THE CHURCH OF EPHESUS
Rev 2:1-7 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; I know thy works, and thy labor, 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: and hast borne, and hast patience, and for My name's sake hast labored, and hast not fainted. Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love. 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. But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. 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.
Since there is much debate on the subject, it seems worthwhile, at the beginning of this study, to discuss, and help clarify, the meaning of "the angel" of each church of Christ in Asia, to whom these messages are written and sent. Certainly there is wide disagreement as to who is meant by this designation. Some say that they are angels sent from heaven, leaders of the various cities, or messengers sent by their churches to visit John on the isle of Patmos, and receive their individual letters. Others contend that they are either the evangelists or the elders of these bodies of Christ.
First of all, the term "angel" specifically means a messenger, and is equally applied in the scriptures to both messengers of God and those of men. This is the same manner the term "messenger" was used to describe John the Baptist in Mark 1:2. The use of the term "angel" is said, by the majority of biblical scholars, that it applies to some specific laborer or official of the church, and applies either to individual evangelists or to their elders. As we examine these possibilities, it seems "angel"indicates the evangelist of each church. Probably the main reason is because, the term "angel," as it is used in this context,is clearly singular in nature, and since a plurality of elders were necessary, it is not likely that one would be singled out to receive the letter sent to each church. Therefore, it seems that this term applied specifically to the preachers or evangelists of each congregation of Christians in each city.
This first message from Christ Jesus was recorded by John and sent to the angel (or messenger) of the church of Ephesus. This city was known as the capital of the Roman province of Asia, and probably its greatest city. It gained worldly fame because, from the head of its Aegean Sea harbor, one could view the immense pagan structure known as the temple of Diana. It also held a more notable spiritual significance. Here the seeds of Christianity were sown and cultivated by the apostle Paul and other notable servants of Christ, consuming over three years of his third missionary journey. The church of Christ that was planted here during that time was later nurtured for an additional, extended period by a student and helper of Paul, a young evangelist named Timothy.
John identifies Jesus, the speaker of this message to the church of Ephesus, as He that holdeth the seven stars in His right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks, which represented the seven churches of Asia. Jesus begins His message to this church of Christ by telling them, I know thy works, and thy labor, and thy patience. This was a commendation similarly found in all of Jesus' messages to these seven churches. Although not present with them in body, Jesus, with His all-knowing, omniscient, wisdom, knew their every deed, whether it was good or evil. He knew their conduct, and commends them for their patience - for their perseverance and endurance of the persecution of the paganistic society in which they dwelt. In times past, they had withstood all manner of evil, put to test false teachers that came in among them, found them liars, and had not become tired and weary in their service to Christ.
Having commended the church of Christ of Ephesus, Jesus now says to them, I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love. To use an old cliche, Jesus was, in a sense, telling them that they had dirty stains on their once-white spiritual garments. The fervor and devotion that they had demonstrated when they first became children of God had been abandoned. And, as a congregation of His people, they had not maintained the good works, and the dedicated labor that is necessary for spiritual growth, and to sow the seeds of the gospel message of Jesus Christ. This had been their first love, but they had left it due to indifference, and the possibility of giving in to the worldly, paganistic influences that were common, at that time, in the city of Ephesus.
Jesus, then, admonished them to remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent. Think back to the time when you first became Christians, through baptism into His body; think of the zeal you had for worshipping God, and the joy found in serving the cause of Christ in every way you could possibly do so. Reflecting on the godly devotion you had in those past days, should result in a deep contrition, that would lead to repentance. And with a repentant heart, you would return to the first works that were willingly performed, in order to secure the way to eternal salvation. This is the zealous desire they once had to serve the cause of Christ, but had later abandoned. Jesus now urges them to repent, and return to their first love,that resulted in their first works. Such was His teaching to the body of Christ in Ephesus, and, by inference, is His teaching to Christians of all ages.
If the church of Ephesus refuses to repent and return to its first love, Jesus gives them this warning: I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place.That is, this congregation of God's people will cease to exist. What a warning to all churches of Christ. When the work of the Lord ceases; when the will to work for the cause of Christ ends; when the love for God and His Son, Jesus Christ wanes, then the church will experience a falling away from God, an apostasy will exist, its New Testament foundation will crumble, it will return to the ways of the world, and cease to exist.
With this warning, Jesus spoke, and John wrote this additional commendation to the church of Ephesus: But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. It is known that this sect of people was made up of the followers a man named Nicolas. Whether this person was one of the seven chosen to relieve the apostles from the responsibility of ministering to those having physical needs, is mere speculation (See Acts 6:5). This sect is also mentioned in the following verses 14-15, and said to be followers of the doctrine of Balaam - a "religious" group that taught God's people to commit both spiritual and human immorality. Jude condemned them as false teachers that lead Christians back into sinful conduct (Jude 11). Peter also spoke strongly against them for coming into churches of Christ, and leading God's children in error, Having eyes full of adultery, and that cannot cease from sin; beguiling unstable souls: an heart they have exercised with covetous practices, ...Which have forsaken the right way, and are gone astray (See 2 Pet. 2:13-17). Jesus hated their false teaching and commended the church of Ephesus for doing likewise.
Jesus closes this letter to the church of Ephesus with the same encouraging words as He does with all of the other six churches of Asia: He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches. By these closing remarks, Jesus told these churches, as well as all bodies of Christ today, that His messages to these churches was of great importance. Without hearing and obeying them, eternal life could never be attained. The life of a Christian, a follower of Christ, is not to be taken casually and with ease; it is a constant battle against the worldly influence of Satan and his followers; it is a war we must wage and win, against the evil obstacles we face as we journey down the pathway of life. But here is the promise of our Savior: 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 tree of life" symbolizes eternal life. Its "fruit," the New Testament gospel of Christ Jesus, serves as nourishment for the soul of mankind. "The paradise of God" represents heaven, and, in order to attain the hope of eternal salvation, we must continually feed on the fruit of the tree of life.