Church at Ephesus
Apostolic Church Period
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; I know thy
works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which
are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and
hast found them liars: And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name's sake
hast laboured, and hast not fainted. (Revelation 2:1—3)
the first period of church history began on
the day of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit visited the Apostles of the Lord as
they gathered with 100–some other brothers and sisters in the Lord in an upper
room in Jerusalem. That visitation resulted in a flurry of evangelistic activity
that saw the church being added to daily—thousands of new believers at a time.
Persecution by the Jewish leaders caused the Good News to be dispersed all over
Judea and even to Syria. Churches were established throughout the region,
comprised of Jewish believers all.
After his conversion on the road to Damascus, where he
was headed to round up those who fled the persecution in Jerusalem, Paul and his
fellow workers headed out from Antioch and traveled Asia Minor, or modern Turkey
and southern Europe, and established new churches as they went. Paul took the
gospel as far as Rome in Italy, even though it appears from his letter to this
church that someone had preceded him with the Good News, as a great number of
gatherings were already operating there (see Romans 16).
So we see God had ordained that the church be under the
tutelage of Apostles (Ephesians 2:20).
The only “scriptures” known at the time (see Acts 17:11 and II Tim. 3:15-16)
were the Old Testament writings. The New Testament was, of course, still being
written. Even after John penned his final epistle, it took some time for the
New Testament books to circulate and gain acceptance. When they did, it was on
the basis of apostolic authorship that
they were included in the canon.
However, not everyone who claimed to be “sent by God”
was a true Apostle. In His letter to the believers of this age, the Lord Jesus commends them on their discernment and
their ability to know true apostles from those He calls liars. It was this special grace that prevented “the gospel of
and First Clement from being included in our New Testaments today.
Nevertheless I have somewhat
against thee, because thou hast left thy first love. Remember therefore from
whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come
unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou
repent. (Revelation 2:4,5)
You have probably heard many sermons based on this verse
exhorting you not to lose your “first love” for Jesus. While this is a fine
spiritual application of Revelation 2:4, in context it would appear that the
Lord is referring to an entirely different issue in this first period of church
For this is the message that ye
heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. (I John 3:11)
While the Lord commends this church for its discernment
and faithfulness, He admonishes them for “losing their first love,” or the
kind of brotherly love that was expressed among them in the beginning. This is
understandably an “occupational hazard” for those who are zealous to
safeguard doctrinal purity in the church.
The church or Body of Christ today is split and
fractured into literally countless denominations, fellowships, associations
and the like, many of which will allow no fellowship with a brother of
another denominational stripe. Oftentimes, the differences over which these
factions separate are so trivial as to be almost comical. The churches that are
associated with these factions and “schisms,” as they are referred to in the
Bible, apparently take little notice of Romans 12:16; I Corinthians 1:10-13; or I
Peter 3:8. And yet they all claim to be followers of the One who said, “By this shall all men know that ye are my
disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:35).
The Lord did not intend for HIS church, that is His BODY,
to be split and divided over practice, preference, or even doctrine. There is
ONE BODY, and it is NOT divided, and divisions men recognize are artificial and
And more to the point, they invariably are the result of
a lack of love for the brethren, and a lack of revelation of what the Body of
Christ truly is. Let us set our hearts and minds to love the brethren—all
those who are in Christ—regardless of any differences of race, social
standing, denominational affiliation, pet doctrine, or favorite Bible version.
Let us recognize division in the Body as the ploy of the enemy, and let us stand
against it, and refuse to practice it, at all costs. Let us owe no man anything,
but to love him as a brother in Christ.
There is much more that could be said in this regard, but
we move on…
But this thou hast, that thou
hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. (Revelation 2:5)
The Lord here makes an incredibly strong statement. He
mentions a sect, or group of people within the church whom he refers to as the Nicolaitans, and then states in
unequivocal terms that He hates the
things they do. We will see that later on, the deeds, or the things they do,
will become a doctrine or teaching of
the church (Rev. 2:15). But even though the church adopts these practices and even incorporates them into the doctrines
of the church, the Lord continues to hate them nevertheless.
What sort of deeds could the Lord be referring to here?
Noting the vehemence with which the Lord states his dissatisfaction, we should
be ever the more so curious as to what those deeds might be so that we can be
sure to avoid practicing them. But here, Christian commentators generally tend
to shrug their shoulders and say, “Maybe these were followers of a man named
Nicolas (Acts 6:3, 5), or a guy who showed up much later named Nicolaos” (see Commentary on the Whole Bible, Jamieson,
Fausset, and Brown; Zondervan).
Really? What were they doing that the Lord hates so much?
Well, “we’re not really sure… All we know for sure
is that it was something God hates” (see Bullinger, The Companion Bible, Bagster & Sons).
And how is it that they show up in two different churches
over a hundred miles a part, and the Lord promises to come and fight against
them personally with the sword of His mouth (Rev. 2:16)?
We are finally given a clue in the Believer’s Bible Commentary by William McDonald (Nelson):
We cannot be positive who these people were. Some think they
were followers of a religious leader named Nicolas. Others point out that the name means “rule over the laity” and see in this a reference to the rise of the clerical system (page 1172).
name means to rule over the laity or laymen. Why not accept the term for the
clear meaning that it would have had to a Greek speaking believer in the first
century when the letter was first written? One problem is that the church has
been overly reliant on those who rule over laymen for a living to interpret the
Bible for them.
(Most of the commentaries and “Bible helps” you have
read have been written by “professional” Christian scholars—whether they
are “ordained” ministers or simply have a couple of doctorates to their
credit. These are men who depend on
their superior knowledge vis-a- vis the “sheep,” or laity, for their
livelihood. There is good reason to believe that many of these men wouldn’t
explain the term Nicolaitan to you if they knew what it meant.)
Getting back to the letter to the church at Ephesus, fact
of the matter is that from the first century on there were “false apostles”,
or “liars,” infiltrating the church, and their intent was to present
themselves as ones having authority,
and they attempted to use this authority to rule over the laity, or common people of
the church. The church at Ephesus is commended for resisting this attempt to
bring Christians, who are all under the headship of Christ, under the rule of a clerical, or clergy system.
Even though the Lord Himself expressed His hatred for
this practice, we see it becoming established as a doctrine of the church in Revelation 2:15, and most Christians
accept it as a natural part of the church today. The clergy are held in great
esteem and respect by the population in general, even (or especially) the
unsaved. But remember, that which is
highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God (Luke 16:15)!
You can search the New Testament books in vain in an
attempt to identify anything the like the professional, paid clergy that
“run” most of our churches today. It has been a predominate characteristic
of the recent movement of the Holy Spirit in the church to empower “laymen”
in every spiritual endeavor while generally ignoring the established
professional clergy. As the church
continues its final transformation, traditional clergy/laity distinctions become
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. (Revelation 2: 7)
The Lord Jesus closes the first letter to the first
church with an exhortation to all to open their ears and hear what is being said
to the churches. This exhortation will be repeated in each of the subsequent
letters we will look at. In this case, the exhortation is followed by a promise
to “those that overcome.” And the promise is that they will be allowed to
eat from the tree of life situated in middle of the “paradise of God.”
And so ends the first of seven letters to seven churches
– this first letter being addressed to the church that represents the
apostolic age of the church, or the beginning stage when the church relied on
the Apostles and their disciples for teaching and leadership. This teaching and
leadership was spirit-led, and not the attempt of men who felt they were smarter
or better educated than others to capitalize on their supposedly superior
understanding of the ways of God to make a living at the expense of the gospel
and the liberty which believers are said to have in Christ (Galatians 5:1). This
period began around AD 40 and came to an end somewhere around AD 150, as the New
Testament really began to come together and be circulated as scripture within
the church, covering incredible geographic expanses and reaching all who
“named the Name.”
At the same time, local persecution by religious Jews
continued. In time, the “Christian problem” would become an issue of note
for the Empire, and official edicts or decrees banning Christianity and
subjecting believers to punishment, imprisonment and death would be promulgated.
And that is the background for the next letter we will study.