Vision four took us into the holy of holies to witness the critical encounter between the messianic Servant and Satan at the throne of God. Christ was typified there by the priestly figure of Joshua, invested with his holy robes, crowned with the golden diadem—seal of the Spirit, granted access among the angels in heaven, and entrusted with the rule over God’s courts. Vision five reveals the sequel to Christ’s victory over the dragon. We behold him, typified by the royal figure of Zerubbabel, building the house of God in the power of the Spirit, here symbolized by the golden oil flowing into the golden lampstand.
Christ and the Spirit is the theme of both these visions, with Christ the focus in Zechariah 3 and the Spirit central in Zechariah 4. The fifth vision also sustains a close relationship to vision three, its counterpart in the chiastic structure of the seven visions, and to vision one, with which it is paired when the opening and closing triads of visions are construed as in linear parallelism.
Zechariah 4 presents the symbolism of the lampstand and the two olive trees in verses 1-3, with their interpretation in verses 4-10, and then the symbolism of the two olive-branches in verses 11 and 12, with their interpretation in verse 13. Our comments will diverge somewhat from the verse sequence as we develop the themes: I. The Spirit and the Menorah, and II. The Spirit and the Messiah.
A. The Spirit as Pattern for the Menorah. 1. Mosaic and Zecharian Menorahs: Menorah is the Hebrew word for the lampstand in the tabernacle.1 The menorah was a stylized tree with central trunk and three branches on either side, all with floral detailing.2 Its material was gold, described as pure, whether in the sense of technical quality or cultic cleanness. Apparently it was constructed by molding a sheet of gold foil over a wooden form (which was necessarily retained and provided stability). The menorah held seven lamps, either one on each of the seven arms or all seven made from the receptacle atop the central shaft by pinching its rim into wick-holders at seven places (a well attested ancient lamp design). The people brought the oil for the lamps, which were trimmed each morning and lit each evening by the priests.
Like the tabernacle menorah, the one in Zechariah’s fifth vision has seven lamps (Zech. 4:2). However, nothing is said of side branches.3 If this menorah consisted of only a single pedestal, the seven lamps would be arranged around the bowl on top of it. Each of the seven lamps is itself of the seven-wick design mentioned above, giving a total of forty-nine lamp-lights. But the most remarkable new feature in Zechariah 4 is the two flanking olive trees and the connecting apparatus by which a continuous supply of oil flows from these trees to the menorah lamps, fueling their perpetual flames.
2. Arboreal Theophany and Menorah-Church: In Zechariah 4 it is not the lamps aflame but the two olive trees that represent the divine Presence. Specifically, the trees are a symbolic depiction of the theophanic Glory, associated with the menorah in the tabernacle. The way the olive trees overarch the lampstand from both sides reflects the scene in the holy of holies where the two cherubim of the Glory-Presence spread their wings over the ark of the covenant. The duality of the cherubim and of the olive trees corresponds to the two-pillar formation of the Glory-cloud, itself a representation of the two legs of God as he would take his stand, particularly in judicial actions.4
The presence of the divine Glory among the covenant people was portrayed in Zechariah’s opening vision (1:7-17) by the figure of the Lord of Glory with angelic retinue stationed in the midst of the myrtles.5 As seen in the fifth vision under the symbolism of the golden oil of the olive trees flowing into the menorah, the Glory-Spirit is again a divine presence in the midst of, indeed within, God’s people. And as in the first vision with its myrtle trees, so here it is a tree, the menorah-tree into which the divine oil flows, that represents the covenant people.
Though fueled by the Spirit-oil, the flames of the menorah lamps are the shining of the covenant community. This is corroborated by the hierophant angel’s interpretation of the menorah in terms of the temple, which housed the menorah and performed on a larger scale and more publicly the menorah’s function as an illuminating witness to the world (vv. 4-10). Now the temple, though the residence of the divine Glory within, is to be identified with God’s people. At the New Testament level the church is the temple, the holy structure of living stones built on the foundation of Christ Jesus to be the habitation of God in the Spirit (Eph. 2:20-22; Heb. 3:6). The menorah is quite directly interpreted as the church when the seven lampstands of John’s vision in Revelation 1 are identified as seven churches (Rev. 1:20), and when, conversely, the two prophets representing the witnessing church in the symbolism of Revelation 11 are explained as equivalents of the lampstand of Zechariah 4 (Rev. 11:4). Enhancing the menorah’s prefiguration of the new covenant church is its assemblage of forty-nine lights, suggestive of the Jubilee and so pointing to the new covenant (cf. Luke 4:18-21).
3. Menorah, Replica of the Theophanic Glory: Israel’s tabernacle-temple (the conceptual equivalent of the menorah in Zechariah 4) and the church temple are distinguishable from their divine Resident. But antecedent to them is the archetypal heavenly temple, which is not distinguishable from God but is God manifested, the effulgence of his Glory. Filling the cosmos, the epiphanic Glory constitutes the architectural space and structure of this divine temple.
Invisible to earthlings now, this Glory-Spirit temple will be unveiled to us in the revelation of the new heavens and earth at the Consummation. At that time the cosmos as a place where the present distinction between dimensions visible and invisible to us will cease to exist as a result of the heightening of our perceptive capabilities through glorification. Then will be realized the beatitude, “they shall see God,” the archetypal Glory-temple (cf. Rev. 22:4).
According to Revelation 21:22 there will be no further need of temples in the world of New Jerusalem since God himself is the temple there, his own Glory his holy house (cf. Isa. 66:1; Acts 7:48ff.; 17:24). But while there will no longer be local, symbolic, man-made sanctuaries like Solomon’s temple in the consummated cosmos (and such are in fact already obsolete in the present church age), Revelation 21:22 does not mean to deny the perpetuity of the church-temple. Not a temple made by human hands, the church is God-built, a temple created by the Spirit, and God, even though he is his own temple-dwelling, will yet condescend to tabernacle forever in the church-temple. Wondrous this union: we dwell in him, the divine temple, and he dwells in us, the temple he has made (cf. Isa.57:15; 66:2). It is in Christ that we are that temple; indeed, Christ is that temple (cf. Mark 14:58; John 2:19ff.). And Christ, “the Lamb,” is mentioned along with the Lord God as the temple in the New Jerusalem. Church-temple and Glory-temple coalesce there.
Like the old tabernacle and temple, which were constructed after the heavenly archetypal pattern revealed to their human builders, so the church-temple is made according to the paradigm of the Glory-temple. This is brought out in Zechariah 4 by the way various features of the olive trees and oil, symbol of the Glory-Spirit, are replicated in the menorah, symbol of the church-temple. The menorah turns out to be another of the Bible’s numerous parables of the (re-)creation of man in the image of God. Just within Zechariah’s visions we have already found this motif in the imagery of the tabernacle-like myrtles of the first vision and in the symbolism of the tabernacle-like high priestly vestments in the fourth vision.6
Most closely related are the treatments of this image-renewal theme in Zechariah 3 and 4. The Spirit and the symbol of oil play a part in both visions. In Zechariah 3, Joshua’s holy vestments, themselves replicas of the Glory-Spirit, are crowned by the diadem-stone on the mitre, a seal of the Spirit, a sign of Spirit anointing. Also, by virtue of the anointing during the investiture ritual the high priest was saturated with oil, symbol of the Spirit. Together the anointing and the enrobing in the glory garments was a double portrayal of creation in the image of the Glory-Spirit. Zechariah 4 similarly symbolizes the same concept. Here, the Spirit, by filling the lampstand-community, creates his likeness in it.7
By reason of the gold and gems worked into the high priest’s vestments they shone like the theophanic Glory in whose likeness they were fashioned. Of similar but even more radiant appearance is the menorah of Zechariah 4. Again gold is the material but now it is aglow with reflections of the jubilee of flames, themselves an even brighter and more literal copy of the theophanic fire. The likeness of the golden menorah to the Glory-Spirit is highlighted by denoting the oil, symbol of the Spirit, as “the gold” (v. 12). Flowing into the lampstand, the golden oil reproduced its shining golden lustre there.
Replication of the Spirit-likeness in the menorah is also expressed in a sharing of arboreal imagery. Though the tree features of the tabernacle menorah are not explicitly mentioned in the description of the lampstand in Zechariah 4, it is possible that the seven-branched structure and other floral detailing of the familiar Mosaic menorah are simply taken for granted. If not, the arboreal form of Zechariah’s lampstand may still be maintained, for the sevenfold cluster of seven-lamp receptacles on top of it may then be seen as modified equivalents of the seven branches of the tabernacle menorah.
As a stylized tree the Zecharian menorah, symbol of the community, matches the two olive trees, symbol of the Glory-theophany. This correspondence is enhanced by the linkage of each of these arboreal symbols with the two golden cherubim. When observing above that it is particularly the manifestation of the Glory in the two-cherubim formation above the ark that is reflected in the two olive trees, we cited their common feature of duality. A further point of connection is that the cherubim in Solomon’s temple were carved out of olive wood (1 Kgs. 6:23). The menorah is linked to the same cherubim structure not only by the gold material used in both cases but by a shared mode of fabrication. Within the Exodus legislation the miqshah technique (the molding of metal foil) is mentioned only in the making of the cherubim (25:18; 37:7) end the menorah (25:31, 36; 37:17, 22).8 Revelation 11, appropriating the symbolism of Zechariah 4, carries the correspondence of the menorah to the olive trees a step further. The single menorah there becomes two lampstands (v. 4) and thus a numerical likeness to the two olive trees is added to the other points of correspondence between them.
The Book of Revelation provides another intimation that the menorah-church bears the divine Glory-image when it depicts the Glory-Spirit by symbolism similar to menorah flames. Thus, the seven torches of fire burning before the throne are identified as the seven Spirits (Rev. 4:5).9 The biblical roots of this symbolism can be traced to God’s covenant-ratifying appearance to Abraham in the menorah-like form of fire-pan and torch with their ascending columns of flame and smoke (Gen. 15:17). This anticipated the two fiery columns of the Glory-cloud theophany at the exodus, of which the dual cherubim structure, insignia of the Glory-Spirit, was an adaptation, and of which, in turn, the two olive trees of Zechariah 4 were a further adaptation.
Re-creation in the divine likeness is treated in Zechariah’s fourth vision from the perspective of its significance for personal deliverance from sin and judgment. What is in view in the fifth vision is the meaning of the church’s acquisition of the image of the Glory-Archetype for the performance of its historical menorah-mission of prophetic witness. As we shall see, displaying the divine likeness is a major element in that witness of the church; its form serves its function. This was illustrated in the experience of the Israelite prophets, for whom acquisition of the Glory-Spirit image was an essential part of their formation for office, a concomitant of the Spirit-anointing prerequisite to their witness function.10
B. The Spirit as Power for the Menorah Mission. 1. Menorah: Witness Light: God is light (I John 1:5) and God is truth (I John 1:6; 2:21-23; 5:7, 20),11 the true and living God of Glory, the One (Zech. 14:9). And it pleased him to glorify himself by calling into being a creation to serve as a medium of his luminous self-manifestation, a vehicle of theophanic revelation to creatures, themselves displaying ectypally the likeness of his Glory. The seven eyes of the sevenfold Spirit would take delight in seeing his own archetypal Glory-likeness shining back from the temple of his human images on earth (as well as from his angel-sons in heaven). For mankind this reflective radiating of the light of God would be an exhibiting on a creaturely level of the glory of divine dominion and divine holiness, righteousness and truth. Further, at the promised consummation of this created order the human temple-community was to assume an outward luminosity that reflected the light of the heavenly Spirit-temple. With mankind’s eschatological glorification the natural darkness they had experienced in the original cycle of night and day would become a thing of the past. For then the hitherto invisible Glory-light of heaven would become visible, illuminating all the cosmos in perpetual day (cf. Isa. 60:19, 20; Zech. 14:7; Rev. 21:25; 22:5)—the perfected revelation-replication of the God who is light.
Glorifying God by reflecting the light of his Glory back to him remains after the Fall the chief purpose of man’s light-bearing. Moreover, the full realization of that highest goal through the ultimate glorification of the saints is still the predestined omega-point of human history. But in the interim between the Fall and the Consummation the diffusing of light by God’s people serves some partly or totally new purposes as this function is carried out in the spiritual darkness of a fallen world.
One of these partly new objectives was the confrontation of evil. Before the Fall of man on earth a fall had transpired in heaven, so that even in Eden man’s displaying of the light of God’s image would have been an exercising of God-like dominion and righteousness and a confessing of the Truth over against the dark presence of the devil. Donning the divine image was already a putting on of the armor of light to do battle with the prince of darkness and to overcome him. Radiating light was even then the bearing of a legal witness to the true God in dispute against the tempter, the liar from the beginning. However, though this confrontational aspect of covenant witness is not something altogether new after the Fall, there is this difference, that now the darkness is entrenched and pervasive within mankind. The witness-light must be presented not just in defiance of a would-be usurper and his minions but in the face of conflict with satanic powers that are currently “the rulers of the darkness of this world.”
There is also a totally new purpose involved in the luminary function of the righteous in the post-Fall world—it henceforth serves the redemptive objectives of the Covenant of Grace.
The Mosaic-Zecharian menorah symbolizes the diffusing of the light and truth of God by his people, not in the daylight of the original pristine order of creation but in the postlapsarian night. Lit each evening to burn through the night, the menorah in the holy place of the tabernacle was a light shining in the darkness. The Israel of God performs its menorah mission in the darkness of a world blinded by Satan’s anti-theology, worshiping in the cult of no-gods. The shining of the menorah-church is a witnessing to the true God of heavenly Glory that has the effect of condemning the counter-claims of the satanic idol, which is a lie and pitch darkness.
This confrontational, anathematizing aspect of the church’s witness is brought out in Zechariah 4 when it interprets the menorah mission in terms of the role of the temple, standing on Zion and magnifying the name of Yahweh, the God of heaven and earth, in the face of the great mountain (v. 7). For the great mountain is the hostile imperial power and its idol-cult, lifting itself up as a rival to the mountain of God’s temple, as a pseudo-Zion, an antichrist Har-Magedon.
The condemnatory aspect of the menorah mission is again prominent in Revelation 11:1-13. In this adaptation of the Zechariah 4 lampstand imagery, the symbolism of the menorah light is clearly interpreted as the light of truth. For the menorah is identified with God’s two prophetic witnesses (vv. 3, 4).12 And the purpose of the menorah mission as seen here in the career of these witnesses is emphatically the bringing of judgment on their enemies. The picture is one of radical opposition. So intense, so demonic is the world’s hatred of the exposing, condemning light of the truth (cf. John 3:19, 20), that when the two witnesses have finished their testimony the beast from the abyss kills them and peoples from all the nations celebrate this pseudo-triumph with hellish glee (vv. 7-11).
Maintaining a judicial-apologetic witness against the deceived, unbelieving world is then one dimension of the menorah program. The field of history is a courtroom in which God’s people give testimony to his name over against the blasphemies of the idol-worshipers.13 This piercing of the darkness with light, exposing falsehood, anticipates the day of the Lord, when by the brightness of his coming he shall bring to light for judgment all the hidden things of darkness (l Cor. 4:5; cf. Gen. 3:8; John 3:19, 20).
But the menorah mission is also a summoning of the lost to salvation in Jesus Christ. Indeed, it is the primary and proper function of the menorah to serve God’s purpose of redemptive grace, that totally new aspect of light-radiating not present before the entrance of sin and death at the Fall. The menorah community is commissioned to proclaim the gospel of him who says: “I am the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6). “I am the light of the world; he that follows me shall not walk in darkness but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12; cf. 12:46). The true heavenly Light declares to his disciples, renewed after his image, “You are the light of the world” (Matt. 5:14), and he bids them, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all the nations” (Matt. 28:19).
This gospel-witnessing function of the menorah-people is readily discernible in the situation of the menorah in the tabernacle. It was located between the altar of sacrifice and the mercy seat, a place redolent of atonement and gospel pardon.
The menorah flames illuminated the way to the throne of grace in the holy of holies. In the setting of the Solomonic temple, where there were ten lampstands arranged in two rows on the north and south sides of the holy place (I Kgs. 7:49), the menorah lights themselves actually formed a passageway—from the site of judgment in the court to the Glory-throne beyond the second veil (cf. Heb. 9:2-5), the way from Golgotha to God’s holy heaven.
As we have observed, Zechariah 4:4-10 interprets the menorah mission in terms of Zerubbabel’s temple building project. The counterpart to that enterprise in the new covenant is the program of building the church, the assignment to disciple those God calls to be living stones in the temple founded on Christ. The menorah mission is mandated by the Lord in the Great Commission.
Both old and new covenant temples are lights of the world set on hills (the old temple quite literally so); they are both lamps put on a stand to shine before men that they might glorify the Father in heaven (Matt. 5:14-16). The mission of the old menorah-temple and that of the new menorah-church alike is to summon men out of all nations to the holy city on Har-Magedon (whether the old earthly, typological Jerusalem or the new heavenly, true Jerusalem), to call them on a faith pilgrimage to the altar of atonement and the throne of grace.14 The mission of the menorah community, old and new, is to light the way to the Father’s house.
2. The Spirit and the Menorah Light: Some have speculated that the middle section of Zechariah 4 (vv. 6b-10a) is misplaced because, allegedly, it is not connected with what precedes. Actually, this word of the Lord addresses itself to the very heart of the preceding symbolism. It interprets the oil, which is obviously, if implicitly, included in the imagery of the menorah and olive trees as described in vv. 1-3, and is explicitly mentioned in the supplementary details of vv. 11, 12 (all already seen by the prophet Zechariah at the outset). It was this golden oil that would have riveted Zechariah’s attention, this supernatural provision pouring endlessly from the olive trees in a miraculous mechanism that dispensed with the ordinary human participation, whether by way of contributing the oil for the menorah or tending its flames. This wonder oil, the secret of the perpetual flame, was the spectacular feature of the vision that demanded an immediate explanation (cf. vv. 4, 5). And the Lord’s reply to the prophet’s query was right to the point: “Not by might nor by power but by my Spirit” (v. 6b). God’s Spirit, the Light of life, is the oil, the inexhaustible fuel of the true menorah, the limitless energy source of the ever burning church-lamp (cf. I Kgs. 17:14-16). As source of that Spirit-oil, the olive trees on either side were trees of everlasting life for the people of the menorah (cf. Rev. 22:1, 2).
The Lord’s reply went on to apply this truth to the program of building the temple. Here was a current instance demonstrating that Spirit-power is the secret of success in the menorah mission. Despite every adverse circumstance, the project would surely be finished. The day of outwardly unpromising beginnings would be succeeded by a time that witnessed the leveling of the hostile world mountain and the celebration of the elevating of the temple. And it would not in the last analysis be due to the efforts of Zerubbabel and the covenant people that the temple would be completed; the ultimate accomplishing of the mission must rather be attributed to the Spirit. For we are told that “these seven, namely, the eyes of the Lord that run to and fro through the whole earth” (which, according to Revelation 5:6, represent the Spirit) are fixed with joy upon Zerubbabel (v. 10). This signifies that the Lord has authorized the enterprise, that he takes special interest and pleasure in it, and by his Spirit is sovereignly supervising it—the guarantee of sabbatical success.
Those who allege that this section of Zechariah 4 is discontinuous with the opening description of the menorah assert that not until the phrase “these seven” in v. 10b is the subject of the menorah resumed. “These seven” refers then not to the Spirit-oil but to the seven lamps, identifying them as the eyes of the Lord. One objection to this is that something other than the seven eyes must be construed as the subject of the seeing spoken of in v. 10a. But the natural connection between eyes and seeing is obvious. Furthermore, the lamps represent the covenant community, the recipients of the Spirit-oil, and therefore cannot be identified as the seven eyes of the Lord, which represent the Spirit. “These seven” does not refer to the seven lamps in Zechariah 4:2 but to the “seven eyes” in Zechariah 3:9, as Zechariah 4:10c indicates.
Closing (v. 10) on the note it began (v. 6), this section of the vision points again to the Spirit and his universal sovereignty (the seven eyes engaged in judicial surveillance of “the whole earth”) as the explanation and guarantee of the final accomplishment of the menorah mission. What must be done to fulfill that mission in the future had been done by the Spirit in the past. Was the creation of a people in the luminous image of God central to that mission? Then remember how the Glory-Spirit in the beginning was the power of the Most High overshadowing the lifeless dust of the earth to quicken the man-creature, so bringing forth a son of God, a replica of the Creator’s glory (cf. Gen. 1:2, 26, 27; Luke 3:38). Did the menorah mission entail the bringing low of the high world mountain? Did it require victorious battle against the armies of the satanic beast-power? Then recall how, in the hour when the dragon-power of Egypt threatened to overwhelm the Israelites, the Glory-Spirit vanquished lofty pharaoh and all his military might (Exod. 14:4; Ps. 136:15). It was “from the pillar of cloud and fire” (i.e., the Glory-Spirit theophany) that God looked down upon the Egyptians (Exod. 14:24) and cast chariots, horses, and riders into the depths of the sea, triumphing gloriously (Exod. 14:28; 15:1, 4). That was the “power” by which he brought forth his people out of Egypt (Exod. 32:11). Singing, “Yahweh is my strength and my song” (Exod. 15:2), the Israelites confessed the truth of Zechariah 4:6—salvation is not by human might or power but by God’s Spirit. Psalm 33 makes the same confession: “No king secures victory by his massive army, no warrior is delivered by his great strength” (v. 16) . . . “The eye of Yahweh is on those who fear him” (v. 18a) . . . “Our soul waits for Yahweh, our help [or warrior] and our shield is he” (v.20).
“By my Spirit,” the power of God in creation and redemption hitherto—that is the word of exhortation and promise to Zerubbabel and all henceforth who are called to the menorah mission.
*This study of Zechariah 4 continues the series on Zechariah’s night visions begun in Kerux 5:2 (September, 1990).
1. Cf. Exodus 25:6, 31-40; 27:20, 21; 30:7, 8; 35:8; 37:17-24; 40:4, 24, 25; Leviticus 24:2-4; Numbers 8:2-4. On the construction of the menorah see Carol L. Myers, The Tabernacle Menorah (Missoula: Scholars Press, 1976).
2. The chiastically arranged night visions of Zechariah, a triad of visions on either side of the central hinge, might be seen as a literary translation of the menorah structure.
3. In this respect Zechariah’s menorah would be more like the ten separate lampstands in Solomon’s temple (cf.1 Kgs. 7:49) or the seven individual lampstands of the vision in Revelation 1:12.
4. See further Images of the Spirit, p. 86.
5. See Kerux 5:3 (December, 1990), pp. 1lff.
6. See Kerux 5:3 (December, 1990), pp. 17ff. and 8:2 (September, 1993),pp. 15ff.
7. See further Images of the Spirit, p. 86. A difference in the two treatments of the theme is that Zechariah 3 presents a priestly model of the imago Dei, while the model in Zechariah 4 is prophetic.
8. Cf. also Numbers 10:2.
9. In relation to the identification of the seven Spirits as seven eyes (Rev. 5:6; cf. Zech. 3:9; 4:10) note Jesus’ comparison of eyes and lamps (Matt. 6:22; Luke 11:34).
10. Cf. Images of the Spirit, pp. 57-64.
11. Psalm 43:3 (cf. 119:105) brings out the conceptual bond of light and truth: “Send forth your light and your truth, let them lead me; let them bring me to your temple mount, unto your dwelling place.”
12. Cf. Images of the Spirit, p. 91.
13. Cf. Isaiah 43:10, 12; 44:8, 9.
14. Cf. Kerux 7:3 (December, 1992), p. 56 for a discussion of the same theme in Zechariah’s third vision.
Westminster Theological Seminary in California, Escondido