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.
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(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.

1:12-20 The churches receive their light from Christ and the gospel, and hold it forth to others. They are golden candlesticks; they should be precious and pure; not only the ministers, but the members of the churches; their light should so shine before men, as to engage others to give glory to God. And the apostle saw as though of the Lord Jesus Christ appeared in the midst of the golden candlesticks. He is with his churches always, to the end of the world, filling them with light, and life, and love. He was clothed with a robe down to the feet, perhaps representing his righteousness and priesthood, as Mediator. This vest was girt with a golden girdle, which may denote how precious are his love and affection for his people. His head and hairs white like wool and as snow, may signify his majesty, purity, and eternity. His eyes as a flame of fire, may represent his knowledge of the secrets of all hearts, and of the most distant events. His feet like fine brass burning in a furnace, may denote the firmness of his appointments, and the excellence of his proceedings. His voice as the sound of many waters, may represent the power of his word, to remove or to destroy. The seven stars were emblems of the ministers of the seven churches to which the apostle was ordered to write, and whom Christ upheld and directed. The sword represented his justice, and his word, piercing to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, Heb 4:12. His countenance was like the sun, when it shines clearly and powerfully; its strength too bright and dazzling for mortal eyes to behold. The apostle was overpowered with the greatness of the lustre and glory in which Christ appeared. We may well be contented to walk by faith, while here upon earth. The Lord Jesus spake words of comfort; Fear not. Words of instruction; telling who thus appeared. And his Divine nature; the First and the Last. His former sufferings; I was dead: the very same whom his disciples saw upon the cross. His resurrection and life; I have conquered death, and am partaker of endless life. His office and authority; sovereign dominion in and over the invisible world, as the Judge of all, from whose sentence there is no appeal. Let us listen to the voice of Christ, and receive the tokens of his love, for what can he withhold from those for whose sins he has died? May we then obey his word, and give up ourselves wholly to him who directs all things aright.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 mou: giving 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.


20. in—Greek, "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 (Nu 24:17; compare Da 12:3, of faithful teachers; Re 8:10; 12:4; Jude 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, Hag 1:13, "the Lord's Messenger in the Lord's message"; Mal 2:7; 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, &c.), 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!"

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.

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 says (w), 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,

(w) Contra Haeres. l. 2. Haeres. 51.

{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.

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.” Μυστήριον 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 Ἃ ΕἾΔΕς

, 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.]

[848] Matthew 13:11; Mark 4:11; Romans 11:25; Ephesians 5:32; Ephesians 1:9.

[849] Cf. Revelation 17:7.

[850] ἐπί, i.e., resting on the same, and therefore as to substance nothing else is to be understood that the ἐν, v. 16.

[851] In an apposition without the καὶ.

[852] Inconceivable, however, is the idea expressed by Klief., that, during the entire revelation (until Revelation 22:5), the Lord remains standing alongside of John in the situation described in the vision, Revelation 1:10-18. Already in ch. 4 the situation changes.

[853] Chs. 2, 3, and also ch. 4 sqq.

[854] v. 20b.

[855] Cf. Revelation 2:5.

[856] Cf. Matthew 5:14 sqq.

[857] Revelation 1:4; Revelation 1:11.

[858] Chs. 2 and 3.

[859] Luke 7:24; Luke 9:52; Jam 2:25; but certainly not 1 Timothy 3:16, as Ebrard thinks.

[860] Php 4:18; cf., also, Colossians 4:12.

[861] Cf. De Synag. vet., iii. 2; 2, 3.

[862] Yet cf. II. p. 205.

[863] Concerning whom it could formerly have been thought otherwise, with Ewald. Yet Ew. 2., the mediator, i.e., the Vorsteher, of the church.

[864] Exodus 23:20; Isaiah 42:19; Psalm 103:20 sqq.; Hengstenb.

[865] Primas, Beda, N. de Lyra, Zeger, Drus., Alcas., C. a Lap., Bossuet, Beza, Grot., Calov., Herder, Klief., etc.

[866] Anfänge d. christl. Kirche, i. p. 423 sqq.

[867] Cf. Brightman, Alsted.

[868] Cf. Revelation 7:1, Revelation 9:11; Daniel 10:13; Daniel 10:20; Matthew 18:10; Deuteronomy 32:8 (LXX.).

Revelation 1:20. μυστ. (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 λύχνοι with the planets is bound up with the astral conception of the angels of the churches (ἀγγ. = “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 ἀγγ. is true, namely, that the ἀγγ. 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, ἐκκλησίαις, not the angels), their different members (cf. Revelation 2:24) and their respective situations. Hence the poetic idealism of the ἄγγελοι soon fades, when the writer’s practical sense is brought to bear. As the scene of revelation is ἐν πνεύματι and its author the heavenly Christ, the writer is instructed to address not τοῖς ἁγίοις (e.g., ἐν Εφέσῳ), 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.

20. the mystery] The use of this word in the N. T. is not very far removed from its primary meaning in classical Greek. We may paraphrase it, “the hidden divine truth, now made known, but made known to God’s favoured ones only:” see Ephesians 3:3-12 for the completest illustration of its meaning. Here the sense is, “I reveal to thee the secret and sacred meaning of …” The construction must be, “Write (among other things) the mystery of …:” for the context shews that the word “mystery” is an accusative not a nominative.

the seven golden candlesticks] In construction (but hardly in sense) these words are coordinate with “the mystery,” not a genitive case dependent on it.

the angels of the seven churches] For the meaning of the word “Angels” here, see Excursus I.

the seven candlesticks] Plainly this image is suggested by the seven-branched candlestick of Exodus 25:31 sqq.—still more by the mystical vision of one resembling it, in Zechariah 4. But here the image of seven detached candlesticks does not exactly correspond to the description of either, nor are we to assume that the significance of those is exactly the same as of these.

Verse 20. - The mystery. In construction this is the accusative after "write." A mystery is the opposite of a revealed truth; it is a sacred truth kept secret, the inner meaning of something which is perceived, but not generally understood. The angels of the seven Churches. The meaning of these "angels" has been very much disputed. The common explanation that they are the bishops of the Churches is attractive on account of its simplicity. But it has very grave difficulties, especially for those who assign the Apocalypse to the earlier date of A.D. . It is highly improbable that at that very early time the seven Churches were already so fully organized as each to possess its own bishop. And granting that they were, and that the bishops might fitly be called "angels" or "messengers," would they not be called messengers of God or of Christ, rather than messengers of the Churches"? And would not the primitive Church have preserved this title as a synonym for "bishop"? "St. John's own language gives the true key to the symbolism. 'The seven stars are the angels of the seven Churches, and the seven candlesticks are the seven Churches.' This contrast between the heavenly and the earthly fires - the star shining steadily by its own inherent eternal light, and the lamp flickering and uncertain, requiring to be fed with fuel and tended with care - cannot be devoid of meaning. The star is the suprasensual counterpart, the heavenly representative; the lamp, the earthly realization, the outward embodiment. Whether the angel is here conceived as an actual person, the celestial guardian, or only as a personification, the idea or spirit of the Church, it is unnecessary for my present purpose to consider. But whatever may be the exact conception, he is identified with and made responsible for the Church to a degree wholly unsuited to any human officer. Nothing is predicated of him which may not be predicated of it. To him are imputed all its hopes, its fears, its graces, its shortcomings, he is punished with it, and he is rewarded with it ... Nor is this mode of representation new. The 'princes' in Daniel (Daniel 10:13, 20, 21) present a very near if not an exact parallel to the angels of the Revelation" (Bishop Lightfoot, 'Philippians,' p. 198). The identification of the angel of each Church with the Church itself is shown in a marked way by the fact that, although each epistle is addressed to the angel, yet the constantly recurring refrain is, "Hear what the Spirit saith to the Churches," not "to the angels of the Churches." The angel and the Church are the same under different aspects: the one is its spiritual character personified; the other is the congregation of believers who collectively possess this character.

Revelation 1:20Mystery (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 (Jde 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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