List of Current Articles
A List of Resources
Useful Links
To leave feedback

Home Up Next

The Church at Ephesus

The Apostolic Church Period
(AD 40~150)

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 Thomas” 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 history.

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 man-made.

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).

The 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 increasingly irrelevant.

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.

Home Up Next