Ephesus: Orthodox but Loveless

Ephesus: Orthodox but Loveless

Ephesus: Orthodox but Loveless.

Please read Revelation 2:1-7.

The center of all commerce in that region. The political capital. Where all the trade routes converge. The meeting place of all religious travelers and residents, all those who worship the gods and goddesses of the age. The place where those who dabble in occult practices like to practice their satanic beliefs. The city with the strongest, busiest, largest church in the ancient world. A church that was proud of its history and tradition. This metropolitan area could be any large city in the 21st century, but instead this is a description of Ephesus in the 1st Century AD. Ephesus was the center of just about everything deemed important, located in western Turkey.

In His letter’s introduction, Jesus mentions that He has the seven stars in his right hand and that He is walking among the seven lampstands.

Seven Stars. In Rev. 1:20, Jesus states that the seven stars represent the angels of the seven churches. Angels are God’s messengers, heavenly and earthly, and are commonly used in Revelation, and in fact angels are mentioned 60 different times in the book. In this context, angel could mean the guardian angels assigned to each church. Or it could be a reference to the Jewish tradition of the seven archangels standing around the throne of God ready to do His bidding. More probably, angel is pointing to the pastor or leader of each church. The pastor was assigned the task of being God’s messenger to the people of the church. The fact that the seven pastors were firmly in the grasp of Jesus reveals that Jesus is personally caring for each pastor, and that He has the ultimate power and authority, His mighty right hand, over each pastor. Jesus is their final authority.

Jesus walking amidst the seven golden lampstands. The lampstands symbolized the seven churches who were going to receive a direct word from the Lord in this part of Revelation (1:20).Jesus was personally tending the lampstands, looking out for the churches, making sure the lights were still shining. He is doing the work of the priest in the temple, confirming the supply of pure olive oil in the lampstands, the oil being the Holy Spirit. Jesus is checking out each church, making sure they each are provided with what is needed to burn bright. Jesus is taking a personal interest in the welfare of each church… commending, correcting, guiding, observing. Jesus walking among the lampstands, tending to the lights, providing His constant presence. And even with all their problems and shortcomings, each of these churches were still considered golden in His eyes. Jesus loves each church and wants each to function as a bright light for the believers and the community. Even now, Jesus continues to walk among the lampstands, providing His needed presence.

Ephesus. We know a lot about this ancient influential city. We can read St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians in the New Testament. We can read the historical events that happened there in Acts 19. And since the site is the most excavated city from the ancient world, we know what it looked like and what generally went on there. As a center of religious life at that time, we know that Ephesus was full of pagan temples. Chief among them were a temple designated for emperor worship, as well as the temple of Artemis, or Diana, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Artemis was the goddess of fertility, and worship there was notorious in Christian eyes, since it involved rampant sexual activity. This temple was the most magnificent building constructed in the ancient world. It was 167′ by 342′, and the roof was supported by 127 marble columns, all of them 6′ in diameter. Much wealth, materials, work and ingenuity were poured into this building, a monument to human genius. Unfortunately all these resources were used in the futile worship of a false god. Inside this world famous structure was a huge statue of Diana that was said to have dropped down directly from Zeus in the heavens. One of the profitable businesses in the city was the manufacture of silver images of the goddess for personal and home ritual use. Once again, one can read about this Acts 19.

Their agora, or marketplace has also been excavated. This was a huge part of the center of the city where merchants had their stalls and stores, where buyers and sellers conducted their business. There was also an enormous theater unearthed, one that could seat 24,000 people. This was mentioned in Acts 19, where Paul and his associates had started a riot by weakening the business of the silver Diana images. Paul was able to escape the riot caused by the silversmiths, but his associates were assaulted and seized, and brought into the theater for a civil punishment of some kind. The angry mob stood in the theater yelling, “Great is the Diana of Ephesus!” After yelling this for two hours, the pandemonium was finally squelched by a city elder who convinced everyone to calm down and go home. This historic theater was thus the location of quite the dramatic scene in biblical history. Another landmark structure in Ephesus was its stadium, which hosted the gladiator contests, the wild animal fights, and their athletic games.

Pagan ritual and activity in Ephesus was practiced widely in the city. After Paul preached and healed and led many to their conversion to Christ, “many of those who had practiced magic and sorcery brought their scrolls together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted up the value of them, and it totaled 50,000 pieces of silver.” (Acts 19:19). That was a staggering amount of money, roughly worth about 50,000 days’ wages, and it represented a huge throng of new believers who repented of their occult activities.

The Church. This was what the church in Ephesus had to contend with… sexual depravity, pagan worship, occult and witchcraft, immorality common to the lifestyles of the residents. That’s why Paul’s three years in Ephesus was seen as a major victory in his mission adventures. The church remained strong through all that cultural opposition and religious “competition.” They certainly were benefited by amazing preaching and teaching and shepherding, since apart from Paul, they also enjoyed St. John living and teaching right there in their midst. Not only that, but John took Jesus’ dying words on the cross seriously by caring for His Mother Mary right there in Ephesus. One imagines Mary had a lot to say to the believers as well.

So Jesus was happy to commend the Ephesian church in His letter to the pastor in Rev. 2. He applauded their endurance, their suffering without quitting. They were able to discern false teachers in their midst, they did not tolerate sin in its members, and they were patiently working hard as a congregation. Seeing all that surrounded it in their immediate environment, the Ephesian church deserved all His accolades. The fact that the church stood up to the Nicolaitans was sweet music to Jesus’ ears. He hated what the supposedly believing Nicolaitans stood for, compromising with their pagan culture in lifestyle and worship. The church in Ephesus was indeed impressive and developed a strong identity and reputation.

Major Complaint. “You have forsaken your first love.” (2:4). Nonetheless, Jesus had something against them. The Ephesian Christians seem to have become in essence a loveless church. Their main fight is not against emperor worship or pagan immorality, but instead against lovelessness. They know how to discern between the true and the false, between orthodoxy and heresy, between Christian and unChristian. But their strength has perhaps become their weakness. Standing in the role of judge seems to have removed their love for God. They know about the things of God, but do they still know God intimately? For the light to remain in the lampstand, they need to both know the truth and remain passionately in love with God. The first generation, the founding members of the church, had mostly died off, and it most likely turned out that the next generation in the church didn’t have the same zeal, the same love for God. Jesus wants them to return to the church’s first love. The Greek word used here for “first “was “protos,” and it meant best, supreme, foremost, paramount, number one, above all else, most important. Jesus wants the church to be motivated once again by their best love, their love for God. They were discerning in their teaching and busy in their activities, but they were not intimate with the Lord. The word ephesus means “darling” or “desirable,” what a Greek bridegroom would say about the woman he wanted to marry. Something close to what married couples call each other now by “honey.” And Jesus wanted to have again that bride and bridegroom relationship. Jesus wanted them to keep their best love alive, overcoming the lack of zealous motivation the church once enjoyed. If their love had gotten a little old to them, He wanted to get it back to the honeymoon period. He wanted them to repent of this distance between them. Repent means not merely changing one’s mind, but of taking on a whole new mind, in this case the mind of Christ. In the words of translator Brian Simmons, Jesus wanted the church to “return to your passion for Me that motivated you in the first place.” The Bible historians believe that the Ephesians must have taken His words to heart, because as the church expanded, the Diana worship declined. The Ephesians rose to the occasion after Jesus’ exhortation. In His letter, Jesus threatened to remove their lampstand and extinguish the light. Thank God, it appears He didn’t have to follow through on His threat.

Tree of Life. “To everyone who is victorious I will give fruit from the tree of life in the paradise of God.” (2:7). In the center of the Garden of Eden, God planted two trees: the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and the Tree of Life. Adam and Eve were forbidden to eat of their fruit. The Tree of the Knowledge was an opportunity… It was a test of obedience. God gave them the freedom to choose to disobey God or obey Him. The other Tree was put there to fulfill man’s destiny of eternal life, the fruit of immortality. The problem after the Fall is that mankind fell into a state of sin, they were no longer innocent. To eat of the Tree of Life would now lead to a hopeless life, a sinful life with no hope of ever achieving innocence, a sinful life that would never end. God would not want sinners to eat of the Tree of life, He would not want anyone under the power of sin to have eternal life. So God needed to protect the Tree of Life at all costs. God knew that if Adam and Eve were willful enough to disobey God with the one Tree, they could sooner or later disobey Him with the other Tree. This would be a catastrophe. So the Lord stationed warrior angels to guard the Tree of Life, with swords of fire surrounding the Tree. Then He kicked out Adam and Eve, exiled out of the Garden. No one could possibly gain eternal life who was indeed a sinner. And the Tree has been untouched ever since.

Because of Jesus’ death and Resurrection, the power of sin has been broken, and the Tree of Life is now ready to fulfill the destiny of mankind, eternal life. This Tree is available in paradise. God wants to restore the Garden of Eden in the new heaven and the new earth, and so, sure enough, God has placed the restored Tree of Life in the middle of heaven. This Tree is now open for business, it bears a fruit that is ripe for each of the 12 months. And it has leaves that are intended for the healing of the nations, the nurture and care of all people. The restored Tree of Life reverses the curse of the Garden. So one can see that this Tree is in many ways the Cross of Christ. Jesus’ death has destroyed the power of sin, and paved the way for believers to have eternal life. The Cross is our source of life, and has taken away the curse of sin. Jesus promises that all the overcomers, the victorious ones, will eat the fruit of this Tree, destined for these who participate in Christ’s victory and salvation.