The Candlesticks

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Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write; These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks; I know thy works (Rev 2:1-2a).
The Apostle John, exiled on the Isle of Patmos for the testimony of Jesus, was granted a vision of heaven and of the future. He was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day when he heard a voice behind him Saying, I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last (Rev 1:11a). When he looked behind him to see Who it was Who had spoken, he described what he saw this way: I saw seven golden candlesticks; And in the midst of the seven candlesticks one like unto the Son of man… 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. And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead (Rev 1:12b-13a, 16-17).
When he saw a revelation of the glorified Jesus in the throne room of God, John saw Jesus in the midst of seven golden candlesticks. Perhaps this was a branching candelabrum like that in the Temple. Seven candles burned in the presence of God and of His Son. Jesus was in the midst of the candlesticks. What were they? Jesus told John, The mystery of the seven stars which thou sawest in my right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks. The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches: and the seven candlesticks which thou sawest are the seven churches (Rev 1:20).
Jesus walked in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks (Rev 2:1), which represented the seven churches. The angels or messengers of the seven churches He held in His right hand. Having gone to heaven to be with His Father, Jesus was still intensely interested and concerned for His churches.
We know that there were more than seven churches in the first century; the seven candlesticks were for the seven churches which John was going to write to. I suppose that every church had its candlestick in the throne room of God. Today, there are thousands and thousands of churches, many more than there were in the first century. Imagine the throne room of God as it must appear now: Lit up with the blinding light of the glory of the Trinity, seated and ruling in full majesty and power; lit up with the light of thousands upon thousands of ministering angels, who are a flame of fire (Heb 1:7); filled with myriads of saints worshipping God. Along the sides of the throne room is another source of light, however: Thousands upon thousands upon thousands of rows of candlesticks, each with a candle burning in the presence of God—one for each church which has not lost its candlestick. The God Who calls all the stars by name (Psa 147:4) knows the name of each candlestick, and can point directly at anyone out of the thousands there and say with power, I KNOW THY WORKS.
Jesus gave John a message of comfort to some churches and a message of warning to others. To those churches which were living in error, Jesus warned that unless they repented, He would remove their candlestick.
It is easy to think of what makes a “true church” in terms of lists of characteristics, ordinances, practices, and beliefs. While those are essential, it is also possible for a church to have all the right characteristics, ordinances, practices, and beliefs, and have no candlestick in heaven before the throne of God. Jesus warned the church at Ephesus that they would find themselves in this situation unless they repented.
Once the candlestick in heaven is gone, what is left? The church does not disappear. It does not immediately scatter. They still gather for Sunday morning worship, Wednesday evening prayer meetings, and may have good discussions at brotherhood or members’ meetings or in Sunday School. They may continue to reach out to others in their community, to baptize, and to have communion. But the candlestick is gone. What does this mean? God no longer recognizes them as one of His churches. Jesus no longer stands in their midst and walks among them (Rev 1:13).
This reality should cause us to tremble in fear. The All-Knowing God can point to our church’s candlestick and say, I know thy works. When He does, would the tone of His voice give us fear, or comfort and assurance? Are our church’s works acceptable to God?
There is not a candlestick in heaven for denominations, nor for conferences, nor for affiliations. There are candlesticks for individual churches. Just because other churches in your conference have a candlestick in heaven and the approval of God does not mean your church does. Just because your conference may be doing the will of God does not mean your congregation has a candlestick. God does not deal with us only on the higher levels of conference or fellowship administration; He can point to each individual candlestick, gazing with eyes like a flame of fire, and say with a voice like a trumpet, I KNOW THY WORKS.
For what causes might a church lose its candlestick in heaven?
“Thou hast left thy first love” (Rev 2:4). When a church leaves its first love for Jesus Christ, its candlestick is in jeopardy. The church at Ephesus had good works, labor for the Lord, patience, and endurance in His work, doctrinal discernment, and a pure church. But they had left their first love for Christ and exchanged it for something else. They did not lose their first love; they left it.
While all that Ephesus had was important and completely essential, and Jesus commended them for it, it is meaningless without a true love for Jesus, with Jesus being #1 in our hearts and lives. When that happens to a church, Jesus warns, “Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent” (Rev 2:5).
“Thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam…[and] the doctrine of the Nicolaitans” (Rev 2:14, 15). The church at Pergamos lived “where Satan’s seat is” and had yet “not denied my faith.” They had borne persecution for the sake of Jesus and even had a martyr from among their ranks. Jesus was pleased with these things, but His burning eye found faults with Pergamos. They had tolerated the doctrines of Balaam and the Nicolaitans. Their problem was the opposite of that of Ephesus; whereas Ephesus was doctrinally pure but had left its first love, Pergamos seemed to have love, yet had left doctrinal purity.
Balaam had taught Balac to tempt the children of Israel to sin with the pagan women. Balaam knew that God would not be able to bless Israel if they committed sin in this way. There were apparently some at the church at Pergamos who held that some form of sexual immorality was tolerable. Similarly, the Nicolaitans believed that the instructions of the Apostles in Acts 15 were not binding; eating meat sacrificed to idols and sexual immorality were allowable to Christians. Jesus hates any doctrine which makes sin acceptable. If a church tolerates such doctrine, He warns, Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth (Rev 2:16). The candlestick in heaven will be removed if the congregation accepts doctrines which make sin permissible.
“Thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants” (Rev 2:20). The church at Thyatira had works, charity, service, faith, and patience. Not only this, but they were growing in all of these things—Jesus said that the last [were] more than the first. While they had many good things, yet Jesus told them there was a problem—they allowed a woman who called herself a prophetess to teach the doctrines of the Nicolaitans, and additionally to seduce the saints to commit fornication with her. Whereas Pergamos had tolerated the doctrines of the Nicolaitans, Thyatira was tolerating their works as well. Jesus warned them, Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds. And I will kill her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am he which searcheth the reins and hearts: and I will give unto every one of you according to your works (Rev 2:22-23). Churches which tolerate sin jeopardize their candlestick in heaven.
“Thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead” (Rev 3:1). The church in Sardis was spiritually dead. While there were a few worthy souls left there (verse 4), Jesus did not find one thing to commend this church for as a whole. They were simply spiritually dead. Their works were not found perfect before God. What little they had left was “ready to die,” and they were admonished to be watchful, to strengthen those things, and to remember what they had received and heard in the beginning and repent. Otherwise, If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee” (Rev 3:3b). God finds the works of those churches which have no spiritual life “not perfect” and will remove their candlestick unless they repent.
“Thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked” (Rev 3:17). The church at Laodicea was lukewarm. They were neither cold nor hot. Their spiritual apathy caused them to perceive themselves as rich and without need—perhaps rich in physical goods, perhaps even in spiritual goods. They were spiritually blind, however; they could not see that which was obvious to Jesus as He looked at them: They were poor and had nothing, not even clothing to wear. Their spiritual arrogance blinded them to their true state. Jesus told them they must Be zealous, therefore, and repent (verse 19). Apathy and carelessness must be repented of and replaced with Godly zeal. Jesus warned the Laodiceans that he will spue thee out of my mouth (verse 16) unless they repent. Churches which live in carelessness and apathy, depending on their past and what was given to them to make them right with God, regardless of their own current true spiritual state, jeopardize their heavenly candlestick.
Out of all the hundreds of thousands of churches in the world, how many have a candlestick in the throne room of God? How many have lost their candlestick? While the answer might be interesting to know, it is irrelevant on a personal level. For each of us, the most important question is, “Has my church a candlestick in heaven, or has it lost it?” If it has lost it or is in danger of losing it, what is the answer? Repentance. Only repentance will save an endangered candlestick, or perhaps restore a lost one. Begin with myself; each person is accountable himself to God, and even if a righteous person is in a church which God sees major problems with, God will grant eternal life to the righteous man or woman (Rev 3:4). If my church is in danger of losing its candlestick, I must repent and in love admonish my church to repentance.
Lest we get the idea that Jesus is looking at the candlesticks in an unloving way, we have these words to the Laodiceans: As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent (Rev 3:19). Jesus’ admonition to these churches was not because He hated them, but because He loved them. He loved them enough to send John a special revelation for each of these individual churches, admonishing them to repentance. Similarly, if Jesus is admonishing and warning my church to repent before its candlestick is removed, be assured that it is only out of His great love—the same love which moved Him to die for sinners. Once my church has repented (if it needs to repent), the words I KNOW THY WORKS will be words which bring comfort and assurance, as they did to the churches of Philadelphia and Smyrna.
He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches (Rev 3:22).