In this article, we will discuss the book of Revelation 2:1-7 as it relates to the Ephesian church age. This article is a series of articles that shows that the letters of Christ to the church also reveal seven church ages. The purpose and application of these seven letters written by Christ are important. Primarily, these letters were written so that the following groups could read and apply them to their lives.
- The Seven churches that existed when this letter was written.
- The Seven types of Churches that exist today.
- The Seven types of Churches that existed all through church history.
- The Seven characteristics that can exist in any Church or Christian.
Secondarily, they can be viewed from a prophetic standpoint
- The Seven Church Ages.
In other words, we are going to see how these seven churches represent seven different church ages. As we begin our study of the Ephesian church age you will see how accurately it lines up with church history. All the letters to the churches accurately reveal seven church ages. Here is the key to understanding this. We must take these seven church ages and see them as something that does not have specific dates to begin and end. Obviously, there is overlap, and one cannot be rigid in our defining when one church age starts and the other begins. But we will see certain characteristics that are powerful enough to prove to you that God’s word has tremendous depth to it.
To understand the Ephesian church age we must first look at Bible history.
UNDERSTANDING THE HISTORY OF THE CHURCH AT EPHESUS
Revelation 2:1 “To the angel[a] of the church in Ephesus write:” I want us to remember not to get too caught up in who this is addressed to. The angel could refer to pastors who are called and sent by God to care for and instruct the churches to which this letter applies. Or it could refer to angelic beings who minister for God among the churches in moving this to be properly cared for and applied.
Now Ephesus was an actual city in Asia Minor. And the word Ephesus means “Desired One” I think that is significant because the Ephesian church age is one of the most desirable of all the church ages.
Now we do know quite a bit about the founding of this church. It was founded by the Apostle Paul at the end of his second missionary journey. Acts 18:19-21 “And he came to Ephesus, and left them there; but he himself entered the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews. 20 When they asked him to stay a longer time with them, he did not consent, 21 but took leave of them, saying, “I must by all means keep this coming feast in Jerusalem; but I will return again to you, God willing.” And he sailed from Ephesus.” This was kind of a small beginning of the church in Ephesus. In Acts 19 Paul returned to Ephesus. He found some men who were disciples and Paul asked them, “Have you received the Holy Spirit since you believed?” They said that they did not even know that there was a Holy Spirit. And so that day Paul laid his hands upon them and they received the baptism in the Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues and were baptized in water. These men obviously were part of that church that was in Ephesus. Paul stayed there for a while in order to establish a strong church. Ephesians 19:8-10 tell us a little more about this church. “And he went into the synagogue and spoke boldly for three months, reasoning and persuading concerning the things of the kingdom of God. 9 But when some were hardened and did not believe, but spoke evil of the Way before the multitude, he departed from them and withdrew the disciples, reasoning daily in the school of Tyrannus. 10 And this continued for two years, so that all who dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks.” Paul really laid a solid foundation there in Ephesus. Two solid years. It is believed that this was one of the finest and largest churches in NT times.
We know they must have had great influence because the influence of Christians caused a riot in the city when so many had turned to Christ that it affected a false God in the city. Ephesus was a wicked city. It was given over to the worship of Artemis. Artemis was a female fertility type of God, and during great festivals thousands would come. There was a lot of temple prostitution that was involved. It was a very sensual thing. I have two images that you can look at. There is a current model of what Artemis temple would have looked like and then you can also see the current day ruins of that temple. Not many participate and worship Artemis today.
Mode of Artemis temple (By Zee Prime at cs.wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6347027)
ruins of Artemis temple (By FDV – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=65764603)
CHARACTERISTICS OF THE EPHESIAN CHURCH AGE:
THE EPHESIAN CHURCH WAS A CHURCH HAD KNOWN WHAT IT WAS TO WALK WITH JESUS
Revelation 2:1 “These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands: This is a powerful image. Jesus is holding those churches referred to as stars in his right hand and walking among them. I do not want to have church or be a church without the presence of Jesus. If his presence is there, his power is there. There is something that you need to know and that is that in every letter to every church there is always a reference back to the vision of Christ among the candlesticks. In this church age, it seems to be a time when Jesus walked with his church in power. The very fact that there are churches in Asia during this time period is a testament to this. This church age walked with Christ.
THE EPHESIAN CHURCH WAS A WORKING CHURCH
Revelation 2:2 “I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance” We have to realize that in any church age we are not saved by our works, but by grace. Works don’t save a person, however that being said, all of us are expected to have works in our lives. This letter shows that Jesus really looks at our works, what you do for Christ really matters. He is watching. He knows if we minister and are active, or we prefer to just sit on the couch and let someone else do it.
This church age of the Early Church the Apostolic church was characterized by fervent evangelism. If we were to put dates on this age we would say that it covers the period of time from the day of Pentecost to about A.D. 100. This was an evangelistic type of church age. Obviously, the church in Ephesus itself was evangelizing because they got so many people saved that the silversmiths who were selling their goods made in the image of Artemis were losing business.
The church in Ephesus was a hard working evangelistic church as was the entire church during that period of time. It is Interesting to note that the church during the first century was largely Jewish. While apostasy and indifference mark the church under the leadership of Gentiles. When Jews who were believers had the reigns of leadership the church was evangelistic. Even with modern communication, tv, internet, we have not been able to successfully evangelize our world as there are still billions in our world who do not know of Jesus. The good news is that the entire world will again be evangelized with the 144,000 sealed Jewish witnesses. We will see that later on as we progress in our study.
These verses show the extent of evangelization during that period.
- Romans 10:18 “But I say, have they not heard? Yes indeed: “Their sound has gone out to all the earth, And their words to the ends of the world.”
- Colossians 1:6 “All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God’s grace in all its truth.”
- Colossians 1:23 “This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.”
THE EPHESIAN CHURCH WAS A PURE CHURCH
Revelation 2:3 “I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false.” This is the only letter of all of these seven churches where there is a reference given to apostles. That leads me to believe that this shows us that these also represent church ages, because the apostles would have passed away. So only in the first church age are there apostles.
A true church is in the world but not of the world. The Greek word for church itself is the word “ecclesia” which means “called out ones.” We are called out of the world. How a church deals with “wicked men” is important! The early church listened to the instructions of those in its leadership who told them not to associate or hang out with those who claimed to be Christians but did not live like they should. Church discipline was enacted for people who wanted to compromise their faith.
Now we know that the church exists for people to come to salvation. Sure, but this is talking about people who have been in the church a long time and still are wicked. There is a point when people need to be challenged in their faith and walk. We cannot compromise the purity of the church for money or prestige.
And then, we are to test those who are in ministry. We have an enemy that will try to sow all kinds of false teachings in the church. That was true in the Apostolic church age and its true today. There were false apostles who were teaching all kinds of things contrary to scripture in this age. It would have been much more of a challenge to decipher who was false and who was real. Think about it, they had no written Bible.
Today we test ministers according to if they preach the Word of God. You should have your bible out and read it and understand it so that you know if your pastor is teaching you truth or not. But that age had false apostles, and they tested them and found them false.
What are the signs of a true apostolic ministry? The first thing is that an apostle is sent. Sent by God almighty. They also have a signs and wonder ministry. Paul was an apostle and even in Ephesus special miracles were done. Healings took place. And the last sign is that churches are being raised up underneath the true apostle.
THE EPHESIAN CHURCH WAS A PERSEVERING CHURCH
Revelation 2:3 “You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.” Jesus commends those who persevere in their faith. Life itself gives us hardships to endure. When you are on the front lines preaching the gospel, there will be other hardships. It is sad how many quit! It is sad how many stop serving God, leave the church and just live a little secular life, just because things got touch. We need to endure hardships with a good attitude and a good heart. Not growing weary in well doing. And Jesus sees what we overcome.
THE EPHESIAN CHURCH HAD LOST ITS FIRST LOVE
While Jesus commended this church and church age for all the good that they had. Jesus also had a condemnation for this church. This church had lost their first love for God. Revelation 2:4 “Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love.”
To forsake your first love means to lose the spark of enthusiasm and love that accompanies conversion. Do you remember what it was like when you first got saved and how in love with Jesus you were. New converts love God, they have a hunger for the word, but human nature is real, and it is possible to lose your first love for God.
The greatest example of this is in marriage. There is honeymoon type of love that is special and real and it accompanied by emotion and great devotion and the truth is that in many marriages that love erodes and things become routine and people start taking each other for granted. While they may stick with the commitment of marriage, there is something in the relationship that is lost. They have lost their first love. Now it is possible to regain that. Love matures and grows.
Most Christians experience this first love for God and then walk for a time in “forsaking their first love” But the good news is that often hear they hear this passage and they return. I know that I have to take my relationship with God serious. There are times I need to put on the worship music and spend time with God or my love will diminish.
Jesus had this counsel for them. Revelation 2:5 “Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.”
What do you do to return to that first love? You remember the height of your relationship. Go back and think about all that Jesus did for you. Go back and think about how you prayed in the beginning. Go back and remember your feelings then. Remember your love of the word. Remember your passion for going to church.
And then it says to Repent! Repent means that you change the way you think. You change the way you act because of your thinking. Turn back to God.
And then he says Do what you did at first. What did you do at first? Maybe it was that simplicity of being with Jesus sitting at his feet. Maybe it was the bible studies. Maybe it was sharing your faith. Maybe it was worship. Maybe it was living pure. Whatever it was you did at first, do that again.
Tim LaHaye said this: “The children of God who excuse their indulgence and lack of consecration only prove by their conduct that they do not love the Lord Jesus with all their heart, with all their soul, and with all their mind. Christians who are unwilling to yield all their talents and capabilities to Jesus Christ have a love problem; that is, they do not sufficiently love Christ. It is safe to conclude that if our love for Christ Jesus is what it should be, not task is too great, no sacrifice too much for him.” We need that kind of love.
Then this comes with a strong warning! Revelation 2:5 “If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.” Wow! The candlestick or lampstand represents the light. A church that does not love Jesus is going to see the light diminish until it is gone altogether. They no longer are a church but just a social club. Keep your love burning for Jesus.
THE EPHESIAN CHURCH HATED THE SAME THING JESUS HATES
Revelation 2:6 “But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.”
It is a good thing to love the things God loves and to hate the things he hates. What does God hate? He hated the practice of the Nicolaitans. That word Nicolaitans comes from two Greek words:
- Niko- which means to conquer or overthrow and
- Laos- which means the people
The followers of Nicolai held two serious heretical views:
First of all, they practiced spirituality by separating one’s physical and spiritual nature, thus giving themselves license to sin. They practiced all forms of sensuality. Clement of Alexandria says, “They abandoned themselves to pleasure like goats, leading a life of self-indulgence.” Their teaching perverted grace and replaced liberty with license. They saw no problem in sexual immorality. They thought that the law had been done away with and now they could do whatever they wanted. The good thing about this church is that they hated the practice of the Nicolaitans. We will see in the study of another church, the church at Pergamum that they allowed this teaching in, and it caused great grief. Being a believer in Christ, does not give anyone a license to sin. We must live lives that are separated and righteous in God’s eyes.
And then, the second heretical thing that they practices was that they tried to establish an ecclesiastical order: some call them bishops, archbishops, cardinals. Others may call them presidents or superintendents. They tried to overthrow the laity. The laity are the common people of the church.
The people are what is important in Gods eyes. Jesus said, I also hate these practices. It is not that there should not be leadership. But when leaders become power brokers, that is a problem. When human beings get control of the spiritual training of others and have too much power and influence they can easily allow their theological position to sway men and women and dominate them. We have the Holy Spirit who is given to guide us into all truth. If too much power is given to a group of men it is not a good thing. We should live more as brothers and sisters following the Lord than as an organized power top heavy organization.
The history of the church is a continuous cycle of autonomous churches growing into a great convention or denomination where just a few people have power and they often lead them astray into apostasy. And then a splinter group wanting to stay faithful to God and his word breaks away. But then they grow and the same thing happens.
THE EPHESIAN CHURCH NEEDED TO HEAR WHAT THE SPIRIT WAS SAYING
Revelation 2:7 “ He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” This was a favorite saying of Jesus that appears in many of his parables. So this in not new, but basically it refers to Three Groups of people:
Those without ears is not referring to deaf people, but those who do not have spiritual ears. If you are not a believer in Christ or one of his sheep, you cannot hear the still small voice of the Spirit.
- Those who are dull of hearing.
Not all born again Christians are willing to hear. Hebrews 5:11 “We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn.” If you live in rebellion against Christ and really don’t want Him to be the Lord of your your life, this is a dangerous thing to do. And then it refers to…
- Those spiritually minded Christians who are willing to hear what the Spirit is saying.
So that is the big question today. Will you personally hear the message of Jesus to you? Have you left your first love? Are you living with some sense of its okay to sin like the Nicolaitans? Do you hate what Jesus hates? Are you working for Jesus? Are you persevering? James 1:22 “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.”
This letter ends with a great promise. It ends with the promise of eternal life.
Revelation 2:7 “To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.” The tree of life was taken away after mans’ fall in the garden of Eden when mankind ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you overcome you will have the right to eat from the tree of life. Is that a figurative thing? I don’t think so. I think it is a real tree.
Revelation 22:2 “down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.”
How can I be an overcomer? There is only way! That is to believe in Jesus! 1 John 5:4-5 “for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.”