More on the Seven Lampstands
We have seen that the seven lampstands in Revelation 1 are the seven churches to whom John is writing. But why lampstands? We see lampstands connected to Israel. There was a golden lampstand in the sanctuary (Ex 25; Deut 37). It had six branches (three on each side) and a center shaft (making seven). From Bible-History.com:
In the holy place there was no window or place to let in the light. It was lit from a glorious golden lampstand, which stood directly opposite the table on the south side in the Holy Place... Made from one piece of solid beaten gold...
It provided a multi-source of light, dependent on the center, dependent on fresh oil, and crafted from one piece of gold. Israel was to be God's source of light to the nations. Immediately the verse in the Kingdom gospel of Matthew leaps to mind, "you are the light of the world."
You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. -Matt 5:14-15
There is rich truth here which we only mention in passing. The city on a hill looking forward to the New Jerusalem and Christ as a light to the nations (Rev 21). Before that time, believers (just as the moon reflects the light of the sun) are called to reflect his light.
From here we turn back to Zechariah and his vision.
I am looking, and there is a lampstand of solid gold with a bowl on top of it, and on the stand seven lamps with seven pipes to the seven lamps. Two olive trees are by it, one at the right of the bowl and the other at its left.” -Zech 4:2-3
We gain great comfort throughout Zechariah's vision as he tells the angel with him that he does not understand what he is seeing. These end-times visions are hard for all of us. Daniel was confused at times. John wondered in amazement. The Apostles asked for clarification from the Lord. We are not alone in our struggle.
The angel helps Zechariah:
Then the angel who talked with me answered and said to me, “Do you not know what these are?” And I said, “No, my lord.” So he answered and said to me...
Why The Seven Cities
I am making an educated guess here, but I believe the seven cities named are a picture of Israel in the dispersion. The apostles to the Circumcision (Jews) write to "the twelve tribes scattered aboard" (James 1:1) and to "the dispersion" (1 Peter 1:1). John is also in this company. He will have his name on the foundation of the New Jerusalem and will sit on a throne judging the twelve tribes.
Seven is part of the completion and perfection of God in scripture. So we have seven called-out companies, assemblies, even synagogues (James 2).
The Church at Ephesus
“I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars; and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary. Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent. But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.” ’ -Rev 3
This assembly of believers in Ephesus is both lauded and chastised. They will be good at recognizing false apostles (we have many in our day who claim to be apostles) and they will oppose evil. However, they have left their first love, Christ. Even in laboring for his name's sake, they seem to be so caught up in their labors and defense, they have forgotten the joy of their salvation.
The Lord threatens to remove their position as a bearer of his light. The condition is repentance. This is not a threat of a loss of the free gift of life, it is a warning that they will miss out on a reward in an age to come (the tree of life in Paradise). This is a connection to the end of the Revelation.
And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last.” Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city. But outside are dogs and sorcerers and sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and whoever loves and practices a lie. “I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things in the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, the Bright and Morning Star.”
Here is chapter 22 we again see the Lord addressing the seven churches. We see again the Tree of Life offered as reward for "those who do his commandments." That is, through service (works). The judgments of these churches are not about the gift of immortal life, they are concerned with obedience and service.
Excluded from this reward are "dogs and sorcerers and sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and whoever loves and practices a lie." We find all of these sins spoken of as possible for a Christian in the epistles. In this case, they will lead to a failure to enter into certain blessings in a coming age for a future people at a certain time.
It is vitally important to recognize that the Revelation is self-contained. Many errors and many have been led astray by men trying to apply its contents to all of mankind for all of history. Such a thing is impossible to fit into the verses. As we've seen in a previous study on the Great White Throne, for example, trying to make that a judgment for all of history can only work if we ignore the clear words of the passage.
We will start to see this pattern as we look at the Lord's words to the seven churches.
A quick word on the Nicolaitans. There are a number of teachings on this word. My sense, especially in context of this passage, is that it refers to a group (possibly those claiming to be apostles) who seek to lord over the flock. "Nico" (from Greek to conquer) over the people "laitans" (from the laity).
There is a church here in North Carolina (probably countless across the globe like it) which teaches men cannot have beards and that members cannot buy a house or a car without the pastor's approval. That's just a taste of the what happens in the clergy system. Obviously, the Roman system which demands "submission of mind and will" of adherents could fall in here.
But as we will say often in this study, the particulars will make sense to those living in the coming age.