“And I turned to see the voice that spake with me. And being turned, I saw seven golden candlesticks; And in the midst of the seven candlesticks one like unto the Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle. His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire; And his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and his voice as the sound of many waters. And he had in his right hand seven stars: and out of his mouth went a sharp two-edged sword: and his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength.” Revelation 1:12-16
In verse 11 from our last study we saw that John was told, by way of a loud voice that was like a trumpet, to write what he saw. As John turned to see the voice that was speaking to him, we have recorded for us the very first thing that John saw and wrote. We are told by John that he saw the glorified Christ. We must at this point remember that John is using a great deal of figurative and symbolic language as he describes many of the things in this book that he sees. Here in his description of Jesus we have many figures and symbols. I am at this point going to promise that I will not seek to definitively identify the meaning of each symbol and the represented reality of each figure. If someone has published a book that contains a key on every detail of the figures in the book of Revelation, please send me the title and the author. I would love to read such a work. But even in such a definitive work, there will be many disagreements and disputes about what means what.
In my explanation I will try to tie each description as I am able to some Old Testament reference or to some allusion or association with something from the gospels or the other apostolic writings. Some of the items I may not have a clue, and many of the items where I seem to have a clue; I may be way off base. I beg your patience and your indulgence, but mostly I ask you for your feedback. I stand to learn as much as any of the readers of this study from your insight, so please do not hesitate to send me your suggestions, or conclusions about these symbols and figures.
As we approach this passage we also need to remind ourselves that this is the Revelation of Jesus Christ in all of his glory. Passages like this we must approach with reverence and humility, knowing that to see Christ in all of his glory would probably not be possible in this life, and so John gives us his best description using flawed human language to describe the divine. Paul even told us that no eye or ear had been able to see these things, nor even the imagination of man.
“But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” 1 Corinthians 2:9
So these things that God has prepared for us are things that we can only gaze at in amazement, knowing that we have barely touched the hem of the garment of the glory of Christ. But let’s take a look anyway.
As soon as John turns, he sees seven “golden candlesticks”, or “lampstands”, and in the midst of these lampstands is one “like unto the Son of man”. We know that as we read further in the text that Jesus explains that the seven “Lampstands” are the seven churches. (I may from time to time use the word lampstands or candlesticks interchangeably, they are the same thing and different translations translate the same word differently). It is at this point in my study of this phenomenal book that I readily and openly admit my limitations. I see in this introduction to this heavenly vision of Jesus Christ in his glory the picture of the candlesticks. My mind immediately goes to the prophecy of Zechariah in the Old Testament. Zechariah spoke of a vision that he had of candlesticks. I post here the entire chapter of Zechariah 4. Please read through it. But recognize that the prophecy of Zechariah is about the events of the Messiah “In that Day”. This phrase “In that day” is used over 23 times in this small book. There is so much there that I will not be able to include in this study but I did write an over view of this amazing book. You can read it at the link in the margin of this article.
“And the angel that talked with me came again, and waked me, as a man that is wakened out of his sleep, And said unto me, What seest thou? And I said, I have looked, and behold a candlestick all of gold, with a bowl upon the top of it, and his seven lamps thereon, and seven pipes to the seven lamps, which are upon the top thereof: And two olive trees by it, one upon the right side of the bowl, and the other upon the left side thereof. So I answered and spake to the angel that talked with me, saying, What are these, my lord? Then the angel that talked with me answered and said unto me, Knowest thou not what these be? And I said, No, my lord. Then he answered and spake unto me, saying, This is the word of the LORD unto Zerubbabel, saying, Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the LORD of hosts. Who art thou, O great mountain? before Zerubbabel thou shalt become a plain: and he shall bring forth the headstone thereof with shoutings, crying, Grace, grace unto it. Moreover the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house; his hands shall also finish it; and thou shalt know that the LORD of hosts hath sent me unto you. For who hath despised the day of small things? for they shall rejoice, and shall see the plummet in the hand of Zerubbabel with those seven; they are the eyes of the LORD, which run to and fro through the whole earth. Then answered I, and said unto him, What are these two olive trees upon the right side of the candlestick and upon the left side thereof? And I answered again, and said unto him, What be these two olive branches which through the two golden pipes empty the golden oil out of themselves? And he answered me and said, knowest thou not what these be? And I said, No, my lord. Then said he, these are the two anointed ones, that stand by the Lord of the whole earth.” Zechariah Chapter 4
Keep in mind that Zechariah is writing his prophecy during the time of the return of Judah from Babylonian captivity. Zechariah was a contemporary of Ezra, Nehemiah and Haggai. He is writing during the time of the rebuilding of the temple. We have in Zechariah chapter 6 a statement about the “Branch” (another name for Messiah) who would build His temple. But here the angel who is revealing the vision of the candlesticks is basically having a conversation with Zechariah. He shows him the vision and then asks him; “What do you see”? Zechariah describes as best he can the vision of the candlestick with the seven lamps, the two olive trees, etc. But after describing what he saw, he asks the angel; “What are these things?” The angel in answer to that question says, basically, “don’t you know?” I am sure that Zechariah was flabbergasted, he replies’ “No, my Lord.”
The angel then declares to Zechariah the “Word of the Lord”. “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts.” Then he declares that the hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundations of the house of the Lord and his hands will also finish it. Remember that this is the account of the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem under Ezra. So in his contemporary time, he is declaring that God will build his house. This is but a figure and a shadow if Christ the branch who will build his messianic temple. And this will be done, not by human might or by human power, but by the spirit of the lord. So already we see that Zechariah is alluding to something beyond the physical construction of a temporal building. He is giving us the insight of Christ who said He would build his church and the gates of hell would not prevail against it.
A few points here: throughout the Old Testament, the prophets wrote many things of which they often did not themselves understand.
“Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.” 1 Peter 1:10-12
Peter says that the prophets wrote and searched diligently about these things, but it was not revealed to them, but it was revealed to the apostles and in the apostolic writings and teachings they passed on the meaning to the church.
So we must also look to the New Testament for our understanding of the prophecies in the old. In the case of Zechariah’s vision of the candlesticks, where he is speaking about the building of the temple, we have none other than Jesus Christ giving us the interpretation of these candlesticks.
“As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands, the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.” Revelation 1:20
Jesus said very plainly that the lampstands are the seven churches. Remember, this prophecy was about the building of the temple, and Zechariah declared in chapter 6 of his prophecy that the messiah would build his temple in contradistinction to the physical temple that was being built in his own day. I believe that Jesus is here letting us know that the prophecy of Zechariah was being fulfilled. The letters to the seven churches were blessings, warnings and instructions given to the church for their building up; for their edification.
As we progress (albeit very slowly) through the book of Revelation we will see several more figures used that were spoken of in the book of Zechariah; the olive trees, a stone with eyes in it, and many others. I reiterate that I may not be able to pinpoint in finite detail each of the representative meanings, but I do believe that in the book of Revelation and in the words of Christ and the angel that he sent to John we will have the authoritative and final interpretation of those things. Many times I have found that my curiosity has been left with unanswered questions. Maybe this is intentional. Maybe this is such a grand and glorious sight that merely grasping some overarching themes will be all that we can accomplish. But again I plead your indulgence, make this a two way street. If you see some things that I am missing, or if perhaps there is another Old Testament text that I have not considered, please tell me.
I very much believe that at this point in our study it would be of great benefit for us to have a basic understanding of the themes found in the book of Zechariah. It is only 14 short chapters and I would strongly encourage you to read it. I also offer to you the article that I wrote as an overview to several of the themes in the book of Zechariah and how they were realized in various New Testament texts. A grasp of these topics will be invaluable as we move forward.