What did the lampstand and table of showbread represent?




Thank you again for your site and answers to questions about the Bible and Christian living. Now, I have another question concerning the 'lampstand' that was in the Temple where the Ark of the Covenant was kept. What was the lampstand used for and what was its significance? I have seen different verses that refer to the lampstand, but I don't know its meaning. For example, in the question I recently asked you about the Ark of the Covenant, part of the answer concerned items that were returned, only to be taken again later on. By the Romans.

Part of your answer included this:

As a result, Jeremiah foresaw that the physical ark would disappear and no one would miss it. What happened to it? We have no idea. The articles of the temple where returned to the Israelites when they returned from captivity (Ezra 1:7), though the ark is not specifically mentioned. Interestingly, detailed lists of what Nebuchadnezzar removed from Jerusalem exist, but no mention of the ark has been found. The books of Maccabee mention the lampstand, the altar of incense, and the table of showbread (I Maccabee 4:49). One would assume that it remained in the temple through the days of Jesus. However, in 70 A.D. Jerusalem was destroyed and the Temple torn down. We know from the Arch of Triumph in Rome that the Romans carried off the lampstand. It is most likely that all other items were taken as well. Whether it was taken at the time of the Babylonian captivity or destroyed during the destruction of Jerusalem is a matter of conjecture.

The lampstand is also mentioned in this verse.

"Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place -- unless you repent" (Revelation 2:4-5).

So, there is importance to this, but what? I don't understand. Being as how the lampstand is mentioned in both the Old Testament and the New Testament, it is not an 'idea' that has 'passed away'.

I know that the Old Testament Law has passed away with the death of Christ. And we now follow Christ's law. But how does the lampstand fit into this? Since the verse above that talks about the lampstand is in Revelation, and that is a book of figurative writings, then the lampstand would be also. But how, and why?

Also, what is 'the table of showbread'? I believe this was also in the temple.

In explaining the end of the Old Law, Paul mentioned "So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ" (Colossians 2:16-17). Some of the things done under the Old Law hinted at things found under the New Law of Christ. They weren't the same thing, but merely a representation. It was one of the reasons it was important that the Israelites follow God's commandments, even when they did not fully understand them, because those things took on meaning later. "For if He were on earth, He would not be a priest, since there are priests who offer the gifts according to the law; who serve the copy and shadow of the heavenly things, as Moses was divinely instructed when he was about to make the tabernacle. For He said, "See that you make all things according to the pattern shown you on the mountain."" (Hebrews 8:4-5). In much the same way things that we do under Christ's law are shadows of the reality of heaven.

Once such shadowing of future things is found in the offering of incense in the tabernacle and later the temple. When we get to the book of Revelation, we find that the smoke from the incense symbolized something under the New Testament. "Now when He had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each having a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints" (Revelation 5:8). Those living under the Old Law might not have fully understood or appreciated the representation, but still it existed.

To appreciate the lampstand, you need to study the concept of light and dark in the Bible. For that, I will direct your attention to the sermon "Light and Dark." Physically, the lampstand provided light for those working in the tabernacle and the temple. However, God had more in mind because He commanded that the lamps should not be allowed to go out (Leviticus 24:4). Understanding that light represents righteousness (Proverbs 6:23), consider Jesus' words, "You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven" (Matthew 5:14-16). Israel was intended to be a light to the nations of the world, accomplished through the Messiah (Isaiah 42:6; 49:6). The lampstand represented the display of righteousness to a dark world. Do you see why it was important that the light not be allowed to go out?

Where under the Old Law, the lampstand was a physical object that held a spiritual meaning, under the New Law each Christian is a lampstand of righteousness which must not be allowed to go out. The light is the light of the Gospel (II Corinthians 4:4). The church's obligation is to spread the gospel, so they are represented as lampstands in the book of Revelation (Revelation 1:20). Churches that did not follow Christ were threaten with the removal of their lampstand (Revelation 2:5).

The table of showbread is best understood if you go through the Bible studying the concept of bread. In particular, people who are under a covenant would sit down to a common meal after the signing of a covenant and at regular intervals thereafter to show their common support for each other and for the covenant (See "Covenants" for more details). The table of showbread was a display that Israel was in fellowship with God -- the twelve loaves representing the twelve tribes and were a harmonious nation. The loaves were changed every week and the old loaves were eaten by the priests.

Jesus later declared, "I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst" (John 6:33). Add to this that the Lord's Supper is the Christian's covenant meal. "The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread" (I Corinthians 10:16-17). Then we realize that the table of showbread is a shadow of Jesus, his covenant with Christians, and their fellowship with each other.

See also:

Questions and Answers regarding Symbolism