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2 "I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars;
3 and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name's sake and have not become weary. - Revelation 2:2-3

Jesus said, "I know your works." The omniscient Son of God is never so preoccupied by the maintenance of His Universe that He fails to keep track of what each of us is doing. In this portion of the letter that fact should be an encouragement, because He is commending them for their good works. As mentioned before, our salvation does not depend on good works, but they are still very important. He taught His Disciples that if they love Him they will keep His commandments (John 14:15). He said about other people, "By their fruits you shall know them" (Matthew 7:20). And in a parable about good works, He said the master will tell the faithful one, "Well done, good and faithful servant" (Matthew 25:21). See our additional notes on good works in chapter 2, verse 26, and chapter 3, verse 1.

The Apostle Paul reinforced the importance of doing good things in many of his writings, including Ephesians 2:8-10, where he said we were "created unto good works," and in 1 Corinthians 9:25; 2 Timothy 4:8; , where he taught that those who are faithful will receive crowns for their service. Here in Revelation chapters 2 and 3 we will learn more about crowns being given to believers. Then, in Chapter 4 we will see that those crowns will be given to the Lord as a proof of our love.

Truthfully, people who think they are children of God, but who realize that they do not live in a way that produces good works, should take a new, honest look at whether or not they are "born again" (John 3:1-8). When we get to Revelation 3:20 we will consider the simple but definite step one must take to accept Christ as Savior.

Jesus also commends the Ephesians for "your labor, your patience."

Believers of this period endured great hardships without giving up their faith. Christianity was considered false by the majority of Jewish people who had been blinded because of their unbelief (Romans 11). Those who followed Christ often had to do so against the wishes of their families. Jesus warned His followers that this would happen (Matthew 10:34-39). Opposition to early Christianity became so strong that believers were scattered and many were imprisoned and even killed. Before he was converted, Saul of Tarsus (who was renamed "Paul" after his conversion) zealously persecuted the church (Acts 9:1-2,21).

Also, all during this time Caesar worship was practiced. They actually claimed that Caesar was god. Remember that their background religion was the Roman panoply of mythological gods, some of which were also human, which came from the Greek religious system before it, and could actually be traced back to Babylonian origins. We will touch on this in the letter to Pergamum. The normal statement of devotion and loyalty to the Emperor was, "Caesar is Lord." That's why the expression "Jesus is Lord" was a test of true belief for Christians in 1 Corinthians 12:3.

The next good thing that Jesus said about the Ephesian Church was, "and that you cannot bear those who are evil." Ephesus, like one of our own large cities, was a place where many wicked people could be found - from the immoral pagan religions, to the corrupt politics and illegal activities; it was home to evil (Greek kakos - "inwardly rotten") people. What is most interesting here is that it wasn't the normal criminal types that are given as examples, but religious hypocrites: "false apostles" and "Nicolaitans." This is exactly the way Jesus viewed the Pharisees during His earthly ministry (Matthew 23:13-29). To Him, the worst kind of person was one who pretended to be good when his motives were evil.

The word used for "tolerate" means to "bear," or "carry what is burdensome." Jesus commends the fact that they do not tolerate wickedness. This is interesting because He was criticized for making contact with people who were tax collectors and prostitutes. He practiced true tolerance. He was willing to befriend them for the sake of giving them the truth, but He never let them think that their wrong ideas and actions were acceptable to God (John 8:11).

A generation ago tolerance meant putting up with something or someone who has a different point of view. But today there is a new understanding of tolerance: that all beliefs and lifestyles should be accepted as equal. This is philosophically impossible since those who hold that position cannot live up to their own theory. They are intolerant of our most heart-felt belief that Jesus is "The way, the truth, and the life", and no one can come to the Father apart from Him (John 14:6).

The first example Jesus gave that they did not tolerate evil-doers was "that you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not." In the previous verse we discussed the very limited use of the title "Apostle" in the Bible. They were all chosen by Christ to serve the first-generation Church, but the Bible does not teach any sort of apostolic succession. And, as we will see later, it was not God's idea for the church to have a domineering hierarchy.

During the Apostolic period there were false apostles. The early church was careful to identify true apostles and reject the false. This explains the need for the Apostle Paul to defend his calling as an apostle in 2 Corinthians, chapters 11-13. He said that some people were "transforming themselves into apostles of Christ" (2 Corinthians 11:13).

"And have found them liars." It is not explained how the Church at Ephesus tested these false apostles. Some of the questions they may have asked were: Did Jesus Christ call them, and if so, is there sufficient proof, as in the case of Paul? Did the whole Church have the practice of appointing new apostles? They undoubtedly followed biblical concepts of discernment, such as:

Test all things; hold fast what is good. - 1 Thessalonians 5:21

15 But he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one. 16 For "who has known the mind of the LORD that he may instruct Him?" But we have the mind of Christ. - 1 Corinthians 2:16-16

Then Jesus emphasized the importance of the diligence and patience of the Ephesian believers by restating His commendation in a slightly different way. "You have persevered and have patience, and have labored for my name, and have not become weary." This underscores how admirable these qualities were in the Early Church, and how completely they had devoted their lives to the spread of the Gospel. Jesus had addressed the problem of weariness this way:

Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. - Matthew 11:28

The Apostle Paul also gave encouragement on the subject:

And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. - Galatians 6:9

Next: Revelation 2:4-5


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