My Darling has Forsaken Me
Prayer: God as we study today about Ephesus help us to learn from this powerful church, both from her successes & her failures. Help us to be discerning and yet never failing in love. Help us to do this as individuals, as a church body, and in the true Church - the body of believers in the world. Amen!
This morning we start into the letters to the 7 churches, if you remember from last week when we looked at Revelation 1:19 you'll know we're entering the 2nd section of this book. We've already covered what John wrote about what he had seen - the first and shortest section of Revelation being only 1 chapter long, now we're in the "what is now" section which is comprised of the letters to 7 churches of John's day.
It's interesting that though the letters were applicable to the 7 churches of that day there are additional levels of application. Remember that this is a book of Prophecy - we were told that in Revelation 1:3, and it is common - even expected - for Prophecy to have multiple levels of fulfillment. We have a God who is more complex, more amazing, than we can even begin to imagine - I don't think it's possible to give God more credit for complexity than He has.
Levels of Application for the letters to the churches:
1 - An Individual Church: the specified church of John's day to address a specific problem in that church at that time.
2 - All Churches: the 7 churches who received letters, and extending to all churches throughout the church age: each letter includes a statement about hearing what the Spirit has to say to the "churches" (plural).
3 - Personal: each has an admonition for all believers to "hear" what is being said and a promise to those who "overcome".
4 - Prophetic: the 7 letters outline a profile of church history from the Upper Room until the church joins Jesus in the Upper Air. (This is seen by some as controversial)
The letters contain 7 design elements, constituting a type of "Report Card" for that church:
1 - Name of the City - the meaning of the name of the city has significance.
2 - Title of Christ - each is a title already seen in chapter 1, each title has significance regarding the message that is being given to the church.
3 - Commendation - what they are doing well (2 churches don't get this).
4 - Concern - what they are doing wrong (2 churches don't get this).
5 - Exhortation - a call to action (or to continued action).
6 - Promise to the Overcomer - blessing for those who overcome.
7 - Closing Statement - "He who has an ear let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches."
One commentator stated that all 7 recipients were surprised. Those who thought they were doing well weren't, those who thought they weren't doing well were.
Before we move on lets take a closer look at that Closing Statement "He who has an ear let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches". In addition to what I've already said regarding this I'd like you to notice a couple things. It says "He who has an ear" - that means those who are willing to listen & spiritually able to listen. God never forces anyone to listen to Him, and only those who have the Holy Spirit empowering them are able to hear Him. It says "what the Spirit says to the churches", the Holy Spirit is already at work in these churches and is speaking to these churches. I thought it was interesting that in chapter 1 we saw the 7 Spirits or 7-Fold Spirit of God, and here the Spirit is speaking to 7 churches with 7 messages.
I'd also like to point out a word that occurs in all 7 letters that I found interesting - the word for "overcome". It is "nikao" and means to overcome, conquer, or triumph - and the word in the Greek implies a continuous action: continue to overcome, conquer, triumph. I heard mentioned that the brand Nike may have gotten its name from this root. Each of the letters calls the hearer to overcome some trial, and in overcoming to receive a blessing. When you are facing trials how do you pray? Do you pray to be freed from your trials or for God to give you the strength to overcome? Beth Moore put it something like this: "How do you overcome if you never underwent?"
Finally I want you to notice that each letter is addressed to the "angel of the church" of its city - some again think this is an angelic being watching over the church, others a pastor of the church. We went over this a bit in our last lesson... and who knows, perhaps it's a bit of each, but it is interesting that the letter is directed in this way rather than simply to the church as a whole.
So our first church is the church in Ephesus, and I want to just give you a brief taste of the 1st century city of Ephesus - if you're interested in knowing more I'll let you do that on your own.
Ephesus was the capital of the Roman province of Asia, located "where East met West" it was an important crossroads area with a pleasant climate (similar to Southern California) and fertile land. It was a religious and commercial center and influenced peoples of both East (Asia) and West (Europe). It was the largest city in the province of Asia having an estimated population at that time of somewhere between 250,000 - 500,000 people (approximately the population of Minneapolis), one source I read claimed that at times there were as many as 1 - 2 million people gathered in that city. At one time it was a key Naval port with a nice harbor; however, at the time of the writing of Revelation the harbor had already begun to have problems with silt - and today the city is about 6 miles away from the coast.
It was a beautiful and wealthy city, constructed primarily of white marble with stunning well developed architecture. Within the city were:
- Library with over 12,000 volumes (before printing)
- Renown Marketplace, 360' square with shops 40' deep along all 4 sides.
- Theater 495' in diameter which could seat as many as 25,000 people.
- A very long "Way" (road) made of marble, 7' wide running through the city and to the harbor.
- It had gymnasiums and brothels and various temples all the other accouterment of large cities of its day. Apparently from the Library there was an underground tunnel leading to the brothels in case you wanted to keep your matters private.
- A distinctive feature was the Temple of Diana, one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world which is said to have been very beautiful both of form and material. It was the largest Greek temple ever built and was 4 times the size of the Parthenon at Athens. The goddess Diana was a fertility goddess, both male and female temple prostitutes were in residence at the temple. J Vernon McGee describes it this way: "Around the temple of Diana were performed the grossest forms of immorality... The worshipers indulged in the basest religious rites of sensuality and the wildest bacchanalian orgies that were excessive and vicious." This temple also served as a bank (may have been the first bank) which was run by the temple priests, and it was an art gallery with an extensive collection.
The gospel brought many changes to Ephesus. It had been the center for the study of arts & magic, but became the center for missionary operations throughout the province of Asia. Out of Ephesus many other churches had been founded and in John's day it was a large strong church. Acts 19:19 records an incident in which the magic scrolls, valued at 50,000 drachma's (1 drachma = 1 day's wage), were burned out of a fear of the Lord. 4 Great Pillars were placed at the entrance to the harbor, each bearing a cross, with 1 each being dedicated to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Pagan temples were turned into churches.
The Letter to Ephesus: read Revelation 2:1-7
Name of the city: Ephesus, meaning Desired One or Darling
Title of Christ: He that holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands. Jesus title is a reminder to them of His position and power, that He is the one who is in control, He is the one who is dwelling in the midst of the churches.
Commendation: Jesus knows of their works & perseverance - they were strongly focused upon and insistent upon doctrinal purity. They weeded out heresy & clung to sound doctrine, and "hated the practices of the Nicolaitans".
Who are the Nicolaitans? We have no way of knowing for sure, but here are a couple possibilities that are widely acknowledged:
- A Gnostic sect - much later a group of Gnostics that rejected John's teachings took this name on themselves (to spite John?). But earlier there was a Gnostic sect (name may have been Nicolaitans) which taught that to understand sin you must first indulge in it. They believed that flesh & spirit were separate to the point that sins of the flesh could not hinder the spirit. This is obviously counter to scripture in so many ways that I don't think I need to discuss this farther.
- Nicolaitans may be a word simply made up from the words "nikao" (overcome - discussed earlier) and "laos" which means "the people". So the Nicolaitans may have been an early incident of clergy attempting to rule over the laity, and in several places in scripture this is discouraged (see John 13:14-16; Matthew 20:24-28).
Concerns: They have forsaken their first love.
The word for "first" in Greek is "protos" which implies a priority, you could think of their "first love" as their "primary directive" - what is our primary directive as believers? read Matthew 22:35-40
The Ephesian church had been warned (by Paul and others) about 35 years before this letter that heresies would try to enter in, and they had taken the warning seriously. However, what seems to have happened is that they've gotten so busy at the business of the King that they've forgotten to give time to the King. When I heard this I had to stop right there and get on my knees and repent because I tend to make this mistake and must guard myself. God prefers Devotion to Doctrine, lets not get these mixed up!! Jesus prefers the actions of a "Mary" to a "Martha" (see Luke 10:38-42).
The Ephesians had discernment but not love, this kind of combination pushes people away and can kill a church. We need discernment, but there must always also be love. It's interesting that it says they had "forsaken" their first love, this is the Greek word "aphiemi" which means "send forth, send away, let go from oneself". We might use the term "wander" in the same manner, indicating that someone is either in active rebellion or in passive rebellion has simply gotten out of habit of following the good ways they once had.
Exhortation: Remember & Repent. Remember the great love we have in God, return to that place of loving adoration.
Closing Statement: "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches"
Promise to the Overcomer: The right to eat from the Tree of Life which is in the paradise of God.
The word paradise here is from a Persian word that means "pleasure garden". For the one who overcomes the Tree of Life, which could no longer be accessed by man in the Garden of Eden after the fall is now available again to man in God's pleasure garden.
How is your life like the life of the church of Ephesus? Are you diligent concerning doctrine? What do you do when faced with heretical teaching? How's your devotional life? Are you making it a priority to keep your "first love" strong & lively?
How is our church like the church of Ephesus? Is our church based upon and standing up for sound doctrine? How does our church deal with heretical teaching? Does our church encourage times of devotion (prayer / meditation)? Is our church as a whole making it a priority to demonstrate and grow in love?
Prayer: God, how easy it is to get so busy doing that we forget to stop and simply spend time your presence. Help us Lord to be a people and a church of listening ears, a people and a church that are marked by Love while clinging to sound doctrine, help us to be a people and a church that are overcomers - receiving as many of your blessings as possible.