To the angel of the church in Ephesus write. Revelation 2:1 NIV
Ephesus was the first of the seven churches that Jesus addressed in His letters dictated to the Apostle John on the Isle of Patmos. It is not surprising that Ephesus was singled out first as it lay claim to a number of pre-eminent characteristics, not the least of which was its Christian maturity and depth of revelation as evidenced in Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians. As is so often the case, Christianity shines the brightest when the context all around it is darkness. That was true of Ephesus as it had the distinction of being the center for the worship of the goddess Artemis and was a city renowned as a place where magic arts were practiced (Acts 19:17-20). The Temple of Artemis was there, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World where thousands made pilgrimages each year. As the third largest city in Asia Minor behind Alexandria and Sardis with 175,000 inhabitants it was a city of great influence in commerce, education, and entertainment. It had both a theatre holding 25,000 spectators and a large stadium where all manner of performances, athletic contests, and even wild animal and gladiatorial fights took place (Acts 19:29-41, 1 Corinthians 15:32). It is little wonder that it was also the location of the most influential church of the day!
Ephesus had a storied Christian tradition of notables associated with the church. The Apostle John was the founder of the church and after his exile on Patmos, he returned and lived there until his death. Paul, of course, had a major ministry impact in Ephesus, particularly during his two year stay where he taught daily in the School of Tyrannis “so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord” (Acts 19:10 NIV). According to tradition, Luke the author of the gospel that bears his name and the Book of Acts, also lived and died there, as well as Timothy whom Paul left in Ephesus to care for the church (1 Timothy 1:3). In addition the Apostle Andrew is said to be buried there. Legend has it that Mary, the mother of Jesus, whom John was charged to care for by Jesus at the foot of the cross, accompanied John there, where she lived out the remainder of her days till death. There is however conflicting historical evidence regarding this claim casting doubt upon its veracity. Nonetheless, the remains of a house near the city, which is attributed to her, exists as a tourist attraction.
Here then is an overview of John’s letter to Ephesus from the Book of Revelation with some explanatory comments (2:1-7 NIV). It follows the pattern and order used in all seven of the letters as outlined in the introductory blog post on the Letters to the Seven Churches.
- Revelation of Jesus – “These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands” (v. 1). This revelation of Jesus is taken from the preceding introductory chapter where Jesus appears to John standing among seven golden lampstands while holding in his right hand seven stars (vs. 12-13, 16) As John falls at his feet, Jesus explains that “the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches and the seven lampstands are the seven churches” (v. 20). The nature of this revelation given to the Ephesian church again underscores the prominence of this church among the seven.
- Commendation – “I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary . . . But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.” (vs 2-3, 6). We know from Acts 19 that during Paul’s stay in Ephesus revival fire broke out. What began with just twelve believers being baptized and filled with the Holy Spirit, led to multitudes of miraculous healings, dramatic deliverances, and demonstrative displays of public repentance. As a result “the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power” throughout the city and beyond (v. 20). There was also great opposition from idol makers and others in the city (v. 23). Obviously, the way that the church stewarded the revival, dealt with persecution, and labored to grow a healthy, doctrinally pure church was commendable. Revival always carries with it some “messiness,” including aberrant practices and beliefs, and those claiming to be ministers sent by God who are not. The Ephesian church persevered through it all and passed the test in this regard!
- Corrective Rebuke – “Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first” (vs. 4-5a). When revival fires cool and day to day Christianity begins to normalize, there is always a temptation for a church’s intense love for the Lord to wane. Devotion to the work of the Lord overshadows devotion to the Lord of the work. This was obviously the case in Ephesus and why they are being called back to their first love. This is a necessary and relevant reminder for all who have been serving the Lord for a long time.
- Predictive Warning or Counsel – If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place (v. 5b). Since the lampstand represents the Lord’s presence in the church this is a most sober warning. We can be heartened that the church in Ephesus did heed the Spirit’s warning to repent and continued, because of Jesus presence there, to have an impact for centuries. It is interesting that one of the great ecumenical church councils took place there in AD 431.
- Overcomer’s Promise – “To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God” (v. 7). This is a fitting promise not only to the Ephesian church, but also to all who have been inspired by their walk with Jesus and spiritual knowledge as evidenced in Acts 19 and Paul’s Ephesian Epistle. Because of their example of first love devotion as part of the great cloud of witnesses, we are all being cheered on to one day “eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.”
The video of my visit to Ephesus was posted last week and also is available above. Stay tuned for more videos and blog posts on the other six churches of Revelation soon to follow!
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