Books Of The Bible
To The Church In Ephesus
Revelation Series • Chapter 2
FIRST LESSON Revelation 2:1-6
Leader: To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands:
Congregation: ‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance.
L: I know that you cannot tolerate evildoers; you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them to be false.
C: I also know that you are enduring patiently and bearing up for the sake of my name, and that you have not grown weary.
L: But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember then from what you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first.
C: If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.
L: Yet this is to your credit: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
C: Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.
L: To everyone who conquers, I will give permission to eat from the tree of life that is in the paradise of God.
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’
Revelation, Chapter 2
The Seven Cities And Churches
To The Church In Ephesus
As you know, we are preaching a “summer series of sermons” based on the Book of Revelation and today is the second sermon in that series.
We are asking a basic question: What is God saying to us through his Word in the Book of Revelation? What message does God have for us through this book? In the first two chapters of Revelation, the prophet John was addressing churches in his day with a message for their situation. What is the prophet John’s message to us today here in our situation?
First, let us look at some background material. The Book of Revelation was addressed to the seven churches in Asia. At that time, Asia was the name of a region that today we call Turkey. See the map below for the location of the seven churches. The names of the seven churches are cities which were on a route that the prophet John could have traveled. Imagine a “circuit rider” pastor on a horse/donkey who would visit seven churches in a row. John’s letter is addressed to the seven churches of Asia.
The number seven is symbolic of the whole church, the whole church in Asia, to all the congregations of ancient Turkey, to all the congregations in the world. It is also addressed to churches in our century. It is also addressed to the members of Grace Lutheran Church. The number seven includes all the churches and congregations from the very beginning of Christianity until now. It also addresses congregations in the future.
On the above map and on the screen before you, is a picture from a Power Point presentation. Find the island of Patmos. Identify the island of Patmos by the symbol “P.” I will identify it with my light pointer.
The prophet John was out on the island of Patmos which was an island prison for the Roman government in those days. The island of Patmos was a rock quarry and the prisoner John would have been digging rocks all day long. This Roman rock quarry was about thirty miles into the Aegean Sea off the coast of Turkey.
The prophet John had seven personal messages to seven churches in seven cities, and each message was handcrafted for that particular church in that particular city. In other words, it seems as if the prophet John had been a bishop in all seven of these cities and hand tailored a message for each church of each city.
Focus on the city of Ephesus, the closest city to the island of Patmos. It was also the capital of the emerging Christian empire. During our sermon today, we are going to focus only on one city, Ephesus, and John’s message to that city. We will then ask how that message to the church in Ephesus applies to our congregation today.
One of the privileges of my life was to visit the ancient city of Ephesus during a trip to the Holy Land. Ephesus was one of the greatest cities of the ancient world, if not the greatest city of the ancient world. Ancient Ephesus had many wonders. The following are pictorial images of this great ancient city of Ephesus.
In fact, ancient Ephesus had the first of the seven wonders of the world. The first of the seven wonders of the ancient world was the Temple of Diana. The Temple of Diana was incredibly beautiful. The temple had 127 columns in it, and each column was 75 feet high. There were many statues on the top of that temple and also erected around the temple. The temple was dedicated to Diana, the Original Mother, the Mother of All. On the screen, see a recreation of that temple below.
The Temple Of Diana
On the next picture, see the great amphitheater with its perfect acoustics and seating for 25,000 people.
The Temple Of The Roman Emperor Hadrian
On the next picture, see the great library of ancient Ephesus that housed more than 20,000 volumes
The Celus Library
On the next picture, see Curetas Street, the main street, that lead to the Aegean Sea.
The Public Baths
There were fifteen toilets in the public baths. You can see those toilets above and below.
The Public Toilets
Panoramic View Of Ephesus
Ephesus had become the leading center of Christianity after the fall of Jerusalem in the year 65 CE and before the great city of Rome became the center of Christianity in about the year 110. For fifty-five years, from 65 CE to 110 CE, Ephesus was the leading city of Christianity. There were more Christians in Ephesus than any other city in the world at that time in history.
There in the city of Ephesus, the Apostle John wrote his GOSPEL OF JOHN. There in the city of Ephesus, the Elder John wrote SECOND and THIRD JOHN. There in the city of Ephesus, Mary, the mother of Jesus lived. There in the city of Ephesus, the Apostle Paul lived for three years. There in the city of Ephesus, young Timothy worked and ministered. The city of Ephesus had become the leading center of Christianity for fifty-five years at the end of the first century of Christianity.
The prophet John was sitting out off the coast from Ephesus, on the island of Patmos, a rock quarry and a Roman penal colony. He was out there on that island rock because of his testimony about Jesus Christ during the reign of Domitian. While on that rocky island, the prophet John wrote messages to the seven churches in Asia. These short paragraphs were not really letters but short messages for each church with a salutation and a conclusion. We can imagine the prophet John, sitting on the shores of the Aegean Sea, thinking about what he should specifically say to the seven churches on the mainland. It may have been that the prophet John had been the bishop or overseer of these congregations. Below is an artist’s painting of the prophet sitting on the shores of Patmos.
John’s messages to the seven churches all have the same pattern. There are five parts to each of his messages:
- The name of the city.
- A description of Christ e.g. who holds the seven stars,
- Positive affirmation e.g. toil, patient endurance, love, faith, service
- Negative criticism e.g. abandon first love, fornication, idolatry
- He who conquers e.g. will be granted a white stone, white garments, crown of life
Let us walk through his message to the Ephesians. Please refer to your bulletin insert. The Bible verses are doubled spaced so that you can take notes. The Bible study is the sermon for today. Most of these sermons based on the Book of Revelation are expositional sermons which exposit/carefully study the exact wording of the Biblical text. I ask to use the pencils in the pews or the pens in your pocket, and underline and circle key words and phrases. By doing so, this forces your mind to slow down and actually see specific words of the Biblical text.
To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: There a guardian angel for each of the churches. Ephesus was the leading church of that Christian era. It was the capital city of Christianity. We have seen pictures of the archeological ruins from this great Roman capital. John began his letters by addressing his first letter to the leading church of Christianity in about the year 95 CE.
These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, Him refers to Jesus Christ, the Son of man. This is a message from Jesus Christ to the church in Ephesus. Christ holds the seven stars. Christ holds the total starry universe in his hands, but he does not remain up in the safety of the celestial heavens but has come down here to earth to walk about the churches here on earth. The seven stars are also the guardian angels of each of the seven churches.
Who walks among the seven golden lampstands: The seven golden lampstands are the seven churches. Seven is a symbolic number that represents divine wholeness or divine completeness. Near the number, “seven,” write the word “wholeness.” Near the word, “lampstands,” write the word “churches.” John is writing to the whole Christian church of that era in history but also to us as well, twenty centuries later. The Book of Revelation is the most symbolic book of the whole New Testament and one of goals is to understand the symbolism in Revelation as much as possible.
“I know your works. John uses the word, “works,” sixteen times. “Works” is a favorite word of the prophet John. In each of the seven letters, he begins with his first comment, “I see your works.” Or, “I know your works.” Write the number, “16,” near the word, “works.”
John talks more about works in his letter to the church in Thyatira than any of his other letters. To them he says, “I know your works, your faith, your love, your service. Your latter works exceed your first works. I will give to each of you as your works deserve. He who conquers and keeps my works until the end, I will give him power over the nations.” “Works” is a good word for the prophet John. John emphasizes “working, acting and doing” and not simply “thinking, praying and feeling.” Thinking, praying and feeling often become a substitute for doing, working and acting.
Therefore, this Book of Revelation is similar to the Epistle of James which also emphasizes works. In fact, in this book of Revelation, there is a priority of works over faith. Works is more important than faith in the Book of Revelation. The Book of Revelation uses the word, “works,” 16 times and the word, “faith,” 3 times. In fact, the Book of Revelation does not talk so much about faith as about faithfulness in the midst of persecution. For this reason, Martin Luther put the Book of Revelation in an appendix to the New Testament and did not regard it fully as Scripture because of its priority of works over faith.
If the prophet John was writing to Grace Lutheran Church in Des Moines, Washington, today, he would say, “I hold the seven stars in my hand and I walk among the churches, including you, Grace Lutheran Church. I see what you are doing. I see your works. I know the way you are living.”
That is also true of our personal lives. Circle the word, “your,” and write your name near the word, “your.” I know your works; I know what you are doing. I know the way you are living.
As Lutheran Christians, we know that there is not a conflict with believing and doing. A person who believes in Christ, does works of love. For example, a rock heated by the sunlight cannot fail to give off warmth at night. Similarly, a person who has faith in Christ cannot fail to radiate the love of Christ to all people around. Faith is active in love. Galatians 5:6, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that counts is faith working through love.”
Your toil and your patient endurance. Your hard works, the great effort that you have put forth to be my disciples. Circle the two words, “patient endurance.” Jesus saw their patient endurance in the midst of suffering. This quality of patient endurance was elevated higher than all the other works. We know that this was a time of persecution, first under Nero and then under Domitian. Emperors Nero and Domitian had been killing Christians. It was a time of immense suffering for this young Christian church. We recall the familiar adage, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” This was a very difficult time for Christians and this was a call for Christians to exhibit patient endurance.
If this letter had been written to our congregation today, the prophet John would have said the same things. He would have said, “I see your patient endurance.” Many of you know the personal meaning of that phrase.
It was twenty four year ago that I preached on this text and the following words are from that sermon. “For example, Mike Kallliainen is dying. Nineteen months ago, Mike was married here in our sanctuary. Four hours after the wedding, during the wedding reception, he went for a car ride and suffered a accident which left him a vegetable at intensive care at Harborview Hospital. For nineteen months now, Mike has laid in a hospital bed unconscious. His body is now perfect except for his brain. For the past nineteen months, his mother Carolyn has gone to visit him every day. Every day, she nurses him. Every day, she cries. Everyday, she loves her son. For nineteen months, and the angel of Revelation says to this mother, “I see your patient endurance in the midst of great traumatic suffering.”
The sermon continued. “I think of another person in our congregation. She is a mother with four children. She is poor. She is divorced. She is raising her four children very effectively. She is making all kinds of personal sacrifices for her children. It is a very hard life for her. And the Lord God says, “I see your patient endurance. I see your hard times. I see your patient endurance.”
The sermon from twenty four years ago continued as if it were today, “I saw this old man the other day who is dying of cancer. I talked to some high school kids who were ridiculed because they are Christians. I have been in conversation with some parents who kids are going through the drug scene and whose children are fractured and fragile. I’ve seen some families where it is like walking on eggshells at their houses. And the Lord God says, “I see your patient endurance.”
Life is a struggle. Life is traumatic. Life is very difficult. And to Christian who are faithful during those enormously tough times, the Lord God says, “I see your patient endurance in the midst of suffering.”
What was true twenty four years ago is still true today. That is, there are many people enduring enormous suffering. Such enormous suffering does not normally happen all through our lives, but there are some epochs, times, eras of personal suffering and God says to you and to me: “I see your patient endurance as you suffer.”
We will skip the next Bible verses until we read the following Bible verse:
I also know that you are enduring patiently and bearing up for the sake of my name,
and that you have not grown weary. Circle the word, “you,” and write in your own name. Circle the words, “bearing up.” There are many times in life where we need to “bear up” under the pressures of life.
Circle the words, “have not grown weary.” There are times that we get so tired trying to do the right thing and be the love of Christ in our situation. There are times, when Christians get so tired from trying to do what is right. Any time that you are a loving person, anytime that you give yourself to another in need, anytime that you absorb the pain of others into your heart, you become very tired. Life never ends. There is always more work, more suffering and more people in need or the same people with persistent needs. It is a never ending story if you are a disciple of Jesus. I know that the mother of Mike K. gets very tired. I know that the single poor mother with four children gets very tired.
The Lord God says to you this day, “Jesus Christ appreciates your tiredness. I see that you are exhausted and have grown weary, but you are still holding onto the faith.”
The Lord God wants us to endure patiently and will give us the strength and the energy to do so.
So the Word of the Lord from the Book of Revelation speaks to us at this moment, affirming our patient endurance and bearing up for the sake of Christ and for not growing wearing.
This previous section of the letter has been all positive, as there is a positive section in each paragraph to all seven churches. Then, the prophet John expresses negative criticism. We move into the next section of his letter which also applies to us.
But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. A Christian and a congregation can abandon the love for God and other people that we had initially.
The Christians in Ephesus were some of first and greatest Christians when the church began. The Apostle Paul lived there for three years. He wrote the glorious letter of Ephesians to them. But sometime happened. Something happened to this faith and faithfulness of the Ephesians. The Ephesians were so rich in grace, so rich in faith, so rich in love, so rich in oneness, so rich in peace. What happened to these Ephesians anyhow? What happened to their Christian faith? What happened to their depth of zeal for the Lord and the ways of the Lord? What happened to them anyhow?
We hear that they abandoned the love they first hand. Yes, you could say that when you were young in marriage, how deeply you loved. When you were young in life, how enthusiastic you were. When you were young in Christ, how positively involved you were. When you were a young Christian, how deep was your prayer life and your devotion to God.
Yes, this Word of God applies to us. We all go through various times in life and perhaps you are at the time in your life where you are aware that you have lost the faith you once had, that you have drifted away from God, and that you have slowly slipped away from the devoutness that you had earlier in your life. You may have drifted away, wandered away, faded away. At one time, you loved God and the ways of God and Jesus so deeply, but now you don’t. Such energy. Such devotion. Such prayer. But now you have abandoned the love that you first hand.
In my work, I see it again and again, this tragic story. I see it in my life. I see it in your life. People drifting away from their earlier passion to their marriage, drifting away from their earlier passion of being a parent, drifting away from the earlier passion of being a Christian.
Remember then from what you have fallen; Remember the heights from which you have fallen. Your life was so high, but it has now fallen so low, as you have drifted away from the love that you first had for me.
Repent, and do the works you did at first. Repent means to turn around. Change. Go a different direction. Circle the word, “repent” and write in “turn around, change direction.” In the Old Testament and New Testament and within the Book of Revelation, God constantly asks us people of faith to “repent, to change our direction, to have our lives turned around.” We all know that we need to do this. We all know that God’s Spirit works on us so that we repent, turn our lives around, go a different direction in our attitudes and actions.
If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. Jesus calls us to repent, to turn our lives around with the help of others, and get going in God’s direction for us.
Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. When you are in the Spirit, you listen to the Word of the Lord. Perhaps in this sermon today, the Lord is speaking sympathetically to you about your patient endurance. Perhaps in this sermon today, the Lord is critical of you who have drifted away from the deep love of God and others that you had earlier in your life. Perhaps in this sermon today, the Lord is asking you to turn your life around. If and when you are in the Spirit, the Spirit gets into your heart and habits and begins to change you and me.
To everyone who conquers, Circle the word, “conquers.” Near the word, “conquer,” write the word, “overcome.” Jesus wants us to overcome the suffering that is part of our life this day. All seven letters have this same word. To the people who conquer or overcome, they will be given a special reward. We are invited to overcome the adversity which is inevitably part of our lives. Throughout the entire Book of Revelation, you will hear God’s invitation to overcome the evil that is part of your life and mine, evil that is within and evil that is around us.
I will give permission to eat from the tree of life that is in the paradise of God. Each of the letters to the seven churches ends on a positive note with a reward for faithful endurance. The Lord God, Jesus Christ, is going to give something to his faithful people. Here, in this letter, Christ will give us permission to eat from the tree of life and immortality that is to be found the paradise of God in Revelation 21. As we get to the last sermon in this series, we will study the tree of life that is in the paradise of God. We will discover that as we eat from that tree, we will find healing both for ourselves and for our nation and the nations of the world.
We are also aware that we do not wait until we are dead and in heaven that we begin to eat from the tree of life. When a person believes in Christ and lives a life of love, we begin living in such a way that we are eating from the tree of life. As we eat from the tree of life today, life is better, in all circumstances.
John is a prophet from the Lord who spoke to his church two thousand years ago and still speaks to our lives today.
Revelation. The second sermon. Amen.
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