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The Church of Ephesus, Part 1



To the angel of the church of Ephesus write, These things says He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands: 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. (Revelation 2:1–3)




Ephesus was the capital of Asia during the time of the Roman Empire. It was located on the western coast of Asia Minor on the Cayster River and was about 40 miles southeast of Smyrna. It was founded around 1000 b.c. by colonists from Athens. The Persian, Greek, and Roman Empires each put the city under subjection.

The city was the site of the Temple of Artemis, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. The temple was built around 500 b.c. and was destroyed and rebuilt several times. The temple was also known as the Temple of Diana and is mentioned in Acts chapter 19.

In New Testament times there was a large population of Jews living in Ephesus and it was in this city that the Apostle Paul founded the Christian church mentioned in our study of the Book of Revelation. From Acts chapter 19 we learn that the first ministers of the church were Aquila and Priscilla, but we have no record as to how long they remained in Ephesus. Timothy was the first bishop of Ephesus, and the church was the recipient of one of Paul’s epistles that appears in the New Testament. The Apostle John spent his last years in Ephesus after he was released from imprisonment on the Isle of Patmos.

Ephesus was destroyed by the Goths in 262 a.d. Today the site is occupied by a small Turkish town called Ayasaluk.


The outline of the Letter to Ephesus


The attribute of Christ needed by this church is seen in verse 1: He holds the seven stars and walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands.

The characteristics or works of this church are seen in verses 2–6. It is a church that has labored for His name’s sake but left its first love.

Christ’s promise to the overcomers is seen in verse 7.


Who Is the Angel of the Church?


To the angel of the church of Ephesus write, These things says He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands.


We earlier learned that the angel of the church is the elder, or specifically the pastor (bishop) of the church. The bishop leads the congregation by example and by faithfully teaching God’s word. He is a representative or messenger (angelos) of Christ to the people in the church. His responsibility toward Christ is important, but so is that of the people that sit under his leadership as we see put forth in Hebrews 13:17:


Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.


Subordination is necessary to the welfare of the church and it is essential that we follow the leadership God has set over us in the church. Our leaders are to be given us by Jesus Christ and it is through them that Christ gives us light on God’s word and will for our lives. It is not that they determine what God’s will is for us; they simply pass on the truth of God’s Word as revealed through Christ.


The Seven Stars In the Hand of Christ


Christ holds the seven stars in His right hand. As we can use the stars in the night sky as a compass by which we can orient ourselves as to location and direction; so are the stars Christ holds in His hand.

An example of God using a star to direct people to Christ, the Word of God, is found in Matthew 2:2 when the wise men from the East came to King Herod in Jerusalem. “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.” Being told by the chief priests and scribes that Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem, they left town. “When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy.” (Verses 9–10)

In the hand of God, a star always points to Christ, the very Word of God as taught us by the Apostle John in his gospel, chapter 1, verse 1, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” He tells us that that light shines into the darkness of sin pointing fallen men to salvation.

That Christ holds the seven stars, or the elders and pastors of the seven churches, tells us that He ministers to the seven churches through the pastors He called and placed over them. While this is true of the seven churches of Asia, we also must apply this prophetically and understand that Christ ministers to His church through called and faithful pastors throughout the gospel dispensation.

In the Bible, the number seven signifies God’s complete work. With the seven stars in His right hand, Christ does a complete work in His church. God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh day, showing that His work was completed. Under the Law of Moses, ceremonies and feasts are recognized in units of sevens. Throughout the Book of Revelation we see the visions consisting mostly of seven parts. Prophetically, the seven stars in His right hand show us that Christ is actively working through His called and gifted ministry throughout the entire church age.

We also see that Christ walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands, which signifies the seven churches. While the ministry is essential to the work of the church and the spiritual life of the people, each person must have a personal relationship with Christ. The church is the body of Christ and Christ sets Himself as the Chief Shepherd of the flock, the church.


For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: . . . who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. (1 Peter 2:21, 24–25)


The word shepherd means pastor and the word overseer means bishop. Christ is to each member of his church what that individual needs to be saved, live a holy life, and make it to heaven.


I Know Your Works


The Glorified Christ tells the church at Ephesus in verses 2–3:


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.


It is not a difficult thing for Christ to know their works as He walks in the midst of the church and holds its ministry in His hand. Keep in mind; He knows your works, too! Jesus is quite complementary about this church. They recognize the preeminence of Jesus in His church and they have worked long and hard preaching His gospel to the lost in Ephesus. They had had patience. Things had not always happened as quickly in the work of the church as they would have liked. There were times of disappointment when people did not come to the altar during revival meetings. There were times when some people they thought were pillars in the church gave up and left the church. While this church had some disappointments, they still kept faith that Jesus was in control and they faithfully carried out His will.

He also complemented them on the fact that they could not put up with or tolerate those who are evil. The Living Bible has instead of not bearing those who are evil, “I know you don’t tolerate sin among your members.” While we want sinners to come to church and hear the gospel; we also want them to repent and be saved. We want those professing to be saved people to act like saved people.

However, we know that it is possible for a Christian, especially in the early months and years of his experience, occasionally to be overcome by a temptation. When this happens, we do not throw the person out of the church or treat him unkindly. Instead, we urge him to make it right with the Lord, repent and get back on track. Recall what John wrote in 1 John 2:1–2


My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.


Sin in the Christian life is not the rule; it is an exception and it does not have to happen. But, it is inevitable there will be some that profess to be Christians that will continue in sin secretly.  However, such sin is never done in secret because Christ walks in the midst of the lampstand and knows everything everyone does. Heed the warning in Numbers 32:24, “Be sure your sin will find you out”.

Perhaps the greatest service to truth given by this church was their zeal in standing for the truth against false teachers. It appears that certain individuals came to Ephesus claiming to be apostles. As to why, we can only guess, but it is for sure that they had a form of doctrine that was undermining the teaching of the gospel of salvation from sin.

The first doctrine the Gentile church had to battle was the Judaizing of Christianity; that is, requiring Gentiles to be circumcised and to observe the rituals of the Jewish faith.

At the time of the Book of Revelation the doctrinal battle was against Gnosticism.  In the simplest of simple terms, Gnosticism holds that spirit is good and material is evil. There are two significant errors that were introduced into Christian teaching by Gnosticism. First, Jesus of Nazareth could not have been God incarnate because a holy God could not exist in sinful human flesh. Second, as Christians our spirits are saved and holy but our human flesh continues to sin. This appears to be a precursor to the Calvinistic “sin-you-must” doctrine.

The Apostle John addressed both errors in his first epistle. He Refutes the first error in 1 John 4:2–3:


By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world.


The entire third chapter refutes the second error. Verses 8–9 are representative of his argument:


He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil. Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God.


Much more was involved with the error of Gnosticism, but these were two key issues that the Ephesians fought against with all their heart in defending the true gospel of salvation from sin.


Defending the Faith


The Ephesian church was successful in defending the faith; they found these so-called apostles to be liars. Decades earlier, the Apostle Paul experienced the same battle. He wrote in 2 Corinthians 11:13–15


For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works.


The church has always had to battle false doctrine as it is a most effective tool of Satan to undermine her credibility and to destroy the spiritual life of God’s people. There is also a propensity in people to follow an easier path. Paul exhorts to the stars in the right hand of Christ in 2 Timothy 4:2–4


Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.


But this same Christ that walks in the midst of the seven lampstands warns us of an insidious danger that lurks in the very zeal to stand for the truth. Sadly, He tells the Ephesian church, “Nevertheless I have this against you” . . . We will learn what He has against this church in our next study.