Jesus Among the Lampstands

The first paragraph of Revelation closes with the potentially ominous words, “take to heart what is written in it [the prophecy], because the time is near.” (Revelation 1:3, NIV). These words set the tone for a book that seems cryptic, yet is titled the Revelation to John, giving the reader the idea that something hidden is being unveiled to John (and by extension, to us).

John reports that Jesus sent this God-given message through an intermediary–an angel–to John, who was a reliable and trusted witness of all that he saw: the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. His purpose in relaying the message to John was so that he would proclaim it to show God’s servants what must soon take place.

Who Jesus Is

John begins by establishing the nature and character of the One giving the message, Jesus, describing him as follows:

  • Him who is, and who was, and who is to come (vs. 4)
  • the faithful witness (vs. 5)
  • the firstborn from among the dead (vs. 5)
  • the ruler of the kings of the earth (vs. 5)
  • the one who loves us (vs. 5)
  • the one who has freed us from our sins by his blood (vs. 5)
  • the one who made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father (vs. 6)
  • the Alpha and Omega (vs. 8)
  • the Almighty (vs. 8)
  • the First and the Last (vs. 17)
  • the Living One (vs. 18)

While in the Gospels we observe Jesus teaching his followers, performing miracles, preaching the Kingdom of Heaven, here we see Jesus resurrected, ascended, glorified, victorious, active in the affairs of his body, the Church.

Where We See Him

As John prayed, the veil between heaven and earth was rent. He no longer saw only his surroundings on Patmos, he saw into the heavenly realms. Hearing a loud voice behind him, he turned, falling as though dead at the sight of the exalted, glorified Jesus. The Ancient of Days stood before him in the midst of seven lampstands, dressed as a priest, supernatural, powerful, overwhelming in his holy presence.

We are told that these golden lampstands represented the seven churches of Asia.

This image was posted by the EarthtoSpiritWarrior Channel on Youtube on August 2, 2015.

What was Jesus Doing There?

Priests, in Old Testament times, were the ones chosen to move about inside the Tabernacle (later the Temple). The ministered before God, making sacrifices, tending to the show bread, offering incense, and so on. They also tended the golden lampstand. They kept the oil filled, they trimmed the wicks, they insured that the light would not be extinguished in the Holy Place. Writes Moses in Exodus 27:20 and following:

“You shall command the people of Israel that they bring to you pure beaten olive oil for the light, that a lamp may regularly be set to burn. In the tent of meeting, outside the veil that is before the testimony, Aaron and his sons shall tend it from evening to morning before the Lord. It shall be a statute forever to be observed throughout their generations by the people of Israel.”

Exodus 27:20-21, ESV

In other words, keeping the light burning was of highest importance. This room in the tabernacle separated the outer court from the Holy of Holies. Without the continual light burning in the lamps of the lampstand, the room containing the Bread of the Presence (symbolizing God’s nurturing presence) and the Altar of Incense (symbolizing the prayers of the saints) would go dark. Ministry in this space would cease. Only darkness would exist between the Holiest Place (containing the Ark of the Covenant) and the outer court where priests made animal sacrifice.

We might then deduce that Jesus, dressed in priestly garments, was moving among the lampstands, filling them with oil, trimming the wicks, insuring that the light will not go out.

It is noteworthy that earlier in the chapter, as John erupts in doxology, he proclaims that Jesus “made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father . . .”

The background image used is accredited as follows: “Israel-06877 – Solid Gold Menorah” by archer10 (Dennis) is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

So the church exists in that space between the Holiest Place where God dwells and the outer courts of the world. The church is the bearer of light, the container of oil that burns brightly for the King of Kings. And there in that Holy Place, moving among the lampstands, is Jesus Christ, the Holy One, filling the lamps with oil (symbolizing the Holy Spirit), trimming the wicks so that the lamps will burn bright and clear (not the smokey, smouldering flames characteristic of damaged wicks), so that the light will not go out.

Light in a Dark World

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

John 1:1-5, ESV

Jesus himself said of his followers, “You are the light of the world.” (Matthew 5:14) His Spirit fuels our light. His Word keeps us walking with him.

“Your word is a light for my feet, a light on my path.”

Psalm 119:105

Jesus is quite serious about keeping the light burning bright and clear. He is not averse to disciplining his followers in order to cut away that which would dim their witness and dull their love.

His words are given to the seven churches, not merely the messengers of those churches. The criticisms that are leveled against the churches of Asia are leveled against congregations, not merely the individuals comprising the congregation. The expectation is that these congregations will experience life together, will discipline one another, will assemble in order to encourage one another, all the more as the Day draws near. Note the words of the writer to the Hebrews:

“And let us consider how to stir one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

Hebrews 10:24-25, ESV

It is in the context of the assembly that we find:

  • Accountability
  • Encouragement
  • Exhortation
  • Motivation
  • Teaching
  • Mutual Prayer
  • Correction

To our shame, there are many who consider themselves followers of Jesus that have been deceived by the spirit of the age, believing that there are no consequences for sin or pursuit of self. Many falsely believe that you can follow Jesus without being part of the church. To believe that you can be a follower of Jesus without being part of the church is like believing that a leg can function in and of itself without being attached to a body. A leg detached from a body simply putrefies into a rotting, malodorous puddle of stench. Likewise, when we detach ourselves from the body, we become vulnerable to deception (including self-deception), loss of passion, discouragement, error, etc.

Henceforth, Jesus walks amidst the church, disciplining us for our own good. He calls us out on that which we have abandoned. He encourages us in what is right and good. And he leaves us with a stern warning (as is seen in the letter written to the Ephesian congregation): “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.” (Rev. 2:5)

As I read those words, my mind is drawn back into the image of the Tabernacle in the wilderness. In Revelation, rather than there being a menorah with seven branches, there are seven separate lampstands, each one giving its light into the darkened space between the Holiest Place and the outer court. I see the glorified Christ tending to each lamp and finding one that is smoking and smouldering and filling the Holy Place with acrid smoke. I see him removing it from the space to prevent that space from becoming polluted.

Our Light

Even though each of us is part of a congregation (hopefully), we are also individuals. God pours the light of life into each of us when we repent and are joined to him in baptism. We receive the gift of the Holy Spirit when we are buried and raised with Him. We are given spiritual gifts that are to be used to build up the body. We are extended grace through faith. What we do in our hearts and minds and with our hands and feet affects the life of the body. We are not our own. We were bought with a price.

Because we have surrendered our rights and have accepted the exhortation to deny ourselves, take up our cross daily and follow Him, we must each choose daily to live in light of our impact on others. Our choices impact the community.

The world’s response to the coronavirus pandemic has been used by the Lord to trim the wicks of the lamps. He has used it to expose the fissures in the foundation of our philosophy and practice. He has used it to force the issue with us that following Jesus isn’t about “Your best life now . . .” or your “best year ever” or about “being true to yourself”. He has used it to show us where our loyalties truly lay. James exhorts us to not let ourselves be polluted by the world, yet . . .

Satan wants to use this season to unleash hell on earth. In his fury he wants to destroy the church, isolate believers, and bring us to ruin. He wants to snuff out our light. But we have the promises, don’t we? “The light shines in the darkness, but darkness has not overcome it.” “I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail.” “To him who overcomes I will grant to eat of the tree of life . . .”

We do well, beloved, to use this season which Satan means for evil to use it for good: to take stock of our lives, our assumptions, our practice and to turn a corner through repentance, surrender, and a renewed, deepened love for God and his Word.

” . . . the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.”

Romans 13:11-13, ESV

Let your light shine!!!

toddaowen

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