You may recall Jesus gave us the divisions, or the table of contents, of the book of Revelation in chapter one when He said,
Rev. 1:19 "Write therefore the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall take place after these things.
Chapter one contained the things which John had seen. Chapters two and three will be the things that are: the things of the church. The rest of the book will tell us about the things which shall take place after the things of the church.
For the next two chapters, Jesus will be dictating seven letters to seven churches. Each of these letters follows a structural pattern.
- Each letter has a To/From beginning. To: The angel of the church of (church). From: (A self-description of Jesus).
- Next, He gives them a pat on the back for what they're doing good and points out what they're doing bad.
- Then He makes a statement of exhortation.
- Followed by "He who has an ear..." and "To him who overcomes..."
As we go through the seven letters, we'll learn much by looking at the pattern - by what He says, and what He doesn't say.
Although Thyatira shows up in Acts 16, and Laodicea in the book of Colossians, Ephesus is really the only church of these seven that actually figures prominently in the New Testament. Paul had told the Corinthians:
1Cor. 16:8-9 But I shall remain in Ephesus until Pentecost; for a wide door for effective service has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.
There were many adversaries to the work in Ephesus. Then in Acts 20, we read of the first "pastor's conference," when Paul called the Elders of the Ephesian church to meet with him at Miletus. He told them,
Acts 20:28-31 "Be on guard for yourselves and for 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. I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears."
A warning of savage wolves coming in. And later, he wrote to Timothy,
1Tim. 1:3 As I urged you upon my departure for Macedonia, remain on at Ephesus, in order that you may instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines
The church at Ephesus began to be under attack - not from the world's persecutions, but from wolves in sheeps' clothing - corrupt and reprobate teachers. Paul warned them. Timothy warned them. Did they endure? Jesus dictates,
Rev. 2:2 "...you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false".
They had been warned to be on guard for wolves, and had heeded the warning!
Unfortunately today, those who guard against strange doctrines, savage wolves, and sinful men who desire to draw away disciples after themselves are scorned. For example, Hank Hanegraaff, host of "The Bible Answer Man" radio show, heads up the Christian Research Institute. CRI's main purpose is to expose cults and false teachings in the church, using the Bible as the means to discern. CRI in general, and Hank in particular, have continually been called judgmental, divisive, and hateful. Yet Jesus commends the Ephesians for testing and judging people's teaching based on Scripture. In Acts 17, the Lord commends the Bereans for doing this:
Acts 17:11 Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily, to see whether these things were so.
And Jude explained emphatically,
Jude 3-4 ...I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.
The apostle John also wrote,
1John 4:1 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.
And now we must be more diligent than ever to do this, since 1Timothy 4 states,
1Tim. 4:1 ...The Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons,
I am continually checking and weighing what I will teach against the Bible, for it scares me to death to think that I might be teaching something that is unbiblical. Paul wrote in no uncertain terms,
Gal. 1:6-9 I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you, and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed.
Thus, James wrote,
James 3:1 Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we shall incur a stricter judgment.
And Paul told Titus that an Elder must be...
Titus 1:9-2:1 holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, that he may be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict. But as for you, speak the things which are fitting for sound doctrine.
So we as teachers and hearers absolutely MUST strive for doctrinal purity, weighing all teaching that we receive against the Bible, because, as Peter says:
2Pet. 2:1 ...There will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies
It is amazing to see how unwilling the church is to obey the overwhelming amount of Scripture that tells us to test all things. We are told so clearly:
1Ths. 5:19-21 Do not quench the Spirit; do not despise prophetic utterances. But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good;
May we be a church that the Lord would commend in such a way as He did the church at Ephesus.
The church at Ephesus was doctrinally sound. This was the thing Jesus congratulated them on. But there was also something wrong. He said,
Rev. 2:4 "But I have this against you, that you have left your first love."
This word "first" does not mean first in order, it means "the greatest, highest ranking." What was that first love? A lawyer once asked Jesus,
Matt. 22:36-38 "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?" And He said to him, "'YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and WITH ALL YOUR MIND.' This is the great and foremost commandment."
That first, greatest love that they had left was their love for God. Oh, they hadn't stopped loving God - they had just taken Him out of first place. Being doctrinally sound is fantastic. But if you lack intense love for Jesus Christ, you have accomplished nothing. Paul wrote,
1Cor. 13:1-3 If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.
What if you've found yourself there today? You've got great knowledge and understanding of the Word of God - but your heart has drifted away from Him. What I love about the Bible is that it doesn't just tell you what to do, but how to do it. Jesus doesn't just point out that it's wrong - He gives us the solution:
Rev. 2:5 "Remember therefore from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first..."
A three-step program: Remember, repent, and return.
Remember: Stop and think about what it was like when you were first saved. You were so excited, you'd tell anyone about Jesus! God loved you, and you were saved! I remember that my every thought was consumed with God - wanting to understand Him, to know more about Him, to know what He thought about things. It was that same, thought-consuming love that you have when you're head over heels in love with someone. Remember. Then repent.
Repent: Change your way of thinking and go back to where you were before. Now that you're doctrinally sound, you might think you've got God all figured out - that's wrong, so realize that's wrong. Repentance is the key to having a huge love for God.
Once when Jesus was having dinner at a Pharisee's house, a sinful woman came in and cried all over Jesus' feet. When the Pharisees scorned the situation, Jesus said
Luke 7:47 "...I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little."
If you've begun to love God little, it is because you have neglected to make confession of your sin a regular part of your life. Habitually acknowledging your sin and God's forgiveness will cause you to fall deeper and deeper in love with God, for...
1John 1:9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
And when we've been forgiven by Him much, we love Him much.
Return: You've remembered, then repented. Now return. Go back to being the Christian and doing those deeds you once did: fervent prayer, Bible study, witnessing, fellowshiping, and communion.
Jesus told them that they must remember and repent, turning back to their first love...
Rev. 2:5 "...or else I am coming to you, and will remove your lampstand out of its place - unless you repent."
Many have read this as saying that they would lose their salvation. But don't forget the picture. The church is the lampstand, bearing light, the only source of light to the world. If we don't love God intensely, then no matter how doctrinally pure we might be, God will use some other group of people, some other local church, to shine His light to the community.
The sad finale to this story is that there is in fact no longer a church of Ephesus - they didn't heed Jesus' warning to remember, repent, and return. Will we?
It is thought that "Nicolaitans" is actually an untranslated Greek word, "Nik-ol-ah-EE-tace." It comes from the Greek word "NEE-kos," meaning "victory, conquer," and "Lah-OS," meaning "people." Nicolaitans - "to conquer the people."
Even at the beginning of the church age, people instinctively perceived a difference between the clergy and the people. In the book of Acts, we read that at the hands of the apostles, many signs and wonders were taking place among the people.
Acts 5:13 But none of the rest dared to associate with them; however, the people held them in high esteem.
The people had placed the apostles on a high pedestal where they didn't belong - Jesus had called them to be ministers - and the word minister means "servant." Luke writes,
Luke 22:24-27 And there arose also a dispute among (the disciples) as to which one of them was regarded to be greatest. And (Jesus) said to them, "The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called 'Benefactors.' But not so with you, but let him who is the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as the servant. For who is greater, the one who reclines at the table, or the one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at the table? But I am among you as the one who serves.
But as the years went on and more and more teachers and apostles arose, more and more of them bought into the deception of ruling the people instead of serving the people. Pastors, elders, and teachers are not called to rule over you or to be placed on a pedestal. If those guys want to be great in God's kingdom, they must learn to be the servant of all.
Rev. 2:7 "...To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the Paradise of God."
What is the Tree of Life? It first shows up in Genesis 2, in the Garden of Eden:
Gen. 2:9 And out of the ground the LORD God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
But once Adam and Eve had sinned by eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil,
Gen. 3:22-24 Then the LORD God said, "Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil; and now, lest he stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever"- therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden, to cultivate the ground from which he was taken. So He drove the man out; and at the east of the garden of Eden He stationed the cherubim, and the flaming sword which turned every direction, to guard the way to the tree of life.
We know that if a man ate from the tree of life, he would live forever. Also, the way was guarded by the cherubim and the flaming sword. The tree of life is now in the Paradise of God. We will read in chapter twenty-two that
Rev. 22:2 ...On either side of the river (of the water of life) was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.
Rev. 22:14-15 "Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter by the gates into the city. Outside are the dogs and the sorcerers and the immoral persons and the murderers and the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices lying."
There is also a dire warning at the end of the book:
Rev. 22:18-19 I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God shall add to him the plagues which are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book.
Having a part in the tree of life means living forever. Each of the seven letters to the seven churches have a "to him who overcomes" statement, leading us to a study of salvation. What and how are we to overcome? John wrote in his first epistle,
1John 5:4-5 For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world - our faith. And who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?
What are we to overcome? The world. How? By our faith in Jesus Christ.