Commentary on Revelation — (2:1-7) – [Ephesus]

 

Scripture quotations are from the 1901 American Standard Version unless otherwise noted.

 

About Ephesus

Ephesus was on the coast of Ionia, one mile northeast of the present-day town of Selcuk in the Izmir Province of Turkey. Ephesus was uninhabited by the 15th century.

If you want to learn more about the history of the city of Ephesus and the other six cities, there are many online resources available. Wikipedia is a good place to start. I also recommend Bible commentaries, such as found on studylight.org.

Ephesus is first mentioned in the Bible in Acts 18:19. Paul first visited Ephesus with Priscilla and Aquila. After a short time, while leaving them there, he himself went to Caesarea and Antioch, and then from place to place in the area of Galatia and Phrygia, “strengthening all the disciples.” (Acts 18:22,23)

While Paul was away, Priscilla and Aquila ran across a man named Apollos, who was from Alexandria, and had come to Ephesus. “He was an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures.”

Though Apollos was a bold preacher, his knowledge and understanding about the things of God was limited to the baptism of John. After hearing him preach, Priscilla and Aquila took him under their wing and instructed him about Christ. From that point on he preached Christ, using the Scriptures of the Old Testament.

When Paul returned to Ephesus, he ran across a group of men who had been taught the baptism of John, perhaps by Apollos, and so he preached Jesus to them. Paul did for them what Priscilla and Aquila did for Apollos.

These disciples of John the Baptist believed, were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus, and received the Holy Spirit. (Acts 19:1-7)

After this Paul preached in the synagogue of Ephesus for three months, proclaiming the Kingdom of God. (Acts 19:8)

After some rejected Paul’s message, and speaking evil about it, he left with the disciples who were with him at the time, and preached for two years in the Hall of Tyrannus. As a result, “all who lived in Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks. (Acts 19:9,10)

During this time, God was performing amazing miracles by the hands of Paul. (Acts 19:11,12)

Along with the miracles, something occurred that got the attention of all the residents of Ephesus. Seven sons of a Jewish high priest, named Sceva, tried to cast out demons in the name of the Lord Jesus. But recognizing only Jesus, and Paul His servant, the evil spirit attacked them, and they ran away naked and injured. That event helped confirm both the authority that Paul had in Christ, and the message that he preached. Such great fear fell upon the people, that it resulted in the salvation of many. So convinced of the truth, many who believed and practiced magic, burned their books of magic in the sight of all. All this brought great glory to the name of Christ, and the word of the Lord advanced in great power. (Acts 19:13-20)

Ephesus was the temple keeper of Artemis, an Ephesian goddess, and many craftsmen made their money from making and selling miniature statues of this god. The preaching of Paul threatened their thriving business, because his message was about worshipping the true and living God, who created all things, which was obviously in opposition to man-made idols.

Demetrius, a silversmith, who also brought a lot of business to other craftsmen, realizing they could lose their source of wealth because of the preaching of Paul, gathered them all together to discuss the situation. In the midst of the meeting, their emotions erupted, and they created such a stir that the whole city was in confusion. They rushed into the theater, dragging Gaius and Aristarchus with them — who were traveling companions of Paul.

So great was the confusion at this point, that most of them didn’t even know why they were there. When a man named Alexander stood up to make some sort of defense, the crowd recognized him as a Jew, and this began a two hour chant of “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!”

The town clerk was finally able to calm everyone down, and exhorted them not to do anything rash, but for Demetrius and the other craftsmen to resolve this issue in the court of law. (Acts 19:23-41)

On his way to Jerusalem, to be there on the Day of Pentecost, Paul stopped in Miletus. While there, he sent for the elders of the church in Ephesus. He reminded them of his service to the Lord, and how he had withheld nothing that was beneficial to them regarding the Word of God, teaching and proclaiming faith in Christ.

He also told them that the Holy Spirit had revealed to him that afflictions and imprisonment awaited him, but regarded it as nothing, so that he may finish what the Lord Jesus had called him to do. He told them that they would see him no more, which brought sorrow and much weeping.

Paul charged the elders to take care of themselves and their flock, reminding them that they had been appointed overseers by the Holy Spirit. He warned them about “fierce wolves” that would come in after his departure, teaching things that would lead many astray.

After Paul had spoken and charged the elders, they prayed together and said their farewells. (Acts 20:17-38)

In his first letter to Timothy, Paul reminded him how he had urged him to stay in Ephesus in order to confront those who were teaching false doctrine. This falls right in line with the concerns and warnings that Paul gave to the elders of this church before he departed from them. Now he is reaffirming his concerns to Timothy, and encouraging him to be faithful and to stand for the truth that he had been taught. (1 Tim 1:1-4)

 

Outline

Positive:
– Known for their works, labor, and patient endurance.
– They’re intolerant of evil.
– They test those who claim to be apostles, but aren’t.
– They endure many things for the name of Christ.
– They haven’t become weary in their endurance.
– They hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans.

Negative:
They left their first love.

Charge:
– They’re to remember from where they have fallen.
– They’re to repent and do the works they did in the beginning.

Warning:
If they don’t repent, Jesus will come and remove their candlestick from its place.

Promise:
The one who overcomes will be granted to eat from the tree of life that’s in the Paradise of God.

 

Revelation 2:1-7(Ephesus)

(Rev 2:1) – 1 To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, he that walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks:

 

“To the angel”

Chief Leader (Elder/Pastor/Overseer)

 

Church leaders are given the responsibility to oversee the spiritual welfare of God’s people. Thus Jesus addresses them directly. They have a very high calling from God, and it’s important that they understand the seriousness of this calling and what the Lord requires of them. He holds them responsible to teach His Word faithfully and with a degree of fear and trembling, realizing who it is they’re speaking for and representing (1 Pe 4:11).

Church leaders must understand the character they’re to exhibit before His people. They must be true examples of Christ-likeness before those they minister to. They must understand the single-mindedness they’re to have in carrying out their calling. They’re not to allow the things of the world to distract them from the purpose God has ordained them for.

It’s important that pastors don’t allow the culture of the world to provide the pattern for their lives or for their ministries. We see a lot of that in today’s churches, and they must guard against it with their eyes firmly fixed on Christ and on the pattern that He has provided.

 

“These things saith he”

 

The words that follow aren’t the words of mere man, but the words of Christ the Lord. Thus we need to pay attention to what He is about to say.

 

“he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand”

 

The “seven stars” are the seven pastors, each one representing their respective churches. Note that Jesus “holds” each pastor in “His right hand.” This signifies the direct authority that Jesus has over each church leader. They’re directly accountable to Him. That should be a very sobering thought for every pastor. It also gives us the idea that He has their life in His hand, giving us the idea that He can remove a pastor anytime He sees fit……even to the point of removing them from this life, if necessary.

 

“seven golden candlesticks”

 

These are the seven churches, each candlestick representing a church.

Notice that Jesus describes these candlesticks as “golden.” In the Bible, and in virtually all cultures of the world, gold is always recognized for its high value. Thus this pictures the high value and importance that Jesus places on the local church.

The picture we see of Jesus walking in the midst of the churches, signifies His authority (as Head of the Church) over each local church. He’s not only the authority, but also the object of our worship and the very reason we even exist as the Church universal. Jesus is central in all aspects of ministry.

 

(Rev 2:2) – 2 I know thy works, and thy toil and patience, and that thou canst not bear evil men, and didst try them that call themselves apostles, and they are not, and didst find them false;

 

“I know”

Reveals His Deity.

 

Jesus sees all and knows all. Nothing escapes His attention. He is directly involved in all that we do both individually and as a local church. Thus it behooves us to make sure that we’re faithfully carrying out all that Christ has called us to accomplish for His name…..on both levels.

 

“I know thy works, and thy toil and patience”

 

He begins by commending the Ephesian church for their “works, toil and patience.” They were faithful in carrying out the Lord’s work. They toiled with patience – quite likely in the midst of persecution.

Every local assembly has been called to do the work of the Lord. We have been commissioned by Him to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ and to make disciples for Him (Matt 28:16-20). This is not an easy task. It takes diligent labor to do the work of ministry. It takes patience to see things through, especially during those times when we may be seeing little fruit. During those times we must remember that Jesus “walks among us,” that He sees all and is involved in all. We must labor and endure in faith, realizing that Jesus has the oversight of our ministry, that He has a plan and purpose for each church.

 

There’s great reward for those who labor faithfully:

(1 Cor 15:58) – 58 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not vain in the Lord.

 

(Paul says this after talking about the resurrection and what we have to look forward to in eternity).

 

“that thou canst not bear evil men”

 

The Ephesian church recognized evil when they saw it, and didn’t tolerate those who were. We’re all sinners saved by grace, but there’s a level of sin that can’t be tolerated in our assemblies, or we’ll be destroyed from within.

Sin is like a cancer that spreads. Thus as soon as evil is detected in our midst, it must be dealt with speedily. Those who profess Christ but living a sinful lifestyle, must be confronted and exhorted and encouraged to live a holy life unto the Lord. If they repent, wonderful! If they refuse, they must be removed from the assembly.

We’re called to be a bright light in a dark world. There is to be a clear distinction between the people of God and the people of the world. I believe that line of distinction is becoming more and more blurred today, and we can be sure that it hasn’t gone unnoticed by the Lord. He will deal with it.

 

“and didst try them that call themselves apostles, and they are not, and didst find them false”

 

Among the evil men that the Ephesians recognized, were “false apostles.” The most prominent Apostles in the New Testament were the original Twelve (minus Judas). They were hand-picked by the Lord for a special calling, and that was to establish and lead the Church after His ascension:

 

(Eph 2:20) – 20 being built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the chief cornerstone;

 

Jesus taught and trained and prepared these men for a work that was given to no one else (Judas was replaced by Matthias, Acts 1:24-26). They were called to provide not only leadership, but to teach the truth of the New Covenant, which we have in the New Testament Scriptures. Their role was to teach the true Word of God, and to expose false teaching. In establishing the Church, the message of Christ they proclaimed was confirmed by great miracles, validating their apostleship:

 

(2 Cor 12:12) – 12 Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, by signs and wonders and mighty works.

 

(Also Acts 2:42-43; 5:12; 16:4)

 

Of course, the Apostle Paul is to be regarded on the very same level as the Twelve — who along with Peter, became the most prominent of all the Apostles. He wrote many books of the New Testament (Ro 1:1; Gal 1:1). Without his writings we would not have a very good understanding of the Christian faith. The type of apostleship and role that Paul and the Twelve had, died with them. They had a special calling and a special purpose for a special time — never to be seen again.

The gift/office of apostleship is mentioned by Paul in 1 Corinthians 12:28-29. An Apostle was someone who had personally seen Jesus, who was sent by Him and represented Him with full authority. There were others who were also regarded as Apostles, such as Barnabas (Acts 14:14) and “James, the Lord’s brother” (Gal 1:19).

Knowing the requirements and the “signs and wonders and mighty works” that accompany a true Apostle, the Ephesian church was able to identify the false apostles among them, who were claiming to be such. Just because someone says they’re an Apostle, doesn’t mean they are. Again, they must meet the requirements: They must have seen Jesus, chosen and sent by Jesus Himself…..and confirmed by someone who had it confirmed to him by the Lord (Acts 1:21-26; Acts 9:3-17; Acts 26:12-16).

Today there are those who claim to be Apostles. However, unless Jesus appears to them and personally commissions them for a special work, and is confirmed by someone else who had it confirmed to them by Jesus, then we can be sure they are false apostles. I personally believe the gift and calling and use of Apostles ended with the early church Apostles — upon completion of the New Testament Scriptures, and the full establishment of the Church.

There may be a similar application today of what the original Apostles did – such as establishing a network of churches, or establishing a national (or international) ministry – but those who do are not to be regarded as Apostles in the original and sense and purpose of that gift and calling. That died with those who were specifically tasked with establishing the Church, which was fully accomplished by them. Thus the need for Apostles no longer exists. That ship has already sailed.

Those who claim to be Apostles today, must prove it “by signs and wonders and mighty works,” and they must be able to provide irrefutable evidence that Jesus appeared to them…..such evidence and miracles that all may readily recognize and accept. Just because someone says that Jesus appeared to them and called them to be an Apostle, doesn’t mean He did. Nor does it mean that we should automatically accept his claim. They must be thoroughly tested against the biblical account. But again, no one is able to do that, because the Apostles ended with the original Apostles of the early Church.

Therefore, just as the Ephesian church was able to identify the false apostles among them, so are we able today.

 

(Rev 2:3) – 3 and thou hast patience and didst bear for my name’s sake, and hast not grown weary.

 

“patience”

Means to persevere, to endure.

 

“bear” (Gr. Bastazo – 941)

To put upon one’s self to be carried. To bear what is burdensome. To uphold, sustain.

 

The Ephesian church exhibited “perseverance” in their service to Christ. They had an enduring faith in Christ, and “held up” under trials and opposition in order to glorify His name. They didn’t “grow weary” in fulfilling what God had called them to do as followers of Christ.

 

However:

(Rev 2:4) – 4 But I have this against thee, that thou didst leave thy first love.

 

It appears that the Ephesian Christians were doing all the right things outwardly, but inwardly they had left their “first love.” That is, the fire of their love for Christ had grown cold. They were merely going through the motions of serving Jesus. Instead of serving in love, they were serving out of duty.

What happened to the Ephesian church is something that often happens to us today. We start out in our new-found relationship with Christ excited about our salvation and excited about the new purpose we have in life. We have strong feelings of love for the One who loved us so much that He died for us. As with any new love in our lives, it’s a brand new experience with feelings and emotions running high.

However, as with any other relationship, after a while the newness wears off, and unless we continually nurture our relationship with Jesus, love will tend to wane. To keep love for the Lord glowing, we need to make it a priority to spend quality time with Him each and every day. We do that through prayer and God’s Word, and through service. When we do this faithfully, the Lord speaks to us and reveals Himself to us (Jn 14:21). We sense His love and comforting presence. There’s true communion going on between us.

This is the kind of walk with Christ that keeps our heart warm. Instead of serving out of duty, we serve out of a genuine and heart-felt love for Him. Relationships are always easier when our hearts remain warm towards each other. It’s when our hearts grow cold that we end up merely going through the motions. This is where the Ephesian Christians had found themselves.

Above all things, we must make our personal walk with the Lord the highest of all priorities. Service to Christ is important, but it must flow out of an intimate relationship with Him. Relationship must come before service.

 

(Rev 2:5) – 5 Remember therefore whence thou art fallen, and repent and do the first works; or else I come to thee, and will move thy candlestick out of its place, except thou repent.

 

Remember therefore whence thou art fallen”

 

We must keep in mind that it’s the whole assembly that Jesus is addressing, but our faithfulness or the lack thereof, begins with individuals.

When we slide in our obedience to the Lord, when we’re no longer walking with Him as we once did, it’s important to “remember from where we have fallen.” We can’t “repent” (change of heart and direction) if we don’t know where we got off course. No matter where we get off course, the root of all disobedience is a lack of “love” for Christ. Love inspires faithfulness.

Furthermore, a lack of love also indicates a lack of faith. Love and faith go hand in hand. When our faith wanes, so does our love. I believe that’s where it begins, with a weakening of our faith. True faith is what leads us to pursue Christ and a close walk with Him. To walk with Christ is to love Him. We can’t walk with Jesus and not experience His love.

Therefore, the first thing we have to do is consider where our faith is, and to be honest about it — because true faith follows what it believes to be true about Christ and our relationship with Him. If we truly believe, then it will completely change our lives. We will sincerely seek to know better the One we say we believe in. We will sincerely seek to be obedient to the One who sought us in salvation (Lu 19:10).

 

“repent and do the first works”

 

Accordingly, in order to get our lives back on track, in order to regain our “first love, we must “remember” what it was like in the beginning of our new-found relationship with Jesus, and then seek to rekindle the fires of our love for Him. In other words, we must “repent” of our lack of faith and lovelessness, and begin reestablishing a true walk with Him again. That comes through regular prayer and time in God’s Word — reading, meditating, studying.

Once we’ve repented and we’re now pursuing Christ with a renewed passion, then we will be able to “do the first works.” That is, we’ll be able to serve Jesus not as one merely going through the motions out of duty, but out of a heart-felt love…..out of a walk with the Lord that is genuine.

 

“or else I come to thee, and will move thy candlestick out of its place, except thou repent”

 

Jesus tells the Ephesian church that if they don’t “repent” of their lack of love – which involves faith – then He would “come” and “move their candlestick out if its place.”

To understand what Jesus is talking about, we must first consider the symbolism of a “candlestick,” or “lampstand.” A candlestick represents light. As followers of Christ, as a local body of believers, we’re to be a glowing light in our community. We live in a dark world, and so our lives and the ministries of our churches must shine brightly, exposing the darkness around us.

Our lives and our church ministries must not seek to blend with the world, but to provide a sharp contrast to the world, exposing it for what it is with the light of Christ shining through us. The only way for the light of Christ to shine through us is through a genuine and intimate relationship with Christ.

The fact that the Ephesian church were busy doing the works of the Lord out of a lack of true love for Him, indicates that the works themselves were not in harmony with the will of God. They needed to return to doing “the first works.” Though they were busy, as many churches are today, the way they went about doing ministry was not according to true separation unto Christ.

Today we see the same thing. We see many churches today that are not truly separated unto Christ, but are seeking to pattern their ministries according to the world’s standards. That’s not an expression of true love for the Lord Jesus Christ, but instead, is an expression of love for the things of the world.

Jesus told the Ephesian church that if they didn’t repent (turn away from) of the charge against them, He was going to “come and remove their candlestick.” What does He mean by that? If a church is doing what it’s been ordained to do, then they’re in their place shining the light and truth of Christ faithfully. They’re serving the purpose they’ve been called to, and making an eternal difference in the lives of those around them.

However, if they’re not, then I believe Jesus will do one of two things: He will either step away from His involvement and allow them to simply die on the vine (Jn 15:6), or He will literally come against them in some sort of judgment or discipline. Whatever that may be, the result would be the same as the first way: they will eventually either cease to exist, or they will become a dead church that is simply there, no longer bearing true fruit for Christ. In other words, the hand of the Lord is no longer upon them, but against them.

We have many churches today that are busy doing “the work of the Lord,” but present a shallow gospel message, teach shallow messages, and use worldly means to carry out ministry. Such an approach produces the wrong kind of results or fruit. It inevitably leads to false conversions and shallow Christians. They’re producing Christians that are biblically illiterate and spiritually immature.

However, in such an assembly, there will normally be Christians who are, nevertheless, growing into mature Christians, but not because of their church, but in spite of it. They’re pursuing Christ with a sincere love and devotion to Him. They’re spending regular time with the Lord in prayer and in His Word learning it…..doing what their church is not doing for them.

The leaders and the members of a church are to be in harmony with one another — both seeking to fulfill the will of God through expository Bible teaching/learning, faithfulness in prayer, and in separation from the ways of the world.

I need to point out that while Jesus is directing His warning to the local church as a whole, He’s also directing His warning to individual Christians, because as I already mentioned, it begins with the individual. Hence, Christians who are not walking with Christ in a relationship that is truly alive and growing, must beware. If we’re living in sin or just going through the motions of Christianity, then I believe we can expect discipline of some sort to get us back on track (He 12:5-11).

 

(Rev 2:6) – 6 But this thou hast, that thou hatest the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.

 

“the Nicolaitans”

 

I read a lot of commentaries about the Nicolaitans, and there are various opinions about who they were, what they taught, and what their “works” consisted of. Albert Barnes provides the most thorough explanation of all of the commentaries I read. Here’s his explanation in full:

 

Barnes Notes:

Quote:

That thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitans – Greek, “works” ( τὰ ἔργα ta erga). The word “Nicolaitanes” occurs only in this place, and in the Revelation 2:15 verse of this chapter. From the reference in the latter place it is clear that the doctrines which they held prevailed at Pergamos as well as at Ephesus; but from neither place can anything now be inferred in regard to the nature of their doctrines or their practices, unless it be supposed that they held the same doctrine that was taught by Balaam. See the notes on Revelation 2:15. From the two passages, compared with each other, it would seem that they were alike corrupt in doctrine and in practice, for in the passage before us their deeds are mentioned, and in Revelation 2:15 their doctrine. Various conjectures, however, have been formed respecting this class of people, and the reasons why the name was given to them:

I. In regard to the origin of the name, there have been three opinions:

(1) That mentioned by Irenaeus, and by some of the other fathers, that the name was derived from Nicolas, one of the deacons ordained at Antioch, Acts 6:5. Of those who have held this opinion, some have supposed that it was given to them because he became apostate and was the founder of the sect, and others because they assumed his name, in order to give the greater credit to their doctrine. But neither of these suppositions rests on any certain evidence, and beth are destitute of probability. There is no proof whatever that Nicolas the deacon ever apostatized from the faith, and became the founder of a sect; and if a name had been assumed, in order to give credit to a sect and extend its influence, it is much more probable that the name of an apostle would have been chosen, or of some other prominent man, than the name of an obscure deacon of Antioch.

(2) Vitringa, and most commentators since his time, have supposed that the name Nicolaitanes was intended to be symbolical, and was not designed to designate any sect of people, but to denote those who resembled Balaam, and that this word is used in the same manner as the word “Jezebel” in Revelation 2:20, which is supposed to be symbolical there. Vitringa supposes that the word is derived from νίκοςnikos“victory,” and λαός laos“people,” and that thus it corresponds with the name Balaam, as meaning either בּצל צם bàal ̀am“lord of the people,” or בּלץ צם baalà ̀am“he destroyed the people”; and that, as the same effect was produced by their doctrines as by those of Balaam, that the people were led to commit fornication and to join in idolatrous worship, they might be called “Balaamites” or “Nicolaitanes,” that is, corrupters of the people. But to this it may be replied:

(a)that it is far-fetched, and is adopted only to remove a difficulty;

(b)that there is every reason to suppose that the word used here refers to a class of people who bore that name, and who were well known in the two churches specified;

(c)that in Revelation 2:15 they are expressly distinguished from those who held the doctrine of Balaam,Revelation 2:14, “So hast thou also ( καὶ kai) those that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes.”

(3) it has been supposed that some person now unknown, probably of the name Nicolas, or Nicolaus, was their leader, and laid the foundation of the sect. This is by far the most probable opinion, and to this there can be no objection. It is in accordance with what usually occurs in regard to sects, orthodox or heretical, that they derive their origin from some person whose name they continue to bear; and as there is no evidence that this sect prevailed extensively, or was indeed known beyond the limits of these churches, and as it soon disappeared, it is easily accounted for that the character and history of the founder were so soon forgotten.

II. In regard to the opinions which they held, there is as little certainty. Irenaeus (Adv. Haeres. i., 26) says that their characteristic tenets were the lawfulness of promiscuous sexual intercourse with women, and of eating things offered to idols. Eusebius (Hist. Eccl. iii., 29) states substantially the same thing, and refers to a tradition respecting Nicolaus, that he had a beautiful wife, and was jealous of her, and being reproached with this, renounced all intercourse with her, and made use of an expression which was misunderstood, as implying that illicit pleasure was proper. Tertullian speaks of the Nicolaitanes as a branch of the Gnostic family, and as, in his time, extinct. Mosheim (De Rebus Christian Ante. Con. section 69) says that “the questions about the Nicolaitanes have difficulties which cannot be solved.” Neander (History of the Christian Religion, as translated by Torrey, vol. i, pp. 452,453) numbers them with Antinomians; though he expresses some doubt whether the actual existence of such a sect can be proved, and rather inclines to an opinion noticed above, that the name is symbolical, and that it is used in a mystical sense, according to the usual style of the Book of Revelation, to denote corrupters or seducers of the people, like Balaam. He supposes that the passage relates simply to a class of persons who were in the practice of seducing Christians to participate in the sacrificial feasts of the pagans, and in the excesses which attended them – just as the Jews were led astray of old by the Moabites, Numbers 25.

What was the origin of the name, however, Neander does not profess to be able to determine, but suggests that it was the custom of such sects to attach themselves to some celebrated name of antiquity, in the choice of which they were often determined by circumstances quite accidental. He supposes also that the sect may have possessed a life of Nicolas of Antioch, drawn up by themselves or others from fabulous accounts and traditions, in which what had been imputed to Nicolas was embodied. Everything, however, in regard to the origin of this sect, and the reason of the name given to it, and the opinions which they held, is involved in great obscurity, and there is no hope of throwing light on the subject. It is generally agreed, among the writers of antiquity who have mentioned them, that they were distinguished for holding opinions which countenanced gross social indulgences. This is all that is really necessary to be known in regard to the passage before us, for this will explain the strong language of aversion and condemnation used by the Saviour respecting the sect in the epistles to the Churches of Ephesus and Pergamos.

Which I also hate – If the view above taken of the opinions and practices of this people is correct, the reasons why he hated them are obvious. Nothing can be more opposed to the personal character of the Saviour, or to his religion, than such doctrines and deeds.

Unquote

 

Here’s what’s important to take away from this: We’re not to allow false teaching to exist in any of our assemblies. As believers, as those who representChrist and the Christian faith, we have the truth because Jesus is the truth (Jn14:6). Thus all false teaching is to be exposed and rejected. This the Ephesian church did, and so should we.

The question is, how are we to determine what false teaching is? How are we to ensure purity of doctrine in our churches?

This goes back to what I was saying before. Every overseer of every local assembly is to be faithfully teaching the Word of God in an expository manner. Meaning, verse by verse, book by book. In order to do that, he has to be a diligent student of God’s Word. Much study and effort goes into correctly interpreting the Bible. Laziness and weak effort and shallow messages have no place in the life of, or in the ministry of, Christ’s shepherds.

The ability to teach God’s Word correctly (2 Ti 2:15) takes many years of diligent study. That’s one reason why it’s so important that churches don’t hire a man who’s only been a Christian for a few years (1 Ti 3:1-7), who has only a few years of study under his belt. Wise are the people of any church who hires someone with a lot of years of faithful study, and who is fully committed to expository teaching.

I think a lot of pastors today are fearful of teaching the Bible verse by verse. I believe there are three main reasons for that:

 

One, they know that in doing so, they will have to teach doctrine, and that course is no easy task. So much time and study involved.

Two, in teaching doctrine, they know they will probably lose people who believe differently.

Three, they don’t believe expository teaching is effective in today’s world — which is of course, a lie.

 

Teaching the Bible, teaching doctrine, is not something to be feared or neglected…..because truth will always hold up when it can be explained in a systematic and thorough and harmonious manner. If people still don’t agree and leave the church, then so be it. Pastors are called to teach the truth regardless of what others think about it or how they respond.

The duty of the God’s shepherds is to teach God’s Word faithfully and to leave the results to Him. Shepherds are to oversee the spiritual welfare of God’s people, and they can’t do that apart from expository teaching. Topical teaching has its place, but it’s no substitute for in-depth teaching. The only way for us to grow into well-rounded, spiritually mature followers of Christ is through verse by verse learning.

 

(Rev 2:7) – 7 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches. To him that overcometh, to him will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the Paradise of God.

 

“He that hath an ear, let him hear”

 

This is both a warning and an encouragement to pay special attention to what Jesus is saying.

Jesus ends His address to each of the seven churches with this phrase. It’s in the context of a promise to those who “overcome. This refers to an eternal reward or eternal blessing to those who demonstrate true faith in Christ through what they overcome.

This was an expression that Jesus employed during His ministry (Matt 11:15; 13:19,43; Mark 4:9,23; 7:16; Luke 8:8; 14:35). We also see it in Rev 13:9.

I think it’s important to consider the context in which Jesus used this expression in the Gospels:

 

Matthew 11:15: Kingdom of Heaven; coming of Elijah.

Matthew 13:9: Parable of the sower – which is about true faith and overcoming in true faith (Kingdom of Heaven, Word of the Kingdom).

Matthew 13:43: Kingdom of Heaven, The Kingdom, Kingdom of their Father. end of the age, harvest, judgment.

Mark 4:9,23: Parable of the sower (Kingdom of God).

Mark 7:16: (Not in early manuscripts)

Luke 8:8: Parable of the sower (Kingdom of God)

Luke 14:35: “cast it out” (judgment)

Revelation 13:9: Mention of Heaven and the book of life of the Lamb, persecution of the Saints.

 

I encourage you to read the above references within their total contexts.

If we take a careful look at the times Jesus used this expression in the Gospels, it was in the context of the following: the Kingdom of God (the general term); judgment; true faith and overcoming in true faith; persecution; end of the age and the harvest.

I believe that’s significant because Jesus uses this expression within the same context in the book of Revelation, particularly as He’s addressing the seven churches.

So why is this so significant? In using this expression with the seven churches, I think it’s reasonable that Jesus was alluding to those times He used it during His ministry. Therefore, if He was in fact alluding to those times (keeping their contexts in mind), then I believe it provides a strong hint that the Church (“seven churches”) will go through the tribulation that’s described in this book. I can’t be dogmatic about it, but I believe it’s a fair argument.

 

“what the Spirit saith to the churches”

 

The Bible is God’s written Word, as given by the Holy Spirit (2 Ti 3:16; 2 Pe 1:20-21). That of course includes this book as revealed to the Apostle John. The address to the “churches” is to both the seven churches, and to the Church universal throughout the Church age. In other words, to each and every Christian until the return of Christ.

As Christians we’ve been given spiritual ears to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit. That comes through regeneration (new birth). Apart from regeneration, people cannot understand spiritual truth (1 Cor 2:9-16). The Holy Spirit opens our spiritual eyes in order to draw us to salvation in Christ (John 12:32; 6:44; 16:7-11), and continues throughout our lives. Thus the Holy Spirit will use this address and this book to speak to those without Christ, as well — in order to draw them to the cross, allowing them to experience all the eternal blessings that are revealed in this book.

 

“To him that overcometh,

 

Jesus says this to each of the seven churches. It’s meant to be an encouragement to all Christians to endure in both faith and faithfulness (in this case, including a loveless heart), because faithfulness is the outward fruit of inward faith. We’re to endure no matter what we may have to go through for the name of Christ….

….because there’s an eternal reward that awaits us:

 

“to him will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the Paradise of God”

 

The first occurrence of the “tree of life” is in chapters 2 and 3 of Genesis. After sin was committed (the fall of mankind), if anyone had eaten of this tree, they would have lived forever (Ge 3:22). Therefore God drove man out of the Garden of Eden and assigned an angel and a flaming sword to block the way to this tree (Ge 3:22-24).

Thus the mention of the tree of life in Revelation alludes to the tree of life in the book of Genesis. Both trees represent life. The Genesis-tree provided eternal life in this world, while the tree in Revelation provides eternal life in the “Paradise of God” (Heaven/Eternal Kingdom, Rev 22:2,14,19).

The question before us is, is the “tree of life” in Revelation to be taken as a literal tree or symbolic of a tree? While we can say for certain that the tree of life in Genesis was a literal tree that was rooted in the Garden of Eden, I believe the tree of life in “the Paradise of God” is symbolic.

I believe the book of Revelation presents a symbolic picture of a tree that represents our salvation in Christ. This is a picture of a tree that continuously produces the fruit of eternal life (Rev 22:2), representing our eternal security in Christ.

That this tree of life is merely symbolic and not literal is based on two things:

 

One, the book of Revelation is full of symbolism. It describes many things in a manner that couldn’t possibly be taken as literal. Accordingly, it would be inconsistent not to consider that this tree too is being spoken of as symbolic.

Two, we have other references in the Bible that speak of a tree of life, which are clearly symbolic — all of which, are in the book of Proverbs:

 

Proverbs 3:18 – wisdom

Proverbs 11:30 – fruit of righteousness

Proverbs 13:12 – fulfilled desire

Proverbs 15:4 – a gentle tongue

 

In none of these cases are we to regard the references to a “tree of life” as a literal tree, but only of something that symbolizes (speaks of) the kind of life that these such named things bring to a person.

Therefore, I believe it’s reasonable that Jesus is not referring to a literal tree that is planted in Paradise, but only as something that represents our eternal salvation in Him. Thus using the examples in Proverbs, I believe we can understand what Jesus means by the following wording:

 

Faith in Christ is a tree of life to those who have it.

Or

The fruit of faith is a tree of life to those who have it.

 

In summary, when Jesus says “to him will I give to eat of the tree of life,” I believe He’s simply referring to the assurance of everlasting life that the fruit of faith (“him that overcomes”) provides. Thus the tree of life is symbolic of a tree that continuously produces the fruit of eternal life for the one who “overcomes” in faith. True faith in Christ will endure.

Life without end is our eternal reward for an enduring faith, a faith that overcomes — especially in the midst of severe persecution, as this book highlights.

 

Finally, I think it’s interesting that the Bible opens and closes the same way:

 

Genesis: Tree of life (ch 2-3)

Revelation: Tree of life (ch 22)

Genesis: Garden of Eden (ch 2-3)

Revelation: Paradise of God (Heaven/Eternal Kingdom – ch 21 & 22)

 

The Garden of Eden was created in beauty and order, untainted by sin. It pictured the perfect and eternal Paradise of God (Rev 21 & 22). Each place with a tree representing life. Thus the Bible begins and ends with a place without sin, where there is life and perfect fellowship with God.