Ephesus

The messenger at Ephesus is commended for rejecting false apostles, chastised for leaving his first love, and summoned to do his first works.

Ephesus Photo by Mehmet Turgut Kirkgoz on Unsplash
In his exhortation to the “
messenger” at Ephesus, Jesus begins by stressing his intimate knowledge of all the churches. He is “grasping” the seven messengers tightly in his right hand, and “walking” continuously among the seven assemblies. Therefore, he knows their “works and labor and endurance” – (Revelation 2:1-7). - [Ephesus ruins photo by Mehmet Turgut Kirkgoz on Unsplash].

Ephesus was the largest city in the province of Asia and its chief seaport and commercial center. But its most prominent feature was the Temple of Artemis or Diana, and the city was the provincial center for the worship of the emperor.

Ephesus had temples dedicated to the emperor and Roma, the patron goddess of Rome. The marginalized Christian congregation would have been a tiny island of righteousness in a sea of paganism.

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Jesus praises the messenger for his “works and labor and endurance.” All three nouns occur again in the fourteenth chapter in the promise for saints who overcome. “Endurance” means persevering for Jesus, especially when suffering for his sake - (Revelation 14:12-13).

That Jesus commends the messenger for his “endurance” suggests strongly that he has suffered for the faith. And because “endurance” is linked to “works and labors” indicates he has persevered in doing the deeds that Christ expects of his servants.

Jesus commends him for his faithfulness in rooting out “false apostles.” Exactly who these men are or what they teach is not stated. However, Jesus also acknowledges that the messenger “hates the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.” Undoubtedly, the “false apostles” are proponents of that group’s teachings.

The messenger has found these self-proclaimed apostles “false.” This rendering represents the Greek noun pseudés, the same noun applied to the “beast from the earth,” the “false prophet” who uses signs and wonders and economic sanctions to coerce men to render homage to the “beast.” The noun can also mean “liar” and is so used when warning that “all liars” will be cast into the “lake of fire,” presumably including the “false apostles” from Ephesus - (Revelation 13:11-15, 20:10, 21:8).

The teachings of the “Nicolaitans” are not described. The name 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 the likeliest, especially considering the later descriptions of the “beast” that “conquered” the saints (nikaō). The “false prophet” will be given authority over “people” or laos. The name “Nicolaitan” here anticipates the assaults by the “beast” and its spokesman against the “saints” in the later visions of Revelation - (Revelation 13:7-10).

CRITICISMS

But the messenger is chastised for having left his “first love.” The object of this “love” is not specified, whether God, Jesus, or other men. However, since Ephesus is summoned to repent and “do the first works,” this points to something the church is failing to do rather than to the loss of love for the Lord.

Since the messenger has been praised for his faithfulness in resisting deceivers and enduring “for my name's sake” without “growing weary,” the answer lies elsewhere. Moreover, his faithfulness in suffering is another indicator that he has not lost his love for the savior.

His sin lies not in any gradual dampening of his love and zeal, but in the deliberate abandonment of his “first works.” The Greek verb rendered “left” means to “discharge, forsake, abandon, lay aside.” It points to a choice the messenger has made. And the sin is serious, for if he does not repent and return to his “first works,” Jesus will remove his “lampstand” from its place.

Unfortunately, the passage does not identify what this failure is, at least, not explicitly. Since Revelation stresses the importance of not compromising the faith and maintaining faithful testimony, perhaps the rebuke points to a loss of zeal for bearing witness or the tendency to compromise the faith under pressure from the larger pagan society.

OVERCOMERS

But the exhortation is not just for the messenger of Ephesus. It concludes with a summons for all the churches to “hear what the Spirit is saying.” All seven congregations are exhorted to “overcome,” for if they do, they will “eat of the tree of life in the paradise of God.”

This final clause alludes to the “tree of life” from the garden of Eden. And here, “tree” translates the Greek noun xulon. The common word for a living “tree” was dendron, but xulon refers to dead wood from felled trees. Elsewhere in the New Testament, it refers to the “tree” on which Jesus was “hanged.”

Church Remote - Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash
[Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash]

Thus, in the book of 
Revelation, the death of Jesus on the Cross represents the symbolic significance of the “tree of life” - (Genesis 2:9, Matthew 26:47, 26:55, Acts 5:30, 16:24, Galatians 3:13, 1 Peter 2:24).

The reference to the “tree of life” also provides a verbal link to the later vision of “New Jerusalem” where the tree is found. Access to what Adam lost will be restored in the “new heavens and new earth,” and the original “curse” will be reversed. That is what awaits every saint who faithfully “overcomes” - (Revelation 22:1-3).

Repeatedly in Revelation, saints are summoned to persevere in persecution, and not to compromise regardless of what Satan or his earthly vassals do. They must “overcome” by enduring faithfully to the end, even when doing so means a martyr’s death.

The brethren overcome the Devil by “the blood of the Lamb, the word of their testimony, and because they love not their lives unto death.” The exhortation to return and “do the first works” is a call to that level of commitment, and to engage in giving faithful “testimony” before the world.



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