Jesus Transfigured and Lamp Stands

I’m reading the book of Revelations.  In some ways, this might be the toughest part of the bible.  It’s tough partially because so many divisive things have been said about it.  It’s tough because we don’t really have a category for the genre John was writing in, anymore; we’re used to reading poetry, narrative, and journals, but John was writing in the apocolyptic vein.  Given that this type of writing doesn’t really exist anymore, it’s difficult to know what to do with it.  Perhaps closely related to this, is the fact that this book is so steeped in symbols and meaning.  I don’t mean this flippantly, but it’s a bit like watching an episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer or Star Trek.  If you don’t understand the meaning of everything that’s happened before it’s tough to get it.

So as I read through I want to progress slowly and carefully.  Today, as I read through chapter 1 I was struck by two things.  The first was the description of the transfigured Jesus:

“And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, 13and among the lampstands was someone “like a son of man,”[b]dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. 14His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. 15His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. 16In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.

 17When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. 18I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.”

I wonder, if John was reminded of the events we’re told about it Mark chapter 9: “After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. 3His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. 4And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus.”

The description in Mark is much less vivid.  But it seems like a pretty similiar event.  In both cases Jesus becomes dazzling.  It seems like words fail the writers as they grasp for a way to make Jesus appearance make sense to us.

In both cases, the transfigured Christ is accompanied with something that give Him legitimacy.  In the first case, it’s figures who actually appeared in the Old Testament.  In the second case, it’s the 7 lamp stands.  A single lamp stand is featured prominently in Exodus (Exodus is the same old Testament book which focuses on Moses) as one of the pieces of craftwork that God wants (and the Israelites delives) in the temple, where they communicate with God.

The idea that both times Jesus shows up with evidence from one specific part of history is interesting.  The directions for the lampstand was given to Moses and created in his time.  I suspect that this period more than any other evokes the idea that God is a deliverer of his formerly captive people.

There were a couple things I wondered about, though.  The first is: “Why the lamp stand?  There were other items in the temple.”  The second is “Why the apparent change?” Exodus clearly describes one lamp stand with stands for seven different lamps.  We see a minutirized version in menerahs today.  (Apparently the original was the height of a man.) Revelations seems to be stating that there were seven different, seperate stands.

I did some research into these questions.  It went how internet research usually does.  Lots of people claiming their views were the right ones.  Lots of dubious assumptions.  Too much information offered up.  Difficulty in telling whether people seemed over-all whacko or not.  Amidst it all, there was some interesting stuff.

First off, somebody remarked how dark much of the temple must have been.  To have seven oil lamps, amidst all the darkness, must have been a striking experience.  In fact, I wonder if this was the brightest light (other than the sun or the pillar of fire) that they experienced.

I think it’s so easy for us to take light for granted.  The only way I can get a little piece of an idea of what light must have been like for them is to think about my experiences camping.  Propane and battery powered lanterns, if they are not in just the right place they aren’t much good.  When I was growing up we had this tent-trailer with an awning.  When my dad would hang the lantern over our heads on a hook, it would cast this glow everywhere.

I wonder if they would ordinarily have any reasons to put seven lamps together.  It must have been the greatest combination of lamps anywhere in their lives.  And to hang them up to eye-level.  It must have been blinding.  The stand, made of solid gold, must have shone!

(I’ve always heard that you can’t make things out of solid Gold, because Gold is too soft.  Does anybody have any information on this?)

Jesus told us that we are the light of the world.  He specifically said that we shouldn’t hide this light but that we should put it somewhere everyone could see.  In appearing with the lamp stands, I suppose he was drawing a connection to his words and the history that came before him. 

But why the seven seperate lampstands?  I tried all of the English translations available at biblegateway.com.   Only one called the seven lampstands a menorah, which of course implies that they weren’t seperate at all.  This translation, though, was “the message”.  The message is amazing to get overall meaning, but it’s not supposed to be picky about word-for-word translations.  The other translations (and there are about ten different ones) all strongly implied that these lamp stands are seperate.

I have two seperate thoughts on this.  One is that the seven seperate lampstands implied a criticism.  The other is that the seven seperate lampstands spoke to the new reality under Christ.

At the end of Chapter 1, Jesus states that the lamp stands represent the 7 churches.  In appearing with seven seperate lampstands, is he saying that the 7 churches are not joined in Him, but are seperate?  Is this a criticism of the divisiveness which had occurred?

On the other hand, I wonder if the original lampstand was meant to represent the common ancestry that the Israelites shared.  They all decended of Abraham, the central piece of the stand.   He had seven sons.  Under the old covenant, they inherited their relationship to God through there birth, their connection to the father of their faith.

In having seperate lampstands, Jesus could be saying “All are decendents of Adam.  Everyone is connected to me.  You, by yourself, can have your own lampstand, simply by believing in me.”  Jesus brought a renewed emphasis on spreading the truth about him.  I have this image that you can take these seperate lamp stands in every different direction in the world.  They are somehow more portable.

I suppose he could have been  making both statements at once, they contradict each other only a little bit.  Or perhaps I’m reading too much into the whole thing.  I’m looking foreward to your insights, observations, and disagreements.

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jeffsdeepthoughts

The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

4 thoughts on “Jesus Transfigured and Lamp Stands”

  1. Hey, brother, forgive me for commenting again on your blog. Since you left a comment on mine, I have explored your blog with some interest, though I now know better than to interject myself too much into the discussions of other Christians outside the Orthodox koinonia. I don’t want to outwear my welcome. The approach you have to the book of Revelation (Apokálypsis) is so different from the one we have, as to make me hesitant to comment anything at all, but I will give it a try.

    You write that Apokálypsis “might be the toughest part of the bible,” and then you give the reasons. All these reasons stem from the fact that people seem to think it is their duty or their right to understand and expound the prophecies in this book, but from an Orthodox bible-believing point of view, this is the wrong way to approach this book.

    What is the right way to approach it? Well, to be honest, the instructions are contained right in the text of the book itself. “Happy the man who reads this prophecy [aloud], and happy are those who listen to him, if they treasure [keep] all that it says, for the time is close.” (Revelation 1:3) This instruction is right at the beginning. But there is another instruction, to be received with the same respect and care, at the ending of the book. “This is my solemn warning to all who hear the prophecies in this book: if anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him every plague mentioned in the book; if anyone cuts anything out of the prophecies in this book, God will cut off his share of the tree of life and of the holy city, which are described in this book.” (Revelation 22:18-19)

    What do these instructions indicate to us about the book of Revelation? That we should read the book aloud in the presence of others, so that both the reader and the listeners will be “happy” or “blessed” (Greek, makários, as opposed to evlogiménos, which also means “blessed” in a different sense). This is the same state of “blessed” as we find in what are called the Beatitudes (or in Greek, the Makarismoí), “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall have mercy shown them.” We are not told, commanded, or even encouraged to understand or interpret (both intellectual functions) the prophecies in this book, but only to treasure or keep what is written in them (Greek, tiroúndes ta en aftí gegramména). It is the visions that Christ gave to His beloved disciple John the Revelator, and His very words, that we are to treasure and keep, experiencing the many strange things that John did, who knew no more than we know now about their significance. Even the words of Christ which he heard and wrote down, he understood no more than we do, but he treasured and kept them, as he was told to do, by Christ, and he has passed these instructions on to us.

    So, do you see the difference between this, and what people have been so often prone to do? It is not that Christ has forbidden us to understand the visions and the words written in the book of Revelation, but that He has told us what He wants us to do with them. He wants us to read aloud, to treasure and keep them. That is all. Understanding, interpretation and the rest, He has in fact bestowed upon certain of His servants from the time of the Revelation until now, but to not one of them has He given leave to express these mysteries to others, because only Christ Himself may do this, again, to those whom He chooses. Hence, the instructions at the end of the book, “This is my solemn warning to all who hear the prophecies in this book: if anyone adds anything to them…” To try to interpret for others, to try to tell others the meaning and significance of the prophecies in this book is sometimes to add to, sometimes to cut away from, them. In fact, the second set of instructions are just as emphatic in the negative as the first set are in the positive direction. Read aloud, treasure and keep “what is written in them” and you are blessed. “Add to or cut anything out of the prophecies in this book,” and there are consequences.

    What, then, becomes of anyone’s speculations on the content of the book of Revelation? Reviewed in the light of the instructions contained in the book, they begin to look quite silly at best, and at worst take on the appearance of an unthinking disrespect.

    On final thing I went to express is this. All that I have written about how to approach the book of Revelation is not written to discourage anyone from reading it, as if it were too high and holy, and of no practical importance to oneself as an individual believer or as a member of the Church. God forbid! We don’t have to understand something to derive benefit from it. Most people don’t know exactly how the stomach digests food, nor how the food nourishes them and gives them strength, yet they still eat. What we can know is sometimes very little, but even if the instructions are brief, as long as they are clear and can be carried out, we should follow them. The same is true of the instructions written on a bottle of cough medicine, as well as of the instructions I have pointed out written on the scroll of the Apokálypsis. Follow the instructions, and you will be blessed, makários.

    “Happy the man who reads this prophecy [aloud], and happy are those who listen to him, if they treasure [keep] all that it says, for the time is close.” (Revelation 1:3)

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  2. First off, please know that you’re welcome here. Just yesterday I was commenting on another blog that the amazing thing about the internet is the possibility of really amazing cross sections of people coming together. When we have the courage to really hear each we have the possibility of learning so much.
    A writer I quite like refers to himself as post-protestant. I’m not sure we’re there yet. But it seems like some baby steps toward being post-protestant is hearing from our Orthodox brothers and sisters in Christ.
    I’m not very well-educated in your tradition. But what I know I find fascinating.
    A balance I’ve noticed that you’ve managed to strike (atleast based on your writings on this blog, on Jeff Goins’ blog, and on your own blog) is between the communnal and the invididual. I’m a firm believer in the fact that community has been under-emphasized, particularly when it comes to reading scripture. It never occured to me to consider the passages from Apokálypsis/Revelations that you cite in this regard. (somebody smarter than me had observed that this is perhaps the only book in the entire bible with instructions, and warnings specific to reading this one book.)

    The possibility that we might read together and not understand it fully, yet still benefit from it is really interesting and persuasive.
    As I consider your insight in this area, the question I am left with is, “Can I ‘treasure (keep) all that it says’ with out understanding it?”

    One of the things that occurs to me as I read your suggestions that too much interpretation really becomes adding to it. It brings to mind those “Left Behind” books. It seems quite reasonable to suggest the very creation of these books is in fact adding to it, and therefore ignoring the warning.

    I’ll continue to wrestle with the question around ‘how much interpretation is too much?’though… All reading and thinking is an act of interpretation. If our eyes run over the letters and identify what words these letters make, this is an act of interpretation. If our minds put those words together and formulate a picture of what they mean, this, too, is an act of interpretation.
    Perhaps this is a microcosm for the whole question of ‘How much should I try to learn about the nature of God and how much should I simply accept is beyond my capacity’; it seems to me that this is a balance that must be struck that is hard to pin down and put into words.

    Next Sunday, I’ve been invited to share some observations about elevating community to the church I attend. (I’m the small group director, so every now and again I get the oppurtunity to share on this topic) I’ll be posting the outline of what I’m going to say here. I hope you’ll peruse a bit of it (it’s quite long) and offer some comments.

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  3. “If our minds put those words together and formulate a picture of what they mean, this, too, is an act of interpretation.”

    There is a difference between looking at a beautiful painting and simply enjoying it visually, and the onset of our critical faculty taking charge of it and re-presenting it to our whole personality, where it becomes incorporated into us. This is inevitable. Hence, at some level, “interpretation” is in fact going on, whenever we contact phenomena outside ourselves (and sometimes entirely within ourselves), and in the act of incorporating it, conform it to our personality structures.

    But as an act of the will, the intermediate step, “our critical faculty taking charge of it and re-presenting it to our whole personality,” can be made to function within limits we impose on it, so that in the process of incorporating it into us, it retains as much of its unhewn quality as possible.

    Remember YHWH’s instructions on how to make an altar, which incidentally follow His instructions to avoid idolatrous manufactures. This passage applies to the control of our critical faculty, which if uncontrolled, will always set aside the meeting with God in favor of self-centered worship:

    “You have seen for yourselves that I have spoken to you from heaven. You shall not make gods of silver or gods of gold to stand beside me; you shall not make things like this for yourselves.

    “You are to make Me an altar of earth, and sacrifice on this the holocausts and communion sacrifices from your flocks and herds. In every place in which I have My name remembered I shall come to you and bless you. [This is consistent with Revelation 1:3.]

    “If you make Me and altar of stone, do not build it of dressed stones; for if you use a tool on it, you profane it. You shall not go up to My altar by steps for fear you expose your nakedness.” (Exodus 20:22-26)

    Last night I put up as my latest blog post a passage from the book, Hymn of Entry, by Archimandrite Vasileios, which actually can be brought into this discussion. It’s almost as if part of my response to your wrestling with these ideas was given in advance of my knowing about it. The passage closes with some ideas relevant to your question, ‘How much should I try to learn about the nature of God and how much should I simply accept is beyond my capacity’. Vasileios writes,

    “For Thou art God ineffable, incomprehensible, invisible, inconceivable…” rises before us “like a very mountain, steep and hard to approach,” from which the uncreated breeze descends and swells the lungs of man, bringing life to his innermost parts with the joy of freedom, of something unqualified, dangerous, and wholly alive.

    “How often we want to make God conceivable, expressible, visible, perceptible with worldly senses. How much we want to worship idols—to be shut into the prison of the non-essential, of error and heresy. The Divine Liturgy, however, does not allow us to do anything of the sort. It destroys our idols of God and raises up before us His saving Image, the Word “who is the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15), the archetype of our true, hidden, God-made being.”

    Perhaps you have already found my post with this passage and read it. What I can appreciate, though, is that the way people connect logismoí may be quite different; in other words, I may see the linkage between passages I cite and the questions under discussion, yet you may not, and vice versa. Even though we speak the same language, what lies below the surface, our internal languages, may not always be in close enough alignment for the verbal communication to be effective. Hence, we say, it is a semantic problem. This is why I believe that your faith in Christ and mine are essentially the same if wed follow the same Jesus. At least 90% of apparent disagreements are due to this semantic offset. Historically this can be seen in the Seven Councils. Much of what was argued about with a passion was semantic bat-fowling. Nestorius with his Christotokos versus the “Orthodox” with our Theotokos. See what suffering it caused, and for what? Whatever else we say about Mary’s relationship to Jesus, she was His mother and yet a virgin, and that’s it! Anything more is building an altar of hewn stones and many steps that only exposes our nakedness.

    We are trapped by snow drifts and ice in Portland, Oregon, and so I have time to write and to study today. Pray that the cold weather lifts soon, so we can see what’s left of our gardens, and be able to go to work tomorrow.

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  4. What a perfect metaphor: Because in Worcester, Massachusetts we are also trapped by snow drifts and ice. We’re thousands of miles away, and yet when push comes to shove, really, it’s not so different what we’re facing.

    I think I’m going to need to read your response a bunch of times, but you’re metaphor between enjoying a painting and interpreting a painting is extremely helpful. I will take a look at the post on your blog. The words you share are quite profound. Thanks so very much for your time, your insight has been quite valueable.

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