Archive for the ‘Revelation 2’ Category

In the first message I noted  the  literary structure in each of the letters, what I have outlined as five parts:

1. The address – “to the angel of the church in”

2. A description of Jesus – “the words of”

3. Jesus’ review of the church – “I know your”

4. A call to hear – “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches”

5. A description of the reward – “the one who conquers”

Sections #4 and #5 are reversed in letters 4-7.

The letters themselves seem to be arranged in an inverted outline (chiasm):

A. Ephesus – the whole church is lax and is threatened with extinction

B. Smyrna – the whole church is faithful under suffering

C. Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis – some are faithful and some are not

B. Philadelphia – the whole church is faithful under suffering

A. Laodicea – the whole church is lax and is threatened with extinction

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We are once again back to our series on the seven letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2-3. Today we look at what Jesus has to say by the Spirit to the church in Thyatira – and also to us. This is the fourth and longest of the seven letters.

Thyatira was 35 miles inland from the Aegean sea. Its modern name is Akhisar. It was the least important of all the cities written to by John. It was not a religious or political center. It was situated at the intersection of several trade routes and was known as a trading town. It had a number of trade guilds or associations – e.g. tanners, potters, workers of wool, linen workers and dyers. In particular it was known for its purple dye. Lydia, converted by Paul in Philippi, was a dealer in purple cloth from Thyatira – Acts 16:14.

The situation in Thyatira

 First of all, Jesus commends them for their faithfulness. v. 19 – “I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first.”  So they’re doing well. If Ephesus had abandoned the love they had at first, The church in Thyatira is growing in its Christian walk. Their “latter works exceed the first.” The phrase, “patient endurance” may well refer to enduring persecution for their faith.

 But then we also have something bad – their tolerance of false teaching, which becomes the focus of the letter.  v. 20 – “But I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols.”

 Jesus is referring to an actual woman in the church in Thyatira – a prophetess or teacher. But he uses ‘Jezebel’ as a code name to make a point. The real Jezebel was a wicked woman and a famous promoter of idolatry. She was the wife of Ahab, king of Israel. She supported 450 false prophets and tried to kill the true prophets of God. She led the people into spiritual harlotry – 2 Kings 9:22. So like this ancient woman, this Thyatiran teacher is leading these believers to practice idolatry and unfaithfulness.

 It is likely that all of the false teachers in these letters are a part of the same group – Balaam, Jezebel, the Nicolaitans. Under the pressure of the demands to worship the emperor, as we have talked about, they taught that you can offer up emperor worship. They said that you can eat the meat of the festivities. And most importantly, you don’t have to suffer for not doing these things!

In Thyatira this most likely took place in the context of their trade associations. These would meet together and offer up sacrifices to various gods and most likely the emperor at this time, and then feast together. This was how it worked, and if you didn’t do all this it would have been quite hard to earn a living in your trade. So there was real pressure to give in and compromise. And Jezebel is encouraging this.

 v. 24 refers to “the deep things of Satan.” The prophetess was probably saying, I teach the deep things of God. Something more profound than what John teaches. In Jesus’ language she is only teaching the deep things of Satan because her teaching leads believers to worship the emperor.

Jesus’ message

Once again, it is wrong to worship the emperor. If you do –

  • You are following Jezebel, a false prophet and an idolater.
  • You are practicing sexual immorality. Again this is almost certainly a figurative use. You are being unfaithful, or adulterous in your relationship with Jesus as Lord, acting like a prostitute.
  • You are eating food sacrificed to idols which is idolatry and thus a breaking of the first and second of the 10 commandments.

  There is a Psalm 2 theme in this letter. This is a Messianic Psalm, speaking of God’s coming ruler:

  • v. 18 which speaks of the Son of God, echoes Psalm 2:7.
  • v. 26 which talks about authority over the nations comes from Psalm 2:8.
  • v. 27 which refers to ruling with a rod of iron comes from Psalm 2:9.

This presents a contrast between Jesus, the promised Messiah, and the Roman emperor, who called himself the Son of God, and claimed to rule the world. The message is clear. Jesus is the only true Lord.

 Jesus also warns of judgment on Jezebel. vs. 21-23 – “I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her sexual immorality. Behold, I will throw her onto a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her I will throw into great tribulation, unless they repent of her works, and I will strike her children dead.” Again the sexual language is used figuratively.

 Jesus has spoken to her already, probably through John or another prophet, but she refuses to repent.

 Note the seriousness of Jesus’ judgment:

  • She will be stricken with sickness—unto death?
  • Those who commit adultery with her (her followers?) will have great tribulation, which is exactly what they are trying to avoid by worshipping the emperor.
  • Her children (other false teachers?) will be killed.

 v. 23 – “And all the churches will know that I am he who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you as your works deserve.” (See – Jeremiah 17:10). This broadens things out to all the seven churches. Jesus knows what is in their minds and hearts and each person will be judged “as their works deserve.”

 Finally Jesus speaks a word to the rest. vs. 24-25 – “But to the rest of you in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not learned what some call the deep things of Satan, to you I say, I do not lay on you any other burden. Only hold fast what you have until I come.” This is a addressed to those who have not gone along with Jezebel. Jesus lays no other burden on them, except to stop tolerating Jezebel (v. 20) and her associates. They are to hold fast to their commitment to him, to be faithful in their good works noted in v. 19, until Jesus returns.

Jesus speaks to us

 v. 29 says, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Notice again the plural. Jesus’ words to the church in Thyatira go beyond just that church. They are also words for us. And we need to have ears that hear his words.

1. Don’t tolerate false teaching. In v. 20 Jesus held it against them that they tolerated Jezebel, who was actively leading people astray. These are not those who agreed with her, but who simply tolerated her.

 Jesus commended Ephesus in this regard. In Revelation 2:2 he said, “I know . . . how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false.” They tested the various teachers that came through and we should also test the teachers that we listen to. Whether on the radio or on TV or in our congregation. We should test them and not put up with false teaching.

 2. Commitment to Jesus can cost us economically. This is what these believers were facing. If they didn’t go along with the others in offering up wrong worship, they could be excluded from the networks and resources of their trade guild.

 Would we be faithful if it cost us economically in this way? Or in our own situation – do we compromise our Christian integrity in order to make more money?

 3. Jesus will judge us. In the case of Jezebel, Jesus gave her time to repent, but she refused and so he warned her of the consequences. Jesus gives us time to repent too, but if we don’t there will be serious consequences as well. Jezebel is stricken, others were to have great tribulation or be killed.

  Do we think of Jesus as just a warm and fuzzy nice guy? Do we think he will just always love and accept us no matter what, because I like him and he likes me? Well, Jesus also judges, and the judgment can be severe. He tells us himself that he is a stern master and that he expects a lot of us. As he says in v. 23, “I will give to each of you as your works deserve.” He will judge each one of us impartially based on what we have done.

 4. You can’t fool Jesus. He says in v. 23 – “I am he who searches the heart and mind.” Do you think you can hide from Jesus? That he doesn’t see what you do? That he doesn’t know what is in your thoughts and the intents of your heart?

 You can fool others, you can even fool yourself, but you can never fool Jesus. He sees right through us. So lets be honest with him and others and stop trying to hide things.


As we end lets remember Jesus’ words of encouragement for faithfulness: v. 26-28 – “The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received authority from my Father. And I will give him the morning star.”

 May we be among those who are so blessed.

William Higgins

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We are looking again at the letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2-3. Today we look at what Jesus has to say by the Spirit to the church in Pergamum – and also to us.

Pergamum was 68 miles north of Smyrna; its modern day name is Bergama. It was once the center of its own independent kingdom. It had a huge Library. At one time, it was the 2nd largest in the ancient world with 200,000 books. It was also well known for its Aesculapium, which was dedicated to the god of healing. It was a large complex. Something of a mix of a hospital and a spa. Many who were sick came here for help.

Pergamum was long a Roman ally. It was the first city to erect a temple to a living Emperor – Augustus in 29 BC. It was a real center for Emperor worship, which we have talked about before. It was also the place where Roman judicial proceedings took place.

The situation in Pergamum

The believers here have suffered. Jesus says in v. 13, “You hold fast my name, and you did not deny my faith,” talking about a time in the near past.

This language of “holding fast my name” and “not denying my faith” has to do with persecution. When they were put on the spot they did not denounce Jesus or give up their faith. They remained faithful. As Jesus talked about in Matthew 10:32-33, if we acknowledge him before others in times of persecution he will acknowledge us before the Father. But if we deny him, he will deny us.

Jesus even mentions a specific person: “Antipas my faithful witness, who was killed among you.” – v. 13. This word “witness” in Greek is “martyr.” He witnessed to Jesus by dying for him. He remained true unto death.

We also see that they live in a hostile environment. Jesus says in v. 13, “I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is . . . where Satan dwells.” This most likely refers to two realities:

1) The strong promotion of Emperor worship in Pergamum. This was required of all citizens at this time as a test of loyalty. Basically lighting incense to the genius of the Emperor and then you got a certificate. There were also games & festivities in honor of Caesar, and sacrifices and feasts from the meat of the sacrifices which were given out free by wealthy patrons. And eating meat was a rarity in that day so this would have been a real draw for poorer people.

2) Pergamum was where the Roman authorities judged cases. So if you were denounced, or exposed as a Christian; as someone who wouldn’t acknowledge Caesar as a god, but confessed Christ as the Son of God – this is where you would be taken to be judged.

So the potential for suffering here would have been great. They were living right in the shadow of the oppressive Roman persecutors. And this is the only letter that mentions someone dying for their faith – Antipas.

There is a complicating factor in the mix here, false teaching which is related to their suffering, as we will see. In v. 14 Jesus says, “But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality.”

The story of Balaam is told in the book of Numbers. The specific story comes from Numbers 25:1-3 (also 31:16). The Moabite King Balak wanted to destroy Israel. He couldn’t get Balaam to curse them, but Balaam gave Balak the idea to cause the Israelites to stumble through sexual immorality and eating food offered to idols. In other words, Israel can’t be defeated. But if you cause them to sin, then God will reject and destroy them. And indeed, there was a great plague for their sin and many Israelites died.

Jesus says in v. 15, “So also you have some who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans.” We encountered these in Ephesus as well. Apparently they are the same as those who hold to the teaching of Balaam.

Their teaching was that you can participate in the festivities of worship for Caesar. Their message is that it is no big deal. Maybe, this isn’t really idolatry, or maybe – the Emperor knows he isn’t a god, its just a civic ceremony. Why suffer over such a small thing? And hey, there’s free meat!

  • you can light the incense
  • you can get your certificate
  • you can eat the meat

And most importantly, you don’t have to suffer!

Jesus’ message to them

It is wrong to worship the Emperor – v. 14. If you do . . .

  • You are following a false prophet, like Balaam in the Old Testament.
  • You are stumbling. That is, sinning.
  • You are eating food sacrificed to idols which is a breaking of the first and second of the ten commandments.
  • You are practicing sexual immorality. This is most likely figurative, since there was nothing sexual involved in Emperor worship. This is a common idea in Scripture. When you worship idols, you are committing adultery by being unfaithful to God; you are playing the whore (Jeremiah 3:6).

Jesus is asking fundamentally, ‘Am I Lord, or is Caesar Lord?’ They had to decide. If Jesus is Lord, then you cannot participate in activities that proclaim someone else as Son of God and Lord.

Finally, Jesus says that such behavior will bring judgment, just as with Israel in Numbers 25 where a great plague came on the people because of their sin. He says in v. 16, “Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth.”

There is sword theme in this letter. It begins in v. 12 when it describes Jesus in this way – “The words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword.” And in v. 16 it indicates that Jesus will come and judge the false teachers who lead his people astray with this sword.

Jesus speaks to us

v. 17 says, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Notice again the plural. Jesus’ words to the church in Pergamum are also words for us. And we need to have ears that hear his words.

1. Don’t worship idols. We may think there aren’t any anymore, but there are lots of idols today. Jesus tells us wealth can be an idol in Matthew 6:24. And money even has images on it. In our culture we worship celebrities. We give them our money, time, and devotion. We even hang up images of them; posters and pictures.

We must remember that God is a jealous God; and Jesus is a jealous Lord. And when we inappropriately honor and serve these, we are like prostitutes, or adulterers. And we will be judged by God. As Jesus says here in v. 16, “Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth.”

2. Specifically we have to beware of inappropriate demands for political allegiance. This doesn’t just happen in the Roman empire or say, Hitler’s Germany. Whenever political leaders ask us to put our trust in them for our security and peace; when they ask us to do what Jesus forbids – they place themselves as idols in opposition to God. And they force a choice upon us: Do we obey the human authority or our Lord Jesus? The answer is found in the words of Peter in Acts 5:29. “We must obey God rather than men.”

3. Don’t listen to those who tell you to just fit in with the world. It’s easier to fit in and go along with the crowed. Why cause trouble? It isn’t that bad. And so we conform to the world’s sexual practices, lack of integrity, business ethics, gossip, pride, etc..

James 4:4 says, “You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” Again, the image of religious adultery. A friend of the world is an adulterer and an enemy of God.

4. Sin will bring us judgment and defeat. Jesus speaks of a stumbling block here. The idea is that you are on the right path and want to stay on it, but someone puts something in your way so that you trip and fall off the path.

This is what Balaam did with ancient Israel. And this is what the Nicolaitans were doing with their teaching in Pergamum. And it is the devil’s strategy as well.

We too can’t be defeated if we stay on the path. But if we fall into sin through stumbling blocks, we can be defeated. So Satan sends us many opportunities to stumble. And Jesus sternly warns us in Mark 9:43, “if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire.” Whatever causes us to stumble, we must cut off to avoid sin and judgment.


As we end lets remember Jesus’ words of encouragement for faithfulness: v. 17 – “To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.”

These are gifts that God will give us at the time of the resurrection. May God help us to be among those who overcome and thus receive these gifts.

William Higgins

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We are looking at the seven letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2-3. Today we look at what Jesus says by the Spirit to the church in Smyrna, and also to us.


This the shortest letter of the seven, only 4 verses, and it is one of two that has no negative word from Jesus (the other is Philadelphia).

Smyrna was 40 miles north of Ephesus. It still exists today as Izmir, Turkey. It was a well to do city. It had a harbor and was on a major road. It had been a loyal Roman ally from way back. It had several temples to Rome and promoted worship of the Roman emperors, as we will see below.

They were suffering persecution

In 2:9-10 Jesus says, “I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation.”

Jesus acknowledges their persecution or “tribulation.” He also acknowledges their poverty. This is most likely connected to their persecution. It would have been hard for them to earn a good living due to their faith; being looked down on and discriminated against. Yet despite this Jesus says, “you are rich,” that is, in the things that really count.

He also tells them they will suffer more! How would you like to receive a message from Jesus, only to tell you that you will suffer more? He speaks of “what you are about to suffer;” and that some will be thrown into prison; and how “for ten days you will have tribulation,” most likely symbolic for a short or limited time of trial.

To understand what’s going on we need to be aware of some background. Worship of the Roman emperor was prevalent in Asia Minor and in the cities of the seven churches at this time. Everyone was supposed to participate.  From time to time you had to light incense and say something like, “Caesar is Lord.”

The only exception was if you were Jewish. They were recognized by the Romans as an ancient religion that only had one God. So they didn’t have to do this. The early Christians saw themselves (rightly) as simply a form of Judaism; a form of Messianic Judaism. Thus they should be exempt from persecution for refusing emperor worship as well.

But at this very time Christians were being rejected by Jewish communities. They were being put out of synagogues and in general were not viewed as real Jews by the Jewish majority. And some non-Christian Jews became informants and denounced Christians to the Roman authorities. They outed them. ‘Hey, this person isn’t really a Jew.’ This is what the word “slander” means in v. 9.

The result was that Christians were arrested and, if they refused to offer worship to Caesar, some were executed. Sixty years or so after Revelation, Polycarp, the bishop of Smyrna was denounced in this way and executed.

This all sounds very much like what Jesus talked about in John 16:2, “They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God.” This is what was going on.

Next let me say that we need to –

Be careful with this strong language!

Jesus speaks of “Those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan” – v. 9. Jesus is taking the accusation made against Christians, ‘they say they are Jews and are not’, and turning this back on the accusers, ‘they say they are Jews and are not.’ His point is that instead of being true Jews, which means that you are on God’s side, they show themselves to be of Satan, God’s adversary in denouncing Christians and causing persecution. In other words, they are a synagogue of Satan because contrary to their claim to be Jews they are acting as informers for the Romans.

But throughout the course of history this strong language has been misused to put down Jews in general and so we have to be careful to keep it in its right context. It is only spoken about those who sought to have Christians killed. This language certainly does not apply to other Jewish communities.

Now, with this background in place, lets look at what –

Jesus speaks to the church in Smyrna

1. He knows about their situation. V. 9 – “I know your tribulation and your poverty.” As chapter one symbolically portrays, Jesus is the one who walks amidst the seven lampstands, that is, the seven churches. So, Jesus knows all about their situation. They were not alone, forgotten or abandoned. Jesus is with them.

2. Jesus tells them not to be afraid. V. 10 – “Do not fear what you are about to suffer.” And this includes the threat of death, for Jesus also says in v. 10, “Be faithful unto death.”

There is a real death and life theme throughout this letter to Smyrna:

  • 2:8 – “The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life.”
  • 2:10 – “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.”
  • 2:11 – “The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death,” a reference to resurrection.

The point is that they need not fear even death, much less the suffering of imprisonment and torture. For Jesus has overcome death, as v. 8 says, Jesus is the one who has “died and came to life.”

This is why they can be faithful unto death. Death is not the end, but the beginning of the Christian’s true life. As v. 11 says, “they will not be hurt by the second death.”

3. Jesus tells them that they will be rewarded. He encourages them by telling them this. He says in v. 9 – “I know your tribulation and your poverty, but you are rich.” This hearkens back to Matthew 5:11-12, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven . . ..”

He also says, “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life” – v. 10. They are promised an eternal life of joy and peace in the resurrection that is to come.

Jesus speaks to us

V. 11 says, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Notice again the plural. Jesus’ words to the church in Smyrna go beyond just Smyrna. They are also words for us. And we need to have ears that hear his words.

1. Jesus knows our situation. We are not in the same kind of situation as the Christians in Smyrna, and persecution is rare and certainly not as intense, but we too should hear this word of Jesus.

We too go through times of suffering and times of trial. And sometimes this includes being rejected or looked down on for our faith in Jesus.

And so we need to hear and understand that Jesus knows about our suffering. That he hasn’t abandoned us or forgotten about us. He knows all about what is going on in our lives and is indeed with us, to help us.

2. We too should not be afraid. If Jesus has overcome the worst possible thing that can happen to us – death, then we need not fear anything. Everything else pales in comparison to death – our relationship problems, our economic struggles, our experiences of being looked down on for our faith in Jesus.

Since we know that Jesus has overcome death, we know that he can cause us to overcome in these areas as well. We need not fear.

3. We too will be rewarded for faithfulness. Jesus told them to be faithful unto death, and he calls us to be faithful too.

What we need to know is that anything we give up – whether small or big (like our lives); anything we give up out of faithfulness to Jesus will be more than made up for in the rewards that are to come.


Lets end with Jesus’ words of encouragement for faithfulness in v. 11 – “The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.” We will have life eternal.

William Higgins

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We are beginning a series on the seven letters to the seven churches in the book of Revelation. I want us to see what Jesus says by the Spirit to these churches and also what he might be saying to us.

Today we begin with the church in Ephesus. But before we get to this, a bit of . . .


John the prophet is in exile on the island of Patmos, as a punishment for his faith. While he is there he has an amazing set of visions of Jesus and his return. And as a part of this revelation, he is told to write letters to seven churches, which is found in Revelation  2-3

Each letter has five sections: 1. the address; 2. a description of Jesus; 3. Jesus’ review of the church; 4. a call to hear; and 5. a description of the reward for faithfulness. We will be focusing on section 3 of each letter.

Ephesus was the most prominent city in the Roman province of Asia and it was the seat of Roman government in this area. It was a real commercial hub and a part of this was its prominent sea port. It was also known for its temple of Artemis, which was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.

Ephesus was also one of the most important cities in early Christianity. Paul spent three years there and helped establish the church. Ephesians and I Timothy were written to this church. Paul also wrote 1 Corinthians while he was in Ephesus. Also, the gospel and letters of John are traditionally associated with Ephesus.

Coming to the message in these verses, first of all we see that . . .

Jesus encourages the church

Verses 2-3 form an inverted outline:

A. “I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance”

B. “and how you cannot bear with those who are evil but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false.”

`A. “I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary.”

In the A sections the emphasis is on hard work and especially endurance. In the B section the focus is on opposing false teaching. Both sections seem to be talking about the same situation – opposing false teachers and enduring the conflicts this must have generated.

First of all, these verses tell us that they worked hard at exposing false teachers. Given their prominence as a church and as a city, with numerous travelers coming through, they would have had many itinerant teachers coming around looking for disciples. And they would also have had resident false teachers. V. 6 gives an example of their encounter with false teachers – “Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.” We will encounter this group again in later letters.

Secondly, their opposition to false teachers may have caused much contention, which they had to endure. They may have been slandered as false by the false teachers, and so they experienced a measure of persecution for speaking up for the truth.

So Jesus commends them for enduring and holding on to right teaching. But next . . .

Jesus admonishes the church

v. 4 – “But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.” This doesn’t seem to be a problem with loving God. They have a zeal for the truth and have accepted persecution for the name of Jesus.

The focus seems to be on loving other people. They have abandoned their acts of love for others. They are not caring for the needs of others. Or perhaps they are not caring for each other’s needs, helping the weak among them.

1 John 3:16-18 talks about the necessity of this kind of love. “By this we know love, that he (Jesus) laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.”

Perhaps a part of this is that, because of their bad experiences with false apostles, they aren’t giving any support or hospitality to true teachers who come through. This is kind of support is called “love” in 3 John 5-6. (If this is the case, their strength – weeding out false teachers – also leads to their weakness – not receiving any teachers.)

Whatever the case, next comes . . .

Jesus’ strong call to repentance

v. 5 – “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first.” They are to think back and remember how they used to love others, and then they are to have a change of heart and mind, and do what they used to do.

“If not, (Jesus says) I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.” In Revelation 1:20 we see that the lampstand represents the church. So what this means is that Jesus will extinguish their life as a church. This is a powerful warning and certainly a motivation to repent and make things right.

Jesus speaks to us

V. 7 says, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Notice the plural. Jesus’ words to the church in Ephesus go beyond just Ephesus. They are also words for us. And, as he says, we need to listen to his words.

1. It is good to test teachers (vs. 2, 6). Jesus was pleased that they did not bear with false teachers, but tested them and that they hated the works of the Nicolaitans.

Testing teachers is a common theme in Scripture:

  • We are to test their moral lives. Jesus says in Matthew 7:20, “you will recognize them by their fruit.” False teachers will act in wrong ways.
  • We are to test their words. Jesus says in Matthew 12:34 to the Pharisees, “How can you speak good, when you are evil?” False teachers will speak and teach wrong things.

The lesson here is that, just as with the Ephesian Christians, Jesus is also pleased with us when we test teachers and expose the false ones.

2. Jesus can be offended by our behavior (v. 4). Jesus had a serious concern with them. He said, “I have this against you.”

Do we recognize that Jesus can be upset with us? That Jesus can have a problem with us? That he can have something “against us” or against me?

This goes against the popular picture of Jesus as always being warm and fuzzy, and completely accepting. But the truth is that Jesus can be unhappy or angry with us.

And we are no better than these Ephesian believers. We too will be judged if we as a church or as individuals allow sin in our lives.

3. You can’t live off of yesterday’s faithfulness (vs. 4-5). They used to have acts of love. The phrase “at first,” is repeated two times. This is referring to when they first believed and were founded as a church. But they don’t practice such love anymore.

And the point is that their previous faithfulness doesn’t cancel out their current unfaithfulness, which is why they are warned to change or be judged.

The same is true with us. If we used to be faithful in an area, and then cease, our previous faithfulness will not cancel out our current unfaithfulness. We too will be subject to judgment from Jesus.

4. It’s not enough to have right teaching, you have to have love others (v. 4). They had a love for the truth, but not a love for others – which is to miss the point. I Corinthians 13 says, “If I have . . . all knowledge . . . but don’t have love I gain nothing.” Right knowledge or teaching is inadequate by itself. And besides, right teaching is supposed to lead us to love!

Do we love each other? Or do we focus on what is easier – thinking about truth, arguing about the Bible, things that are not connected to people. Jesus calls us to love one another, to care for one another, to sacrifice for one another, and also those who are not a part of our church. Do we love other people?


Lets end with Jesus’ words of encouragement for faithfulness in v. 7 – “To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.”

William Higgins

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