“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; 2 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: 3 And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name’s sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted. 4 Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love. 5 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. 6 But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. 7 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 (Rev. 2:1-7).
The history of the Church of Ephesus begins in earnest in Acts 19. It was at Ephesus that Paul discovered twelve of the disciples of John after asking if they had received the Holy Spirit.
To receive the Holy Spirit means to know His convicting work. To receive the Holy Spirit means to experience His converting work. To receive the Holy Spirit means to enjoy the comfort He brings. To receive the Holy Spirit means to welcome His indwelling presence.
While the disciples of John knew that the Holy Spirit had been promised, they did not know He had come in power on a day called Pentecost. Here was a strange and sad situation. There were disciples who had been baptized and yet knew nothing about the Holy Spirit.
This is not to diminish the importance of the baptism of John, for that baptism also called upon people to be sorry for their sins, to confess their sins, and to turn from their sins. But the baptism of John did not go far enough. Christian baptism goes farther, for it declares that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. After baptizing those who had made a profession of faith (Acts 19:4b-5), Paul went on to preach in the synagogue for three months.
Now notice where Paul preached. Paul preached to the lost sheep of the House of Israel. Notice, what he preached. Paul preached the death, the burial, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Observe, how he preached. The apostle used dialogues, logic, persuasion, and boldness to make his points. And Paul did not fail, though there was some initial resistance. Still, wonderful things happened at Ephesus.
First, all which dwelt in Asia heard the Word of the Lord Jesus (Acts 9:9). Second, many miracles were performed. Diseases were cured and evil spirits departed (Acts 19:12). Third, Jewish exorcists found themselves without the power of Jesus to cure demonic possession (Acts 19:15-16). Fourth, the fear of God was instilled in the hearts of many (Acts 19:17).
Despite all the success, Paul found it necessary to separate the disciples at Ephesus from the Jewish synagogue (Acts 19:9). The physical separation protected the gospel seed, allowing it to grow. The separation permitted Paul to speak daily, and it fostered a spirit of unity among the new converts.
Time passed. Paul finally left Ephesus and others took his place as spiritual instructors. The apostle John labored in Ephesus, as did Timothy. Now the Lord wants a word with His church. The inscription of the letter begins with one of the titles given to Christ in His appearance according to Revelation1:12-16, and teaches that the ministers, who are the messenger, or angel, of Christ are under His Sovereign control.
By addressing the leadership of the congregation, the Lord shows great respect for the authority He has ordained. The pastor, in turn speaks to the people on behalf of God in this instance. Following the salutation, the Lord, who walks in the midst of the golden candlesticks, has a word of commendation. The Church of Ephesus is commended in Revelation 2:2 for their diligence in duty, for their patience in suffering, and for their zeal against evil, based upon knowledge, and not emotion.
And yet, for all the good things the Lord has to say, there are still areas of concern that He will not allow going unchallenged (Revelation 2:4). The saints at Ephesus have lost their first love. The Church had not left, and forsaken Christ entirely, but the fervent degree of their love was lost. How does this happen?
It happens by simple neglect of holy habits that are vital to the soul, such as prayer, Bible reading, and worship. It happens by having un-confessed sin in the heart. It happens by allowing the mind to have harsh thoughts about others, or about God. The divine way of recovering lost love is found in Revelation 2:5. The saints are to remember. The saints are to repent. The saints are to perform the first works. If God’s people do not respond to the words of warning there is a measure of Divine discipline to endure. “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 (Rev. 2:5).
God will “un-church” His people. The Lord will take away His ministers. The Lord will take away the gospel. The Lord will take away the unity of the saints. By way of conclusion to the message to the Church of Ephesus, the Lord declares that He hates the deeds of the Nicolaitans, and commends the believers at the Church for hating them too.
The word “hate” is a strong emotional word, and is one not usually associated with the Christian code of conduct. However, there is a right feeling of aversion from what is evil. Some hatred is justified. The question is, “What deeds did the Nicolaitons perform that were so offensive to God.” “Who were the Nicolaitans?”
The Bible records a man named Nicolas. “And the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolas a proselyte of Antioch (Acts 6:5). If the person in Revelation is the person in Acts, and the founder of the Nicolaitans, then it is a sad story indeed for Nicolas, a native of Antioch, a convert to Christianity was one of the first seven deacons.
Here is a word of warning. It is not how well we start out as Christians, but how well we end up. While there is no positive proof that the Nicolas of Acts 6:5 is the founder of the Nicolaitans, there is room to pause and consider the possibility, and then to take warning. The teaching of the Nicolaitans, consisted in four main beliefs.
First, it was lawful to eat things offered to idols. Second, worship of idols should be encouraged. Third, God was not the creator of the world. Fourth, immorality was permissible, for where sin abounds, grace does much more abound. Besides, the body is nothing, while the spirit is everything.
It was right that the Church at Ephesus resist the doctrine, and deeds of the Nicolaitans. God has a promise. “To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life which is in the midst of the paradise of God.” To overcome does not mean that the Church at Ephesus out argued, or even stopped the deeds of the Nicolaitans. It does mean that they overcame the temptation to join in the false, but popular, beliefs and practices. For them, and for all who resist evil, there is the Tree of Life. The mind goes back to the Garden of Eden. In Genesis 3:24 the Bible tells how God set a cherubim to guard the way of the Tree of Life. Now, men are invited to eat freely of it.