The church of Ephesus is the recipient of the first of the letters. (Rev 2:1-7)
This church does some things well and gets a pat on the back. But, it is missing the most important thing of all and to continue in this pattern could be catastrophic. How we live is very important. It indicates what is going on in our hearts. And it also can be faked. But, Jesus sees through it. He knows all.
Verse by verse:
To the angel of Ephesus. Once again we have this reference about “angel.” Literally it means messenger and could mean a supernatural or human messenger.
From the one from the vision of chapter 1. Specifically referencing the seven stars and lampstands in v12, 13, 16, 20.
Verse 2 & 3
He knows! Specifically, He knows the deeds, hard work, and perseverance. I think of this as what we have accomplished, the hard work that went into it, and the struggle against opposition that we endured. This is commendable and is illustrated with the following works.
Big Problem: Forgotten first love!
Solution: Remember and repent. One of the most powerful tools we have for repentance is memory. When we can remember our heart’s position then that can change us. We can reload that old memory into our current attitude and it can drive us to the proper way of living. This can work with any relationship. Birthday parties for our children help us remember when they were born and were little and our fresh heart for them. It stirs up our love. Wedding anniversaries remind us of that early infatuation with our bride and the early days of passion. Remembering the early days of our faith bring up the zeal and new found trust in our God that we have just come to know in a deep way.
Warning: The God of the lampstands will remove our place among the lampstands. If we do not keep our love for God fresh, we prove our unbelief. We are just fakers, posing our way through life and He can tell the difference.
Hate practices: An unexplained group called the "Nicolaitans" has some bad practices. They are not enumerated but are obviously opposing the way of Christ. The name can be traced back to the Hebrew meaning "destruction of people." It is bad stuff, whatever it is precisely. Notice that they get points for hating the “practices” and not necessarily hating the people. I am reminded that those who do evil are held captive by the enemy. We should still desire them to be redeemed but stand opposed to their way of life and teaching. Some of what is said of the OT reference (Numbers 24:1-3) is that they condone “upholding the liberty of eating things sacrificed to idols as well as committing fornication.” Think of the groups today that condone illicit behavior and still claim that they are Christian. This group is growing and it is not good.
Life: The offer to the one who overcomes (a refrain which we will hear each week) is that they get to eat from the tree of life! (Gen 3:24, Rev 22:2) The proverbs have a verse that connects this teaching nicely (4:23).
Above all else, guard your heart,
Our heart… our love really matters! For men it is relatively easy to go into task mode. This isn’t just men. Anyone who has had to endure a lot has learned to turn off their heart and just push through. This is a survival mechanism to get through hard times. But, it can go awry. When we forget our first love we forget our actual motivation. Then we begin to serve for the wrong reasons. We do it out of legalism or to look good. We serve with a heart of stone rather than a heart of flesh. We get the cart before the horse and Jesus says this is really bad. We must keep our hearts alive. We must keep the greatest commandment to love our God and then also the second to love one another. After all, this is how others will know who we are and be drawn to God! (John 13:35 & chapters 14-17)
The Revelation is written to people who suffer persecution. Imagine the feeling. You come to know the God of the universe, the one who created everything. And then your life gets worse! This is not easy.
Who does God use to write down this important message? Our friend John who is going through some persecution of his own. He can relate. He will be heard. How compassionate of our God to use this messenger to relate to His persecuted bride!
The Voice: v10-11 tells us about a powerful voice with a message for the church.
The Vision: v12-16 give us a powerful vision. It is awe inspiring. A list of the physical description goes beyond what we typically get about bible heroes. Think of Moses, Abraham, David, Elijah, or Jesus. How much physical description is given of these people? But in these 5 verses we get a description that could inspire Tolkein to create fantastic creatures.
The Explanation: v17-20 tells us who this mystery voice and vision belong to. It’s Jesus! Like Mary Magdalene in the garden, or the guys on the road to Emmaus, the blinders have been removed and we see that this great one is Jesus. He is unveiled as the source of a myriad of Old Testament visions. Jesus is the Almighty God and He “gets it!” He died but now He is alive. He saw it all. He understands our pain. And He is the all powerful creator. We are in good hands!
Do you feel alone? Do you feel abandoned by God and mistreated by the world? Take heart, Jesus gets it!
We have begun a time of study in the first 3 chapters of the Revelation. I thought it would be helpful to document the main points as we go. This is a bit of a geek fest.
Who, what, when, where…
First of all, this “book” of the Bible is a letter. Here are some basics.
Title: The Revelation (This is the short title. Scholars say we could think of the first 3 verses as the title. Also note, this is SINGULAR, there is no “s” at the end. We have instituted among ourselves a harsh and demanding demerit system. If anyone says “Revelations” then the whole group gets a demerit)
Through: Jesus, Angel, John (we assume the Apostle John)
Purpose: To tell us about future events
When was it written: Estimates are In the range of 54-96 AD.
Soon: Verses 1 and 4 say “soon” and “near” in the ESV version. There is a sense of urgency and anticipation. This is not a fearful thing but rather a hopeful thing. Written to a persecuted people who needed encouragement, this letter of the coming of an all powerful rescuer is exactly what they needed to hear. This is exactly what we need to hear as well in a time when discouragement is at an all time high. Suicide is a major killer in the USA. Psych drugs are a best seller by pharmaceutical companies. Relationships are a mess in the home as well as in public spheres where hatred is constantly spewed at one another in social media settings.
We discussed that this is a tough pill to swallow because we are reading this 2,000 year old letter about something happening soon. How are we to take it? Has it not yet happened? Is “soon” a very flexible sort of word? Will it ever happen?
One author referenced the fact that all of the New Testament talks this way. We are to live with a constant expectation that God will show up and that we should have hope. Others talk about the flexibility of the word “soon” in light of eternity. What may seem like a long time to us is just a moment in that perspective. Another idea is that these moments of God’s visitation to us are constantly happening as bad leaders fall over the course of history such as various Pharaohs, Nebuchadnezzar, Nero, and Domitian. Our bad times will pass and the key to our surviving them is in keeping His word in hope. We contribute to the Kingdom of God as we live well right now and one day He will come in finality to do away with evil once and for all. Be filled with hope, He is coming soon!
Bear witness: The path of our receiving this letter comes through a chain of faithful witnesses. The path of the letter testifies with God to Jesus to angel to John to churches. And then within the churches it has continued from readers to listeners and around and around it goes. All who participate in this activity are called “blessed” in v3! A very important details is that we not only bear witness in word but also in deed as the blessing reminds us to "keep" what is written. Obedience has always been important. People are more likely to listen when we are people of integrity. Fakers can be sniffed out very quickly. The word for “witness” is a form of the Greek “Martyreo” which exists in noun and verb versions and is where we get our English word “Martyr.” The most extreme example of a martyr is someone who dies for what they are bearing witness to. The word is found 3 times in these first 8 verses. Twice in v2 and once in v5. This connects back to the calling of the first humans to “be fruitful and multiply” Gen 1:28 and continues through Jesus’ commission to his people to “Go into all the world and preach the good news…” Mark 16:15. Bear witness to Jesus and you will be blessed.
Jesus is the Almighty God: Much is made of Jesus in these very few introductory sentences. Verses 5-8 hit us with a tsunami of facts about who Jesus is and what He has done. As we take the time to list each one, and to dig up verses where each idea is reinforced, and look up where the idea originates in the Hebrew scriptures, and consider what difference it makes to us. As we do this we cannot help but be filled with awe in remembering why we believed in the first place and why we can walk in much confidence and hope.
A shepherd and his journey