Summary: The seven churches described in Revelation 2-3 are seven literal churches at the time that John the apostle was writing Revelation. Though they were literal churches in that time, there is also spiritual significance for churches and believers today.
The letter to the Church at Ephesus
Reading Revelation 1:9-11 & 2:1-7
Most Christians today will accept that we are approaching the time when Jesus will return to this Earth. Many prophecies concerning this event have happened, and the present state of the world confirms that something drastic will have to happen soon. Either the people of this world will destroy it or Jesus will return. And the Bible says that man will not destroy the earth.
Even if we find it difficult to accept this we should, of course, be living our lives as though it were true. Ever since His death and resurrection, when the Church was first founded, Jesus has been calling His Church back to Him. We can see this from the teaching of all of the Apostles and particularly of the Apostle Paul.
Today I want to start a series which will examine the letters that the apostle John was commanded to write to seven Churches as we can see in our reading from Revelation.
“On the Lord's Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, 11 which said: "Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna,
Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea."
The first letter John is told by Jesus to write is to the Church in Ephesus.
The Church in Ephesus was located in the most important town in what was then Asia Minor, now modern Turkey. You can see from the map how far Ephesus was from Jerusalem where the Church first started. Ephesus is only a ruin today and it’s very close to the modern city of Izmir.
It was famous in its time for it's numerous shrines and for it's temple to the Goddess Diana, which is still one of the seven wonders of the world. It had a theatre that could seat 25,000 people and many other very impressive public monuments. Ephesus had a population of about 300,000 and was very wealthy. But it was a hotbed of every false religious cult and superstition.
The Church had a great Christian tradition, partly because it had the Apostle Paul as its founder. We know that during a two year period Paul evangelised the whole area and the Church grew rapidly. Paul's close friend and colleague, the apostle John, was Minister of the Church until his exile to the Island of Patmos in his later years.
This was one of the truly great Churches of it's time and it was to this group of people that Jesus, through the Apostle John, gives such a strong call.
In the first verse of our reading in Revelation today we have a description of a person holding seven stars in His right hand and walking among seven lampstands.
The Bible tells us that the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches while the lampstands are the churches themselves and represent Christ’s light in the world..
The letter starts by commending them for their energy, and for all of their activities on His behalf. The Church, like many Churches today, had many activities, both for the benefit of the members as well as for evangelisation.
They were working flat out for God and I'm sure that at the annual church meeting there would have been some good reports of baptisms and new members.
Jesus goes on to commend the Church for their unity in working together for the good of the gospel. For the fact that they worked long and hard to make sure that they obeyed the great commission. They were based in the middle of one of the largest pagan centres in the area.
In their work for God they were confronted with all sorts of trials and problems. But they never moaned, they never complained, they just accepted the work that they had to do and got on with it.
Jesus especially comments on their attitude towards wicked and evil men. It appears that they refused to let evil, in any form, have control in any part of their lives or in the life of the church. Jesus tells the Church that He is proud of their use of discernment with regard to false apostles and teachers. This was a great problem in those times with many people travelling around and claiming to be prophets or apostles. And we know that the bible warns us to be aware of false teachers.
Jesus knew that the Church in Ephesus had been using the spiritual gifts given to them by God. They had tested these travelling teachers and found them to be false.
The Church had gone through persecution and hardships in the past, and in chapter two verse three Jesus commends them for their perseverance, for their patience and for their endurance. Then Jesus goes on to commend them for their determination. Their determination not to give up, their determination to overcome the problems they had been facing.