The Mystery of the Lampstand
When the voice spoke to John, he turned to see who was speaking and immediately collapsed to the ground as if dead. Yet his split-second vision of the glorified Son of Man was etched in his memory, so that he was able to recall it when he began to write the book of Revelation. Rev. 1:17 says,
17 And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as a dead man. And He laid His right hand upon me, saying, “Do not be afraid…”
Seeing the glory of the presence of God up close is more than our flesh can stand. It was the same with the House of Israel, when God came down as fire and spoke to them, for we read in Deut. 4:33,
33 Has any people heard the voice of God speaking from the midst of the fire, as you have heard it, and survived?
Later, an angel appeared in glory to Daniel, who immediately fell into a deep sleep. We read in Daniel 10:7-9,
7 Now I, Daniel, alone saw the vision, while the men who were with me did not see the vision; nevertheless, a great dread fell on them, and they ran away to hide themselves… 9 I fell into a deep sleep on my face, with my face to the ground.
We see, then, how sinful men cannot stand in the presence of God when they see His glory. Even Ezekiel, when the Spirit transported him to the river Chebar where the Israelites had been deported to Assyria, remained totally undone for an entire week (Ezekiel 3:15 KJV). So when John experienced God’s glory on Patmos, he too fell down as if dead.
Hearing His Voice and Surviving
What is this death experience? I believe it is what Paul calls the death of the flesh. It does not actually kill a person, but it shifts their conscious awareness from the soul to the spirit. The soul perceives that it is dying and is afraid, for ever since the fall of man the soul has enjoyed the dominant position. The entrance of sin shifted the “I” from the spirit to the soul, and man began to be ruled by his natural (soulish) mind, rather than by the mind of his spirit.
Paul discusses the struggle for dominion between the two I’s in Romans 7. The soulish “I” is subject to the law of sin and death, whereas the spiritual “I” concurs with the law of God (Rom. 7:22, 23, 25). When we succeed in following the leading of our spirit-man, which in turn is led and empowered by the Holy Spirit, it is as if the soul has died, or has fallen into a deep sleep.
All believers ought to live by the spirit, because it concurs (is in agreement) with the law of God. The spirit does not need to be subjected to the law, for it does not resist the law. Only the old man (soul) resists the law, for it is a “prisoner of the law of sin” (Rom. 7:23). The soulish “I” cannot help but sin, Paul says, because it is a slave to sin. Paul says again in Rom. 8:6-8,
6 For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, 7 because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so; 8 and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
It is amazing, in light of Paul’s clear statement, how many “Spirit-filled believers” cast aside the law of God and give themselves the right to violate whatever law they do not understand. This is the mindset of the old man, not the new “I” that they claim to follow. Perhaps they mistake the soul for the spirit, believing that they are called to reform the soul, rather than to be led by the spirit.
At any rate, believers are given contact with God through their spirit. Hearing God’s voice is done through one’s spirit, not through one’s soul—although the soul may certainly be aware of what the spirit is hearing. In fact, I believe that this is the root of fear, dread, and even death that comes with seeing God or hearing His voice. It is the old man, the soulish “I” of the flesh that collapses in the presence of God. When that happens, the New Creation Man, the spiritual “I” awakens to take the reins in the person’s life.
Men have always feared to hear God’s voice. The Israelites were not unique in this fear reaction when God spoke to them on the Mount (Exodus 20:19). Hearing God’s voice always kills some part of the flesh, for it requires the old “I” to stand aside (or sleep) and to allow the new “I” to take dominion.
So when Daniel, Ezekiel, and John came face to face with God or with an angel, it was but an enhanced experience that is familiar (on a small scale) to all believers who have learned to hear His voice.
Why Not Be Afraid?
The Son of Man told John not to be afraid. Why not? The reason is given in Rev. 1:17, 18,
17 … I am the first and the last, 18 and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore [aionas ton aionan, “for the ages of the ages”], and I have the keys of death and of Hades.
As the alpha and omega, God is the primary cause of all things, and He will be there in the end. All things came out of Him, and all things will go back to Him (Rom. 11:36). When we truly understand this, we will have no need to fear death or to fear being lost forever. He is the source of life, “the living One.” Yet He found a way to die without destroying all life in the universe.
Having been given “the keys of death and of Hades,” He has the power to resurrect at his discretion and to bring them out of Hades. Scripture tells us of His intent and plan to raise all the dead, small and great, at the Great White Throne judgment (Rev. 20:11, 12). Scripture tells us that God has vowed to work until every knee bows and every tongue swears allegiance to Him (Isaiah 45:23, 24, 25).
This is the promise, not only to John who fell to the ground as a dead man, but to all the dead, great and small. Their destinies are not in the hands of the devil, nor even in their own hands. Only Jesus holds the keys of death. Although man was given authority in the earth in Gen. 1:26-28, he was never given sovereignty.
Authority is legitimate, but it is limited. Man is made of the dust of the ground (Gen. 2:7). He is part of the earth which God created and owns. God lays claim to all the land by right of creation, and therefore man lacks the right to sell his “land” permanently (Lev. 25:23). He may sell his land (i.e., himself) for a season, but in the end he will always return to his inheritance, which is the glorified body. The earth will show forth the glory of God. Physical matter will be the wick on the candle of God, showing forth His light in the darkness. Man’s authority must ultimately give way to God’s sovereignty.
The Temple Metaphor
Revelation 1:19 says,
19 Write therefore the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall take place after these things.
John was told to testify to that which he had already seen, that which he was presently seeing, and that which he will yet see. Obviously, John had walked with Jesus in his early years. Later he had written his gospel to supplement the earlier gospels. Now he was about to write something new.
Revelation 1:20 concludes,
20 As for the mystery [secret symbol] of the seven stars which you saw in My right hand, and the seven golden lamp-stands; the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.
Jesus distinguishes between the “stars” and the “lampstands.” The fires (lights) appear as seven stars (“angels”) being upheld by the seven churches (lampstands). The church carries the light of angels.
The key to this mystery, as with many others, is to understand the relationship between heaven and earth, or between the spiritual and the physical. Moses built the tabernacle according to the “pattern” (Exodus 25:9) that he saw in heaven while he was on the mount. Later, David had a similar revelation of the “pattern” for Solomon’s temple (1 Chron. 28:19). The Hebrew word for pattern is tabniyth, which means a blueprint or model. In other words, Moses and David built on earth a physical replica, based on the model of a spiritual tabernacle or temple in heaven. Spiritual concepts were expressed in physical forms.
Moses built a tent; Solomon built a temple. This shows a progressive revelation that reflects growth and development in the Kingdom of God. Under the New Covenant, we see a further development, for it is no longer a physical tabernacle, nor a temple in Jerusalem, but the temple that God inhabits in the earth now is made of living stones (1 Peter 2:5). Paul describes this temple in Ephesians 2:19-22.
This new temple is being built on earth according to a greater pattern of the temple in heaven. Under the Old Covenant, the pattern progressed from tabernacle to temple. It is the same under the New Covenant, where at first we see the tabernacle of David being raised up in Acts 15:16, followed by a new temple. The Age of Pentecost is the time in which this building project is done in a progressive manner.
Rev. 1:20 focuses primarily upon one aspect of this new temple—that of the seven lampstands. The lampstands in heaven are the spiritual pattern (blueprint) for the seven churches on the earth. The earthly churches are imperfect, and for this reason a message was given to them, so that they might conform to the heavenly pattern. They were each called to overcome, but the implication is that only a remnant would do so.
By understanding how God destroyed the temple of Solomon when the nation no longer reflected the glory seen in the temple, we may discern a pattern in the seven churches as well. Pentecost must give way to Tabernacles. Pentecost, while good, is a leavened feast (Lev. 23:17), and so the overcomers in its midst are relatively few in number.
Likewise, King Saul was a type and shadow of the church under Pentecost, having been crowned on the day of wheat harvest (1 Sam. 12:17), later called Pentecost. Saul was leavened throughout his reign. He persecuted the overcomers (“David”). In the end, he was not allowed to establish an enduring dynasty, but was replaced by David, whose dynasty culminated with the endless reign of Jesus Christ.
So also is it with the seven churches in the Pentecostal Age. The church as we know it must give way to something better that will endure into the Age to come. The message to the seven churches was Jesus’ warning. It was to motivate people to rouse themselves from the comfort of their denominational religious mindsets. Those who hear and take heed to these warnings have an opportunity to become overcomers and rule with Christ in the Tabernacles Age that follows.