For every thriving assembly we give thanks to the Lord, but there are many others that are struggling, and maybe it’s hard to answer why. Some testimonies are vibrant and growing and we rejoice with them. Some are faltering and dim and the cry goes out, “Lord, let there be light!”
The final metaphor in this study is the figure of the lampstand. After John sent his greetings to the seven churches in Asia (Rev 1:4), he saw, in a vision, seven golden lampstands with the explanation that “the seven lampstands are the seven churches” (Rev 1:20, ESV).
The Lampstand’s Purpose
The obvious purpose of each lampstand is to be a bearer of light. What is the purpose of that light? What is that light meant to reveal? John writes that he saw “in the midst of the lampstands One like a son of man” (Rev 1:13, ESV). The description that follows shows that the One John saw was the Lord Jesus Christ. Thus, each lampstand had the privilege and responsibility of shining a light upon the Lord Jesus.
Take a moment to evaluate your assembly testimony. Is it (are you) fulfilling the responsibility of shining a light upon the Savior? An assembly is as radiant as the degree to which those within it are manifesting Christ. Does our behavior, our preaching, our teaching, our treatment of one another, our activity shine light upon the Lord Jesus so that others see Him through us? When we preach the gospel, do we point to Him as the only Savior? When we teach His Word, is it Christ-honoring? When we gather to remember Him, do we indeed remember and glorify Him? In our interactions with one another, is there a Christ-likeness that others may clearly observe?
The fact that the Lord Jesus is seen walking among the lampstands (Rev 2:1) demonstrates not only that He is revealed by each testimony but that He evaluates each testimony. To each of the seven, He says a few things demonstrating His knowledge of their faithfulness to Him – or the lack of it. As He walked among the seven, there was one assembly that was on the brink of losing the privilege of being a lampstand. The Lord says to the assembly at Ephesus, “However, I have this against you: you have abandoned the love you had at first. Therefore, remember how far you have fallen. Repent and go back to what you were doing at first. If you don’t, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place” (Rev 2:4-5, ISV). What was that “first love?” (KJV). Was it their love for Christ or their love for one another? Probably both, for how can you love Christ and not love your brothers and sisters in Christ?
Outwardly, Ephesus was doing everything right. Perhaps the believers were attending meetings regularly, the men were taking public part, and the women were silent as the NT had commanded. But inwardly, their love for Christ and for one another had been replaced. We may do everything right outwardly, and yet have a lampstand removed, if we fail in our love. Would visitors attending our assembly meetings be convinced that we love Christ and one another? If not, how are we fulfilling the purpose of the lampstand?
The Lampstand’s Preciousness
When John describes the lampstands he sees, he tells us they are “golden.” As the most precious metal in use in John’s day, this reminds us that the assembly is most precious to the Lord. Interestingly, all seven were made of gold. He does not say that two were golden, three were silver, one was bronze, etc. All seven were golden, therefore all were precious. Larger numbers in fellowship do not make your assembly any more precious; neither do fewer numbers make your assembly less precious. Every assembly is precious to God. The assembly where you are is precious to God. Assemblies with problems (like Thyatira, Sardis, and Laodicea) were golden lampstands. The assembly at Philadelphia, to which no critical word was given, was a golden lampstand. If each assembly is so precious to our Lord, how precious it should be to us!
The Lampstand’s Power
Although not stated in Revelation 1, it is evident that the power for each of those lampstands was valuable oil. This takes us back to Zechariah 4 and the imagery of the nation of Israel as a lampstand in desperate need of power to shine brightly for God. In Zechariah’s vision, he sees the lampstand being fed by two olive trees pouring in the necessary oil and hears the words, “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts” (Zech 4:6, KJV). It was the Spirit of the Lord, symbolized by that oil, which was needed to bear testimony for God.
In any NT assembly, we are dependent upon God’s Spirit to supply the power needed to burn brightly for the Lord Jesus. How we need to turn to God so that He will grant His power and Spirit to help us shine as we should! I think it is possible to carry on long enough without God that we hardly know what it’s like to move forward with God.
In Zechariah 4:7, as Zerubbabel moved to place the capstone on the Temple, indicating that this great work would be completed, great shouting is heard: “Grace, grace!” Joining together verses 6-7, Israel would have to conclude that anything done in relation to bearing effective testimony to the Lord was due to God’s Spirit and God’s grace. Should we have the privilege of shining brightly for God as a NT assembly, let us remember we owe it all to God’s Spirit indwelling us and God’s grace that saved us. The power is not ours, but His.
These eight metaphors we have analyzed emphasize the many purposes God has in mind for a NT assembly. If we can see these more clearly, perhaps we’ll see our individual purpose better within the local assembly. And if, believer, you’re not in fellowship in an assembly, may the Lord use these short studies to encourage you to find your place there.