“THE THINGS WHICH ARE . . . .”
THE PEOPLE OF CHRIST
- Revelation 2-3
19 “Write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after this.”
As was stated earlier, Revelation is a unique book of the Bible in that it has its own built in outline. This outline is essential to understanding this book. The built in outline is as follows:
I.) The Things Which You Have Seen – The Person of Christ – Revelation 1
Those who read and hear and put into practice the Book of Revelation will be blessed. The purpose of the book of Revelation as revealing the glorified Christ by a revelation that is from Christ. In Revelation 1 we are given a description of Jesus Christ in His glorified state.
II.) The Things Which Are – The People of Christ – Revelation 2-3
Jesus addresses the condition of the church locally, historically, and prophetically.
III.) The Things Which Will Take Place After This – The Plan of Christ – Revelation 4-22
The wrath of God is poured out on a Christ-rejecting world in an effort to shake up unbelievers, wake up Israel, and make up the world to receive Christ’s Millennial Kingdom on earth.
- Revelation 4-5 - The Church is in heaven.
- Revelation 6-19 - The Great Tribulation
- Revelation 20 - The Millennium and Final Judgment
- Revelation 21-22 - The New Earth and the New Heaven
“THE THINGS WHICH ARE . . ..”
THE PEOPLE OF CHRIST - Revelation 2-3
This section of the book of Revelation is very practical and very important. The fullness of this section is revealed in that it has application in four distinct areas :
- LOCALLY - Each of these seven churches were actual local churches.
- ECCLESIASTICALLY - The letters to the seven churches taken as a whole give a practical picture of pitfalls to be avoided by churches and practices to be followed.
- PERSONALLY - Each letter to a church closes with the phrase, “He that has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (2:7, 11,17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22).
- PROPHETICALLY - The seven churches addressed in this section address the Seven Epochs of Church History from the 1st century to the Rapture of the Church.
- EPHESUS - THE MISPLACED PASSION CHURCH - (1st Century)
- SMYRNA - THE PERSECUTED CHURCH - (A.D. 100 - 313)
- PERGAMOS - THE POLUTTED CHURCH - (A.D. 313 - 590)
- THYATIRA - THE PERVERTED CHURCH - (A.D. 590 - 1517 and beyond.)
- SARDIS - THE PERMISSIVE CHURCH - (A.D. 1517 - 1730 and beyond.)
- PHILADELPHIA - THE PERFECT CHURCH - (A.D. 1730 - 1900 and beyond.)
- LAODICEA - THE PASSIVE CHURCH - (A.D. 1900 -?)
The literary structure of Christ’s Church letters
The letters to the churches follow a specific form with a few exceptions that we will address as we come to them. The form of the letters can be divided as follows:
- CHRIST’S IDENTIFICATION - Each letter begins with Jesus connecting an aspect of His chapter one vision of His Glorification to His introduction to the particular church.
- CHRIST’S COMMENDATION - Jesus commends (if possible) the church for proper conduct.
- CHRIST’S CORRECTION - Jesus corrects improper conduct or conditions existing in the church.
- CHRIST’S CALL - Jesus exhorts and calls those in the church to repentance.
The Church is important
There are those who would diminish the importance of churches in God’s ordained plans. Some have gone so far as to say that churches are for the immature and once a person becomes spiritually mature they no longer need attend church. Such sentiment is diametrically opposed to God’s will and plan. The Church as a whole as well as individual local churches are essential to the plans of God.
There is no such thing as a rugged individualist or privatized Christian
Nowhere in Scripture do we see people being saved separate from some kind of church related activity. If a missionary is sent out, it is to win the lost to Jesus and plant a church of believers where discipleship can take place. When Christians are not a part of a church it is the exception. Persecution may keep people from forming a church publicly. But the underground secret church in persecuted areas is where persecuted believers find fellowship and support for their plight.
Jesus said, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself,” (Luke 9:23 - Emphasis added.) When Jesus taught His disciples to pray He taught them to pray with a church community or plural mindset. He taught them to pray, “” Our Father . . . Give us . . . forgive us . . . For we . . . And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one” (Luke 11:2-4 - Emphasis added.) Paul taught, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). The New Testament emphasizes the creating of churches. Throughout Acts we see missionary journeys where people are won to Christ and then a church is formed. People are saved and then plugged into a church where they are discipled and edified to do the work of ministry (e.g. Eph. 4:11-12).
In Hebrews it teaches -
- Hebrews 10:24-25 - “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works,25 not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.”
There’s just no getting around it, the plan of Jesus involves the Church.
In Revelation Jesus spends two chapters addressing the condition of the church. The Church is God’s ordained means to work to add to His Church as well as to edify and prepare for eternal life those who have been added.
Jesus reveals Himself to the world through the Church. We saw this in Revelation 1 when He stated:
- Revelation 1:11 - “saying, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last,” and, “What you see, write in a book and send it to the seven churches which are in Asia: to Ephesus, to Smyrna, to Pergamos, to Thyatira, to Sardis, to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea.”
This revelation of Jesus Christ was handed to John who then was instructed by Jesus to share it with local churches.
Jesus makes His presence known by standing in the midst of the Church. The Church is where the presence of Jesus is supposed to be experienced. He is omnipresent and the Holy Spirit makes Jesus known everywhere, but the local church is where Jesus particularly makes His presence known to His followers as well as to those seeking Him for salvation. We also see this in Revelation 1 where it states:
- Revelation 1:13,20 - “and in the midst of the seven lampstands One like the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the feet and girded about the chest with a golden band.20 “The mystery of the seven stars which you saw in My right hand, and the seven golden lampstands: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands which you saw are the seven churches.”
The Church is essential to spiritual growth.
It is in the church that Jesus reveals Himself, commends us, corrects us, and calls us. Even though churches are not perfect, (as made clear in Jesus letters to the churches in Revelation 2-3) they are nonetheless God’s will to work in the world.
It is in the church where we are taught about our spiritual gifting and are given opportunity to serve with those spiritual gifts (e.g. Ephesians 4). Serving is essential to spiritual growth and therefore the church is integral creating an environment where Christians can grow through service. If you aren’t serving in your local church, you aren’t growing spiritually like you could be.
It is in the church where believers can attend and find help for their hurting life situations, solutions to their problems, and answers to their life questions. The church is where we receive help for life, but it is also a place where we can experience the blessedness of giving our help to others. Fellowship is so very important and the local church is a facilitator of that.
The local church is a place where we can worship the Lord in the community of believers in the Spirit and according to His truth (e.g. John 4:23-24). The Bible speaks of God inhabiting the praises of His people (Psalm 22:3). There is something sweet spiritually, a little piece of heaven experienced, when the Body of Christ is together and worshipping Him.
The Church as Mission Field
On the rear exit way leading out of our church is a sign that reads “You are now entering the mission field.” Having thought about this, I believe the same sign should be placed on the outside for those entering the church. I believe this is true of all churches.
Church is not only a place where we come to be fed and spiritually equipped. It is a place where the saints are equipped so they can do works of ministry in their everyday lives (cf. Ephesians 4:11-12). But that is really only a part of what church is all about. Those who come to church only looking to receive will get only half of what God offers them. Church should be a place where we come to receive, but it should also be a place where we come to give.
The Body of Christ is composed of many different parts. And those interconnected parts are the instruments Jesus uses to minister to His flock. When we come to church we should come not only with a mindset to feed ourselves spiritually, we should come with a mission mindset looking for how God might want to use us while we are at church. Church is a mission field. It is a place where hurting people come and God might just want to use you to bring healing and comfort to those hurting. People who come with problems that need solving or questions that need answering, or simply with life issues, these people can be ministered by the members in the local church body. There are times when you might be one of those in need. But there are other times when you might be the one helping someone in need. The Lord comforts us so that we can later be used by Him to comfort others (cf. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4).
Jesus has provided His church with ministry gifts such as apostle, prophet, evangelist, and pastor-teachers (Ephesians 4:11). These are given to those entrusted with overseeing the church and equipping saints to do ministry (Ephesians 4:12). But there are also a host of spiritual gifts that are distributed by the Holy Spirit to all believers in order that they might serve purposefully those they come into contact with either in or outside of the church, wherever the mission opportunity presents itself (for the types of spiritual gifts distributed by the Holy Spirit see Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12-14).
When we look at these seven churches of Revelation we see that Jesus finds issues that need attending to in five of the seven churches. Two other churches receive no criticism from Him. But all of these churches are part of a Christ’s mission field. There are needs all around us. We need to be open to the Spirit for His empowerment as well as to how and where He might want to use us. Spiritual growth comes through service; through applying in real life what we learn from the Lord in His word. There are opportunities for such service both in and outside of the church. The world is a mission field, but so is the church.
THE MISPLACED PASSION CHURCH AT EPHESUS - Revelation 2:1-7
The first of the seven churches Jesus addresses is the church in Ephesus. He opens His letter by writing:
Revelation 2:1 - “To the angel of the church of Ephesus write,
The name “Ephesus” - Literally means darling and implies a kind of romantic love. The Song of Solomon in the Bible is interpreted by some as a love letter between God the Father and His bride Israel. That interpretation is also often applied to the love relationship between Jesus and His bride the church. The church is the darling of Jesus.
The name “Ephesus” can also be defined as permitted. This is an appropriate meaning given the debauchery and immoral practices of those in this city.
The apostle Paul founded the church at Ephesus. We can trace the roots of this church’s beginning in Acts 19-20. In those chapters of Acts, we discover the following:
- Acts 19:1-7 - The church was started when Paul found 12 disciples who needed to be taught more thoroughly about the Holy Spirit.
- Acts 19:8-10 - Paul’s work was opposed but he stayed in Ephesus nearly 3 years and grounded the believers in God’s word.
- Acts 19:11-20 - Ephesus was a place where God did “unusual miracles” through Paul and “The word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed.”
- Acts 19:21-41 - There was a great uproar by pagans who were fearful their idol-trade business would be diminished as the Gospel drew people away from worshipping the goddess Diana.
- Acts 20:17-38 - Paul gives a heartfelt farewell to the congregation at Ephesus noting:
1.) Paul modeled them a servant’s heart - 20:17-19
2.) He taught them publicly to everyone and from house to house - 20:20-21
3.) Persecution lays ahead for Paul but he is totally committed to Christ - 20:22-25
4.) Paul emphasized that he taught them the “whole counsel of God” - 20:26-27
5.) He warned them to watch for “savage wolves” who would attack the flock - 20:28-31
6.) Paul commended them to God’s grace that he was confident would edify them - 20:32
7.) Paul reminded them to follow his example of giving - 20:33-35
8.) Paul and the Ephesians bid a tearful farewell - 20:36-38
From approximately A.D. 52 when it was founded to 100 A.D. the church at Ephesus was the most prominent church in Asia Minor (located in modern day Turkey). But the city dated back long before that to 1044 B.C. under the Grecian Empire. It became a part of the Roman Empire in 133 B.C. The city of Ephesus was the capitol of Asia; the western part of Asia Minor. The Romans called the city, “The first and greatest metropolis of Asia.” It had the largest outdoor theatre in the world at the time, capable of holding 50,000 spectators. Animals fighting animals and people fighting animals was a popular form of entertainment in this place.
Ephesus was located strategically on the eastern shoreline of the Aegean Sea. This area was densely populated and fertile. Ephesus was approximately 150 miles east of Athens and 35 miles north of Miletus. It was located at a junction near several trade routes and as a result was a very prosperous city. It was also a seaport city and as such a strong commercial center. It’s estimated that the population of the city was around 3 million at the time Paul visited it, a gigantic number for that time. Ephesus was a prosperous as well as densely populated city in the Roman Empire. These two factors usually create an environment where sin abounds.
In Ephesus was one of the seven wonders of the world, the temple of Diana (Greek Artemis). The ruins of this temple indicate it was approximately 239 feet wide and 418 feet long which made it four times the size of the Parthenon in Athens! The pagan worship of Diana was a very popular practice for the residents of this city as well as for visitors.
Diana was a goddess of fertility and was described as a woman with a thousand breasts. Prostitution was the primary means of perpetuating this cult. Prostitutes would walk down the mount upon which the temple was located and seduce their clients. The money earned via their prostitution was given to the temple. Another means of support of this religious cult was the selling of amulets and good luck charms. The region in which Ephesus was located was very superstitious. Today Ephesus is sparsely populated and deteriorated which speaks to the churches failure to heed the words of Christ in His letter to this church.
‘These things says He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands:”
As mentioned in the introductory material, the reference to an “angel” may refer to a spiritual being assigned to oversee the church or it may refer to the human messenger, the pastor of the church. In Revelation 1:20 we are given an explanation for this imagery when it states:
- Revelation 1:20 - “The mystery of the seven stars which you saw in My right hand, and he seven golden lampstands: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands which you saw are the seven churches.
If “angels” represent the pastors of those churches, then pastors can take solace in the comforting truth that they are in Jesus right hand. Jesus will hold them through the stormy weathers of life as a pastor. But Jesus will also take hold of the pastor who abuses his position. That the churches are represented by lampstands here communicates the purpose of the church is to reflect the light of God in a sinfully dark world (compare 1 John 1:5-7).
Jesus introduces Himself to the church in Ephesus with the words, “‘These things says He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands:” That Jesus holds the seven stars in His right hand is an indication of His sovereign control over the leadership of all churches and in particular the one in Ephesus. That Jesus says He walks “in the midst” of the church (i.e. “golden lampstands”) indicates He is there and therefore aware of the workings of the church. Jesus is not a distant and out of touch with the church. Jesus is present and aware and involved in what goes on in the church.
The reference to “seven golden lampstands” refers to us to Old Testament Tabernacle and Temple where one of the pieces of holy furniture ordained by God to be placed in the sanctuary was a lampstand. This lampstand was put there by God to remind His people that they were to be a light to the world in that they were to shine forth the truth of God. The lampstand was to be perpetually or always lit. God’s light was to remain lit because God’s light is always shinning. But under the law this became a very tedious job for the priests to keep the lamp lit. In Zechariah God inspired the prophet to communicate that under the New Covenant the light from God would be lit by the Holy Spirit – “Not by [human] might nor by [human] power, but by My Spirit,’ says the LORD of hosts” (Zechariah 4:6). One of the primary aspects of the problem of the church at Ephesus was that apparently in leaving their first love Jesus, they were working in their own strength and not the power of the Holy Spirit.
In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians we see an emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit and the love of God. It is by the Holy Spirit that we know and can live in God’s love (e.g. Romans 5:5). A summary of the inspired letter of Paul to the Ephesians valuable in getting some background to the church at Ephesus. Some of the main points of this epistle are as follows:
- Every spiritual blessing of the Father toward us flows from our relationship with Him in Christ Jesus – 1:3-12. The evidence of our blessed salvation comes from being “sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory” (Ephesians 1:13-14).
- There is great power to live holy lives from our saving relationship to Jesus by way of the Holy Spirit. Paul prayed the Ephesians would come to know and experience such power in its fullness (Ephesians 1:15-22).
- We are saved from our wretched sinful state where we lived under the influence of Satan, “because of His great love with which He loved us” (Ephesians 2:4 – cf. 2:1-10).
- By the precious blood of Jesus the church is composed of those who were estranged from God and each other; the Jewish and Gentile believers in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord (Ephesians 2:11-3:13).
- All of this is a product of God’s great love for us in Christ Jesus. Paul prayed, “that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height – to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:14-21).
- Paul then moves to a very practical application of these truths and provision by God in Christ calling us to “walk worthy of the calling with which you were called” (Ephesians 4:1 introduction to chapter 4-6).
- Paul speaks of spiritual gifting and how Jesus provides spiritual ministry gifts for the operation and effective ministry of His church (Ephesians 4:2-24).
- Paul exhorts the Ephesian church to “not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption” (Ephesians 4:30; cf. Ephesians 4:25-32).
- Paul exhorts the Ephesians to “walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet smelling aroma” (Ephesians 5:1-2).
- Paul exhorts the Ephesians to “do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another in the fear of God” (Ephesians 5:18-21).
- Paul illustrates this kind of Spirit provided practical love of God by exhorting husbands to love their wives like Jesus loved the church (Ephesians 5:22-33).
- Lastly, Paul instructs and exhorts the church at Ephesus to “put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11; cf. Ephesians 6:1-24). Those seeking to know and live in the blessed love of God could expect opposition from the enemy. Judging by Jesus letter to the Ephesians, they didn’t always put all of God’s provided spiritual armor on and therefore needed to be correct by Jesus.
In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians he is inspired by the Spirit to comment, “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth, finding out what is acceptable to the Lord. And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them” (Ephesians 5:8-11). The church is to reflect the light of the Lord. The church is to shine God’s light on the darkness of sin and expose it Like turning the light on in a rodent infested room we are to turn on the light and scatter the rodents of sin. But all of this is to be done by way of the infilling of the Holy Spirit of the church and its members (Ephesians 5:18).
Revelation 2:2-3 - “I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars;3 “and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary.”
The Ephesian church had a lot to be commended for. They did have a passion that drove them. Some have referred to the Ephesian church as the passionless church. That is true only in part. They did very much have a passion. Their works are evidence that this was a driven church. However, their passion was misplaced. They had a passion to do, but they didn’t have a passion to be. They had a passion and were driven to do a lot of ministry things. However, they neglected the more important part of being with Jesus; of having a passion for Him; of leaving their first love.
The Ephesian church was a busy church, and there is good in that. Their works, labors and patience were known by Jesus. They did not compromise with evil. They followed Paul’s injunction to be alert to the likelihood that false teachers would infiltrate their assemblies and seek to disrupt, divide and destroy them.
Jesus wrote, “I know your works, your labor, . . .” Jesus was aware of the good works and hard labor those in this church were doing. Jesus is aware of the efforts we make in our local churches. As He commended them, He commends us for our efforts.
Jesus wrote of, “your patience, . . .” This speaks of the Ephesians willingness to work and labor even though there may not have been any immediate evidence of spiritual fruit from their labors. They let patience have its perfect work (e.g. James 1:4). Patience is a virtue and the Ephesian believers had it.
Jesus further wrote that, “and that you cannot bear those who are evil.” The Ephesians didn’t allow or “bear” (Greek bastadzo) or take up those who were “evil” Greek kakos) or who brought rottenness with them. The Ephesians didn’t allow the death producing sinful practices of the world to come into their church. They identified it and got rid of it.
Then Jesus comments, “And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars; . . .” There were in the days of the early church those who would come and present themselves as “apostles.” They presented themselves as apostles to boost their own prestige and satisfy their pride. Some came as apostles to take advantage of the flock of God. Some even wrote letters and then used the Apostles’ names to give their writing credibility (These writings were called pseudepigraphal writings. “Pseudo” meaning “false.” E.g. The Testament of Hezekiah; Apocalypse of Baruch; etc.). The Ephesians would have none of this falsehood. They were diligent to identify, expose and deny false teachers and anything associated with them. Paul had warned the Ephesians that “savage wolves” (Acts 20:29-31) would attack the church. Jesus commends this church for having obeyed in this area.
This brings us to an interesting topic. If Jesus said we should not judge others, how do we deal with false teachers? When a sinful practice is brought to a person’s attention they frequently respond, “Don’t judge me!” They might even quote Jesus words:
- Matthew 7:1-5 - “Judge not, that you be not judged.2 “For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.3 “And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye?4 “Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye?5 “Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”
On the surface their claim is legitimate. But it’s always good to examine the context in order to get the full picture and meaning of a passage. Jesus went on to state:
- Matthew 7:15-20 - “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.16 “You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thorn bushes or figs from thistles?17 “Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.18 “A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit.19 “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.20 “Therefore by their fruits you will know them.”
The differentiation we need to make is to not judge to proudly condemn others. We should not judge hypocritically or point out sins in others that we ourselves are guilty of. We should not attack people personally. God alone is the One who will determine condemnation (Romans 12:17-21). No one is pure enough to be in a judgmental position. So in this sense we should not be judgmental.
However, we are to humbly identify false teaching and false prophets. We are to be spiritual fruit inspectors. Paul was inspired to write to the Ephesians that they should speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). We are to “walk in love” with a love that models God’s love for us (Ephesians 5:1-2). We are to help others to identify their old sinful man tendencies and behaviors in an effort to help them put on the new man ways of the Spirit in Christ (e.g. Ephesians 4:17-32). We shouldn’t allow ourselves to be deceived by those who justify their sinful behavior with “empty words” (Ephesians 5:3-7). No, we are to humbly find out what is acceptable to the Lord and help others to live it and live it out ourselves in the power of the Spirit (e.g. Ephesians 5:8-21).
Also pertinent to our study of this letter is that in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount He mentions those who would call Him, “Lord, Lord,” but did not do what He says; they were disobedient in some way. He says that He will tell them in the end, “I never knew you; depart from Me” (Matthew 7:21-23). Notice, Jesus says He did not know these users of His title not that they didn’t know Him. The point to apply to the church in Ephesus may be that they didn’t spend time with Jesus enough for Him to get to know them. Jesus is omniscient, He knows all. But like any relationship those who know each other need to spend time together to cultivate that relationship. Perhaps those Jesus refers to in the Sermon on the Mount here are like those in Ephesus in that they “left their first love,” or didn’t spend time with Jesus but were only involved with doing things for Jesus. Again we see the importance of devotional time with Jesus for us to get to know Him and for Him to know us and minister to us.
The church is responsible to keep the faith, that is, we need to assure that the doctrines taught and lived in the church are according to the Scriptures (cf. Jude 3-4; Gal. 1:6-10). This should filter through from the church setting to our individual relationship in the family. Bible teacher Jon Courson makes the following application here stating:
“As parents, if you’re not inspecting people’s fruit that are in your kid’s lives, you may feed them the word, but if you’re not watching out for wolves, then you’re just fattening them up for the kill. And the same thing is true as leaders and pastors. If we just teach the word and don’t warn the flock about liars and deceivers, we just fatten people up for the kill. It’s foolish.” - Jon Courson
Lastly Jesus wrote of the Ephesian church that they, “have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary.” It mustn’t have been very easy ministering in a secular immoral city like Ephesus. We can only imagine the difficulty. But the Ephesians persevered. And their labor was “for My names sake.” The Ephesians did what they did for the Lord Jesus. They were staying strong (“have not become weary”) and patiently laboring on in the Lord.
Therefore, there was a lot in the church of Ephesus that was commendable according to Jesus. But even though there were commendable things in this church, there was a very dangerous development in this church that Jesus would now correct them about.
Revelation 2:4 - “Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love.”
The Ephesian church didn’t lose their first love, they left their first love. They were working and doing a lot of really good things in this church, but they had left their top Priority. They misplaced their passion for Jesus Christ!
This wasn’t the first time God’s people had left their first love. Israel had done the same in the past:
- Jeremiah 2:1-8 - “Moreover the word of the Lord came to me, saying,2 “Go and cry in the hearing of Jerusalem, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord: “I remember you, the kindness of your youth, the love of your betrothal, when you went after Me in the wilderness, in a land not sown.3 Israel was holiness to the Lord, The firstfruits of His increase. All that devour him will offend; Disaster will come upon them,” says the Lord.’” 4 Hear the word of the Lord, O house of Jacob and all the families of the house of Israel.5 Thus says the Lord: “What injustice have your fathers found in Me, that they have gone far from Me, have followed idols, and have become idolaters? 6 Neither did they say, ‘Where is the Lord, who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, who led us through the wilderness, through a land of deserts and pits, through a land of drought and the shadow of death, through a land that no one crossed and where no one dwelt?’ 7 I brought you into a bountiful country, to eat its fruit and its goodness. But when you entered, you defiled My Land and made My heritage an abomination.8 The priests did not say, ‘Where is the Lord?’ And those who handle the law did not know Me; the rulers also transgressed against Me; the prophets prophesied by Baal, and walked after things that do not profit.”
We are warned against falling for the love of the world which competes for the place of our love for God we should have in our lives. Jesus said the all the Law of God can be summed up in two commands:
- Matthew 22:37-40 - “Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’38 “This is the first and great commandment.39 “And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’40 “On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”
Love is essential to who we are as Christians. Love fulfills the Law of God (cf. also Romans 13:10). Without God’s love in what we do, and especially without our love for Jesus, what we do is empty, hollow, worthless (cf. 1 Cor. 13).
The Apostle John echoed the teaching of His Master Jesus when he was inspired to write:
- 1 John 2:15-16 - 15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.16 For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world.”
That they had “left” their first love Jesus conveys the idea that what they had done was willful. In other words, they may not have willfully determined to leave their first love Jesus and their passion for Him. But they willfully allowed themselves to drift and leave their first love and passion for Jesus. They allowed themselves to get distracted by all they were doing for the Lord and forget to do what they were doing with the Lord. They allowed ministry and serving the Lord to become their first love and left Jesus behind.
It’s possible for ministry or that done in and through the church to become a mistress. This happens when we are more excited about doing things for Jesus than we are spending time with Jesus. This is the classic mistake of Martha who was very busy preparing things for Jesus but neglected the most important thing which her sister Mary had found, that is, being with Jesus cf. Luke 10:38-42). The priority in our lives needs to always be spending time with Jesus. Anything we do should flow out of our time with Jesus.
This doesn’t mean we go to the other extreme and do nothing in order to spend time with Jesus! We must find a balance between work and devotion. Jesus will reveal that balance as we first spend time with Him.
Revelation 2:5 - “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.”
Jesus not provides some instruction about how the Ephesian believers and anyone who has left their first love can recover from this sinful state. There are three actions we need to take in order to recover from this state.
1.) REMEMBER FROM WHERE YOU HAVE FALLEN -
Jesus writes, “Remember therefore from where you have fallen.” We should prayerfully remember our circumstances when we were last going strong, on fire for Jesus and had a passion burning in our heart for the LORD. Remembering God and all He has done for us is something we should practice regularly. Peter made it a regular practice to remind his flock so as to assure their spiritual health (cf. 2 Peter 1:5-14; 3:1-9).
In the case of the Ephesians and those who have left their first love of Jesus, it would be well to remember the teaching of Jesus to Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-41). Fellowshipping in the home of Mary and Martha, Martha had been caught up in the preparations for the meal with Jesus. Mary on the other hand, was instant to see the greater priority of sitting at Jesus feet and receiving from Him. When we’ve left our first love, the first thing we should do is run to the feet of Jesus and re-prioritize our devotional time with Him. We will only minister and live effectively as Christians in any capacity when we first sit at the feet of Jesus and receive from Him.
When Jesus convicts us of having left our first love of Him, we should press the pause button and find a quiet place where we can commune with Him and rekindle that fire and passion for our Lord. We are human and sometimes we will get to a point where we are a smoldering wick more than a flaming passion. Jesus promises in such case that He won’t snuff us out. He will fan our flame to a bright white hot passionate flame again (Matthew 12:20).
2.) REPENT FROM WRONG WAYS-
Jesus continues writing, “repent . . .” We repent of sin. Jesus call to repent tells us that He saw this state of the Ephesians and sees any similar state in us, as sin! Therefore, we need to remember where we once were, identify what got us off track, and then repent of any sin Jesus reveals to us.
The Lord never turns away those who come to Him with repentant hearts:
- 2 Chronicles 7:14 - “if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”
- Isaiah 55:7 - “Let the wicked forsake his way, And the unrighteous man his thoughts; Let him return to the Lord, And He will have mercy on him; And to our God, For He will abundantly pardon.”
- Joel 2:13 - “So rend your heart, and not your garments; Return to the Lord your God, For He is gracious and merciful, Slow to anger, and of great kindness; And He relents from doing harm”
- Acts 3:19 - “Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord,”
- 2 Corinthians 7:10 - “For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death.”
Make no mistake about it, leaving your first love, is sin! It is a sin we need to repent of. First we remember where it is we have fallen from, then we repent of what we allowed to get us off track.
3.) REPEAT THE FIRST WORKS -
Thirdly, Jesus writes, “and do the first works, . . .” Jesus will remind us of where we need to be. And then our job is to put what He instructs us about into action.
Put God’s word to action in your life by the power of His Spirit. James the half-brother of Jesus was inspired to write:
- James 1:22-25 - “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror;24 for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was.25 But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.”
We need to implement what Jesus points out as sin in our lives. And we need to
4.) OR ELSE
Jesus completes His instruction by stating, “or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent.” There is a consequence if we change our passionless ways. The consequence of leaving our passion for Jesus is He will “remove your lampstand from its place.” Jesus will not stay where there is no love.
To have your lampstand removed from its place indicates the death of a church. A church with no light from the Lord is just a s dark as the world around it. It loses its purpose and reason for being. A church removed out of its place means it is allowed to die by Jesus. The Ephesian church was prominent, but its ruins indicate that at some point it failed to follow the instructions fo Jesus.
This is further emphasized in other portions of scripture:
- 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 - “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal.2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.”
Jesus said His followers would be known by the love they show (John 13:35). Without love, Jesus followers cease being His followers.
Revelation 2:6 - “But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.”
These were strong words from Jesus. And Jesus I’m sure knew they were. They needed to be said. But Jesus tempers His strong words with a double commendation. He once again commends the Ephesians for the “hate” (Greek miseo) or their feelings to detest, to pursue with hatred the deeds of the Nicolaitans. In other words, the Ephesians did have passion (for hate is a strong emotion of passion) but they had a misplaced passion.
This also tells us that hate in regard to sin is appropriate. In Proverbs it tells us to hate evil is part of what it means to have the “fear of the LORD”:
- Proverbs 8:13 – The fear of the LORD is to hate evil; pride and arrogance and the evil way and the perverse mouth I hate.”
If we want to live a holy life in the Lord, a red hot passionate hatred for sin is a valued tool to do so. We don’t hate sinners. We hate sin and therefore make every effort to expose and eradicate if possible the sin that is exposed.
What is it that Jesus hates? Only twice in the New Testament does Jesus say He hates something. In Revelation 2:6 and 15 the object of Jesus’ hate is related to the Nicolaitans. Jesus doesn’t hate those caught up in this sinful behavior. But He does hate the “deeds” (Greek ergon) or work, toil, acts, labor, doings of the Nicolaitans.
Who are the Nicolaitans? There are two possibilities of who the Nicolaitans were.
First, the Nicolaitans may have been a pseudo authority group. The word “Nicolaitans” is a Greek compound term. It is constructed from nikao which means to conquer, to overcome, to rule over, priest. The second Greek term used to make up this word is laos which means laity, people. Therefore, the Nicolaitans were the first ones to set up a hierarchy of clergy, a false priesthood, alternative mediators between God and people other than Jesus Christ. These are those people who lord it over the flock of God.
Second, the Nicolaitans may be a heretical sect. Many commentators believe that the Nicolaitans were a group which were led by Nicolas of Antioch (Acts 6:5) and developed into Gnosticism. This view is based for the most part on the words of the early church father Irenaeus who stated that the Nicolaitans were followers of Nicolas and had backslid into a life of “unrestrained indulgence.” It is believed this sect was antinomian (lit. “no -law”) which taught a total freedom which led to orgies and free “love.” The immorality that this sect led its followers into is believed to better warrant the hatred expressed in 2:6 (Cf. Psalm 139:21-22; Isaiah 61:8; Jeremiah 44:4; Amos 5:21; Zechariah 8:17). There appears to be less evidence to support this view than that of the above.
To Jesus this Nicolaitan group was an abominable practice for the following reasons:
1.) There is only one Mediator between God and Man – Jesus Himself. Paul was inspired to write Timothy about this stating:
- 1 Timothy 2:5 - “For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus,”
The aim of Christ’s cross work was to tear down the barriers that our sins had raised between us and God (Isaiah 59:1-2). To step between God and man, no matter how good the intent, is insert oneself in a place where only Jesus belongs. This is pictured in the Old Testament as King Saul inappropriately and impatiently inserted himself as priest. He had the kingdom removed from him as a result (cf. 1 Samuel 13:1-14). By inserting themselves as lords over Jesus’ flock the Nicolaitans put themselves in a position that opposed Christ and in reality minimized the value and import of Jesus cross work. Jesus is “The DOOR” (John 10:7,9). No one else can or needs to place themselves between God and people anymore. Now we go directly to God in Christ.
Jesus alone is our Priest. The necessity of a human Aaronic priesthood was made obsolete by the redemptive work of Jesus (cf. Hebrews 7:11-28; 8:6-13). When people or ministers insert themselves as mediaries between Jesus and His people, they create an unnecessary and even sinful obstacle between Jesus and His people.
In effect, what such Nicolaitans did and today do, is attempt to sew up the curtain that Jesus has torn in two by His work on the cross (cf. Matthew 27:51). Jesus has provided us the opportunity to have access to God through Him into the Holy of Holies. Through Jesus, by His shed blood, we can enter into the most Holy Presence of God (Hebrews 4:16). For men to put themselves in a mediatorial position is to diminish, minimize and nullify what Jesus has accomplished on the cross.
The access we have in Christ is something Paul was inspired by the Holy Spirit to communicate to the Ephesians in his letter to them:
- Ephesians 2:18 - “For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father.”
- Ephesians 3:11-12 - “according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through faith in Him.”
Through Jesus we have access to God by the Holy Spirit who gives us eternal life through faith in Jesus.
Pastor Chuck Smith makes the following comment in regards to the Nicolaitan hierarchy,
“God doesn’t want you to feel that you have to go through someone to get to Him. He wants you to come directly to Him in His Son Jesus Christ.”
The Priesthood of Believers
The only “priesthood” now is the Priesthood of Believers. This Priesthood is composed ALL BELEIVERS. This is mentioned by Peter when he states:
- 1 Peter 2:4-10 - “Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious,5 you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.6 Therefore it is also contained in the Scripture, “Behold, I lay in Zion A chief cornerstone, elect, precious, And he who believes on Him will by no means be put to shame.” 7 Therefore, to you who believe, He is precious; but to those who are disobedient, “The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone,” 8 and “A stone of stumbling And a rock of offense.” They stumble, being disobedient to the word, to which they also were appointed.9 But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;10 who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.”
This Priesthood is also referred to earlier in the book of Revelation 1:6 where it states Jesus, “has made us kings and priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”
Before the Law was given the Father was the priest of the household (Genesis 8:20; 26:25; 31:54). The Law set forth the nation of Israel as a” kingdom of priests” (Exodus 19:6). Then God narrowed the priesthood to the tribe of Levi (Exodus 28:1). Now, as stated above, Christians in the churches are the priests in that they are God’s tools to proclaim the Gospel as well as serve at intercessors before God on behalf of people.
As priests, we all have access to God through faith in Jesus. “Apostolic Succession” of a priesthood, separate and distinct from the priesthood of believers, is not supported by scripture.
Under the old covenant only the High Priest once a year had access to God on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16-17). But now all believers have access to God. This is a major theme of the letter to the Hebrews where it states:
- Hebrews 10:19-22 - “Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus,20 by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh,21 and having a High Priest over the house of God,22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.”
The Purpose of Believer Priests
The believer priest’s purpose is twofold:
1.) “Proclaim the praise of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). The believer priest is God’s tool to proclaim the praise due Him because of His glorious Gospel.
2.) Be an intercessor. The believer priest is to prayerfully intercede on behalf of the unsaved. (Cf. Colossians 4:12; 1 Timothy 2:1.)
The Fourfold Sacrifice of a Believer Priest
C.I. Scofield indicates that the sacrifice now offered by the believer is fourfold:
- Our living body (Romans 12:1; Philippians 2:17; 2 Timothy 4:6; James1:27; 1 John 3:16)
- Our praise to God (Hebrews 13:15)
- Our substance (Romans 12:13; Galatians 6:6,10; Titus 3:14; Hebrews 13:2,16; 3 John 5-8)
- Our service (Hebrews 13:16)
Pastors are to lead and feed the flock not beat and fleece the flock. Jesus and He places in leadership positions in the church are to be servant leaders not a transcendent clergy class that lords their position over the laity. We see this in the following scriptures:
- Luke 22:24-27 - “Now there was also a dispute among them, as to which of them should be considered the greatest.25 And He said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those who exercise authority over them are called ‘benefactors.’26 “But not so among you; on the contrary, he who is greatest among you, let him be as the younger, and he who governs as he who serves.27 “For who is greater, he who sits at the table, or he who serves? Is it not he who sits at the table? Yet I am among you as the One who serves.”
- 2 Corinthians 1:24 - “Not that we have dominion over your faith, but are fellow workers for your joy; for by faith you stand.”
- 1 Peter 5:1-4 - “The elders who are among you I exhort, I who am a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed:2 Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly;3 nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock;4 and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away.”
Pseudo or false apostles. A sign or indication of a false apostle is their attempt to take authority from God to themselves so that they can control or “lord it over” the laity or believer priests. Paul and Peter made mention of such apostle want-to-be people when they wrote:
- 2 Corinthians 11:13-15 - “For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ.14 And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light.15 Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works.”
- 2 Peter 2:1,3,18 - “But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction.3 By covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive words; for a long time their judgment has not been idle, and their destruction does not slumber.18 For when they speak great swelling words of emptiness, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through lewdness, the ones who have actually escaped from those who live in error.”
These verses indicate that there was a group referred to as “false apostles.” The weight of these verses work against the idea of an Apostolic Succession which does not appear to have been part of God’s plan. These verses also bring into question the motives and source of those who concocted and participate in a system that creates a separate and distinct “priesthood” over and above that of the priesthood of believers.
Revelation 2:7 - “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.”’
Jesus exhortation at the end of this first letter is, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” This tells us that what He writes to the Ephesian church, is something we should all pay attention to.
Jesus’ closing words in this first letter are, “To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.”’
In Christ we are overcomers. The word “overcome” (Greek nikao) is the same word that serves as a prefix on the name for the group Jesus just condemned, that is, Nicolaitans. It’s as though Jesus is stating, “You already are overcomers, in Me!”
The Greek term nikao is a term used 14 times in the book of Revelation (Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 26; 3:5, 12, 21;6:2; 11:7; 12:11;13:7; 15:2; 21:7.) We are overcomers by virtue of our relationship with Jesus Christ. Jesus said:
- John 16:33 - “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”
The Apostle John reiterated this truth in his writings stating:
- 1 John 2:13 - “I write to you, fathers, because you have known Him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you have overcome the wicked one. I write to you, little children, because you have known the Father.”
- 1 John 5:4 - “For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.”
- Revelation 21:7 - “He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son.”
We are overcomers in Christ!
Jesus mentions the, “tree of life.” This is the same tree mentioned in Genesis 2:9. If God had allowed Adam and Eve to eat of the tree of life in their fallen state they would have lived eternally in their fallen state and we with them. But Jesus has solved that predicament.
It’s interested to note that “tree” is the Greek xulon and is used of the cross:
- Acts 5:30 - “The God of our fathers raised up Jesus whom you murdered by hanging on a tree.”
- Acts 10:39 - “And we are witnesses of all things which He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem, whom they killed by hanging on a tree.”
- Acts 13:29 - “Now when they had fulfilled all that was written concerning Him, they took Him down from the tree and laid Him in a tomb.”
- Galatians 3:13 - “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”),
- 1 Peter 2:24 - “who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed.”
It is because Jesus died on the tree, the cross, that we can have the hope of eating from the tree of life in heaven.
The Church is imperfect – Look to Jesus
The Church at Ephesus depicts the condition of the Church from the period of 33 - 100 A.D. By the end of the first century, the Church was leaving its first love, becoming passionless, and already in trouble. The Church was active but loveless. They were becoming passionless and in danger of Jesus removing His presence. Therefore, while the Church is important to Jesus, you cannot appeal to Church history or tradition as a source of authority for doctrine or experience. That is because the Church was already getting off track.
If we don’t rely on the Church as our sole authority in the Christian life, what do we depend on or turn to then? Scripture alone is the only authority we can rely on for doctrine or to validate experience! Appeal only to God’s word the Bible. The book of Acts gives us a model for the Church and what it should be.
When we look at the early church what do we see? The early Church depended on God’s word, taught God’s word, spread God’s word because it was God’s word that revealed the truth about The Word of Life Jesus! When the word of God was taught, the church grew:
- Acts 2:42,47 “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. . .. praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.”
- Acts 6:7 - “Then the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith.”
- Acts 8:14 - “Now when the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them,”
- Acts 12:24 - “But the word of God grew and multiplied.”
- Acts 17:11 - “These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.”
- Acts 19:20 - “So the word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed.”
Think of it, we are having Jesus words revealed to us in His word! And it is that word which contains the instruction of Jesus to His Church. Trust God’s word. Go to God’s word. Life by God’s word. Do that and you won’t leave Your first love.
 Jon Courson, Tree of Life Tapes - Revelation 2:1-17 - 11/20/96 - Tape W760
 Henry M. Morris, The Revelation Record, Tyndale House Pub, Inc. Wheaton, Illinois and Creation - Life Pub, San Diego, CA., 1983, p. 66.
 Dr. Raul Ries, Hear What the Spirit is Saying, Logos Media Group: diamond Bar, CA, 1993, p. 21-22
 Jon Courson - Tree of Life Tape - Revelation 2:1-17 - W760 - 11/20/96
 Ralph W. Harris, Exec. Ed., The Complete Biblical Library, Springfield: Missouri, 1990, p.39. Quoting The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Against Heresies 26:3.
 Chuck Smith, What The World Is Coming To - A Commentary on The Book of Revelation, The Word for Today: Costa Mesa, CA, 1993, p. 28
 C.I. Scofield, The Scofield Study Bible, Thomas Nelson Pub.: Nashville, TN, 1967, p. 1504 - Note for 1 Peter 2:9.