This article first appeared in the July 2016 issue of the Standard Bearer under the rubric "A Word Fitly Spoken."
The candle is a significant biblical picture. This should not be that surprising, since for thousands of years candles were a prominent appliance in the everyday life and even worship of the church. The fact that candles have little practical value and use today does not diminish their continued spiritual significance as an enlightening symbol for us.
In general, the candle symbolizes the presence, life, and knowledge of God. In a real sense, God gives to every man a candle. The spirit of man (that God breathed into him in the beginning) is the candle of the Lord, searching all the inward parts of the belly (Prov. 20:27). But such light is not grace to all. God’s presence indeed gives life and knowledge, but it also condemns man and his use of that life as unrighteous, unthankful, and wicked. There is no reward to the evil man, and in anger the Lord shall put out the candle of the wicked (Prov. 24:20; Job 21:17). His sentence upon man’s kingdom and culture of sin is that “the light of a candle shall shine no more at all in thee” (Rev. 18:23). Only in Christ is God’s presence a candle of grace. Knowing this, the believer joyfully exclaims, “Thou wilt light my candle; the Lord God will enlighten my darkness” (Ps. 18:28). This candle of the righteous shines so he can walk in darkness (Job 29:3). The smoking flax (wick) of this candle the Lord will never quench (Is. 42:3). And the candle of the virtuous woman goes not out by night, not merely because her godly care knows no limits, but because she lives constantly in the light of God’s gracious presence.
The candle is also a glorious picture of the church. A notable feature in the tabernacle was the menorah, a splendid seven-branched candlestick. It is mentioned 22 times in the Torah, including how the Lord ordered it to be crafted out of pure gold, decorated with gold almond blossoms, and fueled by the purest olive oil (Ex. 25:31-35). When moved, it was to be carefully wrapped in fine blue cloth, protected in a leather case, and carried on a pole. When at rest in God’s house, it was to be lit every night. And on the day of dedication, the Lord gave special instruction from behind the veil that its candles were to be mounted to illuminate the way to His mercy (Num. 7:89-8:4). Night and day, the Lord was always home, blessing His covenant people with the light of His Spirit, guiding them to His unfailing grace through His atoning sacrifice.
This picture finds further development in the new covenant vision of the seven golden candlesticks (Rev. 1:11-13). Here, the candles represent more clearly, not simply the presence of God with us, but the church itself as she lives in the world—distinct yet united, imperfect yet glorious in righteousness and works of holiness, by Christ in their midst by His Spirit (Rev. 1:20). As a candle, the church is a continual witness to the grace and glory of God enlightening them before the whole earth (Rev. 11:4). And if any particular church stubbornly refuses to be such a witness by leaving her love for the Lord to walk with the world in unrighteousness, the Lord can and does remove such a candle out of its place (Rev. 2:5).
As candles lit by the Holy Spirit of Christ in the midst of a world dark with sin, the true church and her members have only one purpose: to broadcast the light in us of the power of God’s grace to forgive sins, sanctify, and give eternal life. Unlit candles are useless. So are flickering ones. To shine brightly, the whole body must be full of light. Take heed, therefore, that the light in you be not darkness (Luke 11:35-36). Equally useless are bright candles hidden in foolishness, fear, or shame. Candles are not meant to be placed under a bed or a bushel (Mark 4:21). Jesus said, “You are the light of the world; a city set on an hill that cannot be hid. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 5:14-16).
Yet, in spite of their significance and value here, in the new creation all this changes. There will be no candles there. Not one. Why? Because there in Jesus’ presence, there shall be no night, only day; and no darkness, only light (Rev. 22:5).
Rev. William A. Langerak (Wife: Karen)
Ordained: September 2003
Pastorates: Southeast, Grand Rapids, MI: 2003-2019; Trinity PRC, Hudsonville, MI - May 2019-Website: www.southeastprc.org/
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