Ephesus

OVERVIEW - The angel of the assembly at Ephesus was commended for rejecting false apostles but chastised for losing his “first love” – Revelation 2:1-7.

Greek Ruins - Photo by Zoyalex Chaptor on Unsplash
The first three letters to the seven churches form a distinct literary unit. This is indicated by the order of the 
concluding exhortation and the promise at the end of each message to the one who “overcomes.” Each of the three ends with the exhortation - “Hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches,” followed by a promise to the “one who overcomes.” This sequence is reversed in the final four letters to Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. - [Photo by Zoyalex Chaptor on Unsplash].

Although each letter is addressed to the “angel” of its church, the exhortation to hear what the Spirit is saying “to the churches” demonstrates that the contents of all seven letters are intended for the entire church. The promises made to believers who “overcome” find fulfillment in the vision of “New Jerusalem” at the end of the book.

Ephesus was the largest city in the province of Asia, and its chief seaport and commercial center. Most of the major trade routes across Asia Minor began in Ephesus. Its most prominent feature was the Temple of Artemis or Diana, one of the so-called “Seven Wonders” of the ancient world.

The city was designated the “temple warden of Asia” (Neokoros), that is, a provincial center for managing the imperial cult of the Emperor. It featured temples dedicated to the emperor and Roma, the patron goddess of Rome (dea Roma). Emperor Domitian had designated the city the “guardian” of the imperial cult for the entire province.

The Apostle Paul established the first church at Ephesus around A.D. 52. For a time, it was his base of operations for evangelizing the surrounding region. From it, “all they who dwell in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks” - (Acts 18:19-21, 19:1-10).
  • (Revelation 2:1-7) - “To the angel of the assembly in Ephesus, write: These things says he that holds the seven stars in his right hand, he that walks in the midst of the seven lamps of gold: I know your works, and your labor, and endurance, and that you cannot bear bad men, and you have tried them who were affirming themselves to be apostles and they were not, and have found them false; and you have endurance and have borne for the sake of my name, and have not grown weary. Nevertheless, I have against you that, your first love, you have left. Remember, therefore, whence you have fallen, and repent, and do your first works; otherwiseI am coming to you, and will remove your lamp out of its place, except you repent. But this you have, that you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. He that hath an earlet him hear what the Spirit is saying unto the churches. To him that overcomes, I will give to him to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.”
John was commanded to “write” to the “angel.” Everything that occurred within and about the church was open before the eyes of the Risen Christ. He possessed the “seven stars,” walked among the “seven golden lampstands,” and thereby, cared for and tended to the needs of his people.

Previously, Revelation described a priestly figure who “held seven stars” in his right hand, which represented the “seven angels” of the churches. A different and stronger verb is used in this clause – krateô or “grasp”; that is, Jesus was grasping the “stars” tightly in his hand - (Revelation 1:16).

In the first chapter, John saw this priestly figure “in the midst of the lampstands.” Now, Jesus describes himself “walking among” them. The Greek verb is a progressive present; this was an ongoing activity. The picture draws from the regulations for the Day of Atonement and the activities of the high priest in that ritual. Before ministering, he put on “a holy tunic of linen and drawers of linen, and with a band of linen.”

Likewise, John saw the figure “like a son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about at the breasts with a golden girdle.” The high priest moved about the Sanctuary applying sacrificial blood to the Holy Place, and otherwise, performing his priestly functions. Thus, Jesus is the “high priest” of his people who mediates on their behalf in the “Sanctuary” - (Leviticus 16:1-18, Revelation 1:12-20).

Jesus praised the “angel” of the assembly for his “works.” This points to the “Lamb,” the Judge who will hold all men accountable. At the “Great White Throne of Judgment,” the dead are judged according to their works. When Jesus returns, he will “render to each man according to his works” - (Revelation 20:12-13, 22:12).

Works, Labor, Endurance.” All three nouns occur together again in the fourteenth chapter in a promise to overcoming “saints.” In Revelation, “endurance” is about persevering for the “Lamb,” especially when suffering for his sake:
  • (Revelation 14:12-13) – “Here is the endurance of the saints, they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus. And I heard the voice from heaven saying, Write, Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from henceforth: yea, declares the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors; for their works follow with them.”
Endurance” translates the Greek noun hupomoné (Strong’s - #G5281), a prominent theme in the book. For example, John described himself as a “brother and fellow-participant with you in the tribulation and kingdom and endurance in Jesus” - (Revelation 1:9).

church at night - Photo by sergio souza on Unsplash
Photo by sergio souza on Unsplash

The “
angel” was commended because he “tried and exposed them who affirm themselves apostles but are liars.” The text does not identify the false apostles or their teachings. Jesus also commended the “angel” for hating the teachings of the ‘Nicolaitans.’ The context suggests the “false apostles” were leaders of that group, although a direct connection is not made.

Liar” translates the Greek noun pseudés with the basic sense of “false.” This is the same word prefixed in the Greek to the term “false prophet.” Just as the “Great Whore” persecuted the “holy prophets and apostles,” so the “Dragon” promoted his counterfeit prophets and apostles, including the “false prophet” - (Revelation 13:11-15, 16:13, 19:20, 20:10).

The function of the “false prophet” is to deceive men and women to render homage to the “beast from the sea.” He does so by performing “great signs” and applying economic pressure on all who refuse to submit. Similarly, the false “apostles” in Ephesus were encouraging believers to compromise with the surrounding pagan culture, especially with its political and religious demands.
Elsewhere in Revelation, “apostles” refers to “servants of the Lamb” persecuted by “Babylon, the Great Whore.” Later, “liars” refers to a class of men who were cast into the “Lake of Fire” - (Revelation 18:20, 21:8).
The “angel” left his “first love.” The object of this “love” is not specified, whether God, Jesus, or other men. Since a key theme in the book is the call to faithful perseverance, possibly the congregation had lost its determination to persevere in a hostile environment.

The “angel” was faulted for not continuing to perform his “first works,” which suggests the significance of his lost “first love” – he had lost his zeal for the “first works” – his “labor” and “endurance,” If he did not “repent and do the first works,” Jesus would remove his “lampstand.” That the “messenger” was held accountable for his failings suggests he was human and not an angelic being.

He was commended for his “hatred” of the “Nicolaitans.” The teachings of this group are not described. ‘Nicolaitan’ is a compound of the Greek nouns niké (“victory”) and laos (“people”). It may denote “victory people,” “victory over people,” or “he who conquers people.” The latter sense is likely considering the later descriptions of the “beast” that “conquered” the saints (nikaō). Furthermore, the “beast from the sea” had authority over “people” or laos - (Revelation 13:7-10).

He that has an ear, hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches.” The same phrase is repeated at the end of each letter. The reference to the “churches” extends the application of the seven exhortations to all seven congregations in Asia.

The letter concludes with a promise - “To him who overcomes I will give to eat of the tree of life in the paradise of God.” This alludes to the “tree of life” from the book of Genesis:
  • (Genesis 2:9) – “And Yahweh caused to spring up out of the ground every tree pleasant to the sight and good for food, and the tree of life in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
  • (Genesis 3:14-24) – “And to the man he said, Because you hearkened to the voice of your wife, and so ate of the tree as to which I commanded you, saying, You shall not eat of it, Accursed be the ground for your sake, In pain shall you eat of it all the days of your life…Then said Yahweh, Lo! man has become like one of us, in respect of knowing good and evil, Now, therefore, lest he thrust forth his hand, and take even of the tree of life and eat, and live to times everlasting, So Yahweh put him forth from the garden of Eden to till the ground wherefrom he had been taken.”

In the letter to Ephesus, “tree” translates the Greek noun xulon. The common noun for a living “tree” was dendronXulon referred specifically to dead wood from felled trees. Often in the New Testament, it refers to the “tree” on which Jesus was “hanged.” The term points to the death of Jesus on the Cross as the symbolic significance of the promised “tree of life” - (Matthew 26:47, 26:55, Acts 5:30, 16:24, Galatians 3:13, 1 Peter 2:24).


The “tree of life” links this exhortation to “New Jerusalem where the tree was found. Access to what Adam lost is restored in the New Creation, and the “curse” is reversed:

  • (Revelation 22:1-3) – “And he pointed out to me a river of water of life, bright as crystal, issuing forth out of the throne of God and of the Lamb in the midst of the broadway thereof. And, on this side of the river and on that, was A TREE OF LIFE, bearing twelve crops of fruit every several months, yielding its fruit; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations, And NO CURSE shall there be any more; and the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be therein, and his servants will render divine service unto him.”
  • (Revelation 22:14) – “Happy, they who are washing their robes, that their right may be unto the TREE OF LIFE and, by the gates, they may enter into the city.”

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