The Backslidden (Loveless) Church
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;
2 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:
3 And hast borne, and hast patience, and for My name’s sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted.
4 Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.
5 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.
6 But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
7 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.
The messages to the churches have a threefold meaning:
Firstly, each letter has a primary association, having a local and direct bearing upon the church to which it was written. Each letter was a measuring rod by which each church could know its standing in the sight of the risen Lord.
Secondly, each letter has a personal application. Even though Christ addresses each church as a whole, the message to overcome is addressed to the individual.
Thirdly, each church individually, and the seven churches combined, set forth prophetic anticipation. We see in them seven eras of the life of the church on earth. Seven in the Bible is the number of perfection, completion, fullness. In these letters we have a prophetic picture of the church’s complete history on earth.
Each of the seven letters follows the same general format:
1) Name (of the church that particular letter is addressed to)
2) Its Description of Christ.
3) Commendation – What that church is praised for.
4) Warning – What that church is rebuked for.
5) Promise. (Not applicable to this letter.)
6) To The Overcomers.
7) Prophetic Application. (As revealed in church history, found throughout the letter.)
Name: Ephesus– meaning “To let go, relax.” According to some sources, also means “Desirable.”
Description: He that holdeth the seven stars in His right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks.
The stars are the angels (messengers, pastors) of the seven churches. Christ holds the pastors in His right hand, in the position of honour and the place of power. This is the only place where His servants can be sustained and strengthened.
The golden candlesticks are the seven churches. In the early days of the church of Ephesus, Christ walked in their midst as the recognized head, and men took instructions from Him. (See Ephesians 1:22-23) Jesus is the Light of the world, and as His representatives, we are the light of the world, holding forth the Gospel light, the Word of Life. (John 8:12; Matthew 5:14; Philippians 2:15-16a)
Commendation: The Lord Jesus approved them for their sacrificial service (v. 2; Romans 12:1-2), suppression of evil (v.2; 1 Peter 5:8-9), spiritual discernment (v. 2; 1 John 4:1; 2 Corinthians 11:13-15), steadfastness (v. 3; 1 Corinthians 15:58), and their stand against the deeds of the Nicolaitans (v.6; 1 Corinthians 16:13).
In verse 2, Jesus commended the Ephesians for their works, labour, and patience. They were faithful in service, toiling for their master. The word “patience” is Strong’s # 5281, meaning to “stay under”, ie. persevere in trials.
They obeyed Paul’s instructions to them in Acts 20:28-31. They could not bear those who were evil. They tried (Strong’s #3985 – tested, proved) those who said they were apostles (ones directly “sent from” the Lord), and found them to be liars. They proved these imposters wrong by testing their message and their fruit and realizing that these did not line up with the Word of God.
In our modern age of ecumenical or apostate Christianity, it is prudent to be aware of what the Bible says about the requirements for an apostle:
Acts 1:21-22 Wherefore of these men which have companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, Beginning from the baptism of John, unto that same day that He was taken up from us, must one be ordained to be a witness with us of His resurrection.
Other than the original twelve disciples that Jesus chose as His apostles, the only other person that ever met these requirements was the apostle Paul. While he was not a disciple of Jesus Christ’s during His public ministry, Paul was trained for three years personally by the Lord, according to Galatians 1:11-18. He was also a witness of the resurrected Christ, according to 1 Corinthians 9:1 and 15:7-9.
It is obvious from the clear testimony of the Scriptures that there is no one like that today! Truly the apostle Paul was the last of the apostles!
They had borne (#941 – endured), and had patience (#5281 – perseverance), and laboured (#2872 – to feel fatigue; by implication, to work hard; toil) for Christ’s name’s sake. And they had not fainted (#2577 – become weary).
A trace of the words “fainted” and “weary” throughout Scripture reveal some of the Lord’s intended ways for us to refresh our spirits. We are to continually:
- seek God in prayer (Luke 18:1)
- wait upon the Lord (Isaiah 40:31)
- remember that it is He Himself who fights our battles and delivers us from our troubles and distresses (Deuteronomy 20:3-4; Psalm 107:5-6)
- hope and trust in His Word and the promises contained therein (Psalm 119:81)
- study His Word and look to the Scriptures for comfort (Isaiah 50:4-5; Amos 8:11-13)
- look for Jesus Christ throughout the Scriptures (Isaiah 28:9-13, 16; also see Matthew 11:28 and Acts 3:19)
- rely on God’s mercy and grace (2 Corinthians 4:1, 16)
- take Christ’s yoke of service upon us (Matthew 11:29)
- persevere in well doing (Galatians 6:9)
- keep looking unto Jesus and remembering His example (Hebrews 12:1-3)
All these things the Ephesians no doubt did when their love for Jesus was fervent and fresh, but somewhere along the way they took their eyes off of Him.
Jesus also commended this church for hating the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which He also hates. Nicolaitans comes from two Greek words: Nikao meaning “to conquer” and Laos (laity) meaning “the people”. Christ hates those who conquer the people, who rise above His brethren and subdue them. A pastor (shepherd) is to be an example to the flock, not to Lord it over them, but to lead them. (1 Peter 5:3) They are to be in submission to their pastor, but his authority comes solely from the Word of God, and they are to follow him as he follows Christ and preaches the Word – not his own opinions and traditions. (Hebrews 13:7, 17; 1 Corinthians 11:1; 1:17-18; Matthew 15:6) In 3rd John 9-10, we are given a clear example of a “Nicolaitan” in the first-century church: Diotrephes, who loved to have the preeminence and who took on unbiblical authority.
Through the dark ages, we were given an even greater example of the Nicolaitans in the Catholic Church (and in certain Protestant churches) that made an unbiblical distinction between “the clergy and the laity”. The clergy, according to them, had the inside favour with God, and who alone could supposedly correctly interpret the Word of God. The common people were held in bondage to this slavish system of works and rituals. Instead of having the freedom to read, study, and believe the Word of God for themselves, they had it taken away from them – and that faithful remnant who chose to preach and preserve this Word (by copying and memorizing it), were persecuted. Many paid the price of their faithfulness with their lives.
You would figure that our modern churches would have learned from this conquering of the people, but the sad fact is that most have not. While many are running back to Rome, others are resisting this Romeward trend; unfortunately, the majority of Christendom is running after new “Bibles” translated from Roman Catholic manuscripts. Now we have modern scholars and translators conquering the common people through their correcting of our Bibles!
In reference to the problem of modern dynamic-equivalent (thought for thought) translations (rather than formal-equivalent, word for word, translations), Leland Ryken stated the following: “The very translators who make so much of the need to translate the Bible into immediately understandable terms, with all interpretive problems removed from readers, have themselves become the counterparts to medieval Roman Catholic priests. By means of preemptive interpretive strikes, these translators take to themselves the power of making readers’ minds up for them, deciding for ‘ignorant readers’ what they think the text means and then doling out only those interpretations that they think correct. The reader is just as surely removed from the words of the text as the medieval Christian was.” “Translators have no right to assume the role of priest, doling out the ‘right’ interpretation to the masses.” (Leland Ryken, The Word of God in English, p. 78, 288)
The Catholic church and their Jesuit army have not given up the fight to keep the Bible from the common man; instead they have changed their Bibles, and brainwashed modern Christendom to accept their Nicolaitan philosophy of Bible criticism. The Nicolaitans cry of old was, “You can’t read the Bible in your own language! Let us interpret the Bible for you!” Now their cry is, “You can have your own Bible, but let us declare which parts of it are true, and which passages must be corrected in the light of the older and better (need we say, corrupt Catholic) manuscripts!” Truly, what was once a deed (Revelation 2:6) became a doctrine (2:15)!
Warning: They had left their first love. They had become enamoured of things other than the person of Christ. (1 John 2:15-17) They hated false teachers and false teachings, as well they should, but they left their first love – Jesus no longer had the preeminence in their lives. (Psalm 119:104, 127-128; Romans 12:9; 1 Thessalonians 5:21-22)
First love is:
1) The love of espousals. (Jeremiah 2:2)
2) The love of a bridegroom for his bride. (2 Corinthians 11:2)
3) The one thing that the Lord wants more than anything else. (Matthew 22:37-38; John 21:15-17; Deuteronomy 6:4-5)
A generation or two earlier, the Ephesians were commended for their love. (Ephesians 1:15-16) When Paul wrote to the believers at Ephesus, he reminded them of their exalted position in Christ. He told them that they were raised up together and seated in the heavenly places in Christ. (Ephesians 2:6) John simply says, “Thou art fallen.” They had fallen from their fellowship with Him and had lost His power and the reality of His presence in their daily lives.
Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent. Before a person can get back to the Lord, he must acknowledge the fact he has fallen (into sin) and remember the place he left Christ. Repent means “a change of mind resulting in a change of conduct”, to “turn” from sin and “turn” toward God. Repent and forsake sin. (Proverbs 28:13 He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy.) In the New Testament, the word “confess” means “to be of the same mind about, to agree with.” So we can see in 1 John 1:9 that we are to agree with God that we have sinned against Him, agree with Him (and His Word) that whatever sin we had committed was wrong. And the promise here is that if we see our specific sins in the light of God’s Word, and turn from them, we will be forgiven and cleansed from our sins.
We can learn from the Scriptural example and admonition in this regard. (1 Corinthians 10:11) In the book of Leviticus (chapters 4 and 5), when the Israelites sinned, they were to confess that specific sin and make restitution for it. Nowhere in the Word of God does it teach a general confession such as is prayed so often in our churches and homes, “Forgive me, Lord, if I’ve sinned today.” That’s not repentance – there’s no acknowledgement of sin in that kind of confession. Also, the book of Leviticus teaches that the people of God were to confess a sin when it was brought to their attention – whether through preaching, Bible reading, conversation with others, etc. All too often we get religious, hold on to our sin and wait until we “feel” a certain amount of grief for what we have done wrong, before we will confess it and make it right. The Bible exhorts us to make the sin right when it is brought to our attention, not when we are grieved about it. The word “repent” in Greek literally means “a change of MIND”, not a change of emotions. We are to make a choice to confess and forsake our sins, whether or not we feel sorrow at that specific time for them.
Jesus told the church at Ephesus to repent, and do the first works. This would mean devoting themselves as earnestly and fervently to the Lord as they were when they first walked with Him. Doing good works for the cause/sake of Christ, compassionately striving to win the lost, loving both God and man (charity), faithfully serving the Lord, diligently studying His Word, fervently and continually praying, among others. (See Revelation 2:19 and Romans 12:9-13) Maintaining a walk with Jesus where He takes first place in our lives. Doing the first works is the only proof that a backslider has repented.
To The Overcomer: To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God. To the church at Ephesus (and the individual churches throughout history), the Lord promises that He will give the person that overcomes to eat from the Tree of Life. In Genesis 3:22-24, because of Adam and Eve’s disobedience, mankind was denied access to this Tree – which represented eternal life – but now it is promised to all overcomers. Lest we arrive at the unbiblical doctrine of persevering to be saved, Scripture teaches us that we overcome through our faith in Jesus Christ as our personal Saviour. 1 John 5:4-5 For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God? 1 John 4:4 Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is He that is in you, than he that is in the world. To be saved and have the Holy Spirit indwelling us is to be an overcomer. (We receive the Holy Spirit when we believe on Jesus Christ as our Saviour. See Ephesians 1:13) In Jesus Christ, positionally, we share in Christ’s victory and are overcomers; but practically, our obedience and faithfulness to God’s Word will result in our daily overcoming of the world, the flesh, and the devil. (See 1 John 2:14)
Paradise (Heaven) is defined as the dwelling place of God. In Luke 23:43, Jesus told the repentant thief that when he died he would be with Jesus in Paradise. Paul, in 2 Corinthians 12:2-4, referred to Paradise as the third Heaven – the first two, according to the Bible, are as follows: the first heaven is where the birds fly, our atmosphere (Genesis 1:8, 20). The second heaven is the universe where the stars and planets are (Genesis 1:14-18; 2:1). The third Heaven is dwelling in the presence of God. (Hebrews 9:24) After the Millenium, Heaven will be on earth. (See Revelation 21-22)
Spiritually-speaking, Christ is our Tree of Life. It’s in Him that we have eternal life; in Him we have abundant life; He is our life. (Colossians 3:4; Philippians 1:21; John 14:19) I believe the primary application of this promise is to have eternal life in Heaven, where we continually have access to the literal and spiritual Trees of Life, and secondarily, I believe that it is a promise to the overcomer that the power and presence of Jesus Christ will be with them in their Christian walk. We know the Lord has promised never to leave us nor forsake us, but we only sense His presence in our daily lives as we walk according to His Word, as we humbly obey Him. (John 14:15, 21, 23; Psalm 91:1; Isaiah 57:15)
A study of the promises to the overcomers in these seven letters will reveal that, although the promises are relevant to the saved (overcomers) of each specific church, they are all applicable to the true children of God throughout the church age. We will dwell with God in Heaven eternally; we will not be hurt by the second death (Hell), our names will not be blotted out of the Book of Life, etc. (These promises will be covered in more depth within the context of their particular letters.)
Prophetic Application: This letter corresponds to that of the Apostolic, first-century church, from Pentecost until the death of the Apostle John (tradition says he died of old age) – approximately, 32-100 A.D. It is the only one of the seven letters that uses the word “apostles” (verse 2). John was the last remaining of the twelve apostles, Peter and Paul (and the others) being martyred thirty years or more prior to him. (See comments above on the requirements for an apostle.)
During the course of the first century church – represented by Ephesus – what was once “desirable” became backslidden, as these believers “let go” of their love for the Lord Jesus Christ and “relaxed” their fervency and devotion to Him. It is interesting to note that the Lord kept His promise in Revelation 2:5, to remove their candlestick (their shining light) out of his place, unless they repented. This threat was carried out less than two centuries later when the city of Ephesus was destroyed by the Goths in 252 A.D.
And throughout history, we see this same warning fulfilled as churches which once stood for the truth of the Scriptures, lost their love and fervency for the Lord, and stopped preaching the Gospel to win the lost. Over time, these churches (if they still remain) became dead husks, dry of spiritual life, empty of spiritual light, dark:
O Ephesus, how you have grown –
Your works of faith and toil are known;
You’ve persevered, you’ve shone your light,
You’ve tested those who were not right;
You’ve laboured patiently – all for Him;
Yet somehow, somewhere, your love has dimmed.
Once exalted to the place of honour,
But now you’ve fallen from great heights;
Repent and do the first works or else,
Jesus will remove your candlestick from His sight.
He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.
May 1st, 2001
The Seven Churches of Revelation 2-3: