The Church at Ephesus: Part 1 of 5 (series: Lessons on Revelations)
by John Lowe
Book of Revelation
By: Tom Lowe Date: 3-18-2015
Lesson: II.A: The Church at Ephesus (Revelation 2:1-7)
Revelation 2:1-7 (KJV)
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;
2 I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience1, 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:
3 And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name's sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted.
4 Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.
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.
6 But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitanes, which I also hate.
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.
Introduction to Ephesians Chapter 2
In a sense, the letters to the seven churches are like form letters. Each letter is formulated with seven elements:
• They all begin by stating the addressee—“To the angel of the church in . . .”
• The speaker, Christ, is mentioned—“These are the words of Him who . . .”
• Christ’s knowledge about each church is noted.
• Christ’s evaluation of each church’s condition is declared.
• Christ’s command to the congregation is noted.
• Christ’s call is given: “The one who is willing to hear should listen.”
• Finally, Christ’s promise is given: “To the victorious, I will give.”
Two letters have no commendation; two letters have no rebukes. The letters comprise a literary unit tied to the vision of Christ in chapter 1, for each letter includes a distinct portion from the description of Christ. For example, in one letter Christ is described as the One who is the First and the Last (2:8), and in another, He is described as the One who has the sharp two-edged sword (2:12).
“Classical dispensationalism” contends that these letters picture different periods in the history of the church and do not refer to actual churches. Dispensationalists understand these letters to describe seven “ages” of the church. Scholars acknowledge that the seven churches existed in John’s time; the messages to the churches, however, apply to the church through the ages. Each letter calls on believers to listen to what the Spirit says to the “churches” (plural). The commendations and rebukes recorded in each letter were to be applied by each of the churches (see 2:7, 11, 17, 23, 29) as well as by churches today. Although each letter describes an actual situation in an individual church, the letters serve as warnings to all churches through the ages.
The church at Ephesus is the only church in the New Testament to which two apostles addressed letters. When Paul wrote to Ephesus, it was at a time when the church stood at the pinnacle of spirituality. Of all the truths revealed through Paul, none excel the truths revealed in the Epistle to the Ephesians. But when John wrote to Ephesus, it was a time of crisis in the church. The furnace was still there, but the fire had gone out. There was still a measure of warmth, but the coals no longer had a bright, red luster; they had merely a dull and dying glow. Paul wrote to the saints, John to the angel.
Christians reading these opening chapters of Revelation invariably ask, “Which church is ours like?” Surely, a particular church may share positive and negative traits with several of the Asian churches. This is probably why Jesus told John to write one letter to seven churches. They all got to read each other’s mail. What a neighboring church was struggling with today, they might face tomorrow. Taken together, the letters give us a good picture of what Jesus expects from his church—faithful gatherings made up of believers who overcome. Jesus still expects us to overcome and he promises His help along the way. Rather than trying to decide which churches yours resembles, focus on faithful obedience to Christ.
Introduction to the Church at Ephesus (Revelation 2:1-7)
The first letter is addressed to the church in Ephesus—the crossroads of civilization—considered to be a city of great political importance.
Aquila, Priscilla, and Paul had planted the church in Ephesus (see Acts 19); Timothy had ministered there (1 Timothy 1:3); John the writer of this letter, was closely associated with the church. A letter carrier would leave the island of Patmos (where John was exiled), arriving first at the port of Ephesus, where he would begin his journey by visiting the church there. The seven churches were located on a major Roman road. He would travel north to Smyrna and Pergamum, turn southeast to Thyatira, and continue on to Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea—in the exact order in which the letters were dictated.
His basic problem with the church in Ephesus is that even though church members had stood fast against evil and false teaching, they had left their “first love”—their basic love for Christ and for one another.
The period that is forecast prophetically in this letter runs from the Churches beginning at Pentecost to approximately A.D. 160.
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 lampstands
“Ephesus” was a center of land and sea trade, for three major land-trade routes converged in the city, and a large port sat on its coast on the Aegean Sea. Along with Alexandria in Egypt and Antioch in Syria, Ephesus was one of the three most influential cities in the eastern part of the Roman Empire. It had been accorded an advantage given too few cities in the Empire—it was a “free” city, meaning that it enjoyed a certain amount of self-rule. The city boasted a huge stadium, marketplace, and theater. The theater, built on the slope of a mountain that overlooked the harbor, seated twenty-five thousand people.
The temple to Artemis (the Roman name is Diana), one of the ancient wonders of the world, was located in Ephesus. According to historians, the temple was 425 feet long, 220 feet wide, and 60 feet high. I have read that there were 127 marble pillars, some of them overlaid with gold and jewels. The temple employed thousands of priests and priestesses; many of the priestesses we’re temple prostitutes, for Artemis was the goddess of fertility. A major industry was the manufacture of images of this goddess (see Acts 19:21-41). This city was also proud of its temples to the emperors—a growing cult, called the “imperial cult,” viewed the ruling Caesar as a god, so the city had built temples to the succession of ruling Caesars. In short, Ephesus was a city known for its idolatry.
Paul had ministered in Ephesus for three years and had warned the Ephesian believers that false teachers would come and try to draw people away from the faith (see Acts 20:29-312
). False teachers did indeed cause problems in the Ephesian church, but the church resisted them, as we can see from Paul’s letters to Timothy, who stayed in Ephesus when Paul left for Macedonia. John spent much of his ministry in this city and knew that these believers had resisted false teaching (2:2).
Although John was writing, the words are clearly from Christ, the One “who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands” (see 1:13, 163
). Christ controls the churches. Christ is described differently in every letter, mainly because each description is tied to the problems of the specific church. Ephesus, the mother church of all the other churches, was filled with pride. That Christ held these churches in his hand shows that he was in control over the churches. Ephesus had become a large, proud church, and Christ’s message would remind them that He alone is the head of the body of believers. How easy it is for a church to become proud and forget that pastors and teachers are God’s gifts (Ephesians 4:11) who may be taken away at any time. Some churches need to be cautioned to worship the Lord and not their pastor! I must admit that in the past I have been guilty of placing certain pastors on a pedestal, only to be disappointed every time I do it.
One Bible commentator has said, “In each of the seven letters Jesus Christ passes moral judgment upon the church it concerns. To the church in Smyrna He gives unmixed praise, but to the church in Laodicea, He expresses unrelieved condemnation. The Philadelphian church is praised more than blamed and the church in Sardis is blamed more than praised, while in the letters to Pergamum and Thyatira and his first one to Ephesus, approval, and disapproval are fairly evenly balanced.”