The Church at Ephesus: Part 4 of 5 (series: Lessons on Revelations)
by John Lowe
6 But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitanes, which I also hate.
Christ had added a further commendation (which comes almost as an afterthought) to this church in Ephesus—he credited them for hating the works of the Nicolaitanes, which Christ also hated. While it is clear from this verse that the Nicolaitanes represent a heresy, we have only speculation as to the origin and specifics. What follows is a compilation of those speculations:
• The Nicolaitanes were believers who had compromised their faith in order to enjoy some of the sinful practices of Ephesian society, including idolatry and sexual immorality. They were almost certainly people who argued along these lines. (a) The Law is ended; therefore, there are no laws and we are entitled to do what we like. They confused Christian liberty with unchristian license. They were the very kind of people whom Paul urged not to use their liberty as an opportunity for the flesh (Galatians 5:13). (b) They probably argued that the body is evil anyway and that a man could do what he liked with it because it did not matter. (c) They probably argued that the Christian was so defended by grace that he could do anything and no harm would come of it.
• The name “Nicolaitanes” is roughly the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word for “Balaamites.” Balaam was a prophet who induced the Israelites to carry out their lustful desires (see 2:14; Numbers 31:16). In Pergamum they were very closely connected with those “who hold the teaching of Balaam,” and that in turn is connected with things offered to idols and with immorality (2:14).
• These Nicolaitanes had incorporated some Greek, some Christian, and some Jewish practices to form a sort of civil religion. It may have been that they were willing to worship in the imperial cult, worshipping the emperor, and justifying it has a civic duty. They were probably advocates of freedom and compromise, but the Ephesian church had taken a strong stand against these heretics. Some have argued that this was a heresy initiated and upheld by Nicholas, one of the seven servants chosen to serve the widows in the Jerusalem church (Acts 6), who later fell into a heresy and used his position to lead many astray. Note that the danger to the church is not coming from outside the Church but from the inside. The claim of these heretics was that they were not destroying Christianity but presenting an improved version.
• The Nicolaitanes were suggesting that there was no reason why a Christian should not come to terms with the world. This teaching naturally affected the upper classes the most, because they had the most to lose if they went all the way with the Christian demand. To John the Nicolaitanes were worse than pagans, for they were the enemy within the gates.
• The Nicolaitanes were not prepared to be different; they were the most dangerous of all heretics from a practical point of view, for, if their teaching had been successful, the world would have changed Christianity and not Christianity the world. Some scholars think that they were a priestly order which was beginning to take shape and attempt to rule over the people. Others think that this group is not associated with Nicholas and just used his name to gain credibility. Take note that the danger to the church is not coming from outside the Church but from the inside. The claim of these heretics was that they were not destroying Christianity but presenting an improved version. Note that John and the Ephesians didn’t hate these people, just their sinful actions. Believers should accept and love all people and refuse to tolerate all evil. God cannot tolerate sin, and he expects us to stand against it. The world needs Christians who will stand for God’s truth and point people toward right living.
The Lord Jesus said, “A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.” God never intended His Church to be divided into priests and laity. No man has a right to be “lord over God’s heritage” (1 Peter 5:3). “There is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5)—Christ Jesus—not some two-legged fellow who calls himself a priest or God’s representative here on earth—not the virgin nor the pope, nor the pastor—BUT THE MAN CHRIST JESUS! Every born again believer is a priest . . . not just a priest, but a royal priest (1 Peter 2:912). Every believer is invited to enter boldly into the holy of holies (Hebrews 10:19-25). All God’s people are
“kings and priests” (1 Peter 2:912; Revelation 1:6) and have equal access to the Father through the blood of Christ (Hebrews 10:1913
). There are no special persons in the Church of the living God. The New Testament Church knows no church bosses or priests. This business began in Ephesus—but it is not well pleasing to God. God appoints undershepherds to care for the flock, to feed the sheep and to keep out the wolves; but God does not appoint church bosses, or special men to pray for us or listen to our confession of sin. We are to confess our sin to the Lord God through our mediator THE LORD JESUS CHRIST.
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.
The appeal is made to each individual in the Church. Christ pleads to His church to give the Holy Spirit His rightful place. Literally and actually Christ is not here in Person. He said that He was going away (John 14:2), and that He would send the Holy Spirit (John 14:16, 26). It is the Holy Spirit who testifies of Christ and glorifies Him (John 15:26-2714
), and it is He who convicts of sin (John 16:7-11). It is the Holy Spirit who regenerates (Titus 3:5) and who chooses the believers body in which to reside (1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19). It was to the Ephesian Church that Paul wrote exhorting the saints to “grieve not the Holy Spirit of God” (Ephesians 4:30) and “be filled with the spirit” (Ephesians 5:18). As we read and meditate and study His Word, He speaks; “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches” (Revelation 2:7).
Each of the seven letters ends with the exhortation, “Anyone who is willing to hear should listen to the Spirit and understand what the Spirit is saying to the churches. The words of the Spirit are the words of Christ. Note that all the letters were to be read to all the churches. Those who “hear” what is read should then “listen to the spirit” in order to understand what the spirit is saying and to know what should be done. Those who listen and do what the Spirit leads them to do will be victorious (also translated “an overcomer”). Those who are victorious will remain faithful to Christ no matter what the cost.
Those victorious ones will eat from the “tree of life” in the “paradise of God.” The Garden of Eden contained the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (see Genesis 2:9). Eating from the tree of life brought eternal life with God; eating from the tree of knowledge brought the ability to discern good and evil and, therefore, to choose evil. When Adam and Eve ate from the tree of knowledge, they disobeyed God’s command. So they were excluded from Eden and barred from eating from the tree of life. Eventually, evil will be destroyed, and believers will be brought into a restored paradise. In the new earth, everyone will eat from the tree of life and will live forever (22:2, 1915
). Eating from the tree of life pictures the gift of eternal life. In paradise, God will restore the perfect fellowship that existed in the Garden of Eden before sin entered and ruined the relationship between people and God.
In general, an “overcomer” in the New Testament is one who believes that Jesus Christ is the Son of God (1 John 5:5), in other words, a true believer. His faith enables him to overcome the world with all its temptations and allurements. Perhaps in each of the letters, the word has an additional thought, connected with the condition of that particular church. Thus an overcomer in Ephesus may be the one who shows the genuineness of his faith by repenting when he has backslidden from his first love. They must repent: they must be grieved and ashamed for their sinful declining, and humbly confess it in the sight of God. All such “will . . . eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.” This does NOT imply that they are saved by overcoming, but that their overcoming proves the reality of their conversion experience. THE ONLY WAY MEN ARE SAVED IS BY GRACE THROUGH FAITH IN CHRIST. All who are saved will “eat from the tree of life,” that is, they will enter into eternal life in all its fullness in heaven.