Zechariah 4:1-6, 10b-14 - God's Church: His Spirit-Filled Lampstand (Rev. Erik Veerman)
God's Church: His Spirit-Filled Lampstand
Well, we are back in our study of Zechariah this morning.
Since we took a two-week break from this series, I thought it would be helpful to spend a few minutes up-front reviewing the message so far.
The first thing to remember is that Zechariah was prophesying to his generation. They had returned to Jerusalem from the city of Babylon where they were in exile. 68 years earlier, Jerusalem had been destroyed. That included the destruction of the city walls and the temple. Even though they had returned about 18 years earlier, the city still lay in ruins.
When they first returned, they attempted to rebuild the temple, but opposition halted their progress. The tasks were daunting. Their future was uncertain. And they thought that God had forgotten his promises.
I’ve used the words discouraged and vulnerable to describe their situation. Really it boils down to a lack of hope. The kingdoms of the world seemed to be pressing in on them. And they didn’t see a way forward.
God’s message through Zechariah was to lift them up. To give them a heavenly perspective on their earthly situation.
•And where did God begin? Well, in the first words of the book, God called his people in Jerusalem to repent. In chapter 1 verse 3 God called out to them, “Return to me!” They had lost hope and trust in God. They feared the world. God was saying to them, “don’t focus your attention on the world and get pulled into the uncertainty all around you. No, look to me, turn from your sin and come to me.”
•So the first message in Zechariah is repentance. And after that, God gave Zechariah several visions. We call them Zechariah’s night visions because God gave them all to Zechariah at night. Actually, they all happened in one night! Can you imagine what that night must have been like… vision after vision.
•And the purpose of the visions was to assure them about God, about what he has done and what he will do.
•Let me briefly remind you about the visions so far.
•In vision 1, remember the rider on the red horse? He sent all sorts of other horses to patrol the earth. It’s a picture of God. It reveals that God knows all - he is still in charge overseeing all things. That was definitely a message they needed to hear. God’s sovereignty – his all-knowing and all-present nature. They could trust his plans and purposes.
•Next, vision 2. Four horns of a beast rose up against God’s people. Those horns represent worldly kingdoms opposed to God and his purposes. For Zechariah’s generation, there were a lot of kingdoms opposed to God. Vision 2 revealed that God would defeat them all.
•In the 3rd vision (my favorite), God showed them that his kingdom was not a kingdom of physical walls. No, God showed Zechariah his wall of fire that surrounded them. Remember the message? The wall revealed to them God’s protection and people and presence. God would gather his people even from their enemies. Physical walls could not contain the number of people. Ultimately it didn’t matter that Jerusalem’s physical walls were in ruins. God would protect and be present with them.
•In the 4th vision, the High Priest Joshua had been weighed down by his sin and shame. Satan, the devil was accusing him. But God gave Joshua pure robes to wear. That represented the robes of Christ, given to those who believe by faith in Jesus. Vision 4 presented the clear message of the Gospel – forgiveness. And it included how that forgiveness was to be accomplished. The sacrifice of the great High Priest – Christ himself.
Those are the visions that we’ve studies so far. (1) The rider on the red horse, (2) the four horns, (3) the wall of fire, and (4) the pure robes given to Joshua. And each of them has revealed to Zechariah’s generation a different aspect of God, his deliverance and salvation, and why they can hope in him for the future.
So, that brings us now to the 5th vision which is in chapter 4.
We’ll be taking two sermons to work through it. You can see in the bulletin that we’ll be focusing this morning on the first 6 verses and the last 5 verses of the chapter. But for context, I’ll just read the full chapter.
You can find Zechariah 4 on page 944 of the church Bible under the chair in front of you.
Reading of Zechariah 4
How do you find resolute hope in our anxious age? That phrase “resolute hope in an anxious age” is the tag line of a podcast and the subtitle of a related book. I want to borrow it this morning because it represents the message of Zechariah – living with resolute hope in our anxious age.
You see, the book of Zechariah is not just for his generation.
This message is also for us. Zechariah and his generation lived in uncertain times. God’s promised Savior had not yet come. We live in uncertain times, too. Even through Christ has come, we are still waiting for his return.
And think about all the uncertainty, opposition, and challenges that the church is facing around the world today:
•In Ukraine, Russian forces have been targeting church buildings. Many have been shelled or burned to the ground. And many congregations have been scattered and separated.
•In China, the government has demolished church buildings and imprisoned church pastors and leaders. In some parts of that country, if you are under 18 years old it is even illegal to go to church.
•In Afghanistan, the church has been decimated.
•In many part of the world, persecution has been on the rise over the last few decades.
•Even in Western nations, the church is under attack. You feel this. Core Christian beliefs are mocked. The freedom to practice religious beliefs is being threatened. …And in some churches, the Gospel has been undermined from within.
•And there’s also the impact of COVID on the church. Compared with pre-pandemic numbers in the US, Pew research estimates that church attendance is still down about 25% Barna estimated earlier that 1 in 5 churches would close due to the pandemic. If that turns out to be true, that would be about 60,000 protestant churches closing their doors
We live in an anxious age. When we think of all the uncertainty that we face, that the church faces today, it’s easy to feel vulnerable; fearful of what the future may hold; worried about the future of Christianity; and wondering where God has been in all of this.
But the clear message of Zechariah so far has been assurance of God’s purposes, faith in his promises, and confidence in his salvation.
As we now get to this fifth vision, that message is furthered. But it’s a little different than the prior visions. In this vision, God now directs our attention to our identity (number 1) and our mission (number 2). In other words, who we are and what we are called to do. Those two words, identity and mission, capture the focus of this chapter.
Even though these visions have been great and encouraging… the fact of the matter is for Zechariah’s generation, the city walls were still destroyed, and the temple was still half-built. And for us, the world is still pressing in on the church. Persecution is still ravaging the church.
You see, none of the realities have changed. But God does not leave us with just promises and truths. No, vision 5 instructs us how to move forward.
Look down to verse 6, this is the key verse of this chapter. The angel summarized the purpose of the vision. He said, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.” Zerubbabel, if you remember, was the governor of the Jewish people. His role was to lead the people in the work to which they were called. And the angel was giving him instructions on how they should accomplish their work. How? Not by might (physical might), nor by power (worldly power), instead, by God’s Spirit.
I mentioned earlier that we’ll be taking this vision in two parts. Next week, we’ll consider the very tangible question about our mission. For them, how were they to move forward building the temple? And for us, how are we to move forward building the church? Those questions are really answered in the center section of the vision.
This morning, though, is the foundation to that question and it’s answer. It’s a matter of purpose and identity. Who are we to be, and where is the sustaining source of our being? When you think about it – we can not know how to faithfully move forward in God’s mission for us, unless we first understand who we are – our identity.
Really that applies to any organization. A organization’s identity is foundational to their ability to move forward to accomplish their mission. It’s the same for the church.
So this morning, we’ll focus on who we are, as God’s people. And then next week, what we are called to do.
Wake up! I’m not talking to any of you… or maybe I am. No, wake up! Did you notice that the angel had to work to wake Zechariah up! verse 1. He was in a deep sleep, but it was time for another vision.
And as soon as he woke, Zechariah saw this strange vision. A lampstand but not a normal lampstand. And then there were two olive trees with branches that were feeding the lamps with golden olive oil. And Zechariah was confused. Maybe he was still a little groggy. So he asked about their meaning… multiple times… verses 4 and 11 and 12… “what are these…?”
Actually, a lampstand was very common in Jewish ceremony. So it was not that Zechariah wondered what the lampstand was. No, he wondered what it all represented.
Here is a small Jewish lampstand. If you have Jewish friends or neighbors, you may recognize this as a menorah – that’s the Jewish word for lampstand. It’s shaped like a tree – in fact, that’s what it was modeled after. We read earlier in Exodus 25 that the lampstand was to be used in the temple. In fact, the real versions were tall. We’re not given the actual dimension in the Bible but they were likely 5-6 feet in height. The temple had 11 of these menorahs. 10 lit up the inner temple sanctuary and 1 was in the holy place. Each menorah had 7 branches with wicks fed by oil that were lit. And one of the jobs of the priests was to keep the wicks trimmed and fill the oil reservoirs to make sure that the flames never went out.
But what’s interesting in this vision is its description. Instead of 7 wicks, this lampstand had 7 times 7 wicks. Look at the description in verse 2. There was the base lampstand and on top of that was the bowl for the oil, and the bowl had seven lamps on it with seven lips on each of the lamps. That word for lip could also be translated channel. It’s where the wick and flame would be. So, picture seven lampstands like this one. Some think they were arranged in a grid. Others think they were in a circular pattern around the bowl. Either way, there would be 7 times 7 lights – 49 flames of light all fed from the oil in the bowl.
And the vision includes two olive trees, one on either side of the bowl. The olive trees each had a special branch with a channel of some sort which fed the bowl with this golden oil. It was a constant source of fuel for the 49 flames of the lampstand.
So, 7 lampstands, 2 olive trees, unending oil, and 49 flames of light. That’s what Zechariah saw in this vision.
And what I want to do in our remaining time is unpack each of these elements in the vision. I think doing so will help us understand our purpose and identity in God’s kingdom. You kind of already know what I am going to say. It’s in the description of our worship focus this morning. The lampstand is the church, which is fed the unending oil of the Holy Spirit, by the two olive trees, which represent Christ in his priestly and kingly roles. The flame, then, is the Gospel light that is to shine in us and through us, as lights to the world around us.
That’s it! ok, let’s pray. Just kidding!
No, even as we connect these symbols to the realities they point to, it’s helpful and clarifying for us.
Let’s start with the lampstand. Its significance is tied to God’s people – which, today, is the church. In one sense, the lampstand represents the temple. It was part of the temple. Its purpose was to give light to the temple. And as we’ve worked through these visions, we’ve seen how the temple and the priesthood point to both Christ and us. Joshua the High Priest represented both. In the New Testament, God’s people are called “temples of the living God” and a “holy priesthood.” Next week we’ll focus in on the temple.
And remember, the lampstand is modelled after a tree with branches. So when Jesus said he was the vine and we are the branches, and when he said we’ve been grafted into the source of life, Jesus was making a parallel connection to a lampstand with branches fed by a vine and roots.
If those arguments don’t compel you, the clearest reference comes in the book of Revelation. We read it earlier. Chapter 1. The vision that God gave the apostle John. It was a vision of Christ – of Jesus in all of his wonder and power and holiness and grace. And he is standing amid seven lampstands. Sound familiar? And we don’t have to wonder what the lampstands represent. No Revelation 1 tells us directly. The seven lampstands are the church.
Revelation brings the symbolism and imagery together. And in Zechariah 4, it makes sense that the lampstand is the church. There were 49 menorah branches with flames… 7 times 7. That number 7 representing completeness, so 49 being the full completeness of God’s people. If you are in Christ, you are part of the lampstand, vessels of God, one branch among many. Your identity is part of the lampstand, the church – together and connected.
Next, there’s the golden oil. In the vision, it is the oil that flows through the lampstand. Go back to verse 6 for moment. In that verse, the oil is directly connected to the Holy Spirit. Zechariah had just asked the question – “what are these?” And that’s when the angel said, “not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit.” When the angel said that, he was speaking about the source that fuels their mission. Where were they to draw their strength? In the vision, the oil is the fuel. That’s the clear connection between the golden oil and the Holy Spirit, here. If you are a Christian, you are filled with the Holy Spirit. In the New Testament, the Spirit is called the helper. He is also called the Spirit of truth. He speaks God’s Word to us, convicts us of sin, and leads us to righteousness. He was to be the source of their strength, and he is the source of our strength.
The Olive Trees
And in the vision, the oil that is God’s Spirit come from these two trees. We get the sense that the olive trees are full of fruit, of olives… and the golden oil constantly flowing through the branches into the bowl. A never-ending supply of fuel for the flame.
Well, in the vision, Zechariah didn’t know what these trees signified. So, he asked… verses 11 and 12. And the answer is interesting. The angel said, verse 14, “these are the two anointed ones who stand by the Lord of the whole earth.” Literally “two sons of new oil.” I don’t know about you, but that answer didn’t really help me!
So then, what does the angel mean?
Really, there are several proposed possibilities. Some have said the trees represent Moses and Elijah or the law and the prophets. Some have said, no, these both together represent Jesus, not in any specific way. Others have said, no, this is Joshua the High Priest and Zerubbabel the governor. There are some other interesting theories out there.
Honestly, I’m not totally sure. However, I lean toward the trees representing the kingly and priestly ministry of Christ. In context, I think it makes the most sense that they represent Joshua and Zerubbabel. Or really better said, Joshua’s priesthood and Zerubbabel’s kingship – Zerubbabel was in the line of King David.
•After all, the roles of priest and king both involved being anointed – just like it says the trees were the anointed ones.
•But also, a big emphasis in this book is the kingly and priestly roles that point to the Messiah. In other words, Jesus as the fulfilled high priest, and the fulfilled king of kings.
•So seeing the trees as representing Joshua and Zerubbabel which point to the kingly and priestly role of Christ… seems to make the most sense in the context. Vision 4 emphasized Joshua and the priesthood. And this vision, as we’ll see next week, emphasizes Zerubbabel and his work. And in both cases, their roles are fulfilled in Christ.
•It also makes sense as we get to the New Testament. There it is Jesus who promises to give his Spirit to his people. If you remember from our book of Acts study last year, the Holy Spirit continues the ministry of Christ since Jesus’ ascension. And what is Jesus’ ongoing ministry in the world? Well, there’s a priestly ministry and a kingly ministry - the forgiveness of sins and the establishing his heavenly kingdom throughout the world. And it’s the Spirit of God that is the fuel for that mission.
In the end, however, you interpret the trees, it’s the Holy Spirit that is given to us to by God to accomplish God’s mission.
So, the Holy Spirit is the golden oil, which flows from God as represented by the olive trees, through believers in Christ who are the vessels (the lampstands). And the last part is the flame. The lampstands provide the conduit, through which the golden oil can be lit. Translated: The flame displays the work of God in us, through his Spirit, that we may be lights to the world.
This is a vision about you – if you believe by faith in Jesus. It’s about us, the church. We’re meant to be lights. Displaying all the things that Zechariah has been talking about.
•God as the sovereign Lord over all things.
•Salvation in Christ through what he accomplished on the cross.
•The call to all nations.
•The forgiveness in him, hope in him.
The flame is all those things – it’s the Gospel light of Christ. We are to display it and proclaim it.
Think about Pentecost. That takes us back to Acts chapter 2. The Holy Spirit was poured out. And what happened? Flames of light appeared on top of the Christians as they were now filled with the Holy Spirit. In one sense, Pentecost fulfilled, or began to fulfill, this vision here in chapter 4. It pointed to God’s people, as lampstands, filled with the oil of the Holy Spirit, displaying the light of the Gospel.
God is using us to accomplish his Gospel purposes - to be lights of his grace and display his glory and salvation.
The beautiful thing about this vision is how all parts of the vision are working together. The source of the unending oil that fuels us – Christ. The golden oil itself, God’s Spirit, flowing through the lampstand, us, and fueling the flame.
Through this vision, we get a clear picture of our purpose and identity – united together in Christ, as branches of the lampstand. Filled together with His Spirit, for the purpose of being Gospel lights to the world. Shining forth. Not hiding God’s light but being a city on a hill.
There are so many things that the church can get distracted by – social things or political things. But our primary calling and purpose is to be a Gospel light.
And do you know something? As the difficult circumstances around us get more and more difficult and darker, that light will appear brighter and brighter.
God was calling Zechariah’s generation to not fear their disheartening situation with all the hurdles and opposition around them. Instead, God was calling them to trust in him, to be filled in him, and to be a light.
And he’s calling us to the same – knowing who we are as vessels of God, brought together and filled together by the Holy Spirit. So may we be a faithful church, focused on who we are as God’s people, knowing our purpose to shine the light of Christ. Amen.