Introduction: New series entitled, “Can you hear me?” (Revelation 1:1-4, 9-20)
The series subtitle is Letters from God; today’s title is God’s Letter to the Waning.
- These messages will focus on Jesus’ letters to the 7 churches in Revelation 2-3.
- Theme: Revelation 2:7 (NLT)—“Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what He is saying to the churches. …” [also verses 2:11,17,29;3:6,13,22]
- Revelation 1:1–3 (NLT)—This is a revelation [Gk. apokalypsis, in NT refers to divine disclosure of God’s will] from Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants the events that must soon take place. He sent an angel to present this revelation to His servant John [only book communicated by angel], 2 who faithfully reported everything he saw. This is his report of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. 3 God blesses the one who reads the words of this prophecy to the church, and He blesses all who listen to its message and obey what it says, for the time is near.
- Jesus was speaking to these churches—and through them to us—about coming destruction during Passover in 70 A.D., when Roman general Titus destroyed the city of Jerusalem, including the temple, slaughtered 1.1 million people and enslaved 97,000 people (Matthew 24), and through this description to the ultimate return of Jesus 2nd
- Revelation 1:9 (NLT)—I, John, am your brother and your partner in suffering and in God’s Kingdom and in the patient endurance to which Jesus calls us. I was exiled to the island of Patmos for preaching the word of God and for my testimony about Jesus.
- Author: John (original disciple and apostle); Date: AD 68 or AD 96; Where written: Patmos (Greek island in the Aegean Sea, today off the west coast of Turkey.)
- Revelation was written by the apostle John, either shortly after the reign of Roman Emperor Nero (AD 54-68) or at the close of Emperor Domitian’s reign (AD 81-96), which determines whether the letter described the destruction of 70 AD, or predicted it.
- In either case, the letters were written and sent during a time of great persecution.
- Jesus, through John, exposed the errors and weaknesses in these congregations in what was referred to then as Asia Minor (a Roman province, today western Turkey) and encouraged authentic faith and discipleship in churches and individuals (like us).
The Message to the Church in Ephesus:
The letter begins with a…
#1 - Greeting: (Revelation 2:1)
- Revelation 2:1a (NLT)—“Write this letter to the angel [messenger or church leader, pastor or elder] of the church in Ephesus.”
- Ephesus was a large harbor city (pop.250-500,000), which served as a center of trade, headquarters of the Roman government and location for the worship of the fertility goddess (Greeks.: Artemis; Romans: Diana; Acts 19; 7 Wonders of Ancient World)
- The gospel was introduced by Paul, Priscilla and Aquila (Acts 18:18-19), assisted by the Apollos (Acts 18:24-26), followed by Paul’s return on his 2nd (Acts 18:19-21) and 3rd missionary journeys (Acts 19-20). [The church was now 40 years old at this writing.]
- Timothy served as pastor (1Timothy 1:3) and later, John, who was serving there when arrested and exiled. (Tradition says Mary, Jesus’ mother lived in Ephesus. John 19:27)
- Revelation 2:1b (NLT)—“This is the message from the one who holds the seven stars in His right hand [representing the leaders through whom Jesus leads the churches; Eph.4:11], the one who walks among the seven gold lampstands [the seven churches which Jesus examines and evaluates]:” [Stars and lampstands intended to give light.]
The next part of this passage is…
#2 - Affirmation: (Revelation 2:2-3,6; C/R: Matthew 7:15; 2 John 10; 2 Corinthians 4:8-10; Romans 8:18)
- Revelation 2:2a (NLT)—“I know all the things you do.”
- Jesus had complete knowledge of everything the churches were doing, including both the good and bad, the ministry and the mistakes, the works and the weaknesses.
- Revelation 2:2b (NLT)—“I have seen your hard work [physical, mental and emotional efforts for the cause of Christ] and your patient endurance [perseverance through difficult circumstances]. I know you don’t tolerate evil people.” [Obeyed God’s standards of moral behavior and practiced church discipline.].
- Revelation 2:2c (NLT)—“You have examined the claims of those who say they are apostles but are not. You have discovered they are liars.” [Recognized and rejected false teachers. Matthew 7:15; 2 John 7,10; 2 Corinthians 11:13-15]
- Revelation 2:3 (NLT)—“You have patiently suffered for Me without quitting. …”
- For forty years, the Ephesians served diligently, endured trials, refused to tolerate evil and rejected false teaching. (Matthew 7:15; 2 Corinthians 4:8-10; Romans 8:18; 2 John 10)
- Added at Revelation 2:6 (NLT)—“But this is in your favor: You hate the evil deeds of the Nicolaitans, just as I do.”
- It is suggested by scholars that the teaching of the Nicolaitans (who can’t be positively identified) stressed the graceful forgiveness of God and improperly emphasized Christian liberty to the point that immorality was not only tolerated, it was encouraged as freedom—but the Ephesians rejected this teaching!
- Have we become like Nicolaitans… minimizing, overlooking, ignoring, our sins because we expect, even assume, take for granted, God’s grace? (Hate sin, love sinner!)
The next portion of this letter is a…
#3 - Challenge: (Revelation 2:4-5a; C/R: John 13:34-35; 1 John 4:7-8; 5:1; Ephesians1:15-16)
- Revelation 2:4 (NLT)—“But I have this complaint against you. You don’t love Me or each other as you did at first!” [Gk. You have lost your first love. Love has waned!]
- The church had maintained right beliefs (doctrinal orthodoxy) and continued in sacrificial service, but those behaviors had become motivated by a desire to do right things, but not for the right reason—love!
- These good things, these gospel efforts, had become mere human good works, because they were not inspired and encouraged by love for Jesus and other people.
- This church had begun with an emphasis on love for God (Ephesians 3:17-19; 6:23-24) and each other (Ephesians 1:15), but forty years later, that love had declined into routine, perhaps because the earliest believers had passed away.
- The loss of a love relationship with Jesus resulted in spiritual apathy, indifference to others, love for the world, compromise with evil and would lead, ultimately, to death of the church. (John 13:34-35; Ephesians 1:15-16; 1 John 4:7-8; 5:1)
- Revelation 2:5a (NLT)—“Look how far you have fallen! Turn back to Me [repent] and do the works you did at first.”
- The church need to remember and reflect on what it was like to be in love with Jesus and other people! [Our motto: Love God, Love People, but do we?]
- The Ephesians needed to repent from complacency toward God and indifference toward others—and return to serving God and others because of the love they had experienced from God, resulting in love for Him and others! (APP.: Remember those days?)
- This passion, or lack thereof, will be evident in our lives—in our service, our worship, our evangelism, our devotion to prayer, our hunger for God’s Presence and His Word, our enthusiasm to serve and to meet the needs, physical and spiritual, of others.
The letter includes a stern warning, which we have called…
#4 - Consequences: (Revelation 2:5b; C/R: 1 John 1:8-9; Acts 3:19; Proverbs 28:13; James 4:8-10)
- Revelation 2:5b (NLT)—“…If you don’t repent, I will come and remove your lampstand (symbolic of the church; Revelation 1:20) from its place among the churches.”
- Christ warned the Ephesians to recover their love, their passion for Christ, as motivation for ministry or their light, would be extinguished.
- Jesus’ would come, not to rule in His Second Coming, but to return to judge this church.
- Jesus has high expectations on His people and His churches, and this passage declares that He will end the existence of a church that is not serving with love.
- I think it is possible for a church building to stand and services be held, with little love being expressed and no light pouring from them.
- Today, the glorious city of Ephesus is in ruins and no light is shining there.
- There’s hope; the grace and mercy of God offers repentance and promises restoration.
- [Screen] 1 John 1:9 (NLT)—…if we confess our sins to Him, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. [Proverbs 28:13; Acts 3:19; James 4:8-10]
- : Do we need to repent and turn back to loving Jesus and others as we did at first?
The letter closes with…
#5 - Rewards: (Revelation 2:7; C/R: Genesis 2:9;3:22; Revelation 22:2,14; Luke 23:43)
- Revelation 2:7a (NLT)— 7a “Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what He is saying to the churches.” [Closes each of the seven letters.]
- We have a serious responsibility to heed God’s voice—directly and in Scripture—as individuals and as churches.
- Revelation 2:7b (NLT)— “To everyone who is victorious [overcomers, refers to all Christians; 1 John 5:4-5] I will give fruit from the tree of life in the paradise of God.”
- The tree of life, in the Garden of Eden, was first referred to at Genesis 2:9.
- Because of their sin, Adam and Eve were banished from the garden so they could not eat from the tree and live forever in a fallen state (Genesis 3:22-23), but there will be a tree of life in the paradise of God, which is heaven (Luke 23:43; 2 Corinthians 12:4) and we are invited to eat and live eternally. (Revelation 22:2,14,19)
- The Ephesian church warns us that right beliefs (doctrinal orthodoxy) and outward service (good works) cannot make up for a cold heart—a heart that has not been warmed by the love of God and has no love for God or others. (Proverbs 4:23)