This sermon is number 4 in a series of 20
The Book Of The Revelation - Part 4
"Ephesus, The Loveless Church"
by David Legge | Copyright © 2007 | All Rights Reserved | www.preachtheword.com
Revelation chapter 2 and beginning to read at verse 1: "Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write; These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks; I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars: And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name's sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted. Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love. Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent. But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitanes, which I also hate. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God".
Now let me refer you back, please, to chapter 1 verse 19 for a moment because there, you will remember, we have the inspired outline of this book. Many outlines have been offered by scholars and theologians over the years, but here we have the one that God's word actually gives us. We'll not spend too much time on it, save to say, as we have said in previous weeks, that John was instructed to 'Write the things which thou hast seen' - that comprises the vision of chapter 1 - 'and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter'. The things which shall be hereafter, chapter 4 right to the end of the book, things that are yet to be, in the sense of future. What we are looking at these weeks, as we look at the seven churches, in the things which are - the things that were for John as he wrote these books, these seven letters - but these are also the things which are for us, because as they referred to the church age, we are also in the same age as John was.
You remember that we noted that there are seven churches - there were, of course, more than seven in Asia Minor in John's day; and therefore the seven are representative of something. Seven, of course, as a number in the Bible means completeness - and so we deduce that John, by the inspiration of the Lord Jesus Christ through the Spirit, is giving us a complete picture and overview of the Church of Jesus Christ, and conditions that will prevail within it throughout this age. So this is a divine revelation concerning the church age, if you like, a complete picture of the moral and spiritual history that will prevail in the church of Jesus Christ before the Lord Jesus returns.
Now that being said, and accepted by most, there are three understandings of how John depicts the church age. Let me give you those briefly: the first is that they should be understood literally, that is that these seven letters are depicting the actual conditions that were extant in these seven literal Asia Minor churches that the Lord Jesus addresses through the apostle. Now we have to say that that is emphatically the case, these are seven literal churches. They existed in John's day, and these are seven literal letters that were sent to them all, and we must maintain that. Then the second understanding of these letters is that they are not only literal but universal, that meaning that they depict Christendom on the earth at any one time in its history. What I mean by that is that any of the features in any of these seven churches are existent, at least in part, in every century since the church was born at Pentecost. So they are universal, as far as the church age is concerned.
There is the literal understanding, the universal understanding, and thirdly there is what is said to be the prophetic understanding - that is that John gives us here a preview of the whole history of Christendom, and each church representing a distinct actual period, and there are general trends downward from the apostolic age right down to the age of the last day in the Laodicean church. There is no doubt about it that when that interpretation is taken, even the very names of these seven churches is seen to be significant - for instance this first church that lost its first love is Ephesus, which literally means 'desirable'. That interpretation, the prophetic interpretation, might account for the mystery that we read in verse 20 of chapter 1, the mystery of the seven stars. Of course a mystery in Biblical terms is always something that hitherto had never been revealed, but God by inspiration is revealing it.
Let me just go back to number two for a moment, this universal understanding - that is that any of these conditions could be existent at any time in the church's history. That interpretation actually fits in very well with the parables of Matthew chapter 13. In Matthew chapter 13 we have the mystery parables of the kingdom, and there the Lord Jesus Christ gives seven parables describing the conditions of the kingdom of God during the church age - that is, this particular age in which we live. Just look at the screen for a moment, and there you have it, and we see a rather strange correspondence between the seven churches of Revelation and these seven parables. I'll not go into it in great detail this evening, I encourage you to go home and look at it yourself - but the church of Ephesus shows great similarities to the parable of the sower, the church of Smyrna similarities to the parable of the wheat and tares, the church of Pergamos similarities to the parable of the mustard seed, the church of Thyatira similarities to the parable of the leaven, the church at Sardis the parable of the treasure hidden, the church at Philadelphia the parable of the pearl, and the church at Laodicea the parable of the dragnet. You see there a continual growth and increasing apostasy until the rapture of the church to heaven.
Incidentally, when our Lord Jesus introduced these seven parables of the kingdom, do you remember the words that He spoke? 'Let him who has ears to hear, hear', which is a phrase that is repeated seven times, once in each of these churches. Of course, if we look at Ephesus as our example this evening, the church in Ephesus was faithful in sowing the word of God. The parable of the sower which corresponds to it tells how the children of God would sow the seed of the word of God throughout this church age: some would receive the seed and would not bear fruit because, Jesus said, of their love of other things - isn't that so?
Now let's move on to the prophetic interpretation to give it some time for a moment. When we look at the seven churches from that perspective and understanding, we see that this loveless church of Ephesus speaks of the post-apostolic church, that's how scholars often understand it - that is, the first century church that was generally praiseworthy but had already begun to leave its first love. Next week we will look at the church of Smyrna, which speaks of the persecuted church, the church from the first century through to the fourth century who were persecuted under various Roman emperors. The third church of Pergamos is the compromising church, which fits very well with the church of the fourth and the fifth century Christianity which became recognized as the official religion through Constantine the emperor's patronage. Incidentally, some scholars see these first three churches as conditions of the early church, and the next four as general conditions and main components of what we would call Christendom today - those who profess to be Christ's, whether they belong to Him or not. So those four remainder churches are: Thyatira, which we could title 'The Corrupt Church', and it fits well with the sixth century to the 15th century, or if you like right up to today. The Roman Catholic Church largely held sway in Western Christendom until it was rocked by the Reformation, and in the East the Orthodox Church ruled. Then we have the church at Sardis, which could be called 'The Dead Church', the 16th and 17th century, or right up to today, the post-Reformation period where various reformation denominations began to grow cold and away from the doctrines of the Reformation. Philadelphia could be called 'The Faithful Church', and of course it is very similar to the 18th and 19th century right up to today, where there were mighty revivals and awakenings, and missionary endeavour increased right across the globe - and we know that that's still happening in places today. Then finally the seventh church of Laodicea, and in the prophetic understanding of these seven letters they are 'The Lukewarm Church', picturing the last days church, an apostate church through false teaching and various other problems.
Now I'm not going to spend time on either interpretation two, that is the universal interpretation, or the prophetic one - save to say that it would seem incredible that such similarities would be pure accident. Though that is said, and we could spend the whole series looking at those particular understandings of these seven churches, I think we must beware of pressing them beyond their bounds because their interpretations under those understandings are based on deduction from the contents, and not from explicit statements in the text. Therefore I want to major first of all on the literal understanding of these seven letters as they were written to those seven literal churches, but I also want to introduce to you tonight a fourth understanding that I haven't mentioned, and that is a personal application - they've got something to say to you and to me. Seven times repeated, we find it here in our passage tonight in verse 7: 'He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches' - seven times it is repeated. In other words - 'He that hath an ear to hear' - there is a personal application, as well as a prophetic, a universal and a literal, there is a personal application of the teaching of these seven letters to the seven churches.
Looking at all these seven letters together, with minor exceptions, there is an organised and general pattern in them all, and I'm going to be following this pattern each week. First of all we see that each letter to each church is introduced by some of the characteristics of the Lord Jesus Christ which are directly derived from the vision of the glorified Lord that we studied last week in chapter 1, that vision of Him being of a Priest Judge in the midst of His church, judging them in glorified risen power. Each of these characteristics that introduce each letter is very fitting to the particular problems that dwell within each of the seven churches. For instance, let me give you the example from Ephesus tonight - if you look at verse 1, the Lord Jesus is introduced as 'He that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks'. Now if you look down please to verse 5, you see that the Lord threatens to come to them quickly and remove their candlestick out of his place, except they repent. Now we will look at the significance of that a little bit later, but I just want you to see that the introduction of our Lord Jesus Christ in each letter, in His particular characteristic to that church, is significant to the problems that they find themselves in. He's introduced as the one in the midst of the candlesticks, and here He is threatening to take away their candlestick of witness. In other words, it was the vision of Jesus Christ that that church needed.
What is the vision of the Lord Jesus Christ that this church needs? What is the vision of the Lord Jesus Christ that you need? Hopefully you'll get one of Him at some stage tonight. Not only are His characteristics introduced, but secondly there is a commendation given to each church - except, of course, Laodicea, the last church of the seven. What a terrible thing it is to be at church that Jesus Christ cannot commend! Then we find thirdly that there is a criticism given to each church - of course, except Smyrna and Philadelphia. What a blessing to be a church that the Lord Jesus Christ does not judge! Fourthly there is given to each church a corrective command in order to sort out the problems that are existent within that particular church. Fifthly in each letter there is a commitment given, a promise to overcomers in those churches - and we'll see how that is particularly relevant to the church at Ephesus later on.
Before we move on to look specifically at Ephesus, let me please highlight this beautiful fact: no matter how bad any of these seven churches in Asia Minor were, if the Lord Jesus Christ could commend them before He condemned them, He did. I think we could take a leaf out of His book, couldn't we? This is something that is characteristic of God Himself, even in the Old Testament we see in the book of 1 Kings and 2 Kings, and 1 and 2 Chronicles, that concerning the Kings of Israel and Judah the Holy Spirit always by inspiration mentions their good attributes before criticising their bad. Let me ask you a question that I've asked myself today: if it were you who were judging the seven churches of Asia Minor, how would you judge them? Take Thyatira for instance: Jezebel is among them, probably a woman ministering in the assembly; immorality was rife - would you or I have anything good to say about that church? I doubt it! Yet the Lord did.
Now what is the lesson that we take out of that? Well, it's simply this: neither you nor I have the gift of omniscience. You cannot see everything, I cannot see everything - what does that mean? None of us should judge anything. There's only One who can judge, because there's only One who knows all things. How critical we often are of our own church, and of our churches, and of other brothers and sisters in Christ, when we do not have the grounds to be so critical.
So let's look at these five different features in this particular letter to Ephesus tonight. First of all let's look at the characteristic of Christ that we find in verse 1. He is depicted for us as the one who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands. In other words, Christ is in His proper place in that sense of guiding, controlling and ruling all that goes on in this assembly. The churches are depicted as being secure because Christ is holding them firmly in His right hand. Now incidentally there are four mentions of these seven stars being held in the right hand of the Lord Jesus Christ. Look at the first, it's found in verse 16 of chapter 1 and it speaks of the seven stars being in the right hand of the Lord Jesus - that speaks of security. If you look at verse 20 of chapter 1, we read of the seven stars being on the right hand of the Lord Jesus - that speaks of support. In chapter 2 verse 1 He is holding the seven stars in His right hand - that speaks of control. In chapter 3 verse 1 it says He has the seven stars in his right hand - speaking of possession. He controls the churches, He is the support of the churches, He is the security of the churches, He has the churches in His possession - and what is being communicated to us in all of these visions is that all the church needs is in the hand of the risen Christ! Do you believe that?
Now of course it was Jude in his epistle who talked about 'wandering stars', that was a figure of false apostles and false prophets - but you notice that these stars aren't wandering, these stars, at least outwardly, are in their proper position in the hand of the Lord Jesus Christ. But note that there's something different about this description of the characteristic of the Lord that we find in chapter 1, because He is said to be walking in the midst of the church. If you look at chapter 1 verse 13 where we first see this characteristic of Him of having the seven stars in His right hand, He is spoken of being in the midst of the churches but not walking. What we have here in this characteristic given to Ephesus is a sign and symbol of the intimacy wherewith the Lord Jesus Christ is dealing with His church, His priestly activity among them. It reminds us of how the Old Testament priests in the holy place of the Tabernacle and the Temple tended the lamps, you can read about it in Exodus 30, and they were responsible for lighting, for supplying oil, and for trimming the wicks of the lamp in the Temple. Our Lord Jesus Christ is being shown here in this characteristic as the High Priest who cares for His church, not only individual saints as we read of in Hebrews 4 - we have not a high priest who cannot be touched with the feelings of our infirmities - but this is a High Priest who cares for the assemblies of His saints. Here He is walking in the midst of the churches, specifically the church of Ephesus. He's not only walking, but we'll see later He says: 'I am coming and, if you don't repent, I'm going to take away your lampstand'.
Do we perceive, as New Testament Christians today, the risen Lord Jesus Christ intimately involved in our churches? What I mean by that simply is: can I see the outcome of Christ in our midst? Can you? You see, what we need to do is stand back and look objectively, and even look at the history of our churches - whatever they may be - can we perceive the Lord Jesus active in our midst, at work, judging? In other words, do you see the conditions of your local assembly as a result of the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ as a Great High Priest Judge ministering to His church? I suppose what I'm really asking is: do we look at conditions in our assemblies through man's eyes or Christ's eyes? We're going to see later how intimately involved the Lord Jesus really is in our churches.
Of course this letter is being written to the church at Ephesus, and without lengthy comment this was indeed the most important city in Asia Minor. Although Pergamum was the capital city of the province, this was the greatest city, the city of Ephesus. It was the centre of the worship of Artemis, and of course Artemis was also Diana of the Ephesians, and the people worshipped this goddess with great devotion. It was the location of the Temple of Artemis, and of course it was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Ephesus was a huge centre of religion, particularly occult worship, and it was also a strategic commercial centre and a great seaport of Asia Minor. Now of course these were the reasons, as we have seen, that Paul the apostle strategically invested nearly three years in establishing a church there. But when we read the New Testament we find out that other famous New Testament characters were involved in the church here: Priscilla and Aquila, and Apollos, Timothy was sent by Paul to Ephesus, Onesiphorus and Tychicus - and of course John the apostle who is given this revelation, for 30 years himself was engaged in ministry before he was exiled by Domitian from Ephesus to the Isle of Patmos. So we can see that Ephesus had a rich heritage as a New Testament church - three or more great individuals involved in ministry there.
Now let's look at what the Lord says to them, secondly the commendation to the church that is found in verse 2, verse 3, and later on we will look at verse 6. Verse 2 first of all: 'I know thy works'. Now in each letter, each of the seven letters, the omniscient, all-knowing, omnipresent, all-being God says to each of them: 'I know thy works'. Do you know that the Lord knows all about your works? He knows all about a church's works, He is the Judge. Now look at their works: 'thy works', specifically that speaks of their service, they were a serving church, 'and thy labour'. Now that Greek word for 'labour' there means 'exercise to the point of exhaustion' - the Revised Version translates it 'toil'. In other words, you couldn't just settle into the back seat of this church - no offence to the folks in the back seat tonight - and decide that you'll not be committed in any involvement, that wasn't an option in Ephesus. Everyone worked to the sweat of their brow!
Their works, their labour and 'their patience' is commended by the Lord. They served, they were sacrificial in their labour, and they were steadfast in their patience. That speaks of endurance, stickability, their Christian faith was not a flash in the pan experience that was here today and gone tomorrow, it was something that endured. Then He commends them again: 'thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars'. They were separated, in other words they didn't let anyone into their pulpit, or for that matter into their assembly. Of course Paul warned them - that is the elders of this church in Ephesus - when he left them in Acts 20, that, after his departure, grievous wolves would enter in among them, not sparing the flock. Now in all likelihood the apostle John who is writing this book was the last living apostle. Yet there were other people, just as there are today incidentally, who were rising up in the church claiming apostleship and apostolic authority.
So Revelation 2 and verse 2, and also 2 Corinthians 11 and various other portions of the New Testament, tell us that there were false apostles. Where there is something true, the devil seems to always raise something counterfeit. Not only were there false apostles, but we find in 1 John 4 that there were false prophets, in 2 Peter 2 there were false teachers, and even in Galatians 1:7 there were false evangelists. So in the New Testament apostolic age, or just almost after the apostolic period, falsehood was abroad - that should reassure us a little bit, because it's certainly abroad today. But the commendation to the Ephesians was: they didn't take things at face value, they tried these false apostles and found them out to be liars and false teachers, false prophets, false evangelists. So we are getting a picture painted for us by the Holy Spirit that these Ephesian Christians did not take their Christian faith lightly, they understood the great demands that were upon them as believers in the Lord Jesus.
But very quickly the Lord Jesus moves from commendation of this church to criticism of this church. Let's look at that in verse 4, for He says: 'Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love'. Who would ever have expected it? I doubt none of us would have, other than the Lord Jesus Christ who, remember, has these eyes of fire. With x-ray omniscient vision He was able to see what no one else could see. Now if love was measured by activity, the Ephesians would have been the most loving church in existence, but you see it's not. Activity is not the same as love.
Now, what does this verse mean? 'You have left your first love'. What is your first love? Well, it's not immediately clear from this verse, and some have said that this means 'a love of first importance'. What I mean is, it's speaking of their love for Christ, they have lost their love and devotion to the Lord Jesus. Others have said: 'Well, this means their love for one another', and it was a common characteristic of the New Testament church how much they loved one another. Others have said: 'Well, it is their love for mankind in general'. It is very hard to pinpoint exactly which one of those three it would be, but then there are others who say: 'This is not speaking of a love of first importance, but rather a love that is first in point of time'. What I mean by that is - and that of course incorporates all three of these loves - the love for the Lord, the love for one another, and the love for mankind in general. Let me put it how J. B. Phillips translates it: 'You do not love as you did at first', I believe that is the sense of this verse. You do not love the Lord Jesus, love one another, love all mankind, as you did at first. To put it in our terms, if I could, what is being said to Ephesus is: the honeymoon period of your early love in the first days of your Christian faith is now over - for the Lord, for one another, for the lost world.
Someone told me today an illustration that encapsulates this well. When a man, or woman for that matter, is first married, maybe they won't go out the front door without kissing goodbye to their spouse - but after one year, two years, or I don't know how many years, some are just content shouting down from the study or shouting down from the bedroom making the beds or reading a book: 'Bye bye, see you later'. What has happened is that they have become taken up with the place rather than the person. What a picture of this church: they had got taken up with the place or with the practice, but the first love that they had in the beginning for the person of the Lord Jesus, and for each other, and for a lost world, had disappeared. This first love that John is speaking about is marked by first love as we have it in a romantic sense, the first ardour, and fervency, and constancy of our love.
Now we see this in the Israelites of the Old Testament, because after Jehovah delivered them from Egyptian bondage and they were redeemed by the blood of the lamb, we read in Jeremiah 2 verse 2, Jeremiah says: 'Go and cry in the ears of Jerusalem, saying, Thus saith the LORD; I remember thee, the kindness of thy youth, the love of thine espousals', or thy betrothals, 'when thou wentest after me in the wilderness, in a land that was not sown'. In other words, when you were first delivered from Egyptian bondage God said to Israel: 'I remember the love you had for Me, like the love of one who was to be married to their betrothed'. Well, in Israel something tragic happened, and in Jeremiah 2 and verse 13 we read these words: 'For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water'. In other words, they were providing for their own satisfaction, they had grown to love something else more than the Lord.
Incidentally, isn't that so like the seed was sown in the soil among thorns, and Mark 4:19 says that as the thorns grew and choked it, that speaks to us of the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lust or the desire of other things entering in and choking the word, and it becomes unfruitful. You do not love as you did at first! Solomon is a mighty illustration of this in 1 Kings 3:3 it says: 'And Solomon loved the LORD', and then later on in 1 Kings 11 it says, 'But king Solomon loved many strange women'. Jehovah was displaced in his affections by something else.
It's very interesting when we go to Timothy's epistles - and Paul wrote them to Timothy when Timothy was engaged in ministry in Ephesus - that Paul warned Timothy that the love of money was the root of all evil, which was tantamount to telling him: 'Make sure that the love of money never displaces your love and devotion to Christ'. The Lord Jesus Christ, did He not say that we can love family more than we love Him, and if we do that we're not fit for the kingdom of God. Paul the apostle in Corinthians says that we can love our husbands or love our wives, but in the day and age in which we live it's not that we should love them less, but we should not love anything at the expense of loving God! We should love all our loved ones more, but we should love Christ infinitely more! It's hard, and yet according to Christ's criticism of Ephesus it's necessary. Is there something in your heart that has taken the place of the Lord Jesus Christ? I love Cowper's hymn:
'The dearest idol I have known,
What'er that idol be,
Help to tear it from Thy throne
And worship only Thee'.
What about your enthusiasm that you used to have years ago for the Lord Jesus Christ? Could it be said of you: you do not love as you did at first? Has the fire and the passion, and the fervency and the ardour, has it gone? For the Ephesians - who knows, only God - but could it have been that the idol of their sound doctrine had taken the place of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself? Therein lies a great danger, because orthodoxy costs too much when love has to go out the window. These Ephesians were like the pitbulls of doctrinal dogma: in the midst of their fight with false apostles, and in the midst of their right, correct doctrine, they lost their love for Christ, for one another, and for mankind as it was in the beginning of their faith.
So the Lord gives them this corrective command in verse 5, and it is found in three steps, and they are three R's if you like alliteration. The first is 'Remember', the second is 'Repent', and the third is 'Repeat the works you did at first'. Look at the first: remember. Now, somewhere along their history there had been a considerable drop off in the fervency of their love. Now, a generation earlier, when Paul the apostle wrote the epistle to the Ephesians, we see that they were commended for their love. Turn with me to Ephesians for a moment, Ephesians chapter 1 and verse 15, Paul says: 'Wherefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus, and love unto all the saints, Cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers'. 'I'm rejoicing because I've heard of the great love you have'. Now, when we go to the end of the book to chapter 6, turn with me, verse 24, he says: 'Grace be with all them that love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity', and I think the implication is that they did.
Now not only did Paul commend them for their love, but he commanded them to grow in their love. Look at chapter 4 please of Ephesians, verse 2: 'With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love', love each other in your dealings. Verse 15: 'Speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ', converse with one another and deal with one another in love. Verse 16: 'From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love', edify one another, build one another up, encourage one another in love.
Now the Lord is saying to Ephesus: 'Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen', and that word 'fallen' is in the perfect tense, and it gives the sense of a tragic error of completeness - they had completely fallen from the heights that they had risen to! These Ephesians that the Lord Jesus is now speaking to are the second generation Christians to the first-generation ones that Paul wrote to, isn't that very interesting? Thirty or so years had passed since Paul ministered to the Ephesians - and, oh yes, these new Ephesians that the Lord is speaking to were serving the Lord in the manner that they had been taught by their forefathers, but they had lost the first love of the first generation Christians!
What generation of a Christian are you? I know how many generations of a Christian I am, and it is so easy to slip away gradually from our love as it was at first without hardly realising that it is happening! What is the answer to that? The Lord's corrective command to this church was: remember from whence you are fallen! Go back in your thoughts to those first days - and the Greek of 'remember' here is in the imperative present, that literally means 'keep on remembering', hold in your memory, never forget on a continual basis the love you once had for the Lord! Pray to God that it will come back again! Again Cowper grasps it:
'Where is the blessedness I knew
When first I saw the LORD?
Where is the soul-refreshing view
Of Jesus, and His word?
What peaceful hours I once enjoyed!
How sweet their memory still!
But they have left an aching void,
The world can never fill'.
Now this is corporate. Let me ask the folk of the Iron Hall here tonight: is the Iron Hall what it once was? Now before you start pointing fingers at anybody - elders or members - are you what you once were? For our churches will be what they once were when we are what we once were. Repent from where you are fallen! Remember the heights, and repent is the second command. That is in the Greek aorist tense, which means 'a sharp break', now, change your mind completely about the way you think about your sin, and the way you think about the Lord. Would we be big enough in this meeting to have another meeting for repentance and confession if it was necessary? That's what the Lord's asking these Ephesians to do: remember, repent, and repeat! Do the first works, the works you did at first, the works that were motivated by your love - there's a lesson! Service must never be out of mere duty, though there are things expected of us as Christians, service must always be motivated by love.
But there's a fourth 'R' - remember, repent, repeat - but this 'R' is not a command, it's a threat: 'Or I will remove your lampstand'. Look at the verse, the end of verse 5: 'I will come' - the Authorised Version gives the sense of future, but the Greek actually is in the present tense, which means this - 'I am coming'. The Lord was approaching this church, and He is teaching the Ephesians that a church can continue only for so long on a loveless course. Now it's not speaking that they would lose their salvation or anything like that, that's an impossibility if you're truly saved - but what the Lord is saying is: 'You will cease to exist, I will remove your lampstand'. It's not just speaking that their testimony wouldn't be there any longer and they would be a cold church - no, no, no. It's not saying, 'I'm going to blow the flames out of the light of your witness', it says, 'I'm going to remove the lampstand'.
Incidentally, in the Old Testament the removal of Israel as the lampstand for God among the nations of the world was the actual physical removal of the people to the land of captivity, Babylon. We're going to see in a future week in Revelation 11 that the two witnesses that God sends, who are also called the lampstands, God takes them physically to heaven - He removes their witness. Now, do we consider that the Lord Jesus, as the Judge Priest moving in the midst of His church, walking among His people, has the authority to remove an assembly? This is serious stuff. Now, He may use a variety of means to do it - it's His prerogative, He's the High Priest - but here's the lesson we all need to learn here tonight: the only way to avoid it is to keep repenting. Repenting is not just for unbelievers to change their mind about sin and Christ, it is for us - every day of our lives as believers we ought to be repentant!
Where Ephesus, those ruins that you saw tonight, are now there is no church as was then! Did the demise of the city of Ephesus, perhaps, affect the church? Or was the manner of Christ's judgement the demise of this city of Ephesus, and the silting up of the harbour that you saw? Are you viewing it through Christ's eyes or the world's eyes? If you see it through Christ's eyes, He removed the candlestick. He used geographical, meteorological means. He can use political means, He can use theological means. Can I ask you again, whatever assembly you belong to, and particularly the folk here in the Iron Hall: can you see the outcome of Christ in our midst? Do you look objectively at our history and our present and see Christ at work, judging in His church? Do you see conditions prevailing in local churches today as the intervention of Jesus Christ, the Great High Priest Judge? Or do you look at it all from man's perspective?
Another commendation which we missed is found in verse 6: 'This thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitanes, which I also hate'. 'You hate what I hate', the Lord Jesus says, that's a wonderful thing. Now notice please that it was the practices of the Nicolaitanes that they hated, not the persons themselves - that's an important distinction to make. Now we can't be positive who these Nicolaitanes were, there are really two views on this generally. The first is that the church fathers testify that this sect was connected with Nicolas, who was one of the seven leaders in the church of Jerusalem who were appointed in Acts 6:5, and they say that he started teaching falsehood and people followed him into this sect. But there are other early writings that deny that, and of course Acts 6:5 says that Nicolas was a man full of the Holy Ghost - he was a good man, so I don't think that's the case. It may well have been a radical movement that taught immorality and various other heresy. But there are other scholars who believe the second interpretation, that when you dissect the meaning of this name it actually means 'conquerors of the people', or 'rule over the laity' - and they see a reference there to the clerical system. In fact, Archbishop Richard C. Trench himself stated plainly: 'Nicolaitanism is clericy'. Now it is true that not long after John wrote this book of the Revelation, Ignatius, a church father, counselled the church to look upon her bishop as they would upon Christ - and we see the beginning of something that has plagued the church of Jesus Christ for centuries.
Now if you don't want to pinpoint one of those interpretations, I would favour the second - we certainly can see both: that the Lord hates anything that divides His people! Heresy or clericy, Jesus hates it, the Ephesians hate it, and we should hate it too. Incidentally, what the Ephesians rejected, we will see in a later week, Pergamos embraced in chapter 2 verses 15. They fully imbibed the teaching of the Nicolaitanes. There is a lesson for us as an assembly and as churches of God's people: you don't do things because other people do them, or other assemblies do them. Though they lacked love, they didn't get rid of their orthodoxy - notice that? In fact, the Lord commended them for their orthodoxy.
Then fifthly and finally, the Lord makes a commitment to the overcomers among them. Now, again there's a wee bit of controversy here concerning who these overcomers are, and there are basically two interpretations. The first is that they are all believers, all people who have put their trust and faith in the Lord Jesus, in keeping with 1 John chapter 5 verses 4-5 that says: 'For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?'. Of course John is writing this book, as he did his first epistle - incidentally, I think that out of 27 references to overcomers in the New Testament, 23 of those are made by the apostle John, so it's a favourite word of his. Here he shows that those who overcome are those who simply have faith in believing that Jesus is the Son of God.
But there's a wee bit of a problem with that, simply because these promises to the overcomer seem to be conditional: 'If you do this, you will overcome'. It seems to be upon overcoming the conditions that are prevailing in these particular churches that they would be blessed. So the second interpretation is that these overcomers are the faithful and obedient children of God, and failure to overcome means a loss of reward - not salvation of course, but of reward. Now there's a problem I foresee with that as well, because the blessings that are given to each of these overcomers in the seven letters are all common as the heritage of every believer - you look at them when you get home. It might be up to you to make up your mind, but I think a satisfactory answer may be found in that I think these overcomers are what a true believer is expected to be in the assembly where these conditions prevailed. So in this assembly that had lost its love as it was at first, it needed to remember, to repent, to repeat the works they did it first, and they would know the Lord's blessing as evidence that they were true believers of the Lord Jesus Christ. For each church that may well be different, but it demonstrates their genuineness in churches that ultimately were a mixed multitude, as you will see next week, and from the parable of the wheat and the tares.
Incidentally, please notice the first three of these churches, the voice of the Spirit speaks to the whole church, and the voice of the Spirit speaks before the overcomer - and so the Spirit is speaking to everyone. In the last four churches we find the Spirit speaking after the overcomer, so the Spirit is speaking to the overcomers in those four last churches - which is like an implication that for the first three churches, they had a chance, but the last four hardly have any chance, and people in it need to listen up as individuals! That's really the message tonight. You might disagree with the odd point that I'm making tonight, and I'm sure many of you will, but here's the important question: if you were in any one of the seven churches, would you have overcome the conditions that prevailed? You see the lesson is: we must overcome where we are. There was only one church in Ephesus, probably, and they didn't have cars and buses and trains to, when they got upset, go to the one down the road! They had to overcome where they were! You don't hear much of that today.
Their reward was the tree of life in the Paradise of God, the Garden of God, Eden restored, which we find in chapter 21 and 22.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Evangelical Church in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the fourth recording in his 'The Book Of The Revelation' series, entitled "Ephesus, The Loveless Church" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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