Revelation Pt. 14 - The Seven Lampstands

Saturday, 05 February 2011 21:51
"Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later. The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches." (Revelation 1:19-20)

Rabbis have a saying that scripture barely speaks unless it speaks of Messiah, and that is certainly true of the Revelation. So when Jesus told John to write "what you have seen", we can deduce that the events of the ministry, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus were implied. And when John was told to write "what is now", Christ was referring to the condition of His bride, which would be addressed with the 'Seven Letters' to the Churches. Then, "what will take place later" clearly refers to the prophetic portions of the Revelation that are associated with Christ's return for His bride.

Seven_StarsTHE SEVEN STARS

As alluded to in an earlier post, the fact that Jesus holds the "seven stars" in His right hand is significant. In the Bible, the right hand generally denotes action and power, and holding something 'in' your right hand symbolizes possession. In other words, these angels belong to Jesus, and he is using them to affect His will with these specific churches. And the fact that Christ possesses these angels suggests that they cannot be snatched from His hand, just as Christ's bride cannot be snatched from His hand;

"My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand." (John 10:27-28)

Some very good commentators believe that these seven stars, who are further identified as seven angels, are seven pastors instead. This is because the Greek translation uses the word 'aggelos', which means 'messenger', and can be translated as angel or pastor. In the new Testament, 'aggelos' is used 186 times, and 179 times it is translated as 'angel', while 7 times it is translated 'pastor'. So which is more appropriate in this instance?

For the answer, we can refer to the Hebrew New Testament, called the B'rit Chadashah. Since there is compelling evidence that the Revelation was originally written in Hebrew rather than Greek, the specific words employed in the B'rit Chadashah should be given serious weight. And in this case, it uses the word 'Mal'akhey', which in Webster's New World Hebrew Dictionary is translated this way;

Mal'akh/-eem nm angel; (pl + of: -ey).

From this, it seems apparent that Jesus was describing literal angels, who by the way are often referred to as 'stars' in scripture because they are celestial beings. In contrast, the word 'pastor' in Hebrew would be 'komer' in the singular or 'kemereem' if plural. So I'm persuaded that Jesus was portraying literal angels in this instance that served as a sort of 'guardian' for each church, providing spiritual guidance for the assembly. 

THE SEVEN LAMPSTANDS

Since these lessons are being taught from a primarily Hebraic perspective, we'll again refer to the Hebrew New Testament. The Greek word translated as 'lampstands' is actually 'menorot' in the B'rit Chadashah, and 'menorot' is simply a form of 'menorah', which we're more familiar with. This word is defined by Websters in this way;

Menorah/-ot nf lamp; chandelier; (+ of: -at).

menorahWhile commentators generally refer to these lampstands as singular lights, I believe that's not what Christ was intending. The menorah was not just a lampstand with a single light. Instead, the menorah always held SEVEN lamps or candles. This is why the word also carries the translation 'chandelier', because a chandelier also contains multiple lights. And chandelier is synonymous with a 'candelabra' and it's multiple candles, so that truly provides the most appropriate imagery.

This has a specific application in scripture, since the menorah was a temple furnishing that was attended by the High Priest. He was responsible for keeping each of the candles trimmed, lit, and burning properly in order to convey the most efficient light. We can see this very symbolism in play in our passage above, where Jesus is walking among the seven lampstands as our High Priest. He is tending to the churches in an effort to keep them trimmed, lit, and burning properly so that they can convey the brightest possible light. When the light of each church began to wane or flicker, our High Priest would tend to them as necessary. Sometimes this meant merely trimming the wick, but sometimes the wick would have to be snuffed out, replaced, and re-lit. As churches have come and gone throughout history, it's obvious that this process is ongoing even to this day.

As far as the design of the lampstands go, we know that the Temple Menorah contained seven lights due to the relief that was carved into the Arch of Titus, where the Roman victory over the Jews was portrayed. This Arch was built after Rome's conquest of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., where the Temple was destroyed and the Temple treasury was lost. A cropped photo of this menorah is shown in the adjacent illustration, just as it appears on the Arch, and one presumes that this rendering was an accurate depiction of the Temple menorah as it was carried into Rome.

THE COMPOUND MENORAH
MenorahChapters
Since we know that the menorah had seven lights, or candles, then how would that change our general understanding of what Christ was tending? Was he keeping just seven candles lit? Well, no, He wasn't. He was tending to 49 candles. This passage tells us that there were seven lampstands, or seven menorahs, and each menorah contained seven candles of it's own. So Christ was clearly tending 49 separate lights, and these 49 lights/candles form a compound menorah that is highly specific to the book of Revelation.

If you recall our earlier lesson on the 'Tree of Life', the compound menorah takes on a specific shape, where one menorah feeds oil into the next. Specifically, the seventh event on each mini-menorah would feed oil into the middle shamash stand of the next mini-menorah, and the the flow of events in the Revelation therefore takes on that precise chronology. This explains why the seventh letter introduces the seals, and the seventh seal introduces the trumpets, and so on. This overall flow of oil was explained in the 'Tree of Life' lesson however, so I won't repeat all of that here. If you have an interest in this dynamic, please go to the 'Sunday School Lessons' archives and refer to that session.

ONE LAMPSTAND PER CHURCH

Each mini-menorah on our Tree of Life is represented by a church, just as each mini-menorah is represented by a Festival. Referring to the Tree in the adjacent illustration, the 'Seven Letters' would be associated with the first Festival, the Passover, and would also be associated with the first church, Church of Ephesus. Then, the seven seals would be associated with the second festival of Unleavened Bread, which would also be associated with the Church at Smyna. This pattern would continue all the way through the seven Festivals and seven Churches.

If you've reviewed the lesson on the 'Tree of Life', you may have noticed that not only are the seven churches represented by the seven lampstands, but elements from the seven churches are also found in the covenant process and in the full spectrum of colors in the rainbow. This process takes us from 'blood' covenant represented by the color red, to the 'bride' covenant represented by the color white. This dynamic occurred on both sides of the Tree, with the 'Life' side on the right, and the 'Death' side on the left. In other words, it appears that the Tree of Life operates on several different levels, and this is typical of the layer-upon-layer that we find throughout the Bible. As we walk through the letters to the seven churches, the reasons for this layering will become apparent.

THE LETTERS TO THE CHURCHES

Next week we'll begin our analysis of the seven churches by examing the first church, the Church at Ephesus, which will be followed the next week by second church, the Church at Smyrna. Then we'll examine the Church at Pergamum, followed by Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea, in successive weeks. This portion of the Revelation is one of the most important aspects of the entire book, because it speaks directly to the hearts and minds of God's people, and it explains just who will, and who won't, become part of the bride of Christ. It's all about being an 'overcomer'. But before we get into that, it may be a good idea to outline how the letters were composed by God. They each follow this same basic pattern;

1) God uses a name for himself
2) That name is relevant to that church in some way
3) A commendation is given to the church when deserved
4) An admonishment is given to the church when necessary
5) An exhortation is given
6) A closing statement is made
7) A promise is made to the 'overcomer'

Within these seven letters, it's interesting that 2 churches have NO commendation, and 2 churches have NO admonishment. Each church had it's own particular problems to deal with, and each had it's own set of dynamics that were either good or bad, or both, so Christ deals with these problems through His commendations, admonishments and exhortations. The seven letters also address a wider range of church problems throughout the course of history.

For example, each letter had a contemporary message to the specific church for which it was intended, because these individual churches were dealing with very specific problems that were often unique to their area and their way of life. However, each letter could also apply to individuals within the other churches in Asia Minor.

Then, each letter had a composite message to all churches throughout history, whether they existed at that time or in our day, or anywhere in between. Jesus essentially knew of the major issues that would confront his people in this age, so when we read any of the seven letters, we can find something that may apply to us and our church, or any of the churches that exist in our day.

Finally, the seven letters provide a chronology of church history, from the days of the early church (Ephesus) to the days of the Millennium church (Laodicea), and all points in between. In other words, each of the seven churches represent seven distinct periods in church history over the last 2,000 years. If they were presented in any other order, this would not be true.

NEXT WEEK:

Next week we'll examine the letter to the Church at Ephesus.

comments  

 
0 #12 Bret 2012-01-27 16:08
That's a good answer . . . I appreciate the help!

Blessings,

Bret
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0 #11 Mike 2012-01-25 11:15
(continued from previous comment)

So the question is, why would a letter need to be addressed to an angel of any of these churches? Wouldn’t God have a direct link with each of them, making a letter unnecessary? Perhaps so, but not necessarily. God knows our thoughts and also the thoughts of His angels, but they wouldn’t necessarily know His thoughts any more than we do. So this would require communication of some kind, and perhaps God wanted these instructions to be known not only to his angels, but to his people as well. Not knowing the mind of God, I can only guess at that.

That aside, let’s get back to the precedent for God sending a letter to angels. In the book of Enoch there is an account that describes in great detail the desire of the first fallen angels - the Nephilim - who wanted to return to their original positions in the heavenly realm. They were denied by God, so these Nephilim asked Enoch to write a petition for them, asking God for forgiveness. To make a long story short, God sent a letter back to them through Enoch, and Enoch read the letter aloud to a gathering of the Nephilim. I could go on regarding the fascinating content of this exchange, but the point is that there is a precedent for a saint dictating a written account from God to a groups of angels. Enoch did it then, and John did it with the Revelation.

Of course, some will deny the authority of the book of Enoch and will therefore entirely discount any precedent contained in it's pages. Suffice to say (as I have many times) that the book of Enoch was accepted as an authoritative and authentic book by the early church, and the "proof in the pudding" is that many passages in both the Old and New Testaments have their basis in passages from Enoch. While it's not canonical, it had a profound influence on Israel and the early church.

Hope that helps.

Mike
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0 #10 Mike 2012-01-25 11:11
Hi Bret,

The comment section is telling me my comment was too long, so I’ll break it up and re-send in two posts.

I had this same discussion with my senior pastor several years ago, and there is a precedent for this that I'll cite in a moment. Right now let’s deal with the text alone.

On one hand we have the B’rit Chadashah using 'Mal’akheem' which clearly describes angels, and the Greek text using 'aggelos' which almost always describes angels. The words used in both instances are compelling, and lead me towards the 'angel' interpretation. On the other hand, 'aggelos' occasionally is used to describe pastors, and this is the point my pastor made in our early discussions on this very topic. He leans towards the 'pastor' interpretation for the very reason you mentioned.

While there is no way to know with 100% certainty, I always try to let the text say what it says, without trying to impose my own private interpretation, so I have naturally adopted 'angel' as the proper translation in this instance. However, we also have to be careful to consider context or symbolism, which can sometimes alter the surface meaning and force us to consider other options.

(continued in next comment)
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0 #9 Bret 2012-01-25 08:02
Love your study . . . one question: I agree that the angels of the seven churches are literal "angels" . . . My problem is, if this the case, why would John be writing to an "Angel?"

Thanks for your help with this one . . .

Blessings,

Bret
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0 #8 mike 2011-07-25 15:37
Allen,

If you google “preterism refuted", you’ll find many people who refute preterism. Some even refute Gentry specifically. I found a Messianic Rabbi who addressed your point when debating a Gentry disciple, and you can find the conversation here;

http://returnofbenjamin.wordpress.com/2010/11/12/blast-from-the-past-revelation-was-not-written-before-70-ad/

Hopefully you will find that source compelling. Suffice to say that I agree with the Rabbi’s assessment that nobody would refer to John with the neuter pronoun “that”, as Gentry would imply.

Mike
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0 #7 Allen 2011-07-22 18:29
(Continued)

I agree the problem is he is a preterist and sees it as completely fulfilled. But if it was a partial fulfillment, are Scriptures violated if John gave a prophesy that applied to both Jerusalem’s fall and the end times? Wouldn’t this just be another case of layer upon layer?
That is why I was wondering if anything changes if it was written in 70ad, because he may be right on that, but I don’t have the knowledge to argue against his points.
Also if you haven’t read it, you should because if he is wrong, there needs to be someone with the knowledge to point it out, and if he is right, well as your interpretations seem to make the most sense I am curious if anything changes if you had to admit that Revelations was written before the Fall and not after.
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0 #6 Allen 2011-07-22 18:28
Hi,
Thanks for getting back to me so quickly, I agree Revelations hasn't been fulfilled yet, but after finishing his book and I have not found anyone who is able to argue against his conclusions.

The case of Irenaeus he shows that the Greek he used points more to the fact that Irenaeus was speaking of John having been seen in 95-96 not the vision, based on the Greek word “yap”. The argument was Irenaeus would use this for a person not an object or a thing. Once this is accounted for and realized it may be a translation error, well it is easy many other references really actually rest on Irenaeus, Eusebius plainly states he is relying on Irenaeus for this matter.
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0 #5 mike 2011-07-22 17:50
(continued reply)

Hopefully the sequence of these events as future fulfillments will become clear as we continue through the remaining portions of the Revelation. I know it's not always easy to follow a series of lengthy posts like this, but I feel that the Revelation has to be done this way in order to provide the proper Hebraic context. Also, the church has so many misunderstandin gs about this book that I always feel obligated to address them thoroughly, and the posts inevitably wind up longer than intended.

Long story short, I believe that history future will destroy preterism when the Revelation unfolds precisely as written.

Thanks for the post Allen.

Mike
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0 #4 mike 2011-07-22 17:40
(continued reply)

But there are also many internal reasons to deny the Preterist view, because virtually the entire book of Revelation remains unfulfilled. The Revelation has many highly specific events that cannot be allegorized or spiritualized as many attempt to do. And none of these events occurred in 70 A.D. or it's aftermath.

For instance, there was no 'abomination' placed in the Temple before it was destroyed by the Romans, and no 'image' was set up that Jews were forced to worship. Also, no 'mark' was placed on their foreheads or hands, there was no drying up of the Euphrates River for "the kings from the East", and there was no return of Christ for his bride. In addition, at no time did a third of all humanity die in a judgment from God, which is slated to happen at the sounding of the sixth trumpet.

But in contrast, all of these things are slated for literal fulfillments by the book of Revelation.

(more on the next post)
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0 #3 mike 2011-07-22 17:26
Hi Again Allen,

Okay, I'll try again in shorter intervals. :-D

First, Gentry follows the Preterist idea that the Revelation has already been fulfilled, but I believe history says otherwise.

The early church fathers believed the Revelation was written between 90-96 A.D. because they knew John hads been imprisoned late in the reign of Domitian, who ruled from 81-96 A.D. That would preclude a pre-70 A.D. authorship. Victorinus wrote "when John said these things he was in the island of Patmos, condemned to the labour of the mines by Caesar Domitian." Irenaeus confirmed this, as did Hippolytus, Eusebius, and Jerome.

(more on the next post)
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