Monday, July 20, 2009

Revelation 2:1-7 Ephesus

Chapter 2

John has written the things that he has seen. Now he is going to write the things that are. The next two chapters cover the seven churches themselves. These cities were important for various reasons. Some were headquarters of a god’s worship. Some were important trade cities, some military. The point is, they were major hubs of one kind or another in that time. For a few centuries they were also important cities in Christianity.

The seven churches described in Revelation 2-3 are seven literal churches in Asia Minor (present day Turkey) at the time that John was writing Revelation. Though they were literal churches in that time and the letters are addressed to their spiritual needs and behavior at the time, there is also spiritual significance for churches and believers today. Here is another case of near and far fulfillment. Besides being types of churches that could be found then and now, it also applies to individuals and churches down through the ages. Individuals are the church and fall into these categories, and the churches (Christians as corporate groups) through the years have fallen into these categories also. I do not subscribe to the idea that each of these churches represents a time period of the church through the ages. These messages are timeless. I don’t think only one sin reigned in all Christendom for a period of time, then another sin reigned etc. I think all of these sins reign at all times. And there are always faithful martyrs and faithful remnants (who aren’t martyred).

The letters follow a pattern. With each church there is a salutation saying to whom the letter is written, a description of Christ that portrays him in a particular way, usually applicable to that particular church, praise for the church‘s strong point, criticism for their weakness and sins, an appeal to repent, a warning (or promise) of His coming, an admonition to be heeded, and a promise of blessing for overcomers usually for the next life, but with Philadelphia for this life also. The exceptions are Smyrna and Philadelphia who receive no criticism. These two churches are the faithful remnant. One will suffer martyrdom, the other will be preserved and protected.

The first church is Ephesus, the loveless church. Ephesus means to "let go," "to relax."
John had been the pastor of this church. Ephesus was the capital and largest city of Asia Minor on the Aegean Sea, where it was a great seaport. It was also the place of worship for the goddess Diana and an immoral city. Paul, who founded this church, warned it of what should happen, in his parting message.

"I know this, that after my departing shall grievous 'wolves' enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, 'speaking perverse things,' to draw away disciples after them." Acts 20:29, 30.

This prophetic warning was to come true as we shall see in this letter to the Ephesians.

Verse 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.”

Christ portrays Himself as He did in chapter one. He who holds the seven stars and walks in the midst of the seven candlesticks. He is letting them know that he has been aware of what is going on in their churches. He is aware of the good and the bad. He is watching them with eyes that flame, and a two-edged sword in his mouth. He is going to give them the truth, which may hurt, and judge their behavior.

Verse 2:2 “I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars.”

Christ starts by giving them praise. He says he knows their works, their labor, their patience, and how they do not tolerate those who are evil. As per his prophetic warning in Acts, grievous wolves have entered in, and men in their own church have arisen speaking perverse things. They check out those who say they are apostles and have ferreted out the phonies. They have not borne those that are evil. They do not tolerate them in their church.

Verse 2:3 “And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name’s sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted.”

They have been forbearing with all that has been happening around them and to them. Again he praises their patience, and again praises their labor that they haven’t stopped or slowed down in their good works. This is a church that labors for the Lord, watches their doctrine, and endures mistreatment by others.

Verse 2:4 “Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.“

However, He has something against them. They have left their first love. Everybody debates what that is. Is it love for Christ? Is it love for each other? Is it love for the lost? I think it is all of the above. People are so sincere in their love for the Lord, each other, and have a zeal to reach the lost when they are first saved. Over time, that genuine love is replaced by a feeling that one must have obligatory love. It is no longer genuine from the heart. I know a church (corporate church) that fits this description quite well. They labor diligently for the Lord. They have lots of good works. They watch their doctrine religiously (as the saying goes). They endure the mocking of the community. The problem? They have no true love for anyone outside of their tiny little church community. And I am not just talking lacking love for the unbelievers. They have no real love for other Christians who are not a part of their church, and sometimes even those that are in their church. They are judgmental and unloving to all alike. They do not merely not tolerate phony doctrines and teachers; they are just slightly above being barely civil to anyone outside their ranks. They outright accuse other Christians to their face of not being Christians, if they happen to disagree with their church in any way. They endure mocking in the community, but that mocking exists because they have been such a poor testimony for the Lord when it comes to love thy neighbor as thyself. They will hardly speak to the unbelievers in town and are barely civil to those who happen to attend other churches (Bible believing ones). They attend every meeting without fail; they are compelled to by the church. They are not necessarily there out of a keen love for worshiping the Lord, they are there out of habit and fear that they will be said to be backsliders, or worse, not really Christians, if they don‘t tow the mark. Many of their children grow up and leave not only the church, but Christ. That describes the corporate church as a whole. However, I know individuals in that church that are overcomers. They are loving, kind, thoughtful people who love the Lord. They treat other Christians and unbelievers all the same, lovingly. They are liked by non-Christians in the community and are a witness of God’s love. They do all the things that this church does well, and one thing more. They have not left their first love.

Verse 2:5 :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.”

Christ tells them to remember from where they have fallen and to repent and do the first works. What are the first works? Perhaps the greatest work we should all be doing. Loving the Lord by loving people and bringing the unsaved to repentance. Mega-churches these days think that the way to evangelize is to entertain. That is not the way that Christ taught. We are to show love to people on a one-on-one basis and lead them to the Lord. It is the great commission. This is the greatest work, the work of love for humanity to bring them to the Lord. We are showing Christ’s love through and for us when we show it to others. If they will not repent of this lack of love and get back to the first works, Christ threatens them that He will come quickly. Coming quickly is how He will come at His 2nd coming. He will remove their candlestick from its place. That is a serious threat. Removing their candlestick means that they are being removed from His midst. They are being removed as His bride. They are being cast out with the rest of the world into judgment. Matt. 7:21-23 “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, (that day = the Day of the Lord) Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name: and in thy name have cast out devils? And in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” He warns them again to repent.

Verse 2:6 “But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitanes, which I also hate.”

He commends them again. They hate the deeds of the Nicolaitanes, which He also hates. It is unusual to think of Christ hating anything, much less commending us for hating something. But notice it is not the Nicolaitanes themselves that He hates, nor approves them for hating, it is the deeds that He hates. That is something Christians have to keep in mind. So many Christians hate the person instead of the sin. We are to love the sinner, but we are commended for hating the sin. There is some controversy over exactly who the Nicolaitanes were. One theory has it that the Greek derivative of the word means “overcoming the people”, They take this to mean that there developed a clergy who lorded it over the people with such teachings as: the laity couldn’t understand the scriptures, the clergy had to tell them what it meant, they had to confess to the clergy, etc. This was a problem in the first century as there were those who believed they had divine authority over others. So this is a possibility. Another theory has it that they were a sect of Gnostics. There was a sect of Gnostics later called Nicolaitanes, but they were not from this time, so that would not be to whom He was referring. Obviously the Ephesians knew exactly about whom Christ was speaking. The Lord knew that we wouldn’t be privileged to have that information, so we can only draw from what little scripture tells us and try to extrapolate some idea as to who they were. There is another possibility of who these people might have been. There was at the time a deacon called Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch. (Acts 6:5) As this is the only other scripture reference that would give us any idea as to what this passage is about, we must assume that it is the clue we have been given to help us understand. That and the warning in Acts to the Ephesians. It was said by Paul that men would arise from their own ranks that would speak perverse things to draw people away from the truth. We don’t know exactly what these perverse things were, but obviously someone named Nicholas (hence the followers being called Nicolaitanes) was doing something that was bad. It is quite possible that he was one of these people who thought he had divine authority over the people and claimed to be an apostle. Since the Ephesians were commended for watching their doctrines and not tolerating false apostles, it leads one to believe that this is what the Nicolaitanes were all about. However that is speculation based upon a very small amount of scripture.

Verse 2:7 “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches: To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.”

He who has an ear to hear, let him hear. In other words, the person that is not only listening to the Lord, but desires to do what the Lord says. To that person, who will be considered an overcomer, Christ will give him to eat of the tree of life which is in the midst of the paradise of God. When we get to Revelation 22 we will see that there is a river that proceeds from the throne of God, and on the banks of this river can be found many trees of the tree of life. There was only one tree of life in the garden of Eden. Adam as well as all of his descendants were barred from eating from it. Now there will be many of that tree, and the overcomers will be able to freely eat from them. Notice how this revelation is given by God the Father to Christ, who imparts the information through his angel to John, who writes to the angel of the churches, who is responsible for overseeing the revelation of this information to the church; however, it is the Holy Spirit that is saying these things. Here is just another scripture that shows us the tri-unity of the Godhead. This is God’s words, Christ’s words, and the Spirit’s words. All three are communicating this information.

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