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.