EXPLANATION AND TRANSITION (1:18-20). The first verse emphasized that the Revelation is written in symbolic language with the expression “He made it known [eshmanen, that is signified or showed by signs] by sending His angel” and again, in the last verse of the first chapter, with the explanation of two signs.
“Mystery” is something formerly secret but now revealed or identified. The fact that the Church is not named in the OT does not mean that it is not there. Paul demonstrates that the Church was always part of God’s plan in Romans 9:22-29 and Jesus predicted that the kingdom of God would be taken from Israel and be given to a people (the Church) who would produce fruit (Matthew 21:42-45).
Both Israel and the Church are typified by the Lampstand. A lampstand with seven bowls supplied with oil from two nearby olive trees were seen by the OT prophet (Zechariah 4). John connects the Lampstand to the ministry of the Holy Spirit (3:1; 4:5; 5:6).
The Lampstand is one of the key furnishings of the Tabernacle (Exodus 25:31-40). The Lampstand combines the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil from the Garden of Eden. LIGHT is associated with both LIFE and KNOWLEDGE.
In detail, the Lampstand consisted of three parts, a straight central shaft, three pairs of semicircular branches on either side, with seven burners. Seven signifies completeness or perfection in the Scriptures.
The SHAFT represents Christ, the SEVEN LAMPS OF FIRE BURNING speak of the sevenfold Spirit of God, and the SIX BRANCHES (the number of man) picture believers possessing the Holy Spirit and united to Christ. Thus, the Lampstand is directly related to the Lord and His people. Each church is a light bearer in this dark world (Ephesians 5:8; Philippians 2:15). Jesus said, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12); thus, it is Christ whom the Church is to reflect to the world.
Both Israel and the Church have been warned to keep their light burning! Because of neglect and unbelief, Israel left the LORD and their light burned out. So the LORD literally removed the Lampstand from the nation and He threatens to remove it from the church (cf. Matthew 5:14; Revelation 2:5).
There are two scenes of particular interest where the Lampstand is involved outside the Pentateuch. First, when Yahweh reveals Himself to young Samuel in 1 Samuel 3:3-4:
The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the LORD, where the ark of God was. Then the LORD called Samuel. Samuel answered, “Here I am.”
The second scene is Daniel 5:5-6, when King Belshazzar of Babylon mocks God by drinking from the golden vessels brought from the Temple at Jerusalem:
Suddenly the fingers of a human hand appeared and wrote on the plaster of the wall, near the lampstand in the royal palace. The king watched the hand as it wrote. His face turned pale and he was so frightened that his knees knocked together and his legs gave way.
The first scene is a picture of being at perfect rest with the LORD. The second scene is of sheer terror! At the final judgment, every human will stand before Christ in perfect rest or sheer terror!
Christ cannot judge the world until He has first judged the Church.
For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? (1 Peter 4:17).
The purpose of the letters to the seven churches is to commend and condemn, to encourage and correct, to strengthen and expose, to warn and counsel so that the church will be purged and made ready for Him.
Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless (Ephesians 5:25-27; cf. Revelation 1:5).
What perplexes us presented fewer difficulties to the original readers. The original readers would have been acquainted with the imagery of verses 19-20. A gold coin minted in A.D. 83 by Domitian, pictures the emperor’s dead child sitting on a globe of heaven, playing with seven stars, which are the seven planets, a symbol of heavenly dominion over the world. The symbolism of the seven planets originated in Crete where the mythical god Zeus was born, and then exalted to be lord of the stars.
Therefore, this vision of Christ stands as a polemic against emperor worship as well as worship of Zeus/Jupiter, the supreme god of Hellenic theology, “king of gods and of men.” Once a year everyone in the Empire had to appear before the magistrates in order to burn a pinch of incense to the godhead of Caesar, and to say, “Caesar is Lord.” The Church had to separate itself from the pagan, imperial cult. Separation spelled persecution and compromise spelled defeat. It was a no win situation!
The churches needed to be confronted and comforted by the One who sits on the Throne in heaven. The seven stars (angels, messengers or pastors) held in Christ’s hand in heaven show that the seven lampstands link the vision of Christ in heaven with His authority to judge His churches on earth.
Since the conditions or seasons of the Church are diverse, the seven letters illustrate precisely Paul’s admonition to pastors.
The apostle exhorted his son in the faith:
Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry (2 Timothy 4:2-5).
Certainly, these seven churches are representative of “in season and out of season” for those who pastor them historically, or presently.