THE REVELATION OF JESUS CHRIST TO HIS SERVANT JOHN
The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia Minor
The Letter to Ephesus–the Church of St. John
"In the whole world Paul taught that all the churches are
arranged by sevens, that they are called seven, and that the Catholic Church is
one. And first of all, indeed, that he himself also might maintain the type of
seven churches, he did not exceed that number. But he wrote to the Romans, to
the Corinthians, to the Galatians, to the Ephesians, to the Thessalonians, to
the Philippians, to the Colossians; afterward he wrote to individual persons,
so as not to exceed the number of seven churches."
Bishop Victorinus, martyred AD 304, from the Commentary on the Apocalypse of the Blessed John.
|Churches||Strengths||Failures||Instruction||Promise To Faithful|
|You have lost your first love||Repent and do the works as you did at first||You will eat from the tree of life|
|Endure your suffering and poverty, yet you are rich||None||Remain faithful even when facing prison, persecution or death||
I will give you the crown of life
You will not be hurt by the second death
Loyalty to Christ;
refuse to deny Him
idolatry and immorality
|Repent!||Hidden manna and a stone with a new name on it|
Love, faith, works,
|Tolerate pagan cults, idolatry and immorality||
Judgement is coming!
Faithful hold fast until I come
|I will give you authority over the nations and gift of the morning star|
|Only a faithful remnant have kept the faith||Church is spiritually dead||
Repent and turn back to Christ.
Strengthen what little faith remains
|Faithful will walk with Jesus and not be blotted out of the book of life|
|Kept my word and have not denied my name||None||
I have placed before you an open door
I will keep you from the hour of trial
|I will make you a pillar in the temple of my God|
|None||Neither hot nor cold. You rely on riches but don't realize your spiritually improvised condition||Turn from indifference and repent!||I will invite those who overcome to sit with me on my throne|
Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2000 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.
The letters to the Seven Churches begins the Historical Prologue of the Covenant Treaty Lawsuit. It is also the first of the 4- seven fold curses as stipulated in the Sinai Covenant of Leviticus chapter 26. An important aspect of the Prologue of a Covenant Treaty is the "covenant grant" which is the command to take possession over the land, conquering it in the name of the Great King (see Deut. 2:24-25; 31; 3:18-22; 4:1, 14, 37-40). The Seven Messages to the Seven Churches correspond to the Covenant Prologue in several aspects. The structure of the letters follows the same general pattern: Christ's kingship over the Church, the individual church's record of faithfulness or disobedience, warnings of punishment, and the promises of blessings in response to faithful obedience. There is also a "covenant grant" that is given to each church. It is a commission to conquer, to overcome and to exercise dominion under Christ's lordship (see Rev. 2:7, 11, 17, 26-29; 3:5, 12, 21). But beyond the relationship to the Covenant Lawsuit format of the entire book of Revelation, each of the letters themselves can be divided into the Covenant Treaty format. Each of the letters is the New Covenant Treaty with the New Israel, the Universal Church.
Let's look at this Covenant Treaty format in the first letter to the Ephesians:
|Preamble:||2:1||Identifying the lordship of the Great King:
"The One who holds the seven stars in His right hand, the One who walks among the seven golden lampstands."
|Historical Prologue:||2:2-4||Surveying the lord's previous relationship to the vassal, especially emphasizing the blessings bestowed
"I know your deeds....etc."
|Ethical Stipulations:||2:5a||Expounding the vassal's obligations.
"Remember therefore from where you have fallen, and repent, and do the deeds you did at first.."
|Sanctions:||2:5b||Outlining the blessings for obedience and the curses for disobedience
"Or else I am coming to you, and will remove your lampstand out of its place'unless you repent."
|Succession Arrangements:||2:7||Dealing with the continuity of the covenant relationship over future generations"...To him who overcomes I will grant to eat of the Tree of Life, which is in the Paradise of My God"|
The Covenant Treaty Format isn't the only pattern evident in the letters to the 7 Churches. There is another overall pattern. It is not a pattern espoused by the modern literalists: that the seven churches symbolically represent the seven ages of Church history, but there very definitely is a pattern that relates to Salvation History. See if you can recognize that pattern by clueing into words that relate to the Old Testament.
There is a general pattern to the letters to the Seven Churches:
In the four last letters the
pattern of 6 and 7 is reversed. Notice here is another of the many 7's that
will keep appearing in this study! Some are obvious, others not so obvious.
Another pattern is evident in the sevenfold arrangement. Churches 1 and 7 are in grave danger, churches 2 and 6 are in excellent shape, churches 3, 4 and 5, are neither good or bad.
Finally, still speaking of patterns, the messages to the seven churches also contain a miniature outline of the entire prophecy of the Book of Revelation. In the lesson from Chapter 1 we talked about how the four sections of Revelation following the Preamble in Chapter 1 are structured in terms of the four sevenfold curses of the Covenant as they are given in Leviticus 26:18, 21, 24, and 28. These four sets of judgments in Revelation can be identified as follows:
This is the same general pattern found in the first four letters themselves:
After the 4th letter the cycle begins over again. But this cycle refers back to the Preamble and the vision of the Son of Man in Chapter 1 and the order is 'chiastic', that is, in reverse order (notice the letter order and the repeat).
The Vision of the Son of Man;
The repetition of the patterns is reinforced by other points of similarity. There is a parallel between Smyrna and the Philadelphia. They both deal with the "synagogue of Satan"; and there is the link between the "seven lampstands" of Ephesus and the "seven Spirits of God" of Sardis because in the chapter following the letters in St. John's vision of the heavenly Throne he says: Rev. 4:5 "And there were seven lamps of fire burning before the Throne, which are the seven Spirits of God."
The ancients loved patterns and repetitions. These are only a few of the "patterns" I have found. As you continue to study Revelation be watchful for such patterns and repetitions and Old Testament references.
Continue with chapter 2 – The letter to the church at Ephesus.
"To those who prove victorious I will feed them from the Tree of Life, which is set in God's Paradise." - Revelation 2:7b
The city of Ephesus was the most important city in Asia Minor and the third most important city in the Roman Empire (only Rome and Alexandria, Egypt were more influential). It was the center of Roman government in Asia, it was a center for trade and learning, and it was St. John's home church. The Greeks gave it the name "mouth of Asia" because the world of the West seemed to pour through Ephesus on the way Eastward. The main street ran from the busy harbor to the Roman theater, and along the way a visitor would pass the gymnasium, the public baths, the public library, as well as brothels and temples to various gods. Its temple to Artemis (or Diana to the Romans), the goddess of fertility and "wild nature", was one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world. St. Luke also offered some valuable information about the city in the Acts of Apostles that may have some bearing on the Seven Letters as a whole; Ephesus was a hotbed of Jewish occultism and magical arts (Acts 19:13-15, 17-19).
When Paul first arrived in Ephesus (circa AD54) he found a number of disciples of John the Baptist. Read Acts 19: 1-7. They had only received John the Baptiser's baptism, which was a baptism of repentance. Paul "baptized them in the name of the Lord Jesus, and the moment Paul had laid hands on them the Holy Spirit came down on them, and they began to speak with tongues and to prophesy" (Acts 19:6-7).." Paul stayed in Ephesus approximately 3 years (2 ¼ years actually). John probably arrived in Ephesus shortly after Paul left in AD 57.
Please read Revelation
Revelation 2:1 = Preamble: "Write to the angel of the church in Ephesus and say, "Here is the message of the one who holds the seven stars in his right hand and who lives among the seven golden lampstands:"
Question: How many
times will this opening message be repeated?
Answer: Seven times
Question: From whom
does the message come? To which verse in Chapter 1 does this passage refer?
Answer: Jesus the Christ. See 1:12-16.
This verse is the Preamble of the Covenant Treaty format in the letter of Ephesus. The seven stars correspond to the angels of the seven churches. Angels and stars are often linked up in the Bible (see Judges 5:20; Job 38:7; Isaiah 14:13; Jude 13; Rev, 8:10-12; 9:1; 12:4). When Jesus speaks to the seven churches in Chapters 2-3, He is addressing the angel of each church. Jesus clearly holds the 'angels' of the churches responsible for the life and conduct of their respective churches. But are these heavenly beings or the leadership of the Churches? Some scholars interpret 'messenger' or 'angelos' in Greek to mean heavenly messengers. The Scriptural footnote in the New Jerusalem reads: "In Jewish thought not only the material world was ruled by angels, but even individuals and communities. Hence each church is considered to be ruled by an angel responsible for it, to whom the letter is addressed." But there is a relationship in Scripture between angels and prophets and other scholars interpret the messenger/angels to be pastors or bishop/ prophets of the 7 churches. The chief mark of a Biblical prophet was that he was chosen by God and there are accounts in Scripture of prophets having stood in the presence of God and the angels during the sessions of the heavenly Council. Read Isaiah 6:1-8; Ezekiel 1:1-3, 10.
God's prophet becomes the authoritative spokesman to God's people; read Jeremiah 15:19 "...you shall be as My own mouth..". The true prophet had been taken up by the Spirit into the Cloud to take part in the heavenly assembly: Jeremiah 23:16-22: "Thus says the Yahweh Sabaoth (of hosts): Do not listen to the words of the prophets who are prophesying to you. They are leading you into futility; they speak a vision of their own imagination, not from the mouth of Yahweh....But who has stood in the Council of Yahweh, that he should see and hear His Word?...." As members of the Council, the prophets have freedom of speech with God. As images of fully redeemed Man, the prophets shared in God's glory and by His authority exercised dominion over the nations (Jer. 1:10; 28:8). They had been transformed ethically and physically (Isa 6:5-8; Ex 34:29) and so they resembled the heavenly messengers...in Greek the word messenger is 'angelos'; in Hebrew, 'mal'ak.' Both terms are used to describe Biblical prophets in the Old and New Testaments (see 2 Chron. 36:15-16 "Yahweh, God of their ancestors, continuously sent them word through his messengers because He felt sorry for His people and his dwelling, but they ridiculed the messengers of God, they despised His words, they laughed at His prophets..."; Hag. 1:13 "Haggai, the messenger of Yahweh, then passed on Yahweh's message to the people,.."; Mal. 3:1 as quoted by Jesus in Matthew 11:9-10 speaking of John the Baptist: "Then what did you go out for? To see a prophet? Yes, I tell you, and much more than a prophet: he is the one of whom scripture says: 'Look, I shall send my messenger to clear a way before Me.'"; Luke 7:24 "And when John's messengers (angelos) had gone He (Jesus) began to talk to the people about John.."; and Luke 9:51-52 "Now it happened that as the time drew near for Him to be taken up, He (Jesus) resolutely turned His face towards Jerusalem and sent messengers (angelos) ahead of Him." ).
There is abundant Biblical precedent for the prophetic rulers or bishops of the 7
churches to be referred to as "the angels of the churches." Finally, consider Malachi 2:7 "The priest's lips ought to safeguard knowledge; his mouth is where the law should be sought, since he is Yahweh Sabaoth's (Yahweh of Hosts) messenger"= mal'ak in Hebrew and angelos in Greek. I think it is very likely that each angel/ messenger represents a single pastor or bishop. Other scholars also point out that the stars/ angels could be personifications of the government of each church as a whole. The scholarly interpretation of the prophets/ angels/stars may be reinforced by the next part of this passage.
Revelation 2:1b: "Here
is the message of the one who holds the seven stars in His right hand.."
Question: Who is "the One"?
Question: Where is the Lord of heaven and earth holding the seven stars?
Answer: In His right hand; the hand of power.
Holding the seven stars in His right hand indicates power and authority over the churches and their leaders. What other reference to this phrase have we already read in chapter 1? Hint: see 1:17. This is the same hand that Christ used to resurrect St. John who is also a messenger / angel. As we continue with the letters you will notice that some of the letters contain reprimands to the "angels" of churches. It is doubtful that heavenly messengers would fall into error but earthly leaders or messengers can and do and they are accountable to God for the churches they represent.
Revelation 2:2–4 = Historical prologue: "I know your activities, your hard work and your perseverance. I know you cannot stand wicked people, and how you put to the test those who were self-styled apostles and found them false. I know too that you have perseverance, and have suffered for my name without growing tired."
Question: Looking at
verse 2-4 What are their victories?
Do faith communities today face these same problems? Should every church have these characteristics? In Acts Paul had warned the Ephesians that false teachers would come and try to draw people away from the faith (read Acts 20:29-32 ). False teachers did indeed cause problems in the Ephesian church, but the church resisted them as we learn from Paul's very positive letter to the Ephesians. This was a church that was did not know the meaning of compromise and was willing to take a strong stand for orthodoxy, regardless of the cost. It is noteworthy that of all Paul's letters to the churches, Ephesians alone does not mention a single doctrinal issue that needed apostolic correction. St Ignatius of Antioch (martyred in 107AD) approximately 40 years later also commends Ephesus on her orthodoxy (true doctrine): "You all live according to truth, and no heresy has a home among you: indeed, you do not so much as listen to anyone, if he speaks of anything except concerning Jesus Christ in truth..."
Revelation 2:4 "Nevertheless, I have this complaint to make: you have less love now than formerly."
Question: What is their major failing?
Answer: They were failing in "Love."
What did Jesus say about LOVE? There are many examples but see John's gospel 13:34 "I give you a new commandment: love one another; you must love one another just as I have loved you." Also see Matthew 22:39 & Mark 12:31 & Luke 10:27 ="..love your neighbor as yourself." Luke 6:27 "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.." St. John, filled with the power of God the Holy Spirit, also talked of love in 1 John 3:18-19: "Children, our love must be not just words or mere talk but something active and genuine. This will be the proof that we belong to the truth.." . In other words: Love in Action! Paul had once commended the church at Ephesus for its love for God and others ( Ephesians 1:15 "That is why I, having once heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus, and you love for all God's holy people, have never failed to thank God for you and to remember you in my prayers."). It is not clear whether this is love for Christ or for one another or for mankind at large. It may well have been that a general attitude is meant which included all three. By this time many of the church founders had died, their bishop was in prolonged exile, perhaps along with other elders of the community, and many of the second-generation believers had lost their zeal for God. Notice that the church at Ephesus was a busy church, doing much to benefit themselves and the community but they were acting out of the wrong motives. Work for God must be motivated by love for God or it will not last. Our work is not just for 'social causes' but 'social justice' motivated by the love of Jesus that we pour out, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to all we meet, especially those most in need of that love.
Revelation 2:5a = Ethical
Stipulations: "Think where you were before you fell; repent, and behave
as you did at first, or else,..." The word "fell" in the Greek is in the
perfect tense = peptokas, which make this statement all the more tragic.
Question: What does the great King require of Ephesus?
Answer: To remember (more accurately 'keep on remembering' or 'hold in memory', to repentance and recovery of 'first love' in your works. The people of this faith community had enjoyed a close walk with God. Now they needed to concentrate on remembering and reliving that walk. The second step is to repent (the aorist use of this word in Greek points to a sharp break with evil). Christians can never have tolerance for sin. There must be a sharp break with it. But Christianity is not basically negative and the third step is 'do the first works', i.e. the works that had issued from the first love.
Verse 5b = Sanctions: "..if
you do not repent, I shall come to you and take your lamp-stand from its place."
Question: If Ephesus does not repent what are the Sanctions that will be brought against them?
Answer: Ephesus would cease to be an effective church. Just as the seven-branched lamp-stand gave light for the priest in the Holy Place to see, the churches were to give light to their surrounding communities. But Jesus warned them that their lights could go out. In fact, Jesus himself would come in judgment and extinguish any light that did not fulfill its purpose. This phrase "I am coming to you.." is a warning stated three more times in these letters (2:16; 3:3, and 3:11). This phrase in the Greek is in the present tense so if your translation says 'will come' change it to 'I am coming.' Just as we have seen before in Rev 1:7 the Coming (in Greek the parousia, which means coming or appearing) of Christ does not simply refer to a cataclysm at the end of history, but rather refers to His comings in history. In fact, He warns, He will come quickly, a term used seven times in Revelation (2:5, 16; 3:11; 11:14; 22:7, 12, 20). Jesus is not threatening the church at Ephesus with His Second Coming; He is saying that He will come against them. For lack of love the entire congregation is in danger of excommunication. If the leaders of a church fail to discipline and disciple the church toward love as well as doctrinal orthodoxy, Jesus Christ Himself will step in and administer judgment'and at that point it may very well be too late for repentance. Also notice that "unless you repent" signifies that the judgment is not irrevocable. If they repent they may yet be saved. But if they do not repent there is no hope. Incidentally, the Church at Ephesus no longer exists. None of these 7 churches survive today.
Revelation 2:6 "It
is in your favor, nevertheless, that you loathe (hate) as I do the (deeds) way
the Nicolaitans are behaving." According to the second century bishop St.
Irenaeus, the Nicolaitans are the followers of Nicolaus of Antioch, a convert
to Judaism who was elected by the first Christian community in Jerusalem (see
Acts 6:1-6): "The Nicolaitans are the followers of that Nicolas who was one
of the seven first ordained to the diaconate by the Apostles (Acts 6:5). They
lead lives of unrestrained indulgence. The character of these men is very
plainly pointed out in the Apocalypse of John, when they are represented as
teaching that it is a matter of indifference to practice adultery, and to eat
things sacrificed to idols." (St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies,1.xxxvi.3;
The Anti-Nicene Fathers p. 352). These people believed that because
they were 'saved' they could do anything and confess again and again. In other
words, the more you sin the more you get grace! Notice that Jesus says
He hates the "deeds", the sinful actions, not the people themselves.
Question: Why is it important for us to remember this example?
Answer: We should accept and love all people and refuse to tolerate all evil. God cannot tolerate sin, and He expects us to stand against it, but at the same time we must light the way to truth to all sinners by the light of Christ's love shining through us. Most modern commentaries dismiss the notion that the deacon Nicolas is connected to the Nicolaitans. I could not find any ancient commentaries where the association was dismissed but I did find three that connected the origin of this heresy to the teachings of Nicolas the deacon: Irenaeus (m.202?4), Against Heresies, ch. xxvi.3; The Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.1 p. 532; Hippolytus (Ad 170-236) Refuting All Heresies, book 7, ch xxiv; The Ante-Nicene Fathers vol. 5, p. 115; St. Jerome (AD386-420), The Dialogue Against The Luciferians, #23; The Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers, vol. 6 p. 332.
Revelation 2:7 = Succession Arrangements:
Revelation 2:7a "Let anyone who can hear, listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches:"
Question: Look ahead through each of the letters. How many times to you see this phrase?
Answer: 7 times. This formula marks the conclusion of each of the letters and stresses the Holy Spirit in relation of Christ to His Church.
Revelation 2:7b ": Those who prove victorious I will feed from the tree of life set in God's paradise." The Spirit is really issuing one basic command: overcome! The Greek verb is nikao (from the root nike, pronounced nee-kay, which means 'victory.'). Christ is charging His Church with the responsibility of overcoming those who seek to overcome her. No matter what particular problems we face, each church is under divine mandate to conquer and completely overwhelm its opposition. All Christians are "overcomers." 1 John 5:4 "Whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world'our faith." The Christians spoken of in Revelation overcame the devil "because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the Word of their testimony" (Rev. 12:11). The question is not one of victory or defeat. The question is victory or treason!
The Christian overcomes and
Christ grants in the Succession Arrangement that the privilege to "to eat of
the Tree of Life, which is in the Paradise of My God."
Question: What is the first Biblical mention of the 'Tree of Life'?
Answer: The first mention is in Genesis 2:8-9. The Tree of Life was the sign of God's covenant with Adam and creation. Actually two trees were in the Garden of Eden'the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of good and evil. Eating of the Tree of Life brought eternal life with God; eating from the Tree of Knowledge brought realization of good and evil. When Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of Knowledge, they disobeyed God's command. They were excluded from Eden and barred from eating from the Tree of Life. Eventually, evil will be destroyed and believers will be brought into a restored paradise through the true Tree of Life. The Tree in Eden was really only a shadow the true 'Tree of Life'.
Question: What is the
true "Tree of Life"? It might help you in your answer to know that the Cross
has long been used in Christian art as a symbol for the Tree of Life. There is
strong evidence, however, that Christ may actually have been crucified on a
living tree (with His wrists nailed to the crosspiece He carried and His feet
nailed to the trunk). See Acts 5:30; 10:39; 13:29; Galatians 3:13;
1Peter 2:24. These passages literally use the Greek word for "tree." The
symbol of the Cross is simply a stylized tree, and was often pictured in
ancient churches and tombs with branches and leaves growing out of it.
Answer: Jesus Christ Himself is the Tree of Life and to partake of Him is to possess the blessings and graces of salvation – to live eternally. The Tree of Life was the symbol of the first Covenant God made with man and it is the symbol of the last Covenant God made with man, the cross of the crucified Christ from which flow eternal life just as eternal life was the gift of the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden.
that I said there was a pattern that connects the 7 letters. Look for Old
Testament references in this first letter and write them down.
Answer: "before you fell" in 2:5 recalls the Fall of Adam and Eve; "Tree of Life" in 2:7; "Paradise" in 2:7
Question: from what part of the Bible do these references come?
You may also have listed the golden lampstand reference. The golden lampstand that stood in the Holy Place was itself an interpretation of the Tree of Life and signified the presence of God's 'ruah' (Spirit) just as our lighted candles represent His presence in our Sanctuary.
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