The Seven Lamps of Missions

May 13, 2024 Joel H

I teach a New Testament survey class to 8th graders, and I was reminded again this week of why I love it so much. There is such joy in discovering afresh the sweetness of God’s word. Some parts of the Bible are often neglected for various reasons, but I am curiously drawn to them. One of my greatest joys is not ignoring the commonly ignored parts. I want to account for it all and not miss what God says to us. One of those ignored parts is the entire book of Revelation. Intimidating controversy and passionately held opinions regularly dissuade even the sincerest bible reader. That alone should give us pause that our theologizing might be more like the dispassionate Ephesians than we’d like to admit. The purpose of God’s word, as always, is to build up the body of Christ.

The reason I am drawn to the book of Revelation is because the first three chapters are unlike any other portion of scripture. If you’re looking for a controversial claim, then this is what I’ll give you: in my opinion, the book of Revelation should be the most applicable book of the Bible. Why would I say that? Well, it depends on how we understand biblical application. To apply scripture rightly, our first tool of interpretation must be to understand the text the way the original audience understood it; to put ourselves in their shoes. We can’t leapfrog over them and go straight from the text to our lives. The text was first written to those first century Christians and as such it is written with a particular culture and time in view. As we come to understand the lives of the original readers, we will then begin to see how we are just like them. The sins that they struggled against are the same as ours (Eccl. 1:9; 1 Cor. 10:13). The hope that they need is our hope too. So, the application is first discovered as we know more about the original audience. And guess what? There is no other book of the Bible that tells us more about the original audience than the book of Revelation. The first three chapters out of twenty-two are devoted to helping us understand the situation of the original audience. It’s all focused on encouraging them to endure until the end, to keep the light of their lamp shining. 

The seven lamps of the seven churches are meant to shine in the darkness of this world. Various churches were better or worse than the others. Two churches among the seven (the second and sixth churches) shine brighter than the rest because there was no rebuke given to them. Smyrna and Philadelphia fit the same pattern as what was written to all the other churches, with this one exception: Jesus, writing through the Apostle John, had nothing against them. The other five churches all seem to decline in their progression, from the Ephesians who were sharp theologically but had lost their first love down to the Laodiceans who were all together lukewarm, almost spit out of Jesus’ mouth for being intolerably useless as a church. The Laodiceans were so bad that they broke the pattern of writing to the churches by being the only church without any commendation given to them. Some lamps were shining brighter into the world than others. Other churches were nearly on the verge of having their light snuffed. 

The same is true today. We can see the spectrum of churches with various commendations and various faults spread across the world in our day. Each of the commendations given to the seven churches might be true of your church today. And each of the rebukes might be needed as well. Your church may be doing quite well, like the two highlights among the seven. It’s also possible that your church is sliding down the slope towards Laodicea, on the verge of losing its lamp. Churches can go dark. History and the world are littered with them. Grand church buildings that once boldly proclaimed the light of the gospel now gather dust rather than congregants. In fact, the nation of Turkey where these seven churches once existed is one of the darkest places on the planet and none of those historic churches remain today. This is the great warning of the book of Revelation. Your church might lose its light. Christ is still victorious, and he will not lose a single one of those whom he has marked off for salvation. The gates of hell will not prevail against God’s intentions for the church, but that does not guarantee that any one church will remain until Jesus returns. This is the challenge of this book, the promise given to those who overcome and endure until the end. 

What does this mean for missions? This harsh reality should greatly inform the work that we are doing. Our goal is not simply to make a wildfire explosion of conversions, as is typically the goal when someone uses the word, “movements.” Instead, our goal in missions is to create a healthy, mature church that endures through persecution and hardship. Our long-term planning is focused on the return of Jesus Christ. We don’t simply plant a church. We also want to see it watered and grown into full maturity in Christ. This makes missions harder, yes. But it is worth it because the Lamb who laid down his life for the church is worthy to receive all honor, praise, and glory. When you go out on your mission, don’t have a short-sighted goal. Make disciples who are gathered into a church and aim them at eternity and faithful endurance until Jesus returns. 


Joel H
With eleven years’ experience in missions and eight years’ experience in pastoral ministry and church planting, Joel now serves MissioSERVE Alliance as a church engagement specialist. Joel seeks to mobilize churches to fulfill their God given role to train, send and care for their missionaries well. When he is not consulting with churches, Joel’s work focuses on administration, resource development and production. Joel and Mary are raising 4 kids (Jacob, Annie, Solomon and ZJ), attending Patterson Park Church in Beavercreek, Ohio.