Monday, August 12, 2013

Revelation 2:1-7 A Letter from Christ to the Church at Ephesus

Text : Revelation  2 : 1- 7
Title : A  Letter  from Christ  to the Church in Ephesus
Date:  11/08/2013 
In the 2nd and 3rd  Chapters of Revelation we find the letters dictated by Christ to John  to the 7 churches in Asia, and they are wonderful  because they show us that the Lord of glory is presently involved in the life of His church.   He is presently  at God's right hand in heaven - with angels, authorities and powers in submission to Him (1 Peter 3:22), but He freely exercises His presence and power   from there  for the benefit of His church.  We need not think  that He is an absent landlord , who depends  on others  to manage His affairs . That is  true to some degree, of course. He is gone, and He has left the  church in the hands of  under shepherds until the day of accounting, but that does not mean that He does not know what is  going on in His church on earth.  He  knows her intimately. More  about that in a moment.  So, the   letters to the 7 churches  are  essentially pastoral letters from  the Lord Jesus,  the Great Shepherd of the Sheep.  For that matter  the whole New Testament  is a testimony and letter from Christ  for the benefit of the whole church in all times. The reason why  e no longer speaks   He does not continue to send us letters from heaven, is  that  He has said everything  that He has  needed  to say. Our challenge is to read His Word, hear His Word and keep His Word. (Rev 1:3). So let us now listen carefully and prayerfully what the Spirit says to our  church today.

V. 1  To the church in Ephesus
… Ephesus (today “Efes”  in modern Turkey)  is  about  90 kilometres  from  the island of  Patmos, where John  received  this message from the Lord Jesus Christ.  At that time it was a busy port city and commercial  hub. The river “Cayster"  on which it was located  gradually  silted up and  thus she  eventually  lost  her   significance as a  commercial centre.  Today  the historical city of Ephesus is  no more than  a place of archaeological  interest.The extensive remains of ancient Ephesus (including the  temple of Artemis  - Acts 19:27ff)  still testify to the fact that she  once  was a prosperous and elegant city. Take note! Today there is no city here , and there is certainly no church there.  Oh city of idolatry - how you have fallen!  (see  Rev. 18)  

As John writes down what he sees and hears from the Lord Jesus  concerning her, the church in Ephesus  would have been at least 40 years old.  Her  founder was  probably the apostle Paul, when  accompanied by Priscilla and Aquila (Acts 18:19) he arrived there from Corinth in AD 52, on his  2nd missionary journey. He then  returned subsequently and spent more than 2 years in establishing the Ephesian church (19:1ff ; 20:17ff).
Historical writings from the 2nd & 3rd century tell us that  the apostle John was closely associated with this church as a pastor, and perhaps also as an overseer over the other 6 churches  mentioned in 1:11.It is to this church in Ephesus that the first word from Jesus comes through John in written form.
These recorded words  are said to be  “of Him who  holds the seven stars  (i.e. the 7 angels  of the 7 churches- 1:20) in His right hand. It is He “who  walks among the 7 lamp-stands” ( which are the  7 churches). His  involvement in the church presently  remains  active and dynamic.

 v. 2   “ I  know  your works , your toil and  your patient endurance and how you cannot  bear with those who call themselves apostles and are not…” . Of each church  the Lord says: “I know your works…”. The word used here for ‘know’ (Gr. 'oida’) implies a  fullness of knowledge [1]. The Lord  deeply knows and understand the position  and circumstances of each church.  He knows   what is commendable, and what is  concerning  about each church. Nothing escapes His all seeing eye and so , to the church of  Ephesus He has a word of  encouragement, and  a word of warning .

Secular history affirms that  Christians   were  gravely mistreated at this time. [2]  This was certainly true in  Ephesus, where the worship of Artemis  was prominent. Her temple  was considered to be one of the 7 wonders of the world. We read in Acts 19:21-41 how  the gospel  started affecting the commercial enterprises surrounding the worship of Artemis   in Ephesus, so much so that a violent  riot was instituted  against Paul and other  Christians.  Christians also consistently  refused  to worship the Roman emperor, and  this  was  viewed very negatively by the Roman authorities. Against  such a background the Ephesians Christians  had toiled and patiently endured many things. They also had firmly stood against  the  wickedness of the Nicolaitans [3],  a  perverse  and corrupt  teaching that unsettled the church internally.  The Lord Jesus commends the Ephesians resisting and hating this  teaching.
Furthermore, this was  a church that was committed to the truth! (2b,6) They would not tolerate wicked men among them. They would not  tolerate  men  with biblical titles (e.g. apostle)  but who maintained corrupt  practises. They certainly did not  lack spiritual discernment. That meant that they had a very good grasp of what they believed. They knew the teachings of our Lord  through His  true apostles such as Paul and John, whose writings  later had  passed into the canon of Scripture, now  known as the “New Testament.”
The Ephesians  had endured a barrage of  insult , assault , of evil men and  of  false doctrine  and  they had endured all this for the sake of Christ's name.  And the  LORD of the church commends them for all this.

Praise is followed by a  rebuke: “ I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.”  The Lord Jesus is deeply concerned for the well- being of this church, and He loves this church too much to leave her   sin  unaddressed.  Jesus  says to His church in all ages: “Those whom I love I  reprove and discipline…” (Rev 3:19; Heb.12:6). Jesus loves His church too much to leave her in her sin. This was her sin -  she lost her first love!

The picture of  Jeremiah 2: 2 - 5 comes to mind. The Lord speaks to His people Israel through  His prophet  Jeremiah: "I remember the devotion of your youth, how as a bride you loved me and followed me through the desert, through a land not sown. Israel was holy to the Lord, the first fruits of his harvest… What fault did your fathers find in me, that you strayed so far from me?” Israel loved God, and then she gradually fell out of love with him , substituting Him with other loves.
Married people  may relate to this.  Men, when you   married your wife, you  could  find no fault in her. Love is that blind! Your communication was  great. And then, slowly and almost imperceptibly, that  first love begins to cool down.  Sadly the "first love“  is lost. It becomes a marriage of convenience, the spark is gone. This, you will agree  is not good. This is not what you wanted when you first  got married. What happened? You  forgot that  a good marriage relationship  takes  time and  effort.  "Husbands love your wives , as Christ loved the church…" means expending energy and effort to make sure that  this love stays central to your marriage. This  is  what  Paul had  said  in his letter to the Ephesian  church (Eph. 5:25ff). He told  husbands ,”Love her !  Nurture her physically, emotionally  and spiritually.  Make her  the #1 in your life !”   That takes time , but  sadly  the   demands of life, the raising of children , economic  challenges  etc. all place a tremendous  stress on the love life of every marriage.

Now the church  at Ephesus is a  part of the great bride of Christ, which He bought with His blood, but this bride has  lost  her love for her Saviour , and Jesus  makes it known  that He will not share  her with  other loves. The Holy One who loves us  with a perfect love, expects us to love Him, and if we don’t  we  sin!  This is serious, and there is  really only one thing that we  can do upon discovery: “ Repent , and do the works  you did at first.” 
What would have caused  the Ephesian church to lose her first love?  Living  under  taxing circumstances,  constantly having to contend for the faith is a dangerous thing. If we spend a lot of time defending the gospel,  we are in danger of becoming hard and defensive.  Now don't misunderstand this.  The Lord expects His church to contend for the truth. For this He commends the Ephesians. But  this must not become  her  exclusive activity.  We have a great need to spend time every day in  developing, nurturing  and enjoying  our relationship with Jesus.
This is incidentally also what happened in the Corinthian church. Here was a church that  had become  focussed  on man. She became absorbed and obsessed with spiritual power and spiritual gifts.  This church gradually  became utterly self- absorbed. This led to a lot of infighting. How did  Paul address this matter?  He wrote the 13th  Chapter  - the great  love chapter of the Bible, which  restores  the  proper focus of the church : Love  God ; love your  neighbour. They had lost their first love.

Losing  Christ as our first love  is a  serious thing,  for it amounts to idolatry. Losing  the first love for Jesus  in our hearts  is serious. The corporate effect  upon the church  is soon seen . If many people truly love Christ in the church , they like coals on a fire keep each other warm . But if few people in the church love Christ from the heart, they will soon  cause the few burning coals of the church  to  grow cold   due to discouragement.  When the heart  grows cold, the  church falls apart. When Christ no longer occupies  the centre  of our  affections  the church (no matter how orthodox in belief)  will die.  The warning is  this : “I will come to you and remove  your lampstand from its place” -  as has happened in fact in Ephesus.  
When that happens , two things are required of us to do:
(i)                      REPENT!  (Gr.  metanoia) - literally to have a change of mind –  to do a 180 degree  turn; This  doesn’t mean  saying "I'm sorry".   It means walking away  from the wrong  towards the right.  What  exactly does that mean?
(ii)                   REPEAT!  “and to do the  works  you did at first.”  Return to that place  of your first love .  Estranged  marriage partners  must find their  way back to   that which they did when they first decided to get married.  Christians  whose love for Christ has cooled down, must get back to that  place of loving communion  which they once  knew-  when  His presence  was a delight, when prayer was  real, and when His commandments were not burdensome. 

"HE WHO HAS AN EAR" … if this is what the Spirit says to the churches (including  us), then let us not be wilfully deaf. Let us hear in such a way as to understand and obey. This is not your pastor speaking, this is the Holy Spirit speaking by the Word of Christ.  Each church is comprised of individuals, so it is the responsibility of each individual ( he who has an ear) to listen. Don't think of this abstractly … this  is for you!

So the challenge to persevere is addressed to the individuals  members of the churches.
"To  the one who  conquers …" is a  promise to you dear listener. Remember that  the chief purpose for which this Revelation is given, is for the purpose of blessing.(Rev 1:3)- so read , hear and keep !

Here is what you can look forward to: ( 7b)
“To the one who conquers I will grant  to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.”
To speak of "the tree of life which is in the paradise of God" plainly refers to the garden in which man was first  placed at his creation. In the beginning  when God created mankind, he  had access to the tree of life at the centre of that garden (Gen 2:9). It was  however in defiance of God's command (not to eat from that tree) that man fell from  his position in the garden, and was driven out of the garden.
Now through Jesus, the consequences of our sin (death , everlasting judgement) are nullified and access to the tree is restored. Our destiny forfeited in Adam is restored in Christ, and the paradise which we have  lost is regained in greater splendour. 
Don’t you love the Lord Jesus for that ?

[1] The other word commonly used for “ know”  is “ginōskō” – progressive knowledge. Vine’s Expository Dictionary says,   “ginōskō”   frequently suggests inception or progress while “oida” suggests fullness of knowledge  (Vines:346)
[2] E.g. the testimony of Tacitus  and Pliny  (Henry Bettenson: Documents of the Christian church, p. 2ff)
[3] Several of the early church fathers, including Irenaeus, Hippolytus,  Epiphanius, and Theodoret mentioned this group, and stated that the deacon Nicolas was the author of the heresy and the sect. Ireneaus  ( Against Heresies  I 26,  para. 3)  says : “The Nicolaitanes are the followers of that Nicolas who was one of the seven first ordained to the diaconate by the apostles. They lead lives of unrestrained indulgence. The character of these men is very plainly pointed out in the Apocalypse of John, [when they are represented] as teaching that it is a matter of indifference to practice adultery, and to eat things sacrificed to idols.

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