And so it begins. The first of the seven letters to the seven churches in Revelation. The Letter to the church in Ephesus. Jesus had some good things to say to them. And some bad things. But then another positive statement. The Ephesian church certainly wasn’t in the worst condition of the seven. But then, it wasn’t the best either. So there’s plenty to look at. Both for the church in Ephesus at the time and for us today.
The title – The letter to the loveless church in Ephesus – is taken from the section titles in two different translations. I chose to do that because I think it gives a direction to start with while examining this letter. Not that it’s the only direction. But it’s one that people who did the New King James Version thought was important enough to include, as opposed to the NIV usage of just the location in their section title.
First – Blessings in the Seven Letters
The Book of Revelation starts with these verses:
Rev 1:1 The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, 2 who testifies to everything he saw—that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. 3 Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.
We learn something of the importance of each of the letters from this passage. Of course, we get a modern-day evidence chain of sorts, to let us know this is from God. And while John is the recipient of the vision, we also see:
3 Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it …
Just like when Jesus spoke of things like love and believe, He was also saying that the love and belief should be so strong as to bring about action on our part. Not our action alone – and not action to gain love or to have stronger belief. No – it’s about faith and love that are stronger than anything we could ever have ourselves, because it’s God’s meaning of faith and love that we can only achieve with the Holy Spirit.
Then the action follows from having the Holy Spirit. And with the Holy Spirit working through us, the actions that we carry out will come from God and be effective the way He intends them to be. In short – it’s not about us. It’s about God.
When we see Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, all of that involves action as a result of having read or heard the prophecy. It takes the Holy Spirit to understand the words, to take them to heart. And once we do that – we should have a desire, also coming from the Holy Spirit, to act on the words. Both for ourselves and for others.
It’s a message that God wants us to hear / read – and then do something with it. As we’ll see, each letter speaks to what Jesus has for and against each of the churches. He lets us know very clearly where we stand in relation to what He wants. To what He taught. Our goal is to be more Christ-like, and when we read this, we can look for ourselves in the letters and know just where we are.
As we saw in part two of this series on the Seven Letters to the Seven Churches, we’ll start with praying portions of Psalm 139. Remember that these letters are for us today, as much as for those at the time John put pen to scroll and everyone in between. One really good way for us to ask God to let us know which parts of these letters apply to us as individuals, families, small groups, churches, Etc. is to literally ask Him! And to listen for a response.
As such, let’s begin by praying the verses below, from David to God.
For the director of music. Of David. A psalm.
Ps 139:1 O LORD, you have searched me
and you know me.
Ps 139:2 You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
Ps 139:3 You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
Ps 139:4 Before a word is on my tongue
you know it completely, O LORD.
Ps 139:23 Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
Ps 139:24 See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.
The letter to the church in Ephesus
So here we go. Let’s start off with the letter to the church in Ephesus
Rev 2:1 “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write:
These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands: 2 I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. 3 You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.
Rev 2:4 Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. 5 Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place. 6 But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
Rev 2:7 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.
Before we get into any details, let’s take a look at the graph we built in parts 1 and 2 of the series. Based on what we just read, where would you put the church of Ephesus on the graph? Why there? Don’t worry if you don’t know anything beyond the seven verses we just read. Part of the study will be to see how your placement might change as we go through more about the church in Ephesus. Context and culture are usually important. So is what it might mean to us today, in our context and our culture.
Breakdown of the letter to the church in Ephesus
|To||the angel of the church in Ephesus|
|From||him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands|
|Divine Knowledge||I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.|
|But -||Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first.|
|So -||If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place. But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.|
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
|To those who overcome||I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.|
Cultural and historical factors in Ephesus
There are usually cultural issues at play in any situation. What happened in Ephesus is no different. Here are just a few of them.
• Ephesus was a major commercial port city and an important node on the north-south and east-west road system, and thus a strategic hub for the immediate and ongoing work of a missionary/church planter like Paul and his team.
• The worship of Artemis and the city’s identity and pride were intertwined from the founding of Ephesus, making devotion to Artemis a natural rallying point against an invasive monotheistic cult.
• Ephesus enthusiastically and devoutly supported the Roman imperial cult, with a marked upsurge toward the end of the first century as it was awarded its first provincial imperial temple. This is the climate and situation to which John’s Revelation would appear to respond most directly for Ephesian Christians.
• The commercial structures and activity of Ephesus, particularly as a collection point for shipments heading west to Greece and, most especially, Rome, is another important point of connection with Revelation’s critique of the Roman imperial economy and the practices that sustain it. deSilva, D. A. (2019). The Social and Geographical World of Ephesus (Acts 18:19–21, 24; 19:1–41; 20:16–17; Ephesians 1:1; 1 Timothy 1:3; Revelation 1:11; 2:1). In B. J. Beitzel, J. Parks, & … Continue reading
Since you, the readers, come from various countries and backgrounds, I leave it to you to compare your environment to the one around the church in Ephesus. Each of the four items above certainly was at odds with living a Christ-like life. No matter where we live, whether it’s a big city or small town, democracy or dictatorship, rich or poor, Etc, – there are always negative influences that we need to be aware of.
To / From for the letter to the church in Ephesus
The traditional To and From headings are present.
We must note that the way Jesus identifies Himself in the “From” portion of the salutation is important. It gives some clues as to what Jesus is going to bring up in the body of each letter. It’s not always an indicator as to whether it will be good or bad though. Surprises may be in store as the letter proceeds.
Obviously, it’s to the church in Ephesus. Specifically, it’s addressed to the “Angel” of the church. What we don’t know is whether it’s a heavenly angel or a person at the church. That’s because of the Greek word that’s used:
32ἄγγελος [aggelos /ang·el·os/] n m. From aggello [probably derived from 71, cf 34] (to bring tidings); TDNT 1:74; TDNTA 12; GK 34; 186 occurrences; AV translates as “angel” 179 times, and “messenger” seven times. 1 a messenger, envoy, one who is sent, an angel, a messenger from God. Strong, J. (1995). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship
You see, it could be an angel, the way we normally think of a Heavenly angel. Or it could be someone, probably of a high position, within the church. To that end, Young’s Literal Translation says:
‘To the messenger of the Ephesian assembly write: Young, R. (1997). Young’s Literal Translation (Re 2:1). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software
This one maybe isn’t quite so obvious. The letter is from him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands.
One way to look at it is this:
The reference to Christ as the one who holds the seven stars in His right hand and who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands(v. 1) may call attention to the fact that, while the church’s heavenly existence is secure in the sovereign care of Christ, he must visit the earthly counterparts to inspect and correct their conduct and attitudes. As a priest in the temple tends the lamps to keep them from growing dim or going out, Christ moves among the churches to attend to the purity and brightness of the light they give to the world. Gregg, S. (1997). Revelation, four views: a parallel commentary (p. 64). Nashville, TN: T. Nelson Publishers.
The seven stars being in the heavens, above the earth, as opposed to the lampstands that we have here on earth. It points out that it’s up to the priest to keep the temple lamps from going out. However, that’s very Old Testament thinking. Under the New Covenant ushered in by Jesus, the one walking in the midst of the lampstands, we – every Christian – are the temple.
1Co 3:10 By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. 11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. 14 If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. 15 If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.
1Co 3:16 Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple.
1Co 3:18 Do not deceive yourselves. If any one of you thinks he is wise by the standards of this age, he should become a “fool” so that he may become wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness”; 20 and again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.” 21 So then, no more boasting about men! All things are yours, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, 23 and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.
Paul writes that we are the temple, and God’s Spirit (The Holy Spirit) lives in us. Therefore, it’s up to us to be sure the “light” of the Holy Spirit doesn’t go out in us. As Paul tells us in 1Co 2:16, the Holy Spirit is the mind of Christ. Therefore, Jesus is walking, so to speak, in our midst all the time.
That this needed to be pointed out to the church in Ephesus is something to take note of. It seems that the light of that church is getting dim. In danger of going out. This is something we need to pay attention to today as well.
It’s worth noting that Paul even wrote to the church in Ephesus about this very issue.
Eph 4:17 So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. 18 They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. 19 Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more.
Eph 4:20 You, however, did not come to know Christ that way. 21 Surely you heard of him and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. 22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
Eph 4:25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body. 26 “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold. 28 He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need.
Eph 4:29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
Eph 5:1 Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children 2 and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Eph 5:3 But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. 4 Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. 5 For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a man is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. 6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. 7 Therefore do not be partners with them.
Eph 5:8 For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light 9 (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) 10 and find out what pleases the Lord. 11 Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. 13 But everything exposed by the light becomes visible, 14 for it is light that makes everything visible. This is why it is said:
“Wake up, O sleeper,
rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”
Eph 5:15 Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. 18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. 19 Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Eph 5:21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
I emphasized Eph 4:30, since that’s the part about grieving the Holy Spirit. God doesn’t force Himself on us. If we don’t want Him, The Holy Spirit can be quenched. Put out. And there goes our light. More on that thought in a moment, as it relates to the Church in Ephesus.
For now, my point is that Jesus is among us. All the time. And that specific fact is pointed out to this church. Whether it’s a reminder in a good way, or maybe a warning that’s not so good, remains to be seen. Let’s move on to the Divine Knowledge Jesus has of the church in Ephesus to find out.
Normally, I like to have self-contained articles, rather than make you go from one to the next to the next, …
However, given that Google is now considering speed when they decide to offer up a page for you to possibly read, I can’t do that with this series. There’s just too much information to present to you. Therefore, I feel I have no choice but to do this. I apologize for any inconvenience, but pray it’s far outweighed by the benefit you receive from the material.
Image from Logos Bible Software, by Faithlife Corp.
|↑1||deSilva, D. A. (2019). The Social and Geographical World of Ephesus (Acts 18:19–21, 24; 19:1–41; 20:16–17; Ephesians 1:1; 1 Timothy 1:3; Revelation 1:11; 2:1). In B. J. Beitzel, J. Parks, & D. Mangum (Eds.), Lexham Geographic Commentary on Acts through Revelation (p. 537). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.|
|↑2||Strong, J. (1995). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship|
|↑3||Young, R. (1997). Young’s Literal Translation (Re 2:1). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software|
|↑4||Gregg, S. (1997). Revelation, four views: a parallel commentary (p. 64). Nashville, TN: T. Nelson Publishers.|