The Commission

Screenshot (53)THE COMMISSION – “Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later. The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.” (Revelation 1:19, 20)

The Stars – Stars are symbols of pre-eminence and authority (See Numbers 24:17; Daniel 12:3). False teachers are wandering stars (Jude 13; Isaiah 14:12). Jesus identifies these stars as “Angels,” but the exact meaning of the term as it is used here is uncertain. The following are the principal interpretations:

Angels Proper – They are heavenly guardians of and messengers to the churches. This view is based on the premise that the word as it is constantly used in Revelation means a heavenly being. It is argued that, if an individual may have a guardian angel, so may a church.

The Rulers and Teachers of the Congregation – These individuals are compared by Daniel (Daniel 12:3) to stars. See also Malachi 2:7, where the priest is called the messenger (angel) of the Lord. Under this interpretation, the angels could be either the Bishops of the churches, or the whole all the elders and deacons who represented and were responsible for the moral condition and oversight of the churches (see Acts 20:17, 28; 1 Peter 5:1–5).(1)

Messengers – It is possible that messengers came to John from the seven churches and received the Book of Revelation from him personally.(2)

The Candlesticks – The “seven golden lampstands” are identified almost immediately as representing the seven churches that John is told to write to. The number seven is often used in the Bible to represent wholeness or completion. For this reason, many conclude that the seven churches represent all churches of all times and places. Thus, every congregation may well be reflected in one of these pictures.(3)

In Revelation 2 and 3, Christ deals individually with these seven churches. As He stands in their midst, He examines their spiritual condition with His “eyes like blazing fire.” He is still doing this today. It does not matter what others might think of a church. What matters is what Christ thinks of it. It is worth noting that the different elements that describe Christ in Revelation 1:13–16 are repeated in the letters to the seven churches. The attribute of Christ that was most relevant to the particular needs of the particular church is the one that is emphasized in the message to that church. The danger facing each of the churches (and churches throughout history) is that Christ would remove their testimony. He would rather have a city in the darkness than to have a lampstand out of His divine will or misrepresenting Him.(4)

Outline of the Book – John is given a basic outline of the book when he is instructed to write about:

The Past – “What you have seen,” generally considered to be what he saw in Revelation 1.

The Present – “What is now,” the present state of things in the churches when John was writing as represented in Revelation 2 and 3.

The Future – “What will take place later,” the things revealed concerning the future history of man as recorded in Revelation 4 through 22.(5)

See Figure 3.5 for a more detailed outline.

Screenshot (69)

The Churches – The apostle John, having written the things which he had seen in Revelation 1, now turns his attention to the things that are in Revelation 2 and 3. In these two chapters, he writes about the present state of the seven specific churches in Asia Minor. These were churches that he was particularly acquainted with, and for which he had a tender concern. He was directed to write to every one of them according to their present state and circumstances.(6)

Each of the seven letters, follow a similar pattern with each one beginning with, “I know your deeds.” Each contains a promise from Christ, “To him who overcomes,” and each end with, “he who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” The title of Christ in each case letter corresponds to the nature of the address, and is mainly taken from the imagery of the vision in Revelation 1:12–16. Each address has either a warning or a promise, and most of the addresses have both. Smyrna (characterized by suffering and persecution) and Philadelphia (characterized by loyal service) alone receive unmixed praise. Sardis (characterized by incomplete works) and Laodicea (characterized by lukewarm devotion) receive almost solely censure.(7) Each letter followed a somewhat consistent format and a general outline of the seven letters is summarized below in Figure 3.6.

Screenshot (70)

Anyone that has ever moved to a new community and had to select a new church home knows how difficult it can be to examine and evaluate a church and its ministry. Imposing buildings may house dying or dead congregations, while modest rundown structures might belong to vibrant assemblies on fire for the Lord. The church one might think is “rich” may turn out to be poor in God’s sight, while the “poor” church might actually rich be rich in God’s sight. Only the Head of the church, Jesus Christ, can accurately inspect each church and know its true condition, because He sees the internals, not just the externals. In His messages to these churches, Christ accurately diagnoses the spiritual condition of each one. Yet He undoubtedly intended for all the churches throughout the ages to read these messages and benefit from them as well. But the Lord was also speaking to individuals within local congregations, urging all that has an ear to hear what He is saying to these churches. Churches are made up of individuals, and it is individuals who determine the spiritual life of each assembly. So, while reading these messages, we must apply them personally as well as corporately as we examine our own hearts.(8)

Next Up – The church at Ephesus.

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  1. Vincent, M. R. (1887). Word studies in the New Testament (Vol. 2, pp. 433–434). New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.
  2. Wiersbe, W. W. (1992). Wiersbe’s expository outlines on the New Testament (p. 797). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
  3. Richards, L., & Richards, L. O. (1987). The teacher’s commentary (p. 1074). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
  4. Wiersbe, W. W. (1992). Wiersbe’s expository outlines on the New Testament (pp. 797–798). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
  5. Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Vol. 2, p. 554). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
  6. Henry, M. (1994). Matthew Henry’s commentary on the whole Bible: complete and unabridged in one volume (p. 2465). Peabody: Hendrickson.
  7. Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Vol. 2, p. 554). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
  8. Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, p. 571). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

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