The opening lesson in Revelation is that the churches are not center stage. When John turned to see who was speaking, he did see seven magnificent lampstands but he didn’t focus on them—he was drawn to Jesus.
Jesus appeared in the same divine splendor that Daniel had seen in God, the Ancient of Days (Dan. 7:9-10). The vision impacted John so powerfully that he collapsed in fear. Jesus comforted John and then explained what he had seen.
The seven stars were angels of seven churches, presumably guarding the churches. The angels are God’s messengers. They are in Jesus’ right hand dispatched and ministering at His command. The lampstands were the churches and they surrounded Jesus.
The churches did not block John’s view of Jesus. The best and the biggest failed to steal the show. The glaring faults of the most worrisome ones escaped John’s attention. John was in the Spirit; he saw spiritual reality. Jesus was central no matter what the churches were like.
When we begin to define church, it helps to remember what John saw and what Jesus said. “He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father—to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (Rev 1:6) Jesus made us subjects of God the king; we function as priests giving glory to God. Each local church is a gathering of priestly, royal subjects focused on God.
Any kind of inordinate attention on the church is inappropriate, whether it is idolizing a good church or allowing the problems of a bad one to suck us dry. Agonizing about church challenges or enthusing in a great church should both be secondary to our loving service to Jesus, the head of the church.