Many of us have avoided the book of Revelation throughout our Christian journey because it is intimidating. I don’t dispute that. When you throw in a dragon chasing a pregnant woman wanting to eat her baby, it becomes a bit disconcerting. The graphic imagery and rampant violence make most of us uncomfortable. We don’t know what to do with it so we avoid it all together.
But, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). ALL. And Revelation does all four - it teaches, rebukes, corrects, and trains us in righteousness.
Now, in our earlier time together we have established the steps to studying the passage, so if you missed the earlier posts, you can find them here. Remember the questions to ask when studying a Bible passage?
- What does it say?
- What does it mean?
- What does it say to me?
With those questions in mind, we step inside the first church - Ephesus.
What does it say?
“This is the solemn pronouncement of the one who has a firm grasp on the seven stars in his right hand—the one who walks among the seven golden lampstands: 'I know your works as well as your labor and steadfast endurance, and that you cannot tolerate evil. You have even put to the test those who refer to themselves as apostles (but are not), and have discovered that they are false. I am also aware that you have persisted steadfastly, endured much for the sake of my name, and have not grown weary. But I have this against you: You have departed from your first love! Therefore, remember from what high state you have fallen and repent! Do the deeds you did at the first; if not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place—that is, if you do not repent. But you do have this going for you: You hate what the Nicolaitans practice—practices I also hate. The one who has an ear had better hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers, I will permit him to eat from the tree of life that is in the paradise of God.’
What does it mean?
Ephesus. Some say it was second only to Rome in size and importance. It can be likened in our day to New York City or Toronto. It was a center of commerce, entertainment, and worship. It was most famous for being the center for the worship of the Goddess Artemis and where her temple resided.
The apostle Paul wrote 1 Corinthians while staying in Ephesus, and then later wrote to the church there (Ephesians) while in prison. John also spent a lot of time in Ephesus teaching and helping to build the church.
Jesus dictates a letter to John to send to the church in Ephesus. It’s very interesting that he formats it like a letter of the day:
To: The angel of the church in Ephesus
This is either the minister over the church in Ephesus, or an actual angel assigned to oversee the church in Ephesus. The word used for “angel” here is used many times in the book of Revelation to mean an actual angel, my personal opinion is that this is addressed to the angel that oversees the church. Although, I do love the imagery of Jesus holding the minister to the church in his right hand.
The personal, up close, in-your-life Jesus who is holding the angel over the church in his right hand, and walking amongst the churches, not hovering above them. He is personal. He is here with them.
The church in Ephesus was hard working. Tireless. They were fully committed to the task at hand and they put their all into it. If you want to read some of the things they were struggling with, take some time to read through the book of Ephesians. It wasn’t an easy ministry, but they were committed to it.
As a church they dealt with false prophets and influential people trying to sway their members to a different “gospel”. The church in Ephesus “did not tolerate” this, and were quick to put them out.
They’ve persevered. They’ve worked hard and not grown tired. They were devoted, they were tenacious, they were resilient and Jesus started his letter not with a rebuke but with a compliment. He starts by highlighting what they were doing right.
But. They forgot why they were doing it. It all began because they fell in love with Jesus and wanted to share that amazing love with others around them. Because of their love for Jesus they began serving the poor, building the church, and sharing the gospel. Somewhere along the way it became about what they were doing instead of who they were being.
This was not a small problem. Jesus doesn’t say, “Come on guys, let’s try to do this better!” No, he says “repent”. Repent is a very strong word. It means to have remorse over sin or wrongdoing, to completely turn the opposite direction from it and run.
Repent of your loss of love. Remember why you started. Remember who you were in the beginning. Notice where you are now in relation to that, and do a 180 degree turn.
But the rebuke gets even stronger. Jesus says “If you don’t, I will remove your lampstand.” For a church, this should be terrifying. The lampstand is a symbol for who they are as a representative of Christ in their community; a lamp that stands tall and gives light to the darkness around them. Without the lampstand, the “church” is just a community organization doing good works.
The church in Ephesus had allowed their love for Jesus to erode into empty ritualism, going through the motions and checking the right boxes. It’s subtle but serious. How many churches today are going through the motions but have no flame? The tragic reality is that Jesus has left the building but the organization continues to operate, the programs continue to function, the bills continue to get paid and yet there is no real Light.
He tempers the rebuke with encouragement. It's reminicent of a parent trying to discipline their child, but also letting them know they love them at the same time.
He sees their hatred for the practices of the Nicolatians and pats them on the back for it, because He also hates these practices. In the seven letters to the churches Jesus mentions twice that he hates the practices of the Nicolatians. I don’t know about you, but if God says he “hates” something, I want to know what it is so I can steer very clear from it. We will dig deeper into this when we talk about the letter to Pergamum.
He reminds them once again to listen to what the Spirit is saying to them. And he ends with a promise - for the ones who are victorious, they will get to eat from the tree of life in the garden of paradise!
What does it mean to me?
This article has been very hard for me to write. The message to the church in Ephesus has been rockinng my very comfortable boat. But first - it was written to the corporate church, so let’s start there.
Church, are we tolerating wickedness in the name of “love”? Our culture has been sliding inch by inch over decades into a place that, even in the church, it is hard to rebuke the wicked.
The Bible tells us explicitly that Satan comes as an angel of light to deceive. He is cloaked in goodness and beauty, not horns and a pitchfork. Are we allowing him in our churches in order to not seem “intolerant”?
The Bible also says he comes as a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Think about that for a minute. A wolf, dressing as a sheep in order to move among the sheep undetected. As a shepherd, what would you do if you found this disguised wolf? Would you say “well, God loves wolves, too. We should love it, no matter how wolfish it is acting and our love will win it over?”
No, as we “win over” that wolf with our “love”, the wolf will be devouring the sheep one by one. This is going to sound controversial, and very unlike our 2020 modern views, but, as one pastor puts it, we "shoot the wolves". Good shepherds don’t tolerate wolves, they get rid of them. Good shepherds don’t attempt to domesticate wolves, they eliminate them.
Church, Jesus isn’t interested in your works, no matter how good, he wants your heart. What good is our church if it does all the right things but we’ve forgotten our motives? Is it possible that churches around the West are operating without a lampstand? Would we even know if ours has been removed?
A.W. Tozer said, “If the Holy Spirit was withdrawn from the church today, 95 percent of what we do would go on and no one would know the difference. If the Holy Spirit had been withdrawn from the New Testament church, 95 percent of what they did would stop, and everybody would know the difference.”
These are hard spiritual questions that our church leadership needs to prayerfully dig deep into.
The church is personified as the bride of Christ over and over in the New Testament, so let’s look at this from a marriage perspective. When Jesus says in this passage "you departed from your first love", the Greek word translated “departed from” can actually be used of divorce, so the imagery here is very strong. How happy would you be in a marriage if your spouse did and said all the right things, but you knew they no longer loved you? And if you tried to tell others about that joyless marriage, do you think it would cause them to want to get married as well?
No. It would be a marriage in name only. A loveless partnership. Much like….a church whose lampstand has been removed.
Earlier I said that this passage has been rocking my boat. I am a list maker, a rule follower, a put-your-head-down-and-get-it-done kinda girl. I’ve been a christian for 30 years now, so it’s safe to say that I have had periods where I forgot my first love of Jesus. If I’m honest, I would say those periods have been more often than not.
It’s time to repent.
As an individual and as a church, it's time to repent. It’s time to pull the spiritual emergency break, come to a screeching halt and ask the hard questions. It’s time to make a 180 degree turn and look back at where we started. When did we fall in love with Jesus? Why did we fall in love with Jesus? Or maybe, we need to start with…. are we in love with Jesus?
Everything begins with that. Everything flows from that.
And if everything doesn’t end with that, then what is the point?
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