The imagery of the seven candlesticks, or seven lampstands, is found in several places in Scripture. Most significantly, it appears in the first chapter of the Book of Revelation, where John has a vision of seven golden lampstands, representing seven churches in Asia Minor. The candlesticks are an important symbol, representing the light and witness of the churches empowered by the Holy Spirit.
Candlesticks, or lampstands, were an important element in the Jewish temple and tabernacle. The tabernacle had a special golden lampstand made according to the pattern God gave Moses (Exodus 25:31-40). This lamp was to be kept burning continually with pure olive oil, representing the light of God’s presence.
In John’s vision of the throne room of heaven in Revelation 1, he sees seven separate golden lampstands, which the text tells us represent the seven churches of Asia Minor. The vision shows Jesus Christ walking among these seven lampstands, symbolic of his presence with and work in his church on earth.
The imagery of the seven golden lampstands carries important symbolism for Christians today as well, representing the light, witness, and empowering of the church by the Holy Spirit. As we explore the meaning of this symbolism, here are some key takeaways:
- The lampstands represent the church, called to be light in a dark world
- Jesus is present in his church, examining and ministering to them
- The flames represent the work of the Holy Spirit in empowering and guiding the church
- The number seven implies completeness, a fullness of the Spirit’s work across all churches
- The golden lampstands picture the incredible value God places on his gathered people
- Believers must stay spiritually alert and dependent on the Spirit, ensuring the flame does not go out
- Churches must hold fast to the truth of Scripture to reflect God’s light rightly
As we dive deeper into the meaning of the seven lampstands, my prayer is that God would give us wisdom and insight concerning his heart for his church on earth. What an incredible privilege it is to be called the light of the world as we walk in faithfulness to Christ and the empowerment of the Spirit!
The Lampstand in the Tabernacle and Temple
To understand the symbolism of the seven lampstands in Revelation, it is helpful first to examine the original lampstand God commanded Moses to construct for the tabernacle. We read about this in Exodus 25:31-40:
“You shall make a lampstand of pure gold. The lampstand shall be made of hammered work: its base, its stem, its cups, its calyxes, and its flowers shall be of one piece with it. And there shall be six branches going out of its sides, three branches of the lampstand out of one side of it and three branches of the lampstand out of the other side of it; three cups made like almond blossoms, each with calyxes and flower, on one branch, and three cups made like almond blossoms, each with calyxes and flower, on the other branch—so for the six branches going out of the lampstand. And on the lampstand itself there shall be four cups made like almond blossoms, with their calyxes and flowers, and a calyx of one piece with it under each pair of the six branches going out from the lampstand. Their calyxes and their branches shall be of one piece with it, the whole of it a single piece of hammered work of pure gold. You shall make seven lamps for it. And the lamps shall be set up so as to give light on the space in front of it. Its tongs and their trays shall be of pure gold. It shall be made, with all these utensils, out of a talent of pure gold. And see that you make them after the pattern for them, which is being shown you on the mountain.”
The detailed description shows this was to be a beautiful lampstand holding seven oil lamps, intricately decorated with almond flowers and branches. It was made from one solid piece of pure gold, following the exact pattern God showed Moses.
This lampstand illumined the Holy Place of the tabernacle where the priests ministered. It was to be kept burning continually (Exodus 27:20-21), fed by pure olive oil, representing the continual light of God’s presence with his people. The nation of Israel was called as God’s light to the nations, and the lampstand visibly symbolized this holy calling.
When Solomon built the first temple, he placed a larger version of this lampstand in the Holy Place, along with ten golden tables (1 Kings 7:49). This showed the continuity between the wilderness tabernacle and the permanent temple. The lampstand continued shining as a sign of God’s covenant faithfulness, lighting the temple where God chose to place his Name.
The Seven Lampstands in Revelation
Drawing on this Old Testament imagery, John’s vision of the seven golden lampstands in Revelation 1 makes an important statement about the identity and calling of the church.
Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. The seven lampstands are the seven churches. (Revelation 1:12-13, 20 ESV)
These lampstands represent seven specific churches in Asia Minor mentioned later in Revelation 2-3. But they also represent the church universal, the full company of God’s people during the time between Christ’s first and second coming.
The readers of Revelation faced intense persecution from the hostile Roman Empire. By depicting the churches as golden lampstands, John reminds them of their exalted position and calling. Just as Israel was called to be a light to the nations through the wilderness tabernacle, the church now bears the light of God’s truth to a lost world. This brings encouragement in the face of difficulty.
Unlike the single lampstand in the tabernacle, now there are seven. The number seven symbolizes completion and fullness. Thus, John sees the church universal, the complete people of God, shining brightly for his glory.
Key Details About the Lampstands
Examining the description of the lampstands in Revelation 1 shows some important details about their identity and calling:
Made of Gold
The lampstands are made of gold, representing the immense value God places on the church. Like the tabernacle lampstand, they are made of pure gold beaten into shape. Gold was the most precious metal in the ancient world. As God’s treasured possession and dwelling place, the church shares in this royal splendor (1 Peter 2:9).
Ministered to by Christ
John sees “one like a son of man” walking among the lampstands, representing the active presence of the risen Christ in his church. Jesus does not ignore or neglect the churches but engages directly with them, examining their deeds and encouraging them to overcome. He trims the wicks and supplies oil to the flames, ministering grace so the light can shine.
Empowered by the Holy Spirit
The burning flames represent the Holy Spirit dwelling in and empowering the church. Just as the tabernacle lampstand was supplied with pure olive oil, so Christ’s church shines with the Spirit’s power. It is only through the Spirit that the church can fulfill its calling to illuminate the world.
Ephesus Has Lost Its Light
In Jesus’ message to Ephesus (Rev 2:5), he warns them that unless they repent, he will come and remove their lampstand from its place. This shows that a church can cease to be light-bearers if they depart from the Spirit and the truth. They must walk in holiness and rely fully on Christ to maintain the flame.
Threatened by Persecution
As the Roman Empire increases persecution, the churches face the threat of having their lampstands removed (physical destruction). But Jesus exhorts them to hold fast, even to the point of death, promising great reward (2:10). Their light shines brightest when their faithfulness contrasts with the surrounding darkness.
Must Hold Fast to Scripture
The church shines light by holding fast to Scripture. Those who deny the truth and follow false teaching diminish the light of Christ (2:14-15, 20-24). Only when rooted in God’s Word can the church reflect His light accurately.
Applying the Imagery Today
For Christians today, the vision of the seven golden lampstands continues to enrich our understanding of the church’s identity and calling. Here are some key applications:
We Are Called to Shine
Like Israel of old, the church is called to be a light to the nations (Isa 42:6, Acts 13:47). This is fulfilled as believers live out the gospel collectively in the church. Our good deeds and righteousness point people to Christ the light of the world.
Christ Is Present with Us
Jesus continually ministers to his church through his Spirit and Word. He walks among the lampstands, trimming our wicks, supplying oil, and lighting our flames. The church shines only through his working in and through us.
We Must Walk in the Spirit
It is so easy for our wicks to become clogged with sin, apathy, and love of the world’s ways. We must continually surrender to the refining work of the Spirit to shine brightly. Our witness stems from dependence on the Spirit’s power.
We Must Hold Fast to Truth
When churches compromise biblical truth and embrace false teaching, they cease to shine light. We must root ourselves deeply in God’s Word, allowing it to permeate all areas of life and witness.
Persecution Refines our Witness
In times of hostility and persecution, the faithful witness of the church often shines most brightly. God uses trials to purify and refine us, causing the light to burn clearer.
Jesus Values His Church
Jesus sees his church as like pure gold – incredibly precious and valuable. He longs for restored purity and bright witness among churches today. May we walk worthy of our calling as his treasured possession!
The Menorah and Hanukkah
The imagery of the lampstand also connects to an important event between the Old and New Testaments – the Feast of Hanukkah.
Hanukkah celebrates events taking place around 165 BC, as the Jews were ruled by the Seleucid Empire. The Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes defiled the temple in Jerusalem by erecting a pagan altar and sacrificing a pig there. He also outlawed Jewish religious practices under punishment of death.
A Jewish priest named Mattathias and his sons rebelled against Antiochus, launching a successful revolt to retake the temple. When they sought to relight the menorah lampstand, they found only enough pure oil to burn for one day. Miraculously it burned for eight full days, allowing time for more oil to be consecrated.
Hanukkah means “dedication.” The eight-day Feast of Hanukkah commemorates the cleansing and rededication of the temple after this desecration. It also celebrates God’s provision of the oil to keep the menorah burning.
The lampstand imagines in Revelation would remind readers of this Feast and celebration of God preserving the light of his witness. Even through times of persecution, God sustains the shining testimony of his faithful people.
Conclusion: Walk as Children of Light
The image of the seven golden lampstands provides rich encouragement and instruction for Christians today. We are called to shine the light of Christ in a dark world through dependence on the Holy Spirit and adherence to God’s Word.
Jesus actively ministers to fuel our flames for witness, giving grace to overcome and shine brighter. May we as the church walk in purity and holiness, holding fast to biblical truth. And may we embrace the privilege of our calling to reflect the light of Christ in all we do. Let us continually fan into flame the empowering Holy Spirit dwelling within, that we would shine brightly for the glory of God.