Revelation 3:7-13, The Church in Philadelphia: The Church With an Open Door.

“And to the church in Philadelphia write,
‘These things says He who is holy, He who is true, “He who has the key of David, He who opens and no one shuts, and shuts and no one opens”:   ‘I know your works.  See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it; for you have a little strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name.  Indeed I will make those of the synagogue of Satan, who say they are Jews and are not, but lie – indeed I will make them come and worship before your feet, and to know that I have loved you.  Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth.  Behold, I am coming quickly!  Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown.  He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more.  I will write on him the name of My God, and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem,which comes down out of heaven from My God.  And I will write on him My new name.
“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”‘ (NKJV)

1. The City of the Epistle, v. 7.

The city got its name from Attalus II, 159-138 B.C., whose truth and loyalty to his ailing brother Eumenes won for him the epithet, Philadelphus (“brother-loving”).  Philadelphia was founded as a center for the consolidation and spread of the Greek culture and language, so was a “missionary” city from the beginning.

The city obtained world-wide fame through a disaster.  Philadelphia lay on the edge of a now extinct volcanic field, but in AD 17 a severe earthquake destroyed 12 cities, including Sardis and Philadelphia.  Evidently, the aftershocks continued for some time and so terrorized the inhabitants that most of them remained outside the city.  Those who did return to the city lived in constant fear of another earthquake.

The Emperor Tiberius helped these stricken cities and in commemoration of his generosity, Philadelphia took on a new name:  “Neokaisareia,” “New Caesarea,” though this name was gradually abandoned.

Philadelphia was distinguished from the other cities by several things:  it was a “missionary” city, there was constant danger, much of the population remained outside the city, and the city took on a new name from the imperial god.

In the last stages of the struggle of the decaying Roman Empire and the growing Turkish power, Philadelphia played a heroic part and held aloft the Christian banner long after the surrounding countryside had been conquered.  During the fourteenth century, it stood practically alone against the entire Turkish power as a free and self-governing city against and amidst the Turkish lands which surrounded it.  Twice, Turkish armies reduced the city to starvation, yet the city stood.  Finally, about 1370-1390, it fell to a combined Turkish and Byzantine army.  What the Turks could not do by themselves, they did by taking advantage of the division and jealousy among the Christians.

2. The Christ of the Epistle, v. 7.

His Personality,

1. “Holy.”  This refers to His inward character.  As Hebrews 7:26 puts it, He is holy, harmless, undefiled.

2. “True.” – “genuine,” as opposed to the claims of “those who say” in v. 9.  This refers to the outward manifestation of the inward character.  In the final analysis, what we do is determined by what we are.

His Power, “opens” and “shuts” and no one hinders.  We greatly need the assurance of this in our day.  There’s too much of the idea that we can somehow “hinder” or “frustrate” the God who created everything.  While we in no way deny our responsibilities or that our actions have consequences, we do deny that these in any way “mess up” the God of heaven.  I firmly believe this is why the churches – and indeed, the world – are in the shape they’re in.  We have the (false) idea that we can “mess Him up”.  The end and obvious result of such a view is the blatant skepticism and atheism we see all around us.  Who wants so feeble a god?

3. The Content of the Epistle, vs. 8-13.

The letter has three promises here:

Operation, “An open door”.  This clause is a perfect participle, meaning that the door is still open.

“able to shut,” implying that someone or is trying to shut the door and stop the missionary effort, but is not able to interfere with the Lord who keeps it open.

“no one” – not even Satan, though he certainly would like to.
1. No one can shut the door because the church “has a little strength”.  This is a great encouragement.  The church was evidently small, unimportant and feeble, especially when compared to the church at Pentecost, yet there is nothing but commendation.  No church can be judged, or may judge itself, by any other church.
2. No one can shut the door because the church “kept My word.”  Cf. John 14:23.  This implies obedience to, as well as, belief in Scripture.  This is a great responsibility.  Too much of our preaching and teaching is out of some commentary – what men say about the Bible.  While such things have their place and can be useful, we need to go to our primary source, the Word of God itself.  What does the Scripture say? Romans 4:3, not “what does this source or that source say the Scripture says.”
3. No one can shut the door because the church has not “denied My name.”  With reference to the typical teaching from the church, perhaps this is a hint as to the great hour of trial yet to come upon the world – to deny Christ by receiving the “mark of the beast”.

Vindication, v. 9.  There are two interpretations of this verse:
1. The Jews will be forced to confess to the truth of Christianity at the Judgment, or,
2. Some Jews, now opponents, will be saved.

Both interpretations might be said to be true, though we believe the first one is more correct.

Many people, including Christians, forget that this life is not all there is to life.  A preacher of another generation, Rolfe Barnard, used to tell a story, something like this:

“There was a little country church surrounded by the fields of an ardent atheist.  One year, he decided to show his contempt for the church and what it taught.  The church had no air conditioning and so, in the spring and summer, had to have its windows open.  This atheist decided to plow his fields on Sunday, to cultivate his crops on Sunday, and finally, to harvest them on Sunday.  When the season was over, he wrote a letter to the paper in that town.  He said, ‘I planted my crops on Sunday, took care of them on Sunday, and harvested them on Sunday.  And I have a bumper crop.  A bumper crop.’
“The editor replied, ‘My friend, God doesn’t always settle His accounts in October’.”

“God doesn’t always settle His accounts in October.”

Countless millions have died, and are dying at this very moment, and their graves are unsung and unhonored.  Their names are cast out as evil.  Perhaps a believer will be killed while you read these lines.  Even those who aren’t called on to give their physical life are often called on to suffer persecution in one form or another.  Even in our culture, businesses are forced to close because the owners will not do things which violate their faith.  Things which once were unthinkable are now said to be “rights” and woe to those who don’t agree.

God doesn’t always settle His accounts in October.

There is coming a time, however, when He will settle those accounts, a time when righteousness is at home, 2 Peter 3:13.  Many Scriptures speak of this and it is unwise indeed to expect real justice in a time when justice is turned back, and righteousness stands afar off.  For truth is fallen in the street, and equity cannot enter.  So truth fails and he who departs from iniquity makes himself a prey, Isaiah 59:14, 15.  Though Isaiah was speaking directly to his own time, what he said of his nation and culture is applicable to this one.

“a synagogue of Satan.”  Because they had rejected the Messiah, no longer was their worship acceptable to God, nor was their synagogue of God, even though they carried the name “Jews,” and nominally worshiped Jehovah.  I wonder if God thinks that of those churches of our day and time which deny every truth of His Word.

“but lie”.  Romans 2:28, 29 describe a “real” Jew:  one who not only has the outward symbol of circumcision, but the inward reality that his circumcision symbolizes – the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit in his life.

Separation, v. 10, “I will keep you from the hour of trial which will come upon the whole earth.”

There are several elements to this.

1. A recognition of past faithfulness, because you have kept My command to persevere….  Contrary to what a popular Gospel song used to teach – that the Christian life is “without a care,” we’re called upon not simply to “believe” something, but to live as if that something were true.  While it’s certainly true that we have responsibilities in this present world – we’re children, siblings, parents, spouses, neighbors, employees, bosses, etc. – we have an ultimate responsibility with a view to the next world:  it is appointed for men once to die, but after this, the judgment, Hebrews 9:27.  It isn’t always smooth sailing, sometime we have to go through flood or fire, figuratively speaking, Isaiah 43:2.

2. A promise of future protection, I also will keep you from the hour of trial….  In Luke 21:18, after a description of what the disciples would be likely to suffer, even to death, our Lord promised that “not a hair of your head shall be lost.”  But in v. 19, he finished, “By your patience [endurance] possess your souls.”  All that’s not limited to the first disciples.  I think we see it playing out before our very eyes.  In parts of this world, men and women are suffering unbelievable, indescribable, things for the name of the Lord Jesus.  But they will stand before Him perfect, complete, whole, having lost nothing, but having gained everything.

As far as “the hour of trial which will come upon the whole world,” I’m not sure exactly what that might have meant to the actual church at Philadelphia.  Severe persecution under Diocletian was on the way.  It might have been that.  Or something else we don’t know about.  As far as any typical teaching might be concerned, and again, there is discussion about this, it seems to me that the Lord is promising that believers will be spared from that coming time of trouble  in which He said that unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved, Matthew 24:22.

3. a plea for present faithfulness, v. 11, “Hold fast.”  It isn’t enough that we can look back and see how the Lord has blessed us, or what service we might have performed.  Nor is it enough simply to look ahead to that time when “we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.”  Right now, there’s something for us to do.  To be.

The reason for that is that there’s a danger of loss.  Not our salvation, as some teach, but our Lord warned the Philadelphians that they could lose their “crown,” that is, lose the rewards they might have had.  John had something to say about this in one of his epistles.  In 2 John 8, he was concerned that his readers receive a full reward.  And Paul gives the picture of a person going through the judgment and discovering that everything he did was nothing but wood, hay and stubble, and losing everything, though he himself is saved, [yet] as through fire, 1 Corinthians 3:15.

As an encouragement, the Lord said He is coming “quickly.”  From the world’s standpoint, it’s been a long time since these words were written.  From an eternal standpoint, it’s only been a second or two.  Jesus may come before this day is over, or I finish writing this post, or you finish reading it.

John closes this letter with our Lord saying some things that it’s difficult to understand, to picture.  I won’t even begin to attempt it.  But there’s a feeling of permanence, of “belonging,” of things this world knows nothing about.  Our “hope” isn’t in this world, but in the One coming to straighten things out in it.

Even so, come, Lord Jesus.

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Revelation 2:19-29, The Church at Thyatira: Where Service is Not Sufficient

“I know your works, love, service, faith, and your patience; and as for your works, the last are more than the first.  Nevertheless I have a few things against you, because you allow that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce My servants to commit sexual immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols.  And I gave her time to repent of her sexual immorality, and she did not repent.  Indeed I will cast her into a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of their deeds.  I will kill her children with death, and all the churches shall know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts.  And I will give to each one of you according to your works.
“Now to you I say, and to the rest in Thyatira as many as do not have this doctrine, who have not known the depths of Satan, as they say, I will put on you no other burden.  But hold fast what you have till I come.  And he who overcomes, and keeps My works until the end, to him I will give power over the nations –

‘He shall rule them with a rod of iron;
They shall be dashed in pieces like the
potter’s vessels’ –

as I also received from My Father; and I will give him the morning star.  
“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” ‘

As we’ve mentioned before, this is the longest of the seven letters.

– continued from the previous post –

3. Contents of the Epistle, 2:19-29.

Commendation, v. 19.

This is the warmest commendation of any, which perhaps emphasizes the severity of what follows.  Thyatira had so much, and yet fell so far short.  The Lord indicates there had been real spiritual progress.  “Works” are mentioned twice, “the last more (or, better) than the first.”  Jesus commended them for four practical aspects of their Christian life:

1. Love.  This is the first and chief of all Christian graces, 1 Corinthians 13:1-3.  This is what Ephesus lacked.

2. Service, “diakonia,” voluntary service for our brethren, or those around us, by which they are benefited.  This is different from “doulos,” the word used by Paul and translated “bondservant,” whose only duty was to obey his master.  This is an apt word for our service to God.  What we do as God’s servants does not “benefit” Him!  Cf. Job 35:7.

3. Faith.  Cf. Hebrews 11:6.  Faith isn’t simply agreement with a set of teachings, a catechism, a statement of faith, as good as these may be.  It isn’t some sort of “feeling” or experience by which we enter a supposed “higher plane of Christian existence.”  According to Hebrews 11, faith is an obedient response to the Word of God.  We read over and over again in that chapter, “by faith,” so-and-so did this or that.  Noah built a huge boat, when it had never rained.  Abraham left a comfortable life in a metropolis of his time and everything he knew to follow a promise.  Enoch just disappeared one day.  These and many others didn’t simply “believe” God, they did what He said.  Some of what they did seems unreasonable, even wicked, to unbelievers,e.g., Abraham’s “sacrifice” of Isaac.  But they pleased God.  That’s all that matters.

4. Patience, endurance under hardship.  We see examples of this later in Hebrews 11, Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection.  Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment.  They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tested, were slain with the sword.  They wandered around in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented – of whom the world was not worthy.  They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth, vs. 35b-38.

We’ve been spoiled in this country.  What we just read above is more likely to be the treatment of God’s people in this world, and it is in many countries even as I write these words.

Thyatira had much that was good, but they also had much that was bad.  This leads to:

Condemnation and Judgment, vs. 20-23.

1. Condemnation, v. 20.  Thyatira was very active in works, but they seem to have neglected the Word.  This is why all the things wrong with them happened.  They weren’t really guided by the Word of God.  Because of this,  –

– they permitted false teaching. Perhaps, like the church at Corinth, they thought it was an evidence of “Christian love” or some such thing, to tolerate this teaching.  I don’t really know.  Regardless, “tolerance” is not permitted in defiance of plain Scripture teaching.  “Gender fluidity,” unScriptural views of marriage, of the family, of morality in general, of the roles of men and woman, of the place of Scripture in society, to name just a few, have no place in a Biblical worldview, regardless of how popular or prevalent they, or any other social idea, might be, or how unpopular the Biblical view is.

What about the idea that a woman was responsible for this teaching?

We don’t know who this woman really was, or if this was even her real name.  So we have to ask, who is Jezebel in Scripture?  She’s first mentioned in 1 Kings 16:31-33, where she is married to Ahab, king of Israel, a king who followed in the idolatrous and rebellious practices of Jeroboam, the first ruler of the divided kingdom, see 1 Kings 12:25-33, who thereafter was known as  “Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin,” and future kings of Israel are faulted for following him.

Ahab was a weak king and Scripture says of him, there was no one like Ahab who sold himself to do wickedness in the sight of the LORD, because Jezebel his wife stirred him up, 1 Kings 21:25.  She did the same thing to her son, 1 Kings 22:52.

She was a “mixer,” mixing the true religion of Israel with the false religion of her homeland.  Whatever she was to the northern kingdom, that’s what this other “Jezebel” was to Thyatira, mixing the true and the false.  It doesn’t matter what she called herself, she was wrong, and the church got into trouble for following her.

At the same time, I think Christ has something to say to those who turn to mere human authority, rather than hearing what the Spirit says to the churches.  One of the Puritans used to say, “I want to hear but two things.  First, does God speak?  Second, what does He say?”  Unless we have this attitude, and aren’t content merely to follow some preacher, teacher or school of thought, we are in Thyatira.

As for the idea of a woman teaching men, the Scripture is quite clear on this, in spite of the rampant feminism, “Biblical” or otherwise, that has engulfed even our churches, 1 Corinthians 14:33-37; 1 Timothy 2:8-12.  Lest, as some have done, it is said these verses just show Paul’s “rabbinic prejudice,” he wrote in 1 Corinthians 14:37, these things that I write to you are the commandments of the Lord.

This in no way is intended to demean women.  Their value and contribution in this life cannot be overstated.  It’s just that the world has an entirely different definition of those ideas than Scripture.  This is not to say in any way that man is “superior,” or that women are “inferior.”  It is God Who is superior and He has set an order in the church, in the home and in society.  He has one set of rules; the world has chosen to reject those and go by their own set of rules, with the resulting chaos we see all around us.

– they tolerated idolatry and immorality.  Possibly this centered around the trade-guilds and the idolatry and immorality they fostered.  We don’t know how Jezebel might have reasoned about these things in the church, but it doesn’t really matter.  Regardless of why it happened, the Lord was having none of it.

2. Judgment, vs. 21-23.

With reference to the actual church in Thyatira, we don’t know what happened when the Lord judged this wickedness, just that it happened.

With reference to any typical teaching, we believe this church represents the Reformation and Rome’s response to the true gospel.

– grace before judgment, v. 21. The Lord said, “I gave her space to repent….”   Savonorala in Italy, Wickliffe in England, John Knox in Scotland, Martin Luther in Germany, Zwingli in Switzerland, Calvin in France – all men whom God raised up throughout their world to call Rome to repentance, but “she repented not,” and instead set up a “Counter Reformation” to strengthen her grip on the souls of men and to counteract the preaching of the truth.

– judgment on her and her followers, v. 22.

See above for remarks about the actual church situation in Thyatira.

– judgment on her “children,” v. 23.

Who are “her children”?  Are they not the Reformation churches?  Calvin and Luther and others never repudiated their Catholic ordination.  When Luther nailed his “95 Theses” to that door in Wittenburg, he wasn’t trying to start a new “church,” but was attempting to call the church that ordained him to repentance and a return to the truths of Scripture.

– “kill with death.”  We think this phrase contains a vital, but generally overlooked, truth.  What brought about the Reformation?  Wasn’t it largely due to the recovery of the Scriptural teaching of justification by grace through faith?  We’ve already noted Luther’s and Calvin’s views on preaching and interpretation.  The Reformers did preach the Word to a degree unheard of for centuries.  It’s sad that they brought so much with them when they left Rome.  But they did at least start with a foundation of Scripture.

What happened?

The Reformers themselves were men of the Spirit, but their doctrines of infant baptism and the state-church, whereby everyone who was a citizen of the nation was by virtue of that citizenship also a member of the state church, soon filled their churches with unsaved people, and their method of allegorical interpretation, in spite of the “literalism” they started with, soon reduced the Gospel to nothing more than a series of ethical maxims.

We think very little of this in our day, but Scripture says that the Word of God will inevitably have one of only two results:

For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.  To the one we are the aroma of death leading to death, and to the other the aroma of life leading to life…, for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life, 2 Corinthians 2:15-16; 3:6, emphasis added.

Apart from the ministry of the Spirit of God, the Word of God produces death, whether it’s preached in a Reformed church, a Baptist church, or someone just picks it up and reads it.  According to Paul, there is no middle ground.  Protestant churches have the Word, but, to a great degree, have reduced it to teachings on ethics and morality.  However, ethics, even biblical ones, do not give “life.”  So Rome’s children have been “killed with death” by the very Scriptures of which Protestant churches make their boast.

– “give to each one of you..,” v. 23.

Whatever may be said about “typical” teaching from these verses, the Lord is here addressing the actual church in Thyatira.  There is a judgment of persons as well as of systems, cf. 1 Corinthians 3:11-15.  The believer’s sins aren’t in view in these verses; they were taken care of on Calvary.  His works will be put to the test – what he did with the life God gave him.  The word translated, “loss,” has two meanings: loss of what has been gained, the works of wood, hay and stubble, but it also means “to forfeit” – the reward that would have been received if the works had been gold, silver or precious stones.  Such a one faces a double loss:  all the works of his life, as well as any reward.  Paul put it like this:  he himself will be saved, yet as through fire, v. 15.  The picture is of a person who has gone through a disastrous fire, losing everything and escaping only with his life.

It’s a sobering thought.  20, 30, 40, 50 years of ministry, perhaps outwardly great and wonderful, gone up in smoke.  This is why John warned his readers – and us, Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward, 2 John 8 (ESV), emphasis added.

Closing remarks, vs. 24-29.

1. Responsibility, vs. 24, 25, “hold fast.”

The phrase means, to hold by strong hands, tugging for it, with those who would take it from them.  It indicates an ongoing and difficult struggle to retain what they still had.  The world has no use for the things of God, and even many in “the church” see no value in them, being content with ritual and routine.  In Thyatira, there were those who were actively opposed to the truth of God’s Word.  The believers weren’t to let them win.

2. Reassurance, vs. 26 – 28.

As difficult as it might have seemed to these Thyatiran believers, their struggles would come to an end and they would be richly rewarded.  They were promised power (authority) over the nations.

A Reformed writer had this to say, “One by one, as we reach the end here on earth, we shall pass into heaven and there sit with Christ on His throne and together with Him exercise kingly rule and authority over the nations until His Parousia. (R.C.H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. John’s Revelation, p. 122.)

Sorry, but I must differ.  Where is there a single place on earth today that bears any evidence of Christ’s “kingly rule”?  Where He is honored and revered?  What kind of “rule” is that, where the King is ignored, even ridiculed and rejected?  This quote is a very shallow and irreverent view of “the kingdom.”

Our Lord Himself said that He is seated with His Father on His Father’s throne, 3:21.  He will not sit on His own throne as King until after His return to this earth, Matthew 25:31.  He isn’t referred to as “King” until then, either.  According to Zechariah 14:16-21, when our Lord is ruling this earth, there will be no question about it – and no escaping it.  He, and His people, will rule the nations “with a rod of iron,” because not everyone will be glad to see Him!  We see this graphically portrayed in Revelation 20:7, when Satan is released from his prison at the end of the 1000 year reign of our Lord (not just “hindered” by the preaching of the Gospel, but actually incarcerated), and he will have no trouble at all in gathering a world-wide rebellion against the King, a rebellion that will be quickly snuffed out.  Just in passing, if the Holy Spirit didn’t mean an actual 1000 years, why did He mention it six times in six verses?

“the morning star.”  2 Peter 1:19 refers to the morning star rising in our hearts.  There’s a lot of discussion about what this “star” is.  I confess I don’t know.  Whatever it is, is probably beyond the ability of words to convey.

 3. Reminder, v. 29.

These aren’t just the delusions of a tired old man in prison.  They are what the Spirit says to the churches.

Pay attention….

Revelation 2:1-7, The Church at Ephesus: Duty, not Delight

“To the church at 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:  “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; and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary.  Nevertheless I have something against you, that you have left your first love.  Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place – unless you repent.  But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.  To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.”‘
(NKJV)

As we go through these seven letters, we’ll look at the city in which the church lived.  Our Lord uses what they experience there in His counsel to them.  Then we’ll look at the description Christ uses of Himself, descriptions which come from the vision opening the book.  Then we’ll look at the content of the letter and what our Lord said to each church.

The City of the Epistle.

Ephesus was a very important city of the Roman province of Asia, which, as we’ve seen, was not in the Far East, but was in what we know as Turkey. Until the harbor filled in with silt, it had been a prominent sea port.  It remained a center of commerce, a point of contact between Greek and Asiatic cultures and was noted for its riches and trade.

By NT times, Ephesus had enjoyed a rich and varied history.  A focus of that history was the famed Temple of Diana (Artemis), the pride of the city.  It had been burned down on the night of the birth of Alexander the Great, but was rebuilt larger and more beautiful.  Its construction took 220 years and required contributions from the whole province of Asia.  Paul saw it at the height of its glory, when it was listed among the seven wonders of the ancient world.  There was, in addition to and connected with this temple, a tremendous emphasis on magical powers.  Paul had to deal with this while he was there.

The NT records a period of intense activity, Acts 20:20, 31, and of unusual miracles by Paul, Acts 19:11.  These “unusual miracles” (Gk. “uncommon works of power”) are no basis for the so-called “prayer cloths” or “handkerchiefs” some have offered, but were designed to counteract the pagan focus of the city.  Even to  Paul, these things were “uncommon.”  And “signs and wonders” weren’t permanent, even to the apostles.  We read later in the NT of the sickness of one of Paul’s associates.  We read nothing of Paul “healing” him.

As a result of Paul’s ministry, we read that many who had believed came confessing and telling their deeds.  And many of those who had practiced magic brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all.  And they counted up the value of them, and it totaled fifty thousand pieces of silver.  So the word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed, Acts 19:18-20.

Now this true revival and work of God in turning many from falsehood to the worship and service of the true God led to a tremendous decline in the commercial side of the worship of Diana, with loss to the business of selling the little shrines used in her worship, and the consequent loss to those who made and sold them.  And about this time there arose a great commotion about the Way.  For a certain man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Diana, brought no small profit to the craftsmen, vs. 23, 24.  The resulting riot forced Paul to leave Ephesus and there are no further recorded visits to the city.

The Christ of the Epistle, 2:1.

Each of the seven letters begins with a characterization of Christ taken from the vision John saw in chapter 1, a characterization suitable to the spiritual condition of the church addressed.  In this letter, Christ is described as the One holding the seven angels, or ministers of the churches, in His right hand.  He is the One who places them there, and it is to Him they are answerable.

Christ says, “I know.”  The word He uses here is instructive.  One of the words the NT uses for “knowing” means, “to progress in knowledge.”  We might say, “to learn” because there’s something of whatever we do “know” that we still  don’t “know.”  That’s not the word our Lord uses here.  The word He chose means “to know completely.”  There’s nothing about this church, or about us, that He doesn’t know everything about or that He has to “learn.”

This means He knows our “secret” sins, our failures, our shortcomings.  There’s no use trying to hide them or to gloss them over.  He knows them.

But it also means that He knows our secret struggles and sufferings.  Sometimes Christians are amazed when suffering in one form or another comes to us.  And there are those who make a good living teaching that the Christian life is “without a care,” as an unfortunate “Gospel” song used to say.  But the fact is we live in enemy territory.  This world, under the leadership of Satan, “the god of this age,” 2 Corinthians 4:4, is no friend to us.  In this country, we’ve been spoiled because we’ve enjoyed many years of relative peace and protection.  That’s coming to an end.  It probably won’t too many years, maybe months, before Christianity and the Bible are declared illegal in this country that was founded by those who had respect for both of them.

Further, we live in a world that’s been cursed because of sin.  It should be no surprise then to find “thorns” in whatever “field” we are in, Genesis 3:17-19.

Our Lord knows all about it.  In fact, I believe He knows it far better than any of us could, having experienced it Himself.  We do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with out weaknesses, but was in all points tested as we are, yet without sin, Hebrews 4:25.

He walked in our shoes.

The Contents of the Epistle, 2:2-7.

1. commendation, vs. 2, 3.

– Our Lord commends the church for their faithful labor:  “your works, your labor, your patience.”  They had labored and persevered to the point of exhaustion.

– He commends them for their faithful diligence.  They could not bear those who are evil.”  There are two main words used in the original for “evil,” often interchangeably, but there is still some distinction between them.  One word is “poneros,” which means destructive, injurious evil.  It’s used of Satan, that “wicked one,” in several places in the NT.  The other word, used here, is “kakos,” and denotes what is useless, incapable or bad.  It describes one who is “useless” in an area in which he ought to be useful:  a cowardly soldier, a lazy student, an unproductive employee.  The Ephesian church could not bear those whom we might call “dead wood,” for example, folks whose bodies are in the pew, but not their minds and hearts.

– He commended them for their faithful listening:  “you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars.”   Elsewhere, John put it like this, Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world, 1 John 4:1.  I wonder what he would say today, with all the means of communication we have:  TV, radio, the internet, print, Twitter.  More than ever, we need that attitude of some who heard Paul, who searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so, Acts 17:11, emphasis added.

Satan has no problem quoting Scripture, cf. Matthew 4:5.  In fact, he probably “knows” it better than most folks.  I once received a tract denying the Trinity, which claimed that Jesus is the only God there is.  It had about 90 Scripture references.  The thing that fascinated me was that several of these same Scriptures are used by Jehovah’s Witnesses to “prove” that Jesus isn’t God at all, but only a created being.  Thus both groups totally miss the point, though using lot of Scripture.

We need to know what it says!

Actually says….

– He again commends them for their faithfulness in serving Him, v. 3. “and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary.”  This is the second time He’s mentioned their works and labor.  One would think that’s enough; it certainly seems to be in our time.  Church calendars are full of activities of all kinds.  But there’s more….

2. complaint, v. 4, “Nevertheless….”

Oh, what a solemn word this is!  The average pastor would likely be glad to have a zealous church like this, yet our Lord sees a grievous imperfection:  “you have left your first love.”  Note, they left, not lost, that love.  The love of Christ and the church is compared to that of a bridegroom and his bride, yet how little fervency there is in the average Christian.  I’m afraid we’ve grown to want what He gives us, but not Himself.

“Love” is a key word with regard to this church.  In Paul’s letter to this church, there are some 18 references to “love,” beginning with God’s love toward us in eternity past in choosing and predestining us to adoption as sons, then focusing on Christ’s love and the effect it should have in our lives as believers, and closing with that grand crescendo of a man’s love for his wife.

With regard to this last, I think of Genesis 29:20, which happens during Jacob’s troubles with his father-in-law, Laban.  Remember the story in Genesis 29.  Jacob had fallen for Rachel, the younger of Laban’s two daughters.  He agreed to work for Laban for seven years in order to be able to marry her.  However, when the time came, Laban tricked him and gave him his elder daughter, Leah.  Genesis 29:20 gives us Jacob’s attitude during this first seven years, and I like the KJV rendering here:  And Jacob served seven years for Rachel; and they seemed to him but a few days, for the love he had to her.  “Seven years…a few days…for love…to her.”

Ephesus had lost that view, that lightness of spirit that make hard things easy.  Serving Christ had ceased to be a delight; it had become simply a duty.

What should they do?

Our Lord tells them.

3. Counsel, v. 5.

– remember (lit. “keep remembering”).  See the same word in Paul’s exhortation to the Ephesian elders, Acts 20:31.  Remember the first ardor of salvation.  Remember who He is.  Remember what He did.  Remember what He has promised.  Remember, remember, remember!

Yet how quickly we forget!

– repent.  There are those who tell us that repentance is a “Jewish” doctrine and that it’s now unnecessary.  Yet our Lord told His church in Ephesus to “repent” (twice).  He told five of the seven churches to “repent.”  Ephesus was to repent of leaving His love (cf. Jude 20, 21), and to –

– return, “do the first works.”

This is not a call to “service”!  What is needed is not just more “service:” more activity, more items on the church calendar, more “things to do,” but a return to that supreme love to and for Christ.  This love is the only acceptable motive (to God) for our service, a love that would make that service so much easier, not because we would do less (we likely would do more!), but because such love would change it from a “duty” (which is usually a burden) to a “delight” (which is something altogether different!)

– remain, “or else….”

This refers to our Lord’s coming in judgment to remove the church’s witness as a light-bearer.  The church in Ephesus has been gone a long time.  So have the other six churches.  We wonder how many Christians and churches are still going through the motions, but have their true witness removed.  And how many church buildings have been sold and are being used for something else.  I think of one here locally that’s now a beauty salon.  There are countless others.

It’s a solemn thought.

4. Commendation, “But this you have, that you hate the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.”

There is some discussion as to what this means.  I tend toward the view that it refers to the separation of Christians into “clergy” and “laity.”  This distinction has no basis in Scripture and introduced a great evil into the churches, namely, the evil of seeking for, and pride in, “position.”  Such easily becomes the goal, instead of that love of and for Christ that is the only worthy and acceptable motive for service.

5. Conclusion, v. 7, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.  To him who overcomes I will give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.”

What does this mean?

It’s pretty clear that it means salvation.

“I thought we’re saved by grace through faith.”

Amen and amen.

We are.

Hear, or read, Paul:

In Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love, Galatians 5:6.

There is a lot of stuff in this world that calls us away from the Lord Jesus.  As we saw in our study of Hebrews, there’s danger in leaving Him; it might mean we were never His to begin with.  This is why He calls the Ephesian church, and us, back to that loving faith in Him which is the only acceptable motive for Christian living, and that perseverance which is the only real evidence that we’re His.