Let’s read that interesting verse: “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 which you saw are the seven churches” (NKJV). John had seen a glorious vision of the Lord Jesus Christ and in that vision he saw “seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the seven lampstands One like the Son of Man” (Revelation 1:12-13). We are told in verse 16 that the Lord Jesus “had in His right hand seven stars.” In our verse today the Lord reveals to John what the “seven stars” and the “seven lampstands” represent.

The “seven lampstands” symbolize the “seven churches”; that is, the seven local churches to whom the Lord Jesus was writing. In verse 11 the Lord told John, “What you see, write in a book and send it to the seven churches which are in Asia: to Ephesus, to Smyrna, to Pergamos, to Thyatira, to Sardis, to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea.” In chapters 2 and 3 the Lord Jesus writes a letter to each of those churches informing them that He knows exactly what their spiritual condition is. The local churches are to be a “light” (pictured by the “lampstand”) for Christ and thus He commends them for the faithfulness He sees and censures them for any failure to be a witness for Him in their local communities.

The “seven stars” symbolize the “angels of the seven churches.” What does the Lord mean when He speaks of angels? Are they literal angels? If not, what are they? There are many views on this and we will list four of them:

  1. The “angels” are “literal angels.” Those who hold this view say that just as angels represented nations (see Daniel 10:13, 20, 21), so there are angels that represent each local church.
  2. The “angels” are “overseers.” We know that the apostle Paul and others appointed overseers (or “elders”) in each local assembly. In Titus 1:5 Paul told Titus, “For this reason I left you in Crete, that you would set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city as I directed you.” According to this view, overseers are responsible to be God’s “messengers” (the word “angel” means “messenger”) to the assembly over which they bear oversight.
  3. The “angels” are “human messengers” that received the letters from John and delivered them to the seven churches in Asia.
  4. The “angels” are “true believers.” In this view both the “stars” and the “angels” symbolize “individual believers” who are to “shine for Christ” in this dark world. Philippians 2:14-15 speaks to this: “Do all things without grumbling or disputing; so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, AMONG WHOM YOU APPEAR AS LIGHTS IN THE WORLD.” We already saw that the “lampstand” represents “the local church,” but with there being failure in the churches the Lord Jesus appeals to “each believer” to listen to His words and to respond accordingly. This seems to fit the context the best, for at the end of each letter in chapters 2 and 3, we read these words: “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Every believer is responsible “to hear” what the Lord is saying to them and then to be His “angel.” Again, the word angel means “messenger” and every believer is called upon to be God’s messenger to a lost world that is steeped in darkness. Like the stars in the dark sky, we are to shine the light of Christ’s glory in the night of His absence. (231.5) (DO)