The Lord maintains personal control over His Church down to the level of individual churches, and all the way down to the level of the leadership itself. Our church leadership needs our prayers and support because they have a solemn task to perform and a very high level of accountability before the Great Shepherd Himself.
(16) And he had in his right hand seven stars: and out of his mouth went a sharp twoedged sword: and his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength.
(17) And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead. And he laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last:
(18) I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death.
(19) Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter;
(20) The mystery of the seven stars which thou sawest in my right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks. The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches: and the seven candlesticks which thou sawest are the seven churches.
John says that the Lord “had in his right hand seven stars.” Jesus later explains that “the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches” (v. 20). The word translated “angels” is the Greek word angeloi. In most contexts in the NT, the word refers to angels. So, some interpret this passage to mean the angels God appoints over the churches. However, that does not make sense in this context. In His message to the churches Jesus rebukes some of these “angels.” Heavenly angels cannot sin, so they are not subject to rebuke. Nowhere in the New Testament are angels involved in church leadership. In this context then, angeloi, which can also mean messenger, is best understood here in that sense (Luke 7:24; 9:52; James 2:25) and more specifically as the pastors of these seven representative churches.
The Fearful Office that Pastors Hold
That Jesus represents Himself to John as holding these messengers in His right hand does not signify protection (although He does protect His people). It signifies control and illustrates the somber role that pastors, and church leadership play in the churches they serve. They are subject to the Great Shepherd and they are accountable to Him for their ministry to the Lord’s people (Hebrews 13:17). Any pastor that lords his authority over his congregation or who treats his ministry lightly will answer to Christ for it.
The Function of Pastors
Pastors have the responsibility of being the messengers of Christ. It is their responsibility to rightly divide (“handle aright, rightly deal with”) the word of truth (See 2 Timothy 2:15). It is why Paul exhorted young pastor Timothy to study to show himself approved. It is also the pastor’s responsibility to rightly counsel his sheep and to minister discipline as needed. (See 1 Timothy 1:20.) To do all of this requires strong moral character, which is why the standard for a pastor is set so high in Scripture (1 Timothy 3:1-7; James 3:1).
The Responsibility of Congregations to Their Church Leadership
As members of church congregations, knowing the serious accounting that our pastors must one day give before the Great Shepherd, it is our duty to pray for and support them. Yes, they minister to us, but we also minister to them.
Jesus’ Attitude Toward the Church at Large
John uses figurative language to describe the power of the Lord’s word: “and out of his mouth went a sharp twoedged sword.” Our first inclination is to see this as referring to Jesus protecting the Church from external threats, but in this context, it is referring to the Lord protecting it from internal ones. He has given church leadership the somber task of teaching right doctrine, and by showing Himself has having the seven stars in His right hand, He has made it clear that church leadership is accountable directly to Him. The image of the two-edged sword proceeding out His mouth extends that accountability to the Church at large. His Word is not limited just to leadership. It applies to the whole Church and He will judge false teachers and those who sow discord within His Church (Hebrews 4:12-13) at every level. He will purge it of liars and hypocrites with the same zeal He used when He drove the money-changers from the temple.
The Church’s Duty to the Lord is to Reflect His Glory
John concludes His description of the Lord with this statement: “and His countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength” (v. 16). What John was attempting to describe was the radiant glory clearly evident on the Lord’s face. When Moses met with the Lord in the temple, it is said that his face shone (Exodus 34:29). That came as a result of his fellowship with the Lord. It was residual. With the Lord Himself, that glory is integral. He naturally shines with glory because He is in fact glorious. Like Moses, our duty as God’s people is to reflect the Lord’s glory to the world. It should come as a natural byproduct of our having been with Jesus. It needs to be evident in how we treat each other, how we treat those who come to visit our churches, and how we interact with our community. Contact with the Savior is supposed to have a profound effect. It should humble us. It should cause us fear and trembling. And it should drive us to tell others of our Savior, just as it drove the Apostle John.