What does it mean to remove a church’s lampstand?

If you wanted to control people using fear and dark threats, you could become a Sith Lord, or you could take the good promises of Jesus, turn them inside out, and use them to terrorize God’s children. Let me give you an example:

Unless you repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand out of its place. (Rev. 2:5)

What does that mean? It sounds scary. I’d better do whatever the man of God tells me. And bam, there goes your freedom. Hi ho, hi ho, it’s off to work we go.

In the research I did for Letters from Jesus, I read dozen of commentaries and was regularly horrified by how this good promise was interpreted. What does it mean to remove your lampstand? Apparently it means Jesus is going to close your church or kill your pastor. Yes, I actually read that.

“How dreadful are the punishments of Christ!” said a certain Victorian minister. “He may take away your minister; and he may also take away the light of his word.”

(Think about that for a second: If you don’t repent, the man up front gets whacked by Jesus. Makes perfect sense.)

Sadly, this was par for the course. The beautiful letters from Jesus are routinely interpreted in such a way to make us afraid of the One who sent them. That’s why I wrote my book; to show you that everything says and does is beautiful and lovely and that he cares for you.

What does it mean to remove a lampstand?

Change is coming. If the Ephesians don’t change, Jesus will change them. If they don’t return to him, he will come to them and carry them to a new place.

Many interpret the lampstand passage as a vague but dire warning to the Ephesians. “God will remove the light of his word. Their lamp will be snuffed out.” But Jesus does not say he will punish or extinguish them. He doesn’t even say he will remove them, with all the negative connotations that implies. A literal reading of his words indicates he will move them out of their place. Since they are in a bad place of loveless exhaustion, how is this not a good thing?

Picture a loving husband whose wife is buried with work. Miserable, exhausted, and close to burnout she tells herself, “I’m doing this for us,” but there is no us, not when she’s working 100 hours a week and sleeping at the office. Her husband misses her terribly and is concerned for her health. He reminds her of the simpler times they enjoyed at the beginning and hopes she will return to him. But if she doesn’t, he plans to come to her workplace, sweep her off her feet, and take her away. He’ll sell the house and move to another town if he has to. He’ll gladly give up everything for her.

That is the essence of what Jesus is saying here. “I am coming to you.” If they don’t return to their first love, their first love will come to them. This is good news, not bad news. It’s sweet relief for the weary who can’t find their way home.

So what exactly will Jesus do if they don’t repent?

He will take them to a quiet place. When the disciples got too busy with ministry, the Jesus of the Gospels would say, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest” (Mark 6:31). He’s saying the same thing to his disciples in Ephesus. “Come away with me.”

The invitation was there, but the Ephesians had to respond. If they did nothing, perhaps because they were too tired to move or too invested to change, then the Lord-among-the-lampstands would come and lead them himself.

To those who have known the crushing weight of unholy expectations, these words of Jesus are a breath of fresh air. I imagine the weary Ephesians wept with relief when they heard them.

If you liked this, you’re going to love Paul Ellis’ new book, Letters from Jesus: Finding Good News in Christ’s Letters to the Churches. Various ebook versions are available now, and the paperback comes out at Easter 2019. Patrons are getting their copies in the next week or so.

27 Comments on What does it mean to remove a church’s lampstand?

  1. Weeping with relief today myself. Timely message.
    Thank you. 🙏

  2. This must be the Gospel of Grace as it is too good to be true.

  3. In the NKJV, Jesus tells the Ephesian church that they “…have not become weary” and that they should “repent and do the first works.” So they are not weary and need to do the works they had stopped doing. However, in your analogy of the husband and wife, the wife was weary and was working a lot. This is the opposite of the Ephesians’ situation.

    • I would encourage you to read the whole letter (which you probably have) and see what Jesus says of their toilsome labours. There is no doubt they were working very hard – they were the hardest working church in Asia – and even though false apostles had darkened their door and tried to undermine them, they had endured and not grown weary. They were the Energizer Bunny Church; they just kept on going. But they had worked themselves to distraction, hence the triple exhortation to remember, repent, and do what they did at first. More here.

      • Thanks for the link, Paul, and the gracious reply. I do see more where you’re coming from now having read more.

      • I think “their first ‘works'” is ironic. They are very busy, but their first “work” was to love God. They are very busy doing the things of God, but they’ve lost sight of the One for whom they work.

    • Just saying–Paul’s analogy is like the bride of Christ Jesus married to her bridegroom Jesus. The Ephesian church is jealously loved to the point He runs after her not to condemn her but offer His rest.

  4. And yet the church did not survive.

  5. What refreshing good news. Really there is NO BAD NEWS in the good news. I have almost completed reading your new book: Letters From Jesus (PDF version). I am thrilled by the awesome love of our Saviour portrayed in these love letters. A must-read for everyone.

  6. God forgive me, I have in great fear and trembling , used this term when our church elders refused to love some members of the faith and call them accountable for their sin . The kind of sin that brought hate , gossip and discord into our community worship. Thank you for helping so many see so much more of the love of God. I’m really looking forward to reading your book.

  7. Jenny Beauchamp // February 28, 2019 at 2:43 am // Reply

    Awesome good news Paul. Thank you for taking the time to sit at the Lord’s feet and allow Him to teach and tell you the secrets of His Love, showing you the Father’s heart.
    Thanks for sharing and encouraging all of us.
    Abundant Blessings to you and your family.

  8. Sweet Jesus!

  9. Wonderful! The commands of the Lord are never burdensome… 1 John 5:2-4. I think that is a good yard stick… If what you are hearing adds a weight to you, it is not the voice of your Father. His yoke is Light. Even when He disciplines us, we are disciplined in a way that will mobilise us to change rather than to be instilled with crippling fear of Him. Jesus only ever spoke harshly to those who thought that their works had earned them Gods approval ( Pharisees and saducees) but to those who were admittedly struggling He always, always offered hope and relief!

    That’s our Jesus 🙂

  10. Princy Mathew // February 28, 2019 at 3:54 pm // Reply

    Wonderful revelation!! It really made my heart to melt and filled my eyes with Tears. I thank God for you.

  11. This interpretation seems a stretch to me. I can’t see they themselves being the lampstand, It seems that they will lose something if they don’t change.

    I was thinking the lampstand is your “witness.” That is, that if you don’t return to loving God and acting out of love, you will lose your ability to be a light to the world. They will no longer influence their community for Christ.

  12. Wow, I couldn’t find a translation out there, not even the Passion Translation (which has agreed with your interpretation regarding “lift up” rather than “cut off” when talking about the unfruitful branches) that corroborated this. But when I looked it up in the Greek Lexicon you’re absolutely right, the word is most commonly translated on some variation of “move” or “throw into commotion” and is only translated as “remove” here. It’s incredible to me that tradition can cloud our vision of Jesus so much and I’m incredibly grateful that the Spirit throws us curveballs so that He can move us back into focus.

  13. Removing their lampstand… Remember: v 5ab says, if you choose not to turn away from your fallen state & back to your first love … yes, there is more to this than Jesus’ love for them. There is his discipline in removing the lampstand. Discipline is his love; no, he is not crushing them. Yet, something is removed.

    Where is the discussion that leads back to a lampstand that was fueled by oil; green olives not pressed but smashed in a mortar; least smudge & brighter light? The Spirit lighting our way from then to the Great Days’ Returning; between a time of great peril [trial like never seen] & Armaggedon. Ez 38-39.

  14. stella Emmanuel // March 2, 2019 at 1:43 am // Reply

    This is so powerful never heard it before thanks Paul.

  15. After reading your post Paul I was very encouraged. Your book must be pretty good if it maintains this kind of wisdom!

  16. Well expressed! Heavenly Fatherly, Holy Spirit and Christ inspired truth! keep the good news fire burning! Indeed in Christ there is reality and we, his children are in reality!

  17. Doug Chagnon // July 4, 2019 at 11:30 pm // Reply

    This reading must be from a feel good church. Everyone thinks Jesus won’t take action, HE will. We are also in the book of Revelation, this is when it all happens. Jesus has come to them, given a warning and ready to take HIS light from them. WHY. because they no longer hold Him first. Jesus is saying, here you have done good things, but if you continue to CHOOSE not to put me first, I will not stay and when I leave so does the light. Yes, this is something to be fearful of as a Christian, but remember we bring this on ourselves. Don’t for a second believe the garbage about Jesus is going to come and lead any of us if we choose not to follow HIM. That just isn’t the way life is when you follow the great I AM. Think also, in the new testament we were given to life doctrines; Love you God with all your mind and all your heart and love your neighbor as you love yourself. Did God say this because He just had extra words left over from the previous conversation? False teachers will come and go, we have to be strong in Christ to recognize when we are confronted by them. Open your hearts to what the above writing says and remember, Jesus is a relational God, He wants to commune with you but He will never force you into that communion. Peace and Blessings to those who read this and use the Bible to help them understand.

    • No, there is nothing for the believer to fear. “There is no fear in love; the one who fears is not perfected in love” (1 John 4:18). You are preaching fear, but the good news is Jesus promised to never leave or forsake us. One with the Lord, your future is secure.

  18. Jesus warns the churches (the corrupt, compromising, dead, lukewarm, loveless churches, except the faithful and persecuted churches) to repent because they are obviously in willful sin. He will judge the believers who are all of those things mentioned for there no longer remains a sacrifice for their sins if they do not repent for then they trample the Son of God underfoot and count the blood of the covenant by which they were sanctified a common thing and insult the Spirit of grace. There is sin that is not unto death, but there is sin that is unto death and that is deliberate sin. We are told not even to pray for one who is in the sin unto death. (1 John 5:16-17) Judgement begins at the house of God and we are His spiritual house…

  19. Thanks for the explanation. Is this warning of removing the lampstand from its place for all the churches? Is this warning for always to remember and to follow?

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