John's Seven Churches: Ephesus (1)

I am not a premillennialist, so I generally find it a little unsettling to consider John’s churches in Revelation as representative of ‘church ages’ without question. I have no problem debating prophecy as it is not a matter of doctrine – to some degree. In this study, I would like to lay out a different view of them, to see if there is a better understanding of these mini-epistles.

“To the angel of the church of Ephesus write,

“These things says He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands: “I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars; and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary.

Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place–unless you repent. But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.”‘ (Revelation 2:1-7 NKJV)

Ephesus was an important city for the early spread of the Gospel, with Paul writing one letter and John relating another. Tradition tells that the Apostle John, who could very well have been the ‘angel’ of this church, led the local congregations in this area. Ephesus was still important to Christianity two decades after John, with the Church still surviving, when Ignatius of Antioch wrote to them. Further, in 431, the 3rd Ecumenical Council convened in Ephesus to condemn Nestorius.

Caesar Augustus became emperor in 27 BC. Upon his ascension to the throne he removed the government of Asia Minor from Pergamum giving it to Ephesus, which made it the most important city in the area. With this new focus on power and prosperity, her population grew rival that of Rome. Some estimates put the population of the city nearing a half a million people as the world entered the 2nd century after Christ.

The city was famed for the Temple of Artemis (Diana), who had her chief shrine there. She and her brother Apollo were said to be the children of Zeus and Leto. Artemis is often described as a virgin huntress, fearless in opposing her adversaries. At Ephesus, she seems to have been a mother goddess, a provider of fertility, and overseer of childbirth.

Worship of the Roman emperors began at Ephesus in 29 B.C., when a temple to the deified Julius Caesar and the goddess Roma was built near the city’s administrative buildings. Later, space for a cult of the emperor Augustus and the local goddess Artemis was set-aside near the chambers of the city council. Linking Augustus to Artemis impressed on people that benefits came from the divine cooperation of Rome and the Ephesians’ patron deity. The provincial temple for the Flavian emperors was dedicated in Ephesus in A.D. 89 or 90. From this time on, Ephesus boasted that it was the “temple keeper” for Artemis and the emperor.

As a strategic coastal gateway to the Eastern World, this city grew to be the second largest city in the Roman Empire, the site of a Christian shrine, and one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Tradition is that Mary accompanied  John coming to Ephesus at the end of her life, circa 37-45 AD. Renaissance church historians mentioned the trip, and it is said that local Christians venerated a small house near Ephesus as Mary’s. In 1967 Pope Paul VI visited the site, where a chapel now stands, and confirmed the authenticity of the legend. Also the Basilica of St. John is located near Ephesus. John is said to have lived the last years of his life here and after his death, a shrine was located over his grave.

It will be contention during this study that the Seven Churches in Revelation can be aligned with the Seven Parables in Matthew 13. It should be remembered that the Seven Parables in Matthew all concern the Kingdom of God, the Church.

Then He spoke many things to them in parables, saying: “Behold, a sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds came and devoured them. Some fell on stony places, where they did not have much earth; and they immediately sprang up because they had no depth of earth. But when the sun was up they were scorched, and because they had no root they withered away. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up and choked them. But others fell on good ground and yielded a crop: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” (Matthew 13:3-9 NKJV)

We may see that these  churches can be understood in several ways

  • Seven literal churches in these seven literal geographical cities.
  • Prophetic understanding of these seven churches
  • These congregations represent the Kingdom of God catholic

Ephesians is about the First Love and those that had abandoned Him. The Nicolatians – speculated, but not proved – had left Christ, the seeds of God having fallen into stony places. Both passages detail a separation among people – those of Christ and those where Christ could not take root.

The church at Ephesus had continued theses many years after the death of Paul in orthodox faith and morality, but had somehow left the love of God. Perhaps they were going through the motions, and service had become ceremonial. Although they had dismissed false Apostles, (Sometime later, even Ignatius would praise them for their resistance to heresy) they still lacked in themselves something very apostolic – love.

The lampstand, perhaps, is the gospel message and the ‘angel’ the leadership of the congregation or even the spirit of God that united the believers there to the body of Christ.

The Nicolaitans, as a sect, has been debated by Scholars and Clergy for some time. Many believe then an early gnostic sect that endorsed idolatry and immorality. We will encounter them again. In contrast to the Nicolaitans, we through this Church, are commanded to be overcomers. In Hebrew, conquering and saving are synonymous – both refer to salvation. Christ commands us to participate in this salvation, and by doing so, we may eat of the Tree of Life.

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22 Replies to “John's Seven Churches: Ephesus (1)”

  1. Myself, I tend towards premillennialist, but I too have difficulty with the church ages concept. And before you ask me why I’m pre-mil, I don’t remember. 🙂 It made sense at the time, but its been so long I’d have to research it again.

  2. Yeah. Its too easy to have different interpretations of prophecy to be so rigid about it. God will let us know where we are in prophecy when its time. So I am not going to worry about it.

  3. Hi P

    “I have no problem debating prophecy as it is not a matter of doctrine – to some degree.”

    I believe that my thinking lately has been wrong… The church that i use to attend is premill all they way in it’s interpretation of prophecy/eschatology… However,their doctrine of salvation,faith and holiness/conduct are solid.

    In fact they are solid in all the fundamentals of our faith…And in my opinion,are probably the greatest of all born again soul winners…

    Yet,i have decided that i can no longer sit under premill teachings and instead would find another church.

    The main reason is that the eschatological position that i now hold to,has given me a such a new zeal for the “great commission”.

    Yet,my zeal may be overiding my reasoning when it comes to the Newly born children of God…

    I cant get past the fact that they will be taught to look for a pretrib rapture and or the coming tribulation, instead of the coming again of our Savior,the resurrection of the dead our [the living] being “caught up” together with them to enter God’s Earthly Kingdom with the Lord and the final judgment.

    Well,this means that i have decided that the Newly born children of God,should be taught prophectically/eschatologically what i now believe. This cannot be right either,P.

    Since that particular church has never made it seem as though what a person believes prophetically/ Eschatologically determines their eternal destination. Maybe my decision not to go back was made in haste…

    What do you think?

    I do agree with you that these things [last things] are not a matter of doctrine,to some degree…

  4. YtLoG,

    It seems to me there are many who are pre-trib/pre-mill who are zealous for winning souls AND growing disciples. I see many churches who focus on one to the exclusion of the other, regardless of their escatological position. We are to look to Christ, first and foremost.

    Children need milk (the Gospel, repentance, trust in God through faith in Christ, and freedom from the Law) before they get meat (holy living, teaching/evangelizing/preaching). Personally, I see the end times as desert. We know its coming, and from the smell of it and all the jabber that’s gone on around the dinner table about how great it will be, we have a pretty good idea of what it is. We’re just not sure what form it will take or when. So why worry about it until it comes? This is not to say dont talk about it. But I dont think we can get hard core about prophecy. If you try to make doctrine out of prophecy, I think you are asking for trouble and division. We are to not worry about disputable matters. We are to seek unity in the faith in truth. We are to live like we are ambassadors for Christ and as if we will die any moment nd have to see our Maker, but we are to look forward to the return of Christ. Other than that, I think we can’t be dogmatic about escatology.

  5. Hi P,

    No,to all of the above…It was my thinking that was wrong…

    Thank you Sincerly P and you too, wbmoore…

  6. The NEWEST Pretrib Calendar !

    Hal (serial polygamist) Lindsey and other pretrib-rapture-trafficking and Mayan-Calendar-hugging hucksters deserve the following message: “2012 may be YOUR latest date. It isn’t MAYAN!” Actually, if it weren’t for the 179-year-old, fringe-British-invented, American-merchandised pretribulation rapture bunco scheme, Hal would still be piloting a tugboat on the Mississippi. roly-poly Thomas Ice (Tim LaHaye’s No. 1 strong-arm enforcer) would still be in his tiny folding-chair church which shares its firewall with a Texas saloon, Jack Van Impe would still be a jazz band musician, Tim LaHaye would still be titillating California matrons with his “Christian” sex manual, Grant Jeffrey would still be taking care of figures up in Canada, Chuck Missler would still be in mysterious hush-hush stuff that rocket scientists don’t dare talk about, and John Hagee might be making – and eating – world-record pizzas! To read more details about the eschatological British import that leading British scholarship never adopted – the import that’s created some American multi-millionaires – Google “Pretrib Rapture Diehards” (note LaHaye’s hypocrisy under “1992”), “Hal Lindsey’s Many Divorces,” “Thomas Ice (Bloopers)” and “Thomas Ice (Hired Gun),” “LaHaye’s Temperament,” “Wily Jeffrey,” “Chuck Missler – Copyist,” “Open Letter to Todd Strandberg” and “The Rapture Index (Mad Theology),” “X-Raying Margaret,” “Humbug Huebner,” “Thieves’ Marketing,” “Appendix F: Thou Shalt Not Steal,” “The Unoriginal John Darby,” “Pretrib Hypocrisy,” “The Real Manuel Lacunza,” “Roots of (Warlike) Christian Zionism,” “America’s Pretrib Rapture Traffickers,” “Pretrib Rapture – Hidden Facts,” “Dolcino? Duh!” and “Scholars Weigh My Research.” Most of the above is written by journalist/historian Dave MacPherson who has focused on long-hidden pretrib rapture history for 35+ years. No one else has focused on it for 35 months or even 35 weeks. MacPherson has been a frequent radio talk show guest and he states that all of his royalties have always gone to a nonprofit group and not to any individual. His No. 1 book on all this is “The Rapture Plot” (see Armageddon Books online, etc.). The amazing thing is how long it has taken the mainstream media to finally notice and expose this unbelievably groundless yet extremely lucrative theological hoax!

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