Commentary on Revelation


The Mystery -- Rev 1:20

The Mystery

Rev 1:20

'The mystery' of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lamp-stands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lamp-stands are the seven churches.

It is clearly intended for this mystery to be solved.

The mystery is to be solved.  What John saw and wrote is called 'the revelation' (Rev 1:1).  It is 'the revelation of Jesus Christ.'  These things are to be revealed.  They are not to be covered, hidden, or cloaked in secrecy.  The Book of Revelation may have some aspects of 'hide and seek,' but God assures us that 'the one who seeks -- will find.'

Matt 7:7-8

"'Ask' and it will be given to you.  'Seek' and you will find.  'Knock' and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

  • Ask
  • Seek
  • Knock

It is reasonable then -- that wonderful things will be found by all who read, hear, and take to heart what is written in the revelation.

Some things require more study than others.  Some things require more patience and wisdom.  Wisdom is required.  Rev 13:18 says, 'This calls for wisdom.  Let the person who has insight (work it out).'  And Rev 17:9 gives us this advice, 'This calls for a mind with wisdom.'

James 1:4-5

Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.  If any of you lacks 'wisdom,' you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.

We must approach this mystery using the same careful method we used earlier in examining the Chiasm in Rev 1:1-2.  We must use all the information which we are given.  It does no one any good -- to go around gesturing, guessing, and speculating.  We are to examine the information we are given.

The mystery involves two parts.

(1) There are 'seven stars' which Jesus held in his right hand.  John first recorded this in v16.  Who/what do these symbolic 'stars' represent?

(2) There are 'seven golden lamp-stands' with Jesus standing among them.  John first recorded this detail in v12.  Who/what do these symbolic 'lamp-stands' represent?

The repetition of the number 'seven' is no-doubt important in solving the mystery.  There are numerous references to 'seven' in chapter one, (just as there are many references to 'seven' throughout the revelation.)

The Seven Lamp-stands

There are Seven lamp-stands with Jesus among them (v12).  They are the seven churches (v20).

The symbolic seven lamp-stands represent the seven churches.

Rev 1:20

The seven lamp-stands are the seven churches.

The Seven Stars

Who or what are the seven stars?

What information do we have?

(1) There are Seven spirits before God's throne. (v4)

(2) Jesus holds Seven stars in his right hand (v16).

(3) The Seven stars are the angels (the messengers) of the seven churches (v20).

(4) Jesus holds the seven spirits of God, and the seven stars (3:1).

Many commentators believe that the 'seven stars' represent the 'pastors and leaders' of the church.  They believe that Jesus (in Rev 1:16, 20), highlighted the role of the pastors and leaders.  These were to receive the message of God from Jesus, and the Spirit of God would aid them as they shared it with the congregation.

I wonder (in arriving at this view) have we adequately considered the words of Rev 3:1?

The Seven Stars represent the Holy Spirit

In Revelation 1:16, 20 and 3:1, the 'seven stars' are the 'seven spirits' (The Holy Spirit).

The 'seven spirits' symbolise the Holy Spirit, the 'seven stars' symbolise the Holy Spirit, and the 'seven messengers' symbolise the Holy Spirit.

This conclusion is verified in seven settings

The first setting -- Rev 3:1

Rev 3:1

These are the words of him who holds the 'seven spirits of God' and the 'seven stars.'

Jesus holds the 'seven spirits of God' and the 'seven stars.'

The two phrases are joined by the Greek conjunction 'kai,' which, in this instance, is translated as 'and.' -- (The seven spirits of God 'and' the seven stars.)

'Kai' is a Greek conjunction which is variously translated.  It may be translated as 'and' or 'but,' depending on its context.  The correct way to translate it -- is always determined by context.

I will give examples which share similarities to Rev 3:1.

Rev 19:16

On his robe and on his thigh, he has this name written: KING OF KINGS and LORD OF LORDS.

'KING OF KINGS, and LORD OF LORDS' is joined by the conjunction 'kai.'

John 20:28

Thomas said to him, "My Lord and my God!"

'My Lord, and my God!' is joined by the conjunction 'kai.'

In these instances, it is not necessary to see the two entities mentioned as separate beings.  It is intended for us to identify them as -- one and the same.

'My Lord and my God!' can be written, ''My Lord (my God!).'  It thus indicates that 'my Lord' is indeed 'my God.'


'The seven spirits of God and the seven stars' can be written, 'the seven spirits of God (that is, the seven stars).'  The verse can thus mean that 'the seven spirits of God' are indeed represented by 'the seven stars' (Rev 3:1).

The second setting -- Rev 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22

Rev 2:7

"Listen to what the Spirit says to the churches."

This exact phrase is repeated seven times.

Each message to each church has this phrase either at its conclusion, or near its conclusion.  'Listen to what the Spirit says to the churches.'

The general (traditional) view is this -- the pastors and leaders of the churches are represented by 'the seven stars'

In this view, the pastors and leaders of the churches 'are' the seven stars.  The pastors receive their messages directly from Jesus.  What they receive from Jesus, the Holy Spirit (in supporting them) passes their message on to the congregation (Rev2:7).  The Holy Spirit impresses the congregation to receive the pastor's message.

Does the work of the Holy Spirit fit between the pastors and the congregation?


Alternatively, does the work of the Holy Spirit fit between Jesus Christ and his entire church?


The alternative view is this -- the Holy Spirit is represented by 'the seven spirits before God's throne,' and he is also represented by 'the seven stars'

The Holy Spirit is represented by ('the seven spirits before God's throne 1:4,' and by 'the seven stars in Jesus' hand 1:16; 3:1').

The Holy Spirit receives his message from Jesus.  The Spirit passes Jesus' teaching on to 'all church pastors,' 'all church leaders,' and 'the whole congregation.'  The Holy Spirit is Jesus' universal messenger to the entire (world-wide, and universal) church.

Jesus said:

Rev 3:22

"Whoever has ears, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches."

The third setting -- John 16:13-15

John 16:13-15

When he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. -- He will not speak on his own, -- he will speak only what he hears, -- and he will tell you what is yet to come. -- He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you.

All that belongs to the Father is mine.  That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you."

Here is a list of the points that Jesus makes concerning the work of the Spirit (in John 16).

  • The Spirit will guide us into all truth
  • He will not speak on his own
  • He will speak only what he hears
  • He will tell you what is yet to come
  • He will glorify me (Jesus) because it is from me that he will receive -- that which he will make known to you
  • All that belongs to the Father is mine.  That is why I said,
  • "the Spirit will receive from me -- that which he will make known to you."

Jesus will speak to the Spirit.  And Jesus will address the church through the Holy Spirit.

'He (the Spirit) will not speak on his own, he will speak only what he hears' (John 16:13).  Therefore, it is entirely appropriate that Jesus does address the Spirit in each of the messages to the churches.

'It is from Jesus that the Spirit will receive -- that which he will make known to you' (John 16:14).  What the Spirit hears, the Spirit speaks.  'Listen to what the Spirit says to the churches' (Rev 3:22).

Jesus Christ is the Divine Messenger sent from God (Rev 1:1-2).  And the Holy Spirit is the Divine Messenger sent from Jesus Christ.

Jesus clearly speaks to the church through the Holy Spirit.

The fourth setting -- Is there an absence (a lack) of 'the Spirit's work' in Revelation?

If we were to accept that the seven messengers (and the seven stars) represent the pastors and leaders of the church on earth, does the Spirit of God have a role in revelation?  In this scenario, the Spirits role is rather insignificant.  His role is quite limited.

(1) He grants the blessings of 'grace and peace' (as is recorded in Rev 1:4).

(2) He supports the pastor's teachings as the pastor ministers to his congregation (Rev 3:22).

(3) He invites us to come and accept 'the invitation of God' to be a member of his kingdom (Rev 22:17).

Rev 22:17

'The Spirit' and the bride say, "Come!"  And let the one who hears say, "Come!"  Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes 'take the 'free gift' of the water of life.'

It would be interesting if the Spirit were given no more than these 'few supporting roles.'

In contrast to this view of a 'limited work' of the Spirit -- are the 'huge number of times' the Spirit is mentioned in Revelation.

He is called the 'Spirit' (Rev 2:7, 14:13, and 22:17).

He is referred to as 'seven spirits' before God's throne (Rev 1:4).

He is referred to as 'seven lamps' blazing in front of the throne (Rev 4:5).

He is referred to as 'seven horns' (Rev 5:6).

He is referred to as 'seven eyes' (Rev 5:6).

The Spirits role in revelation entails much more.  His role is far more extensive than that described in this section -- 'The fourth setting'.

The fifth setting -- the Spirit has 'an abundance of work' in Revelation

By allowing the Spirit to be symbolised by the 'seven stars' allows him also to be symbolised by the 'seven messengers.'

'The seven stars are the (seven) messengers to the seven churches' (Rev 1:20).

Adding these 'titles' to the 'titles' which I have already given in the previous section, gives an amazing number of references to the Spirit.

He is:

1. The 'Spirit' (Rev 2:7), 2. 'seven spirits'before God's throne (Rev 1:4), 3. 'seven lamps' blazing in front of the throne (Rev 4:5), 4. 'seven horns' (Rev 5:6), 5. 'seven eyes' (Rev 5:6), 6. 'seven stars' (Rev 1:16), 7. 'seven messengers' (Rev 1:20).

If the Spirit is indeed represented as the 'seven messengers' to the churches, he likewise can be represented as the 'seven messengers' blowing the seven trumpets (chapters 8 to 11).  And he can be represented as the 'seven messengers' pouring out the seven last plagues (chapter 16).  With this understanding -- the Spirit of God has a massive role in revelation.

Standing before God -- in front of the throne

There is a correlation between 'the seven messengers -- who stand before God' (8:2), and 'the seven lamps blazing -- in front of the throne -- which are the seven spirits of God' (4:5).  Both the 'seven messengers' and the 'seven lamps' stand before God.  The Holy Spirit stands before God.  Along with these verses, also note Rev 1:4.

Revealing the prostitute and the bride

Added to what I have already mentioned, the Spirit has the role of revealing two notable end-time events.

(1) He has the role of revealing the 'punishment of the great prostitute.'

Rev 17:1

'One of the seven messengers' who had the seven bowls came and said to me, "Come, 'I will show you' the punishment of the great prostitute."

(2) He has the role of revealing 'the bride' when she is glorified.

Rev 21:9

'One of the seven messengers' who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, "Come, 'I will show you' the bride, the wife of the Lamb."

In his gospel, John said, 'The Holy Spirit will tell you what is yet to come' (John 16:13).  The Holy Spirit does this abundantly in Revelation.

The sixth setting -- the Spirit's work in the early church

Here (just briefly) is an outline of 'the work of the Holy Spirit' in the early church.  The verses I have quoted below show the leading role exercised by the Holy Spirit.

Acts 1:4-5, 8

Just before his death, while Jesus was eating with his disciples, he gave them this command:

He said, "Do not leave Jerusalem, but 'wait for the gift my Father has promised,' which you have heard me speak about... In a few days 'you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.'"

"You will receive power when 'the Holy Spirit' comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all of Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."

Acts 2:4, 6, 8

All of them were filled with 'the Holy Spirit' and began to speak in other languages 'as the Spirit enabled them.' ... A crowd came together, and were amazed because each one heard their own native language being spoken... "How can this be?" they asked.

Acts 2:17-18

In the last days, God says, 'I will pour out my Spirit' on all people.

Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.  Even on my servants, both men and women, 'I will pour out my Spirit' in those days, and they will prophesy.'

Acts 4:31

After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken.  And 'they were all filled with the Holy Spirit' and spoke the word of God boldly.

Acts 8:29, 35, 38-39

'The Spirit told Philip,' "Go to that chariot and stay near it." ...

Philip began his explanation at the very passage of Scripture that the Ethiopian was reading -- and told him the good news about Jesus.

And he gave orders to stop the chariot.  Then both Philip and the Ethiopian went down into the water and Philip baptized him.  When they came up out of the water, 'the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away,' and the Ethiopian did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing.

Acts 9:31

Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace and was strengthened.  Living in the fear of the Lord and 'encouraged by the Holy Spirit,' it increased in number.

Acts 10:19-20

While Peter was still thinking about the vision, 'the Spirit said to him,' "Simon, three men are looking for you.  So, get up and go downstairs.  Do not hesitate to go with them, for 'I (the Spirit) have sent them.'"

Acts 13:2-4

While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, 'the Holy Spirit said,' "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them."  So, after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.  The two of them, 'sent on their way by the Holy Spirit,' went down to Seleucia and sailed from there to Cyprus.

Acts 20:28

Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which 'the Holy Spirit has made you overseers.'  Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.

The Holy Spirit did a mighty work in the early church.  The Holy Spirit blessed the church.  He directed the disciples -- giving instruction in where they should go, what they should do, and directing the words they should speak.  He gave the church great power.

The Abundance of the Gifts of the Spirit

1 Cor 12:1, 4, 7-9, 11

Now about 'the gifts of the Spirit,' brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed... There are different kinds of gifts, but 'the same Spirit distributes them'...

Now to each one, the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.  To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another (the list continues) ... All these are 'the work of the one and the same Spirit,' and he distributes to each one, just as he determines.

The Holy Spirit was mightily at work in the early church.

Jesus holds 'the seven spirits of God' (Rev 3:1).  Through the Holy Spirit, he ministers to the church (whether it be in the first century, throughout the span of history, or right now).

The seventh setting -- The Symbolism of 'seven'

The symbolism embodied in the number 'seven' indicates a 'universal,' and an 'all-encompassing nature.'

Representing the Holy Spirit by 'the seven spirits' (Rev 1:4) is appropriate.  The Spirit is universal, and all-encompassing.  He is in all places at the same time.  It was for this reason that Jesus was able to say these words:

John 15:26 and 16:7

"When the Advocate (the Holy Spirit) comes, whom I will send to you from the Father -- the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father -- he will testify about me." ...

"Truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away.  Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you."

Jesus during his earthly ministry, could only be in one place at any given time, but the Spirit is universal, and is present in all places -- at all times.  For Jesus' followers, this is important.  The only strength we have comes from God.  We are not strong in ourselves -- in fact, we are weak.  Our strength comes from God, and this strength is given through the universal Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is Christ's powerful messenger to the church.

Rev 5:6

Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the centre of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders.  The Lamb had 'seven horns' and 'seven eyes,' which are 'the seven spirits' of God sent out into all the earth.

The Lamb (being Jesus Christ) has 'seven horns and seven eyes,' which are the seven spirits of God (being the Holy Spirit).

The 'horns' represent power.  The symbolic 'seven horns' represent omnipotence -- indicating that the Spirit of God is all-powerful.  The 'eyes' represent knowledge.  Therefore, the 'seven eyes' represent omniscience -- thus indicating that the Spirit is all-knowing.

The Holy Spirit is Christ's powerful messenger to the church.  He is sent out into all the earth (Rev 5:6).

Seven lamp-stands

The 'seven lamp-stands' symbolise the 'seven churches' (Rev 1:20).  The symbolism of 'seven' indicates the universal and all-encompassing nature of the Christian church.  The 'seven churches' of Revelation represent the universal Christian church -- as it exists 'throughout all ages' and 'in all places.'

It is Jesus' church.

It is symbolised by 'seven lamp-stands.'  But remember, Jesus' church does not stand on its own -- nor does it stand alone.

Without the Spirit of God (symbolised by 'the seven stars') these lamp-stands remain unlit -- and as such the church will stumble in darkness -- and the church will be useless.  Without light from God, there would be gross darkness within the church, and gross darkness before the church.  For the sake of salvation, it is vital that God's Spirit gives light to the church.

The lamps (in the Old Testament sanctuary) were to be kept alight and burning -- to give light to the area in front of them.

Exo 25:37

"Then make its seven lamps and set them up so that they 'light the space in front' of them."

It was important for these seven lamps to cast their light before them.  How much more important it is for 'every member of the Christian church' to embrace the Holy Spirit of God so that we may shine a light, and be a true witness 'to all those around us.'

The church only has power -- as the Spirit of God gives it power.

Next Section

The Messages to the Seven Churches.