(2: 1) “Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus, write: These things saith He that holdeth the seven stars in His right hand, Who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks;”
In my last article, I stated my view that the seven epistles to the churches are inspired messages which relate to a future state of the church; not barring, of course, incidental allusions to those things which were current when John wrote.
As implied in the parable of the marriage supper, all things were ready when the servants went out to bid Israel to the marriage (Matt. 22: 8). But when Israel rejected the Gospel call, the invitation was sent to the Gentiles. Because of the proliferation of the Gospel throughout the habitable world (Col. 1: 6), the then impending judgment (see Acts 17: 31) was postponed. Hence the present dispensation may be viewed as a parenthesis, during which God is visiting the Gentiles, taking out of them a people for His name (Acts 15: 14).
But this is all about to end. The current state of Christianity tells us so. In fact, Paul hints in Romans 11: 22 that the Gentiles stand in danger of being cut off, just as Israel was cut off. As we see it, the times of the Gentiles are rapidly drawing to a close. All of the seven letters seem to point to a future order of things which will take place when God has reconstituted His apostolic church–when He has taken up where He left off in the first century.
The fact that Christ is seen holding the seven stars in His right hand tells us that extraordinary grace is conferred on the angels of these apostolic assemblies. The condition of the church of Ephesus here mentioned is nothing similar to that we find in Paul’s epistle, written around 62 A.D.
According to the Preterist view, the seven epistles were written circa 65 A.D. But are we to believe that only two years after Paul’s first imprisonment, and while he was still alive in the flesh, and ministering throughout Asia, the church had sunk to such a low spiritual level? Where are the precious doctrines of grace that Paul had written to the church? Where is there anything in this letter concerning our election and predestination to glory? Nowhere do we find anything of the like in this epistle to Ephesus. This absence implies that the church addressed in the Apocalypse is under a different dispensation.
Nevertheless, Christ walks in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks, for “where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matt. 18: 20). These churches, then, must be Christian assemblies, after all, and not mere Jewish congregations.
(2: 2) “I know thy works, and thy labor, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them that are evil; and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not; and hast found them liars:”
This reminds us of something that John wrote: “Try the spirits whether they are of God” (1 John 4: 1). Although all Christians are given to try the spirits, that we may distinguish between true teachers and false, the “discerning of spirits” is a peculiar gift of the apostolic dispensation (1 Cor. 12: 10). Like the gift of tongues and the working of miracles, these extraordinary manifestations of the Spirit are in abeyance. But when the Lord reconstitutes His apostolic church, they will once more come into play.
And, really, can’t we see from this letter how necessary such gifts will be? For when Israel has been gathered back to their own land, and the temple rebuilt, the consummation of the age, checked in its course during the first century, will commence once more, and the saints will need all the spiritual graces God can give them to ward off the evil.
In this letter something is mentioned concerning “false apostles.” It so happens that apostles are church officers recognized by Paul (1 Cor. 12: 28; Eph. 4: 11). But there are false ones, too. Do we meet with any apostles in our own time? Of course not! But when the Lord sends forth a fresh outpouring of His spirit, the primitive church, now in its winter of dormancy, will put forth fresh buds and blossoms, to tell the world that Christ yet reigns in the heavenlies, and that He sends forth blessings on whom He chooses.
(2: 3) “And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name’s sake hast labored, and hast not fainted.”
Note the earnestness displayed by this church, and that in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation (Phil. 2: 15). Its members are not living in slothful ease, but are laboring to keep themselves unspotted from the world (James 1: 27). Christ offers them a word of enouragement. Not only do they try false apostles and teachers who come into their midst, but they show signs of steady perseverance. These are true evidences of discipleship.
(2: 4) “Nevertheless, I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.”
Notwithstanding the word of commendation, there is something lacking which they desperately require. What is this “first love” which they have lost? It must be the joy of espousal which all Christians experience when quickened by Christ. Then we became new creatures in Christ: old things pass away, and behold, all things became new (1 Cor. 5: 17).
They saints here addressed, however, appear to have grown cold in their religious fervor and enthusiasm. Once they worshipped God with joy in their hearts, buring with a zeal for His service. But something of that original zest has died away. That so many of us, who accepted the Gospel with joy of the Holy Ghost, should find our lamps ebbing low, even dying out, is a sign of underlying sickness.
(2: 5) “Remember therefore, from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.”
Our Lord here equates their lack of spiritual enthusiasm to a kind of falling away. If the down-sloping trend continues, it will result in the permanent removal of their church. Doesn’t this reveal to us how important it is to return to the faith we once knew and loved?
Too many professing Christians have left the doctrines of Pre-Millennialism, due to a false conception that “gnosis” equals spiritual growth. They think they are advancing in knowledge, while they are really moving backwards. They are fattening themselves for the slaughter; puffed up vainly with a sense of superiority over the simpler brethren. Assaulting the “little children” of the household of faith with their dialectic wizardies and arsenals of doubt, they show their apostasy in a determined warfare against Christ’s people. But repent, saith Christ, and do the first works. Failure to take heed to ourselves now will result in damnation. Many are called, but few chosen (Matt. 22: 14).
(2: 6) “But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nocolaitanes, which I also hate.”
The literature of the early church is full of accounts concerning this sect of the Nocolaitanes. There are too many passages to quote here; and not all of them agree in detail. But of the fathers I’ve consulted, all agree that Nicolaus was one of the original seven deacons ordained by the apostles (see Acts 6: 5). According to Tertullian, he taught a “foul and obscene” brand of Gnosticism (Against All Heresies, ch. i). He is mentioned by Hippolytus as one who “was in the habit of indifferency of both life and food,” and that his disciples were “fornicators and eaters of things offered unto idols” (Refutation of All Heresies, V. xxiv).
From the above it is clear that the Nicolaitanes taught a debased Christianity based on “advancement in esoteric knowledge,” which (they thought) released them from requirements of obedience to the Gospel. The rise of Gnostic Christianity in our own day, in which antinomianism often comes to the fore under the deceitful wrappings of “Calvinism,” assures us that Nicolaitanism is highly active, and is even growing on the internet at an alarming rate. The Ephesian saints, while admonished for losing their early zeal, are commended for hating the type of religion endorsed by the Nicolaitanes. We are ever to beware of those who turn the grace of God into lasciviousness (Jude 4).
(2: 7) “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.”
Like the several admonitions, all the promises apply to the churches both individually and corporately. Christ tells us what will be the reward of overcomers. It is needful to combine the promises given in the seven epistles in order to get a composite picture of what is in store for those who “endure unto the end.”
This verse informs us that one result of Christ’s return to earth will be a restoration of the Tree of Life. This Tree of Life is located within the New Jerusalem (Rev. 22: 2, 14). And so we infer, that when the New Jerusalem comes down from God out of heaven during the Millennium, all nations who enter its gates will have access to that eternal life which Adam forfeited. What a wonderful promise!