If Jesus visited our church, what would be His impressions?
- Would he comment about the color scheme?
- Would he make a statement about the size of our church?
- Would he mention the financial giving YTD statement?
- Would Jesus feel like an insider or outsider?
- Would we keep the children in the nursery or bring them upstairs?
- Would we sing any differently?
- Would the pastor have wished he prayed and worked just a little more on the sermon?
- Would you even notice Jesus based on your preconceived ideas of Jesus?
As we study the book of Revelation, we begin a series within a series, where we explore the 7 letters of Jesus to the church. There are 7 different churches, reflecting completeness (cf. also Paul wrote to 7 churches). They also provide a geographic circle of travel (see map). Each letter from Jesus has a warning and promise applicable to that church but also for us today.
EXAMINE Revelation 2:1-7
Revelation 2:1-7 (ESV)
1 “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: ‘The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands.
“I’m done with the church.”
“I don’t need to go to church bc my relationship with God is personal.”
If I’m honest, at times I have been there, or heard others make these statements and somewhat understand from their perspective. However, I also know that the church is the bride of Jesus Christ. We cannot claim to love Jesus and loathe His bride; we will not be on the right path of pursuing Jesus if we are bypassing the church.
Jesus says, “in my right hand… are the seven angels… and the seven churches” (Rev 1:20; 2:1). Church, we are in the Lord’s grip of grace and no one can take us out. He is faithfully and firmly holding us in the palm of His hand and no external circumstance can touch us that does not pass first through His eyes and fingers. He sees and knows exactly where we are, and through the hope of the resurrection we will survive every challenging season or storm. Let us keep following Jesus and take His love to every neighborhood in our community.
Ephesus was one of the most influential cities in Asia. It was a large city (250K+) and was the center of wealth, trade, politics and religious activity. One of the religious attractions was the Temple of Diana (Artemis). It was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World with more than 100,000 square feet. It had over 127 pillars that were made with marble, gold and jewels. This became an institutionalized center of worship of false deities (idol gods, emperors, images, etc). People had to offer incense to Caesar as Lord in order to enter the marketplace and purchase goods.
The Ephesian church was a strong church. The apostle Paul stayed there for three years. Timothy was one of its pastors. Even the apostle John resided there for some time, likely as some sort of elder.
2 “‘walks among you… I know you
The knowledge of Jesus for each church is intimate and omniscient. As God walked among Adam & Eve in the Garden, so does the Savior among His church. Further, He knows the specific strengths and weaknesses of each church, and there is no tricking Him or turning away without grave consequences.
Each church had their unique message, but also received all seven of the letters to the churches (cf. Rev 1:11). There is no biblical evidence to suggest these churches were prophetic symbols for ages/seasons to come for our church history, however fascinating the interpretations; appeal does not equal accuracy.
There’s a 7-fold pattern in the letter to each church.
2 know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false.
3 I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary.
4 But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.
5 Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.
6 Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
7 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.’
From Jesus’ letter to Ephesus you can learn a principle for enduring love with Jesus:
We must love God with our hands, head, and heart.
Jesus gives the Ephesian church a commendation.
Jesus knows their deeds (hands). Their work (ἔργον), toil (κόπος; hard labor) and patient endurance were all commendable. They were not idle or lazy. They must have had lots of events on the calendar, people serving and doing good, likely impacting their community with the gospel in tangible ways.
- Paul did miracles and healed people of sickness, disease, and evil spirits (Acts 19:11).
- People who practiced evil confessed their sin and burned their magic books, which were valued at 50K pieces of silver (Acts 19:19). In other words, the gospel interrupted secular economy.
- Further, a man named Demetrius, a silversmith, had a significant business of crafting silver shrines of the god Artemis. However, new Christians were not buying the idol shrines anymore, so Demetrius was upset his company and employees would lose business. So, he started a riot against Paul (Acts 19:23-41).
Jesus knows their doctrine (head). They tested those who called themselves apostles but were not and found to be false. They also hated the Nicolaitans – whomever this group was, they likely promoted idolatry and immorality, uncharacteristic for a Christian. Jesus affirmed hatred for the Nicolaitans too!
Jesus gives the Ephesian church a criticism.
Before I get into the Lord & Savior’s criticism, allow a word about fallen sinner’s criticisms of church.
- Your criticisms are necessary because you are part of the body, with the same Holy Spirit as every other member, including the leadership. Your perspectives have greater value if you are an active participant and not just a spectator shouter. Yet, the church has elected leaders to lead, so every member may have an opinion but not every member can decide the outcome.
- Our criticisms should always be constructive, where we offer to be part of the solution, at the very least in prayer support.
- Our criticisms are unhealthy when they make ultimatums over preferences rather than biblical priorities. Think about it: not every worship set will match every person’s musical tastes, not every ministry program/event will fit every person’s style or schedule, not every emphasis or project will interest or include every member, nor will the entire church’s décor match every member’s liking. A church that caters to personal preferences over biblical priorities has wrongly shifted from a missionary army for the Lord to a social club of passing trends.
Jesus condemned their devotion (heart). The Ephesian church abandoned the love they had at first. A question commentators have, is if Jesus referred to love in general or specific to one category.
- God (as in Martha, Luke 10:38-42),
- internal love for one another (Eph 1:15; 1Jn 4:19-21), or
- their love for Jesus by being a light and witness to the world (cf. Mat 5:14-16; 24:12-14; Isa 42:6; 49:6; Rev 11:3-7 with the two witnesses as the olive tree and candle-sticks on the lampstand).
The Ephesian church had similarity to an athletic team of all-stars who were superior on paper but lacked the right motivation; and therefore, they failed to perform well on the field. They showed up for Bible studies and volunteered for service, but somehow compassion was lacking from their character. Love beyond words and work is vital to following Jesus (1Cor 13:1-3).
Our faith can become fatiguing by turning grace into religion, relationships and friendships can become routine, and ministry service can become monotonous. We go through the motions and repeat the same cycles of insanity without understanding the relevance. For the Christian, if Satan cannot make you bad, he will make you busy. To Jesus, distraction is equally a sin as denial.
- Busyness is an alibi for intimacy
- Motivation: do you give to sp / pd or to God? Do you serve CM/YM or wherever or TO GOD?
Jesus gives the Ephesian church a command.
The exhortation of Jesus to each church is not optional but expected to be obeyed. If the Ephesian church failed to follow instructions, their lampstand would be removed; in other words – they would cease being a church of Jesus and become a club of the world. Ichabod – the glory of the Lord has departed (1Sam 4:21).
A church without its lampstand is religion without relevance, preaching without power, music without motivation, and a congregation without compassion flowing down from grace and being spilled out into the community.
Jesus gave three commands
#1 Remember from where you have fallen. The Christian life is always remembering their identity as created in God’s image and being saved by grace. Their worth is not earned but provided freely through God’s generosity in Jesus. When we think our actions will make God love us less or more, then we have forgotten and fallen away from God’s grace. The good news for the Christian is they can remember when they fall, God’s hand holds us to rise again (Prov 24:16; 1John 1:9).
#2 Repent (μετανοέω = change mind). False repentance is promising to change but forsaking the power to fuel change. The power of biblical repentance is truth and training: truth of what God says about sin and salvation, and training to grow in righteousness; we cannot experience any of this apart from the word of God.
- False repenters talk about forgiveness apart from the cross and suffering of Jesus; it’s cheap grace rather than costly grace.
- False repenters are vague and evasive about their sin, talking about change apart from Christian discipleship and accountability.
- False repenters are motivated by lists and legalism rather than a spirit of love for God and people.
- False repenters are bothered by other’s sins more than their own.
- True repenters are humbled by guilt and shame and readily admit when they are wrong.
- True repenters speak frequently about the death & resurrection of Jesus, & how gospel relates to their life.
- True repenters can readily identify specific sins of commission and omission in their life.
- True repenters invite others to confront and encourage them in holiness.
- True repenters sacrifice comfort and calendar priorities to invest in spiritual growth opportunities personally and corporately with others.
Relationships do not fall out of love as much as they fall out of repentance.
#3 Repeat. Jesus wanted their habits to be fresh as they were doing them for the first time. Do you remember what it was like to pray to God, read the Bible, go to church & sing – all when you first became a Christian?
- Firsts… time you went to a professional athletic contest. Me with Orioles – seeing Cal & Eddie.
- First time you went out w/o parents; felt freedom… but also responsibility so you can repeat.
- First time you rode a roller coaster – wild sensation, excitement and adrenaline rush.
- First time you kissed… nervous, mysterious, wow that’s kinda fun. I’ll stop there and keep this pg.
Jesus wants our relationship to stay up to date: text prayers / facetime worship / bible love letters.
Jesus expects our faith to be personal and public. – with our head, hands, and heart.
“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
“To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.”
- ξύλον (wood, often referred in NT as cross) vs δένδρον (tree). It’s the cross that gives life!
- 1Peter 2:24
- Revelation 22:2
- Eating & Enjoyment in the new creation in the presence of God.
 This line comes from book, Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas.