Chapters 2 and 3 of Revelation contain letters written by Jesus to 7 churches. Each letter has multiple levels of application, and addresses different aspects of the Christian life. In this first letter, we learn just how much Jesus values relationship over religion.
There is a rumor going around town, in fact, it's not only going around our town, it's also going around the church at large. There are those who are saying that the Book of Revelation is hard to understand, but nonsense, say we. For you see, the word revelation means that something has been revealed. If God wanted this to be hidden, he would have called it the consolation and not the revelation. What is God revealing? Well, in Revelation one one, we find the whole book beginning with the words The Revelation of Jesus Christ.
This is going to be a revelation of Jesus. The four gospels revealed Jesus as he was when he was on the Earth in his humble human state. The Book of Revelation reveals that same Jesus as he is now in his fully glorified, fully powerful, fully God state. God wanted us to read this book so much that he promised to bless those who take the time to read and respond to it. And God included the special blessing in Revelation one three.
It says, Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy and keep those things which are written in it for the time is near. Now, can you imagine God saying, I want you to hear the words that are written in this book. I want you to understand them, and then I want you to respond to them. And if you do those things, I'll bless you. But here's the thing. You will never understand this book.
It wouldn't make much sense to believe that God would do that. But God knew there would be those who would say that the Book of Revelation is hard to understand.
So in order to make this book easy to understand, he gave it its own special outline that's found in Revelation 119, where Jesus gives John these instructions. Write the things which you have seen. What has John seen up to this point? Well, in verse thirteen, John writes that he saw one like the son of man. And who's that? It's the resurrected and glorified Jesus. We talked about that last week in Chapter one. Then Jesus tells John to also write the things which are that pertains to what we call the church age, which is laid out in chapters two and three, which will begin studying today.
And in those two chapters, Jesus will dictate seven letters to seven churches in their order, they will prophesy around 2000 years of church history, the entire church age with incredible precision. If you were to reverse the order, switch any of the two churches around or remove any one of the seven churches, it would not make sense. But in their order and only in their order, the prophecy aligns perfectly. And then finally, Jesus tells John to write the things which will take place after this.
After what will after the events of chapters two and three, after the church age, Jesus tells John to write down the things he's going to show him, which will take place after the church age in the original Greek. The words used for the phrase after this are Meta Taruta. That phrase next appears in Revelation Chapter four, verse one, where it marks the beginning of the third act in the Book of Revelation. Let me read it to you.
Revelation, for one says, After these things, what are the Greek words there? Meditator. So after the events of chapters two and three, after the church age, after those things, John writes, I looked and behold a door standing open in heaven. And the first voice, which I heard was like a trumpet speaking with me, saying, Come up here and I will show you things which must take place after this. And guess what?
The Greek words are at the end of that verse again, where it says, After this matter, Talita, the Holy Spirit wanted to ensure that we don't miss the beginning of the third act of revelation. So he begins revelation for one with meditator and. And he ends revelation for one with meditator, and despite appearing over 20 times in the first three chapters of the Book of Revelation, guess what word never again appears in the narrative after revelation. For one, it's the word church.
And we're going to learn. That's because the church is no longer here on the Earth after revelation. For one, the church like John is going to go up and when the church goes up, something else comes down and that something is the wrath of God. And you find that in Revelation six 16, it's the opening volley of the time period known as the tribulation.
And we're told the response of those who are still on the earth at that time. Revelation 616 says they said to the mountains and rocks fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne. That's God, the father. And from the wrath of the lamb in the Bible, the lamb is always who? Jesus Christ. Our culture is pretty comfortable with the Jesus who offers optional moral advice but is extremely uncomfortable with the Jesus who says.
If you turned down my invitation of love and life, you are choosing my wrath. Instead, Jesus doesn't want anybody to experience this wrath. That's why he died for us. He took the wrath that our sins deserve in our place on the cross. But if anyone rejects Jesus as their substitute, taking God's wrath in their place. Then all that's left for them is to receive the wrath they deserve themselves. It goes on in verse 17 of Chapter six, and it says that the people will cry out for the great day of his wrath has come.
And who is able to stand? There's going to be a progression will travel through 2000 years of church history. Then the church goes up and wrath comes down. There's seven years of tribulation that continue all the way up to Chapter 19 when Jesus returns to the Earth with his church in what's known as the second coming. And there'll be even more revealed later on in our study through this incredible book.
That's just a little preview of coming attractions for you. As we've mentioned, starting in Revelation to Jesus dictates seven letters to John, each for a church in the region then known as Asia. Each of these letters has four different levels, so to speak, of application.
The first fill in on your outline in the first level of application is that each of these letters apply to a local church around the time John is writing in 96 A.D.. Incredibly, the archeological ruins of all seven churches have been discovered. In fact, they were only found because a group of archeologists chose to use the Bible as a guide in their search. So these are all literal churches that existed at the time. John recorded Revelation and the issues they touch upon were real issues those churches were experiencing at that time.
John was an overseer of all of these churches, and he would have been odd to hear Jesus speak directly to these congregations that he knew so well and loved so dearly. The second level of application and each of these letters is to all churches at all times. You'll notice that each letter ends with the phrase here, what the spirit says to the churches, churches, plural, that tells us that these letters were also written for anyone who cares about the church as a member or a leader.
The main issues behind every problem, difficulty and challenge that churches face are addressed in these seven letters. Your next fill in and the third level of application is for all believers, all believers at all times. Also included toward the end of each letter is the phrase he who has an ear. Let them hear. It means if you can hear this, you need to pay attention. We're going to discover elements of ourselves individually present in each of these churches will be encouraged, convicted and like some of the churches realize that God is calling us to make some changes.
And then the final and fourth level of application in each of these letters is prophetic. It's the level of prophecy. As we've mentioned, these seven letters lay out two thousand years of church history, the whole church age in advance with mind blowing precision and detail. One of the surprises is that the churches Jesus writes to are not all the obvious choices. There will be no sign of the prominent and influential megachurches of Rome, Antioch or Jerusalem. Why?
I believe it's because the prophetic pattern that is going to emerge across these seven letters would only work with these specific churches in this specific order. The Book of Acts covers the first 30 years of the church, chapters two and three of Revelation cover the next 2000 years of the church.
And this prophetic perspective is a fairly recent discovery, primarily because most of the church age had to have passed in order for the pattern to emerge and become noticeable. We also needed to live in an age when historical knowledge was easily accessible so that the appropriate research could be done. For us, the church age is almost entirely history, but John was recording it prophetically, likely unbeknownst to him as he was living in the first church of the church age. Here are a few other common traits that we're going to find in each letter.
Every letter is going to start with the phrase to the Angel of the Church of Blank.
In our previous study, I mentioned that the Greek word used there for Angel is Aguilar's, which means messenger, and it could be angelic or human. And so some scholars think that Jesus is referring to specific angels, sort of guardian angels that were assigned to each of these churches while others hold that Jesus is writing to the pastors of these churches. I shared that I lean toward the latter because I do not imagine that Jesus was communicating with his angels using the Roman postal system.
But I also hold that view because angels were not leading these churches. So, there wouldn't have been much point in Jesus telling them what changes needed to be made. We'll also see that the name of each church will reveal something about its identity. From God's perspective, the title Jesus uses for himself will tell us something that each church needs to be reminded of. Each letter will serve as a report card of sorts, with each church receiving a commendation - "I love that you're doing this." - a criticism - "Stop doing this." - and an exhortation - "Start doing this" or "Keep doing this." Four churches will have something missing from their report card. Two will receive no commendation - that's Sardis and Laodicea. And two churches will receive no criticism - Smyrna and Philadelphia. The ones who think they're doing well are going to find out that they're not. And the ones who think they aren't doing well are going to find that they're doing better than they think. Finally, each letter will include an exhortation to the reader - that's you and I - to be an overcomer of the issues raised by Jesus in that letter.
All seven churches were located in the Roman region of Asia, in a region which is today part of the country of Turkey.
And thanks to the Roman Empire, they were all connected by well-built roads. Ephesus was one of the largest, wealthiest, and most important cities in the Empire and held the title Supreme Metropolis of Asia. Founded around fourteen hundred B.C., it had a population of between a quarter and half a million people, which was massive at the time. The city boasted a magnificent theater that could see 24000 good road and river systems and a seaport at the mouth of the Kastor River.
These traits made it a natural hub for commerce and business, with enormous quantities of goods moving through the city daily. As a result, it grew into a city of great affluence as people from all over the world traveled through Ephesus, they brought with them their ideas, philosophies, and belief systems. The Ephesian population was multicultural and considered themselves more enlightened than most. They had a pluralistic spirituality. The view that all spiritual concepts are true and valid in some way and ultimately all lead to God.
They were comfortable with almost any deity, but extremely uncomfortable with the idea of one supreme God, which is the teaching of monotheism. We know of at least 50 gods who were worshiped in Ephesus, including a wildly popular goddess whose Roman name was Artemis in Greek and Diana in Roman culture. Her glorious temple was considered so spectacular.
I'm sorry I got that last one backwards. The Roman name was Artemis and the Greek name was Diana.
Her glorious temple was considered so spectacular that it appears in Antipater of Simon's famous list of the seven wonders of the ancient world. But Artemus was most famous for the specific form of worship she apparently required, if you were an Ephesian man who wished to worship the city's protective mother, you would enter her temple and meet in private with one of the woman who served as a sacred employee and worship with her. If you catch my meaning, you would pay the temple for her services and that money would go into the temple coffers.
If you were a woman who worshiped Artemus, sooner or later you would be notified that it was your turn to volunteer in the temple as your act of worship.
As you can imagine, it was a stunningly effective form of fundraising and resulted in most of the city's men becoming highly devoted worshipers of Artemus. You know, for some reason, we we love to romanticize history, and that often causes us to overlook such cultural and religious abuses of women. Just because it was normative in the culture doesn't mean that it wasn't horrifically traumatic for those who were forced to participate.
Understanding these brutal realities of the secular ancient world allows us to appreciate even more the radical model that Jesus and the church presented for honoring the personhood of woman in marriage and in society. Thanks to Artemus, Mphasis rivaled Corinth as the filth capital of the Roman world, the Greek philosopher Heraclitus commented that the morality of animals exceeded the morality of the people of Ephesus, perhaps because the city's most popular religions were all rooted in the pursuit of pleasure, known as hedonism.
You can read about the founding of the church in Ephesus all over the Book of Acts. It was the first church established in the Roman province of Asia Minor and the other six churches mentioned in chapters two and three of Revelation were all planted out of the church in Ephesus, around 64 A.D.. Paul had a final meeting with the Ephesian elders. He warned that after he was gone, Satan would send wolves false teachers who would seek to lure believers away from the truth and divide the church.
The solution recommended by Paul was clinging to God and his word, and in the years that followed, we're going to find that the Ephesian Church did just that in light of this meeting between Paul and the elders in Ephesus. This letter in Revelation two is fascinating because it gives us insight into what happened in Ephesus over the 30 years following Paul's final visit with them.
Prophetically, Ephesus portrays the first church of the church age.
We call it the Apostolic Church because it was marked by the leadership of the upper case a apostles. Shortly after Jesus's ascension around 30 to A.D., the disciples were among a group of 120 believers praying in an upper room in Jerusalem.
The Holy Spirit came upon them, filling them with boldness and power to preach the gospel. Peter went outside and preached the greatest debut sermon of all time, resulting in 3000 men giving their lives to Jesus. The church was born on that day and the church age began. The apostolic age continued to around 100 A.D., by which time pretty much all the apostles had died.
The word Ephesus means the desired one or desirable, it's a term of endearment like darling or sweetheart, and this tells us something about how Jesus views this church.
It was especially precious to Jesus, likely because the Apostolic Church and the literal church in Ephesus were both led by some of those who were closest to Jesus during his earthly ministry. As we journey through, the text of each letter will draw out the different levels of application to the local church, to all churches, to all believers, and the prophetic angle, it says in verse one. Let's get into the text to the angel. I would say to the pastor of the church of Ephesus, right.
These things, says he, who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lamp, stands in Chapter one. Our study revealed that the son of man described here is Jesus, and the title he gives himself here make a note of this is intended to remind the church at Ephesus that he is in their midst.
Jesus wanted them to remember that he is in their midst and we'll soon find out why Jesus felt that they needed this reminder. Now we move on to their report card. And to be honest, it's pretty great.
I'd love to have Jesus commend me for these same things.
Verse 8 to Jesus says, I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil and you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not and have found them liars. And you have persevered and have patience and have labored for my name's sake and have not become weary. This this is a wonderful report card to get so far, right?
So make a note of this. They made serving God a priority.
That's the first thing Jesus points out. He says, I know your works, your labor. They made serving God a priority.
Their whole lives were available to the Lord, whatever the Lord needed them to do. However, he called them individually and collectively as a church to minister and serve each other and their community. They were happy to serve. They made serving their priority almost above anything else. There were no divided affections when it came to serving the Lord in this church. The Greek word that's used for patients, their means durability, triumph and fortitude that changes suffering into glory.
It is a courageous acceptance of hardship, suffering and loss. You got to remember that Ephesus didn't want a church in their city. Ever since Paul planted the church, the trade unions had been trying to shut it down. Christians were persecuted and despised in Ephesus, but they understood and embodied the exhortation of Paul found in First Corinthians fifteen fifty eight where he wrote, Therefore, my beloved brethren be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.
So it was hard to be a Christian at the church in Ephesus, but they didn't go around with a martyr mentality.
They accepted it courageously and kept on being faithful to the Lord, kept on serving the Lord, kept on preaching the gospel. And that definition of that word patience describes what happens there. Their suffering is turned into glory, it's turned into glory. And then finally, their theology was impeccable. Write that down. Their theology was impeccable. Spot on. That's what Jesus means when he says and that you cannot bear those who are evil and you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not and have found them liars.
Their theology was impeccable. Remember that Paul had warned the efficient elders that false teachers and teachings would attempt to mislead the congregation from within and without. To protect against these threats, Paul commanded them to test everything against the word of God, and they did. When someone would come in and attempt to distort the scriptures, they were on top of it. They would expose that person in the falsity of their teaching and kick them to the curb if they would not repent.
They were doctrinally diligent, and I imagine their diligence would have made for some very interesting church services. How was church today? Oh, it ended early. How come? Well, they kicked out the guest preacher ten minutes to do a sermon.
And Jesus says. He says right on. Right on. I love that you guys are taking my word and protecting the flock seriously. Jesus did not say, guys, chill out. Don't worry about it. Don't be so uptight. They just have a different interpretation, a different church culture, you know, different strokes for different folks.
While there are many differences between denominations, the church is made up of those who share a belief in the core tenets of the faith and gospel. And when someone tried to mess with those core tenants, the Ephesian Church tossed them out. And Jesus's response was, good job, good job. Psalm 138 to declares. You have exalted, above all things, your name and your word.
Jesus cares deeply about the Bible because it directly reflects him. When his word is misrepresented, he is misrepresented.
That's why Jesus takes his words so seriously and he expects his church to do the same even today.
Satan's been stirring up false teachers for as long as the church has existed, what seems to be a recent phenomenon is the acceptance of false teachers in the name of unity. There seems to be an increasing number of teachers and churches holding beliefs that are outside of Orthodox Christianity, and yet they find acceptance within the greater church because of a misunderstanding of what biblical unity is. When Jesus prayed that all believers would be unified, he prayed that all believers would be unified.
If someone does not hold to Orthodox Christian teachings, they are not a believer and Jesus does not want us to be unified with them. The Lord is not impressed when we give grace to false teachers and accept them as part of the church. He expects us to have a zero tolerance policy when it comes to false teaching. And when we reach the Philadelphia church, we're going to learn exactly what the fundamentals of Orthodox Christianity are, what those core beliefs are that actually define Christianity.
Well, after letting the church at Ephesus know that he loves them and is proud of them, Jesus has to share a correction with them. In verse four, we read. Nevertheless, I have this against you. And then underline this, that you have left your first love, you have left your first love, they left their first love, you can fill that in on your outlines. The original Greek word used there for love is a gappy.
It's the most deep, selfless and sincere form of love and affection that exists.
And apparently the church at Ephesus used to have it, but somewhere along the way, they lost it. They were still living righteously, loving, good hating, evil, doing good works, but the affection and the passion for Jesus was gone.
They had become more passionate about the things of God than they were about God himself. They love their church and their programs and their theology. More than they love Jesus. Ouch, right. And so Jesus has to say to them, I love all that stuff you're doing, it's great. But you're so into the stuff. That you've forgotten about me, you've forgotten about actually knowing and loving me directly. When you read the Bible, it becomes clear that there are certain characteristics that define a Christian, but there's one characteristic that stands above all.
A Christian loves God, a Christian loves God, then one of them, a lawyer, asked Jesus a question testing him and saying Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law. Jesus said to him, You shall love the Lord, your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and the great commandment for Matthew, 22. And when Peter came face to face with the resurrected Jesus for the first time since denying all knowledge of him three times, Jesus had only one question for Peter.
Do you love me? Do you love me?
So would you write this down? The defining characteristic of a Christian. Is their love for God, it's their love for God.
Are you in love with Jesus and I mean that seriously, I'm not asking if you love Jesus, like you love your country or like you love your favorite food.
I'm asking if you're in love with Jesus because those two things are vastly different questions.
And what cuts me so deeply about this is the realization that I can do all the Christian stuff. I can study the Bible, pray, serve a church, tithe, evangelize, practice random acts of kindness, all without being in love with Jesus, my life can be packed full of God stuff. And yet I can still miss Jesus. Imagine a husband who comes home from work with flowers for his wife and she gushes and she says, Oh, I love that you were thinking about me today.
And he says, that's not really what happened. I put an appointment in my calendar to buy you flowers on the third Thursday of every month because flowers represent affection.
And today is Flower Day, hence the flowers. Listen, the action is commendable, the intention and the discipline are commendable. But the problem is that that's somewhere along the way the husband lost his passion for his wife and now he's just going through the motions of affection without any real affection involved. It's become a ritual. He loves her, and if you asked him, he would tell you that he he wants her to feel love, but he's not in love with her.
We're not talking about about a salvation issue here, nowhere in the Sleater does Jesus imply that these people aren't saved.
He wants them to know that they're missing the point of everything which is loving and knowing him.
None of our good works or sacrifices blessed Jesus if they're divorced from genuine affection for him.
The driving force of our lives is to be our love for Jesus, not our love for theology.
Our love for the church or even the Bible. And I can sense some of you being uncomfortable with some of those statements, especially that last one, because maybe you're like me and that you love the Bible, and if that's you, then you likely believe something along the lines of, hey, listen, as long as believers are focused on the word and in the word, then then everything else will take care of itself. The problem is that Jesus Jesus's a letter to the Ephesians tells us that's not true.
That's not true. The most glaring example is the religious leaders of Jesus's day after almost 400 years of silence from God between the Old and New Testaments, it was the Pharisees who called Israel to repent and return to the scriptures, which was a great thing. But it wasn't long before they started loving the scriptures more than the God they were written to reveal. And despite being Amen of the word, despite being immersed in the scriptures daily, despite having the Old Testament memorized, despite talking about it all day, they missed their messiah Jesus when he was standing literally right in front of them.
And it wasn't because they didn't know the word Romans, 125, declares the folly of those who worshiped the creature rather than the creator. Part of the warning Jesus is giving to the church in Ephesus is to not worship the scriptures above the author. And we need to be very careful that the same thing doesn't happen to us, that we don't slowly fall out of love with Jesus and in love with knowledge and legalism, blind to our regression because where in the word all the time.
So we think we must be in love with Jesus.
I think about that a lot. I think about how easy it is. Don't don't miss this, I think about how easy it is to mistake activity for affection. It is so easy to mistake activity for affection, the purpose of the word is to reveal Jesus that we might know him more deeply, see him more clearly, love him more dearly, worship him more rightly, and serve him more devotedly. Most of modern Christianity seems to have bought into a false belief that as spiritual maturity increases, external passion should tone down, zeal should be replaced with temperance and seriousness and and passion is something for young people or maybe a recovery.
Church service just don't look for it among seasoned, mature people of the faith because they've outgrown that. May it never be so in my life, may it never be so in your life? May it never be so in our churches.
May growing old never mean growing cold. May we be ever growing in our understanding and appreciation of Jesus and therefore ever growing in our passion for him? I'm not proud of the number of times I've judgmentally looked at a passionately worshiping adult the same way that I look at a passionately worshiping child, I've watched believers in other countries recovering addicts and recent converts expressively worship the Lord.
And I've thought to myself, oh, that's so cute. That's so precious. What Jesus's letter to the Ephesians teaches me is that I should instead be convicted and questioned why my own worship expression no longer looks like that. How do I know if I'm in love with Jesus? As the old adage goes, love is spelled TIMSS. When I'm in love with Jesus, I think about him and I end up spending time with him because I just love him and it just happens throughout the day.
I'm not talking about legalism. I'm talking about the actions that naturally result from loving the Lord. You know, we're intentional about the things that are important to us. And and so when we hunger for the Lord and we add intentionality into that, we we end up crafting time in our day to spend with him. Jesus modeled this in his earthly ministry. He he got up early in the morning to talk with his heavenly father, not because he had to, not because he was commanded to by scripture.
Jesus did that because he desired and craved that connection with his father before the day began, when you're in love with Jesus, you begin looking for these moments of connection throughout the day when you're faced with a need or a burden, talking to him just becomes your first response. When you're going into a challenging situation, you you naturally find yourself talking to the Lord about it first.
When you just feel disconnected from him, you you take some time in your commute to maybe just listen to some worship music. When something good happens, you instinctively thank the Lord for it. Those aren't things you have to do. Those are things you just want to do. And that just happen when you're in love with the Lord. Genuinely deep relationships are are exceedingly rare. Most of our relationships are task oriented, their friendships we have because we're trying to accomplish the same task even within the church.
We share relationships in part because we're trying to accomplish some of the same tasks, like building strong families and raising godly kids and growing a strong and healthy church together. In the intimacy of marriage, life can quickly become about the tasks of raising godly kids, building a business together, getting the kids through school, building a home. Financial planning task task task task. And the problem many couples run into is that when their kids leave home, a huge task has been finished and suddenly it's revealed that they haven't really been husband and wife, they've been coworkers.
And the relationship between the two of them is in reality. Almost non-existent. Write this down. In a task driven relationship. You stand shoulder to shoulder. In an intimacy based relationship.
You stand face to face, that's the difference. And God does not desire us to stand shoulder to shoulder with him, he desires that face to face, meaningful, intimate relationship with each of us. In Luke 10, we read now what happened as they went, that he that's Jesus entered a certain village and a certain woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus's feet and heard his word.
But Martha was distracted with much serving and she approached him and said, Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone, therefore, tell her to help me. And Jesus answered and said to her, Martha, Martha. You are worried and troubled about many things, but one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her. The Ephesians were Martha. Too busy with the work of the kingdom to notice that they were missing out on the opportunity to sit at the feet of the king.
And to shake them out of it, Jesus says you've left your first love.
The same thing happens all too easily in our lives and our churches, we find ourselves going through the motions of the Christian life so there's no fire or crisis, but there's no real relationship. And we only end up finding ourselves close to Jesus when we need his help to accomplish a task or get through a difficult season. We're naturally drawn back over and over again to a works based and religious faith. And that's not a real relationship. Thankfully, Jesus gives us the remedy in verse five.
He says, remember, therefore, from where you have fallen, repent and do the first works, would you write that on your outlines, repent and do the first works?
The Lord asks the Ephesians to remember what they were doing and how they felt about him when they first experienced the joy of salvation.
And then he calls on them to repent, which means having a change of mind that results in a change of behavior in character.
Jesus says being passionate about me is not elementary, its essential zeal is not something you're supposed to outgrow. You need to change your thinking and get back to that simple love you used to have for me when we first met.
If you were radically saved or had a time in your life when your faith became real. What were you like at that time, did you find yourself just just craving the word of God, wanting to read the Bible like an addict?
Did you love to worship just so that you could feel closer to the Lord and and have words to thank him and praise them with? Would you talk with the Lord and think about him throughout the day? Did you used to sing and then lift your hands and worship or not care who saw you? Would you talk about your faith like a like a blubbering idiot to anyone who would listen because you were just so excited about what Jesus had done in your life?
Did you rise early in the morning because that was the only time that you could find to set aside for him? Jesus tells the Ephesians and you and me that if we'll start doing those things that we were doing when we were first saved again, we'll find the passion returning to our relationship with him. And then Jesus says, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lamp stand from its place unless you repent. Remember that the lamp stand represents the Ephesian Church, not all individual believers.
The warning Jesus gives is that if this church continues going through the motions without any emotion. He'll shut it down, he'll shut down their church. That's how seriously Jesus takes his relationship with his church. She is his bride. His greatest desire is not nice, clean, well organized churches that impress the outside world.
He wants our hearts, he wants our hearts. Ultimately, Jesus did shut down the church at Ephesus, some individuals repented and change their ways, but collectively, they never really got back to grasping that it's all about loving Jesus. And their church died. Fast forward to our day and think about the kinds of answers you often hear when you ask someone, what's your church all about?
Oh, teaching true and accurate theology. Feeding the hungry, building strong marriages and families, reaching our community.
Those are all good things, but there's really only one acceptable answer. Our church is all about loving Jesus. We're all about loving Jesus. The church exists first and foremost to bless Jesus and everything else he wants his church to be and do flows out of that focus. His church being a blessing to him matters more than anything else the church can do. After that incredibly challenging word, Jesus shares this encouragement with the effusions in verse six, but this you have that you hate the deeds of the Nikke latents, which I also hate.
Now, it seems the Nickolay Utzon's weren't an organized group called the Nicolay Attends, but but rather, Nicolay itself was a term given to men who exhibited certain behaviors.
And the Bible gives us some clues as to what these behaviors were. Many scholars believe the term Nicolay ettin is itself a clue because it's a compound Greek word.
It's a word made up of two words that come together to form a phrase. The first one is the word Nikko's, which means to conquest or to utterly vanquish and layoffs, which means a people, the laity, the congregation, the people of the church.
So the word Nicolay Itzin literally means to rule over the laity, to rule over the people of the church.
This leads some to speculate that the Nicolay Orton's were men who claimed to be apostles, but were really teaching false doctrine, likely propagating the idea that they were somehow closer to God and more spiritually elite than ordinary Christians. This false teaching would be used all over the world as a basis for dividing the church into two classes, the congregation and the church leaders.
Now, why would these Nicolay iTunes teach this? Well, the reasons I mean, the reasons are fairly obvious.
Financial gain, power, prestige, glory, influence, all the usual temptations of the flesh. And this explanation seems to be confirmed by the appearance of the Nicholsons. In the third letter written to the church at polygamists, take a look at Verse is 14 through 15 of the same chapter in Revelation to in verse 14 we read Jesus saying, But I have a few things against you because you have there in pajamas. Those who hold the doctrine of Balam, who taught Baylock to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit sexual immorality.
Thus, because you're accepting that you also have those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolay atonce, which thing I hate. So Jesus points out the church and polygamists is not rejecting the intense as the church at Ephesus did. Instead, those in pajamas were accepting their false doctrine.
And Jesus alludes to an Old Testament account of the Prophet Balam and his interaction with Baylock that resulted in God's people stumbling because they became ensnared by sin, specifically eating things sacrificed to idols and committing sexual immorality. Now you might be thinking, wait a minute, Jeff, didn't Paul say in First Corinthians eight that eating meat sacrificed to idols doesn't matter because idols are nothing? Absolutely. In that instance, Paul was talking about buying meat in the public market, knowing that it came from an animal that was sacrificed to a pagan God.
In that case, Paul says it's just meat. It's just meat hanging in the market.
But what Paul talks about in other places and what Jesus is talking about here in Revelation two is actually participating in that ritualistic sacrifice to a pagan God. So Jesus says to the church in Pergament, he says, just like Balam caused Israel to stumble by becoming ensnared with sin, the Nicolay patterns are doing the same thing to believers in polygamists.
So for more insight to wrap our heads around what all this means, we're going to need to take a closer look at the Old Testament account of Balam and Baylock, which we find in numbers chapters 22 through 24. Balam was a prophet for hire.
And I'll recap his story for you. Israel is in the wilderness, they've come out of Egypt and they're on their way to the promised land, God is blessing them as a people and he's causing them to flourish. Word is traveling fast that these Israelites serve an unstoppable God who works miracles and gives them victory in battle. The king of the Moabites at that time is Baylock and the Moabites spoiler alert are not good people. Baylock notices Israel getting closer and closer to his part of the world, two to three million of them.
And he's terrified. So he calls for Balam, a local prophet, for higher. Balam is a legit profit gifted by God, but he's not a man of great character, to say the least, Baylock sends a group of people to Balam to say, we know that God answers your prayers.
So we would like to pay you to curse the Israelites for us. Balam replies, Well, listen, I can't do anything that the Lord won't let me do.
So let me pray about it and see what God says. So they get together after Balam prays about it and he tells them, sorry, listen, God says, I can't do it. I can't curse them for you.
Baylock is disappointed, but he hasn't given up yet. Some sometime later he sends an entourage back to Balam with the message. Listen, we'll pay you a lot of money to curse Israel for us.
This gets Bailamos attention and he says, you know, I can't put my finger on it, but but something feels different about your request this time. Let me ask the Lord again. Maybe he's changed his mind. And by the way, if God ever says no and you keep nagging God until you think he says, OK, just know that you should not do that thing because it usually means God is about to teach you the lesson that you should have just listened to him the first time.
But Balam goes before the Lord again and God says, Balam, listen, you know, I already said no, but if you really want to go, then go. But here's the thing. You can only say what I tell you to say. Balam is thrilled, you know, he starts rubbing his hands together, dreaming of this cash, and he heads off with a smile on his face to meet with King Balik, Balik takes him up on a hill where they're able to look over all of the Israelites.
And Baylock says, OK, Balam, it's time to earn that cash. Let's get this cursing show on the road. And Balam begins to speak. But but all that comes out of his mouth are our blessings. God says those who I bless cannot be coerced, and Baylock says, what are you doing? This is not what we're paying you for, maybe the energy isn't right in the spot.
So so let's try somewhere else.
So so Baylock takes Balam to another mountain, says, all right, let's let's try this again.
And Balam begins speaking over Israel. But yet again, the only thing that comes out of his mouth are blessings. And at this point, Baylock is extremely frustrated. Balam wants to get paid and not executed for scamming the king. So so Balam says, listen, guys, I want you to be satisfied with my services.
I can't curse Israel, but here's what I can do.
I can tell you what to do so that they'll bring a curse upon themselves, send out all your good looking woman to seduce the men of Israel, then have them invite the men to join them in their pagan sexual worship rituals.
I guarantee this will bring a curse upon them because they're Yahweh's people. If they get out of line, he'll step in and discipline them because he loves them. But you, Baylock, you can be the one to benefit when that happens.
Numbers 25, Verse is one through three. Tell us what happened next.
Now, Israel remained in Acacia Grove and the people began to commit military with the woman of Moab. They invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods and the people ate and bow down to their gods. So Israel was joined to a ball of pure and the anger of the Lord was aroused against Israel. So the pagans came to the people of God and enticed them to join them in their pagan worship rituals and sexual immorality. What Balam did is used as a picture of what the Nicolay attorneys were trying to do.
The implication is that in Ephesus, the Nicolay Stones were teaching that it was perfectly acceptable for Christians to join in the sexual rituals and pagan sacrifices at the Temple of Artemis and at the other outlets of hedonism in the city. Perhaps they were arguing from the perspective of some sort of hyper grace heresy like those today who claim, well, you can live however you want, God's grace will cover it, or it's impossible for Christians to sin because Jesus has paid for every Kristiansen.
Fortunately, the discerning Ephesian Church knew the scriptures, spotted the heresy a mile away and was having none of it. Now, please don't miss this regarding the false teaching that it is acceptable for the church to compromise and join the world in her sin, Jesus is crystal clear.
He hates it. He hates it. And regarding the teaching, the heresy that church leaders are on a higher spiritual level than the congregation, the teaching, the church leaders are closer to God because of the position they hold. Jesus says he hates that, too. Sadly, we still see this perversion in modern churches, denominations and movements, wherever pastors or priests are considered to have a greater level of access to God than the normal believers, resulting in unhealthy manifestations of control over the laity.
We see this in church leaders that claim that sins need to be confessed to them before they can be forgiven by God. We see this heresy in church leaders who claim that the sin no major life decisions should be made without our consent when they go way beyond offering wise counsel when asked and they actually say, well, well, you should talk to us and we need to approve anyone you're going to date. We need to approve what university you're going to go to.
You should talk to us before you decide what house to buy. The Nicolay it's in spirit is at work in the church leader who says we're not all equal under God. God wants church leaders to rule over their congregations like good kings. It's heresy, it's heresy. In Second Corinthians 124, the apostle Paul writes, That does not mean we want to dominate you by telling you how to put your faith into practice. We want to work together with you so you'll be full of joy, for it is by your own faith that you stand firm.
You see, godly church leaders don't claim that you need them in order to live as a Christian. They don't say you won't make it very far without me.
Instead, what godly Christian leaders do is serve Jesus and his church by helping the Saints grow in their faith, by helping them learn the word of God and learn how to study it on their own and search the scriptures on their own by pouring and investing into their lives so that their own faith is strengthened and that their closeness to God is increased.
In verse seven, Jesus wraps it up by saying he who has an ear, let him hear what the spirit says to the churches, would you underline the spirit? Jesus calls on individuals reading this to take it to heart because this specific church collectively is not going to change. So Jesus says even if you're just one person in this church, listen to what I'm saying. Verse 8 one told us the one writing this letter was he who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lamp stands.
We know from Chapter one that this is Jesus. But here in verse seven, who are we told is saying all these things to the churches? The spirit, the spirit, and I just want to point that out in passing, because it's more evidence that the Trinity speaks with one voice in perfect harmony on all things. Who's saying these things to the church at Ephesus? Is that Jesus? Is that the Holy Spirit? The answer is yes.
Yes. Then he says to him, to the individual who overcomes who overcomes what? The temptation to live a religious life instead of a relationship with Jesus.
I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God. There was a tree of life in Eden, and Genesis 322 tells us that anyone who ate from it would live forever. The idea is that those who love Jesus are going to live forever in the paradise of God. They'll enjoy fellowship with God for eternity. And so in this promise to the overcomer, I believe what Jesus is doing is he's speaking to these Ephesians who are saved, by the way.
But he's giving them a powerful reminder that being with Jesus forever is the eternal destiny of all who love him. The scriptures point to and reveal Jesus, but the end goal of our existence is not attaining perfect knowledge of the scriptures.
It's being with the one who authored the scriptures as we study the word, treasure the word and memorize the word may we never miss the forest for the trees. It's all about Jesus, and if we're growing in our knowledge of the word, but it's not resulting in greater love and affection for the Lord, then we're missing the whole point of the word. Jesus begins this letter by reminding the Ephesians that he's in their midst, and then he ends this letter by telling them that one day they're going to be in his midst.
He is where everything is headed, he is the point, and if we get so busy with the Jesus stuff that we miss Jesus. Then we've missed everything. If you understand the Book of Revelation when we're done with it, but it doesn't make you love Jesus more. It's meaningless, and I think it's timely that Jesus gives us this warning so close to the beginning of our study, because we should not be doing this just so we can feel smarter and gain more knowledge and improve our eschatology, we should be doing the study because we're in love with Jesus.
And the first verse in this book tells us it's a revelation of Jesus Christ. And so we want to receive that greater revelation of Jesus. We want to know him more so that we can love him more deeply, more passionately and more zealously.
Amen that's the goal. That's the reason that we're doing this. As the shorter Westminster catechism so perfectly renders it man's chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.
Would you buy your head and close your eyes? Let's pray together. Jesus, thank you for your word and thank you for the truth of it and for the encouragement of it and for the promises within it. Lord, I pray for any of us right now. Who have fallen into all the God stuff and we love you and who are saved, but where we're just going through the motions and we're so busy with the work of the kingdom that we're missing out on the king.
Lord, we repent and we ask that you would help us to return to you in a simple, simple and pure way where we just enjoy being with you, we just enjoy talking to you. There's no program we have to accomplish or or list. We have to check off. We just love you. We love being with you. We love talking about you. We love knowing you. Lord, get us back there if we need to. And then, Lord, I pray for our churches as well.
I pray for our church, especially, Lord, that as we seek to know you more through your word, that we would never forget that it's you we want to know through your word. That we might love you more deeply and see you more clearly, help us not to just add knowledge, Lord, but to grow in our love for you and out of our love for you, growing our love for each other and for those who don't know you, for this world that you love so much and lay down your life for.
So Lord, speak to us right now through your word and just let us know what part of this letter you want us to especially have our attention drawn to and then help us to respond however you need us to. Lord, we love you. We bless you, Jesus. It's in your precious name.
We pray. Amen, Amen.