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Instruction to the Church 2:1-3:22

As we begin to consider the letters to the Seven Churches, we should notice that there is a pattern to these messages. Each church is named of course. Then normally there are five segments in each letter:

1 - Connection- Jesus reveals Himself to them in different ways that are appropriate to the content of their epistle. The imagery in the first five messages is taken from the descriptions of Christ that were introduced in chapter 1.

2 - Commendation - There is normally a commendation or approval in each letter (except Laodicea). If possible, the Lord found something that each church was doing well. This made it easier for them to accept the criticism that usually came next. When someone special says nice things about you it makes you want to live up to their expectations and it makes it easier to accept the mistakes that you also make along the way and learn to do better. I have two special treasures that I will always keep and cherish. One is a box of love notes from by wife Barbara when we first started dating in high school. I would drop a note in her locker each day, and she would do the same. The other collection is a paper treasure box hand-made by my daughter with dozens of tiny pieces of paper inside - each with a good memory of being together, like buying donuts or catching frogs in the field.

To every church Jesus says "I know your works." The Gospels and the rest of the New Testament abundantly prove that salvation is by faith in Jesus Christ - not by works (Ephesians 2:8-9). However, those who have received that incredible salvation are expected to demonstrate their new life in Christ by doing good works by the power of Jesus and the Holy Spirit who indwells them, (Ephesians 2:10; Titus 3:5,8; Galatians 2:20; Philippians 4:15; Ephesians 5:15-33).

Isn't it sobering to realize that Jesus knows all about us? In our generation there is growing concern about the incredible amount of information Google collects about each one of us. But Jesus literally knows everything! What a difference that should make.

3 - Complaint - In each letter there is usually also a warning or rebuke (except Smyrna and Philadelphia). Our first reaction to criticism is usually negative. In chapter 1, verse 15 we already considered that discipline is meant to be a good thing. A good parent must correct his children as they grow and make mistakes. Otherwise they will have a miserable life, and probably die young.

In this portion of each message, or in the Critique section, we will point out some of the ways these churches were actually prophetic previews of the different periods of church history.

4 - Critique - In most of the letters there is more information given about their situation. This section usually calls for repentance or some change of action in the church.

5 - Counsel - At the end of each message there are some final encouragements and promises. These benefits were promised to individuals in each of these churches who were overcomers. The message as a whole was to the entire church, but in every church, in every different age, there are those who believe and obey, and there are those who ignore the truth. Some special blessing is promised to each individual who remains true to the Lord in spite of the problems of their day. In John's first Epistle he explained the concept of being an overcomer:

3 For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome. 4 For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world-our faith. 5 Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? - 1 John 5:3-5

A final thought in each letter is, "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches." This is another reminder about the responsibility of each individual to heed these instructions. The emphasis on "hearing" is carried over from the promise in chapter 1, verse 3, of a blessing to everyone who reads the book, or even hears it.

To Ephesus 2:1-7 (Apostolic Church - AD 33 to AD 100)

"To the angel of the church of Ephesus write,
'These things says He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands: - Revelation 2:1

This first message is to Ephesus, the preeminent congregation of the region. It applies to the members of that actual church in Asia, but it is a prophetic overview of the first major period of Christianity, usually called the Early Church, or the Apostolic Period. Christianity was literally a "world-changing" new faith, based in Judaism and founded on the Old Testament Scriptures, but offering a "New Covenant" (Matthew 26:28; Hebrews 9:15), a resurrected Savior (John 11:25; Acts 1:22; 4:2), a miraculous and explosive beginning on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2), the Gospel ("Good News" - 1 Corinthians 15), and zealous missionaries, willing to die for their faith in Christ (Book of Acts). Only about 20 years after the resurrection of Christ, His followers were being described as "these who have turned the world upside down." (Acts 17:6).

However, by the time the Revelation was given to John, another 40 or more years had passed. If we look back forty years in our own generation we can understand how many great changes can take place in that length of time. The Church was still growing, but it had lost its original zeal - its "first love" for the Lord Jesus Christ.

In chapter 1, verse 20 we suggested that "the angel" is probably the pastor of the church. There are no biblical examples of angelic beings instructing a church. The structure of the Early Church was considerably less complicated than it is today. Every true Christian was considered a disciple ("learner").

At a certain point, Jesus' original 12 disciples were designated "Apostles" (Matthew 10:1-2 - Greek apostelos, meaning "one sent forth on a mission"). Matthais was chosen after Judas' death to take his place as an Apostle (Acts 1:26), and Paul was chosen by Jesus later as an additional Apostle to the Gentiles (Romans 11:13). A few other leaders, like Barnabas, Silas, and Timothy, were called apostles in a more limited sense as pioneer missionaries.

By the time Paul wrote the Epistle to the Ephesians (approx. AD 62), he named certain offices or positions of ministry in the Church.

11 And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, - Ephesians 4:11-12

The structure of the verse shows that "pastor- teacher" should be taken as one position. Pastor means "shepherd," and his chief purpose is to spiritually "feed the sheep." That is also what a teacher does.

Actually, the primary word in the New Testament for leadership of the church is "elders." Qualifications are given for holding this office (Titus 1:5-9 cf. similar qualifications for "overseer" or bishop in 1 Timothy 3:1-7). The word is often used in the plural, indicating that a church may have more than one leader. There are two passages in the New Testament that strongly indicate that elders, shepherds (pastors), and overseers (bishops) are all the same office.

17 From Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called for the elders of the church. 18 And when they had come to him, he said to them: "You know, from the first day that I came to Asia, in what manner I always lived among you,

28 Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. - Acts 20:17,28

5 The elders who are among you I exhort, I who am a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed: 2 Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; - 1 Peter 5:1-2

We should note in passing that when the Early Church was growing rapidly another kind of leaders - deacons - were added to help with all the physical work of caring for the poor and needy (Acts 6).

This letter is addressed to "the church of Ephesus." Ephesus was greatest city of the entire Roman province of Asia. It was in a most-desirable location, where the Cayster River reached the Aegean Sea. With an excellent harbor and a commanding position on trade routes into Asia, it grew to be a major commerce center.

Ephesus was also important because of its world-famous Temple of Diana (Artemis), one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. The temple was larger than a football field and had 127 columns, each at least 40 feet tall and many of them adorned with carved images. It was dedicated to the worship of Diana, the multi-breasted mythological goddess. Worship of Diana was grossly immoral.

There is important information in the Book of Acts about the founding of the Church in Ephesus. Have you noticed that in the New Testament references to a body of believers in any city are called The Church (singular) in that city? In those days there were no denominations or rival congregations. There were no church buildings, so most segments of the Church in any city were like our "small groups" today, meeting in people's homes. For that reason, almost all of the Epistles ("letters") in the New Testament were addressed like this: "The Church at Corinth," or "The Church at Colosse," etc.

Acts 18:18-21 tells of Paul's first visit to Ephesus. He couldn't stay at that time, but left a godly husband/wife team, Aquila and Priscilla, to start the work. While they were there, a highly educated and eloquent Jewish speaker named Apollos, came from Alexandria in Egypt. He knew about John the Baptist, but not about Jesus, so Aquila and Pricilla taught him about the life and work of the Savior (Acts 18:24-28).

Paul then returned to Ephesus and invested three years there (Acts 19-20, see 20:31), apparently the longest of any of his ministries. He was able to use Ephesus as a base to reach out to the rest of the area. After two years the Church had made a tremendous impact.

And this continued for two years, so that all who dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks. - Acts 19:10

Amazing things happened in Ephesus during those years. Many mighty miracles were done in Jesus' name. Evil spirits and sorcerers opposed the work, and there was a huge riot in the city when the silversmith's business of making idols of Diana began to decline because so many people were coming to Christ.

Later, Paul's associate Timothy served the church there (1 Timothy 1:3), and later still, according to church traditions, the Apostle John lived and ministered there.


Jesus, the true source of this message, describes Himself this way: "These things says He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands." We have already studied the meaning of these words in chapter 1, verses 12-16 and 20. Perhaps this image was a reminder to the leaders of the Church at Ephesus that even though Ephesus was the "mother church" of the area, and the most prominent, that the other churches were also important, and Jesus was the true head of His whole Church.

Next: Revelation 2:2


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