19 Therefore write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after these things. 20 As for the mystery of the seven stars which you saw in My right hand, and the seven golden lampstands: the seven stars are the angels of the seven assemblies, and the seven lampstands are the seven assemblies.
In verse 19 John is told to write three things: 1) the things he saw, 2) the things which are, and 3) the things which will take place after these things. This is the very first clue that we as readers of the Letter of Revelation get about the possible structure of John’s composition. There will be others too and we will address those as we come upon them in the text.
In verse 20 the Son of Man explains to John and by extension to his readers that the symbolism of seven stars in his hand and seven lamp stands among which he was seen walking earlier (Rev.1:12-13) is intricately connected with the seven Jesus-believing assemblies in Asia Minor and their angels/messengers.
There is often a confusion about the word “angel” in biblical texts and Revelation is not an exception. Angels are always seen as heavenly beings. Thus every time the word angel comes up in biblical context the presence of supernatural heavenly beings is assumed (usually looking the way we’ve been thought they look). But in Hebrew the word MALACH also means a human messenger. The same is the case in Koine Judeo-Greek’s meaning of ANGELOS.
Can one make a case for human messengers/angels delivering and reading letters to their congregations? Yes. On the other hand apocalyptic literature is rich with heavenly messengers delivering messages to humans. This is a common feature of this type of Jewish literature. John writes within this apocalyptic genre.
Just like verses in John’s Revelation in the book of Jubilees Jacob receives seven tablets from an angel. He reads them and discovers in these seven tablets information about the future of his family and things to come in general. We read in Jubilees 32:20-21:
“And He finished speaking with him, and He went up from him, and Jacob looked till He had ascended into heaven. And he saw in a vision of the night, and behold an angel descended from heaven with seven tablets in his hands, and he gave them to Jacob, and he read them and knew all that was written therein which would befall him and his sons throughout all the ages.
As other apocalyptic Jewish books John’s letter of Revelation includes prediction of the future events that are meant to be a comfort in the time of discouragement and persecution especially. At the time of brutal persecution of followers of Jesus by the Roman government the true King of Israel Jesus, the Son of Man and the high priest of heavenly tabernacle affirms that all those who trust in him can be confident in their future. Christ holds them in his right hand of strength and authority. They have nothing to be afraid of. Their future is secure.
(The image used in this post is part of Jerusalem Wall of Life mural – www.jerusalemwalloflife.org)
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Seven stars in his hands which are seven angels.
Jesus was served by angels in various Gospels. In fact, I don’t recall Him being served by disciples or apostles ever. Followed yes. So for me, when Jesus talks about angels He is talking about His servants. If there is a clearer case, when about to be killed under trial He clearly started that He had command of hours of angels who would protect and fight for Him.
The seven stars may be related to the Pleiades which were central to Egipt worship and piramid orientation in regards to the way to heaven for Pharaoh. For a teckton, ie, a builder, this powerful image of the role of stars as guides to heaven may mean avery concrete statement of who holds the path to Heaven in His hands. Him, the hand that Enoch saw… “so big that it covered the stars of Heaven embracing and protecting Him. 2Enoch
Give me a brrreakk! I just read or “hear” Mr. Ryan’s statement, that other ancient cultures had similar symbols, as well as Hebrew culture. And isn’t that so?
But we are looking at the Hebrew people as the people of the promise/Covenant and the Hebrew Scripture & NT as sacred, with your scholarly/enlightened understanding of Hebrew-Greek language & culture, to continue to peel back the layers of the NT “onion” to better understanding.
So, I think you may have been reading in what may not be intended…having fun, as you said!
When we study the background it is helpful to be aware of multiple cultural views of symbols. There is some “bleeding” of these ideas from culture to culture since Jews were a part of the greater near eastern acumen.
As grandiose as we want to interpret this type of symbolism it is important to remember that the symbolism that is being written- more than likely is derived from ancient Mesopotamia where 7 stars is a common symbol on ancient cylinders and other artifacts (that remain). The seven stars in those days was a device used and is interpreted as the 7 stars of the Pleiades.
A good comparison in time would be like using the Christian fish symbol (Ichthys) (100-300 AD) on brochures today compared to the writing of text. The symbol is familiar but the original meaning and original usage is still up for debate.
If you are into ancient coins (which I hope people will explore), you will find many times where the seven stars or dots are present on coinage leading up to and during the writing of the original texts. And seven stars as someone mentioned earlier is know in Latin as Septuagint.
Ryan, fascinating, thank you. Are you saying that the idea here of the seven stars some how “talking” to the mind that was familiar with ancient non-Jewish ideas about the “seven starts/seven sisters of the Pleiades” and then saying that – no, the seven starts are the seven messengers to the seven congregations of the Asia Minor in this letter (Rev. 1:20). Did I have too much fun with what you wrote or is this more less what you are saying? (FOR ANYONE READING THIS: You can do your own simple and complex search but this could be be a very basic place to start – http://www.naic.edu/~gibson/pleiades/pleiades_myth.html)
Obrigado pelad riquezas de informçoes
Hi Dr Eli, I am new to your link and am no theologian or translator, but a simple minded believer. I often take the view of ambiguity where both meanings could be possible. Heavenly beings yes, and of course human beings reading, teaching and delivering these scriptures.
It is a healthy practice to think that way.
When does Angelos mean human messenger and when does it mean God’s heavenly beings as Angels have confused Bible translators. It can mean either one depending on the context. All the mainstream English and Chinese Bibles translated the word angelos as God’s heavenly beings. In the book of Revelation, some verses are easy to tell because the setting is at God’s throne in heaven, e.g. the angels in Rev 3:5 and Rev 7:11 are heavenly beings. In Rev 12:9, the angels were heavenly beings who rebelled against Jesus and followed Satan. The angels in Rev 1:10 to Rev 2 are likely to be human messengers appointed by Jesus to send his warning, admonition, and teachings to His churches. The hardest verses lie in Rev 14 because the angelos here seem to mean heavenly angels. However, Seventh-Day Adventists understand that John was describing a religious movement in Rev 14:6-11. Hence these verses are using heavenly angels as symbols of God’s prophets who ask people to repent because Jesus’ judgement has started. Then the context changes beginning from Rev 14:14. This time the setting is in heaven where the Son of Man (Jesus) is visible and the heavenly angels here are not symbolizing human messengers anymore because their task is not about delivering God’s messages but Jesus’s command to separate the weed from the wheat.
Yes, David. That is the point. most of the time context leads us to the right conclusion. But sometimes we have to guess and many people are split about guessing about these messengers who are supposed to deliver the message from Jesus. Are they people or not? there is some disagreement.
My future is secure in Christ