October 24, 2010
I greet you once again in the Name of Jesus!
Through the years as I have studied the book of Revelation, when I would come to the letters to the seven churches I readily saw of course the local application of them. In other words, I recognized them as literal congregations, many of them with very real problems. I also saw the ecclesiastical or homiletic value in that they contained practical help and counsel for all Christians and all churches of all times. I saw the personal application as it is imperative that each of us as believers have our spiritual ears tuned to, “hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” I must admit however that it wasn’t until more recent times that I began to see the prophetic value of these seven letters. The Holy Spirit in His wisdom set apart these seven congregations, even though there were more than seven churches in Asia Minor at this time, to be a picture of the Church down through the ages. It was a panoramic view of Church history.
These seven churches represent seven distinct periods of Church history. We read, “What you see, write in a book and send it to the seven churches which are in Asia: to Ephesus, to Smyrna, to Pergamos, to Thyatira, to Sardis, to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea.” [Rev. 1:11b NKJV] We learn much about the history of the Church by studying these letters, and the corresponding time frame they point to. This fact is another wonderful testament to the supernatural, God-breathed nature of scripture. We also learn much by examining the meaning of each of the churches names.
- EPHESUS: The Apostolic Church (A.D. 33 – 100)
The greatest weight of scholarship places the authorship of the book of Revelation between 90 – 96 A.D. The Apostolic era closed around 100 A.D. This letter would have come to them late in this particular church’s life. It was founded originally by the Apostle Paul during his first missionary journey. He made a hurried three-month stop there on his first trip. [See Acts 18:19 – 21] The work was carried on at that time by Apollos [See Vv. 24 – 26]. Early the following year Paul made a second trip there, and this time remained there three years, for he found this location key to the Western provinces of Asia Minor. Here there was a, “Great door and effectual” opened. [See 1 Cor. 16:9] The Church was established and strengthened by his diligent labors there. [See Acts 20:20, 31]
From Ephesus the gospel spread abroad “almost throughout Asia.” [See Acts 19:26] From Ephesus the Word “mightily grew and prevailed” despite all of the opposition Paul experienced there. This Church had a great legacy of faith and truth. On Paul’s last journey to Jerusalem he landed at Miletus, where he summoned the elders from the Church of Ephesus and delivered to them a farewell charge. [See Acts 20:18 – 35] In that farewell charge, Paul instructed these elders, 28 Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. 29 For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. 30 Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. 31 Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears.
32 “So now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified. [Acts 20:28 – 32 NKJV] In essence Paul admonished these Church leaders to protect the Lord’s sheep from the “wolves” that would come in following his departure. They would seek to devour these precious sheep with lies and false doctrine.
Apparently the Ephesian church heeded the warning because here in Revelation Jesus commends them for their diligence in this regard. John writes, 1 “To the angel of the church of Ephesus write,
‘These things says He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands: 2 “I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars; 3 and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary. Make no mistake, the Lord loved this church. Their diligence in correct doctrine greatly pleased the Lord. Ephesus means, “My darling” or, “The desired one”. They were on the lookout for false doctrine and false teachers in their midst. The Lord was pleased with this.
Keep in mind, in the light of Church history this church corresponds to the Apostolic Age in that to the Apostolic Church was given the charge of recording and delivering the doctrine of the Church originally. In fact, by the beginning of the third Century twenty-two Books comprising our present New Testament had become widely accepted. One of the criteria was, “Was the book written by an Apostle?” The early believers followed, “The Apostle’s doctrine” [See Acts 2:42], which is the New Testament, and we must as well. Diligence in matters of doctrine pleases the Lord. In these last of the Last Days when the “winds of doctrine” are blowing so many believers in multiple directions, may there be a remnant who will rise up and anchor themselves to the unchanging Word forever settled in Heaven! It is our only place of safety my friends.
We must not leave this letter to Ephesus without noticing the Word, Nevertheless. This lets us know that the commendation from the Lord is over and it is time for correction. John writes, Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent. [Rev. 2:4b, 5 NKJV] In their zeal for truth and the work of the kingdom they didn’t have time for the king. The “weak link” here, if you will, is their devotional life. We can and must learn from this.
The Lord gives them an exhortation, 5 Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent. 6 But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. They were to repent of their condition. Judgment was coming if they didn’t. Their “lampstand” would be removed. Christ was and is the source of the light, the cross is the means. They needed to return to their source. They needed to return to Christ and the cross.
Notice the group mentioned in verse 6, the Nicolaitans. Who were they? This is an untranslated compound word. The first part of the word, Nicao, means to “rule over.” The second part, laitans, refers to the laity. In other words, it means “conquering the laity”, or “ruling over the common people.” The concept of there being a division between the so-called “clergy” and the “laity” is a concept that originated with the organizational Church, not the New Testament. Jesus hates it, and so should we! Ministers of the gospel, regardless of their “office” or function within the Body of Christ are to spiritually develop believers, not exploit them. In fact, Jesus showed us His organizational concepts when He washed the disciple’s feet. “He who will be the greatest ought to be the servant.” The Nicolaitans exploited the believers in Ephesus. We have many such false “revelators” in the Church today.
The letter closes with a postscript in verse 7. John writes, He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God. [Rev. 2:7 NKJV] This is a tag after the closing phrase of the letter. This is true of the first three letters, but we will see a strange design change in the last four letters; in fact, several aspects of the last four letters are distinctively different from the first three.
We will pick up next time with the letter to the Church in Smyrna.
The Weekly Word is found in Revelation 2:8 – 11. Here the Bible says,
8 “And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write,
‘These things says the First and the Last, who was dead, and came to life: 9 “I know your works, tribulation, and poverty (but you are rich); and I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. 10 Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.
11 “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death. [Rev. 2:8 – 11 NKJV]
Until next time, this is THE WEEKLY WORD.
Pastor Kevin E. Johnson