Summary: The church of Ephesus shows us that doctrinal soundness and evangelistic zeal do not replace the need for a love relationship with Jesus.
This morning marks the start of a series of seven sermons in which we will examine the seven churches of Asia Minor, which are found in the book of Revelation. As Adventists, I believe that we have a solid grasp of the prophetic interpretations of the messages of Daniel and Revelation, but I also believe that in focusing strictly on the prophetic, we often miss the devotional message that God intends for us to glean. For you see, “Revelation” does not just mean that God wants to reveal to us only what the meanings of these churches are as they pertain to history or the end of time; it also means that God wants to reveal what the message to the churches means for us today – even this morning. To emphasise this point, I invite you to turn with me to Revelation chapter 1, and look with me at verse 19…. Here, John is told by God to write about not only the things which are to come, but also the things which are right now. And so, while we are to have a correct prophetic interpretation of the meaning of the churches in revelation, we must not neglect to understand what the messages mean to us today.
With this goal in mind, let us now pay our first visit, to the church of Ephesus. Revelation chapter 2, verse 1….
Now, there are a couple of things that we need to understand before we move on. The first concerns to whom the message was written. We just read that this message was written to the “angel” of the church. And whereas we often associate angels with supernatural beings with wings, this is not the type of angel the letter is referring to. You see, the word translated as “angel” comes from the Greek word which has the primary meaning of “messenger,” and actually carries no ideas of supernatural beings at all. And so the letters to the churches were, in reality, written to human messengers – that is, to the pastors of the churches. The letters to the seven churches are meant to be pastoral messages. And a pastoral message, as we shall see, is usually twofold in its presentation: on the one hand, a pastoral message offers commendation and encouragement, and on the other hand, it rebukes, calls to repentance and pronounces warnings of judgment.
The other things we need to notice are the seven golden candlesticks, and the One who walks in their midst. First of all, what do the candlesticks represent? Revelation 1, verse 20 gives us the answer: the seven golden candlesticks are the what? – the seven churches. And who is the One walking in their midst? Look with me at Revelation 1, and verse 13. Who is it? – the Son of man. It could be none other than Jesus Christ Himself. Notice how He is described in verses 17 and 18…. And so the picture we see here is one of Jesus walking among the seven candlesticks, which are the seven churches – this is a picture of Jesus working among His people, His church. He is not standing aloof from the church, rebuking her and then allowing her to flounder along unaided and with no sense of hope, no. Instead, we see Him in her midst, so that, though He must rebuke her, yet He is right there to help her along the way. The greatest courage we can ever take, friends, is that no matter what the ups and downs we face as Christians may be, we can have the full assurance that Jesus walks beside us along the way. Do you have that assurance this morning? Or do you face life’s burdens and obstacles with no sense of help? Are you in despair, knowing your miserable condition, but without the hope of deliverance? There is help today – and we will find it this morning. Do you want it? Do you want Jesus to walk through this life at your side, and lead you to life everlasting? The message to the church of Ephesus gives us the key to obtaining that certainty.
This is what God’s letter had to say to the church of Ephesus, in Revelation 2, starting at verse 2 (read vv. 2-7)….
The letter starts off on a positive note. Jesus says to the Ephesian believers: “I know all about you, and your fervent and untiring work in the face of wickedness, apostasy and false apostles.” This was a diligent church, and with good reason. Turn with me for a moment to Acts chapter 19, where we read about just what the church in Ephesus was up against. Acts chapter 19, and reading verses 24 on (read vv. 24-34)…. In short, Christianity was not a welcome faith practice in Ephesus, because it flew in the face of the state religion and threatened the local economy. Nevertheless, we read in verses 17-20 that the Ephesian church won many converts to the Lord Jesus Christ – in spite of the fierce and sometimes violent opposition.