Lesson 3: The Church at Ephesus: Lost Love
The letter which is written to the church at Ephesus is but one of seven contained in chapters 2 & 3 of the Book of Revelation. If we are to correctly interpret and apply the message contained in this passage we must first pause to look at the first three chapters as a whole. In chapter 1 the entire Book of Revelation is introduced as the revelation of Jesus Christ (v. 1). We have taken this to mean not only that it is a revelation belonging to our Lord because it was given Him by the Father, but that it is also a revelation of (or about) Him. In verses 1-8 the Lord Jesus is described by the use of propositional statements about Him, while in verses 12-18 He is depicted by imagery which describe His character and His majesty. The entire revelation of this book is addressed to the seven churches that are in Asia (vss. 4, 11, 20; cf. 22:16).
In chapters 2 & 3 we find specific messages conveyed to each of the seven churches named in chapter 1. The seven letters contained in these two chapters follow the same format. First, the church which is addressed is named. This is followed by a description of some aspect of the character of the Lord Jesus which is directly tied to the vision of Christ in 1:12-18.1 In each instance the characteristic mentioned seems to have a particular relevance to the church addressed. All together, these brief characterizations of Christ add up to the vision of the exalted Christ as described in chapter 1. Next comes an evaluation of the church, usually beginning with a commendation for that which is praiseworthy and then moving to a rebuke for what is displeasing to the Lord. Corrective action is then outlined and the letter closes with the challenge to consider what has been said (He who has an ear let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches), as well as a closing promise for those who are victors.
It has been pointed out that more than seven churches existed in Asia at the time Revelation was written.2 The number of seven is hardly a coincidence, but rather a clue to the arrangement of the book. There are not only 7 churches, but seven seals (4:1-8:1), seven trumpets (8:2-11:19), seven personages (12:1-14:20), seven bowls (15:1-16:21), seven dooms (17:1-19:10), and finally seven new things (19:11-22:5).3
Each of the seven churches has its unique strengths and weaknesses so that there is a distinct message given to each. The problems addressed in chapters 2 & 3 are those which have characterized the church throughout its history.4 The church world-wide of today would provide ample illustration of this fact. Indeed, in any local church most, if not all, of the problems enumerated here could be found among those in the congregation. By divine design, then, the Holy Spirit has not only spoken to the ancient church, but also to us as well. This is why the reader is urged to take seriously the Lord's words to the churches (plural):
'He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches'(2:7, etc.).
While everyone seems agree that the Book of Revelation has a message from God, there are a wide variety of opinions as to what that message is and for whom it was intended. There are four major approaches to the interpretation of the Book of Revelation. I will briefly summarize them, along with my estimation of their strengths and weaknesses. It is important that you have a basic grasp of these views so that you will be able to better judge my approach to this book as well of that of any commentary or exposition of the Book of Revelation.5
(1) The preterist view: The book was fulfilled in the early ages of the church. Preter is a prefix which means past. The preterist seeks to interpret the Book of Revelation from the point of view that the events described in it's chapters have already occurred, not long after their prediction. In other words, the prophecies of Revelation are already a part of history--they are fulfilled.6 The positive contribution of this approach is that the book is interpreted in relationship to the historical setting in which it was written. This should be true of all biblical interpretation. The negative contribution of this view is that it diminishes the value of the book because it interprets every event as history and not as prophecy.7
(2) The futurist view: The Book of Revelation deals only with the end times. While hardly typical of those who hold this position, Bullinger is very clear in stating his position as a futurist:
The difference between these Epistles [to the 7 churches] and all other Epistles in the New Testament is so great, that one wonders how it was possible for them ever to be supposed as being addressed to the Church of God, the members of the Body of Christ! If it were not that we have all been brought up from earliest infancy to believe it, we could never have taken them as having anything in common with those addressed in either the earlier or later Pauline Epistles.
Everything is different: Circumstances, standpoint, references to the Old Testament, terminology, phraseology, scope, style: everything points to a different order of things altogether; yea, to a different Dispensation8
Tenney has pointed out that most futurists hold that only chapters 4 and following of the Book of Revelation are prophecies of a future time.9 Bullinger goes too far, insisting that chapters 2 & 3 refer to a future dispensation and are thus unrelated to the church. To interpret the whole Book of Revelation futuristically is to do a great disservice to chapters 2 & 3. Most dispensationalists are more conservative, interpreting chapters 2 & 3 as a message to the seven churches addressed, and then applying the principles taught to the church of today. Only the following chapters of the book would be interpreted futuristically. Thus, while the preterist takes chapters 4-22 as history, the futurist interprets them as prophecy.
(3) The historist (or continuous historical) view: The Book of Revelation is a history of the world from the apostolic age to the end of time. This view understands the Book of Revelation to give an outline of history, from John's day to the end of the age.10 The difficulty is that very few can agree upon this outline, and thus this tends towards a subjective interpretation of Revelation. The historist is inclined to interpret Revelation too much in the light of current events.
The historist view is not synonymous with the approach of many dispensationalists to Revelation chapters 2 & 3. Scholars such as Dr. John F. Walvoord do take the position that chapters 2 & 3 in addition to describing conditions in the seven churches provide a description of the church through its 2,000 year history. In his commentary, Dr. Walvoord notes that the apparent progression of history in these chapters is too incredible to be an accident, but he does not make this approach the heart of his interpretation or application.11 He understands this to be a secondary interpretation which suppliments, but in no way supercedes, the interpretation of these chapters as messages to the churches of John's day. Personally, I feel that he has presented his position fairly, graciously, and cautiously.
(4) The idealist view: There is no historical fulfillment, past or future, but only the symbolic triumph of good over evil. The idealist views the Book of Revelation as timeless and symbolic. While the preterist understands Revelation as past history, the historist as on-going history, and the futurist as future history, the idealist looks for no history whatever. The Book of Revelation is to be spiritualized so that the images and events are merely symbols conveying spiritual truths. The strengh of this view is that it does emphasize timeless principles, which the prophets have always proclaimed, and which make the book relevant to the saints in any age. The deficiency of this approach is that it ignores the specific references of the book to events and times, which are a vital part of prophecy. It must view the letters to the seven churches, for example, to be mere literary devices, rather than a word from God, which the the book claims them to be.
I believe that Scroggie12 is right in reminding us that godly saints and good scholars have held opposing positions and that this should make us a bit less dogmatic and considerably more cautious. I think he is also correct in suggesting that each of these views has something to contribute to our understanding of the Book of Revelation, even though the view may have serious shortcomings.
My approach to chapters 2 & 3 will be to interpret them in much the same way as I would the other epistles of the New Testament. I will seek to understand the problems of these ancient churches from the light provided by the Scriptures and history. I will endeavor to show that these passages, like all the scriptures (cf. II Tim. 3:16; I Cor. 10:11), are written for our instruction. I will seek to interpret chapters 4 and following as unfulfilled prophecy which was given to instruct and motivate the seven churches of chapters 2 & 3 in the light of their condition.
The Church at Ephesus: Love Lost
It is appropriate that the church at Ephesus is addressed first. Ephesus was the largest city of the Roman province of Asia. By the time the gospel was preached here it had a population of more than a quarter of a million people.13 Located at the mouth of the Cayster River on a gulf of the Aegean Sea, it was a flourishing commercial and export center for Asia.14 Ephesus was also the terminus for the great road from the Euphrates, as well as other roads from the Cayster and Meander valleys.15
It was truly a breath-taking city:
The traveler from Rome landing at Ephesus would proceed up a magnificent avenue thirty-five feet wide and lined with columns which led from the harbor to the center of the city. . . . It boasted a major stadium, marketplace, and theater. The latter was built on the west slope of Mt. Pion overlooking the harbor, and seated some 25,000 persons.16
Ephesus was also a prominent religious center:
The imperial cult was not neglected in Ephesus. Temples were built to Claudius, Hadrian, and Severus. The major religious attraction, however, was the Temple of Artemis (Diana in Latin), one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. About four times the size of the Parthenon, it was adornedby the work of many great artists. After a great fire in 356 BC destroyed the first temple, it was rebuilt, with Dinocrates (who later build Alexandria) as architect. Pliny the elder . . . gives the dimensions of the temple as 425 feet long, 220 feet wide, and sixty feet high. He also notes that the 127 pillars were of Parian marble, with thirty-six of them overlaid with gold and jewels.17
We know a good deal about the Ephesian church from the New Testament. Paul's first visit to Ephesus was very brief (Acts 18:19-21). Apollos, too, had been there (Acts 18:24-28) and had an effective ministry, especially as his understanding of the way of God was more accurately explained to him by Priscilla and Aquila (18:26). When Paul returned to Ephesus, he found a group of disciples who were familiar with John's baptism (probably the result of the teaching of Apollos), but had not yet received baptism in the name of the Lord Jesus (19:1-7). For three months, the apostle Paul taught in the synagogue at Ephesus, followed by two years of teaching in the school of Tyrannus. The result was that many were saved and the gospel was heard throughout Asia (19:8-12). When the seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, attempted to cast out demons by using Paul's words and were overcome by them, the vast difference between magic and Christianity was demonstrated. Many of the new converts wished to make a complete break with the magic of their pagan past and burned their books publicly, books which were worth 50,000 pieces of silver. As a result, the gospel continued to flourish in Ephesus (19:13-20).
Because of the size and dedication of the Ephesian church it became a threat to the idol-making industry in Ephesus. Led by Demetrius, a silversmith, his trade guild violently opposed Paul and the Ephesian church. An angry mob formed and two of Paul's companions were seized. While some of the Ephesian political officials restrained Paul from going before the hostile mob, the town clerk persuaded the crowd to settle their dispute in the courts, not in the street. Shortly after Paul left for Macedonia (Acts 19:23-20:1).
Paul passed by Ephesus later because he was eager to reach Jerusalem in time for Pentecost and was determined not to be delayed by a stop in Asia. He did, however, call for the Ephesian elders to meet with him at Miletus (Acts 20:16ff.). It was there that Paul told them of the prophecies concerning the danger of his returning to Jerusalem. His final words concerned the kind of ministry he had demonstrated before them as an example for them to follow. Of particular importance are these words:
Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears. And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified (Acts 20:28-32).
Paul was right. He later wrote to Timothy, whom he had instructed to remain on at Ephesus in order to deal with those who were teaching false doctrine (I Tim. 1:3-7). Of particular concern in the first epistle to Timothy was the matter of church leadership. Chapter 3 is devoted to the qualifications of elders and deacons. It would seem that some wished to be teachers who majored on the minors, speculating dogmatically about the law (1:6-7). The warning he gave the elders at Miletas had indeed come true.
Tradition would have it that John, too, had lived in Ephesus, during his old age. It was through him that the exalted Lord chose to address the church at Ephesus. John was instructed to write to the angel of the church in Ephesus (Rev. 2:1). A great deal has been written to explain the meaning of the word angel,18 and each explanation raises its own problems. Nevertheless the force of the message to each church is clear. Here in chapter 2 God is speaking to the saints in the church at Ephesus, regardless of who the angel might be. As Sweet reminds us, the you in these verses is singular.19
The Lord Jesus introduced himself as the One who holds the seven stars in His right hand, the One who walks among the seven golden lampstands (v. 1). Initially, I was inclined to think of our Lord as amilitary commander who walks among his men, inspecting them. While there is a hint of this, I see a greater warmth and intimacy here.20 The Lord sovereignly controls His church, but He walks among the churches in fellowship with them. The words spoken to the church may involve correction, but they are spoken by a loving Lord who is intimately involved in the life of His church, and who therefore compassionately encourages and admonishes it.
How many good things do you have to say about your church? How many critical comments could you think of? If you are like me you could probably come up with a good size list of both. Do you suppost that it was any different in the church of Ephesus, or any of the other churches addressed in these two chapters? Note it well that both the commendations and the criticisms of each church are few. Our Lord chose to focus on a few things, good and bad. This is good pedagogy. Have you ever tried to play golf while three people are all trying to help? Each has some problem for you to work on, and so you try to hit the ball while paying attention to your wrists, your arms, your hips, your knees, and so on. No, it simply doesn't work to concentrate on too many things at one time.
There is much more than pedagogy involved here. The reason why many faults and many strengths are not mentioned is that there are not really all that many things which are crucial in the life of the church. The important thing is for the church to concentrate on the few things which are really priorities and to quit agonizing about the others. The things which our Lord commends and those which He condemns are very important and instruct us as to what the priorities of the church should be.
Two things are commended in the Ephesian church, their persistence and their purity, their diligence and their doctrine. The three terms deeds, toil, and perseverance (v. 2) focus on the persistence of the saints in their personal commitment to obedience and ministry (deeds and toil), even in the face of difficulty and opposition (perseverance).
Doctrinal purity was diligently preserved by the Ephesian church testing those who would claim to be authoritative teachers and leaders (apostles, v. 2). Because Ephesus was located on commercial sea and land routes, many Christian travelers passed through, some of whom were teachers who were not only deceived, but were deceivers, actively promoting their false doctrines. The warning of the apostle Paul had been taken very seriously by the Ephesian church. They had not allowed false doctrine to corrupt their congregation, even though some false apostles had attempted to do so. For this the Ephesian saints can be sincerely praised.
But there was a very serious problem in the church, one related to their strength, I suspect:
'But I have this against you, that you have left your first love' (v. 4).
Just what is meant by the expression, your first love? The word first indicates that the love which has been left is a love which existed previously. First here means first in time or earliest. It is this same term which is used of our Lord at the One who is the first and the last (Rev. 1:17; 2:8; 22:13). The love which was left, then, is love which the saints first evidenced, but is it a love for God or a love for the brethren? It is possible that both aspects are involved, but I have come to the conclusion that our Lord's primary reference is to brotherly love and not a love for God. Let me suggest several reasons for this conclusion:
(1) The love which Paul commanded the Ephesian saints to put into practice was a love for one another. In the Book of Ephesians, Paul commanded them to love one another:
But speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by that which every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love (Eph. 4:15-16).
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you, and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma (Eph. 5:1-2).
In the context of these verses the emphasis is upon the conduct of Christians in relationship to each another. Paul commanded the Ephesian saints to love one another.
(2) The love for which Paul commended the Ephesians was a love for one another. When Paul praised the Ephesian church for its love it was a love for one another:
For this reason I too, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which exists among you, and your love for all the saints, do not cease giving thanks for you, while making mention of you in my prayers (Eph. 1:15-16).
The love for which this church was praised was a love for one another.
(3) The love which the scriptures warn us about losing in the latter days is our love for one another. When the disciples asked our Lord about the signs of His coming, He replied:
Then they will deliver you up to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations on account of My name. And at that time many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise, and will mislead many. And because lawlessness is increased, most people's love will grow cold (Matt. 24:9-12).
I understand that as persecution increases in the last days several things will take place. Some will be deceived by false teachers (the Ephesians had done well in preventing this, Rev. 2:2), while others will fall away. Still others will suffer from a love which grows cold because lawlessness is increased (Matt. 24:12). If I understand our Lord's words correctly there is a strong cause-effect relationship between lawlessness and a lack of love. I believe that the love which grows cold is, once again, a love for Christian brothers and sisters. The reason it grows cold is because associating with those who are persecuted will likely bring persecution upon the one who thus loves his brother (cf. Matt. 25:31-46; Heb. 10:34; 13:3). Persecution tends to put love for the brethren to the test, and the Ephesian church had known much of this, as Acts chapter 19 indicates.
(4) The loss of love for God is specifically addressed later. The problems which are addressed in the letters to the seven churches are the problems which plague the church today as well. The problems of each of the seven churches are unique and are not attributed to any of the other six churches, for this would be redundant. In the letter to the Laodicean church the problem of a love for God which has grown cold is directly dealt with. This would eliminate any need to address it elsewhere. It is unlikely, therefore, that our Lord is directly dealing with a lack of love for God in the church at Ephesus.
(5) The lack of love for one another best fits the context of Revelation 2:1-7. Several lines of evidence have already been presented to question the view which would hold that the first love which has been left by the Ephesian saints is a love toward God.21 In the final analysis, it is the context which must determine the meaning of love. Let us consider first the complaint which is registered, next the consequences, then the cause, and finally the cure.
The complaint is that the Ephesians have left their first love (v. 4). The word left which was chosen by the translators of the NASB is a rendering of the word aphekes. While it is sometimes used with the meaning to forgive, its primary meaning was to let go or to leave. In this context it should probably be rendered by the term abandon or neglect.22 The word is used in Revelation 2:20 with this same passive sense:
'But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and she teaches and leads My bond-servants astray, so that they commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols.'
The original term translated tolerate is the same term which is rendered left in our passage. The Ephesian saints have agressively sought to maintain doctrinal purity, but they have passively neglected the practice of brotherly love. I personally think that the Ephesian Christians were caught completely off guard by this charge, for the simple reason that they had almost unconsciously forgotten the priority of love, thereby neglecting its practice.
The consequence for failing to correct their neglect of love would be to have the Lord remove their lampstand out of its place (v. 5). I understand the lampstand to symbolize the church's function as a testimony to the world. Just as saints are the light of the world (Matt. 5:14), so the church is a lampstand. To remove the lampstand, then, may signify that the church's witness is lost. Whether this involves the removal of the church altogether is debated. It is true that the church at Ephesus no longer exists. This warning does not in any way teach that one could lose his salvation. The issue here is the testimony of the church in the world.
The loss of its testimony is directly related to the loss of brotherly love. Love for one another was not only commanded by our Lord, it was to be an essential element of their witness to the lost:
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another (John 13:34-35).
The love of the saints for one another is a powerful witness to the presence and power of Christ. When this is lacking our witness is hindered.
The cure for the malady of the Ephesian church is threefold: remembrance, repentance, and renewed response:
Remember therefore from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you, and will remove your lampstand out of its place--unless you repent (Rev. 2:5).
The first step to recovery was to remember from where they had fallen (v. 5). The charge against the church is that the had at one time practiced love in a commendable way, but that had, by neglect, greatly diminished. The first step to the cure is to continually recall (the imperative is in the present tense) those days when their love was vibrant and active. This would give the Ephesians a fresh grasp of the goal, as well as a vivid reminder of how it was achieved. The second step was to repent (this is an aorist tense, which seems to call for a decisive act). True repentance goes far beyond sorrow. It is a genuine change of heart and mind which results in a change in lifestyle and behavior. This leads to the third step, which is to begin, once again, to put love into practice (the verb here is aorist, stressing the need for a new beginning). In the words of our Lord, the Ephesian saints should do the deeds they did at first.
A final evidence in support of the meaning brotherly love is to be found in the most likely cause of the problem at Ephesus. I believe that the greatest strength of the church had become the cause of its greatest weakness. I would like to suggest that it was the Ephesians diligence in striving for doctrinal purity that took a heavy toll on their expression of love for their fellow-believers. My friend Ed Martin put it about as concisely as it can be said:
Its hard for a watchdog to smile.
Think about it for a moment. Paul had warned the Ephesian elders that after his departure men from among their very ranks would seek to lead others astray. We all know what church splits do to Christian love. I do not remember much of the McArthy hearings, but I do know that the spirit with which they were conducted was not one dominated by love.
I believe that many of the efforts to maintain doctinal purity have differed little in spirit and result from the McArthy hearings of days gone by. In the history of the church, doctrinal disputes have often been handled without love. I suggest that Ephesus was no exception. And then if false teaching from within the church were not bad enough, many must have come from without, seeking to propagate their own following, with, of course, a unique slant on biblical truth. You may begin to sense the tension that could have existed within the church. I wonder how you or I would have been greeted were we to have visited the Ephesian church on a Sunday. In the name of preserving doctrinal purity, brotherly love had been set aside.
The was another extreme which could be evidenced in other churches of New Testament times and that was the sacrifice of doctrinal truth in the name of love. Neither extreme is to be tolerated. Love should no more be sacrificed to truth than truth should be to love. That is why Paul urged the Ephesians to speak the truth in love (literally, truthing in love, Eph. 4:15). In his instructions to Timothy concerning handling those who taught strange doctrines Paul reminded Timothy of the goal of his teaching:
But the goal of our instruction is love. . . (I Tim. 1:5).
Paul had reminded the Ephesians that when admonished them he did so with tears (Acts 20:31). When he wrote his second letter to Timothy he again taught him that truth and love must not be separated:
Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus (II Tim. 1:13).
Thus, love was to be evident even when rebuking those whose teaching deviated from truth:
Now flee from youthful lusts, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. But refuse foolish and ignorant speculations, knowing that they produce quarrels. And the Lord's bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will (II Tim. 2:22-26).
The Ephesians demonstrate a failure which is typical of every church and of every saint: we often allow Satan to capitalize on our strengths in such a way as to make it our weakness. Every virtue does carry within itself the seeds of its own destruction. Who could say that doctrine is not important? But doctrine is not an end in itself. Doctrine is something like the manna of the Old Testament: If we don't use it quickly, it will become rotten. Truth and love must never be separated. Truth must be proclaimed in love (Eph. 4:15) and love must be practiced in accordance with truth (Phil. 1:9-10). Let us learn from the church at Ephesus that while doctrinal purity must always be preserved, it need not be done at the expense of love.
In my own life I find it much easier to feel guilt over my lack of love for my Lord than I do to grieve over my lack of love for my brothers and sisters in Christ. Maybe this should tell me something. Perhaps I, like the Ephesian Christians of old, have been blindsided to this very critical area of brotherly love. What we may feel most comfortable about may indeed be one of our greatest problems. Let us seriously consider the rebuke of our Lord to the Ephesians. As our text reminds us, He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
Ironically, those who talk the most about love (and, unfortunately, who attempt to do more in the area of love) are often those who have never come to experience the love of God in the person of Christ. Let me remind you that one cannot demonstrate the love of God toward mankind until you have first of all experienced the love of God toward you. The first and foremost commandment is not that we love our fellow man, but that we love God, with all our heart, soul, and mind (Matt. 22:37-38), and the second is that we love our neighbor as ourself (Matt. 22:39). Until you have come to experience the love of God in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ, you cannot love others as God commands. Let us first experience God's love in Christ by personally accepting the His self-sacrifice on the cross of Calvary for our sins, and then let us love others.
The closing words of our Lord to the church at Ephesus were intended to motivate the Christians there to remember, repent, and return to their former acts of love:
To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the Paradise of God (Rev. 2:7b).
The allusion here is to the garden of Eden. Just as our Lord walked in the garden in intimate fellowship with Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:8), so He walks in the midst of the churches (Rev. 2:1). Satan robbed Adam of the joy of fellowship with God in the garden by turning his eyes away from the tree of life to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Man had become preoccupied with knowledge and lost access to eternal life in Paradise. Was it possible that just as Satan had deceived Adam and Eve by focusing their attention on knowledge, so he had deceived the Ephesians by turning their attention from love to knowledge (doctrine)? If so, the promise to those who will repent and renew their love is that they will receive the eternal blessing of living in Paradise and eating of the tree of life.
1The seven descriptions [of Christ] all differ from one another; and, taken together, they make up the complete account given in Rev. i. of the One like unto a son of man. The Divine Author presents Himself in a different aspect to each individual Church; and the seven aspects make up His complete personal description, as the different Churches make up the complete and Universal Church. W. M. Ramsay, The Letters to the Seven Churches, Minneapolis: The James Family Publishing Co. [reprint], 1978), p. 197.
2At the first glance one might gather that only those Seven Churches existed in the Province Asia, and that the Revelation had been composed at an early date when there were no more Churches than the Seven. But that is impossible. There never was a time when those Seven Churches existed, and no others. Their situation shows that they could not well be the first seven to be founded: several other unnamed churches certainly must have been formed before Thyatira and Philadelphia. Ramsay, pp. 171-172.
3Here I am following the arrangement suggested by W. Graham Scroggie, The Book of the Revelation (Edinburgh: The Book Stall, 1920), p. 159. I have found Scroggie's insights in this book to be balanced and helpful.
4This expresses in another way what we have tried to show in chapter xiv.: the Seven Churches make up the complete Church of the Province Asia, because each of them stands in place of a group of Churches, and the Church of the Province Asia in its turn stands in place of the Universal Church of Christ. Ramsay, p. 197.
5Essentially I am following Scroggie, here, which is found on pages 106-156. I feel that he has attempted to analyse each position fairly and accurately. He concludes that the best approach is that which employs a combination of the positive contribution of each view. A sample of Scroggie's breadth of vision can be seen in these words: In conclusion let it be said that we have been greatly impressed with the fact that men of equal scholarship and saintliness have held interpretations of this Book which have been and are regarded as contradictory and irreconcilable. This should have led both sides to speak with care of the view which they did not hold, and, also, it should have led to the question, 'Are these Historicist and Futurist Views wholly irreconcilable?'. . . The Historicists see the processes, and the Futurists see the issues, but the former are wrong when they deny the issues, and the latter are wrong when they deny the processes. . . . So we may say that in the Apocalypse we have prophetic ANTICIPATIONS and there we can be Historicist, but certainly we have here also, prophetic REVELATIONS and there we must be Futurists (p. 156).
More concise explanations of these four views are provided by Leon Morris, The Revelation of St. John (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., [Photolithographed], 1969), pp. 15-22, Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1977), pp. 41-45, or Merrill C. Tenney, Interpreting Revelation (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1957), pp. 135-146.
6Preterists hold that the major prophecies of the book were fulfilled either in the fall of Jerusalem (AD 70) or the fall of Rome (AD 476). Mounce, p. 41.
7This starts with the situation of the church in the first century and ends there. It sees the book as arising out of the situation of the first Christians, and that is the outstanding merity of the preterist position. The Roman Empire dominates the scene. The Seer was wholly preoccupied with the church of his day. He wrote out of its situation and indeed has nothing more in mind than its situation. In other words this view has the merit of making the book exceedingly meaningful for the people to whom it was written. And it has the demerit of making it meaningless . . . for all subsequent readers. It should perhaps be added that some variant of this view is adopted by most modern [liberal] scholars. Morris, pp. 16-17.
8 E. W. Bullinger, The Apocalypse or The Day of the Lord, (London: Samuel Bagster & Sons Ltd, 1972), pp. 162-163.
9Tenney, p. 141.
10By this interpretation the various series of the churches, the seals, the trumpets, and the bowls are made to represent particular events in the history of the world that are related to the history of the church. For example, Elliott, in his Horae Apocalypticae, holds that the trumpets (8:6-9:21) cover the period from A. D. 395 to A. D. 1453, beginning with the attacks on the Western Roman empire by the Goths and concluding with the fall of the Eastern empire to the Turks. The first trumpet was the invasion of the Goths under Alaric, who sacked Rome; the second was the invasion under Genseric, who conquered North Africa. . . Tenney, p. 138.
11John F. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ (Chicago: Moody Press, 1966), pp. 51-53.
12Scroggie, p. 155.
13Mounce, p. 85.
14The present location of Ephesus would seem to contradict this statement, for one must stand on high ground even to see the Aegean Sea from Ephesus now. The reason is that the Cayster River carried silt down from the mountains which was gradually filling the harbor. Only constant dredging kept the port open, and some have suggested that by the time the Book of Revelation was written, the role of Ephesus as a prosperous seaport was already diminishing (cf. Tenney, p. 55).
15Morris, pp. 58-59.
16Mounce, pp. 85-86.
17Barclay, L7C, pp. 14-15, as quoted by Mounce, p. 86.
18The term angelos most often means angel, especially in the Book of Revelation. It can also mean messenger in certain contexts. While each church may well have a kind of guardian angel, it is difficult to explain why John would be commanded to write to the angel of the church. . . or is it? What is taking place in the church is for the benefit of teaching the angels (Eph. 3:10). That is why they look on with such interest as to what God is doing in His church (I Cor. 11:10; cf. I Pet. 1:12). The message to the church is one which the angels need to learn, too. If this is not acceptable, the term may simply mean messenger. Certainly someone needed to carry the letter to Ephesus, since there was no postal service. And someone in the church needed to receive it and read it to the church. While this can be easily understood, there is absolutely no basis for assuming this to be the pastor of the church at Ephesus. While Timothy has been frequently called the pastor of Ephesian church he is never called such in the New Testament. In fact no man is ever called the pastor of any New Testament church. The church had its pastors and pastor-teachers, but it also had those with the gift of helps, administration, giving and so on. Of the various explanations of the term angel the two given above are the most common. Let the reader consider the matter, remembering that the interpretation (so long as it is orthodox) has little bearing on the message.
19J. P. M. Sweet, Revelation (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1979), p. 80.
20As the various churches are weighed and discussed one can see the living Christ in action among His own people. He does not appear to them as the terrible sovereign on the throne nor as the conqueror riding to battle. He walks among them as a Lord who seeks to commend their virtues even more than to expose and punish their faults. Tenney, p. 55.
21It is not my intention to press the distinction between a love for God and a love for man too far. Obviously the two are closely related (cf. Matt. 22:35-40). Nevertheless it is necessary for us to attempt to identify the primary emphasis of the indictment in Revelation 2:4.
22I would tend to disagree with A. T. Robertson here, who calls this a sad departure (Word Pictures in the New Testament, Vol. vi, p. 299). It is not so much a deliberate departure as it is, in coloqial terms, letting love fall through the crack. I believe that the term aphekes does convey culpability, but not conscious, willful disobedience. It is thus more a sin of omission than of commission.
Related Topics: Prophecy/Revelation