Revelation – Ephesus, The Era of Waning Love
“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) Remem-ber 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 Nicolaitanes, 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.” Revelation 2:1-7.
The epistle of Christ to the church of Ephesus is the first of seven that He dictated to His scribe John and sent to the seven churches of Asia.
While the entire Apocalypse was sent to all seven, to each church Christ wrote a personal letter to give the whole book a more personal application. The word church means a company who have been “called out of” or “from among.” It is an assembly of those who have been called out of the world and from among unbelievers and then sent back into the world as Christ’s ambassadors. The church of Ephesus was composed of the Christians of that city, who had been called out of Judaism and heathenism by the Gospel. The Greeks used the word church to denote a select assembly of free citizens to transact business. In Christianity, the church is the organized society of the called, or elected, to transact business for the Lord.
The Seven Stars
Jesus identifies Himself as “He that holdeth the seven stars in His right hand.” These stars may have been in the form of a star-studded “crown of glory” or “royal diadem” in the right hand of Jesus. (Isaiah 62:3) In Jeremiah 22:24 we read, “As I live, saith the Lord, though Coniah the son of Jehoiakim king of Judah were the signet upon My right hand, yet would I pluck thee thence.”
In all the typical language of Scripture stars are symbols of lordship and authority, ecclesiastical or civil. Of Christ, the prophet said, “There shall come a Star out of Jacob;” and when Jesus was born, the event was announced by a star that guided the wise men to the place of His birth. He is called “the bright and morning Star;” and Lucifer before his fall was called “the day star,” or “sun of the morning.”
The dream of Joseph
In the dream of Joseph, the twelve patriarchs were represented by twelve stars, and in Revelation 12 the woman symbolizing the church is crowned with twelve stars, representing the twelve apostles, the twelve leading lights of the church of Christ, and the twelve kings of the nations of the saved. In Daniel 12:3 faithful teachers of the Gospel are represented as stars, that shine forever and ever; and in Jude 13 false teachers are called “wandering stars, to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness for ever.” Just as the literal stars are placed in the heavens to shed light on their respective planets, so God has placed stars in the firmament of the spiritual heavens to shed light on mankind groping in darkness. These spiritual stars shine as long as they remain in the right hand of Christ. When they stray from Christ, they become “wandering stars,” and eventually disappear in the darkness.
It is evident that the seven stars in the right hand of Christ represent the elders, or ministers, of the seven churches. The word angel means “messenger,” and in the Scriptures is applied to priests and ministers as well as to celestial beings. (Haggai 1:13; Malachi 2:7; 3:1.) As angels are called saints in Deuteronomy 33:2, it is not inappropriate for saints to be called angels in our text. The angels are like-wise called stars. (Job 38:7; Revelation 12:4.) They are also called “ministering spirits” in Hebrews 1:13,14.
Since but one copy of the Apocalypse was written by John, it was only natural that it should be sent to the minister, or pastor, of each church who would in turn read it to the congregation. Timothy was doubtless the angel, or minister, of the church of Ephesus at that time, for according to tradition he was martyred at Ephesus in A.D. 97.
I give unto them eternal life
The right hand is the symbol of power and authority. (Isaiah 41:10,13) Of those who follow Him Jesus said: “I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of My hand.” (John 10:28) Jesus “hath,” or “holdeth,” His ministers in His right hand while they preach His Word as His spokesman. This representation is a great encouragement to the ministers of Christ, to whom He has given “the ministry of reconciliation” so that as “ambassadors for Christ” and “in Christ’s stead” they plead with wayward men and women to be “reconciled to God.” Ministers of the Gospel should never forget their “high calling” as the angels of the churches with the fearful responsibility and solemn implications involved in the term.
The Lampstand of Gold
Christ is the Supreme Head and Bishop of the church universal. He is seen walking about among the seven golden candlesticks, or lampstands. The candlesticks, or lampstands, of the Mosaic tabernacle were not tallow candles, but lamps with bowls for oil and wicks for the flame. This symbol is borrowed from the Old Testament. In the holy place of the Mosaic tabernacle was a lampstand with seven branches of pure gold. It was made in the likeness of an almond tree, with a central lamp with three lamps on each side in opposite pairs. The entire standard was elaborately ornamented with engraved figures and flowers. Exodus 25:31-39.
The seven-branched candlestick of the tabernacle contained a talent of gold, valued at about $25,000. It was five feet in height and three and a half in width and weighted more than one hundred pounds. The lamps were supplied with pure beaten olive oil, and the lights were kept continually burning. (Exodus 27:20,21) The seven-branched candlestick was carried to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar and was used by Belshazzar to help light up his banquet hall the fatal night of Babylon’s doom. It was later carried to Rome by Titus to help grace his triumph, and when the Vandals captured the city of Rome, they took it with them to Carthage, whence it disappeared.
Every article of furniture in the typical sanctuary was symbolic, and in the vision of John we are given the significance of the seven golden candlesticks. “The seven candlesticks which thou sawest are the seven churches.” (Revelation 1:20) What more appropriate symbol could be found of the church which Jesus declared to be “the light of the world?” Jesus spoke of the church as a lighted candle on a candlestick so that “it giveth light unto all that are in the house.” (Matthew 5:14-16) The church is God’s agency for the dissemination of the Gospel light. Christians are represented as “lights in the world; holding forth the word of life.” Philippians 2:15,16.
It is interesting to note that the only means of lighting the holy place of the typical Sanctuary was the light from the seven-branched candlestick. In order to show that the light that makes the church the light of the world is that of divine grace rather than of nature, and that Christ is the source of all light, the light of day was excluded from this apartment of the tabernacle. The church is Christ’s appointed witness, or light bearer, on Earth. Aside from her teachings, there is no other source of light and truth in spiritual things.
The stars and candlesticks are both spoken of as a “mystery” in Revelation 1:20, which doubtless have the meaning of a symbol. The seven golden candlesticks of the Patmos vision represent seven churches, the mystery of which is that they in turn represent a sevenfold unfolding in regard to the entire history of Christendom.
Gold is symbolic of purity and glory
Gold, the most precious of all metals is often mentioned in the Revelation. We read of the “golden girdle,” “golden crown,” “golden vials,” “golden censer,” “golden altar,” “golden reed,” and the city of “pure gold.” Gold was both the sacred and royal metal of the ancient world. The golden candlesticks indicate the high estimation in which Christ holds His church. It is “the apple of His eye,” “the object of Christ’s supreme regard.” Nothing on Earth is as dear to Christ as His church, which is represented as His “body,” and His “wife,” or “bride.”
The book of Revelation finds Christ just where the book of Hebrews leaves Him.
Jesus is seen in vision walking about “in the midst of the seven golden lampstands,” indicating His ceaseless service and unwearied activity and vigilance in behalf of His people. That His work is that of a priest is evident from the description of His garments. (Revelation 1:13) It is the garment worn by Aaron and his sons. (Exodus 28:1-8) Jesus is here represented as the High Priest of the Heavenly Sanctuary, where He carries on His mediatorial work in behalf of His people on Earth.
The location of the golden girdle indicates that Jesus is more than a priest. He is a Priest-King. (Isaiah 22:21,22) The girdle of the high priest was only interwoven with gold. The antitype always exceeds the type. It is the girdle of Christ’s righteousness and faithfulness mentioned in Isaiah 11:5. The gold is the emblem of both regal and sacerdotal dignity. Inasmuch as a king was more exalted than a priest, the kingdom of Christ is spoken of more often than His priesthood. Jesus, as He ministers among the churches, is Prophet, Priest, and King.
In the Holy Place
It is evident that the ministry of Christ as seen by the prophet in vision is that represented by the holy place rather than the most holy, as some contend. The position of Jesus among the candlesticks positively identifies the phase of ministry upon which He entered after His ascension.
In the Mosaic tabernacle service, the high priest and his assistants were types of Christ. As they served in the court, the priests represented God in their ministry to the people. In the Holy and Most Holy places, they represented the people before God. Because Christ is the God-man, He is the representative of both God and man in His ministry in the court on Earth and before the Father in Heaven. In the Introductory Vision, He is pictured in His priestly ministration in the Heavenly Sanctuary; and in His letters to the seven churches, He is described as ministering among the churches on Earth. It is one ministry to both places. In the vision Jesus is seen moving about among the symbolic lamps, supplying them with the oil of His grace so that they can accomplish their light-bearing mission in the world.
One of the duties of the typical priests was to keep the lamps trimmed and burning, and so Christ is seen in the garments of a priest, walking among His churches, speaking messages of warning and reproof, His piercing blazing eyes seeing everything, and with His right hand upholding His messengers who preach His Word. Supplied with the heavenly oil, the churches shed a celestial radiance in the midst of terrestrial darkness. The Light is the Word of God. (Psalm 119:105; Proverbs 6:23.) Jesus is declared to be the living Word, the Truth, and Light of the world. The church is only the light bearer. Although Christ upholds the angels, or ministers, responsible for the oversight of His flocks, He is Himself the Chief Shepherd.
City of Ephesus
The word Ephesus means “desirable.” It is also said to carry the meaning of “having relaxed” or “let go.” It was considered the most desirable city of the province and of Asia Minor. Ephesus was built in the eleventh century before Christ, probably by Androclus, the son of the last king of Athens. It was located at the mouth of the Cayster River on the slopes of the hills overlooking the Aegean Sea.
Its beautiful location, together with the fertile soil and excellent climate, made it a very desirable place to live. During its earlier history, Ephesus had one of the finest harbors of the world which was protected by high hills and a narrow channel easily guarded from enemy ships. The ships of all nations visited this harbor, and Ephesus became one of the chief commercial centers of the west coast of Asia. By imperial edict, it was made the gateway to the province of Asia for Roman officials.
The city was adorned with magnificent temples built by Nero, Hadrian, and Severus, besides the famous temple of Diana (Latin), or Artemis (Greek). The city was consecrated in the minds of the people by many myths and legends of gods and goddesses, making it one of the sacred cities of the pagan world.
It was also a city of festivals and pleasures. The floor plan of its principal theater has been uncovered and is still intact. It extends up the slope of the hillside, rising tier upon tier. Its estimated seating capacity was twenty-five thousand. The Temple of Diana alone made the city famous. This temple was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. The earliest temple was a century in building, and was completed in 480 B.C., or about the time the Jews under Ezra were returning from Babylonian captivity to rebuild Jerusalem. This temple was burned in 356 B.C., on the night Alexander the Great was born. It was rebuilt by donations from all Asia, and its erection required two hundred and twenty years. The second temple was destroyed by the Goths in A.D. 262 and was never rebuilt.
The location of the Temple of Diana was unknown in modern times until discovered by archaeologists in 1869. Mr. J. T. Wood led the expedition that started searching for the temple site on May 2, 1862. Through an inscription found in the ruins of the city it was learned that the temple was not located in the city itself.
The searchers discovered a magnificent gate, through which ran a street thirty-five feet wide paved with stones of fine marble. Following the roadway, they found the boundary wall of the temple on May 2, 1869. Later that same year, they discovered the foundations of the temple at a depth of twenty feet. Mr. Wood spent five years excavating among the ruins. He found six sculptured drums from ancient columns, each of which was twenty feet in circumference and six feet high. The temple was built of white, red, blue, and yellow marble of the finest quality. At least part of this material had doubtless been brought to Ephesus from Patmos, where large marble quarries were located.
The foundation on which the temple stood was four hundred and twenty-five feet long and two hundred and twenty feet wide, and was reached by a flight of ten steps. The temple itself was one hundred and sixty feet by three hundred and forty feet, and was supported by one hundred and twenty-seven pillars sixty feet in height. This left a porch surrounding the building proper between thirty and forty feet wide. Instead of mortar, gold was reputed to have been used between the joints of marble blocks.
The interior, like that of most Grecian temples, was open to the sky. The temple was a place of worship, a museum, a place of refuge, and a treasure house. Kings and wealthy men stored their riches in the temples of their gods and goddesses. (Daniel 1:2) The Temple of Diana was therefore a bank where treasure was kept under the protecting care of the great goddess. Hundreds and perhaps thousands of priests were connected with the temple ritual. There were also multitudes of priestesses dedicated to prostitution in the service of the temple.
The greatness of the Temple of Diana in Paul’s day is indicated by its description in Acts 19:27. (Actually, verses 21-41 explain a lot about the Temple of Diana.) Ephesus is called “the temple-keeper,” and various inscriptions have been found in the ruins declaring that the city was the “temple-keeper of Diana,” “the temple-keeper of the divine emperor.” One inscription reads: “The first and greatest metropolis of Asia and twice temple-keeper of the Emperors, according to the decrees of the sacred assembly of the temple-keepers of Artemis.”
Artemis was not only the chief deity of the city and province but one of the principal goddesses of the pagan world. This is indicated in Acts 19:27,28. It was the temple “whom all Asia and the world worshippeth.” In A.D. 431 a great council of the Christian church was held at Ephesus, at which time the phrase “Mother of God” was applied to Mary. “For fifty generations or more the people of Asia Minor had worshipped a great mother goddess, often with her consort son.
It was at Ephesus, the center of the worship of Diana, that ecclesiastics, many of whom had but a slight training in Christianity, adopted this article into their state-ment of religious faith.”—The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, vol. 1, p. 282, art. “Asia Minor.” Thus, at the reputed home of Mary (mother of Jesus), who lived with John till the time of her death, the pagan Madonna became the emblem of the virgin mother of Jesus.
Acts 19:23-41 records the persecution that resulted from the preaching of Paul, and the consequent loss of faith in paganism and loss of business in the selling of shrines of the goddess. Not only were they worshipped as gods but they were supposed to charm away evil spirits and protect the devotee from danger of all kinds.
An inscription has been found with the name of “Demetrius son of Menophilus,” which indicates he was president of the board of magistrates, or city fathers. This probably accounts for his great influence and authority and explains his ability to stir up the whole city against Paul. Shrine business constituted one of the chief industries. Records of gifts of gold and silver shrines valued as high as $850,000 were found on inscriptions. One inscription was found written on black marble, giving rules of magic. This throws light on the statement in Acts 19:18,19. These books of “curious arts,” magic, charms and incantations were sold to visitors at fabulous prices, and constituted another lucrative source of income that helped make Ephesus wealthy and famous.
City of Change
The message to the church of Ephesus and the subsequent history of the city indicate that the “desirable city” would become the city of change and decay, the declining city. After the destruction of the temple in the third century and the filling up of the harbor with sediment from the Cayster River, Ephesus rapidly declined. Today, the site of the once proud and prosperous Ephesus is six miles from the sea, and what was once the entrance to the spacious harbor, is a shallow, sandy beach unapproachable by ships.
The harbor was abandoned in the fourth century. The city soon suffered the cruel fate of the temple and harbor, and is now a part of the desert waste. The city has literally been moved “out of his place,” as Christ threatened to do with the candle-stick of the church of Ephesus.
The candlestick was removed, and “the first city of Asia” was no longer a brilliant light in the commercial and political world. “The Light of Asia” went out in total darkness. Silence, malaria, and death now brood over the ruins of the once magnificent city. The heavy masonry of her ruined temples and walls lies scattered in pro-fusion where the metropolis of Asia once reveled in her pride and glory. “Remnants of cyclopean walls, causeways, temples, streets, and houses, line the plains and hills and mountain-sides of a vast area which was once filled with their glory but the whole place is a complete desolation, enveloped in a poisonous atmosphere, and tenanted only by things unclean and vile.” (Seiss, J. A. The Apocalypse, Volume 1, p. 122, 1901.)
Message of Christ
The message of Christ to the church of Ephesus is prophetic not only of the history of the city, which began in a desirable condition and ended in a heap of ruins, but also of the local church in Ephesus. The charter members of the Ephesian church were a small group of the disciples of John the Baptist. The church was later visited by Apollos, who also knew only the baptism of John. Aquila and Priscilla were doubtless the first Christians in Ephesus, and Apollos was their first convert.
When Paul visited Ephesus in A.D. 56, he reorganized the church, with a membership of about twelve, who after their rebaptism received the gift of the Holy Spirit. The entire city was mightily stirred by Paul’s message. According to Acts 20:31, Paul remained in Ephesus for three years. Since Ephesus was the metropolis of Asia, the message during this period spread over the whole province. It was doubt-less during this time that the other churches of the province were established. Acts 18:24-28;19.
The church of Ephesus had received the labors of Apollos, Paul, John, and Timothy. It was the home of John, and the ruins of a church still remain where it is said he was buried. The mother of Jesus lived here till the time of her death. Here Timothy died a victim of mob violence because of his protest against the unbridled licentiousness during one of the festivals in honor of the goddess Diana. Paul said he labored in Ephesus three years “night and day with tears,” and wonderful were the results.
The modern preacher may be cultured and eloquent, yet there are but few tears in either the pulpit or the pews. Paul’s ministry of tears produced great results, stir-ring all Asia with the Gospel message. The power and progress of Christianity in the city was so great that it threatened the supremacy of the great goddess Diana and the shrine industry under the control of Demetrius and his fellow craftsmen, and mob violence was the result. It would be far better if modern preaching met with such a reception rather than the present lifeless indifference.
Jesus enumerates seven marks of faithfulness in the Ephesian church, which He commends. Their love, faith, and zeal were manifested by their 1) works, 2) labor, 3) patience, 4) hatred of evil, 5) zeal in testing false apostles, 6) perseverance under persecution, and 7) steadfastness to the faith. The Ephesian Christians demonstrated their love and faith by their works. “I know thy works” is common to all seven letters, but it does not always mean good works. It has the meaning of “life,” “character,” or “conduct.” The statement indicates that Christ is omniscient and that His piercing eyes see all. Nothing escapes His vision.
Labor in the Greek carries the meaning of “labor unto weariness,” and patience means “persevering endurance” or “the brave and persistent endurance of the Christian.” The patience of the Ephesians, however, did not indicate indifference to sin. Though these early Christians could not bear evil and evil men, they could bear persecutions, ridicule, and reproaches for Christ’s sake.
A careful reading of Acts 19 and 20 is enough to convince anyone of the unparalleled zeal of the members of the local church of Ephesus. When they accepted Christianity, they burned in the public square before “all men” their books of magic. This is a worthy example for modern Christians in disposing of the filthy and trashy literature which is far more demoralizing than the Ephesian books of magic. They were not ashamed of their faith. Mighty miracles were wrought among them—some of the greatest recorded in the Scriptures.
To the Ephesian church, Paul wrote one of the best and most spiritual of all his epistles, containing some of the deepest and most sublime of his revelations of divine truth. Ephesus was located on the highway between Palestine and Rome, and through it passed a continual stream of visitors and strangers. The church often had to discriminate between pretended believers and apostles and those who were genuine. For their ability and carefulness in this respect, Jesus highly commended them.
But the desirable condition of the church of Ephesus did not long continue. The early love, zeal, patience, liberality, and spiritual power waned; and strife and dissension took the place of unity and brotherly love. The prediction of Paul came true, and false teachers and counterfeit doctrines multiplied. Worldliness crept into the church, and evil men were tolerated. Miracles and missionary work diminished and finally disappeared. Paul’s warning recorded in Ephesians 4:14 was no longer heeded. The church began to decrease in membership with the decline of the city, and was finally disbanded. Like the city, the local church began in a desirable condition and ended in ruins.
The name of Ephesus and the Ephesian message are prophetic of the universal Christian church during the days of the apostles, or the first century of Christianity. The beginning and history of the universal church are strikingly similar to those of the local church of Ephesus. The Christian church began with twelve charter members, several of whom had received the baptism of John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ. As a result of the upper-room experience, this little group received the baptism of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. With this power they went forth, conquering and to conquer.
Jerusalem was mightily stirred, and was filled “with their doctrine” just as was the city of Ephesus. The disciples of Jesus went “everywhere preaching the word,” and multitudes accepted the faith. Mighty miracles were wrought, and the progress of the Christian religion was phenomenal. According to the historian Gibbon, there were between five and six million converts in the empire alone by the close of the first century. The Gospel went to all the world in a single generation. Colossians 1:23; Titus 2:11. Miracles were performed even greater than those wrought by Christ Himself, as He had promised. John 14:12; Acts 2:43-47; 4:31-35; 5:12-16; 9:31.
Just as the progress of the Gospel in Ephesus diminished the income of the silver-smiths and brought persecution, the progress also threatened the prestige and authority of the Jewish leaders and diminished their income through the sale of exorbitant prices of sacrificial offerings in the temple service. Joseph and Nicodemus, two of the members of the Sanhedrin and among the wealthiest men of the nation, became Christians and poured their riches into the coffers of the church. Saul of Tarsus (later became Paul) soon followed their example, and the persecutor (Saul) became the persecuted (Paul).
The Gospel seeds were watered by the blood of martyrs. Christ commended the patient endurance of the early Christians under trials and tribulation. Jesus said, “I know your doings.” (Weymouth)
The Ephesian message is given from the viewpoint of Christ’s close scrutiny and intimate knowledge of the spiritual state of His people. He perceived all, and appreciated their virtue, especially their ability to detect wolves in sheep’s clothing and put them to the Scriptural test. They had “found them liars.” They were the agents of Satan masquerading as the apostles of Christ. (2 Corinthians 11:13-15) Wherever it was possible in the seven letters, Jesus gave praise; and wherever necessary, He gave reproof. But He always recognized and mentioned that which was praise-worthy first, indicating that He is more interested in finding the good in His people than in discovering evil. This is a noble example for all who have to deal with the erring. After praising the virtues of the Christians of the first century, like a faithful friend Jesus points out their faults. He is able to see much to admire. Jesus has a very keen eye for that which is good. 2 Chronicles 16:9.
After commending them, Jesus added, “Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee.” Their greatest fault was that they had left their first love and love-works. They had “relaxed,” or “abandoned,” their first love. Their love for Christ had not been entirely extinguished; it had diminished and become lukewarm. When Paul wrote his epistle to the same church more than thirty years before, they were still in their first love. (Ephesians 1:15) At that time there were apparently no signs of spiritual declension.
What was wrong?
It was not the “work of faith,” the “labour of love,” the “patience of hope.” (1 Thessalonians 1:3) Of faith, hope, and love, Paul says that “the greatest of these is love.” Love was lacking, and works without love are dead and useless. Love is the fountain of all true service. “For the love of Christ constraineth us,” declared the apostles regarding the motive and compelling power of their zeal and works.
A Serious State
When Christian love diminishes, it is evident that some other person or attraction has superseded Christ in the affections. The Ephesian church had not abandoned the doctrines of Christ or the form of godliness. Her failure was in becoming untrue to the Person who is the very center and substance of Christianity. She had deserted her Lord in the pathway of love.
In spite of the orthodoxy and doctrinal purity of the church, her love had cooled. The warmth of affection had given way to cold and lifeless orthodoxy. The machinery of a church may be in perfect working condition and at the same time love and “love works” be on the decline. Missionary activity was displacing Christ, and pro-grams and ceremonies were endangering spiritual experience and fellowship. The church was busy doing for Christ rather than being like Christ.
“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,” is a solemn warning. The loss of love for Christ is a fall from a high spiritual plane to a depth far below. It represents a backslidden condition that needs to be repented of. The “first works” had come out of their “first love,” and when love diminished, the works did also. A return to the first-love experience is the prerequisite to a repetition of the first-love works. Works do not produce love but genuine love shows itself in works. The return journey, however, requires more effort and time than the fall.
Unless there took place a speedy reformation, the candlestick would be removed and the church would cease to be the light of the world. This was no idle threat, for Christ had already removed the candlestick from the Jewish church and given it to another. To the Jews, Jesus said, “The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits there of.” It is the loss of love that forfeits the light and privilege of light bearing, of witnessing for Christ.
God values the service of love and when this is lacking, the mere round of ceremony is offensive to Him. The removal of the candlestick indicates removal from the high standing and special privileges in the Sanctuary of God. Love and light are closely related, for “God is Light” and “God is Love.” Inasmuch as “love is the fulfilling of the law,” the first works of obedience disappeared with the first love. “God is Light because God is Love. It is a case of cause and effect.
Love is the supreme grace of the Christian religion, and the cooling of that love is the first sign of decay and the first step toward a general apostasy. From the decline of love, the early church marched steadily onward away from God, till apostasy climaxed in the scarlet woman, Babylon the Great.
The church that started out as a light of the world finally plunged the world into the Dark Ages. The candlestick was removed, and darkness covered the earth till the blazing torch of Gospel light was again held aloft in the great Reformation of the sixteenth century.
After ministering this severe rebuke, Jesus added some more praise to mitigate the sting: “Still, you have this in your favour: you hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, and I hate them too.” (Moffatt) The bringing forth of a new virtue after giving such severe reproofs and dire threatenings is an evidence of the most tender love and sympathy. All feelings of righteous indignation against evil which lead to a loathing of those things which defile is welcomed by Christ as an evidence of life.
There is hope where hatred of evil prevails. To love the things Christ loves and hate the things Christ hates is indeed praiseworthy. The Ephesian church did not fall into the common error of believing that doctrine can be divorced from obligation and that an intellectual acceptance of the Gospel is superior to moral character. Failing in love was their only error.
Appeal and Reward
“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 appeal to hear the voice of the Spirit is seven times repeated in the epistles of Christ. While Christ revealed Himself to John as the Author of the Apocalypse, it was the Holy Spirit who inspired the prophet to write it. The voice of Christ is also the voice of the Holy Spirit. The Two are Chief of the witnesses through whom God speaks to man. The term churches indicates that all seven churches were to profit by each of the seven epistles.
It is a dangerous thing to refuse to listen when the Holy Spirit speaks, to close the ear to His appeals. In Zechariah 7:11-14, refusing to hearken and pulling away the shoulder and stopping the ears are said to lead to serious consequences. The heart finally becomes hard “as an adamant stone,” on which no impressions can be made. “To day if ye will hear His voice, harden not your heart” is the admonition of Scripture in regard to the voice of the Spirit.
The appeal to hear the message of the Apocalypse applies with special force to the church of this last generation. A refusal to hear and obey will lead to the unpardonable sin. It constitutes a rejection of both Christ and the Holy Spirit. Ears as here used must include “faith, the ears of the soul.” Only those who are born of the Spirit have spiritual ears.
The seven promised rewards make up the sum of all the good things that were lost through disobedience, and that are to be regained through faith. Continuous overcoming brings to the victor a continuous supply of the fruit of the Tree of Life, for Paradise must begin here. The Tree of Life disappeared from the Earth because of sin. It will reappear when Paradise is restored. What was lost through the disobedience of the first Adam will be restored through the obedience of the second Adam.
Paradise is a Persian word adopted in both Greek and Hebrew. It means a park, or pleasure ground. It is called “the garden of God,” and “the garden of the Lord.” Paradise is “the garden of all delights.” This promise to the members of the church of Ephesus constitutes a mighty and eloquent appeal for repentance and faithfulness, to “hear what the Spirit saith unto the church.”
Thus, the first promise of the first epistle of Christ is of the restoration of the first thing lost through sin — access to the Tree of Life and its life-giving fruit.