The Church at Ephesus
Wouldn’t it be amazing if Jesus Himself would write a personal letter to you and your church evaluating your spiritual progress, telling you, in his great love, both your strengths and weaknesses, and then call you to some specific action? Wouldn’t you be fascinated to hear such a letter read to your church?
Well, that is exactly what we have before us in Revelation 2 and 3 – in fact, Jesus here presents us with seven such letters to various churches in Asia, each of which applies particularly to our own lives and the life of our churches today. Each of these fascinating letters, therefore, are extremely important for each of us.
The seven churches of Asia named in the book of Revelation were real churches in real places. Those churches are named in Revelation chapters 2 and 3 in geographic order according to the circuitous route followed by a traveler. If you were a mailman delivering letters to those churches, you would pick a route that began at Ephesus. You would go to Smyrna next, then on to the other churches in the order given, ending up at Laodicea. These seven churches were also centers from which the letters could be further distributed to other churches of Asia in those days. The seven letters in Revelation addressed real-life situations and conditions in these churches, and were written to encourage the persecuted Christians of John’s day.
The seven churches also represent Christ’s universal church of all ages. The conditions described in these churches are found in churches everywhere and in all times. The New Testament itself is addressed to Christians of all ages. In the ancient opinion of the Muratorian Canon: ‘John also in the Revelation writes indeed to seven churches yet speaks to all.’ For instance, when we read Romans, we don’t say, ‘This has nothing to do with me, but only the church in Rome of two thousand years ago.’ Yes, Romans was written to the church at Rome, but it also applies to believers today. That is true of Scripture, including all seven letters for all of us, for all time.
If we examine what Jesus says about the condition of the churches, we see that the first and last church have a similar problem – the loss of the first love in Ephesus is like the lukewarm state of Laodicea. Similarly, the second church addressed is like the next to last church addressed in that the churches in both Smyrna and Philadelphia are commended, not reproved, and neither church is called to repent. The three churches in the middle seem to progress from bad to worse: the letters to both Pergamum and Thyatira mention false teaching, idolatry, and immorality, and Thyatira seems to be in a worse state than Pergamum, while Jesus says that the church in Sardis is dead!
In the coming weeks we will look at each of these letters one by one. Here it is helpful to reflect on the state of these seven churches. Only two of the seven were not reproved, and when this letter was written, the apostolic age had not yet closed! The church has never really had a ‘golden age’ when everything was right. Thus, we need not be excessively discouraged, much less despair. Just as Jesus loved these churches enough to reprove and discipline them, so he also loves us enough to reprove and discipline us. Then as now, the healthy churches are in the minority. Then as now, Jesus is committed to building his Church!
As we will soon see, the contents of these letters begin with the gospel and the greatness of Christ, call the churches to reject false teaching and live in a way that corresponds to the gospel, and then promise astonishing rewards to those who hear what the Spirit says and overcome temptation and affliction by holding fast to the gospel even unto death. And, remember, these letters proclaim these things not only to the members of the seven churches but also proclaim these glorious things to ‘those who hear, and who keep what is written in’ this prophecy of Revelation (1:3). That includes us.
This week, Chad will examine the first letter, the letter to the church at Ephesus, looking specifically at what our Lord perceives about this church, what he prescribes for this church, and how he encourages this church to receive his prescription.
Michelle and I will miss being with you this week but are thankful that we can celebrate with our family in the graduation of a niece from the University of Florida. Thank you for the opportunity to be with our family. We are praying for you and look forward to being back with you this next week. Thank you, Chad, for preaching this Lord’s Day.
Grace & Peace,