Part One: the 7 Stars (Angels) and 7 Lampstands (Churches)
The first part of Revelations (chapters 1-3) is a little head's up for 7 churches of Asia—Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea—dictated to John by Jesus (Rev 1:12-18), and the gist of each message is basically: "God is watching and you have become lax in some way, which if not repented and changed will be your downfall—judgment is coming." The 7 stars represent the 7 watchful angels and the 7 lampstands represent the 7 churches (Rev 1:20). What is interesting to me in this section is how God words his message: the opening and closing of each letter—how He identifies Himself and what He promises to each church. A recurring theme for the ending of all 7 letters is a call for prophets—“anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what He is saying to the churches"—included toward the end of each letter.
Ephesus: "Write this letter to the angel of the church in Ephesus. This is the message from the One who holds the 7 stars in His right hand (God), the One who walks among the 7 gold lampstands (again, God)." The end promises eternal life—"fruit from the Tree of Life in the paradise of God"—as reward for repentance and victory in Jesus (Rev 2:1-7).
Smyrna: "Write this letter to the angel of the church in Smyrna. This is the message from the One who is the First and the Last (God), who was dead but is now alive (Jesus)." His promise at the end: "But if you remain faithful even when facing death, I will give you the Crown of Life...whoever is victorious will not be harmed by the 2nd death" (Rev 2:8-11). More on the “2nd death” later.
Pergamum: "Write this letter to the angel of the church in Pergamum. This is the message from the One with the sharp two-edged sword (Jesus/ God's word)." The end promise of victorious reward: "To everyone who is victorious I will give some of the manna that has been hidden away in heaven. And I will give to each one a white stone and on the stone will be engraved a new name that no one understands except the one who receives it." Interesting gift. (Rev 2:12-17)
Thyatira: “Write this letter to the angel of the church in Thyatira. This is the message from the Son of God (Jesus), whose eyes are like flames of fire (Jesus), whose feet are like polished bronze (Jesus).” Not the familiar picture of a soft-looking man holding a lamb in your Sunday school class? Check out a similar description in Rev 1:12-18; remember, he’s gearing up for Spiritual Warfare and the end is near. His promise at the end: “I will give authority over all the nations. They will rule the nations with an iron rod and smash them like clay pots. They will have the same authority I received from my Father, and I will also give them the morning star!” [a term used to describe Himself later in Rev 22:16]. Pretty destructive imagery all around, but nothing compared to what is to come (Rev 2:18-29).
Sardis: “Write this letter to the angel of the church in Sardis. This is the message from the One who has the sevenfold Spirit of God and the 7 stars (God).” This new identity of the Spirit “sevenfold” is introduced for the first time in the Bible in Revelation. Don’t get too hung up on it, it simply represents a new picture or understanding of the Trinity’s character and power, much like the description of Jesus as a warlord earlier—just one more piece of the whole puzzle revealed to us. Remember, we’re not held accountable for the secrets of God we don’t understand, only for the pieces He chooses to reveal to us and how we internalize them (Deut 29:29). And their just reward: “All who are victorious will be clothed in white. I will never erase their names from the Book of Life, but I will announce before my Father and His angels that they are Mine.” Pretty Powerful. (Rev 3: 1-6).
Philadelphia: “Write this letter to the angel of the church in Philadelphia. This is the message from the One who is holy and true (God), the One who has the key of David (Jesus). What He opens, no one can close; and what He closes, no one can open.” (reference Isa. 22:22 for a reminder on the key of David). Victory’s reward: “Because you have obeyed My command to persevere, I will protect you from the great time of testing that will come upon the whole world to test those who belong to this world… All who are victorious will become pillars in the Temple of My God, and they will never have to leave it. And I will write on them the Name of My God, and they will be citizens in the city of My God—the New Jerusalem that comes down from heaven from My God. And I will also write on them My New Name.” That’s a lot to take in—what a gift! It’s almost like 3 gifts. And here’s another surprising detail: when the Word says He makes all things “new” (Isa 43:19, 66:22, 65:17; Rev 21:1-5; Gal 6:15, 2 Peter 3:13, 2 Cor 5:17, Ezek 18:31, 36:26, Col 3:10) that applies to heaven, earth, Jerusalem, and even the Name of Jesus, as well as you and me in our individual walk with Christ here on earth. Wow. (Rev 3:7-13).
Laodicea: “Write this letter to the angel of the church in Laodicea. This is the message from the One who is the Amen (Spirit)—the faithful and true witness (Jesus), the beginning of God’s new creation (God).” And the final promise: “Those who are victorious will sit with Me on My throne, just as I was victorious and sat with My Father on His throne.” What a comparison. We hardly deserve it, but thank God He doesn’t give us what we deserve. Amen. (Rev 3:14-22).
The 7 distinct ways God uses to identify Himself (and the Trinity) differ in accordance to what He wants the churches to each be aware of—which elements of His character He wants to remind them of and impress upon them; the promises of victory are different, too. He didn’t simply say “I am God…victory means life eternal”—each reward was chosen specifically for some reason, tying directly into the Identity God listed and the “complaints” He has with the church. Interesting that there are 7 continents and listed there are 7 churches--of course, we'll have to quickly set-up shop in Antarctica if we believed that, but I think there's more symbolism going on than simply 7 for 7 [in fact, a whole study could be done on the meanings of the number 7 in the Bible and in Revelation, but that's for another time]. I would really rather be grouped in with the victorious ones of Ephesus, Smyrna, Sardis, or Philadelphia rather than with those of Pergamum, Thyatira, or Laodicea—but that’s not up for me to decide, thankfully.
What an interesting scene of John taking dictation from God the Father Almighty and Jesus Christ as described in all His garb, writing warnings to us of what will be.