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Truth in Palmyra

By Wally Fry

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revelation

Seven Letters to Seven Churches-Ephesus Part 8

Revelation 2:1-7

“But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitanes, which I also hate” Revelation 2:6

Jesus offered some commendations for the church at Ephesus, followed by some negative issues He also had; this further commendation is sort of tacked on at the end, after the corrective action.

Why is this commendation tacked on after the initial commendation and the correction? I have no clue. So, if you have one feel quite free to share it; I would value your thoughts.

So, who were these guys, the Nicolaitanes? Nobody seems to know exactly, but there are several opinions around from different commentators.

It seems clear that they were heretical in some way, we just can’t say the way that was dogmatically.

There is a school of thought that says the Nicolaitanes were some who followed the teachings of Nicolas of Antioch, who may have been the same Nicolas mentioned as one of the original 7 deacons selected in Acts 6:5Some early church history indicates that Nicolas taught the idea the Christian freedom and the insignificance of the human body meant all sort of sexual immorality and other sins were perfectly okay. From the Gotquestions.com website: “It is possible that Nicolas became an apostate, denying the true faith and became part of a group holding “the doctrine of Balaam,” who taught Israel “to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality.” Clement of Alexandria says, “They abandoned themselves to pleasure like goats, leading a life of self-indulgence.” Their teaching perverted grace and replaced liberty with license.”

Other commentators don’t assign the group to any particular man or teacher but address it more as simply a problem of false liberty and sexual sins. One commentator said the word, Nicolah, in Greek, means, “let us eat,” leading some to reference back to encouraging others to eat meat offered to idols.

Whatever the specifics are, it is clear that our Lord hated the deeds of these folks. It seems certain that, no matter the specifics, that some sort of abuse of grace as a license to sin freely was going on here.

It’s interesting that they come up again later, in Jesus’ letter to the church at Pergamos. Unfortunately, that church seemed to be embracing the false teaching of the Nicolaitanes.

Both of the warnings concerning the Nicolaitanes seem especially relevant in some of today’s more progressive “Christian,” movements, where sins of the flesh, particularly those sexual in nature, seem to become more and more acceptable in the name of “grace.” Jesus didn’t like it then, and He doesn’t like it now.

 

 

 

 

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Seven Letters to Seven Churches-Ephesus Part 7

Revelation 2:1-7

“I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars: And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name’s sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted” Revelation 2:2-3

The church at Ephesus was, at the time this letter was written, an exemplary example of a doctrinally sound church. They not only understood what was correct and incorrect doctrinally but were willing to examine teachers and speak against those teaching falsehoods.

In some ways, their doctrinal purity might seem surprising. Being in a place which was, as we discussed earlier, the center for the worship of the goddess Artemis(Diana,) would have made the struggle to stay pure both doctrinally and morally difficult. The economic and social pressures in such a place would have made the temptation to compromise in order to have some peace quite pressing; yet, apparently, they did not.

It certainly helped that the apostle Paul seemed to have provided much personal leadership and guidance to this church in its formative years; he, along with personal proteges of his, was very involved in the formation of this church. The efforts to point new, enthusiastic believers in the right doctrinal direction started early. In  Acts 18:24-28, when the mighty preacher Apollos showed up, Priscilla and Aquila were quick to teach him the proper Gospel and point him the right direction. Apollos then moved on, spreading the truth with great power and effect. Paul, returning to Ephesus on his Third Missionary Journey, encountered 12 men who were possible disciples of John the Baptist, or even previous students of Apollos who lacked a full understanding of the truth. Paul quickly set them straight and stayed in the area for three years. Ephesus became a hub from which the Gospel truth spread mightily to surrounding areas.

Paul’s interest and influence in the doctrinal purity of Ephesus did not end when he left. Still later in his third missionary journey, Paul summoned church leaders to him from the island of Miletus and warned them that false teachers would come in attempting to spread lies and heresies. Acts 20:16-38. Still, later, Paul would write to his young son in the faith, Timothy as he pastored that church warning him of the dangers he faced concerning false teachers. 1 Timothy 1:3-7 and 2 Timothy 1:13-15.

It seems this church listened to the warnings because as Jesus wrote His letter to them, they had pretty much nailed it in the area of doctrinal purity, discernment, and dealing with false teachers among them. Jesus said well done, and we should too. This is an example to us all…but…..

Next time we will talk briefly about the Nicolaitines, and then head on to that pesky…but…..

 

 

 

 

Seven Letters to Seven Churches-Ephesus Part 6

Revelation 2:1-7

“I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars: And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name’s sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted” Revelation 2:2-3

Well, here we are, still in the second verse; in reality, we are slipping into verse three briefly also. We may poke around here for a few posts. I suspect after Ephesus we may move through the others some quicker, as there may be some thoughts common to them all. I really don’t know yet!

Here we continue with Jesus’ commendations for this church; they are many. We just have some good things going in in the Church at Ephesus. They had been around for probably 40 years at the time of this writing, had worked out some issues, and were doing some great things.

Jesus knew their “labor.” This is more than just casual, half-hearted work for the Lord. The word here denotes not just routine work, but toil and effort to the point of exhaustion. It doesn’t look like there were a lot of pew warmers in the Ephesus Church; this local assembly was apparently taking the message from inside the church to the community of Ephesus in a tireless manner.

Jesus knew their “patience.” Here we see an allusion to hard work and patience in the face of what likely was difficult circumstances. The city of Ephesus was the epicenter for the worship of the goddess of fertility Diana(Artemis.) The worship of fertility gods and sexual immorality just go hand in hand. People would come to the temple of Artemis and engage in sexual immorality under the guise of worship. I am sure some didn’t really give two hoots about Artemis but were only looking to satisfy their own cravings with a ready-built excuse. Then, as now, nobody wants to hear that message, and it must have been received with some hostility. Yet, the church at Ephesus persevered. The church at Ephesus certainly caused the perception of economic uproar, as we can see in Acts 19, when the silversmith Demetrius stirred up a riot in town by claiming that the Christians were going to ruin their livelihood. It’s not a stretch here to think that perhaps the Christians in Ephesus were themselves pushed to the periphery of the economy, perhaps facing financial and economic struggles of their own. Yet, they persevered.

The Christians at Ephesus understood what their mission was, and for whom it was for. Jesus told them this, “And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name’s sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted”vs 3. Even though their execution was not always perfect, they seem to have understood why they were there, and for whom, and worked tirelessly in difficult circumstances for the Kingdom.

Compared to our own day and time, when many would claim that to come to both Sunday School and preaching on the same day, there is a lot to find commendable in this church. Jesus said as much!

Next up, we will look at the pursuit of doctrinal purity in the Church at Ephesus, then most likely a short discussion of the infamous Nicolaitanes.

Seven Letters to Seven Churches-Ephesus Part 5

Revelation 2:1-7

“I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars:” Revelation 2:2

But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitanes, which I also hate” Revelation 2:6

Yay, we finally made it to our 2d verse!

Jesus starts here with some commendations, some kudos, for this church. He had something good to say to six of the seven churches; only the church at Laodicea received no positive words from our Lord.

I know thy worksJesus knows. I have said this before: I am absolutely not any sort of Greek scholar. However, even cursory use of a good concordance and word study, or inter linear Bible, can really shed light on deeper meaning in Scripture. In this case, “I know,” means more than it might appear. This is not some gradual acquisition of knowledge Jesus is coming to. The tense seems to be more like, “I have known your works.” He knows them perfectly from the beginning to the end. It seems to me this harkens back to Jesus holding the seven stars in His hand and walking among the candlesticks. His literal presence and omniscience gives Him perfect knowledge of His churches. Because of that He can evaluate them perfectly.

After Jesus tells the church that He knows their works, He proceeds to evaluate them. I think we’ll leave off there and pick up next time.

Seven Letters to Seven Churches-Ephesus Part 4

Revelation 2:1-7

“Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write; These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks” Revelation 2:1

Yes, yes…we are STILL there! I’m really not in any rush, and all I am doing here is sharing things that come to mind as I read, write, and even talk about these posts.

A couple of comments were made that are worth looking at. If you want to see them in context, head back to Part 3. Click on the names, and you will go to their blogs.

I believe that the correct translation of “candlesticks” would be a Menorah.

I agree – those Jewish Christians would have immediately recognized “seven lampstands” as a reference to the Tabernacle/Temple, which was to them (as Jews) the place where Gods glory dwells among us. The full description is somewhere in Exodus, but i forget where and im too lazy to look it up. But yes, this is definitely a direct reference to what we today (in English) term as “menorah”, and as Wally pointed out, there’s a lot to unpack in that one evocative little phrase.

You know something? This reference to something that readers would instantly get matters a bit. It’s just true that somethings in Scripture are shrouded in mystery and even uncertainty. We don’t get or agree on all things. By the way, that’s not a bad thing at all; if we just got it all, we would read once and move on to something else. I believe God keeps us guessing sometimes so that we will seek him more thoroughly by reading His Word. But, back to the the issue at hand!

On the other hand, sometimes Jesus says: “Hey, listen up!” Sometimes He wants us to just get it. Even though not all got His parables, they were always grounded in a reference readers would get, and that was relevant to their lives. We will see that over and over as we go through the seven churches of Asia; references are made to illustrate points readers would get because the references were real to their lives.

This candlestick reference would have been pretty clear to any Jewish readers of these letters; again we see that every word in the Old Testament points to Jesus who appeared in the flesh in the New Testament. That’s just pretty neat, in my book.

Here is a little something Jesus also said repeatedly as He wrote these letters: “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches” He’s trying to make some things clear; are we listening?

 

Seven Letters to Seven Churches-Ephesus Part 3

Revelation 2:1-7

“Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write; These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks” Revelation 2:1

Well, here we are, still in the first verse! We have briefly talked about some of the symbology of Jesus walking among the candlesticks, particularly as it applies to the idea of seven representing the completeness of God and how this probably indicates the applicability of these letters to all churches at all times; we also covered that it seems the idea of Him walking among, and being with His churches. Why candlesticks though? He could have walked among something else, right?

What do candlesticks provide? Well, light of course. I have made reference to Scripture, from start to finish, as being a tapestry of redemption through Jesus Christ from start to finish. I didn’t make that up, that what any Bible scholar would tell you, too. Yet, we see common themes appearing time and time again in Scripture; light is one of those things. Light is used over an over as a symbol of God, Jesus Christ, and even His followers as reflections of that light.

There’s TONS of references to this, so here are just a few to illustrate the point a bit.

Before God spoke, there wasn’t any light! “And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. Genesis 1:3.

God as light led the Israelites in the desert.And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light; to go by day and night: He took not away the pillar of the cloud by day, nor the pillar of fire by night, from before the people.” Exodus 13:21,22.

Later, in the Tabernacle, we actually see a reference to 7 lamps! “And thou shalt make the seven lamps thereof: and they shall light the lamps thereof, that they may give light over against it.” Exodus 25:37.

He is the light that lights the world. “That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name:” John 1:9-12.

We are to walk in the light.“If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth:” 1 John 1:6.

We are to BE the light of the world, as His reflections. Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.  Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.  Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” Matthew 5:14-16.

So, is it significant that Jesus walked among candlesticks? Pretty sure it is!

 

Seven Letters to Seven Churches-Ephesus Part 2

Revelation 2:1-7

“Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write; These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks;” Revelation 2:1

Friends, grab a cup of coffee, pull up a chair and sit a spell; we are going to be in the Seven Letters to Seven churches for a bit. I keep finding as I study for this that there is far more detail and so many rabbit trails to chase, that we may never get done. So, we are going to take things really slow. We won’t be too long on any particular section, as I know most people’s blogging attention span short, and nobody really tends to read 2000 words. I know I tend not to unless I am just totally captured; since I don’t suspect I will totally capture anybody, short and hopefully sweet is the order of the day. So, we’ll just poke around verse by verse, see where things go and hopefully learn a thing or two together.

Today let’s talk some more about the authority behind these letters; I know we have covered that some, but repetition is not always bad.

These letters were written by Jesus Himself. That’s just pretty awesome. Of course, I believe that every word and every jot and tittle of Scripture was inspired by God; He delivered them to each and every writer throughout the ages. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” 2 Timothy 3:16-17. I’m good with that, just as written, that being a reference to the completed Canon of Scripture. I’m really not that interested in debating those who would limit that to parts of Scripture; go find somebody who wants to and have at it, I suppose.

God inspired many to write different parts of Scripture. The Epistles of the New Testament, in particular, are God’s direct communication by way of some writer, to a particular group of people.

These letters are different, and they are different by reason of the author Himself. Each of these letters begins with something like: “Unto_____________, write.” These are the words of our Lord Himself to His churches.

I know there are those who tend to minimize those parts of Scripture that are not the direct words of Jesus Himself; we love those red letters, as we should. Friends, they may not be in red, but these are also the direct words of the Lord Jesus to us.

Seven Letters to Seven Churches-Ephesus Part 1

First, let me caveat all that follows if I may. I am NOT a historian, and we won’t be covering anything not readily available from hundreds of sources. All I am is a guy doing some studying, writing some notes and thoughts, and sharing those with readers. Before we dive into the letters to each church, we are just going to review some of the cultural-historical backgrounds for each. As He did in His parables, Jesus often made reference to things based on the real situation in each location that would have instantly made sense to readers, and also help really illustrate the points He was trying to make with each.

Ephesus the city figured fairly prominently in both the Roman empire at the time, as well as in the early spread of the Christian churches in Asia Minor. As we covered earlier Ephesus received more note in Scripture than any of the other churches He dispatched letters to.

From BiblePlaces.com

Ephesus

Ephesus

In the ancient world, Ephesus was a center of travel and commerce.  Situated on the Aegean Sea at the mouth of the Cayster River, the city was one of the greatest seaports of the ancient world.

Three major roads led from the seaport: one road went east towards Babylon via Laodicea, another to the north via Smyrna and a third south to the Meander Valley.

Temple of Artemis

Considered one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, Ephesus’ Temple of Artemis was dedicated to the goddess of the hunt.  Only the foundation and one column remain of this temple which once measured 425 feet long, 220 feet wide, and 60 feet high.

Paul’s successful ministry in this city was considered a threat to this very temple (Acts 19:27).

Library of Celsus

Originally built in AD 115-25, this restored facade is a highlight of the ruins today.  This style is believed to be the standard architectural form for Roman libraries.  The interior measures 70 by 80 feet and held approximately 15,000 scrolls.

This library was dedicated to Celsus the proconsul of Asia and his sarcophagus was located under the apse.

Terrace Houses

From the time of Augustus, these dwellings of wealthy Ephesians, were decorated with beautiful frescoes and mosaics. The houses had luxurious bedrooms, bathrooms, triclinium, and kitchens.

Built against the mountain south of Ephesus, the roof of one house forms the terrace for the house above it.  These houses were inhabited until the 7th century AD.

Commercial Agora

This market area is known as the “Square Agora” because of its dimensions 360 feet square.  It arose in the Hellenistic period and was surrounded on all sides by arched shops about 40 feet deep. It is located next to the harbor and was the city’s main commercial center.  It is quite possible that Paul worked here with Priscilla and Aquila in their tent-making business.

Theater

Originally holding 25,000 people, this theater was built in the Hellenistic period and was renovated by several Roman emperors.  Designed for theatrical performances, later alterations allowed gladiatorial contests to be held here.

When Paul was accused of hurting the Artemis and her temple, the mob gathered together in this theater (Acts 19:23-41).

So, Ephesus was a big deal in Asia Minor during the time of early Christianity. As we have discussed, sending the letters to the churches made great logistical sense, as it was a major seaport, as well as an intersection for major trade routes through the Roman Province of Asia. This also is likely why the city and church were featured in Scripture so much, as apparently, Ephesus was the springboard for much of the evangelism of Asia Minor.

From the McArthur Study Bible

It is likely that the gospel was first brought to Ephesus by Priscilla and Aquila, an exceptionally gifted couple (see Acts 18:26) who were left there by Paul on his second missionary journey (Acts 18:1819). Located at the mouth of the Cayster River, on the east side of the Aegean Sea, the city of Ephesus was perhaps best known for its magnificent temple of Artemis, or Diana, one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world. It was also an important political, educational, and commercial center, ranking with Alexandria in Egypt, and Antioch of Pisidia, in southern Asia Minor.

The City of Ephesus

The fledgling church begun by Priscilla and Aquila was later firmly established by Paul on his third missionary journey (Acts 19) and was pastored by him for some 3 years. After Paul left, Timothy pastored the congregation for perhaps a year and a half, primarily to counter the false teaching of a few influential men (such as Hymenaeus and Alexander), who were probably elders in the congregation there (1 Tim. 1:320). Because of those men, the church at Ephesus was plagued by “fables and endless genealogies” (1 Tim. 1:4) and by such ascetic and unscriptural ideas as the forbidding of marriage and abstaining from certain foods (1 Tim. 4:3). Although those false teachers did not rightly understand Scripture, they propounded their ungodly interpretations with confidence (1 Tim. 1:7), which produced in the church harmful “disputes rather than godly edification which is in faith” (1 Tim. 1:4). Thirty years or so later, Christ gave to the Apostle John a letter for this church indicating its people had left their first love for Him (Rev. 2:1–7).

There, wasn’t that lazy of me? Good info, though, and useful later I hope!

Seven Letters to Seven Churches-Introduction Part 4

Okay, I promise; this is really the last part of the introduction. I was done, but that old rabbit ran out and I had to chase it. It was no big deal; I just realized I didn’t really know how the seven churches mentioned in Revelation had figured in the rest of Scripture. So, I looked and today I will share what I learned.

Ephesus.

The church at Ephesus figures fairly prominently in the writings of the New Testament. The first mention we see of Ephesus was in Acts Chapter 18, where Paul seemingly planted this church on his second missionary journey.

In Acts 19, we see Paul return to  Ephesus where he stayed for another three years. Likely during this time, he sent missionaries out to surrounding areas, perhaps even planting some of the other nearby churches mentioned in the seven letters.

Paul never returned to Ephesus, but at the end of his third journey, while on the island of Miletus, he did summon the elders of the Ephesian Church to give them his final goodbye and exhortation. This is in Acts 20.

We see mentions of Paul’s ministry in Ephesus in 1 Corinthians 15:32 and 16:8.

Paul wrote two of his pastoral Epistles to Timothy while that young man was the pastor at Ephesus in 1 Timothy and 2 Timothy.

Finally, the Ephesians got their own Epistle from Paul.

Smyrna. Not mentioned outside of Revelation.

Pergamum. Not mentioned outside of Revelation.

Thyatira. The church is not mentioned, but the town is as the place where Lydia in Acts Chapter 16 was from

Sardis. Not mentioned outside of Revelation.

Philadelphia. Not mentioned outside of Revelation.

Laodicea. Mentioned several times in Colossians, as Paul asked that his epistle to Colossae be read in the Laodicean church as well.

Seven churches.pngIsn’t that interesting. It sure seems that churches who got a personal letter from Jesus would have had a bigger role in scripture, yet overall they had little mention at all. Why these churches then? There were bigger cities and more churches than just these seven.

It seems it is just a matter of simple geography and information dissemination. If we assume that Jesus wanted all of the Asian churches to see and understand His words, then these seven are fairly perfect. Ephesus is the point at which most commerce and such would enter Asia minor, especially something coming from Patmos, and the others lined up on the main trade routes, and through the seven postal districts of Asia Minor at the time. If the spreading of information is the point, then this was perfect.

I’m sort of disappointed, as I was hoping for some deeply symbolic, Revelation type of thing here. Although this does tie in rather nicely with the idea of the number of churches being seven symbolizing God’s completeness, and the idea that the messages were for all churches, of all times!

Okay, really…I promise: Next time we will start the church at Ephesus.

 

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