Last week, we began a look at the messages sent to the seven churches in the book of Revelation. Last week’s blog served to help us understand what the apostle John was seeing during the impartation of the messages to the churches.
We learned that John saw seven golden lamp stands in his vision; each lamp stand representing a church. When I visited the Temple Institute in Jerusalem I saw the recreated lamp stand for the Third Temple.
Now, let’s dive into the first message given by Jesus Christ to John. This message is for the church at Ephesus.
The church in Ephesus is the church of the seven that we are most familiar with. Not counting the reference here in Revelation and the epistle that was written to the church; the city is mentioned twelve times in the New Testament. Here are some excerpts:
Paul sent Tychicus and Timothy to Ephesus – Timothy being sent to command certain people to stop teaching false doctrines in the church.
Paul preached in Ephesus for two years in the hall of Tyrannus because a great door of ministry had been opened for him in the presence of many adversaries.
Paul became aware of the ministry of Apollos in Ephesus.
As a result of Apollos’ ministry, Paul found believers who were not baptized in the Holy Spirit in Ephesus and laid hands of them for the infilling.
The seven sons of Sceva encountered the demoniac who said, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know about – but who are you?” in Ephesus.
Magic books were burned in Ephesus during the awakening.
Paul fought wild beasts in Ephesus.
Paul told the Ephesian elders before his trip to Jerusalem that he would see them no more.
These are just a few of the events we know happened in Ephesus. Christian tradition tells us that the apostle John was released from the island of Patmos and spent his last days in the city of Ephesus.
Ephesus was a major city in Asia Minor or Anatolia as it was also known as in those days. People came to Ephesus to shop in the bazaars, dip in the hot baths, visit the prostitutes, and worship the goddess Artemis. Ephesus was the center of worship of Artemis also known by her Roman name, Diana.
In the classical period of Greek mythology, Artemis was often described as the daughter of Zeus and Leto, and the twin sister of Apollo. She was the Hellenic goddess of the hunt, wild animals, the wilderness, childbirth, virginity and protector of young girls, bringing and relieving disease in women; she often was depicted as a huntress carrying a bow and arrows. The deer and the cypress tree were sacred to her. In later Hellenistic times, she even assumed the ancient role of Eileithya in aiding childbirth.
Outside of the city limits was a large grove named Ortygia which was revered as the birthplace of Artemis.
Into this environment, a thriving church was born.
Now, let’s look at Jesus’ message to this church.
On the surface, it appeared that the church in Ephesus had it all together. Jesus commended their works (how they actually lived), their labor (ministry), and their patience. He also commended their ability to identify false apostles.
In those days just as it is today, teachers were going around seeking a following and money through their claim to be apostles. The Ephesian church did not tolerate or give a place to these liars. We also have the first mention of a group called the Nicolaitans in Ephesus. While it is not exactly clear who these people were and what they believed, Jesus said he hated their deeds. Several early church fathers said that these people were followers of the deacon, Nicolas mentioned in Acts 6:5. They record that he began to teach corrupted doctrine including such things as the sharing of wives and involvement in idolatrous ceremonies. Clement said that they were “abandoned to pleasure like goats.” Jesus commended the Ephesian church for their rejection of this doctrine.
This church was a strong church; strong in character; strong in biblical knowledge; strong in patient prayer.
Yet, Jesus said that He had this against them:
You have left your first love.
This is a scary insight to me:
How do you maintain strong prayer, a strong biblical foundation, strong discernment, and great ministry and do that without loving Jesus more than anything else?
If they were not operating from a motivation of love for Jesus, what motivation were they operating from?
This causes me to tremble because it lets me know that, if we are not listening to Jesus and following His lordship, we can look like a great church but actually be in danger of having Jesus shut down the ministry of the Holy Spirit among us!
Apparently, this church had lost its sensitivity to the Spirit in the midst of what looked like spiritual success. They were not aware of their condition and were probably celebrating their successes. As they looked around, I wonder if they considered themselves to be preeminent among the churches. Jesus said that they had actually fallen from a high position and needed to repent for their motivations.
Jesus reminded the Ephesian church that He held the destiny of the messengers of these churches and the actual churches themselves in His hand.
What is Jesus saying to Capstone in this message? Will He find an ear to hear among us?
Remember the grove dedicated to the worship of Artemis that was located in Ephesus? People came from all over the world to gain her favor. Jesus used His knowledge of what was happening in Ephesus to say these words:
To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.
To him who rejects this deception, I will give to eat from the tree of life found in the midst of the Paradise of God! The tree of life is found in two places: the Garden of Eden and in the New Jerusalem. We know that the way to the Garden of Eden is banned from man on earth. But, Jesus told the thief on the cross, “Today, you will be with me in Paradise.”
The word “paradise” is an old Persian word that means “an enclosed garden”.
Want a return to a Garden of Eden like life? Then, keep Jesus as your first love and do not allow anything else to take the place in your heart that only He should occupy!
Lord, may our church love you more than anything else!