In Revelation 1:12–13, the apostle John experiences a vision of Jesus Christ standing amid seven candlesticks: “And I turned to see the voice that spake with me. And being turned, I saw seven golden candlesticks; And in the midst of the seven candlesticks one like unto the Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle” (KJV). Most modern translations refer to the “seven candlesticks” as “seven golden lampstands.”
Jesus spoke to John in the vision and explained what the seven candlesticks were: “The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches” (Revelation 1:20).
The seven churches, represented by the seven candlesticks, were actual churches that existed at the time John experienced the vision. The churches were located in seven cities of western Asia Minor: in Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. In Revelation 2 — 3, Jesus Christ addresses a letter to each of these churches, a letter that included words of commendation, criticism, and consolation. This part of Revelation comprises the “what is now” section of Revelation (see Revelation 1:19).
Most scholars agree that the seven candlesticks carry a meaning beyond those seven Asiatic churches in John’s day, representing in some way the entire church of Jesus Christ. Because the number seven often represents wholeness or completion in Scripture, many conclude that the seven churches represent all churches, or the church universal. Still others see the seven individual churches as symbols of the local church.
Some commentators view these seven candlesticks as representatives of the church in every age. Others see them as predictive of the church in different stages throughout history, with the first, Ephesus, symbolic of the apostolic church and the last, Laodicea, symbolic of the present-day, postmodern church. Another interesting parallel points to the lampstands being made of gold, a metal that shines brilliantly. As such, the candlesticks could represent the churches not as they were then but as all of them ought to be.
As mentioned, these candlesticks were made of gold, the most precious and valuable of all metals. In this sense, the golden lampstands symbolize the preciousness of the church as God’s most valued possession (see John 3:16). The gold of the lampstands may also be symbolic of purity and holiness. The church is called to be an example of God’s holiness to the world (1 Peter 1:15–16).
And of course candlesticks are designed to bring light to dark places. God’s purpose for the church is to hold forth the light. Jesus said, “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14–16). In Jesus’ letter to the church of Ephesus, a church that had left its first love, the Lord warns that they must repent or He will come to them and “remove your lampstand from its place” (Revelation 2:5). In other words, the church was in danger of losing its opportunity to testify of Christ in their community.
In John’s vision, Jesus Christ stands in the center of the seven candlesticks, in the midst of His people. Christ is always present with His church. A candlestick is not the light itself but the bearer of the light. Jesus is the light of the world (John 8:12), and, as candlesticks, the church’s mission is to hold that light up for the world to see: “So that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life” (Philippians 2:15–16).