expect the corresponding forms of Christian Church-life;(887) or whether the prophetically portrayed conditions are to be understood consecutively of seven periods of Church history, succeeding one after another;(888) or, finally, whether they be partly consecutive and partly synchronistic.(889) The sort of foundations upon which such artificial interpretation is supported is shown, e.g., by Ebrard, who explains the first four epistles consecutively, because the promises in them(890) are regarded as derived “from consecutive epochs of O. T. history: Paradise, Death, the Departure from Egypt, the Kingdom of David.” The context shows that John has in view particular circumstances of churches present to him, and therefore that the number seven of these churches is contemplated as a mirror of the entire Church.(891) In a chronological relation, the apocalyptic prophecy of these seven epistles extends just as far, and is limited in the same truly prophetic way, as the apocalyptics of the entire book, which gives the full explanation of the fundamental thought contained already in the vision, Revelation 1:12 sqq., and the epistles belonging thereto; viz., the unfolding of the prophecy, “The Lord cometh.”


    XXVII. Revelation 1:20. ἄγγελοι τῶν ἑπτὰ εκκλησιῶν

    In harmony with Düst., Gebhardt (p. 39): “ ‘The angel of the church’ represents it as a unity, an organization, as a moral person, a living whole, in which one member depends upon and affects the others, in which a definite spirit reigns, and by which one church is distinguished from another.” Lange: “The personified character or life-picture of the Church.”

    Weiss (Bibl. Theol. of N. T., ii. 270) regards the angels of the churches as “their protecting angels.” Alford’s long argument is to the same effect.

    Supporting the view that the angels are the superintendents, pastors, or bishops, are: Cremer (Lexicon): “To see in ἄγγελοι here a personification of the spirit of the community in its ‘ideal reality’ (as again Düsterdieck has recently done), is not merely without any biblical analogy,—for such a view derives no support from Daniel 10:13; Daniel 10:20; Deuteronomy 32:8; LXX.,—but must also plainly appear an abstraction decidedly unfavorable to the import and effect of the epistles. It would have been far more effective, in this case, to have written τῇ ἐνἐκκλησία γράψον. Assuming the ἄγγ. τῶν ἐκκλησ. to be those to whom the churches are intrusted, the only question is, To what sphere do they belong, the terrestrial or the super-terrestrial? Their belonging to the earthly sphere is supported above all by the address of the epistles; secondly, by the circumstance that the writer of the Apocalypse could not act as messenger between two super-terrestrial beings (cf. Revelation 1:1; Revelation 22:6); and, further, by the consideration that, as the candlesticks, so also the stars, must belong to one and the same sphere. But, if by this expression we are to understand men, it is natural to think of Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:2; and that, too, so that these ἐπίσκοποι or πρεσβύτεροι are those whose business it is to execute the will or commission of the Lord, in general as well as in special cases, to the churches, as those whom the Lord has appointed representatives of the churches, and to whom he has intrusted their care: cf. Acts 20:28; Malachi 2:7.” Stier: “Persons who stood before the Lord’s view, as the representative leaders of the church, with or without prominent office, but in prominent spiritual position, and therefore assumed to be the receivers of that which was to be said in the church. They are by no means collectively the ‘teaching order,’ or ‘the eldership,’ or any thing of the kind, but actual individual persons.” Philippi (Kirchl. Glaubenlehre, v. 3, 287): “The ἄγγελος here is neither to be spiritualized as the personification of the spirit of the congregation, nor also to be taken collectively as the entire official body, or presbytery, of the church. But, as the spirit of the congregation is represented in the presbytery, so was the spirit of the presbytery in its official body, or bishop; and therefore he also, as not merely the official, but, at the same time, the spiritual summit of the entire body, is chiefly responsible for its spirit.” Luthardt: “God’s messengers, who speak in God’s name, therefore here die Vorsteher.” Trench argues at length (pp. 75–83) that the term can refer only to a bishop, and that, too, “not merely a ruling elder, a primus inter pares, with only such authority and jurisdiction as the others, his peers, have lent him.” Plumptre: “The word ‘angels’ might well commend itself, at such a time, as fitted to indicate the office for which the received terminology of the Church offered no adequate expression. Over and above its ordinary use, it had been applied by the prophet whose writings had been brought into a new prominence by the ministry of the Baptist, to himself as a prophet (Malachi 1:1), to the priests of Israel (Malachi 2:7), to the forerunner of the Lord (Malachi 3:1). It had been used of those whom, in a lower sense, the Lord had sent to prepare his way before him (Luke 9:52), and whose work stood on the same level as that of the seventy. Here, then, seemed to be that which met the want. So far as it reminded men of its higher sense, it testified that the servants of God, who had been called to this special office, were to ‘lead on earth an angel’s life;’ that they, both in the liturgical and the ministerial aspects of their work, were to be as those who, in both senses, were ‘ministering spirits’ in heaven (Hebrews 1:14). It helped also to bring the language of the Revelation into harmony with that of the great apocalyptic work of the Old Testament, the prophecy of Daniel. On the other hand, we need not wonder that it did not take a permanent place in the vocabulary of the Church. The old associations of the word were too dominant, the difficulty of distinguishing the new from the old too great, to allow of its being generally accepted.” Tait: “This name is not, certainly, applied elsewhere in the New Testament to a bishop, nor is it applied to a presbyter; but it is in perfect accord with the symbolical character of the book in which it occurs, and is admirably adapted to express the nature of the office, and the responsibilities of those to whom the spiritual charge of the several churches was committed.”

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    Meyer, Heinrich. "Commentary on Revelation 1:20". Heinrich Meyer's Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. 1832.

    Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible

    The mystery of the seven stars, and the seven golden candlesticks: see Revelation 1:12,16.

    The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches; that is, they signify the angels of the seven churches. By angels he means God’s messengers and ambassadors to the seven churches, called angels, both in respect of their office, being the ambassadors of Christ, 2 Corinthians 5:20, and of that holiness which they should show forth in their doctrine and life. To interpret the term of angels by nature, seems not agreeable to what we shall hereafter meet with said to some of them; Christ would never have ordered John to have charged them with a loss of their first love, or to admonish them to be faithful unto death, or to repent. Whether the term angel denoteth any particular superior minister or bishop in those churches, or is to be taken collectively for all the ministers in those churches, I shall not dispute. Certain it is, aggelov signifieth no more than is common to all ministers, viz. to be God’s messengers, and move upon his errand.

    And the seven candlesticks which thou sawest are the seven churches; the seven churches mentioned Revelation 1:11: or else, seven being the number of perfection, all the churches, which are fitly represented by candlesticks, in the same sense as they are called pillars of truth in Paul’s Epistle to Timothy, because they have not the light they show from themselves, only hold it forth from Christ. But it is the opinion of very learned writers upon this book, that our Lord, by these seven churches, signifies all the churches of Christ to the end of the world; and by what he saith to them, designs to show what shall be the state of the churches in all ages, and what their duty is. That by the church of Ephesus, was represented the purest state of all the Christian churches, which determined thirty years before this book was written. By the church of Smyrna, the state of all Christian churches till the year 300. By the church of Pergamos, all the Christian churches till antichrist got up into the saddle, and the Albigenses and Waldenses were so persecuted. By the church of Thyatira, the state of the churches from that time till our Reformation. By the other three, the state of all churches for one hundred and fifty years last past, and which shall be to the end of the world. See Dr. More, Mr. Mede, Cocceius, and Forbes, as learned and diligent inquirers into the sense of this book as any have been, who give many reasons for this:

    1. Because no reason else can be given, why epistles should not be written to other churches as well as these.

    2. He doth not call them the seven churches of Asia, but seven churches.

    3. The number seven is a number used to signify perfection.

    4. What is said of Christ’s walking in the midst of the golden candlesticks, having the stars in his right hand, &c., agreeth to him with reference to all churches, not to these seven only.

    5. His calling ministers angels, speaks this a prophecy, for that is a prophetical style.

    6. The mentioning the same number of churches and ministers, as of the seals, speaks this part of the Revelation as comprehensive, with respect to time, as the other.

    7. It is not probable that these epistles would have been ushered in with such a vision, if they had been merely historical and didactic, not prophetical also.

    8. They argue from Revelation 1:19, where John is bid to write not only what is, but what shall come to pass.

    9. They argue from the matter of the epistles.—Let the curious reader see more of this in the authors themselves, as also in Mr. Brightman.

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    Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on Revelation 1:20". Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. 1685.

    Alexander MacLaren's Expositions of Holy Scripture

    Ангелы Буквально слово здесь означает «посыльные». Хотя оно может называть небесных существ и имеет такое значение во всей книге, оно не означает ангела здесь, так как ангелы никогда не являются лидерами церкви. Наиболее вероятно, что ангелы-«посыльные» – это 7 главных, старейшин, каждый из которых представляет одну из 7 церквей (см. пояснение к ст. 16).

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    MacLaren, Alexander. "Commentary on Revelation 1:20". Alexander MacLaren's Expositions of Holy Scripture.

    Justin Edwards' Family Bible New Testament

    The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches; probably their spiritual leaders.

    Are the seven churches; represent them. The fact that Jesus Christ said, "The seven candlesticks are the seven churches," does not require us to believe that a candlestick is literally a church; nor do his words, "This is my body," Matthew 26:26, require us to believe that bread is literally flesh. What he meant in each case, is that one is an emblem of the other; and it is his meaning, not the mere sound of the words, by which we should be governed.

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    Edwards, Justin. "Commentary on Revelation 1:20". "Family Bible New Testament". American Tract Society. 1851.

    Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary


    BLESSED! forever blessed, be God the Father, for the gift of his dear Son Jesus Christ. Blessed! forever blessed, be God the Son, for this gracious revelation of himself to his servant John, to comfort, and instruct the Church. And blessed be God the Holy Ghost, for causing so sweet and precious a record, to be handed down to the Church from generation to generation, of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ. Lord! add a blessing to the whole, and give grace to thy people, that they may hear what the Spirit saith unto the Churches.

    May it be the blessedness and felicity of the Lord's redeemed, to find grace and peace, according to the Apostle's benediction, from Him, which is, and which was, and which is to come. Yea! may the Church daily find all Covenant blessings, from God the Judge of all, from Jesus the Mediator of the New Covenant, and from the influence of the Holy Ghost, in his sevenfold gifts and graces, which are before the throne. Oh! the unspeakable mercy of God in Christ. He who hath made us Kings and Priests, unto God and the Father, having loved us, and washed us from our sins, in his blood!

    Precious Emmanuel! thou who didst bless John with thy presence, and gavest him those blessed revelations, to deliver unto thy Church, condescend to visit thy people now. Thou art still the Alpha and the Omega. Thou art still all the blessedness of thy Church and people. Lord! visit thy Churches. No Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, or Laodicea, ever needed thee more, than the professing Churches of this land, where we dwell. Oh! then, come Lord, and take up thine own cause, lest our Churches, like those of Asia, which are now no more, be desolated, and without inhabitants. If Jesus will come forth with his people, if God the Spirit will ordain ministers, and walk up and down in the midst of his people; then will thy servants be as stars to the right hand of Christ, and his people, like the candlesticks, shining bright with the oil of grace, from Jesus walking in and out among them. Oh! for a little revival in the present day, that the Lord may not remove our candlestick out of its place!

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    Hawker, Robert, D.D. "Commentary on Revelation 1:20". "Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary". 1828.

    Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

    ‘The seven stars are the seven angels of the seven churches. And the seven lampstands are seven churches.’

    What he is to write is here summarised, ‘the mystery of the seven stars which you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands’. And what is that mystery? That the seven stars in His right hand are the (seven) angels of the seven churches, and the lampstands are the seven churches.

    In the Old Testament the sevenfold lampstand was connected with the two sons of oil, the anointed servants of God (Zechariah 4), who received spiritual power from Him. In the New the seven lampstands are connected with seven powerful angels. So the churches can go forward in confident assurance, knowing that the coming Christ is among them and that the angels responsible for their wellbeing are held in His right hand. Though other angels may fail, no one will pluck these from His hand. He has full control over them, as He has over the churches.

    In all this there are no grounds for making chapters 4-19 refer to something that only occurs in the distant future. They are, with the exception of the description of the Second Coming itself, (and like Peter and Paul before them they knew that they had no guarantee of survival to that glorious event), something that the churches will themselves experience This is reinforced by what is actually said to the churches, which includes references to later chapters in Revelation.

    On the other hand it is not necessary, for this reason, to state that chapter 4-19 referonlyto what will happen to the churchesat that time. That they will happen in their near experience does not exclude their happening again and again throughout the period before the Second Coming. John foresaw that the churches would face what is described in the book. He foresaw events of the future. What he did not foresee was that such events would be repeated again and again through the ages at different levels of intensity. This it was not God’s pleasure to reveal. Whenever such things do reoccur His people can be encouraged by this vision.

    Jesus, and the Bible, make clear that the timing of the second coming and therefore the things intrinsically related to it are totally unknown except to God. That timing is such a secret that it was even unknown to Jesus while He was on earth (Mark 13:32). Thus there must always be a valid distinction timewise between those things and the things that occur before. There must indeed always be an unknown gap between them, the extent of which cannot be postulated. Peter can see it in terms of ‘a thousand years’ (2 Peter 3:8). Jesus certainly told men that His coming could not take place until the Temple had been utterly destroyed, for He knew that had to happen. He told them of other things that must take place. But He could give no idea of the time of His return because He specifically stated that He did not know it (Mark 13:32).

    With regard to the view that the seven churches refer to stages in the consecutive condition of the church through the ages, this owes more to subtle selection from history rather than to truth, and to our conceit that the church in the Western world is mainly the one that matters. History is so diverse that any order of the seven churches could have been fitted into history. What is true, however, is that through history different parts of the church have regularly been in a similar condition to that pictured in the seven churches. At any one time all the churches described are typified somewhere. The view has truth in that the central message of Revelation did illuminate events through history.

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    Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable

    Jesus Christ then interpreted the meaning of some of the symbolic things John had seen. They were mysteries, revelations previously unclear until the Lord interpreted them for John. The seven stars represented the messengers of the seven churches. These may have been their angelic guardians. [Note: Swete, p22; Smith, pp57-58; Ladd, p35; Beale, p217.] Some interpreters have taken these angels as expressions of the prevailing spirit that characterized each church. [Note: E.g. Morris, p57; Mounce, p82.] Others view them as the human representatives or leading elders (pastors) of these churches, though "angel" is a strange term to describe an elder. These were probably men such as Epaphroditus, Tychicus, and Onesimus, who went to Rome to visit Paul in prison and carried messages from him to churches ( Philippians 4:18; Colossians 4:7-9). Such representatives may have come to Patmos to visit John and could have carried Revelation back with them to their respective congregations. [Note: Thomas, Revelation 1-7, pp116-19. See my comments on2:1.] The Greek word angeloi ("angels") frequently refers to human messengers (e.g, Matthew 11:10; Luke 7:24; Luke 9:52; 2 Corinthians 8:23; James 2:25).

    The lampstands figuratively supported the corporate witness of the Christians in each church as they lived in a dark world (cf. 1 Timothy 3:15).

    God interpreted many of the symbols He used in Revelation elsewhere in Scripture. Correct interpretation of this book, therefore, depends on knowledge of the rest of God"s previously given revelation. This is also true of every other book of the Bible but to a lesser degree.

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    Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Revelation 1:20". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". 2012.

    Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament

    Revelation 1:20. The mystery of the stars which thou sawest upon my right hand. It is generally agreed that the word ‘mystery’ here depends on ‘write,’ and that it is in apposition with the ‘things which thou sawest’ The word denotes what man cannot know by his natural powers, or without the help of Divine revelation. It occurs again in chaps. Revelation 10:7, Revelation 17:5; Revelation 17:7; and its use there, as well as its present context, forbids the supposition that it refers merely to the fact that the seven stars are angels of the seven churches, or that the seven candlesticks are seven churches. It includes the whole history and fortunes of these churches. All that concerns them is a part of the ‘mystery’ which is now to be written, and which the saints shall understand, though the world cannot. We may further notice that, in the second clause of the first half of this verse, and the seven golden candlesticks, the last word is not, as we might have expected, dependent upon ‘mystery.’ It is in the accusative not the genitive case; and would thus seem to depend upon the verb ‘sawest,’ and to be subordinate to the first clause, though closely connected with it (comp. John 2:12; John 14:6). It so, the ‘seven stars’ are the prominent part of the mystery, thus illustrating the unity of the Church with the Saviour Himself, for He is ‘the bright, the morning star’ (chap. Revelation 22:16). Further also we may notice the ‘upon’ prefixed to ‘my right hand’ instead of ‘in’ as in Revelation 1:16. Surely, in spite of the commentators, there is a difference. The Seer beholds the churches ‘in’ the hand of their Lord as His absolute property and in His safe keeping. The Lord Himself beholds them ‘upon’ His right hand, in a more upright and independent position: they are churches which He is about to send forth to struggle in His place.

    An explanation of what the stars and the candlesticks are is now given. The seven stars are angels of the seven churches. It seems doubtful if stars are ‘in all the typical language of Scripture symbols of lordship and authority ecclesiastical or civil’ (Trench). They are often emblems of light (Numbers 24:17; Psalms 148:3; Jeremiah 31:35; Ezekiel 32:7; Daniel 12:3; Joel 2:10; Joel 3:15; 2 Peter 1:19; Revelation 2:28; Revelation 22:16), so that it cannot at least be inferred from the use of the word that the ‘angels’ are persons in authority. What they are is more doubtful, and the most various opinions have been entertained regarding them. Several of these may be set aside without much difficulty. They are not ideal messengers of the churches, supposed to be sent on a mission to the Seer. He would then have replied by them, not to them. They are not the officials known as angels or messengers of the synagogue. Such an office is too subordinate to answer the conditions of the case, and there is no proof that it had been transferred to the Christian Church. They are not the guardian angels of the churches, for, instead of protecting, they represent the churches, and they are spoken of in the epistles which follow as chargeable with their sins. Two interpretations remain of wider currency or of higher authority. They are thought to be the Bishops or presiding ministers of the churches. But, even supposing that the Episcopal constitution of the Church at this early date could be established on other grounds, ‘it is difficult to see how a personage whose name (angel, one sent forth) implies departure from a particular locality should be identified with the resident governor of the Church’ (Saul of Tarsus, p. 143); nor could a Bishop be appropriately commended for the virtues, or condemned for the sins, of his flock. The interpretation of some of the oldest commentators on the Apocalypse is the best. Angels of a church are a method of expressing the church itself, the church being spoken of as if it were concentrated in its angel or messenger. In other words, the angel of a church is the moral image of the church as it strikes the eye of the observer, that presentation of itself which it sends up to the iew of its King and Governor. There is much in the style of thought marking the Apocalypse to favour this view, for the leading persons spoken ol in the book, and even the different departments of nature referred to in it, have each its ‘angel’ God proclaims His judgments by angels (chaps Revelation 14:6; Revelation 14:8-9, Revelation 18:1, Revelation 18:1; Revelation 18:21); He executes them by angels (chaps. Revelation 8:2, Revelation 15:1; Revelation 15:6); He seals His own by angels (chap. Revelation 7:3); He even addresses the Son by an angel (chap. Revelation 14:15). The Son in like manner acts by an angel (chap. Revelation 20:1); and reveals His truth by an angel (Revelation 1:1, Revelation 22:6; Revelation 22:16). Michael has his angels (chap. Revelation 12:7); the dragon has his angels (chap. Revelation 12:7; Revelation 12:9); the waters, fire, the winds, and the abyss have each its angel (chaps. Revelation 16:5, Revelation 14:18; Revelation 7:1, Revelation 9:11). In some of these instances it may be said that the angels are real beings, but in others it is hardly possible to think so. The method of expression seems to rest upon the idea that everything has its angel, its messenger by whom it communicates its feelings, and through whom it comes in contact with the external world. The angels here spoken of are, therefore, not so much ideal representatives of the churches, as a mode of thought by which the churches are conceived of when they pass out of their absolute condition into intercourse with, and action upon, others. Perhaps the same mode of speaking may be seen in Daniel 10:20-21; Daniel 12:1, where Persia and Grecia are represented by angels.

    With the view now taken the equivalent designation ‘stars’ agrees much better than the supposition that these stars are persons in authority.

    When it is said of the Son of man that He has the ‘seven stars upon His right hand.’ it is much more natural to think that we have here a symbol of the churches themselves than of their rulers; and in chap. Revelation 12:1 the twelve stars are not persons, the number twelve being simply the number of the Church. It may indeed be argued as an objection to the above reasoning, that it is immediately added in this verse that the candlesticks are the seven churches, and that we shall thus have two figures for the same object. But between the figures there is an instructive difference confirmatory of all that has been said; for the ‘star’ represents the Church as she gives light in the firmament of heaven, as she shines before the world for the world’s good; the candlestick represents her as having her Divine life nourished in the secret place of the tabernacle of the Most High. The one is the Church in action, the other the Church in her inner life; and hence, probably, the mention of the former before the latter, for throughout the Apocalypse it is with the working, struggling Church that we have to do. Hence also in Revelation 1:13 the Son of man is ‘in the midst of the candlesticks;’ while the stars are ‘upon His right hand’ (Revelation 1:20), the hand that is stretched out for acting and for manifesting His glory to the world.

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    Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on Revelation 1:20". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". 1879-90.

    George Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary

    Angels. These are the seven bishops of the churches. Christ's having them in his right hand, shews the care he takes of his Church. (Calmet)

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    Haydock, George Leo. "Commentary on Revelation 1:20". "George Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary". 1859.

    E.W. Bullinger's Companion Bible Notes

    mystery = secret symbol. See App-193.

    stars. Greek. aster, occurs fourteen times in Rev. (App-10)

    in. Greek. epi.

    are = represent, or signify.

    the. Omit.

    angels. App-120. Revelation 1:2.

    which . . . sawest. The texts omit.

    the. Omit.

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    Bullinger, Ethelbert William. "Commentary on Revelation 1:20". "E.W. Bullinger's Companion bible Notes". 1909-1922.

    Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged

    The mystery of the seven stars which thou sawest in my right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks. The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches: and the seven candlesticks which thou sawest are the seven churches.

    In, [ epi (Greek #1909), 'Aleph (') B C] - 'upon my right hand;' but A [ en (Greek #1722)], 'in.'

    The mystery ... candlesticks - in apposition to, and explaining, "the things which thou hast seen," governed by "Write." Mystery, the hidden truth veiled under this symbol, now revealed: its correlative is revelation. Stars symbolize lordship (Numbers 24:17 : cf. Daniel 12:3, of faithful teachers; Revelation 8:10; Revelation 12:4; Jude 1:13).

    Angels. Not as Origen, 'Homily 13 on Luke 20:1-47 on Numbers,' the guardian angels of the churches, as individuals have their guardian angels. For how could heavenly angels be charged with the delinquencies charged against these angels? If a man be meant (as the Old Testament analogy favours, Haggai 1:13, "the Lord's Messenger (angel) in the Lord's message;" Malachi 2:7; Malachi 3:1), the bishop, or superintendent pastor, must be 'the angel.' For whereas there were many presbyters in the larger churches (as, e.g., Ephesus, Smyrna, etc.), there was but one angel, whom the Chief Shepherd and Bishop of souls holds responsible for the church under him. Angel, designating an office, may be in accordance with Revelation's enigmatic symbolism, transferred from the heavenly to the earthly ministers of Yahweh: reminding them that, like the angels above, they below should fulfill God's mission zealously and efficiently. "Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven!" The term is more probably from the synagogue. Note 2 Corinthians 8:23. The 'legate of the church' [sheliach tsibbur, corresponding ing to an angel or an apostle (special messenger)] recited the prayers in the name of the congregation. The president of the synagogue was legate ex officio.

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    Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Revelation 1:20". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". 1871-8.

    Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

    (20) The mystery of the seven stars which thou sawest in my right hand.—Having bidden him write the meaning of this mystery, or secret, He gives to St. John an explanatory key: “The seven stars are angels of seven churches (or congregations): and the seven candlesticks” (omit the words “which thou sawest”) “are seven churches.” The angels have been understood by some to be guardian angels; but it is difficult to reconcile words of warning and reproof (as in Revelation 2:4-5), and of promise and encouragement (as in Revelation 2:10), with such a view. More probable is the view which takes the angel to be the ideal embodiment (so to speak) of the Church. The more generally adopted view is that the angel is the chief pastor or bishop of the Church. The description of them as stars favours this view. Similar imagery is applied elsewhere to teachers, true and false (Daniel 12:3; Jude 1:13. Comp. Revelation 8:10; Revelation 12:4). It is stated that the word “angel” was applied to the president in the Jewish synagogue. See, however, Excursus A.

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    Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Revelation 1:20". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". 1905.

    Treasury of Scripture Knowledge

    The mystery of the seven stars which thou sawest in my right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks. The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches: and the seven candlesticks which thou sawest are the seven churches.
    Matthew 13:11; Luke 8:10
    the seven stars
    the seven golden
    The seven stars
    2:1,8,12,18; 3:1,7,14; Malachi 2:7
    and the
    Zechariah 4:2; Matthew 5:15,16; Philippians 2:15,16; 1 Timothy 3:14-16 Reciprocal: Exodus 25:31 - a candlestick;  Exodus 25:37 - seven;  Exodus 37:23 - GeneralExodus 40:24 - GeneralLeviticus 24:4 - the pure;  Numbers 4:9 - GeneralNumbers 8:2 - GeneralJoshua 6:4 - seven times;  1 Kings 7:49 - the candlesticks;  1 Chronicles 28:15 - the candlesticks;  2 Chronicles 4:7 - ten candlesticks;  Psalm 68:18 - that;  Daniel 12:3 - shine;  Matthew 5:14 - the light;  Matthew 24:31 - his angels;  Mark 14:22 - this;  Luke 8:16 - when;  John 10:2 - he that;  Philippians 1:1 - the bishops;  1 Thessalonians 5:12 - and are;  Revelation 1:4 - to the;  Revelation 8:10 - a great;  Revelation 9:1 - a star;  Revelation 11:4 - two candlesticks;  Revelation 12:1 - crown

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    Torrey, R. A. "Commentary on Revelation 1:20". "The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge".

    Walter Scott's Commentary on Revelation


    Revelation 1:20. — "The mystery of the seven stars which thou hast seen on My right hand, and the seven golden lamps. The seven stars are angels of the seven assemblies; and the seven lamps are the seven assemblies." The word "mystery" alone used in the New Testament signifies what is secret and hidden till revealed, then, of course, it ceases to be a mystery. But certain truths after their revelation are yet spoken of as mysteries, as none but those taught of God can understand them or know them. Thus the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 13:1-58) are wrapped up in parables clear as sunlight to disciples, but dark as midnight to unbelievers (vv. 11, 13). Take another instance. The mass of Christendom dream of an improved and improving world, and actually pervert the word "leaven," which ever denotes evil (1 Corinthians 5:8; Galatians 5:9; Matthew 16:6), to signify its exact opposite to good. The numerous scientific, educational, and religious agencies are spoken of as "leaven," which will in time effect the moral regeneration of the world. Yet on this the Scriptures speak with no uncertain sound: "The mystery of iniquity doth already work," not "the mystery of good," but "of iniquity." The secret working of evil till it fully ripens and the "man of sin" appear — its public development and living expression — are to believers well-known and established truths, while the mass, who only bear the Christian name, ridicule them. "Mystery" then signifies what has been kept secret or hidden, and which those only who have the mind of Christ understand.

    The seven stars are said to be in His right hand in verse 16, and on His right hand in verse 20. The thought seems to be that in the former is denoted their security and blessing, while in the latter their public relation to Christ is expressed; He upholds them.

    But why are the stars termed angels? In commenting on verse 16 we saw that the stars set forth spiritual rulers in the churches, eminent persons responsible to witness for God in the present dark night of the Church's history. But additional thoughts are suggested by the stars being termed angels. The word "angel" in itself does not denote nature, but office; it signifies a messenger. The context and the special use of the word can alone determine its application to persons or to spiritual beings. In Luke 7:24; Luke 9:52; 2 Corinthians 12:7; James 2:25 the term "angel," or its plural, is used of those sent on messages of various kinds. Service is the great characteristic of the race of spiritual beings spoken of as "angels" (Psalms 103:20-21; Hebrews 1:13-14).

    But there is another sense in which the word angel is employed, namely, as a representative. Thus in Matthew 18:10, "See that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, that in Heaven their angels do always behold the face of My Father which is in Heaven" (R.V.). The word "angels" in this case cannot mean "messengers," but signifies those who in Heaven represent the little ones who belong to God. Representation is the thought. "It is his angel" (Acts 12:15).

    20. — "The stars are the angels." That is, not only do they witness for God in the Church as the stars do in the terrestrial heavens, but they are also angels, or messengers from God to the churches and from the churches to God, and, further, they morally represent the separate churches in their state, trials, failures, and general condition before God. The angel of the Church is "the symbolical representative of the assembly seen in those responsible in it, which indeed all really are." Thus in the full position occupied by the stars we have combined a threefold thought: spiritual rule, channel of divine and human communication, and moral representation before God.

    The seven golden lamps signify that the Church is spiritually complete before God, that its original constitution and standing is according to God's very nature, and that its mission is to shine for Him.

    20. — "The seven lamps are seven assemblies." There can be no doubt in the mind of the careful reader of the first three chapters of the Apocalypse that while the seven churches of Asia as a whole are representative of the Church universal, at the same time the separate assemblies are viewed as each resting on its own base, and all sufficiently apart for the Lord to walk in the midst. He is amongst them for reproof, for correction, for encouragement. Every ecclesiastical act of a high-handed character is witnessed by Him Who never slumbers nor sleeps. The arrogancy of many of the "clergy" on the one hand, and the democracy of the "laity" on the other, are rapidly destroying the Church in its outward character, so that scarce a trait of the true Church is presented to the world. Thank God that that which Christ builds is impregnable (Matthew 16:18) and loved (Ephesians 5:25).

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    Scott, Walter. "Commentary on Revelation 1:20". "Walter Scott's Commentary on Revelation".

    E.M. Zerr's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament

    A mystery is anything not revealed or understood, and it is here applied to some of the things which John hast seen and which until now had not been explained to him. The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches and the seven candlesticks represent the churches. Since the angel is telling John what are represented by the stars and candlesticks it is foolish for men to offer speculations on the subject. Angels of the seven churches. The word for angel in the New Testament is ANGELOS, which means primarily "a messenger." But it has several shades of application and each case must be considered separately. We should adhere to what the text says and then we will be on safe ground. The angels of these churches are spoken of in the singular number for each church. The churches were estabilshed ones and hence had elders who are always spoken-of in the plural. Therefore all we know and all we need to know is that these angels were not elders but were persons who were responsible for getting the letters before the respective congregations. For that reason John was instructed to write the letters to these angels, and they in turn would see that the documents would be delivered to the churches in the proper way to make them responsible for the admonition and/or encouragement contained therein.

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    Zerr, E.M. "Commentary on Revelation 1:20". E.M. Zerr's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament. 1952.

    Hanserd Knollys' Commentary on Revelation

    Revelation 1:20

    Revelation 1:20 The mystery of the seven stars which thou sawest in my right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks. The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches: and the seven candlesticks which thou sawest are the seven churches.

    "The mystery of the seven stars which thou sawest in my right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks"

    A mystery implies, first, some secret or hidden thing, not obvious unto every eye, { Colossians 1:26-27; Romans 16:25-26} until it be revealed and made known. Secondly, some real and excellent thing, { 1 Timothy 3:16} worth our knowledge and understanding, being profitable to us. { 1 Timothy 4:8} Thirdly, some practical thing, and applicable for our use and behalf, { 1 Timothy 4:7-8; Colossians 1:26-27} when we know it.

    "The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches"

    Why the ministers of the gospel are called "stars" see Revelation 1:16. The ministry of the law was cloudy and dark, in comparison of the ministry of the gospel { 2 Corinthians 3:6; 2 Corinthians 3:11} This excelled it in glory, therefore the ministers of the gospel are called "stars," and they are also called angels, because they are the special messengers of God, whom He sendeth to preach the glad tidings of salvation by Jesus Christ unto the people. {Mark 16:15; Luke 9:52} And the Churches received the Ministers of Christ as Angels. { Galatians 4:14}

    Christ puts this name of dignity upon his ministers, that the churches and people to whom they preach, should count them worthy of double honor, { 1 Timothy 5:17} therefore called and diligent labor: The churches and saints should have such ministers in reputation, and esteem them highly in love for their works sake. { Philippians 2:19; 1 Thessalonians 5:13} These names of dignity should put the ministers of Christ in mind of their duty, to wit, to let their light shine before men, for they are called stars { Matthew 5:16} and to wait on their ministry, { Romans 12:11} not slothful in business, but fervent in Spirit, serving the Lord, for they are called angels (who are God's ministers and his ministering spirits; Hebrews 1:7; Hebrews 1:14), such ought Christ's ministers to be, his and his churches ministering servants.

    "And the seven candlesticks which thou sawest, are the seven churches"

    The candlestick in God's tabernacle, { Exodus 25:31; Exodus 25:37; Exodus 25:40} was pure gold, with seven lamps lighted, according to the pattern which God shewed Moses in the mount. The church of God under the first and old covenant, and Mosaical dispensation of the law, being national and but one church, tabernacle and temple was represented by a golden candlestick. { Zechariah 4:2} The church of God under the second and new covenant and apostolical dispensation of the gospel, being congregational, were represented unto John by two candlesticks { Revelation 11:4} and hereby seven. { Revelation 1:12; Revelation 1:20}

    The churches of saints under the gospel and new covenant of grace, are fitly resembled unto candlesticks, because the shinning and glorious light, first, of the knowledge of salvation to sinners; Secondly, of the pure spiritual worship of god by his saints; Thirdly, of the manifold wisdom of God and his glory, is to be made known by the churches throughout all ages, { Ephesians 3:9-11; Ephesians 3:21} and therefore the church of God, under the dispensation of the gospel, is called the Pillar of Truth, { 1 Timothy 3:15} for the truth, as it is in Jesus, is born forth and declared thereby. As the edicts, and laws, and proclamations of the potentates, kings and princes of this world, are fixed upon pillars to be know and read of all men; so God's truth, Christ's laws, and all his holy ordinances, are given unto the churches, and are to be declared and administered in his churches visibly and publicly, to the glory and praise of God.

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    Knollys, Hanserd. "Commentary on Revelation 1:20". "Hanserd Knollys' Commentary on Revelation".

    D.S. Clark's Commentary on Revelation

    V:20. "The mystery." This introduces the explanation of the mystery. Revelation 17:7 says, "I will tell thee the mystery." Scattered through the book are hints as to the meaning of its symbolism. We need not be in much doubt where divine guide-boards are given. It is well to observe them. Better indeed than to resort to conjecture and impose self-made or preconceived theories. These land marks are God"s own guide-posts; they are therefore trustworthy and authoritative. He has blazed the trail through this wilderness of type and symbol. If we observe the marks we can follow the path.

    "The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches." Angels no doubt in the sense of messengers or ministers; not angels in the ordinary sense of that word. Their office determines their nature. Since they are intermediary, not between God and John, but between John and the churches, we infer that they are natural and not supernatural beings. They were simply seven men through whom John communicated with the churches above mentioned.

    "And the seven candlesticks are the seven churches." Plain language this. No room for doubt or speculation. This is divine commentary. Due observance of such explanatory helps scattered through the book, will assist us to a sensible interpretation of The Revelation.

    Thus the first chapter ends having given us the source and authority of the Revelation, the glory and power of the revealer, and the help and hope of the church in all her fiery trials. Thus the stage is set for the scenes that are to follow.

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    Harold Norris' Commentary on the Book of Revelation


    Christ takes the FIRST TWO SYMBOLS AND TELLS US WHAT THEY MEAN (just as He took His first two parables and explained them).

    "The7 Lampstands are7 churches," He stated. "and the7 stars in His right hand are the7 angels (the messengers) of the7 churches."

    John is told to write "the revelation" (the unveiling) of things which human minds unaided could never grasp. The whole story is in this book of the church"s struggles, in John"s day, in our own day, and in the final outcome of victory through much tribulation.

    Song of Solomon, the first chapter teaches us what to expect in the rest of the book of Revelation --It will record the struggle of the church in this world, always within the church Christ is present. The Head of the church is not severed from the body. The book will tell of the conflict between good and evil, God and Satan, of sin beaten and Satan bound. The book will be the unfolding not of a fairy-tale but of a dream which came from God. It will tell the story of the church as she journeys through the wilderness of this world to the land of promise, encountering many foes but more than conqueror through Christ who loves her. The first chapter reminds us that we are about to study the fortunes of the church on earth which will include within it"s scope the final purposes of God for His creation.

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    Ernst Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms

    Revelation 1:20. The mystery of the seven stars, which thou sawest in my right hand, and the seven golden lamps. The seven stars are angels of the seven churches, and the seven lamps are seven churches. John must write the mystery of the seven stars, and what in respect to them is now and shall come to pass afterwards. For only when this should have been written, would the mystery of the seven stars be fully brought out. We should know little of them if we merely learned what is said of them in the preceding description. Ch. Revelation 2:1, ss., is but a specializing of the command, which is given here generally; not: and write further to the angel, but: write therefore. The explanation: the seven stars are, etc. by this view comes in quite naturally and easily. The words "the mystery—golden lamps," are not put as if for the purpose of attaching thereto the explanation, so that they perform the service merely of a peg. They are necessary in order to determine more exactly the sphere of the "what thou sawest, what is and shall be done afterwards," and cutting off for the attentive every kind of false meaning. By mystery, secret is always meant in the New Testament (see for example Matthew 13:11, Ephesians 5:32, and here ch. Revelation 10:7, Revelation 17:5; Revelation 17:7), "the great secrets which only God's Spirit can unfold"—the things and doctrines which are plainly inaccessible to the natural man, which cannot be apprehended excepting by fellowship with the Triune God and on the ground of his internal and external Revelation. It belongs to the nature of a mystery, that even after its objective revelation it should remain beyond the apprehension of those, who have not opened their heart to receive the Holy Spirit; as, in spite of the revelations given by John, the fleshly and impenitent in the seven churches still continued to grope on in darkness in regard to the stars and the lamps, entertaining concerning them the most earthly and superficial views. The mystery never consists of things, in which the difficulty is of a merely formal nature, and capable of being removed by an explanation. Such would be an enigma, but no secret. Accordingly, the mystery of the seven stars, and of the seven lamps, was not described or made known by the following explanation, but by the communications, which are contained in Revelation 2, 3—by the discovery there given of the most concealed depths of the heart, and the disclosure of the future, in regard to which mere natural knowledge is involved in the strangest illusions. The formal explanation of the stars and the lamps, which immediately follows, is only to be regarded as a sort of hasty sketch, serving to introduce and prepare the way for the more extended illustration of the secret which is given in Revelation 2, 3.

    In this formal explanation the question first of all arises, whether the discourse is of angels or of messengers of the seven churches. The ἄ γγελος of itself can signify both; but there can be no doubt we must render: the seven stars are angels of the seven churches. In support of this there is, first of all, the fact that this word, which so often occurs in the Revelation, is always found in the sense of angel. Then the connection, in which in the Old Testament stars and angels not rarely occur, as forming together the heavenly hosts of God—comp. for example, Psalms 103:20-21. Further, when we explain here: the angels of the churches, we have no room to doubt from whom the sending proceeds; the angels are God's messengers, the angels of the churches could only be the angels whom God had sent to the churches, and had entrusted with the charge of them. Comp. Matthew 18:10, "See that ye despise not one of these little ones, for I say to you, that their angels do always behold the face of their Father in heaven;" according to which the angel of any one is the angel to whom the charge of him is entrusted; Acts 12:15. But, on the other hand, the messengers of the churches could only be those whom the churches themselves had sent or their commissioners. We must then, with Vitringa and those who have followed him, think of an office in the Christian church, analogous to that which had existed in the Jewish, that of שליחי צבור,deputies of the church. Bengel was drawn into this opinion, and remarks, "There was in each of the seven churches, which were doubtless planted after the Israelitish stem, a single president, who was named by the Hebrews the angel or deputy of the church, and who by virtue of his office represented the church." But this opinion, into which Vitringa was betrayed by his zeal for making out the parallel between the Christian and the Jewish constitution of the church, appears on every account untenable. There is no trace to be found elsewhere of such an office having been transferred to the Christian church. The historically known presidents of the early churches had nothing to do with the "deputy of the churches." The place of the latter was quite a subordinate one, that of a mere clerk to conduct the devotions of the congregation. The symbol of the stars, which indicates an authoritative power over the churches, would have been altogether unsuitable as a designation of such a person. The angels or messengers of the churches appear throughout the seven epistles as the soul of these. But this "the deputies of the churches" were not at all, at least not as distinguished from the churches themselves, which are here indeed represented under a separate symbol, that of the lamps. Contradistinguished from the churches, which were represented by them, they had next to no importance. If, then, we must not think of "the deputies of the churches," but only of the messengers of God to the churches, we must translate: the angels of the churches. But the further question arises: Is the name of God's heavenly messengers merely transferred to his earthly ones, or are real angels meant? Were we to adopt the former opinion, then we could understand the object of the transference to be, to bring clearly and prominently out the principle from above, to remind the president of the dignity of his office, of the responsibility of his position, and the solemnity of his account. The idea of such a transference may the more readily be adopted, as we find also in the Old Testament undoubted examples and specimens of it. In Ecclesiastes 5:6, "Suffer not thy mouth to cause thy flesh to sin (by uttering a vow which thou hast not strength to fulfil); and say not before the angel, It is an error (think not, that thou canst undo the evil by an easy, It is an error); wherefore should God be angry at thy voice, and destroy the work of thy hands?" There the priesthood is denoted the angel, in order to mark His high dignity and the impropriety of any thing like levity in his presence. He stands as God's representative, comp. 2 Corinthians 5:20, and the LXX. and the Syriac have precisely: before God. We must not render: before the messenger, for one knows not then, whose messenger. The angel, implies that the sending is of God. In Malachi 3:1, "Behold I send my messenger before thee," it is better on account of the reference there to Exodus 23:20, to translate, "Behold I send my angel," than "Behold I send my messenger." From the subject it is impossible that any thing but an earthly messenger can be meant, the prophet, the whole band of divine messengers who should prepare the way for the appearance of the Saviour, and herald the approach of the kingdom of grace (see Christology on Malachi 3:1). But the name of the heavenly messenger was employed to designate the earthly, that the grace of God, the supernatural origin of the provisions connected with salvation, and the dread responsibility of rejecting what was to be provided, might be more distinctly brought into view. If we must, therefore, translate, "my angel," which is also justified by the relation of the angel there to the angel of the covenant in what immediately follows, then we must understand of the angel of the Lord what is said in Malachi 2:7-8, "For the priest's lips must keep knowledge, and they should seek the law at his mouth; for he is the angel (commonly, the messenger) of the Lord of Hosts." For, the two passages stand closely related to each other. And if in these three passages the messenger must give way to the angel, so in Isaiah 42:19, we should also translate, "Who is blind but my servant, and deaf as the angel, whom I send? in Isaiah 44:26, "Who fulfils the word of his servant, and executes the counsel of his angel;" in Haggai 1:13, "And he spake to Haggai, the angel of the Lord, in a message of the Lord to the people"—the rather so as מלאך, in so far as it is used of divine messengers, elsewhere always denotes only angels.

    The other opinion, that in the passage before us real angels are meant, has recently been defended by Züllig and De Wette. The angel must be the guardian angel of the community, "as in Daniel every nation has its ruling angel, and according to the Rabbins an angel is placed over every people." "But always," remarks Züllig, "are these angels in the mind of the poet himself nothing more than imaginary existences, and prosaically considered they are simply the personified communities themselves." And De Wette also thinks that as to meaning the angel is the spiritual community, or the spiritual substance of the community, "so that one may say with Arethas, the angel is just the community or church itself." We must, however, decide entirely for the first view, for the transference of the mere name of the angel to the overseers of the several churches. Against the view, which would understand it of real angels, and of these as figurative personifications of the churches, important considerations have been urged by Rothe (Th. I. p. 423): "There would therefore be one image or symbol used to express another, and the stars would be the symbol of a symbol. Besides, the angels and the churches would stand immediately beside each other, and of both it would be spoken in one and the same sentence, that they are to be understood under the symbols of the stars and the lamps; yet of these two symbolized objects must one only be a reality, and the other a mere symbol! And not only so, but this symbol be the symbol of the reality placed in immediate juxtaposition with it!" We add, still another consideration. No valid objection can be urged against the supposition of angels as purely ideal forms. Such ideal beings unquestionably occur in this book itself, in ch. Revelation 16:5, where mention is made of the angel of the waters in a figurative sense; in ch. Revelation 14:8, where the angel who has power over fire is spoken of; in ch. Revelation 21:12, where the idea of the Lord's protecting guardianship over the new Jerusalem is viewed as embodied in the twelve angels that stand at its gates. To these passages may be added John 5:4 of John's Gospel, which has proved so great a stumbling block to prosaic copyists and expositors, in which the symbolical mode of contemplation breaks forth in the midst of the simple narrative of facts, such as could only be expected with the Seer among the evangelists. But if the Seer introduced here such purely ideal angelic forms, it could only have been as embodiments and personifications of the power of God as exercised in behalf of the churches. Angels, however, as they are here considered beings of a higher sphere, to whom epistles are addressed, who are partly rich and partly poor, partly stedfast, partly lukewarm, partly admonished to be faithful, and to repent, who have a local habitation (ch. Revelation 2:13), who, as the admonition to be faithful unto death presupposes, could die—such are a nonentity for which not the least analogy is to be found in Scripture. Against the supposition that angels are personifications of the churches, it may further be stated, that the symbol of the stars is alone decisive, a symbol which does not fitly apply to the churches, but only to the presidents; as also the praise which is bestowed on the angel of the church of Ephesus on account of his contendings against false teachers—a feature which only suits those who had the charge and oversight. There are other things also tending in the same direction, such as the wife of the angel in Thyatira, Jezebel, which will come under consideration when we reach the particular parts.

    There is still a third question, whether under the angels of the churches single individuals are to be understood, bishops according to a wide-spread opinion, or rather the directorship in these, so that the angel, though in each case formally but one, still denoted in reality a number of persons. We must here decide for the latter view. It has on its side the passages already quoted from the Old Testament, in which, by the ideal person of an angel, the whole body of priests and prophets is denoted. But still more decisive is the argument that, by referring it to a single individual, the bishop, one cannot be right as to the grounds on which several expositors, from Salmasius downwards, have sought to shew, that between the angels and the churches no material difference could exist. The position of an individual, however important it may be, is still not of such a kind that through his person the community might be so immediately addressed, that he might so unconditionally be considered as its soul, and their repentance or their fidelity be regarded as so dependent on his. If, on the other hand, we understand by the angels the whole church officers, all without distinction who were set apart to the service of the church, this difficulty entirely disappears. Let it only be considered how John, in the narrative formerly given, makes the bishop responsible for individual souls, how Paul, in Acts 20:28, regarded the elders of Ephesus as those on whom the spiritual state of the church entirely depended, how he calls them to lay to heart the high responsibility of their office, so that only if they watched, tended, admonished every one day and night with tears, could they be pure from the blood of all men. Let the language also be compared, in which Peter in his first epistle, 1 Peter 5:1-5, writes to the elders as "ensamples of the flock." We must not, however, stand merely at the college of the elders, the presbytery of 1 Timothy 4:14, as Polycarp begins his epistle to the Philippians: "Polycarp and the elders that are with him, to the church of God which dwells at Philippi," but, on the ground of what is indicated in Philippians 2:19, we must also add the deaconship, as Ignatius, in the superscription of his epistle to the Philadelphians, says, "especially if you are at one with the bishop, and the presbyters and deacons that are with him." If the angels are considered thus, the passage ch. Revelation 2:5 can easily be understood, "Repent; else I will come to thee quickly, and remove thy lamp out of its place." If all that hold office in an organized church have become degenerate, the church itself must have sunk into a low condition, and every thing be ripe for judgment.

    As to the question regarding the age of episcopacy, nothing certain can be obtained from what is said here of the angels. Whether we have to think of the state, which presents itself to us in Acts 20, as still continuing,—a college of presbyters on a footing of equality, or whether a bishop with more or less of superior power already stood at the head, we have no sufficient data for determining.

    In conclusion, we must throw some light upon the view which has been set forth by Rothe, I. p. 425, "We have here, in fact, already the idea of an individual personality, in which the manifoldness of the church comes forth as in its true common expression and life-organ, as in its proper concrete oneness, and attains to its united consciousness; in short, we have the idea of the bishop though this idea had not yet found its realization—the bishop was still only a purely ideal person." On the other hand we remark, that this connection of an idea and of a real existence, lamps or churches, would certainly be of a very rare description. Christ must then have had seven ideas in his hand.

    By snatching at this idea the real church officials would be left out of account. And then what was said against the actual bishop must equally hold against the ideal one: the identification of the angel with the community would be inexplicable, if by the former a single individual were meant. Between a particular individual and the whole of the community many differences, and even entire contrasts, must exist as to praise and blame.

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    Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on Revelation 1:20". Ernst Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms.

    Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

    20.The mystery—The symbolical import; which is its hidden meaning, and is a mystery until made clear. The word is an independent nominative, having no verb; and the sentence reads like a heading over the explanations of the next sentence.

    Are’ angels—Without the article in the Greek. What the angels are, is the problem of this verse. But,

    1) We may exclude their symbolizing symbolical angels, (such as the angel over fire, Revelation 14:18; of the waters, Revelation 16:5,) for the stars would then be a symbol of a symbol. As the candlesticks symbolize concrete, literal, and living Churches, so the stars must symbolize concrete, literal, and living rulers of those Churches.

    2) The uniform use of the second person singular, both of pronoun and verb, as applied to the angel, strongly negatives its being a collective body of rulers of each Church, (as Hengstenberg.)

    3) The notion that the angels were seven “messengers” sent from the Churches, and present with John, is inadmissible. No such messengers are otherwise hinted at; and the writing to them an epistle, each, implies their being at a distance.

    4) The legatus ecclesiae, or delegate of the Church, (held to be symbolized by Vitringa,) was the overseer of the services of the congregation, little above our sexton, but was not responsible for the piety, faith, or morality of the Church, and was too humble an officer to be represented by a star.

    5) More probable than any of these is the view of Alford, that real, and not symbolical, angels of the Churches are meant. There are the child’s angel, Matthew 18:10; “it is his angel,” Acts 12:15; and the national angel-princes of Daniel 10:21. The strict responsibility to which these seven angels are held for the excellence of their Churches, each, accords with the established idea of a strong connexion between the guardian angel and his ward. But it may be doubted whether any patron or guardian angel is ever in Scripture more than either a symbol or a popular imagination, as in Acts 12:15.

    6) As the candlestick is the symbol of the corporate human body of the Church, the analogy is strong for a human ruler or teacher of the Church. Thus in Malachi 2:2, the priest is “the messenger (angel) of the Lord of Hosts.” Malachi 3:1: “Behold, I send my messenger,” (angel;) the prediction of John the Baptist. Galatians 4:14: “Ye’ received me as an angel of God.” That there were president-presbyters or bishops in Asia at this time, ordained by John himself, is as certain as any thing in primitive Church history. About this time Polycarp was bishop in Smyrna, and Ignatius in Antioch. Bishops were appointed, from a need of the times, as a stronghold against heresies, and as authentic preservers of the apostolic doctrines and of the sacred New Testament canon. This was specially important before the canon was completely established. And this gave, at that period, a special importance to a true succession of the bishops as a reliable chain of apostolic tradition. A successional ordination authenticated the officer to those who acknowledged the ordaining authority. But such facts fall far short of making an unbroken succession through centuries the authenticating test of a true Church. The bishop was very much “the successor of the apostles,” not by a continuation of the same line of office, but as a substitute, serving some of the same purposes. While episcopacy is thus sanctioned by apostolic authority as permissible, and perhaps always best, it is not made obligatory.


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    Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Revelation 1:20". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". 1874-1909.

    The Expositor's Greek Testament

    Revelation 1:20. . (as in Daniel 2:27, LXX; see below on Revelation 10:7) = “the secret symbol”. These two symbols, drawn from the lore of contemporary apocalyptic, are chosen for explanation, partly as an obscure and important element in the foregoing vision which had to be set in a new light, partly because they afford a clue to all that follows (especially the opening section, Revelation 2:1; Revelation 2:5). The seven-branched lamp-stand was a familiar symbol, frequently carved on the lintel of a synagogue. Along with the silver trumpets and other spoils of the temple it now lay in the temple of Peace at Rome. The fanciful symbolism, by which the cressets shining on earth are represented—in another aspect—as heavenly bodies, corresponds to Paul’s fine paradox about the Christian life of the saints lying hidden with Christ in God; even unsatisfactory churches, like those at Sardis and Laodicea, are not yet cast away. Note also that the light and presence of God now shine in the Christian churches, while the ancestral Jewish light is extinguished (4 Ezra 10:22): “The light of our lamp-stand is put out”). It is curious that in Assyrian representations the candelabrum is frequently indistinguishable from the sacred seven-branched tree crowned with a star (R. S. 488); Josephus expressly declares (Ant. iii. 6. 7, 7. 7) that the seven lamps on the stand signified the seven planets, and that the twelve loaves on the shew-bread table signified the signs of the zodiac (Bell. Revelation 1:5; Revelation 1:5), while Philo had already allegorised the lamp-stand (= seven planets) in quis haeres, § 45. This current association of the with the planets is bound up with the astral conception of the angels of the churches ( . = “angels” as elsewhere in Apocalypse), who are the heavenly representatives and counterparts or patron angels of the churches, each of the latter, like the elements (e.g., water Revelation 16:5, fire Revelation 14:18; see further in Baldensperger, 106, and Gfrörer, i. 368 f.), the wind (Revelation 7:1), and the nether abyss (Revelation 9:2), having its presiding heavenly spirit. The conception (E. J. i. 593. 594) reaches back to post-exilic speculation, in which Greece, Persia and Judæa had each an influential and responsible angelic prince (Daniel 10:13; Daniel 10:20-21; Daniel 12:1), and especially to the Iranian notion of fravashis or semi-ideal prototypes of an earthly personality (here, a community), associated with reminiscences of the Babylonian idea that certain stars were assigned to certain lands, whose folk and fortunes were bound up with their heavenly representatives (cf. Rawlinson’s Cuneif. Inscript. West. Asia Minor, ii. 49, iii. 54, 59, etc.). Afterwards (cf. Tobit) individuals were assigned a guardian spirit. This belief (Gfrörer, i. 374 f.) passed into early Christianity (Matthew 18:10, Acts 12:15, where see note), but naturally it never flourished, owing to Christ’s direct and spiritual revelation of God’s fatherly providence. The association of stars and angels is one of the earliest developments in Semitic folklore, and its poetic possibilities lent themselves effectively as here to further religious applications; e.g., Enoch (i. 18) had long ago represented seven stars, “like spirits,” in the place of fiery punishment for disobedience to God’s commands. As Dr. Kohler points out (E. F. i. 582–97), the determining factors of Jewish angelology were the ideas of “the celestial throne with its ministering angels, and the cosmos with its evil forces to be subdued by superior angelic forces,” which corresponds to the punitive and protective rôles of angels in the Johannine Apocalypse. But in the latter they are neither described at length nor exalted. They are simply commissioned by God to execute his orders or instruct the seer. The supreme concern of God is with the earth and man; angels are but the middle term of this relationship, at most the fellow-servants of the saints whose interests they promote (see below on Revelation 19:9-10, Revelation 22:8-9). Christians, unlike the Iranians (e.g. Bund. xxx. 23, etc.), offer no praises to them; they reserve their adoration for God and Christ. However graphic and weird, the delineation of demons and angels in this book is not grotesque and crude in the sense that most early Jewish and Christian descriptions may be said to deserve these epithets. Here the guardian spirit who is responsible for a church’s welfare, would, roughly speaking, be identified with itself; his oversight and its existence being correlative terms. Hence there is a sense in which the allied conception of . is true, namely, that the . is the personified spirit or genius or heavenly counterpart of the church, the church being regarded as an ideal individual (so Andr., Areth., Wetst., Bleek, Lücke, Erbes, Beyschlag, Swete, etc.) who possesses a sort of Egyptian Ka or double. By itself, however, this view lies open to the objection that it explains one symbol by another and hardly does justice to the naïve poetry of the conception. The notion of guardian angels was widespread in the early church (Hermas, Justin, Clem. Alex., Origen, etc.), independently of this passage. Statius (Silv. i. 241) says that Domitian “posuit sua sidera” (i.e., of his family) in the heaven, when he raised a temple to the Flavians—a contemporary parallel upon a lower level of feeling, but indicating a similar view of the heavenly counterpart (cf. Ramsay, Seven Letters, 68 f.) The Apocalypse, though presupposing the exercise of discipline and the practice of reading, prayer, and praise within the Christian communities, entirely ignores officials of any kind; and the following homilies are directly concerned with the churches (Revelation 2:7, , not the angels), their different members (cf.Revelation 2:24) and their respective situations. Hence the poetic idealism of the soon fades, when the writer’s practical sense is brought to bear. As the scene of revelation is and its author the heavenly Christ, the writer is instructed to address not (e.g., ), but their patron spirit or guardian angel. The point of the address is that the revelation of Jesus is directly conveyed through the spoken and written words of the prophets, as the latter are controlled by his Spirit.




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    Nicol, W. Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Revelation 1:20". The Expositor's Greek Testament. 1897-1910.

    The Bible Study New Testament

    20. Seven stars. The “angels” of the seven churches. “Angel” means “messenger,” and is used for both human and heavenly messengers in the Bible [in the original language]. “Angels” here must refer to the “evangelists” [preachers – see note onEphesians 4:11]of the churches since John is to write to them. Compare Malachi 2:7:2 Timothy 4:5.

    [These seven churches are symbolic of all the church everywhere at all times. The letters to the churches describe conditions and events which occur again and again in the history of the church in the world. The geography of these churches can be found in a good Bible Dictionary. We concentrate on the spiritual lesson to be learned from each of these.

    The idea which would make these churches represent seven successive periods of church history is clearly false, since this would make the dead church at Sardis represent the golden age of Reformation. ]




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    Ice, Rhoderick D. "Commentary on Revelation 1:20". "The Bible Study New Testament". College Press, Joplin, MO. 1974.