To the Church at Ephesus:
2 “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write:
These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands: 2 I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. 3 You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.
4 Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. 5 Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place. 6 But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
7 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.” (Revelation 2:1-7)
About the city of Ephesus:
The city of Ephesus was one of the grandest cities in the world, outside of Rome. Ephesus was the capital of the Eastern provinces of Rome. Ephesus was a grand city which was strategically positioned. It has a huge protected harbor, unending water supply and steep hills which surrounded the city which made it easy to defend. A wall circled the high ridges around the city. The city was developed around the port with a large amphitheater which could seat over 25,000 people, huge libraries, avenues and temples to gods and kings. The city was likely more than 200,000 thousand people making it one of the most populous cities in the ancient world. Most “cities” were less than 10,000 people in those days.
In Ephesus was the greatest and largest temple in the world, the temple of Artemis or Diana. It was four times larger than the Parthenon in Athens. The temple was burned down at one point, and on that very night Alexander the Great was born. When Alexander came to Ephesus he paid to build the new temple clearly identifying with the spiritual power of Artemis. This temple had 117 columns that were 60 feet tall, the lower few feet of 36 of them being decorated with life-size human figures. The temple itself was 377 feet by 180 feet. It was one of the seven wonders of the world (real ones).
At the entrance to Ephesus, as a person came in they would see the massive temple to the Emperor Domitian. Every temple was built out of shining white marble. The city would glow in its own glory. (Emperor Domitian was a major persecutor of the church along with many of the subsequent Emperors like Nero.)
Ephesus was the most strategic and influential city apart from Rome. Paul spent more than 3 years here; longer than any other city on his missionary tours to lead people to Jesus. From here, Ephesus’ influence was widespread. As Paul preached the gospel, people from the surrounding area would also hear as they came in to buy, trade and visit in Ephesus. The Bible records that “all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord” (Acts 19:10). The influence of the city of Ephesus was so great, and attracted so many people Paul was literally able to reach the whole province (modern-day Turkey) through the city of Ephesus.
The Apostle John is reported to have spent more than twenty years in Ephesus guiding and teaching the believers there. When he was imprisoned in the island of Patmos, it is only a few miles off shore from Ephesus and well known to all the people there. When John gave his prophecy of Jesus to the seven churches in Revelation chapters 2 and 3, they were churches which he knew very well and were in the surrounding area near Ephesus. He gave the prophecy to people churches which he knew intimately.
The prophecy to the church in Ephesus:
Jesus makes his first revelation about the Church in Ephesus. He is going to reveal prophecies about seven churches. In verse one Jesus says, “These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands” (Revelation 2:1). Most scholars agree that the seven stars refer to the seven angels of the churches and the seven golden lampstands refers to the seven churches. Jesus is revealing that the angels who are entrusted with the message are his angels and the churches are those believers who Jesus “walks among”.
Paul came to Ephesus around 51 AD on his third missionary journey. It was here that he found the people only had heard only the baptism of John, but didn’t know about the baptism of the Holy Spirit. During a period of nearly three years, Paul taught in the synagogue, and “publicly and house to house” (Acts 20:20 ). Ephesus, was a city dedicated to many gods and having the largest temple in the world to Artemis. The gospel of Jesus caused quite a stir. Many of the Ephesians who had become Christians burned their magic books and, as more Ephesians became believers, Demetrius, a silversmith idol-maker, started a riot in order to kill Paul. Acts records that for two hours, the crowd shouted “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians.” Aquilla, Priscilla, Timothy, and Luke were there during the Bible story and history indicates that the apostle John and Jesus mother, Mary, were there later. Paul wrote to the Ephesian church from his Roman prison and also wrote his personal letters to Timothy who was working with the church in Ephesus.
In the revelation of prophecy that Jesus gave to the Church in Ephesians, he started by affirming them. He said, “2 I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. 3 You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary” (Revelation 2:2-3).
Paul and John both committed significant years of ministry for Ephesus. Paul was nearly stoned to death by a mob here and John was imprisoned from Ephesus also to the island of Patmos. He was giving this revelation out of his personal experience. It is said John lived in Ephesus for two decades.
The believers were known for standing up against the evil of Ephesus. The great temple of Artemis/Diana (Greek and Roman names for the same) was here and Artemis is well known for being the “mother of witchcraft”. The massive temple of Domitian greeted every visitor to the port of Ephesus. Statues of gods and famous leaders lined all the roads. Bathhouses and prostitutes were available everywhere for rich and poor. Not only this, but false Christian teachers and Jewish leaders continually tried to lead the believers into compromise and away from the pure teachings of Jesus. Yet, among all the temptations, evil and false doctrine, they had remained steadfast. They persevered and endured many hardship and persecutions. Jesus said, “they have not grown weary”. Persecution had not abated when Jesus gave this prophecy through John who was exiled from Ephesus. They were still faithful.
After the affirmation, except for two cities, he gives a strong rebuke. The rebuke was harsh to the church in Ephesus. Jesus said, “4 Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. 5 Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place. 6 But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate” (Revelation 2:4-6).
Jesus had one thing against them, however. They had “forsaken their first love”. Their first love of Christ was lost. In a city teeming with the worship of other gods, massive temples and a focus on rituals, it is easy to get lost in religion. It is easy to develop rituals of meeting, singing, tithing and praying, yet lose passion. It is the spirit of religion that creeps in. Love vanished. Not only love for Jesus, but likely love for others. It was in danger of becoming a “religion” in which Jesus would remove his authority. In choosing to follow Jesus, they all left lives which were based in ritual worship of others, or in error. They made a decision for Jesus in persecution. They were certain of their decision. Yet, that first love was waning. It is so important that Jesus told them too REPENT. Repent, not for a sin, but for lack of love. Jesus told them to go back doing what they previously did. Not to get swallowed up in religion and rituals, but in a passion for others. Love.
Nicolatians? I know Baptists, Methodists and many other networks and associations, but none are called “Nicolatians”. The word “Nicolatians” in Greek means “victory over people”. This teaching, or school of thought, had two key points: First dealt with governance, secondly with the grace of God. This is a doctrine and governance which spread across the church in the first century. It was a doctrine of a new clergy ruling over a laity. It established a non-biblical hierarchy in the church which had elite leaders ruling over common people. The practice of governance is wide-spread to this day as well.
Secondly, was a teaching which basically says that the mercy of God is so great, that it does not matter how you live your life, God will forgive you. Living in sin, or a life of compromise, is alright because God’s mercy will cover it. It is a false doctrine. In the city of Ephesus with pagan gods surrounding them, rituals and immorality prevalent, living a life of compromise to sin would not glory God in any way. God said, he “HATES” it!
There is only one response that Jesus requires: repentance. No excuses, not an explanation, not justifications, nor penance, simply Jesus requires true repentance. If they refuse to repent he will “remove the lampstand” and the church will cease to exist.
What it means to the church today:
Ephesus is gone today. In the first century a massive earthquake hit the city. The acropolis (mountain fortress) was split in two. Every building was destroyed. The entire city lay in ruin and was never rebuilt. Secondly, Ephesus sat on the ocean and had a protected harbor. After the earthquake the river that flowed near Ephesus completely silted up the bay and turned the port into a marsh impassable by boats or people. It is now 5 miles from the former city of Ephesus to the Aegean sea. Thirdly, with the marsh lands came mosquitoes and other diseases. The water supply was affected and Ephesus, once the greatest city outside of Rome, became unlivable. The once great temple of Artemis which was a wonder of the world was completely destroyed. Its rubble was even carried off. Today, of the 117 columns which stretched into the sky more than 60 feet, only one broken column remains.
Before Ephesus completely died, the Catholic Church made a temple to honor John. They call it the St. John Basilica. They also declared in Ephesus on On June 22, 431 AD that in the city of the female goddess Artemis/Diana of all witchcraft, that Mary deserves the divine title “Mother of God”. There is also an inscription that the Emperor (now Christian due to Constantine making Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire in the 4th century) wanted to build this temple to John even bigger, but they were limited by geology. They built it on a mountain overlooking the site of the Artemis temple. They used the entire mountain top, but ran out of room to make it bigger.
What is left of this colossal temple to St. John? Rubble. It was also destroyed in a massive earthquake. In the last 500 years the Muslims have taken over the area and now some people have moved back into town because of the potential for tourism to come and see the ruins of this once famous city. Between the Temple of Artemis and the St. John’s Basilica the Muslims have now built a Mosque. Do you know what they named the mosque? Isabey Mosque, translated “Mosque of Mr. Jesus!”
None of them honor Jesus. The history of Ephesus shows the church compromised and died. None of these buildings are the real church. They are just marble stones moved from building to building honoring whatever god is popular at the time.
Unfortunately, the church of today has not learned from Ephesus. Somehow they think they are building buildings which will represent Christ. They promote wrong teachings and are compromising with sin. They do not stand for righteousness and when you compare the teachings of Jesus in the Bible to the local church . . . there is little similarity. Our excuses are modernism, intelligence, efficiency and denominational policy. Jesus does not want to hear any excuses, he only wants repentance. If we don’t repent, one day tourists will dig around in the rubble of what we left behind and wonder why we didn’t heed God’s warning.