Seven Churches of Revelation
The names of the seven churches of Revelation are symbolic names and represent the church down through the ages from the beginning of the New Testament church, right to the end at the second coming of Christ Jesus, and reveals the condition of the church at different periods in history.
Revelation 1:12-15 ...'And I turned to see the voice that spake with me. And being turned, I saw seven golden candlesticks; And in the midst of the seven candlesticks one like unto the Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle. His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire; And his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and his voice as the sound of many waters.'
Christ Jesus is the one walking amongst the candlesticks (churches), which shows His relationship with His church ... "He is in constant communication with His people. He knows their true state. He observes their order, their piety, their devotion. Although He is high priest and mediator in the sanctuary above, yet He is represented as walking up and down in the midst of His churches on the earth. With untiring wakefulness and unremitting vigilance, He watches to see whether the light of any of His sentinels is burning dim or going out. If the candlesticks were left to mere human care, the flickering flame would languish and die; but He is the true watchman in the Lord's house, the true warden of the temple courts. His continued care and sustaining grace are the source of life and light." (E.G.White, The Acts of The Apostles, p585-586)
This is the first of seven studies on the churches of Revelation chapters 2 and 3, of which there is so much to learn from the Great Teacher Himself, Jesus Christ, who is the instigator of these seven letters to the churches. These letters to the churches are full of warnings, rebukes and commendations, and we need to really heed what Jesus is saying to the seven churches, because as well as having messages for those literal churches, and the church throughout the ages, each message to the churches also applies to us today.
Who are the angels that the letters are written to? Are they literal heavenly beings? No, in Bible prophecy an angel is usually symbolic of God's "messengers". In other words, His people on earth. Now if you think about these letters, is Jesus telling John to write to literal angels? Of course not, John is writing these letters to the people of the churches, and maybe in this instance, the angels refer to the leaders/elders of these particular churches. The first church is the church of Ephesus.
To the Church in Ephesus - Revelation 2:1-7 .....'Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write; These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks; I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars: And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name's sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted. Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love. Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent. But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitanes, which I also hate. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.'
The meaning of the name Ephesus is "Desirable". Now this was the church in the age of apostolic purity and is thought to cover the period of A.D.31 - 100.
Christ commends this church for their works, labour, and patience. Anyone who comes to Christ and truly accepts Him into their lives will be compelled to do good works and labour hard for the Kingdom of God. They will also endure hardships and temptation in this life in order to live pure, holy lives for Christ Jesus. As we can see, Jesus commends this kind of living. Unfortuntely, if you mention works today, you will be labelled as a legalist, and yet Christ commends it. Many Christians today think that their faith alone, without doing any works will save them. God's Word rejects that thinking. Yes, we are saved by grace, which is a free gift, but anyone who claims to be a follower of Christ should be compelled to "take up their cross and follow Jesus". They should be compelled, like the church in Ephesus to work, labour and endure!
James 2:20 ...'But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?'
What else does Christ commend this church for doing? He commends them for exposing any evil amongst them and for exposing anyone that say they are disciples, but their lives show that they are not. Unfortuntely today the churches are prone to "bear" with and put up with false teachings and sinfulness within their midst, just for the sake of peace and "unity". Yet the church at Ephesus was to be commended for making a clear distinction between truth and error, whether in doctrine or in life, and for taking a firm stand against error.
2 Timothy 4:3 ...'For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears.'
Now Jesus commends Ephesus for "trying" (testing) them that say they are apostles, but are not. How do they do this? By diligently investigating any teachings and claims made by these apostles against the true Word of God. Ignatius, writing early in the 2nd century, speaks of the diligence of the Ephesian Christians in shunning heresy (To the Ephesians ix. 1). The apostle Paul had already warned the church that "grevious wolves" would come in "not sparing the flock" and that men from within the church would rise to speak "perverse things to draw away disciples after them" (Acts 20:29-30). Paul also counseled the Thessalonians to "prove all things" and "hold fast that which is good" (1 Thessalonians 5:21). Peter also wrote at length warning about false prophets and false teachers who would bring into the church great heresies. So what must we do today? We must do as the church of Ephesus did, and test them that say they are followers of Christ by their fruit, and test any "teachers" according to the Word of God, and expose any error.
Though at first it might not be easy to recognize the subtle errors of their teachings, the teachers themselves could be known by their fruits (see Matt. 7:15-20). The GENUINE fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22, 23) does not grow in the lives of those who teach and practice error. The sincere Christian who is sensitive to spiritual things is promised that he can, if he will, detect the unchristian spirit and motives that actuate every teacher of error.
The church in Ephesus also hated the deeds of the Nicolaitanes, which Jesus also hates. Now who were the Nicolaitanes and what did they do? The Nicolaitanes were a Gnostic sect who believed that you could continue living in open sin and still be saved. Whereas the Bible teaches that Jesus saves us FROM our sins and renews our hearts and minds through the indwelling of His Spirit to change us and turn us from sin, the Nicolaitanes taught that Jesus saves us IN our sins, and it matters not whether we turn from our sins or not. This is heresy which Jesus hates. Unfortunately, this heresy has flooded the churches today, and we now have churches FULL of unconverted people, continuing to happily and openly live sinful lives in contradiction to God's Ten Commandments, while professing the name of Christ Jesus. This is open rebellion against Christ's teachings and we really need to repent and truly start living the faith we proclaim. Make a stand for the truth!
Christ has one rebuke for this church, in that they had left their first love. Maybe because of the false apostles and prophets that had already come into the church teaching heresies, many of the people had been influenced in some way by these false teachers, which had caused them to fall from their first love. This love probably included wholehearted love for God and for truth, and love for one another as brethren and for their fellow men in general (see Matt. 5:43, 44; 22:34-40). In spite of diligent efforts on the part of many to stay the tide of false teaching, a number who remained in the church were no doubt affected by it. To the extent that error had found a lodging place in the church, and the flame of faith and love for Jesus and for truth and purity, burned ever lower. Now we only need to look around the different denominations today to see that error has certainly found a lodging place amongst them, and the majority of professing Christians are now happy to "put up with" these heresies.
Remember, Jesus isn't just speaking to one group of people here, He is speaking to people down through the ages.
Now what was Christ's response to this problem with the early church? Even though they had the commendations above, the church was defective and in need of stern reproof and chastisement. Christ said that if they didn't repent and return to their first works, then He would remove their candlestick from it's place, which would mean that the church in Ephesus would no longer be Christ's church. Christ is showing that although this church was a pure church in the beginning and still had some good qualities, it was now in a fallen state. But Christ in His mercy patiently provided an opportunity for Ephesus to repent in order to remain as His true representatives on earth. How serious is this? This is the first pure Christian church, and yet Christ is warning them that if they did not repent and show the "love" that He taught them, and the great zeal for the gospel truth that they once had, then they would no longer be His church. How many churches are in this fallen state today?
"At the first the experience of the church at Ephesus was marked with childlike simplicity and fervor. The believers sought earnestly to obey every word of God, and their lives revealed an earnest, sincere love for Christ. They rejoiced to do the will of God because the Saviour was in their hearts as an abiding presence. Filled with love for their Redeemer, their highest aim was to win souls to Him... They felt the importance of their calling .... they burned with desire to carry the glad tidings of salvation to earth's remotest bounds. And the world took knowledge of them that they had been with Jesus. Sinful men, repentant, pardoned, cleansed, and sanctified, were brought into partnership with God through His Son ...
"... But after a time the zeal of the believers began to wane, and their love for God and for one another grew less. Coldness crept into the church. Some forgot the wonderful manner in which they had received the truth. One by one the old standard-bearers fell at their post. Some of the younger workers, who might have shared the burdens of these pioneers, and thus have been prepared for wise leadership, had become weary of oft-repeated truths. In their desire for something novel and startling they attempted to introduce new phases of doctrine, more pleasing to many minds, but not in harmony with the fundamental principles of the gospel. In their self-confidence and spiritual blindness they failed to discern that these sophistries ... would thus lead to confusion and unbelief. As these false doctrines were urged, differences sprang up, and the eyes of many were turned from beholding Jesus as the Author and Finisher of their faith. The discussion of unimportant points of doctrine, and the contemplation of pleasing fables of man's invention, occupied time that should have been spent in proclaiming the gospel. The masses that might have been convicted and converted by a faithful presentation of the truth were left unwarned." (E.G.White, The Acts of the Apostles, p579-580)
NOTE: Christ said "Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent." ... This church had fallen and Christ said that if they didn't repent and return to the first works, then they would no longer be His church. This one line shows the teaching of "once saved always saved" to be false.
So what must we do? We must live according to the Word of God in the Bible. We must worship God in spirit and truth. We must purge the evil from among us. We must no longer tolerate the error that has come into the church. We must test everyone and everything according to the truth of God's Word. We must love God with everything we have and love one another as ourselves. And what is the promise that Jesus gives to all those who overcome this world through Him? He says at the end of the letter to Ephesus that those who overcome will have the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God. What a promise! Time is short, we are living in the Bible end times and Jesus is coming soon. It's time to get right with God. Let Jesus cleanse you today and begin to walk with Him in spirit and truth.
This concludes the Bible study on the first of the seven churches of Revelation - Ephesus. See Seven Churches of Revelation - Smyrna for the study on the next church.