Introduction/Background

  •  The letter to the Ephesians gives us a good picture of what life in Ephesus was like:
    • Materialistic – Eph 1:7,18; 2:7; 3:8,16
    • Immoral – Eph 4:20-24; 5:3-5
    • Idolatrous – Eph 2:21; Acts 19:27

 

  • Acts 18:19 records Paul’s first visit to Ephesus. From small beginnings, the Truth exploded there. Paul returned to Ephesus in AD57 to warn of the developing apostasy and later (~AD61) he sent Timothy to assist the ecclesia (Acts19:1-20; 1 Cor 16:19; Acts 20:28-30; 1 Tim 1:3-4).

 

  • At the time when 1 Timothy was written, it appears only “some” had started to introduce false teachings, but in later times, more serious problems arose (1 Tim 4:1). Timothy’s message was to “keep the charge”, that is, to preserve the purity of the Truth (note the word “charge” in 1 Tim 1:3,18; 5:7; 6:13,17).

 

  • 1 Timothy 6:20 recorded the final admonition to Timothy which highlighted the source of the problem.This science (Greek: gnosis) was the beginning of Gnosticism. The Nicolaitanes (Rev 2:6,15) were Gnostics.

 

  • By AD67–68, in Paul’s second letter to Timothy, the problem had grown worse (2 Tim 1:15; 2:16-17) (canker = gangrene mg), (2 Tim 3:13; 4:3-4). Timothy found this problem difficult to deal with (2 Tim 2:3; 4:5). Probably because of this,Timothy didn’t stay in Ephesus long, which meant the elders had to address the problem themselves (2 Tim 4:9-13).

 

  • After the fall of Jerusalem in AD70, tradition has it that the apostle John moved to Ephesus. He wrote to the ecclesias of his day and warned against a group that had left the ecclesia (1 John 2:18-19) and were seeking to proselytize amongst existing members (2 John 9-11). He counsels to “try the spirits” (1 John 4:1; Rev 2:2).

 

The Greeting

2:1 – Unto the angel of the ecclesia of Ephesus write;

– one of the stars of 1:20; refers to the elders of the ecclesia (Gk word is used of mortal messengers 2 Cor 11:4, James 2:25).

These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand,

– wonderful consolation (Psa 95:7; John 10:28-29), Christ held on to them, how many were they holding on to in the ecclesia?

who walketh in the midst of the seven golden lampstands;

– like the priests did in the temple (Exod 30:7-8; 1 King 7:48-49 note Solomon’s temple had 10 lampstands); Christ was the high priest, they were but a lampstand who were being asked to radiate the light of the Word into the world

The Commendation

2:2 – I know thy works, and thy labour,

– Gk koros – intense labour combined with toil; Christ is aware of what we do in ecclesial life

and thy patience,

– Gk hupomone – endurance = outworking of trial and patient waiting (Rom 5:3; 8:25)

and how thou canst not bear (Gk bastazo – take up and carry) them which are evil:

– they could not bear evil men, but instead bore reproach for Christ’s sake (v3)

and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars:

– they took John’s advice to “try the spirits” (1 John 4:1) and discovered that those who said they were apostles were false brethren (cp 2 Cor 13:5)

– notice the use of the word “liar” in 1 John 1:6,10; 2:21,22; 4:20; 5:10

2:3 – And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name’s sake hast laboured,

– a number of words are repeated from v2 emphasising their dedication and labour in upholding the Truth in the face of lies and deceit and hast not fainted.

– they were strong in faith (Heb 12:3)

The Warning

2:4 – Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.

– lit. “the love you had at first” (RSV); this is always a risk during controversy (Matt 24:11-12); they maintained doctrinal purity for Christ’s name’s sake (v3) but did not please Christ (Matt 7:21-23), because their labour was not “prompted by love” (1 Thess 1:3 NIV)

– whilst they were commended for standing up against error, they omitted the other great exhortation of John’s epistles: love (1 John 4:7)

– Paul had highlighted this problem in Ephesus many years earlier (Eph 1:4; 3:17,19; 4:2,15,16; 5:2)

– the ecclesia had a tendency to ignore kindness (Eph 4:31-32) and Paul exhorted them to love with faith (Eph 6:23-24); it appears that there was a group who showed “love” in an insincere manner

– in contrast, Pergamos took a different approach, perhaps more compassionate, but could not preserve doctrinal purity (2:15)

– love does not permit false doctrine/practice; it rejoices in the truth instead (1 Cor 13:6)

2:5 – Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen,

– same word translated “faileth” in 1 Cor 13:8

– Peter warned about falling from steadfastness (2 Pet 3:17)

and repent, and do the first works;

– which involved love (v4)

or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy lampstand out of his place, except thou repent

– same message given to Laodicea (3:16), meaning that the works of Ephesus were considered to be of no more value than those of Laodicea (3:15)

– unless the lampstand did the will and bore the character of the Lord, it was useless (Phil 2:15)

– within 100 years the harbour silted up and the city was slowly abandoned, literally fulfilling 2:5

2:6 – But this thou hast, that thou hatest… which I also hate.

– here is another commendation; hate is a strong word, but it meant that they were thinking like Christ on this issue

the deeds of the Nicolaitanes

– compound of two words: nike + laos = victory over the people, victory of the people; they were most likely the Docetae or Gnostics (Eureka 1:256)

– this symbolic name suggests they were aggressive and seeking to win a victory; their truth-denying doctrine on the nature of Christ were the principle ways they overcame people, hence 1 John 2:13-14; 4:4; 5:4 all speak about overcoming (nikao) the lusts in the world and the false prophets who are of the world

The Promise

2:7 – He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the ecclesias;

– this message was not just for the elders, it was for all the seven ecclesias

– allusion to Matt 11:15; 13:9,43; Mark 4:9,23; 7:16; Luke 8:8; 14:35

To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life,

– because of sin, the way of the tree of life was barred from access (Gen 3:22-24); Christ is now the way of the tree of life (John 14:6); in the first century, the Truth became known as “the way” (Acts 9:2, 18:25-26; 19:9; 22:4; 24:14); Ephesus saw itself as the “flaming sword” preserving the integrity of the way (2:2,6) but were in danger of losing the hope themselves

which is in the midst of the paradise of God.

– Gk paradeisos – borrowed from the Persian word meaning “a grand park, preserve”; it refers to a restored Eden (Isa 51:3); fulfilment is in 22:2,14