“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 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. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. 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. Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. 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.’
Understanding And Applying the Text
Christ has John write to the angel of the church of Ephesus. Angel means messenger. So is this written to what we call an angel? Or is this written to the pastor of the church at Ephesus? It seems strange for John to write to an angel. But everywhere else in the letter angel means angel. So it is most probable here angel means angel. But why? Why give the angel this warning.
This is not definitive. But the context appears to support that the church had an angel guiding and watching over it. Does every church have a guardian angel? I am uncertain. But each of these seven churches appears to have an angel watching over them.
The church read the letter and the angel was to ensure they understood the letter.
The words “The words of him…” implies a lot. The Greek is more like “These things says the one…”. This Greek expression occurs seven in times in the book of Revelation. Classical Greek drama used the phrase to introduce a new character to the scene. But the usage in the New Testament comes from the Old Testament. The Septuagint was the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible. The Septuagint uses it to introduce a prophetic utterance. So we can understand it as “This is the solemn pronouncement of…”. This is in keeping with the Old Testament tradition.
The Septuagint has the same phrase about 350 times. 320 of them have “the Lord” (Yahweh) as the subject. John and his reader would have understood this reference. John used the phrase seven times in association with the risen Christ. This phrase shows Christ’s deity and sovereignty.
Christ identified Himself to the church. Christ is the one holding the seven stars and walking among the lampstands. We know this from the previous chapter. And the church is to take what He says seriously.
Christ said he knew their works. He commended them. They did not put up with evil. They did not believe everyone who claimed to be an apostle. They test them. And they identified the false apostles.
It is unfortunate Christ could not commend the church today for the same. We seem to accept anyone who claims to have a word from God. There are at least two reasons for this. First, we have our cultural influence. We live in a very pluralistic culture. We are to accept and tolerate all views. We culture teaches us we cannot know the truth with any certainty. So, we are to accept all views as true. This is in direct opposition to what God’s word says. “Your word is truth” (John 17:17) Jesus said, “I am the way the truth and the life.” (John 14:6)
Second, we cannot test truth claims. We have nothing to test them with. The average Christian’s knowledge of scripture is weak at best. We substitute our personal beliefs with scripture. Let me give you an example. I was teaching a class. And a young lady made a comment about what the scripture said. To be honest I do not remember what if was. But I remember thinking where did she get that? She claimed, “The bible says…” My response was, “Where does it say that?”
“Lots of places”
“Well I only need one”
She spent the rest of the class flipping through her bible trying to find where it said what she claimed. She had substituted her opinion for God’s word. She had blasphemed God by putting words in His mouth. That is the state of the average Christian today. We substitute our personal preference for God’s word. We blaspheme God’s name by claiming He has said things He has not. We know what God ought to say. So we claim He says it. After all, if God is good and right and just he would agree with us. Not so!
Since we do not understand the scripture, we allow men to twist scripture. We follow men who blaspheme God because we refuse to learn. If they quote scripture, we assume they must be men or women of God. But even Satan quotes scripture. (Matthew 4:6)
The Ephesians were patient. They suffered for Christ. Their doctrine was sound. They held to the truth. They worked hard for the Lord.
Through verse 3 you think, “Hey these guys are doing pretty well.” But then you get to verse 4. They had lost their first love. This was not a peccadillo. It was serious.
Christ cited them for abandoning what they use to love. It is hard to believe this was the same church Paul praised in the book of Ephesians. In Ephesians 1: 15 he said he heard of their “faith in the Lord Jesus and their love toward all the saints.” Now a short time later their faith had grown cold. They still had works. But they were loveless works.
They had good theology. They knew the scripture. They did not put up with false or bad teaching. But they did not love the Lord. They had abandoned their love. They had become pure academics.
Notice Christ commended them for their knowledge. Christ praised them for throwing out false teachers. Christ did not say these things were unimportant. Doctrine is important. But we are not saved by doctrine. We are saved by Christ. They had abandoned their love for Christ.
This was serious. This was so serious Jesus threatens to remove their lampstand. Christ outlined how to recover their first love. 1. Remember 2. Repent 3. Do the first works. But if they repent and do what Christ commands, He will come to them. They will eat of the tree of life.
After this awesome warning, Christ returns to commend them. They hated the works of the Nicolaitans. Christ hated them as well. We do not any historical record of who the Nicolaitans were. We do not know what they believed. Nor do we know what their works were. There are only two references to the Nicolaitans both in the New Testament. They both appear in Revelation. There is no record of them outside the Bible.
I found two sources that speculated they were a sect within the church. (John Wesley’s commentary and NET bible notes.) That would explain why there is no record of them outside scripture. At this point in history, Christianity was not that important to the world. A sect within Christianity even less so. These sources speculate the Nicolaitans were a sect associated with Nicolaus. He was one of the seven original deacons in Acts 6:5. That sect taught that Christians lived under grace. So they could engage in immoral behavior with impunity.
But this serves as another reminder to us. There are those who claim Christ. But He does not claim them. We are not saved by our claiming Christ. Our salvation is of the Lord. We are saved by Him claiming us.
To those who overcome Christ promise them they will eat of the tree of life. This is a reference back to the garden in Genesis. There is a restoration of paradise.