Saturday, June 29, 2019

Reasoning Through Revelation. Day 9, The Lord's Words To The Church At Ephesus/The First Church Age

Now we are moving on into the individual messages Christ has for each of the seven churches mentioned in Revelation. These churches were in existence in the latter part of the first century AD, but each of them also symbolizes an era in church history. We are going to study the personal message Christ has for each church, and we are going to talk about how and why each church represents a period in history.

The Lord says to John: "Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later. The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in My right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the seven angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches." (Revelation 1:19-20) The word often translated as "angel" also simply means "messenger" (the Greek word "aggeloj" means "to bring tidings"). When Christ refers to the angels of the churches, the most likely explanation is that He is speaking of the pastors. It doesn't seem logical that the Lord would ask a human being to write a letter to an angel. How would John deliver it? Why would Christ not speak directly to an angel Himself? So we are going to operate on the assumption that the letters are to be addressed to the pastors of the churches, and the pastors are to read them aloud to the congregations.

Today we are going to be looking at the Lord's message to the church at Ephesus. He begins with words of commendation. "To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: These are the words of Him who holds the seven stars in His right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands. 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." (Revelation 2:1-3) This is the Apostle John's "home church". Early church history tells us that he was bishop of the church at Ephesus prior to his exile to Patmos. The church at Ephesus symbolizes the first church age, which began in about 33 AD and ended in around 100 AD. Christians during the first church age were met not only with a great deal of persecution, but were also bombarded with false teachers. This is why we find the Lord praising them for testing all who claim to be apostles and for persevering and enduring hardships for their faith.

We spent several days earlier in the week studying the symbolism of various aspects of Christ's appearance to John. In the letter to Ephesus, the Lord emphasizes two of these aspects, referring to Himself as the One who holds the seven stars (the seven pastors) in His right hand and the One who walks among the seven golden lampstands (the seven churches). He may have chosen these particular symbols to remind the church at Ephesus that they are to keep Him at the center of their lives and at the center of their church. They are not the ones holding the church together; Christ is the One who holds all things together. (Colossians 1:17, Hebrews 1:3) They have worked so hard to make the early church grow and prosper that some of them have begun to think they are the ones holding the church together. They think that without their hard work and dedication, the church will fall apart. This means they have taken their focus off of Christ and are depending on their own strength.

The Lord reminds the members of the church that He should be at the center of their lives and at the center of their church. He does this because they are not walking as closely with Him as they once did. "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. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place." (Revelation 2:4-5)

The Lord isn't threatening the church members of Ephesus that they are in danger of losing their salvation. What they are in danger of losing is their church. What He's saying is something like this, "If you don't look back and see how far you have drifted from Me, and if you don't get back in step with Me, I will remove My blessing from your church. The Holy Spirit will depart from your church, and your church will die." Have you ever seen a church die? I can think of one in my local area that is dying right now. This church began to become quite ill when its deacons hired a pastor whose mode of living didn't meet the Biblical qualifications of a church leader. He had a reputation in the community for repeatedly entering into sexual relationships with women of congregations he pastored. His long-term marriage had already broken up because of his behavior. Yet the leadership of the church hired him anyway, and soon he began an affair with a woman in the church. Members of the church began leaving in droves, and the offerings dropped to the point that they could no longer afford to pay the pastor. He departed at that point, but the church hasn't recovered. A once large and thriving church is down to about twenty members right now, and they can't afford to hire a pastor, so currently they are just inviting students of the local Bible college to come and practice preaching on Sunday mornings. I don't know whether this church will ever revive, but if it does it will be because its members obey the Lord who commands them to "repent and do the things you did at first".

The Lord doesn't want to close the message to Ephesus on a low point, so He ends on a more positive note. "But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate." (Revelation 2:6) History doesn't tell us who the Nicolaitans were. It has been proposed by a number of scholars that "Nicolaitans" doesn't represent their name but is a description of what they were doing. "Nicolaitains" may be derived from a combination of the Greek word "nikos" which means "to overthrow", and the Greek word "laos" which is a reference to "the common people". You may be familiar with the word "laity", defined as "lay people, distinct from the clergy". It could be that in the first century AD there was a growing tendency to allow the overseers of the church to control everything in the church---including what the people were allowed to read. If the church leaders were taking the Scriptures out of the hands of the church members, and not allowing them to study for themselves, then this opened the door for false teaching to creep in and deceive the members. If we can't read the Scriptures for ourselves, how will we recognize false doctrine? If we can't read the Scriptures for ourselves, how can we make godly decisions for our lives? The Lord gave us the Scriptures so that each of us can study them for ourselves, and so that each of us can develop a personal relationship with Him, and so that each of us will have a guide by which to conduct our lives.

The Lord concludes His personal message to the church of Ephesus, and to the first age of the church, and to all of us who belong to the church as a whole, with this: "Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. 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." (Revelation 2:7)

The Lord urges the people of Ephesus, and us as well, to have "willing ears". It's possible to hear something and completely disregard it. He's telling us to hear His words and take them to heart. This is the attitude we should always have whenever we are listening to the word of God or reading the word of God. This is the attitude we should have whenever we are praying. We need to have "willing ears" so that we can hear and accept whatever the Holy Spirit says to us. If He points out an area of our lives that need work, we need to repent and do what He tells us to correct the problem.

The Lord wants us to maintain a close relationship with Him. It's natural to want a close relationship with someone we love, isn't it? This is how the Lord feels about us. He also wants us to stay close to Him for our own good. He knows that the closer we walk with Him, the farther we are walking from sin. And the farther we walk from sin, the less harm we will do to ourselves and to those around us.
He's not telling us to take stock of where we are so that He can scold us and punish us for it, but so that we can enjoy all the peace and blessings that come with walking closely in step with Him.


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