on Revelation 1 :20
The mystery - That is, the allegorical explanation of the seven stars is the seven angels or ministers of the Churches; and the allegorical meaning of the seven golden lamps is the seven Churches themselves.
1. In the seven stars there may be an allusion to the seals of different offices under potentates, each of which had its own particular seal, which verified all instruments from that office; and as these seals were frequently set in rings which were worn on the fingers, there may be an allusion to those brilliants set in rings, and worn επι της δεξιας, Upon the right hand. In Jeremiah 22:24, Coniah is represented as a signet on the right hand of the Lord; and that such signets were in rings see Genesis 38:18, Genesis 38:25; Exodus 18:11; Daniel 6:17, Haggai 2:23. On close examination we shall find that all the symbols in this book have their foundation either in nature, fact, custom, or general opinion. One of the cutchery seals of the late Tippoo Saib, with which he stamped all the commissions of that office, lies now before me; it is cut on silver, in the Taaleck character, and the piece of silver is set in a large gold ring, heavy, but roughly manufactured.
2. The Churches are represented by these lamps; they hold the oil and the fire, and dispense the light. A lamp is not light in itself, it is only the instrument of dispensing light, and it must receive both oil and fire before it can dispense any; so no Church has in itself either grace or glory, it must receive all from Christ its head, else it can dispense neither light nor life.
3. The ministers of the Gospel are signets or seals of Jesus Christ; he uses them to stamp his truth, to accredit it, and give it currency. But as a seal can mark nothing of itself unless applied by a proper hand, so the ministers of Christ can do no good, seal no truth, impress no soul, unless the great owner condescend to use them.
4. How careful should the Church be that it have the oil and the light, that it continue to burn and send forth Divine knowledge! In vain does any Church pretend to be a Church of Christ if it dispense no light; if souls are not enlightened, quickened, and converted in it. If Jesus walk in it, its light will shine both clearly and strongly, and sinners will be converted unto him; and the members of that Church will be children of the light, and walk as children of the light and of the day, and there will be no occasion of stumbling in them.
5. How careful should the ministers of Christ be that they proclaim nothing as truth, and accredit nothing as truth, but what comes from their master!
They should also take heed lest, after having preached to others, themselves should be cast-aways; lest God should say unto them as he said of Coniah, As I live, saith the Lord, though Coniah, the son of Jehoiakim, were the Signet Upon My Right Hand, yet would I pluck thee thence.
On the other hand, if they be faithful, their labor shall not be in vain, and their safety shall be great. He that toucheth them toucheth the apple of God's eye, and none shall be able to pluck them out of his hand. they are the angels and ambassadors of the Lord; their persons are sacred; they are the messengers of the Churches, and the glory of Christ. Should they lose their lives in the work, it will be only a speedier entrance into an eternal glory.
The rougher the way, the shorter their stay, The troubles that rise Shall gloriously hurry their souls to the skies.
on Revelation 1 :20
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.
on Revelation 1 :20
1:20 Write first the mystery - The mysterious meaning of the seven stars - St. John knew better than we do, in how many respects these stars were a proper emblem of those angels: how nearly they resembled each other, and how far they differed in magnitude, brightness, aa and other circumstances. The seven stars are angels of the seven churches - Mentioned in the eleventh verse . Rev 1:11 In each church there was one pastor or ruling minister, to whom all the rest were subordinate. This pastor, bishop, or overseer, had the peculiar care over that flock: on him the prosperity of that congregation in a great measure depended, and he was to answer for all those souls at the judgment seat of Christ. And the seven candlesticks are seven churches - How significant an emblem is this! For a candlestick, though of gold, has no light of itself; neither has any church, or child of man. But they receive from Christ the light of truth, holiness, comfort, that it may shine to all around them. As soon as this was spoken St. John wrote it down, even all that is contained in this first chapter . Afterwards what was contained in the second and third chapter s was dictated to him in like manner.