Have you ever wondered what Jesus Christ is doing at the present moment? His resurrection and ascension into heaven occurred 2,000 years ago, after all. What is he up to now?
Revelation 1:12–20 answers that question. It describes Jesus Christ in glory, standing in the midst of his churches. We have already seen that verses 12–16 are theology not portraiture, and we must make a similar judgment about verses 17–20, which are figurative rather than literal. You should get comfortable with the figurative language, by the way; the Apocalypse is full of it.
How do we know when John’s language is literal and when it is figurative? Well, we must remember that John is simply reporting what he saw. In verses 12–20, John saw Jesus “in the midst of the lampstands,” with “seven stars” in his right hand and “a sharp two-edged sword” protruding from his mouth. So, John is literally reporting what he saw.
But in prophetic visions, what is seen and what is meant by it are not necessarily the same thing. Certainly not here! Jesus Christ himself says to John, “the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.” The vision is thus a “mystery” to be explained. On some occasions, John explains the meaning of what he saw (e.g., 17:3, 9–12). On others, he does not. Consequently, we must exercise due diligence as we read Revelation and not assign a literal interpretation to what John meant to be taken figuratively, nor vice versa.
So, what does the figurative language of verses 12–20 mean? It means that Jesus Christ is present with his churches, exercising authority over them through his word, and giving them more than sufficient power to escape the trials and temptations of the present age. Do you see this? Let me help you.
First, Jesus Christ is present with us, his churches. This is the obvious point of him standing in the midst of the seven lampstands, which are the seven churches, as we have already seen. Why portray the churches as lampstands? Because the lampstand was an implement in the tabernacle and later the temple (Ex. 25:31–37, 1 Kgs. 7:49) and thus holy to God, as is the church. And because Jesus Christ calls his church to be a light to the world (Matt. 5:14–16).
Second, he is exercising authority over us through his word. This seems to be the meaning of the two-edged sword that protrudes from his mouth. Elsewhere in the New Testament, such a sword is identified with the Bible (Eph. 6:17, Heb. 4:12). In the letters he dictates to the seven churches (Rev. 2–3), Jesus Christ applies that word to concrete issues facing each church.
Third, he is giving us sufficient power to escape trials and temptations. John describes Jesus holding “seven stars” in his “right hand,” the hand of power, authority, and security. These stars are interpreted as “the angels of the seven churches,” but this interpretation is difficult. Is the angel the church’s guardian angel? Its pastor or leader? Its prevailing spirit? All three interpretations have been argued by the commentators. It seems to me that however one interprets the angels, what Jesus is holding is us–his churches. The letters to the seven angels (chapters 2–3), though addressed to the angel of the church, are in reality intended for the church as a whole, as the grammar and overall context make clear.
John’s vision and its meaning both are comforting, for Jesus Christ has not left us alone in a world that is alternately hostile and indifferent (Matt. 28:20). No! He is with us, right now!
Do you sense his presence? Does your life show it?