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THE FIRST CHURCH -- EPHESUS
“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: I know thy works, and thy labor, 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 labored, and hast not fainted. Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love. Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent. But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. He that hath an ear let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches: To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.” Revelation 2:1-7.
Alonso T. Jones, Ecclesiastical Empires, p 5
To the Church in her first stage -- the Church of Ephesus -- He says: "I have somewhat against thee because thou hast left thy first love. Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works."8 This points definitely to the falling away that is mentioned by Paul to the elders of the Church at Ephesus (Acts 20 : 30), and that is again mentioned and dwelt upon by him in 2 Thessalonians 2, which falling away, when continued, developed "that man of sin," "the son of perdition," "who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshiped" -- the ecclesiastical State now under consideration. The time of this phase of the Church is by the letter itself, shown to be the days of the apostles,9 and therefore ended about A. D. 100.
8 Rev. 2: 4, 5.
9 Rev. 2: 3.
Review and Herald, vol 8, October 16, 1856, #24, p 188
Ephesus signifies, "desirable, chief." This was true of the first age of the church, in the apostles' days. They had received the doctrine of Christ pure from the mouth of the great Teacher, and the Holy Spirit was poured out, and rested upon them. The gifts of the Spirit were with the church. It was noted for "works," "labor," and patience, and could "not bear them which were evil." God could dwell with such a church, and manifest his power in their midst. Yet there were some things against this desirable church, in consequence of which they were called upon to repent.
Uriah Smith, Daniel and Revelation, p 373-379
The Church of Ephesus. - Some reasons why the seven churches, or more properly the messages to them, should be regarded as prophetic, having their application to seven distinct periods covering the Christian age, have been given in the remarks on chapter 1:4. It may here be added that this view is neither new nor local. Benson quotes Bishop Newton as saying, "Many contend, and among them such learned men as More and Vitringa, that the seven epistles are prophetical or so many successive periods, or states, of the church, from the beginning to the conclusion of all."
Scott says: "Many expositors have imagined that these epistles to the seven churches were mystical prophecies of seven distinct periods, into which the whole term, from the apostles' days to the end of the world, would be divided."
Although Newton and Scott do not themselves hold this view, their testimony is good as showing that such has been the view of many expositors. Matthew Henry says:-
"An opinion has been held by some commentators of note, which may be given in the words of Vitringa: 'That under this emblematical representation of the seven churches of Asia, the Holy Spirit has delineated seven different states of the Christian church, which would appear in succession, extending to the coming of our Lord and the consummation of all things: that this is given in descriptions taken from the names, states, and conditions of these churches, so that they might behold themselves, and learn both their good qualities and their defects, and what admonitions and exhortations were suitable for them' Vitringa has given a summary of the arguments which may be alleged in favor of this interpretation. Some of them are ingenious, but they are not now considered sufficient to support such a theory. Gill is one of the principal of the English commentators who adopt this view, that 'they are prophetical of the churches of Christ in the several periods of time until he appears again.'"
It appears from the authors above cited, that what has led commentators of more modern times to discard the view of the prophetical nature of the messages to the seven churches, is the comparatively recent and unscriptural doctrine of the temporal millennium. The last stage of the church, as described in chapter 3:15-17, was deemed to be incompatible with the glorious state of things which would exist here on this earth for a thousand years, with all the world converted to God. Hence in this case, as in many others, the more Scriptural view is made to yield to the more pleasing. The hearts of men, as in ancient times, still love smooth things, and their ears are ever favorably open to those who will prophesy peace.
The first church named is Ephesus. According to the application here made, this would cover the first, or apostolic age of the church. The definition of the word Ephesus is desirable, which may well be taken as a good descriptive term of the character and condition of the church in its first state. Those early Christians had received the doctrine of Christ in its purity. They enjoyed the benefits and blessings of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. They were noted for works, labor, and patience. In faithfulness to the pure principles taught by Christ, they could not bear those that were evil, and they tried false apostles, searched out their true characters, and found them liars. That this work was specially done by the literal and particular church at Ephesus more than by other churches of that time, we have no evidence: there is nothing said about it by Paul in the epistle he wrote to that church; but it was done by the Christian church as a whole, in that age, and was a most appropriate work at that time. (See Acts15; 2Cor.11:13.)
The Angel of the Church. - The angel of a church must denote a messenger, or minister, of that church; and as these churches each cover a period of time, the angel of each church must denote the ministry, or all the true ministers of Christ during the period covered by that church. The different messages, though addressed to the ministers, cannot be understood to be applicable to them alone; but they are appropriately addressed to the church through them.
The Cause of Complaint. - "I have somewhat against thee," says Christ, "because thou hast left thy first love." "Not less worthy of warning than departure from fundamental doctrine or from Scriptural morality, is the leaving of first love. The charge here is not that of falling from grace, nor that love is extinguished, but diminished. No zeal, no suffering, can atone for the want of first love." - Thompson. The time never should come in a Christian's experience, when, if he were asked to mention the period of his greatest love to Christ, he would not say, The present moment. But if such a time does come, then should he remember from whence he is fallen, meditate upon it, take time for it, carefully call up the state of his former acceptance with God, and then hasten to repent, and retrace his steps to that desirable position. Love, like faith, is manifested by works; and first love, when it is attained, will always bring first works.
The Threatening. - "I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent." The coming here mentioned must be a figurative coming, signifying a visitation of judgment, inasmuch as it is conditional. The removing of the candlestick would denote the taking away from them of the light and privileges of the gospel, and committing them to other hands, unless they should better fulfil the responsibilities of the trust committed to them. But it may be asked on the view that these messages are prophetic, if the candlestick would not be removed anyway, whether they repented or not, as that church was succeeded by the next, to occupy the next period, and if this is not an objection against regarding these churches as prophetic. Answer: The expiration of the period covered by any church is not the removal of the candlestick of that church. The removal of their candlestick would be taking away from them privileges which they might and should longer enjoy. It would be the rejection of them on the part of Christ as his representatives, to bear the light of his truth and gospel before the world. And this threatening would be just as applicable to individuals as to the church as a body. How many who professed Christianity during that period thus came short and were rejected, we know not; doubtless many. And thus things would go on, some remaining steadfast, some backsliding and becoming no longer light-bearers in the world, new converts meanwhile filling up the vacancies made by death and apostasy, until the church reached a new era in her experience, marked off as another period in her history, and covered by another message.
The Nicolaitanes. - How ready is Christ to commend his people for whatever good qualities they may possess! If there is anything of which he approves, he mentions that first. And in this message to the church of Ephesus, having first mentioned their commendable traits and then their failures, as if unwilling to pass by any of their good qualities, he mentions this, that they hated the deeds of the Nicolaitanes, which he also hated. In verse 15 the doctrines of the same characters are condemned. It appears that they were a class of persons whose deeds and doctrines were alike abominable in the sight of Heaven. Their origin is involved in some doubt. Some say that they sprang from Nicholas of Antioch, one of the seven deacons (Acts6:5); some, that they only attribute their origin to him to gain the prestige of his name; and others, that the sect took its name from one Nicholas of later date, which is probably the nearest correct. Concerning their doctrines and practices, there seems to be a general agreement that they held to a community of wives, regarding adultery and fornication as things indifferent, and permitted the eating of things offered to idols. (See Religious Encyclopedia, Clarke, Kitto, and other authorities.)
The Summons to Attention. - "He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches." A solemn manner of calling universal attention to that which is of general and most momentous importance. The same language is used to each of the seven churches. Christ, when upon earth, made use of the same form of speech in calling the attention of the people to the most important of his teachings. He used it in reference to the mission of John (Matt.11:15), the parable of the sower (Matt.13:9), and the parable of the tares, setting forth the end of the world. Verse 43. It is also used in relation to an important prophetic fulfilment in Rev.13:9.
The Promise to the Victor. - To the overcomer it is promised that he shall eat of the tree of life that grows in the midst of the paradise, or garden, of God. Where is this paradise? Answer: In the third heaven. Paul writes, in 2Cor.12:2, that he knew a man (referring to himself) caught up to the third heaven. In verse 4 he calls the same place "paradise," leaving only one conclusion to be drawn, which is that paradise is in the third heaven. In this paradise, it seems, is the tree of life. There is but one tree of life brought to view in the Bible. It is mentioned six times, three times in Genesis, and three times in the Revelation; but it is used every time with the definite article the. It is the tree of life in the first book of the Bible, the tree of life in the last; the tree of life in the "paradise" (Septuagint) in Eden at the beginning, and the tree of life in the paradise of which John now speaks, in heaven above. But if there is but one tree, and that was at first upon earth, it may be asked how it has now come to be in heaven. And the answer would be that it must have been taken up, or translated, to the paradise above. There is no possible way that the same identical body which is situated in one place can be located in another, but by being transported bodily thither. And that the tree of life and paradise have been removed from earth to heaven, besides the necessary inference from this argument, there is very good reason to believe.
In 2Esdras7:26 occurs this language: "Behold, the time shall come, that these tokens which I have told thee shall come to pass, and the bride shall appear, and she coming forth shall be seen that now is withdrawn from the earth." There is an evident allusion here to the "bride, the Lamb's wife" (Rev.21:9), which is the "holy city, New Jerusalem" (verse 10; Gal.4:26), in which is the tree of life (Rev.22:2), which is now "withdrawn from the earth," but which will in due time appear, and be located among men. Rev.21:2,3.
The following paragraph on this point we quote from Kurtz's "Sacred History," p. 50:-
"The act of God in appointing the cherubim 'to keep the way of the tree of life' (Gen.3:24), in the garden of Eden, likewise appears not only in an aspect indicating judicial severity, but also in one which conveys a promise full of consolation. The blessed abode from which man is expelled, is neither annihilated nor even abandoned to desolation and ruin, but withdrawn from the earth and from man, and consigned to the care of the most perfect creatures of God, in order that it may be ultimately restored to man when he is redeemed. Rev.22:2. The garden, as it existed before God 'planted,' or adorned it, came under the curse, like the remainder of the earth, but the celestial and paradisiacal addition was exempted, and entrusted to the cherubim. The true paradise is now translated to the invisible world. At least a symbolical copy of it, established in the holy of holies in the tabernacle, was granted to the people of Israel after the pattern which Moses saw in the mount (Ex.25:9,40); and the original itself, as the renewed habitation of redeemed man, will hereafter descend to the earth. Rev.21:10."
To the overcomer, then, is promised a restoration to more than Adam lost; not to the overcomers of that state of the church merely, but to all overcomers of every age; for in the great rewards of Heaven there are no restrictions. Reader strive to be an overcomer; for he who gains access to the tree of life in the midst of the paradise of God, shall die no more.
The time covered by this first church may be considered the period from the resurrection of Christ to the close of the first century, or to the death of the last of the apostles.