Sunday, January 15, 2023

The Letters to the Seven Churches in Revelation: The Church in Ephesus

What are the authoritative sources in your life? Who do you trust for information? This is more important than we might realize. Most people would probably say the education system, television, tv news, doctors, academics, trusted friends, or college.

When we receive information from these various sources we tend to trust the information as being something we can believe is true.

I have certain sources that I trust completely. There are other sources that I kind of trust. And there are other sources that I distrust. Still other sources I outright reject.

What are your authoritative sources?

Prior to becoming a Christian my highest trusted sources would’ve been news media, doctors, things I learned in college, science, experts, and so on.

Today after becoming a Christian that list would be very different. I tend to distrust the news media. I tend to distrust things that I had been taught in college, I tend to be more skeptical of the claims of experts and scientists. Today my highest trusted authority is of course the Bible, the word of God. I also tend to trust many teachers of the word of God.

The Bible went from having zero authority in my life, to having prime authority in my life.

What is your authority? Is it the Bible? Or do you trust the news and the experts and the proclamations of society more?

It’s not something we’re suddenly immune to once we become Christians. Even as Christians we can distrust the Bible and put too much trust in culture and society and the television. That’s why you see Christians who support abortion or gay marriage. That’s why you see Christians who champion political causes they’ve seen in the news that actually contradict the word of God.

This world has many deceptions. Be careful what you’re believing. Be sure to trust God over any man or woman.

So, today, we begin a new series, where we’ll be examining 7 letters that Jesus gave, in the book of Revelation.

We talked about how even as Christians we can be deceived. Many Christians refuse to open the book of Revelation. They’re afraid of it. And they don’t like the way God is portrayed in Revelation. Even someone like Martin Luther the greater reformer disliked the book of Revelation and didn’t regard it as Holy Spirit inspired for many years. But later in his life he did begin to speak more positively of it. He said similar things about the book of James as well. Should we dislike Revelation? Or run from it? No, absolutely not. The book of Revelation is wonderful. It's part of the trusted canon of scripture. 

And I think in the letters to the seven churches we can find a great deal of useful and wise teachings.

As we begin this series I’d like to give you a proper introduction. Tradition indicates that all of the disciples of Jesus lost their lives as they traveled to proclaim the message of His resurrection. All of them aside from one, John, who was poisoned, but survived, and was later exiled to the island of Patmos.

While John was on the island of Patmos, he received a vision from God, through Jesus Christ, describing the events of the end times, as well as messages to seven churches, the first churches, of the body of Christ, giving each church a different message about their journey in serving Jesus on the Earth.

Each of the seven churches received a different and unique message. Many of the churches were encouraged, others were rebuked, some received only praise, other received only correction. I wonder what Jesus would say to our little church today? Would he encourage us, rebuke us, or both? I wonder.

Let’s dive into the word, you can open your Bibles to the book of Revelation.

From Revelation 1:1-3 “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave to Him to show to His servants things which must soon take place. He sent and signified it by His angel to His servant John, 2 who bears record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw. 3 Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy and keep those things which are written in it, for the time is near.”

We’re told we’ll receive a special blessing by reading these words aloud, which is wonderful. We see this Revelation, singular, is from Jesus, given to John, to be shared with us, the body of believers today.

So I’m just going to read through the first chapter here, and try to give you a feel for what John is seeing and what is being shared, it says this:

"Grace to you and peace from Him who is and who was and who is to come and from the seven Spirits who are before His throne, 5 and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, 6 and has made us kings and priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

7 Look! He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him,

even those who pierced Him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him. Even so, Amen.

8 “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End,” says the Lord, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”

Here we have the initial greeting as John forwards the message to the seven churches in Asia Minor, present day Turkey. It’s interesting that Jesus is cited as the current ruler of the kings of the Earth. Same would true today, wouldn’t it? He is the ruler of every king, president and prime minister on Earth. Period.

And Jesus we know is one day coming with the clouds, like he left. And it says every eye will see Him.

God is the alpha and the omega. First and last letters of the Greek alphabet. Who is presently, who was, and who is also in the future, is to come.

It continues, “9 I, John, both your brother and companion in the tribulation and kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was on the isle that is called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. 10 I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day, and I heard behind me a great voice like a trumpet, 11 saying, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last,” and “What you see, write in a book, and send it to the seven churches which are in Asia: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.”

12 I turned to see the voice that spoke with me. And when I turned, I saw seven golden candlesticks, 13 and in the midst of the seven candlesticks was one like a Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the feet and with a golden sash wrapped around the chest. 14 The hair on His head was white like wool, as white as snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire. 15 His feet were like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace, and His voice as the sound of many waters. 16 He had in His right hand seven stars, and out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword. His appearance was like the sun shining brightly.

17 When I saw Him, I fell at His feet as though I were dead. Then He laid His right hand on me, saying to me, “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. 18 I am He who lives, though I was dead. Look! I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death.

19 “Write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after this. 20 The mystery of the seven stars which you saw in My right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven candlesticks which you saw are the seven churches.”

Powerful images. A vision. One minute you’re standing on the shore, or in your bed, the next moment you’re taken and you see things few could imagine. Truly astonishing.

Why does God work this way? Why a vision or a dream? It’s common throughout scripture. But it’s clear God wants to communicate truth to us a particular way. It brings up a lot of different questions. Why doesn’t everyone get a vision? Why only certain people? Can we trust the vision? Was it just a hallucination? All sorts of questions come up.

But it’s interesting that a vision like this, it’s mysterious, it’s symbolic, and it fills us with wonder. It makes us wonder at the glory and majesty of God. And it preserves our choice. We can either trust and believe God, or we can doubt and question God. Will I believe? Or will I reject it? Free will, choice is preserved. My choice. Who will I believe? God or the world? I choose God. It’s real. And I can trust what it’s saying to me.

So today we’re looking at the church of Ephesus, and the specific message given from Jesus, to them. This was in AD 95. The disciples of Jesus, along with the Apostle Paul began planting various faith communities across the roman empire. Probably the most famous would’ve been Ephesus. Though there were churches planted in Philippi, Thessalonica, Jerusalem, though they had to flee the area later, even in Rome. So it makes you wonder why did Jesus only send these messages to these seven churches? There are others. We don’t really know.

The church in Ephesus, well, they had a lot to contend with. Ephesus was a major trading city in asia minor. And it was well know for the worship of the Greek goddess artemis. In fact people from all around the roman empire would make pilgrimages to ephesus to worship artemis. Artemis was the goddess of fertility. And the way that worship to artemis took place was, they had a massive temple to artemis in ephesus, with hundreds of temple prostitutes, and you would go and sleep with the temple prostitutes, as your act of worship. Very difficult thing to compete with, like trying to compete with nfl football or bars or night clubs. But God is greater than evil. And false gods stand no chance against the true living God.

So the church at ephesus was growing and vibrant. They were doing very well. And over time they would ultimately be victorious in ephesus over the false gods. About 175 years later, the temple of artemis was destroyed by invaders. And the roman empire had become so Christian by then, the temple was never rebuilt. Though at one time it was considered one of the seven wonders of the world.

In any case, this is the message that was given to the believers at Ephesus, from Jesus, in

Revelation 2:1-7: “To the angel of the church of Ephesus write: “He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks, says these things: 2 I know your works, your labor and your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles, but are not, and have found them to be liars. 3 You have endured, and have been patient, and for My name’s sake have labored and have not grown weary.

4 “But I have something 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, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your candlestick from its place, unless you repent. 6 But 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 him who overcomes I will give permission to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.”

Encouragement: Jesus says I know your works, your labor, and your patience. He is pleased that they do reject all evil.

Also, they’ve seen false apostles going about, which was common during Pauls time, of the early church, people claiming to be apostles, but they were false. And Jesus again praises them for being wise and testing people to make sure they’re from God or not.

Jesus says you’ve endured difficulties, well done. You’ve been patient. Probably referring to persecution from the city.

I found this interesting he praises them because they quote “have not grown weary.” There have been times in my life that I’ve grown weary. But this tells me that I can find ways to avoid becoming weary, like the ephesians did. They labored for Jesus name sake, and that was also pleasing to God.

Those are the encouragements, Jesus saying, good job, just as he says to you in your life at many times, good job because of this, this, and this. Amazing. We need that encouragement.

Next we see correction, just one line, but very important, he says you’ve abandoned the love you had at first. Other translations say you’ve abandoned your first-love. Just one line, however, our Bibles say, without love, what are we? Useless. It’s a big problem to have abandoned love.

This I see in many churches even in our modern day and age. It’s a common scenario. They start off very focused on love. And the enemy attacks. They have to fight off a lot of evil next. And they face persecution. And they begin to fight evil by hating evil. Which is a good thing. They fight for their doctrine. They resist false teachers. They battle it out and become mature believers. But in all those battles they become hard, and strained, and burned out and bitter. And slowly over time they get so used to fighting evil, they no longer have love in their hearts for Jesus or for the lost. That is very common for a body of believers. They’ve fought the battles over the years, 10 years, 20 years, 30 years, and they’ve fought so hard, they’ve lost their ability to love. And Jesus says return to the love you had at first. Find your love again.

Are you there today? Tired from the battles? Exhausted from fighting? So used to dealing with all the evil in the USA that slowly your genuine love has faded to brokenness and bitterness? Return today to the love of God. Ask Jesus to fill you again with His love, so you may pour it out to others.

There was a time in my life when I’d become so involved in cultural battles, activism, apologetics, politics, government, theological debates, that I had begun to lose that first love. But we can always find it again.

Two paths are shown to the Ephesian church. Jesus says for those of you in this church who do overcome, I’ll give you the right to eat from the tree of life. Wow!

But, if you do not repent, and find your love again, I will remove your lampstand from it’s place. Basically saying, your church will become a dead church, no more Holy Spirit, no more love or power, empty. Have you ever walked into a church like that? It’s just dead spiritually. I’ve felt that, and it’s ugly.

Reward or disaster, is the offer to ephesians. I believe they chose life. Because they overcame the evil one, and the temple to artemis as toppled. But only God knows for sure.

So in conclusion today, let’s learn from this first letter to the church in Ephesus. Your homework today is to go home and read Revelation 1 through Revelation 2:7, and do some highlighting and underlining.

Who is your source of authority? If it’s the word of God, then believe these words are true and for you today. Apply them to your life. If they really are the words of the creator of the universe, follow them carefully. Structure your life around these words. Keep your first love first, your love for Jesus, and his love for you. It’s perfect. So seek Him today. God bless you.