Lampstands of gold

12 Then I turned to see whose voice it was that spoke to me, and when I turned, I saw seven gold lampstands 13 and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, wearing an ankle-length robe, with a gold sash around his chest. (Rev 1:12-13)

As I was preparing for this coming weekend’s homily, I read the two verses, paused and wondered about all the symbols that populated two simple verses. I thought it good to share the results of my curiosity.

There amid seven golden lampstands was someone “like a son of man.” The background of the phrase is Dan 7:13, which describes the presentation to the Ancient of Days of “one like a son of man” who had come with the clouds of heaven. Commentators differ on what the designation intends. Some holds that it means “a human being,” while others takes it as a technical term in apocalyptic language for “like an angel.” In either case, the One who speaks is none other than the exalted Christ, for in subsequent verses (Rev 1:17–18) he identifies himself in terms of preexistence, death, and resurrection. The description that follows those verses draws heavily upon Dan 7:9 and Dan 10:5.

Exodus 25:31–37 records the instructions given to Moses for making the seven-branched lampstand of pure gold (also see Zech 4:2).

31 “You shall make a lampstand of pure beaten gold-its shaft and branches-with its cups and knobs and petals springing directly from it.32 Six branches are to extend from the sides of the lampstand, three branches on one side, and three on the other.33 On one branch there are to be three cups, shaped like almond blossoms, each with its knob and petals; on the opposite branch there are to be three cups, shaped like almond blossoms, each with its knob and petals; and so for the six branches that extend from the lampstand.34 On the shaft there are to be four cups, shaped like almond blossoms, with their knobs and petals,35 including a knob below each of the three pairs of branches that extend from the lampstand.36 Their knobs and branches shall so spring from it that the whole will form but a single piece of pure beaten gold.37 You shall then make seven lamps for it and so set up the lamps that they shed their light on the space in front of the lampstand. (Ex 25:31-37)

In John’s vision, however, there are seven separate lampstands, perhaps like the ten placed before the inner sanctuary by Solomon when he dedicated the temple (1 Kgs 7:49). From Rev 1:20 we learn that the lampstands signify the seven churches to whom the letters are addressed. The purpose of the church is to bear the light of the divine presence in a darkened world (Matt 5:14–16). By inference and context, this is the meaning we assign to the lampstands as symbols.

Some writers hold that in the introductory verses of Revelation Jesus is presented in the threefold office of prophet, priest, and king. As recipient of God’s revelation in v.1 he is a prophet. As “ruler of the kings of the earth” in v.5 he is king. And the high-priestly garments of v.13 present him as priest (cf. Exod 28:4; 29:5). The Greek word translated “an ankle-length robe” (podērēs) occurs only here in the NT. It is found seven times in the Septuagint (LXX), and in every case but one it refers to the attire of the high priest. The sash of the priest was made of fine twined linen and embroidered with needlework (Exod 39:29), while the sash that gathered together the long robe of the exalted Christ (it probably came down diagonally from one shoulder to the waist) was of gold. This, plus the fact that high girding (“around his chest”) denotes the dignity of an important office, suggests that this part of the description is intended to set forth the high-priestly function of Christ.

…and that is what I have discovered. It does remind us that a fluency of the Hebrew scriptures is so important for receiving the fullness of the New Testament.

The image is from The Bamberg Apocalypse (Bamberg State Library, Germany) is an 11th-century illuminated manuscript containing the Book of Revelation and a Gospel Lectionary. The manuscript has 106 folios and is illuminated with 57 gilded miniatures and over 100 gilded initials. In 2003 it was added to the UNESCO Memory of the World International Register.

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