Revelation 2: 1|
Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write; These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks;
The message of Christ to the church of Ephesus is prophetic not only of the history of the city, which began in a desirable condition and ended in a heap of ruins, but also of the local church in Ephesus. The charter members of the Ephesian church were a small group of the disciples of John the Baptist. The church was later visited by Apollos, who also knew only the baptism of John. Aquila and Priscilla were doubtless the first Christians in Ephesus, and Apollos was their first convert.
When Paul visited Ephesus in AD 56 he reorganized the church, with a membership of about twelve, who after their rebaptism received the gift of the Holy Spirit. The entire city was mightily stirred by Paul’s message. According to Acts 20:31, Paul remained in Ephesus for three years. Since Ephesus was the metropolis of Asia, the message during this period spread over the whole province. It was doubtless during this time that the other churches of the province were established. (Acts 18:24-28; l9.)
The church of Ephesus had received the labors of Apollos, Paul, John, and Timothy. It was the home of John, and the ruins of a church still remain where it is said he was buried. The mother of Jesus doubtless lived here till the time of her death, for Jesus gave her into John’s keeping just before He died on the cross. Here Timothy died a victim of mob violence because of his protest against the unbridled licentiousness during one of the festivals in honor of the goddess Diana. Paul said he labored in Ephesus three years "night and day with tears," and wonderful were the results.
Christ's has a special title for Ephesus. It is Christ who, ". . . holds the seven stars . . . and walks in the midst of the seven candlesticks." Jesus depicted himself in this way because they were the pioneers of the faith and He wanted them to know that Jesus held them in his very own right hand, the hand of power and authority. It was a great comfort and sense of security. The word "walk" denotes ministry and care in regard to his servants. Jesus, as our high priest, walks to and fro in the sanctuary, caring for his faithful servants."
Jesus lists seven marks of faithfulness in the Ephesian church, which He commends. Their love, faith, and zeal were manifested by their works, labor, patience, hatred of evil, zeal in testing false apostles, perseverance under persecution, and steadfastness to the faith. The Ephesian Christians demonstrated their love and faith by their works. "I know thy works" is common to all seven letters, but it does not always mean good works. It has the meaning of "life," "character," or "conduct." The statement indicates that, Christ is omniscient and that His piercing eyes see all. Nothing escapes His vision.
Labor in the Greek carries the meaning of "labor unto weariness," and patience means "persevering endurance" or "the brave and persistent endurance of the Christian." The patience of the Ephesians, however, did not indicate indifference to sin. Though these early Christians could not bear evil and evil men, they could bear persecutions, ridicule, and reproaches for Christ’s sake. They were intolerant of evil, but tolerant of all else. They could bear anything except the presence of evil and impostors in their membership. They had the discerning of spirits, and had taken to heart Paul’s warning concerning the coming of false apostles. (Acts 20:28-30.)
A careful reading of Acts 19 and 20 is enough to convince anyone of the unparalleled zeal of the members of the local church of Ephesus. When they accepted Christianity they burned in the public square before "all men" their books of magic. This is a worthy example for modern Christians in disposing of the filthy and trashy literature which is far more demoralizing than the Ephesian books of magic. These books could have been sold, but these earnest believers did not intend that others should be corrupted by them. They were not ashamed of their faith. Mighty miracles were wrought among them-some of the greatest recorded in the Scriptures.
To the Ephesian church Paul wrote one of the best and most spiritual of all his epistles, containing some of the deepest and most sublime of his revelations of divine truth. It contains practically no reproofs, and indicates that a splendid spiritual state existed at that time. Ephesus was located on the highway between Palestine and Rome, and through it passed a continual stream of visitors and strangers, and the church often had to discriminate between pretended believers and apostles and those who were genuine. For their ability and carefulness in this respect Jesus highly commended them.
But the desirable condition of the church of Ephesus did not long continue. The early love, zeal, patience, liberality, and spiritual power waned, and strife and dissension took the place of unity and brotherly love. The prediction of Paul came true, and false teachers and counterfeit doctrines multiplied. Worldliness crept into the church, and evil men were tolerated. Miracles and missionary work diminished and finally disappeared. Paul’s warning recorded in Ephesians 4:14 was no longer heeded. The church began to decrease in membership with the decline of the city, and was finally disbanded. One who visited the ruins of Ephesus less than a hundred years ago found near by a few miserable huts. Among the inhabitants were three professed Christians, and they were so ignorant that they scarcely had heard of the names of Paul and John. Like the city, the local church began in a desirable condition and ended in ruins.
Of the Ephesian period of the church of Christ, Joseph A. Seiss says: "In the first place, the seven Churches represent seven phases or periods in the Church’s history, stretching from the time of the apostles to the coming again of Christ, the characteristics of which are set forth partly in the names of these Churches, but more fully in the epistles addressed to them. There has been an Ephesian period-a period of warmth and love and labor for Christ, dating directly from the apostles, in which defection began by the gradual cooling of the love of some, the false professions of others, and the incoming of undue exaltations of the clergy and Church officers." (Page 142.)
The name of Ephesus and the Ephesian message are prophetic of the universal Christian church during the days of the apostles, or the first century of Christianity. The beginning and history of the apostolic period of the universal church are strikingly similar to those of the local church of Ephesus. The Christian church began with twelve charter members, several of whom had received the baptism of John, the forerunner of Christ. As a result of the upper-room experience this little group received the baptism of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. With this power they went forth conquering and to conquer. Jerusalem was mightily stirred, and was filled "with their doctrine," just as was the city of Ephesus. The disciples of Jesus went "every where preaching the word," and multitudes accepted the faith. Mighty miracles were wrought, and the progress of the Christian religion was phenomenal. According to the historian Gibbon, there were between five and six million converts in the empire alone by the close of the first century. The gospel went to all the world in a single generation. (Colossians 1:23; Titus 2:11.)
The early church was noted for its unflagging zeal and patient endurance under persecution, its uncompromising attitude toward evil and evildoers, its ability to put pretending apostles to the acid test of Scripture, and its fearless exposure of lying claimants to fellowship and leadership. Their ability to detect and expose false apostles indicates that there were other apostles besides the twelve. Paul declared that the faith of the early Christians was "spoken of throughout the whole world." They were noted for their love, unity, pure faith, missionary zeal, and abounding liberality. The Lord supplied all the men and means needed for evangelistic endeavor. Miracles were performed even greater than those wrought by Christ Himself, as He had promised. (John 14:12; Acts 2:43-47; 4:31-35; 5:12-16; 9:31.) "The Church, however, throughout the whole of Judaea, Galilee, and Samaria, had peace and was spiritually built up; and grew in numbers, living in the fear of the Lord and receiving encouragement from the Holy Spirit." Acts 9:31, Weymouth.
Just as the progress of the gospel in Ephesus diminished the income of the silversmiths and brought persecution, the progress of the gospel during the Ephesian period threatened the prestige and authority of the Jewish leaders and diminished their income through the sale at exorbitant prices of sacrificial offerings in the temple service. Joseph and Nicodemus, two of the members of the Sanhedrin and among the wealthiest men of the nation, became Christians and poured their riches into the coffers of the church. Saul of Tarsus soon followed their example, and the persecutor became the persecuted. The gospel seeds were watered by the blood of martyrs. Christ commended the patient endurance of the early Christians under trials and tribulations. Jesus said, "I know your doings." (Weymouth.) The Ephesian message is given from the viewpoint of Christ’s close scrutiny and intimate knowledge of the spiritual state of His people. He perceived all, and appreciated their virtue, especially their ability to detect wolves in sheep’s clothing and put them to the Scriptural test. They had "found them liars." They were the agents of Satan masquerading as the apostles of Christ. (2 Corinthians 11:13-15.) Wherever it was possible in the seven letters, Jesus gave praise, and wherever necessary He gave reproof. But He always recognized and mentioned that which was praiseworthy first, indicating that He is more interested in finding the good in His people than in discovering evil. This is a noble example for all who have to deal with the erring. After praising the virtues of the Christians of the first century, like a faithful friend Jesus points out their faults. He is able to see much to admire where human beings see much to deplore and condemn. Jesus has a very keen eye for that which is good. (2 Chronicles 16:9.)
After commending them Jesus added, "Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee." This notwithstanding their good qualities. Their greatest fault was that they had left their first love and love works. They had "relaxed," or "abandoned," their first love. "You no longer love Me as you did at first." (Weymouth.) Their love for Christ had not been entirely extinguished; it had diminished and become half-warm. When Paul wrote his epistle to the same church more than thirty years before, they were still in their first love. (Ephesians 1:15.) At that time there were apparently no signs of spiritual declension.
The Lord can never forget the first love and love works of His people. To ancient Israel He said: "I remember thee, the kindness of thy youth, the love of your espousals, when thou went after Me in the wilderness, in a land that was not sown. Israel was holiness unto the Lord, and the first fruits of His increase." Jeremiah 2:2, 3. His love for His people was unchanged; the coldness was wholly on the part of the early Christians. He had commended them for their works, labor, and patience. What was wrong? It was not the "work of faith," the "labor of love," the "patience of hope." (1 Thessalonians 1:3.) Of faith, hope, and love Paul says that "the greatest of these is love." Love was lacking, and works without love are dead and useless. Love is the fountain of all true service. "For the love of Christ constrains us" declared the apostles regarding the motive and compelling power of their zeal and works.
When Christian love diminishes,,- it is evident that some other person or attraction has superseded Christ in the affections. The Ephesian church had not abandoned the doctrines of Christ or the form of godliness. Her failure was in becoming untrue to the Person who is the very center and substance of Christianity. She had deserted her Lord in the pathway of love. In spite of the orthodoxy and doctrinal purity of the church, her love had cooled. The warmth of affection had given way to cold and lifeless orthodoxy. The machinery of a church may be in perfect working condition and at the same time love and love works be on the decline. Missionary activity was displacing Christ, and programs and ceremonies were endangering spiritual experience and fellowship. The church was busy doing for Christ rather than being like Him.
Commenting on this loss of love, Charles Spurgeon said: ‘Thou has left thy first love.’ ‘Is that serious,’ said one. It is the most serious ill of all; for the church is the bride of Christ, and for a bride to fail in love is to fail in all things. It is idle for the wife to say that she is obedient, and so forth; if love to her husband has evaporated, her wifely duty cannot be fulfilled, she has lost the very life and soul of the marriage state. So, my brethren, this is a most important matter, our love to Christ, because it touches the very heart of that communion with Him which is the crown and essence of our spiritual life. As a church, we must love Jesus, or else we have lost our reason for existence. A church has no reason for being a church when she has no love within her heart, or when that love grows cold. It is a disease of the heart, a central, fatal disease, unless the Great Physician shall interpose to stay its progress, and deliver us from it. No peril can be greater than this. Lose love, lose all. Leave our first love, we have left strength, and peace, and joy and holiness."
Love is the sign and evidence of Christian life. Zeal for mere doctrines may degenerate into hatred for those who differ in belief. A church may be sound in doctrines and patient under bitter persecution and yet be guilty of relaxing the love once manifest. "The great fault lies not in the outward but the inner life, visible only to Him ‘Who sees in secret.’ The task, the work, the organization, the bands of workers, the crowd of worshipers-all as great and splendid as ever, but that which made the whole to be living and true had gone. And only Christ sees it. Is it, in any measure, so with ourselves? It is so easy to offer our Lord the head the hands, the feet, while the heart is far from Him. It is easy to drift into being an earnest and devoted Church worshiper and worker, devout in our services, busy in various departments of Church work, teaching, visiting, speaking, praying, and yet to have left the first love." - A Devotional Commentary, The Revelation of St. John the Divine, Page 29.
"Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent," is the solemn warning. "Remember the height from which you have fallen," is the Moffatt translation, and Weymouth gives it, "Be mindful, therefore, of the height from which you have fallen." The loss of love for Christ is a fall from a high spiritual plane to a depth far below. It represents a back sliding condition that needs to be repented of. When the church ceased to be occupied with Christ and fervent in her love for Him, she fell, and great was the fall thereof. The church had fallen from love, and "God is love," therefore the church had fallen, or back slid from God. The "first works" had come out of their "first love," and when love diminished, the works did also. "Repent and live the life you lived before," or "Repent, at once and act as you did at first," are other translations. There can be no love works without love. A return to the first-love experience is the prerequisite to a repetition of the first love works. Works do not produce love, but genuine love shows itself in works. The relation between Christ and His church is illustrated in the Scriptures by that of a bridegroom and bride, or a husband and wife. Loss of love in the home, if not regained, will eventually prove fatal, and end in divorce.
The only remedy for waning love is to "remember" the first-love experience and then never be satisfied till it returns. Christ can never forget the first-love relationship. He remembers the beautiful love experience, and regrets its departure. The fault, however, is not His. It is the church that has relaxed her affection. A remembrance of the happy love state that once existed is sure to create a desire on the part of a Christian to return to it. The return journey, however, requires more effort and time than the fall. Looking back on the height of affection and experience once achieved, we must with slow and often painful steps begin the ascent again. The very memory of the ground lost produces humble contrition and persistent effort.
Not an idle Threat
Unless there took place a speedy reformation, the candle stick would be removed and the church would cease to be the light of the world. This was no idle threat, for Christ had already removed the candlestick from the Jewish church and given it to another. To the Jews, Jesus said, "The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof." It is the loss of love that forfeits the light and privilege of light bearing, of witnessing for Christ. The testimony of loveless members value and power. God values the service of love, and when this is lacking the mere round of ceremony is offensive to Him.
The very continuance of the testimony of the church depends on her love for Christ, to whom she belongs. The removal of the candlestick indicates removal from high standing and special privileges in the sanctuary of God. Love and light are closely related, for "God is light’ and "God is love." When the church loses her love she will soon also lose her light, as well as a sense of duty to let it shine. Inasmuch as "love is the fulfilling of the law," the first works of obedience disappeared with the first love. "God is Light because God is Love. It is a case of cause and effect. Therefore, the light of the church must fail when the love fails; and there is no remedy but to ‘repent and do the first works.’ " - PHILIP MAURO, Of Things Which Soon Must Come to Pass, Page 94.
Love is the supreme grace of the Christian religion, and the cooling of that love is the first sign of decay and the first step toward a general apostasy. From the decline of love the early church marched steadily onward away from God, till apostasy climaxed in the scarlet woman, Babylon the Great. The church that started out as the light of the world finally plunged the world into the Dark Ages. The candlestick was removed, and darkness covered the earth till the blazing torch of gospel light was again held aloft in the great Reformation of the sixteenth century. "The candle of the wicked shall be put out" is a Biblical statement.
After ministering this severe rebuke Jesus added some more praise to mitigate the sting: "Still, you have this in your favor: you hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, and I hate them too." (Moffatt.) The bringing forth of a new virtue after giving such severe reproofs and dire threatening is an evidence of the most tender love and sympathy. All feelings of righteous indignation against evil which lead to a loathing of those things which defile is welcomed by Christ as an evidence of life. There is hope where hatred of evil prevails. To love the things Christ loves and hate the things Christ hates is indeed praiseworthy. The Ephesian church did not fall into the common error of believing that doctrine can be divorced from obligation and that an intellectual acceptance of the gospel is superior to moral character. Failing in love was their only error.
There has been much conjecture regarding the origin and identity of the Nicolaitans, but they are doubtless included among those whom Paul predicted would arise in the church of Ephesus and "draw away disciples after them not sparing the flock." (Acts 20:29-3l.) Paul declared that "the mystery of iniquity" had already begun to work in his day. (2 Thessalonians 2:3-7.) It is believed by some that the word Nicolailan comes from Nicolas, meaning "conquering the people," and indicates the danger of supplanting Christ and Christianity by false and counterfeit systems of religion. The exaltation of the clergy exercising lordship over the laity was one of the developments that appeared at an early date in the apostolic church.
According to Acts 6:5 one of the seven deacons was a man by the name of Nicolas, who was declared to be "a proselyte of Antioch." Some believe that this indicates that he was not a Jew. Irenaeus says that this Nicolas was the founder of the sect of the Nicolaitans. Clement of Alexandria declared that Nicolas was a man of strong passions and principles, who was willing "to do violence to the flesh," but unable to conceive the higher ideal of "the flesh being subdued by the Spirit." He adds that Nicolas was not really responsible for the excesses of his followers. Some of the best modern students question the reliability of the testimony of these early writers regarding the origin of the Nicolaitans.
This sect is mentioned again in the epistle to the church of Pergamos, and the statement indicates that they were gaining headway in the church. They seem to have been liberals or modernists, who felt that the church was too strict in its standards, and they advised compromise. They were known as libertines, and were doubtless of the Gnostics, who arose to plague the early church. They seemed to have practiced immorality on the ground of spiritual liberty. Such a false conception of freedom from law early invaded the church, and is still popular in many quarters. Many believe in continuing in sin "that grace may abound." The Nicolaitans believed in and practiced polygamy, and taught that it was lawful to eat food sacrificed to idols. The genuine Christians hated their evil deeds. Hate is the reverse of love, and there is a hate that is true to love. Jesus loved righteousness and hated iniquity. (Hebrews 1:9.)
"He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit said unto the churches; To him that overcomes will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God." The appeal to hear the voice of the Spirit is seven times repeated in the epistles of Christ. While Christ revealed Himself to John as the author of the Apocalypse, it was the Holy Spirit who inspired the prophet to write it. The voice of Christ is also the voice of the Holy Spirit. They two are chief of the witnesses through whom God speaks to man. The term "churches" indicates that we need to hear the important message not only to the church of Ephesus but all seven churches of history.
It is a dangerous thing to refuse to listen when the Holy Spirit speaks, to close the ear to His appeals. In Zechariah 7:11-14, refusing to hearken and pulling away the shoulder and stopping the ears are said to lead to serious consequences. The heart finally becomes as hard "as an adamant stone," on which no impressions can be made. "To day if you-will hear His voice, harden not your heart" is the admonition of Scripture in regard to the voice of the Spirit. The appeal to hear the message of the Apocalypse applies with special force to the church of this last generation. A refusal to hear and obey will lead to the unpardonable sin. It constitutes a rejection of both Christ and the Holy Spirit. Ears as here used must include "faith, the ears of the soul." Only those who are born of the Spirit have spiritual ears.
The seven promised rewards make up the sum of all the good things that were lost through disobedience, and that are to be regained through faith. "The word overcomes implies that the Christian life is a warfare from which there is no discharge, but it is a warfare, our author teaches, in which even the feeblest saint can prove victorious." - R. H. CHARLES, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Revelation of St. John, Page 53, 54. Continuous overcoming brings to the victor a continuous supply of the fruit of the tree of life, for Paradise must begin here. The Scriptures in a symbolical sense constitute the leaves of the tree of life, and "its branches hang over the wall," providing spiritual fruit to the saints on earth as a pledge and foretaste of the privilege of the Paradise restored.
Paradise is definitely located in Revelation 22:1,2,14 as being at the headquarters of the government of God. Man lost his right of access to the fruit of the tree of life and the blessings of Paradise through disobedience. The overcomer will return to his long-lost Eden home and again have a right to its glories untold. The tree of life disappeared from the earth because of sin. It will reappear when Paradise is restored. What was lost through the disobedience of the first Adam will be restored through the obedience of the second Adam. Paradise is a Persian word adopted in both Greek and Hebrew. It means a park, or pleasure ground. It is called "the garden of God," and "the garden of the Lord." Paradise is "the garden of all delights." This promise to the members of the church of Ephesus constitutes a mighty and eloquent appeal for repentance and faithfulness, to "hear what the Spirit said unto the churches." Thus the first promise of the first epistle of Christ is of the restoration of the first thing lost through sin-access to the tree of life and its life-giving fruit.
Summary: The main lessons from the letter to the church at Ephesus are:
1) God holds his true servants in his hand.
2) God takes note of our labors for his cause
3) God takes not of our attitude toward evil.
4) The danger of declining love and the growth of self love.