In Revelation 1, light again is used as a powerful symbol. Jesus is described in this passage as holding seven bright stars in His right hand, and He is surrounded by seven golden lampstands. In verse 19 the Lord commands John,
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.
Note that a lampstand is not the light. It is the bearer of the light. A light-bearer holds the light so that the light itself can shine forth, illuminating its environment. The light, of course, is the truth God reveals to the world in Jesus Christ.
The world is full of learned men, of prestigious universities, of libraries that are great repositories of knowledge. Yet, despite the great accumulation of knowledge our race has amassed over the centuries, there are many truths which are unknown to man in his natural state. One place where these truths may be found is in the church, the light-bearer, the lampstand. Only in the church can mankind find the moral and redemptive light which alone can illuminate this darkening world. As members of the church, you and I are called to uphold that light and reflect it into every corner of our society.
The church is not just a holy huddle where we gather to escape the pressures of a hostile world until the Lord returns. The church is called to move out, to penetrate the world with the white-hot rays of God's truth. We have a powerful influence to exert and exercise in the world, and that's what these seven dynamic letters are all about.
In his bestselling novel This Present Darkness, Frank Peretti describes a praying, faithful community of believers called Ashton Community Church. Unseen by human eyes, this church is guarded from satanic evil by shining beings in white with swords at their sides, bearing such names as Scion, Krioni, Signa, and Triskal. These beings are angels, guarding and ministering to the church.
And while Peretti's depiction of angels as something out of an Italian Renaissance fresco — winged, clad in flowing white robes, bearing swords — may seem at times a little quaint and melodramatic, the seven letters of Revelation clearly suggest that churches do in fact have angels. Each of these letters is addressed to the angel of that particular church.
Many Bible scholars struggle over this statement. What is meant by "the angel of the church"?
It is true, as some Bible commentators note, that the word in the original text for "angel" could also be translated "messenger," which some would suggest means the pastor of the church.
In other parts of the New Testament this word in the original language does mean "messenger" rather than "angel" — but it does not have that meaning anywhere else in Revelation. Everywhere this word appears outside of chapters 2 and 3, it definitely refers to an angel — a heavenly being.
Moreover, as you carefully examine the structure of the church in the New Testament you never find a church governed by just one human leader. Leadership in the first-century church appears to have been plural — elders and pastors — and it is only in later centuries that men placed churches under the authority of a single leader. So it seems highly unlikely that these letters in Revelation are directed to a single human "messenger" or pastor.
Remember that in Hebrews angels are called "ministering spirits, sent forth to serve the heirs of salvation" — that is, Christians like you and me. It seems likely, therefore, that in those invisible but utterly real dimensions of spirit, there are angels assigned to each church to help the leaders and the congregation know what is on God's heart.
I am convinced that the "angel" or "messenger" addressed in Revelation 2 and 3 is not a human leader or pastor. I believe these seven letters are addressed to the angels of the seven churches — heavenly beings responsible for guiding the human leaders of each church.