The Man in the Middle

Let’s revisit this version of a neglected, if not unpopular Jesus.

Christ has been culturally packaged in a variety of ways.  According to Pastor and author Kevin DeYoung:

There’s the Republican Jesus—who is against tax increases and activist judges, for family values and owning firearms.

There’s Democrat Jesus—who is against Wall Street and Wal-Mart, for reducing our carbon footprint and printing money.

There’s Therapist Jesus—who helps us cope with life’s problems, heals our past, tells us how valuable we are and not to be so hard on ourselves.

There’s Starbucks Jesus—who drinks fair trade coffee, loves spiritual conversations, drives a hybrid, and goes to film festivals.

There’s Open-minded Jesus—who loves everyone all the time no matter what (except for people who are not as open-minded as you).

There’s Touchdown Jesus—who helps athletes run faster and jump higher than non-Christians and determines the outcomes of Super Bowls.

There’s Martyr Jesus—a good man who died a cruel death so we can feel sorry for him.

There’s Gentle Jesus—who was meek and mild, with high cheek bones, flowing hair, and walks around barefoot, wearing a sash (while looking very German).

There’s Hippie Jesus—who teaches everyone to give peace a chance, imagines a world without religion, and helps us remember that “all you need is love.”

There’s Yuppie Jesus—who encourages us to reach our full potential, reach for the stars, and buy a boat.

There’s Spirituality Jesus—who hates religion, churches, pastors, priests, and doctrine, and would rather have people out in nature, finding “the god within” while listening to ambiguously spiritual music.

There’s Platitude Jesus—good for Christmas specials, greeting cards, and bad sermons, inspiring people to believe in themselves.

There’s Revolutionary Jesus—who teaches us to rebel against the status quo, stick it to the man, and blame things on “the system.”

There’s Guru Jesus—a wise, inspirational teacher who believes in you and helps you find your center.

There’s Boyfriend Jesus—who wraps his arms around us as we sing about his intoxicating love in our secret place.

There’s Good Example Jesus—who shows you how to help people, change the planet, and become a better you.¹

Yet Jesus has hardly been spoken of as we find Him in Revelation chapter one, where He is portrayed as all the churches will ever need.    

And we need to shine.  That doesn’t sound like a very compelling necessity, like paying bills, but when the church understands its mission, the very reason for its existence, the Christ of Revelation 1 begins to make a lot more sense.

“I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. I was in the spirit on the Lord’s day and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet saying, ‘Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamus and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea’” (1:10-11). 

God didn’t instruct John to send this writing to world leaders, but to the recipients who meant the most to him in all the world—the churches.  

The aged apostle continues, “then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands.” (v. 12). 

In verse 20 we’re told that these lampstands are churches.  Revelation is a book of culmination. Everything we see earlier in Scripture culminates here. For instance, Exodus chapter 25 shows us a golden lampstand that functioned primarily to give light inside the Tabernacle.  Without it, everything would have been swamped in darkness, even attempts at worship. In the very next book, in Leviticus 24:1-4, God commanded Israel to keep the light of the lampstand burning regularly from morning till evening. All day long, everyday, seven days a week.  It was so important to God that it was a requirement forever throughout the generations.

From that point forward this concept develops in the Bible until in the gospels Christ said, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12).  He also told His disciples to let that light shine so that men would glorify the Father in heaven (Mt. 5:16). By the time we arrive in Philippians chapter 2, the churches shine as lights in the world, in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation (v. 15).  

If they were to go out, there would be nothing but bottomless moral perversions, bizarre spiritual orientations, and self-described reality with no anchor nor reference point. To the millions who will never read a Bible on their own, there would be no God, at least not  in the sense of a functional reality lived out in front of them. But thankfully, the light has continued. Some people will find it a positive testimony, and will love it. Others will find it negative, like in John chapter 3, where it says men hated the light because their works were evil.

During summer evenings, you’ll find an assembly of insects gathered around your porch light—big hairy moths, mini-beetles, and dancing gnats.  They’ve been drawn out of darkness. Other species, like certain kinds of cockroaches, are repelled by light, so they stay away. That shining bulb performs two functions of attractant and repellent simultaneously.

Whenever I see this little picture play out on my own porch, I always ask myself , Are we doing what we’re supposed to do?  The church at large has often been pressured to dim its light, or even cut it off to seem friendlier or more accommodating to the world. But a light that doesn’t shine is worthless.  The stand-up lamp in your home that doesn’t shine tends to be like the treadmill you don’t use. It ends up being a coat rack.

The day we planted our church and committed to the gospel, to one another in the unity of the faith, and to God’s mission for the world, to Scripture, and the daily filling of the Holy Spirit, we instantly became an entity bearing the light of the triune God.  That is why we need to shine.    

But the secret of our shining is not the programming, preacher, or the music.  It is the Person in the midst of the lampstands. John launches into a description of Him, and you’re going to see the word “like” used a lot in these next couple of verses, simply because symbolism is the only way this Christ can be communicated.  

First of all he is “like a son a man” (v. 13), indicating that His humanity, while authentic, has been saturated with God’s glory. He is “like,” but He is different.

This son of man is “clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest” (v. 13), harkening back to the earlier parts of the Bible where the priests were clothed a certain way as they cared for the lampstand day and night.  Now as the consummate high priest here in Revelation, Christ ensures the churches burn with the glory of God.

John describes this priest from his head to his feet. First, “the hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow.”  The head refers to authority and wisdom, so when John says, the hairs of his head were white, we see wisdom that is pure, older, more mature, more ancient than all the created universe. First Corinthians tells us Christ is the wisdom of God (1:24); He is the way God does things.

Furthermore, his hair “was like white wool,” calling our attention to the wool of the sacrificial lamb of God, who uses His great wisdom to apply redemption to His believers (1 Cor. 1:30). That the hair is white “like snow,” indicates this wisdom is from above, heavenly.

Too often over the years, I’ve heard laments about how the church is dying because Millennials don’t want it, youth are leaving it, boomers are tired of it, and how all will be lost unless we implement some new hack or workaround or gimmick.  Meanwhile you can imagine the One perfect in wisdom telling these prophets of doom, I understand you’ve been on this earth a nanosecond, and you think you’re smart because you have a cellphone. But I know what to do.  I’ve always known what to do.

The verse goes on to say, “His eyes were like a flame of fire,” referring to his ability to ignite new zeal inside of his believers.  How many times have we cooled off in the Christian life, wondering if we would ever be able to recover? Then some small thing became your way back, something that on any other day would have been inconsequential.  He looked at you. At the same time, those eyes burn off impurities He sees in us, unholy patterns that have established themselves in our lives. Deep conviction also comes from a look.

In verse 15, “His feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace.” Feet refer to the walk, the lifestyle of a person.  The life of Christ was like burnished—polished—bronze. It glowed. But those feet didn’t glow because they had been shined with a cloth.  No, the glow came from being refined in a furnace, that is, in suffering, trial, and judgment. No one has been judged like Jesus. No one else has died for the sins of the other fifteen billion people who have lived on this planet.  Even before the cross though, Jesus had been tried by Satan, observed by all the angelic host, and inspected by men. In terms of personal righteousness He passed every test. As our substitute though, He was condemned. Now as He walks among us, He brings the reality of divine judgment.      

John goes on to say, “His voice was like the roar of many Waters,” calling to mind the convergence of mighty rivers, or thunderous waterfalls, such as Niagara.  Christ is capable of quenching all inward thirst of soul and spirit.

And then verse 16:  “In his right hand he held seven Stars.”  Verse 20 tells us the seven stars are the seven angels of the churches.  Mariners used to navigate dark seas by using the stars, and so also Christ has a navigational arrangement for us in the palm of His hand, especially for when the church enters times of uncertainty.    

John writes, “From his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword,” and Hebrews 4:12 reminds us that the word of God can divide “soul from spirit.” In other words, it can clarify what is of us and what is of God—a tall order in the magnitude of splitting a sheet of paper along its narrow edge.  The saints in many trying times have confused soul and spirit with sorrowful results, but Jesus is truly the Great Physician, wielding His scalpel with more precision than any surgeon.

We are then told, “His face was like the sun shining in full strength.” This is “the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6), and it is actually the light on the lampstands.  The church does not manufacture its own shining. Ephesians 3:21 says, “to him (God) be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all the generations, forever and ever. Amen.”  The Father has placed all His glory in the Son, who then shares it with us.

John said in verse 17, “when I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead.”  No doubt it was a wonderful and terrifying sight. Yet the apostle adds, “He laid his right hand on me, saying, ‘Fear not, I am the first and the last and the living one. I died and behold I am alive for evermore, and I have the keys of death and Hades.’”  In effect, Christ was telling John, I am that same Jesus who loved you and died for your sins and then rose from the dead.  

This is the Person who keeps the churches lit up, even when the typhoons of history rage all around them to blow them out. 

Lighthouses have been around for thousands of years.  In old days, if you saw a light burning in one of them, you didn’t assume it was running on a generator.  There was no such thing as automation. All lights burned on fuels like whale oil. You would immediately conclude that a faithful person was inside to keep the fuel supply high and the flame going.  He maintained the light faithfully, because if ships ran aground on rocky coastal shores, people would die and cargo would be lost.

In a higher sense, that is precisely why our shining as the church is so important in this world, and why Christ must be as He is in Revelation chapter one.  No co-opted cultural version of Him can keep us lit up.

Ultimately, only one prescriptive thought trickles down to us in this passage:  Fear not. For one thing, we shouldn’t be afraid of the darkness, because, after all, we are light bearers.  Neither should we be afraid of the Person who maintains our shining. Don’t fear interacting with Christ.  

I say this because as believers we sometimes get at loggerheads with God, defending our sins and bad attitudes.  Don’t avoid Christ. Don’t run from Him. Instead, enter fellowship with Him. Run to Him. Bring your sins, your repentance, your honesty, your needs to Him, because that is where light comes from.  And the light you personally experience becomes part of the collective light of your church.

What’s His is yours, what’s yours is ours, and what’s ours is yours.

That’s lampstand life.     


1  DeYoung, Kevin.  “Who Do You Say that I Am?”  DeYoung, Restless, and Reformed.  Blog.  6-10-09.

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