This series was first published in January 2019. -ed.
In spite of all that Scripture tells us about Jesus Christ, rarely do we see the full manifestation of His glory. Even in His interactions with His disciples after His resurrection, the Lord was still veiled within His glorified body.
Only one passage gives us a detailed glimpse of Christ’s manifold glory, displayed through His ongoing ministry to His people. Near the end of his life and in exile, the apostle John heard a voice like a trumpet from behind him. Clearly startled, John turned to the awesome sight of the glorified Lord.
I saw seven golden lampstands; and in the middle of the lampstands I saw one like a son of man, clothed in a robe reaching to the feet, and girded across His chest with a golden sash. His head and His hair were white like white wool, like snow; and His eyes were like a flame of fire. His feet were like burnished bronze, when it has been made to glow in a furnace, and His voice was like the sound of many waters. In His right hand He held seven stars, and out of His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword; and His face was like the sun shining in its strength. When I saw Him, I fell at His feet like a dead man. (Revelation 1:12–17)
John was so overwhelmed he was sure he couldn’t survive such an experience. But Christ mercifully allowed him to take it all in and record it. And while his stunning vision may seem incredibly difficult to comprehend, the details John provides give us critical information about Christ’s present activities among His people—within His church.
That includes the first detail—seven golden lampstands. John writes, “Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking with me. And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands” (Revelation 1:12). Lamps in the ancient world were commonly made out of clay or metal. They were filled with oil and a floating wick. But left down low they did not produce much light. To illuminate a full room, you needed to elevate them on a lampstand. Such lampstands would have been familiar to John’s readers in the first century. However, the lampstands John saw would have been unlike any they had seen before, made out of pure gold. Such costly material immediately indicates the tremendous value of these lampstands.
In verse 20, Jesus explains the significance of these valuable items: “As for the mystery of . . . the seven golden lampstands: . . . the seven lampstands are the seven churches” (Revelation 1:20). Just as a lampstand was used to illuminate a room, God has called His church to be the lights of the world (Philippians 2:15). That they are made out of gold shows how precious the church is to God. In fact, there is nothing more valuable on earth, and nothing that was bought at so high a price (Acts 20:28).
John identifies the seven churches as those mentioned in verse 11. But the imagery is not limited to them alone. In Scripture, the number seven often signifies completeness. So while these specific churches will receive specific messages from God, His words are nonetheless valid for the entire church. In John’s vision, they stand as distinct churches and symbolize the church throughout its history in all its variations.
That’s not all. John says, “And in the middle of the lampstands I saw one like a son of man” (Revelation 1:13). This is Christ Himself, the Son of Man. But He does not appear like the Christ John last saw before the ascension. At the end of His ministry, Christ’s full glory was still cloaked in His resurrected body. Here in John’s vision, it is now on full display.
There’s a tremendous comfort and encouragement in the depiction of Christ in the midst of His church. John would have remembered the promise the Lord made to His disciples on the night of His arrest: “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you” (John 14:18). As He departed this earth, Christ comforted His disciples, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). The author of Hebrews included that reminder for the New Testament church, quoting God’s repeated promise to Israel: “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). John knew the Lord would not abandon him or the church. But this visual reminder of the Lord’s constant communion with His own was nevertheless a welcome reassurance and encouragement.
It should encourage us, as well. We don’t serve a distant god or an ancient martyr. The Lord of the church is alive and active in the midst of His people. And the subsequent details of John’s vision give us insight into exactly what Christ is doing in His church.
(Adapted from Christ’s Call to Reform the Church)