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Revelation 2:1-7

This letter was sent to the church at Ephesus. It was sent via an "angel". This word means literally a "messenger". (Revelation 1:20) Ephesus was a city on the coast of the Roman province of "Asia" – now part of modern-day Turkey. It was a seaport and had become an important centre of trade. The church had been founded by Paul during his second missionary journey when he stopped off there on his way back from Corinth to Syria. He had gone to the synagogue and spent time with the Jewish people there discussing the Hebrew scriptures. When it came time for Paul to move on, they wanted him to stay longer. He had other plans, but promised that he would return to Ephesus if it was God’s will. (Acts 18:18-22)

It most certainly was God’s will and Paul did indeed return to Ephesus - during his third missionary journey when he spent between two and three years with them. (Acts 19:1-10) Again, Paul began by going to the synagogue but, eventually, some had had enough of Paul. They rejected his message and began to mailgn "The Way" (the Christian faith) so Paul moved into the local community hall where he preached daily. God gave Paul the power to do unusual miracles and "the Name of the Lord Jesus was held in high honour". (Acts 19:11-20) Finally, when the time came for Paul to go back to Jerusalem, he stopped at the port of Miletus and summoned the elders of the church to join him there. They held an impromptu "Bible Week" with Paul giving a final session of teaching before taking his leave of them, knowing that he would never see them again. The church at Ephesus was very close to Paul’s heart. He loved them and prayed for them. Later he also managed to write them a letter which was subsequently included in the section of our Bibles known as the "New Testament".

Seven letters for seven churches

John now includes seven sections, each of which contains a letter to one of the seven churches in the province of Asia. There are seven churches and seven unique letters. Over the years, biblical commentators have seen these letters in two distinct ways:

  1. a kind of snapshot or overview of the church throughout its history, from those early days until now, showing a downward spiral from faithfulness to lukewarmth;
  2. a description of the various types of church that have existed from the time of John’s writing of Revelation until the present day.

Whether or not Jesus had intended them to be seen in this way, we may only discover when we see Him in heaven. Whilst it is certainly the case that situations similar to those described in these letters have occurred in many churches down through the years, we cannot escape the fact that these individual churches existed in John's day and would have been familiar to him. The general layout of each section takes the form of:

  • Commendation;
  • Complaint and
  • Correction.

As such, they are representative of the way in which Jesus deals not only with churches, but also with individuals in churches, today. They also provide a good pattern for parents who want to correct their children without condemning them. The wise parent may be proud of her children while, at the same time, showing them how to improve and learn the advantages of obedience. Each letter is from Jesus, who describes Himself as having a different characteristic in each one. John clearly establishes that the seven candlesticks symbolise the seven churches, each of which has a "lighthouse" whilst the seven stars are angels or messengers. The Lord instructs John what to write to each church and reveals that He knows each one intimately. That is the same today. Each church belongs to the Lord in whatever age and, if we listen to Him, He will instruct us and guide us in our churches today.

Commendation

To the church in Ephesus, Jesus describes Himself as "holding the seven stars in His right hand". As we have already seen, each star is a messenger under the authority of Jesus Christ. The seven stars are in His right hand because each church is under His authority – the right hand representing the position of authority. Each church is a symbol to the world of Jesus' authority over everything. He also walks amongst His churches. Each one should be a representation to the world of His character and the world should be able to see Jesus as it looks at our churches. (Revelation 2:1-3)

As Christians, there is nothing we can do and nowhere we can go without taking God with us. He knows everything we do and even our thoughts and words before we even speak them! Perhaps that knowledge should change the way we choose to live our lives. We have choice - freewill - because that is how God created us, but it carries with it responsibility! In the case of the Ephesian church, Jesus says that He knows their hard work and their perseverance! Let's all examine how hard we work in our churches and in our everyday lives. Those around us need to know that we are people of our word and people who can be trusted to tell the truth at all times just like our Lord and Saviour, Jesus. We may be the only one who can help in someone's time of need. It may be that it requires time and effort to solve that person’s problems. Are we willing to put in the necessary effort? It is important that all the hard work we do comes under the direction of the Holy Spirit and is not just serving our own needs. He will show us how to grow up into Jesus and how to keep our faith strong and pure before God. The Ephesian church was known and recognised for that. Jesus commended them for it. Would He commend our church and us?

Hard work is not the only requirement for a strong Christian life. Jesus requires us to have perseverance and this comes from the testing of our faith. If we handle this in God’s way we become mature, not lacking anything. (James 1:2-4) He is aware that we will need to persevere under trials and pressures in our lives. He promises to reward us when we do. Perseverance is essential if we want to walk closely with Jesus and to live our lives fulfilled in His power and presence. (James 1:12)

Hardships

Jesus knows that there will be times when we will be tested, perhaps by those who simply hate the fact that we are Christians. It may be that one day we shall live in a country where the law of the land prohibits us from being a Christian. We may be faced with imprisonment, torture and even death itself. When we hold firmly to our faith, Jesus promises that we shall receive the crown of life, reserved for us when we die, as we persevere under trial. Death holds no fear for those who love Jesus. (Romans 8:18-27) The apostle, Paul, had been through more suffering and hardship than any one of us could reasonably expect to experience in our lifetimes. He had been imprisoned, beaten, stoned, shipwrecked, hauled before courts and left for dead; he suffered heat, cold, persecution, starvation and much more. Yet, in the these verses, he tells us that it has all been worth it!

As a church, the Ephesians would not tolerate wicked people - people who say they are somebody but are not. Consequently, we too should be vigilant, standing up for what is right in our churches. The Ephesian church used as its yardstick the word of God – the Old Testament, their knowledge of Jesus and any letters that were available to them at that time – together with what Paul had taught them. They stuck to what they had learned and tested what people tried to teach them, before they believed it. As a result, they had been protected from those who purported to be "apostles" but, instead, had tried to bring false teaching into the church. Little has changed in our own day! There are still people who wish to destroy the very fundamentals of our faith by bringing in false doctrine and by teaching things that are variations on the truth, or just plain lies. We too must be vigilant! Not everything that is spoken in churches is true. Only that which aligns to God’s word - the Bible - can be entirely relied upon. So beware! Always check things against the only reliable source - the Bible!

These Ephesian Christians had faced many forms of hardship. Ephesus was the centre of the cult of worship of Diana (Artemis) and there was significant opposition to any "new religion". Not only that, but a massive industry had been built up on Diana-worship. Silversmiths plied their trade and the export of idols and icons was a huge business. Travel to the temple of this goddess was another big business and, altogether, the city relied heavily on its income from these sources. Paul had arrived there declaring that their goddess was really no goddess at all and that they should instead believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus was the one true God and would not tolerate the worship of any idols. He lived in His followers themselves, not in temples made with hands. Well, you can imagine the opposition! Christians living in and under such circumstances were persecuted. They would have found difficulty getting certain jobs and worshipping together, plus enduring many other hardships. But throughout it all, Jesus commended them for their perseverance and for the fact that they had not grown weary in their trials. What would you and I have done? Would we have been tempted to compromise in order to keep our families from trouble? Would we have found it easier to be "silent believers"? These Ephesian Christians were commended for their faithfulness.

Complaint

But Jesus did have some things about which to complain to the Ephesian church. (Revelation 2:4-5) Firstly, He said that they had forsaken their first love for Him. Can we remember how excited we were as we began our walk with Jesus when we were new believers? It was a wonderful time of exploring our new faith and reading God’s love letter to us – the Bible. We were amazed to see God answer our prayers. As we continue to live our lives as Christians, we should constantly review where we are. If we are not making progress in the Christian life – learning more about Jesus and having a closer relationship with Him – then we are falling away. We should constantly measure ourselves against what we have learned about Jesus and how we are moving forward. Maybe our good works now are being performed as a duty rather than springing from our zeal for Jesus and His church.

The solution to falling away is to repent and to get back to where we were in the first place. (Revelation 2:5) Failure to do this on a church level will mean only one thing: Jesus will remove His light from its place – the place where He walks! How desperate a situation! Sadly, this is how things are in some churches today. Can a church function without having the presence of Jesus and His light? The answer is that it can only go through the motions. Religious rituals and traditions will continue, but the life will have disappeared. Eventually, the true believers will go elsewhere – to a place where there is life and freedom, rather than restrictions.

False prophets

However, there was one thing that the Ephesians had in their favour: they hated (rejected) the "Nicolaitans" whom Jesus also hated. (Revelation 2:6) The "Nicolaitans" formed an heretical sect within the church, believing that Christ had given them "spiritual liberty" and this meant that they could eat food which had been sacrificed to idols and commit other "sins of the flesh" as they pleased. In effect, they had one foot in the church and one foot in the world. How does that measure up to the church today with its lax standards and compromise on sin? We should hate the sin, but love the sinner! The Nicolaitans were typical of a problem that has persisted in churches from the very beginning and can still be seen today.

There have always been some people who see churches as an ideal opportunity for them to gain power and control over others. Jesus Himself warned us about "false prophets" who come dressed "in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ferocious wolves". (Matthew 7:15) The usual way of operating for false prophets is to form some special group - a "church" or a "ministry" - that supposedly has some special revelation or deeper spirituality that puts them a "cut above" conventional church leaders and ministries. God has always chosen leaders to serve His people but He calls them as "shepherds" - those who will love the "sheep" and care for them, following the example of Jesus Himself. (John 10:11-15) Different people in the church have different gifts and ministries from God, but all are of equal importance to the wellbeing of the whole body. This is seen in all churches today and serves as a warning to all who want a ministry position. Leaders are servants of all.

Correction

Jesus writes to the church at Ephesus with the exhortation to hear what the Holy Spirit is saying to the churches there, but we should also hear what He is saying to us today. This exhortation is timeless in the sense that it speaks to every Christian in every age. There is a fantastic promise to those who overcome, who are victorious and overcome the opposition that Satan attempts to put in their way. Jesus’ promise to those "overcomers" from the church at Ephesus is:

“To those who are victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life which is in the paradise of God.” (Revelation 2:7)

The mention of the tree of life takes us back to the garden of Eden. Adam and Eve ate of the fruit from the "tree of knowledge of good and evil". (Genesis 3:21-24) That resulted in spiritual death, but now Jesus promises to provide access to the tree of life and those who overcome, who are victorious, will be granted the right to eat from it. The tree of life has never been destroyed and is now located in the paradise of God. Jesus is saying that the perfect world, which existed in the garden of Eden before humanity's fall from grace, will be restored but, this time, in heaven and for eternity. Let that truth really take hold of you so that you can see yourself in the paradise of God, sharing every moment with Him. This is for all believers who overcome the enemy's temptations and distractions and find victory in and through Jesus Christ.

Remember those early days after you first saw the light? Those were the hard times! Kicked around in public, targets of every kind of abuse — some days it was you, other days your friends. If some friends went to prison, you stuck by them. If some enemies broke in and seized your goods, you let them go with a smile, knowing they couldn't touch your real treasure. Nothing they did bothered you, nothing set you back. So don't throw it all away now. You were sure of yourselves then. It's still a sure thing! But you need to stick it out, staying with God's plan so you'll be there for the promised completion. It won’t be long now. He’s on the way. He’ll show up any minute. But anyone who is right with me thrives on loyal trust; if he cuts and runs, I won’t be very happy. But we're not quitters who lose out. Oh, no! We'll stay with it and survive, trusting all the way.” (Hebrews 10:32-39 - "The Message" version)

Let's return to our first passion and zeal for Jesus Christ! Let's make Him the focus of all things. If we have busy lives, let's commit to getting up early for prayer and worship, giving our day to God. We may think that we cannot afford the time, but the truth is, we cannot afford not to!


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