You are hereRevelation 2: 1 – 7 Ephesus

Revelation 2: 1 – 7 Ephesus

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By jcarter - Posted on 02 March 2006

by Jeff Carter
Write to the angel of the church in Ephesus and say, “Here is the message of the one who holds the seven stars in his right hand and who lives among the seven golden lampstands: Write to the angel of the church in Ephesus and say, “Here is the message of the one who holds the seven stars in his right hand and who lives among the seven golden lampstands: I know your activities, your hard work and your perseverance. I know you cannot stand wicked people, and how you put to the test those who were self-styled apostles and found them false. I know too that you have perseverance, and have suffered for my name without growing tired. Nevertheless, I have this complaint to make: you have less love now than formerly. Think where you were before you fell; repent, and behave as you did at first, or else, if you will not repent, I shall come to you and take your lampstand from its place. It is in your favor, nevertheless, that you loathe as I do the way the Nicolaitans are behaving. Let anyone who can hear, listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches: those who prove victorious I will feed from the tree of life set in God’s paradise. (The New Jerusalem Bible)

The letters to the seven churches of Asia all follow the same pattern:

1. Each is addressed to “the angel of XXX”

2. From – a graphic description of Jesus drawn from John’s vision of the Son of Man.

3. I see your… or I know of your… The Greek used here emphases the clarity with which Jesus sees everything that happens. (Word Pictures in the New Testament A.T. Robertson, Vol. 6, pg. 297)

4. but, I have this against you…

5. A Challenge:

6. A Threat:

7. A Reward:

Ephesus, which means “Desired One,” was, in the first century, an important city with a long history. It was located at the mouth of the river Cayster and was the first stop along the trade routes through Asia Minor. Acts chapters 19 – 20 tell us that the city of Ephesus was well known throughout the world as “the Guardian of the Temple of Artemis (or Diana – the goddess of fertility and “nature in the wild”),” and that the residents were heavily involved in magic. In addition to this, Ephesus had a temple devoted specifically to the worship of the Roman Emperors. It was a cultural center boasting such attractions as art, science, and gladiators. The main street, Arcadian Way, ran from the harbor to the theatre (which could seat 24,500 people) and on the way one could stop at the gymnasium, the public baths, the public library, and the brothel. It was also the city of John the Baptizers followers (Acts 19: 1 -7) and the Apostle John’s home.

Ephesus was also a center of Jewish occultism: there the Apostle Paul during his three year stay, met the seven sons of Sceva. They were itinerant Jewish exorcists who used spells and incantations to try to drive out demons. There were many others in Ephesus who also practiced magic and had large collections of occult books.

In this hot-bed of religious quackery the Ephesian church toiled and persevered. In his message to the church of Ephesus, Paul warned them that “fierce wolves” would come into the church to destroy the gospel of truth. But of all of Paul’s epistles, his letter to Ephesus was the only one that contained no word of doctrinal correction. The Ephesian Christians had maintained in the name of Christ, something that must have been difficult to do in the swirling confusion of religious ideas of Ephesus.

The Greek word for “Church” is ekklesia which literally means “those who are called-out.” The Ephesians had been called out of the pagan idolatry and sorcery of their neighbors. They had tried those who claimed to be apostles but were false.

But for all their good work and perseverance in truth, the Ephesians had one complaint against them: they had left their first love. Apparently in their zeal for proper doctrine, they had calloused their hearts against others. They were no longer motivated by love for their fellow man. They had fallen into a sort of spiritual apathy. In their desire to be separate from (“called-out” from) the wickedness of their neighbors, they had forgotten how to love their neighbors. The challenge to the Christians of Ephesus was to remember the heights from which they had fallen, to repent for their lack of love and to do the deeds they had done at first. Love is more than just a sentimental feeling – love is an action. Love demands action.

If they will not repent, Christ warns them, he will come to them in judgment – to remove their lampstand from its place. The church is to be the light of the world, but if the church refuses to shine that light into the darkness of the world, Jesus will come to take it away.

Still, Christ commends them for their steadfastness. “You hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.” The second century bishop St. Irenaeus says that the Nicolaitans are “the followers of that Nicolas who was one of the seven first ordained to the deaconate by the apostles [Acts 6:5]. They lead lives of unrestrained indulgence…teaching that it is a matter of indifference to practice adultery, and to eat things sacrificed to idols.” (St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies 1.26.3)

It’s questioned whether or not Irenaeus is correct in identifying the cult as followers of Nicolas, but it is evident that the Nicolaitans and the followers of “Baalam” in Pergamum (2:14) are participants in the same group. (2:14 – 15)

Nicolaitan and Balaam both mean the same thing in Greek and Hebrew respectively: “Overcomer of the people” or “Conquerer of the people” They apparently were overcoming the people with an exceedingly liberal approach to the faith. They flouted the ethical constraints of Christianity, allowing adultery and idolatry as acceptable practices. (Num. 22 – 24; 31; 2 Peter 2:15; Jude 11)

The Ephesians are commended for “hating” the Nicolaitans just as Christ hated them. This seems harsh, and “unchristian,” but the word “hate” doesn’t involve personal animosity. “What is meant here is akin to the wrath of God Who hates sin and sinners insofar as they are attached to sin but does desire their repentance and longs to forgive them. In the same way, people may speak about hating sin but not the sinner." (Anchor Bible: Revelation M. Ford, p. 387) Perhaps the Christians in Ephesus had fallen from their first love by moving from hating the sin to hating the sinner as well.

The Christians there are encouraged to Overcome (nikao) those who would overcome them (the Nicolaitans.) “And this is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith” ‘It’s not a matter of victory or failure – Christ has already won the victory. It’s a matter of victory or treason. ( Days of Vengeance David Chilton, p.99)’

To the one who overcomes Christ promises the privilege of eating from the Tree of Life in the Paradise of His God. There were two special trees in the Garden of Eden: The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and the Tree of Life. The fruit of the Tree of Life would have given immortality to Adam and Eve had God allowed them to remain in the Garden. (Gen. 2:9) But to those who overcome, the flaming sword of the cherubim would be removed and the saints allowed to enjoy the fruit and it’s benefits.

In one sense, the cross of Christ is the Tree of life. The Cross has long been used in Christian art as a symbol of Tree of Life, and there is the suggestion that Christ was actually crucified on a living tree (Acts. 5:30; 10:39; 13:29; Gal. 3:13; 1 Pet 2:24). The reward that is promised to the overcomer is the privilege of enjoying the presence of Christ and the eternal life that he gives.

davecollins's picture

Jeff, Thanks for the great insight into the 1st century Ephesus. I know that you always consider 1st century context and relevance, but I want to applaud you for that and not take your proper hermeneutic for granted! Thanks again!

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