To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: ‘The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands.Revelation 2:1
Ephesus was the capital city of the Roman province of Asia, what we now know as modern Turkey. This was a large, wealthy city of trade and merchants situated on the Cayster River with a harbor to the Aegean Sea.
The wealth of Ephesus was astonishing in it’s first century day and enjoyed many modern comforts. Excavations have revealed that the upper-middle class Ephesians enjoyed multi-story homes with mosaic floors and walls made of marble. Some had heated floors and most had running water.
You can read more about Paul in Ephesus in Acts 19:1-20:1 and Acts 20:17-38.
This is the place where the Apostle Paul spent 3 years on his third missionary journey, planting a church and training it’s leaders. This is the church to whom he wrote the book we know as Ephesians, his letter to them while he was in prison.
Some scholars and historians say Ephesus was the most important Roman city in all of Asia Minor. By the time Paul arrived in about 53 A.D., the city had around 250,000 people.
Most importantly, the Revelation letter to the church in Ephesus is one you should pay attention to as Jesus directly addresses them.
Key Passages Concerning Ephesus
Ephesus is the setting of Acts 19, also mentioned in Acts 18:18-21. In Acts 20:17-18, the elders of Ephesus visited Paul during his final visit to Jerusalem.
Look for mention of Ephesus again in 1 Corinthians 15:32, and of course here, in Revelation 2:1-7, the first letter to the churches of Revelation.
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The Letter to the Church in Ephesus
This You Do Well
The Christians in the church at Ephesus were commended by Jesus in Revelation 2:2-3. These commendations are worth looking at one by one.
Jesus said, “I know your works and your toil…” This is a church that searched Scripture diligently and did good and difficult things for the advancement of the gospel. The Ephesians were not a church of slackers and idle believers.
Along with their hard work, the Ephesians were courageous in their witness. They persevered in a place steeped in pagan, self-serving idolatry that led to false teachers among believers. They had a zeal for righteousness that strengthened them to endure.
Standing against sin
Jesus said the Ephesians couldn’t “bear with those who are evil.” That is, the believers of this church didn’t tolerate sin within the fellowship.
The Christians at Ephesus did not compromise and flirt with the sin of their culture that threatened the church.
Discerning false teachers
Jesus continues that they have
tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false.Revelation 2:2
The Ephesian church safeguarded doctrine against false teachers. They had a gift of discernment that they exercised to test any who would come calling as apostles. It would have been a good church to hear sound teaching and solid doctrine in.
It’s clear to conclude that the Ephesian church was one well grounded in Scripture and they were a protective, discerning, and unwavering group of people.
Because they didn’t compromise with popular public opinion, they undoubtedly encountered opposition that produced some form of persecution, most likely social, political, and divisions within families.
This You Don’t Do Well
It wasn’t all good news for the Ephesians because Jesus held certain things against them. It’s difficult to watch the commendations of Jesus turn to condemnation, but that’s the reality for all of us. The believers in the church at Ephesus were rebuked by Jesus for these things.
You abandoned your first love
The Ephesians began with a tremendous zeal for the Lord, an understanding of Scripture, and a love for the lost in their city. Jesus said that somewhere along the way, they lost that. They abandoned it, and consequently, they abandoned Christ.
Could it be that the public opposition and social persecution tested their love for unbelievers? Perhaps, but it’s also likely as some scholars suggest, they fell more in love with their theology and “being right” in their doctrine than with the gospel.
Where book knowledge and worldy wisdom take the drivers seat, worship and service become function without purpose, automated and lifeless, saturated in spiritless traditions.
The Revelation letter to the church in Ephesus tells us quite a lot in a few verses. Very importantly among that, Jesus said that without excuse, they must remember, repent, return, and refocus.
Failure to repent
The stark warning Jesus gave them if they would not repent is that he would, “remove their lampstand.” The lampstand is a representation of the church (Revelation 1:20). Jesus is not talking about taking their salvation from them, but their witness.
If a church is unrepentant and fails to fulfill it’s purpose, if it will not bear witness to the gospel it will ultimately cease to exist.
Lampstands give light, that’s what they do. That is also the purpose of the church. If a church fails in that mission, the lampstand will be removed. It will have no further purpose.
Think about that for a moment. The depth of Christ’s patience, loving kindness, and mercy is astonishing when you consider just how much Jesus puts up with concerning the church then and now.
The Nicolatians and the Church in Ephesus
Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.Revelation 2:6
We don’t have a lot of information about this group, but they could have been associated with Nicolaus of Antioch found in Acts 6:5.
Here, Jesus commends the Ephesians for “hating the work of the Nicolatians,” which Jesus also hates. But in the letter to the church in Pergamum, it’s a different story. There, the believers have “held to the teaching of Balaam” and have embraced the Nicolatian teaching, which included pagan practices brought into the church and sexual immorality of all kinds.
It was the Nicolatians who were among the first to teach that sexual sin didn’t affect one’s salvation and sexual immorality didn’t impact one’s spiritual life.
At the mention of the Nicolatians, Jesus issues one more warning…
“He who has an ear…”
Throughout his earthly ministry, Jesus frequently included these words in his teaching, like in Matthew 13:9. It often comes with the promise of eternal life in the eternal kingdom of God.
To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.Revelation 2:7b
Each of the 7 letters in Revelation are written to a specific church in a notable place at a specific time. And yet, they’re written to the church today.
You and I can follow the same path as the Ephesians and receive the same warnings and commendations. The church today has unarguably followed in these footsteps in many ways, for better and for worse.
The message today from the letter to the church in Ephesus is that no matter what, let’s not let our desire for scriptural knowledge replace our love for Christ, or allow our disdain for social norms cause us to lose our love for the lost.