Letters to the Church: Ephesus


  • We’re both early date guys but can see some evidence of the late date in the manuscripts
  • Ryan-I go early primarily because of (Syriac) evidence but also on 8-9 other points regarding the transmission of Revelation. Essentially, I see Revelation being written on the Island of Patmos around 64-68 AD by John and being handed off to a messenger to be delivered to a scribe. Some scholars believe that the letter was held up or lost for many years. Eventually it was delivered to a scribe who I think made notes before he would have presented it to the 7 churches mentioned in the “mail order.” He was essentially preaching the message to them, and I think because of the elements of 70AD already happening some of the content was slightly edited to better fit the message. Over the years the scribes notes often get mixed in with the text. (Mark 16:9-20, John 7:53-8:11, John 21, Luke 22:17-21, Luke 22:43-44, 1 John 5:7-8, etc) When the scribe preached the content he likely stayed a bit to make sure the church received the message and answered any questions. He likely then also left a copy of the text which also would have taken some time to do. This would answer why some parts of the letter would seem to address not only persecution under Nero but also be applied to Domitian later. Statements like this often shock evangelicals to learn that the scripture may have been slightly altered by a scribe, but it was commonplace to the messengers of the time. We don’t have any of the complete manuscripts. Matt and I will do a video on inspiration and the canon later this year.

Faithful Witnessing is the big idea in revelation

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Revelation 1:4-6

John, To the seven churches in the province of Asia: Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead , and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.

  • The Greek word for witness is martus (We get martyr from this)- It someone who testifies about something they’ve seen and experienced (like a witness in court)
  • The big idea for these episodes is that if we’ve seen and experienced Jesus in our life it should be reflected in our church.
  • Remember revelation is about a revelation of Jesus to the churches in Asia minor against the Roman Empire.

Revelation 2:1-7

“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. I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far 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. But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.


  • It is interesting that much of our New Testament was written to the church in Ephesus: Ephesians, 1 and 2 Timothy, 1-3 John, and Revelation. Also, the Gospel of John was likely written by John when he was in Ephesus.
  • We know that Paul and Timothy also ministered in this church.
  • Ephesus was the home to many major temples. The patron God of Ephesus was Artemis who was the goddess of food and fertility/childbirth.
    • Her temple was one of the wonders of the ancient world
    • The myth was that she fell from heaven and landed on the tree of life in Ephesus. This was where her temple was built, and they also called her temple paradise.
      • John’s use of these terms in the text- (Falling, tree of life, and paradise) are not only connecting the meaning to the garden of Eden but also as a jab against Ephesian culture.
  • Ephesus was also the hub of the imperial cult in Asia minor with a temple to the Caesars and worship of the empire. Ephesus was the center of patriotism.
  • When you traveled by foot or by sea into Ephesus you would have seen a massive 50-foot statue of Caesar outside his temple. This temple was built on a platform and on the base of the platform was the 24 gods of the Greco-Roman Pantheon. It communicated that Caesar stood on the backs of the gods as “most high”. This was the first thing you saw as you traveled into town.
  • Ephesus was also the center of commerce of the entire world. it was the bridge between the East and the West. It was the city where everyone would come to buy and sell. It was centrally located and easily accessible from both land and sea. (Think New York City or Tokyo)
  • Ephesus had this huge marketplace called the Agora.
    • The Agora eventually became so popular, literally the world flocked there, that Caesar’s advisors told him he should implement a tax in order to buy and sell there.
    • Caesar thought on it and said no because his popularity would be hindered if he raised taxes. Instead, he forced people to make an offering to him… so it’s not a tax (it’s healthcare LOL) …it’s worship.
    • He built 4 altars, one at each of the 4 corners of the agora. These altars had the names of Caesar on it… “Lord God Almighty”. They would sacrifice a bull on the altars to Caesar every day and to enter the Agora you’d give your financial offering and then offer incense at one of the altars. After this you’d be given a mark made up of the ashes of the bull and paste. It would be put on your right hand or on your forehead so that you could buy and sell. But in order to do this you needed to worship the Caesar as an act of allegiance to the empire. 


  • Many believe this “angel” is the solo pastor of the church, some think it could be a messenger delivering or reading the letter to the church, others think it’s an actual spiritual being.
  • in Revelation “angel” is mentioned 77 times and always is a spiritual being.  The only place people make it ambiguous is in the 7 churches.
  • Remember Revelation is apocalyptic so the idea of the church having an assigned angel is not out of the question.
  • I also don’t dismiss the idea of the one who is the letter reader either
  • The pastor interpretation is not very good. We don’t get this anywhere else in scripture that a pastor can be an “angel/messenger”. People who want to find the single or senior pastor role in the church want to use this as a poor proof text.

Power and Presence

Jesus is described in 2 ways… Power and Presence

  • Jesus is described as the one who holds the 7 stars. “Holding” was a symbol of power in the Roman world.
    • Now Caesar had a 10-year-old son that he really loved but he died. He was questioned that if he was “lord god almighty” why he couldn’t raise his son from the dead. So, Caesar went and consulted with himself (the highest authority) and when he returned he said, “I just met with the gods, and they said they needed my son to hold the 7 stars in place.”
    • They put their news on their money. There was a denarius going around during this time with Caesar’s son (The son of man/god) holding the 7 stars
    • The text is continually replacing Caesar with Jesus as the true king of the universe, and it calls us to follow his way.
  • Jesus is depicted as the one that walks among the lampstands. It says he knows what they do… He is present! 
    • The churches are described as lampstands here. This is temple imagery. In the Temple the lampstand was a menorah with 7 candles, representing these 7 churches.
    • the role of the lampstand in the temple was to shine light on the table of showbread. Jesus is the bread of life!
    •  Our purpose as the church is to shine our light on Jesus, who is our life!

Praise for Ephesus

In verses 2, 3, & 6 of the text Jesus praises the church in Ephesus for their works

  • During Caesars’ games in the opening ceremony the representatives of the regions of the empire would come forward and meet Caesar. He would say to them “this I find in your favor, but this I hold against you”. He would tell them something that need to change for them to better represent Rome and conquer.
    • Again, the Ephesians would have heard this as Jesus is King, Caesar is not. And as Jesus telling them how to faithfully represent the Kingdom of God.
  • Jesus knows their deeds and hard work
    • The Ephesians worked hard serving the Lord.
    • “work” in the NT is often tied into the work of the ministry (good works) and spreading the gospel of Jesus as King.
  • They had discernment and good doctrine
    • The Ephesians took Paul and Timothy’s instructions on false teachers seriously.
    • They also took John’s instructions in his epistles on discernment seriously.
    • 1 Timothy is all about false teachers in Ephesus.
      • The big idea for that letter is found in 1 Tim 1:3-7 where Timothy is warned about people who teach myths and genealogies (this is likely connected to the Artemis cult). He exhorts them to have good doctrine which is directly connected to their ethics, morals, and behavior.
    • John taught the church to discern in his epistles.
      • He taught them that if someone denies that Jesus came in the flesh he is a liar and an anti-Christ. (1 John 2:22)
      • He taught them not to believe every spirit but to test if they came from God by this: If they don’t acknowledge that Jesus came from God they are of the spirit of the anti-Christ (1 John 4:2)
  • I believe in Revelation, John is likely talking about discernment in the context of those who are coming into Ephesus and claiming Christ, but they are taking the mark to buy and sell in the Agora or worshipping in the temple if Artemis (which I’ll tell you more about here in a minute) and encouraging others to do it out of “Christian freedom”.
  • They endured hardships for Jesus’ name
    • My thought is that the Ephesians stood strong against the civil religion of the empire in that day. It would have brought persecution as the Ephesian church would have been seen as unpatriotic, pledging their allegiance to Jesus alone and not to Rome.
    • They would have avoided the Agora and taking the mark to buy and sell by worshipping the emperor and the empire. Without access to these goods, it would have put many in hardship and they would have to persevere through social persecutions and lack of resources.
  • They hate the practices of the Nicolaitans
    • We don’t know of any historical group called the Nicolaitans. This is likely a nickname John made up for certain people.
    • This group is mentioned again in the church in Pergamum in Rev 2:15 connected to Balaam and sexual immorality.
      • In Numbers 22-25 the king of Moab hires Balaam to curse Israel but every time Balaam opens his mouth to curse them he blesses Israel. So, Balaam tells the king that if their women seduce the Israelite men and get them to worship other gods, then Yahweh will punish Israel.
    • Nicolaitan makes sense with the Balaam story as it is 2 Greek words combined into one that means to “conquer the people”. The Nicolaitans were likely encouraging Christians to participate in idolatry and sexual immorality… you know just go along with the culture.
    • I believe this has Artemis in the background. Remember she was the goddess of food and fertility.
      • Now her temple was also the bank. Say your plow breaks and you need to buy a new one and have no $. You go to the temple and to appease the goddess you submit yourself to all kinds of sexual indecency and acts of immorality in order to secure the funds to buy your plow.
      • Also, If you were pregnant you would go there and again submit to indecent acts to gain Artemis’ favor so that you’d live through your childbirth.
      • I believe this is what Paul is coming against in part in 1 Timothy and false teachings coming in the church.
        • The Ephesian church in Revelation and Jesus rightly hated these practices.

The Ephesians have a lot going for them… Standing up to the culture and for the truth. This sounds like a great church!!!!

Forsaken Love

In verse 4Jesus has something against them… They had forsaken the love they had at first.

  • What is this?
    • There are 2 ways this can be translated- “Left your first love” (Jesus) or “left the love you had at first” (love for others)
    • I take the second view, but it connects to the first view too. As we see in 1 John shortly
    • Ephesus obviously loved Jesus they obeyed his commands to be in the truth and worked hard for his name. 
    • The Ephesian church was rightly focused on some good things but neglected the greatest thing.  They were incomplete.
      • The Ephesians likely had been refuting false teachers and the culture around them for years. This got to them, and they became hard and rigid even towards those in the church.
      • Jesus warned in Matthew 24 that when lawlessness increases the love of many grows cold.

Remember, Repent, Do

  • The book of Ephesians if the earliest letter we have written to this church in the Bible and it’s interesting that it’s Paul’s only letter to a church that isn’t in crisis.
    • It’s also interesting that the only command in the first 4 chapters of the book of Ephesians is to “remember” (Ephesians 2:11) … remember what? Let’s do a tour of Ephesians…
      • In Ephesians 1 Paul is reminding the Ephesians of their adoption and identity as children of God and all the blessings and promises that come with that status in Christ.
      • At the beginning of Ephesians 2 Paul reminds the Ephesians of the fact that they were dead and now they are alive because of God’s love as a result they’ve been seated with Christ in heavenly places.
        • Have the Ephesians fallen from their seat in God’s kingdom and instead taken their seats below among Artemis and Caesar because they have not lived the kingdom ethic of love?
      • The end of Ephesians 2 talks about how Jesus has torn down the dividing wall of Jews and Gentiles and made them one new man. Bringing unity with God and each other.
      • Ephesians 3 talks about God’s eternal purpose to have a family and a body that reflects Christ’s love.
      • Ephesians 4 is about the gifts God has given to each member of the church in order to build up and edify and equip the body of Christ by His example- being built up on love for each other.
      • Ephesians 4 ends with instruction for Christian living that includes putting off our former way of life in speech and deeds and instead being moved with compassion and forgiveness towards each other.
      • Ephesians 5 is all about following Jesus’ example and mutual submission and service to each other out of love for Christ.
      • Ephesians 6 sees all of this as a suit of armor that we should put on to battle the Principalities and Powers of this dark world.
  • The letter to Ephesians is all about what Christ has done in love for the church and how that should motivate them in love for each other. Now the Ephesians had fallen and forgotten this. 
    • They had fallen from the first deeds and first works which were proactive love and instead they were reactive to the outside and allowed their love for each other to grow cold.

Remove Lampstand

  • Jesus gives 2 consequences… a negative and a positive.
    • Negative consequence: Their lampstand will be removed if they don’t turn back to their first works!
    • I don’t believe Jesus is talking about salvation here… He’s talking about witness. I believe this mean that they will no longer be counted as a faithful gospel witness despite all they had going for them.  (THIS IS SCARY!)
      • Looks like Matthew 7- “Away from me I never knew you.” The Ephesians had great works but lacked love for one another. Their witness was incomplete without love.

Conquering and the Reward

Jesus says that “the conquers” have the right to eat of the tree of life in the paradise of God

  • This is not only a jab at Artemis but a connection to Genesis and the end of Revelation.

The question is: How does Jesus conquer and how does he want us to conquer?

  • Most of our views of conquering look like winning a bloody battle by destroying our enemies… whether literally or metaphorically.
  • This word for conquer/victory in Greek is the word nike. Nike was a word used in Roman society to communicate exactly that… to conquer by annihilating your enemy. That is how Rome brought their version of “peace” to the world through violence. Strongs 3528 nikáō (from 3529 /níkē, “victory”) – properly, conquer (overcome); ” ‘to carry off the victory, come off victorious.’ or nenikēka in John 16:33

Revelation 5 defines conquering for the book of Revelation.

  • There is a throne scene and a scroll (Caesars carried a scroll with all their divine names and attributes written on both sides as a sign of who rules and how they rule) … holding the scroll is a sign of who’s king.
  • A question is asked “Who is worthy to take the scroll”?. John wept because no one was found worthy.
  • But then he hears an angels say “The lion of the tribe of Judah has conquered (same word) and is able to take the scroll”
  • So, John hears this massive conquering lion… the picture of power and strength and victory… We’re probably thinking – “YA! This lion is going to kick some butt!”
  • But when John turns and looks what does he see… a lamb that was slain. The Greek word is for a baby lamb, an infant lamb… not exactly the fiercest thing.
    • Pay attention to hearing and seeing in Revelation
  • This lamb has been slain and it says that he purchased a people through His blood to be a kingdom and priest for God. (back to the calling of the church to be like Jesus)
  • Everyone worships saying “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain!
  • The big picture: It doesn’t look like Rome’s version of victory and conquering. Conquering looks like laying down your life in love. This is Revelation’s definition of conquering! – Lamb Power not Beast Power.
    • Even when Jesus comes back on the white horse, the sword is in his mouth not his hand… He’s conquering by his word and the truth… by his faithful witness.

the way Jesus was victorious was through cross-shaped love- radical forgiveness and self-giving co-suffering love.

And this is the way we are victorious too.

This is what John means by “we’ve overcome by the blood of the lamb and the word of our testimony… because they didn’t love their live so much to shrink back” … it’s being a reflection of the faithful witness of the slaughtered lamb.

Winning in God’s kingdom often looks like losing in the eyes of the world. So, conquering in God’s kingdom looks the opposite of conquering in the world.

Positive consequence: If they remember, repent, and take action- they will be rewarded with eternal life in God’s kingdom

  • All of the rewards to the churches in Revelation are things that do show up in the last 2 chapters of the book.


  • This is a church that was reactive and defensive towards the outside (The lived in one of the darkest parts of the empire) rather than living the love of Jesus inside the church
  • Without love for the body, we won’t be counted as a faithful witness.
  • Jesus tell his disciples that the world would know they are disciples by their love for EACH OTHER, not by pure doctrine or good works done in his name.

What does this mean for the church today?

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