The heart of the book of Revelation is in red because hearts are red. And if you look at the largest portion of Revelation it's in red. If you have a red-letter Bible you will see that chapter 2 and chapter 3 are totally in red. This is a very Christ- centered thing because these are the words of Jesus Have you ever gotten a letter from Jesus? If you got one in the mail, you would certainly open it and read it, I would hope. These are letters from Jesus, written to specific churches. And so, today we are beginning an eight-part series on the book of Revelation pertaining to the seven churches of Revelation 2 and 3. That's all this will be about. Dr. Steve Bauer will tie the ribbons on this series near campmeeting time. I think you are going to enjoy this series.
Today, we are going to begin by reading Revelation 2:7 because these letters apply to everybody. Look at Revelation 2:7. "He who has an ear, (anybody) let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches." Who should hear what the Spirit says? Whoever has an ear. How many of us have ears? Hopefully, all of us. I looked through here and I did not see a letter to the church of McDonald Road. I thought, "We're off the hook." But, no, actually all of these letters pertain to every church in every age, even though I do agree with this historical view which would place this first church from 31 AD to 100 AD. I think they pertain to all the churches because, basically Revelation is written for the people who are living in the last days, and that's us. So, I definitely think it pertains to us.
Did you know that each letter to each church contains a thumb- nail sketch of Jesus Christ in the first opening statements? Let me give you an example of how this happens.
Now let me show you how each of these pertain to the needs of each of these particular churches. Each representation is selected because it perfectly matches the condition in each church. Notice how this works:
Ephesus: Lost her first love. So the God of Love comes walking by to help her.
Smyrna: This church suffered terrible martyrdom. This was the time of the Roman persecution. So who should appear but Jesus Who was killed but lives again. Since He lives He has the power to give them eternal life some day.
Pergamos: They faced cutting apostasy and stabbing evil. So Jesus comes with the Two Edged Sword in His hand. The Sword of the Word to lead them to victory.
Thyatira: Lived under the dark spell of Jezebel. Jesus the with heavenly light shining from His face and glory streaming from His feet to lighten their darkness with the light of the truth.
Sardis: A Weak and dying Church. So Who should appear but someone to hold them up and strengthen them through the seven spirits.
Philadelphia: Another weak church standing before a shut door it is unable to open. Lo to this church comes Jesus who holds the door key.
Laodicea: Lukewarm and unfaithful. A Lax Church. Jesus is the answer to their problems. He is Faithful and true. Strong, not lukewarm. He gives them the energy they need.
So, let's examine the first church: Ephesus. As we do this each week, we're going to light one of these candles, representing each church we're talking about, on this menorah we have here. It's hard to find a seven-stick menorah, but this is one. Revelation 2:1. "To the angel of the church in Ephesus write:
"These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands:" What is in Jesus' right hand? The Seven Stars. What are these? The seven angels or a better translation would be seven messengers, seven pastors. Jesus holds the ministers in His hand. So, if you want to be a pastor, that would be a good thing for you to be because He'll hold you in His hand. But, even more than that, this really represents the stars, the seven churches. And these churches are held tightly in Jesus' right hand. The Greek word here, kraton, shows us that the seven churches are gripped totally inside Jesus' hand. Jesus holds the entire church inside his right hand, totally surrounded by His hand. This means that our church is totally surrounded with Jesus!
If Jesus Christ thinks so much of the church that He surrounds it with His powerful loving saving hand then that means that Jesus must love the church. So, who should I be to criticize His church? Have you ever been attending a meeting and someone is standing outside with mimeographed sheets and handing out all kinds of this criticism? I would be very careful in criticizing God's church that He loves so much that He holds it in His right hand. I read that "Enfeebled and defective as it may appear, the church is the one object upon which God bestows in a special sense His supreme regard. It is the theater of His grace...." Acts of the Apostles, p. 12.1 by EG White. When you criticize God's church you actually criticize what Jesus loves! Let's not throw mud at the church. Let's join it, pray for it, love it, attend it, and work to make it shine for Jesus.
Jesus is the antidote to every poisonous problem that the church faces today.
In every church in every age, Jesus walks right there among the seven golden lampstands. If Jesus is in the church, we should be there, too. If Jesus is attending the church, you ought to be attending the church. If He is faithful and there, we ought to be there. He comes to care for the lamps, to trim the wicks, to keep each one burning brightly. Jesus walks up and down among our pews. Jesus is here! Jesus is present in every Christian Church. If He is in church then we ought to be in church.
Ephesus is the first church that Jesus writes His letter to. Ephesus was also the greatest metropolis of all Asia. They had the tremendous harbor. The governor of Rome would make his entrance into Asia through the harbor, that port city of Ephesus. This was a famous place. It had one of the seven wonders of the world there: the Temple of Diana of the Ephesians (Artemis). This temple almost housed three acres under its roof, with pillars that were sixty feet high. The peak of this church is maybe thirty three feet high. Twice as high as that! This was amazing for those days. And they had an amphitheater that held 25,000 people. This was a tremendous place. They used gold in their mortar to cement the things together.
Ephesus also had a high record for evil. This was a bad place. They had gross paganism. They sold amulets, charms. They sold little silver idols there. This was a very low moral place. But I will tell you that the gospel grows well on bottom land. It took off. The apostle, Paul, came there and ministered there for almost three years. And he baptized a lot of people. A lot of people became Christians in Ephesus. Ephesus became a great Christian center. Priscilla and Aquila were there. Apollos was there. John was there. John, I think, brought the mother of Jesus there. They think that Timothy was the first pastor. Paul was so successful in his preaching that people stopped buying these little silver idols so much that the silversmiths went on strike and rioted. Now, that's effective Christianity, isn't it. (See Acts 19.)
Even Jesus compliments the fine church in Ephesus: Revelation 2:2,3. "I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary."
Jesus gives them some great compliments here, doesn't He. This is a fantastic church. This is a church you would like to join and be a part of. They found out these wicked people and they treated them like wicked people. They were good at that. They endured steadfastly. They tested wicked men and found them to be wolves among the flock (Acts 20:29). Ephesus had endured hardships and yet they were not weary.
But, there is a problem. Revelation 2:4. "Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love." Remember your first love? I have the privilege of being married to my first love still. I'm so happy for that, my wonderful wife, Cindy. I really appreciate that.
They had lost their first love. They had lost the honeymoon experience. Don't ever lose your love. They lost it. And, in Jesus' judgment, this was pretty bad. He said, "I have this against you. This is not good. If you do not love God and you don't love each other, you are sinning badly. Their Honeymoon is over and love is languishing. If you don't have love you are failing in Jesus estimation.
What type of love did they lose? It doesn't say this is their phileo love. The word that Jesus uses for love here is "agape" love. That's what they lost. Their great world class love was gone. Their agape love had become a selection on the menu, just one of many. Sin had become their daily bread. That's a shame for those people. They are not what they used to be. In fact, their love is gone! When your love dies, the light goes out.
An amazing fact is that the condition in that church mimicked or reflected the conditions in Ephesus itself.
Remember this city used to have one of the great world-class harbors in Asia? Do you know what happened? If you were to go to Ephesus today, which is in ruins, you would find that the ruins of Ephesus are no less than six miles from the sea. It is not a harbor city anymore. It's all filled in from the silt deposited there from the Caystor River and there is no harbor there. What used to be a big beautiful harbor is now a wheat field and marsh land on down closer to the sea. It's all gone. They lost their harbor. They lost their first love. You can see how it all matches here in the Bible.
So, Jesus said the big problem with the church of Ephesus was that their love, like their seaport, was also gone. Ninety-nine percent of what they did was great, but they didn't have love. And if what you do is great, but you don't have love, it's all worthless. You need to get that love back. They didn't even love each other (Ephesians 1:15).
How often the conditions of the church reflect the conditions of the city in which that church exists. And how often a handful of God's children who are faithful will preserve a city. So as it goes in the church, so it goes in the community. In Sodom and Gomorrah there were a small handful who prevented Sodom from being destroyed until finally it got so wicked. I think the church ought to be a guardian of morality.
We purchased a new DVD player at our house because the conference keeps sending so many DVDs, and it has a guardian on it, a TV guardian. You can select the type of swear words that you want to hear. Did you know that?! So we got to tuning it in and trying it out. You can omit all swear words. I finally found that out. If you're very conservative, you can just check that one, which we did. And now, hopefully, we will, hear no swear- words and see not swear-words in the captioning. That's great! We need to be that type of a society. We need to guardians of morality ourselves.
I fear for our society when Christians budget more money on entertainment than they do on God's work; when we spend more money o dog food than we do on literature to give to our neighbors. We live in a post-modern culture that seems to be sliding down the tubes. And it's because of the condition in the church. I believe this letter pertains to us. I think if the shoe fits, we ought to wear it. It's the same counsel that existed for them and the same conditions that existed for them that fit us, then we ought to take it. Their first love had been abandoned and in its place was the starchy, high-cholesterol diet of activity, of trying to preserve the truth, when actually they did not love the Truth-giver. The further we drift from God the faster we drift toward destruction. Are we losing our love?
Jesus councils them with wonderful advice in Revelation 2:5. He does it with three verbs here. "Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place." So, the three things they're supposed to do: Remember, Repent, Do.
1. REMEMBER! A backslider must remember the height... the good times. And often we need to do that. The prodigal son did not head home until he remembered his father's love. Only then did he realize how far he had fallen.
2. REPENT! Before we can regain a good relationship with God we must realize that we are to blame for our fall. True sorrow for our sin must be felt. If there is no repentance Jesus will remove the light from our life. Are you a shining light for Jesus? Business owners see Christians as a light when we pay our bills and a black hole when we don't. Repent!
I think we are too proud. We pride ourselves so much in everything that we don't like to repent. We don't want to admit that we've made a mistake. We are a proud People. C. Mervyn Maxwell in that book, God Cares, Vol 2, tells about a man, early in his marriage, who by mistake put salt instead of sugar on his strawberries. His wife said, "You like salt instead of sugar on your strawberries?" They tasted awful. And he being a proud man, did not want to admit that. He said, "Well, yes. That's the way to do it. I never make mistakes." And so, for ten years he salted his strawberries, eating every bite and finally he overcame his pride and admitted to his wife the real story. He had made a mistake. Repent. Admit your mistakes and get over your faults.
3. DO! Do the things you did at first. We need to do that. We as Christians need to be more active. When a couple have lost their love for each other many marriage councilors will council them to do the things they used to do when their love was young. Open the car door, hold hands, write letters, talk by the hour. Spiritually, we must do what we did at the first to re-find the relationship we lost. Then that fruit called works will be manifest again. The life will be changed.
Finally He says in Revelation 2:6 "But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate." And, who were these Nocolaitans? They were followers of Balaam according to verse 15. Who are the Nicolaitans? Verse 15 says they held to the teaching of Balaam. Balaam comes from two Hebrew words: Bela = to conquer, and Haam = the people. To conquer the people. It means to get victory over the people. The old testament Balaam stood for a wicked seducer of the people. If the founder of the Nicolaitans was Nicolaus. Nicolaus comes from two Greek words: Nikan = To conquer, Laos = The People. Again, to conquer the people. That's what this is all about.
Nicolaitans believed that you can't conquer the sinful self, so you might just as well feed it. Let it go, eat drink and be merry. No matter what your desires are you might just as well go ahead and do them. You can't conquer them anyway. Just go for it. And so, they were a very wicked amoral type people. And they believed that their faith released them from keeping some of God's Ten Commandments. And, there are still Christians today that believe that because they're saved, it doesn't matter what they do. Now, let me tell you. We don't keep the Commandments to earn our salvation. We keep the Commandments because we love Jesus Christ.
Then Jesus makes a wonderful promise to this very first church of the seven. He says in Revelation 2:7, "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God." The tree of life used to be here in this world, but now it is with God in heaven. What He is saying here is that if you overcome, you will be able to be in heaven some day and be in paradise and have eternal life because you will be eating of the tree of life. That's an unique picture isn't it. That's great.
What does it mean to be an overcomer? I used to read this and I used to think, "Boy , if I could just overcome enough, and just try harder, if I could be totally perfect, then I could eat the fruit of the tree of life." But let me tell you that that is not the way that it is. I want to be an overcomer. But that's not what saves me. What does it mean to be an overcomer? What are we suppose to overcome? Let me tell you what it is: Self! I want to read a statement from a little book called, Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing, p. 141, by EG White. "The battle which we have to fight--the greatest battle that was ever fought by man--is the surrender of self to the will of God, the yielding of the heart to the sovereignty of love." That's the battle. We must surrender our will to His will. It's not Saddam Hussein. It's not what is going on over in Iraq, or any other country. The greatest battle is what you are doing with self. And what do we mean by that? We must overcome the tendency to have a do-it- yourself religion.
Self constantly wants to be in the front, and Jesus ought to be in the front. We must overcome the tendency to do it our self. We must overcome the battle of self. We must stay yielded to God's Will. The battle is to stay surrendered to Jesus. And If we do, some day soon, we will eat of the tree of life in paradise.
Praise God for the beautiful messages to the seven churches. Let's keep our light burning brightly illuminating Jesus who walks among us. You are a Star in the Hand of Jesus.
Closing Hymn - 458 More Love to Thee
Sources used in this series: SDA Bible Commentary, Volume 7. SDA Bible Dictionary Barclay, William, Revelation of John Vol. 1. Palmer, Earl F., Communicator's Commentary-vol 12 Keener, NIV Application Commentary, Revelation. Maxwell, C. Mervyn, God Cares, Vol. 2 Thiele, Edwin R, Outline Studies in Revelation. Naden, Roy C., Studies in Revelation Mills, Watson E., Mercer Dictionary of the Bible
Hymn of Praise: #2, All Creatures of Our God and King Scripture: Revelation 2:4-6 Hymn of Response: #458, More Love to Thee 030405#530
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last updated 4/6/2003 by Bob Beckett.