SDMB weekly Bible Study (SDMBWBS) - The Book of Revelation: Chapter 2.1-7
Welcome to the SDMB weekly Bible Study (SDMBWBS). Since the discussion can turn into a very broad and hijackable thread, we would like the following rules to be adhered to:
These SDMBWBS threads are to deal with the books and stories in the Bible as literature. What I’m hoping to achieve is an understanding of the stories, the time in which they were written, context, and possibly its cultural relevance.
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[NASB: New American Standard Bible Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation, La Habra, Calif. All rights reserved.]
2 “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write:
The One who holds the seven stars in His right hand, the One who walks among the seven golden lampstands, says this:
2 ‘I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false; 3 and you have perseverance and have endured for My name’s sake, and have not grown weary. 4 But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. 5 Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place—unless you repent. 6 Yet this you do have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. 7 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God.’
Each of the seven letters follows the same basic form. This we’ll we go into more depth on the first one, and the following lessons will have more than one letter.
Each letter has Titles or Description of the speaker (Christ); Status of the church: Good Things acknowledged by the speaker; Status of the church: Bad Things the speaker has against them; Admonitions and encouragements; and a Promise to “whoever has ears to hear” what the Holy Spirit says to the churches.
The church at Ephesus was the most prominent city in proconsular Asia, with an population of about 250,000, so it’s appropriate to address this city first. Ephesus flourished as an important commercial and export center. A traveler from Rome landing at Ephesus would proceed up a magnificent avenue 35 feet wide, lined with columns which led from the harbor to the center of the city. Three great trade routes converged at the city. Though not the capital of Asia (that was Pergamum), as a free city it had been granted by Rome the right of self-government. It boasted a major stadium, marketplace and theater.
The imperial cult was not neglected in Ephesus. Temples were built to Claudius, Hadrian and Severus, and two to Augustus. Only a few years before Revelation was probably written, Ephesus had celebrated the Olympic games in honor of Domitian. The major religious attraction, however, was the Temple of Artemis (or Diana), one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Four times the size of the Parthenon, it was adorned by the work of many noted artists. Pliny the Elder noted that its pillars were of Parian marble, and 36 of the pillars were overlaid with gold and jewels.
The Christian faith had come to Ephesus possibly with Aquila and Priscilla, circa 52 A.D. when Paul left them there en route from Corinth to Antioch (Acts 18.18-22). On his next missionary journey, Paul remained in Ephesus for more than two years (Acts 19.8-10), and some time later Timothy reportedly ministered there (1 Tim 1.3).
The letter to Ephesus comes from the One who holds the seven stars in his right hand and who walks among the seven lampstands. This is Christ, the lampstands are the churches, and the stars are the churches’ angels (as mentioned in the lesson on Chapter 1). By angels the writer probably means personifications of the prevailing spirits of the churches, though it could mean guardian angels. The phrase “walks among” is more literally “walks in the middle of”.
Good Things: Ephesus, being a major business, political and religious center, was attractive to the sort of people who would come to place themselves in positions of authority and power, whether they actually believed in the ideals of the community (or a sector of the community) or not. That is, frauds. The problem was more difficult in a place as predominantly Gentile as Ephesus, in that recent converts were not schooled in the Old Testament backgrounds and could easily misunderstand Christian terminology. The false apostles mentioned have been variously identified as Judaizers from Jerusalem (as in 2 Cor 11.13-23), Nicolaitans, or any self-styled apostles who claimed a position over that of the local elders. Paul told the Ephesian elders in his farewell (Acts 20.29): “After my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock”, and this message confirms the accuracy of his prediction.
The necessity of testing doctrine and advice was widely recognized in the early church (1 Thess 5.21, 1 Cor 14.29, 1 John 4.1). In verse 3 the church is again commended for its patience, its willingness to put up with difficulty, and its dedicated labor.
Bad Thing: they have left their first love. Compare Jeremiah 2.2: “I remember the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride, how you followed me in the wilderness.” A cooling of the initial personal love for God inevitably results in the loss of harmony in a body of believers. The church at Ephesus’s necessary skepticism towards the business, politics and other religions, and the reality of frauds among them made it difficult for them to keep their original enthusiasm.
Admonition and Encouragement: the church was called upon to remember its glory days, when love abounded. The threat of having its lampstand removed is that of saying that, while the body might continue as a social entity, it would not actually be a church of believers. From the prologue of Ignatius’s Epistle to the Ephesians we learn that the church heeded the warning.
Hating the works of the Nicolaitans: these people will be mentioned again in the letters to Pergamum and Thyatira. The Nicolaitans ate food sacrificed to idols, practiced sexual immorality, and was connected with the teachings of Balaam, which promoted cultural syncretism (that is, including local traditions and customs into the belief system). Early tradition identifies them with Nicolaus, proselyte of Antioch who was appointed one of the first seven deacons of Antioch, but there is not particular reason for this attribution, except a similarity of names. Eusebius in his early church history indicates the sect lasted only a very short time.
Promise: To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God. This is one of a number of places where Revelation brings the scriptures full circle back to Genesis, and implies either the granting of wisdom or of eternal life (or both). In Revelation 22.2 the tree of life produces perennial fruit in the heavenly Jerusalem.