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.