In Revelation 1 there are seven different localities—Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. In these localities are seven different churches, but their signs, the lampstands, are absolutely identical. When the seven lampstands are put together, it is impossible to distinguish between them unless you number them. When they are put together, they lose their identity because they are exactly the same. An “Ephesian type” or any “local type” of lampstand cannot be seen. All the lampstands are of the same type, the same appearance, and the same kind of shining. All the lampstands in Revelation 1 bear the same one testimony of Jesus (v. 9).
Snuffing Out the Differences
Although the Lord Jesus pointed out all of the differences between the seven churches, He pointed out these differences in a negative and rebuking way. Actually, all the differences were brought in against the one testimony of Jesus. In Revelation 1 the Lord Jesus appears as a High Priest trimming the lamps of the lampstand. In typology in the book of Exodus we are told that in the morning and in the evening the priest had to dress the lamps (Exo. 30:7-8) which involved doing two things: first, to snuff the burned out wicks and second, to add oil to the lamps. To dress the lamp is to trim it by snuffing the burned out wicks and then by filling the lamp with oil. In every epistle to the churches in Revelation 2 and 3 the Lord is snuffing the burned out wicks. In every epistle the snuffing scissors are there. On the one hand, the Lord was filling the lamps with the Spirit. The Spirit speaking to the churches is the oil. On the other hand, the Lord Jesus was snuffing the charred wicks of the lampstands. In these two chapters the Lord Jesus as the High Priest is dressing the lamps by snuffing the burned out wicks and by filling the lamps with the speaking Spirit.
We must realize that there are differences among the churches. These differences, however, do not justify us but condemn us. The Lord has no intention of keeping or preserving these differences. Rather, He wants to snuff them out. For example, Thyatira was the only church in which there was Jezebel. Jezebel, however, is an extremely negative item (2:20). This negative item in the church in Thyatira was the biggest difference among the seven churches which the Lord had to destroy. In Revelation 1 the standard is that all of the churches must be the same in God’s nature, in Christ’s shape, and in the Spirit’s expression. In the gold, in the shape, and in the seven lamps, all the churches should be exactly the same, yet actually they are not. The churches picked up many things from their localities which became differences that the Lord needed to judge and deal with. This is the proper way to interpret Revelation 1 through 3.
This is why I told you before not to go to the books which are not trustworthy. Some books would point out the differences of the seven churches as their strong base to say that we should not try to unify the churches or to make all the churches the same. They feel that every church has the freedom to preach and to teach whatever they feel is right. Actually, though, if our practice is this way, a lot of Jezebels will be brought in instead of being destroyed by the Lord. This kind of teaching encourages the black differences, but the Lord would judge and deal with all the black elements.
We have no ground to use the differences of the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3 in a positive way. There is no justification for these differences. Rather, they are all condemned. Some expositions, however, take these differences in a positive sense to encourage the local churches to be different from one another. The churches are encouraged even purposely to make themselves different. These expositions say that a local church should purposely go a different way in order to show that it is a genuine, typical local church with its own jurisdiction. We must realize, though, that this is altogether from the self. This is an interpretation with no heavenly vision and is altogether natural and from the natural mentality. These expositors forget that the seven lampstands as the signs of the seven churches, are pure and golden in the same shape with the same nature for the same function.
(Elders' Training, Book 04: Other Crucial Matters Concerning the Practice of the Lord's Recovery, Chapter 4, by Witness Lee)