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Lowell Brueckner

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Revelation 2:1-7


General considerations concerning the churches

Before we begin the study of the individual churches in chapter 2 and 3, I want to give an overview of these seven churches in Asia Minor. John is the apostle, who has outlived all the others and the only one to die a natural death. The Holy Spirit is intricately involved in all the circumstances, surrounding the Revelation, in order to carry out perfectly the eternal plan of God. With this book, the total canon of inspired Scripture is complete and blessed are all those, who have the privilege of prayerfully studying its pages. Consider this: eleven apostles did not have this privilege, including the apostle Paul.

The Gospel of John is considered to be the most spiritual of the four Gospels and, when we pore over it, sometimes we find spiritual truth inserted in a rather subtle form among the events that he recorded. That is one reason, that he is the most suited of the apostles to write the Revelation. His age and experience are also to be taken into consideration, as well as the timing of the book, almost at the end of the first century, decades after all the other New Testament books have been completed. The apostle John is watching the unfolding of the second generation of Christianity.

The Revelation is a fitting end to the canon, because it continues the accounts of the principles and prophecies of the entire Bible. As I have tried to show, it also completes the revelation of Jesus Christ, beyond what is revealed in the Gospels. I want to say with some care, that the book carries many symbols. Whereas that is true, we still want to take it as literally, as possible. It is especially true in this book that the Holy Spirit fulfills the role, which Christ said of Him, of showing things to come (Jn.16:13). There will be no more Scripture written, but the prophetic Scriptures will continue to live, as their predictions are fulfilled.

I repeat something, to which I have earlier referred three times: There is a spiritual mystery to be uncovered in the number of the churches, to which John writes. There were more than seven churches in Asia Minor and one of them, the church of the Colossians, is of tremendous importance, because, of course, Paul wrote a letter to it. Why is no message sent from the Lord to the Colossians; in fact, why is it not even mentioned in Revelation? The same question could be asked of the other churches in Asia Minor.

We conclude that the Holy Spirit has a particular purpose in limiting the number of churches to seven. Seven, as already said in earlier articles, is the number of perfect completion, and symbolizes the sovereign hand of God, in bringing about a perfect end, in this case to the church. Whereas literal, historical churches are the first recipients of the messages of Christ, they are meant for the church of all ages.

Some carry this symbolism even further. They believe that each church, of the seven in Asia Minor, represents the body of believers, which predominated in seven different periods of church history. I hold that opinion and I will teach it in these next two chapters. I do so by openly declaring that this is a matter of opinion and is not to be presented as Bible truth. It is only given for the reader to take into consideration and ponder. I will do it at the conclusion of my comments about each church.

When writing in this way, a great deal of tolerance must be given to different opinions. I will censure no one, who does not see these churches as I do. When we are considering prophecy, we must be very flexible and open to change in our viewpoints, as events unfold in these end times. Tolerance must be given to more basic and important prophecies, such as that of the rapture of the church and the literal thousand-year reign of Christ upon the earth. However, because of the greater importance and the clarity of the teaching on the rapture by Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 and that of John on the Millennium in Revelation 20, I hold more firmly and dogmatically to my views. I believe every Christian should believe in the rapture and in the literal Millennium, but even so, I have respect and remain in fellowship with those, who believe otherwise. These are not essential doctrines.

Having clarified these issues, let us go on to see the messages, which Christ commands John to write to the individual churches. We will notice some general similarities in all the messages. 1) In each case, He will present Himself in one aspect, among those that we have already seen in chapter one. That aspect is especially relevant to that particular church. 2) If there is a commendation, it will come first, followed by a constructive criticism. 3) In each case, He commands, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches”. 4) After addressing the whole church, he speaks to the individual member.

Chapter 2

The church in Ephesus

1. To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands.
2. I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false.
3. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary.
4. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.
5. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.
6. Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
7. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.

Ephesian ruins
John is very familiar with the church in Ephesus. After his exile on Patmos, he went to live in Ephesus and there is where he died, probably being close to 100 years of age. As all these churches, Ephesus is beginning its second generation and will soon enter the Second Century. (Please notice, how the centuries are numbered, beginning at the time of Christ.)

The apostle Paul, along with Priscilla and Aquila, came to Ephesus first briefly in about 54 A.D., and spoke in the synagogue, then left his friends and companions there, when he continued on to the church in Antioch, Syria. A great Old Testament scholar and eloquent orator, Apollos, from Alexandria, Egypt, preached the gospel, only up to the baptism of John. Aquila and Priscilla taught him a much more complete gospel and he went from Ephesus to Achaia, Greece (Ac.18:18-26).

Paul returned to Ephesus and found some of Apollos’ disciples, whom Apollos had taught all that  he knew concerning the gospel, previous to the more complete instruction of Aquila and Priscilla. Paul had to expound the full gospel to these disciples and then re-baptized them, including the name of Jesus in their baptism. Then, he laid his hands on them and they were baptized in the Holy Spirit, spoke in tongues and prophesied. Paul taught for three months in the local synagogue and lived in Ephesus for over two years, longer than in any other city. He wrote his epistle to them around 64 A.D., as a prisoner in Rome.

All that is left of the temple of Diana
As to the city of Ephesus, it was by far the greatest and most famous metropolis of Asia Minor, with a population of around 250,000, and was situated on the shores of the Aegean Sea. The city was particularly devoted to idolatry and home of the magnificent Temple of Diana or Artemis, one of the wonders of the ancient world. In fact, the city was greatly enriched by tourism, as worshipers of Diana came to Ephesus from many places. Paul taught that those, who sacrifice to false gods or goddesses are really sacrificing to demons, so it is no wonder that the city was infested with demonic manifestations (Ac.19:12-17). Paul battled with these spiritual forces, stating “I fought with beasts at Ephesus” (1 Co.15:32). We can see the significance of the repentance of the pagan Ephesians, when they burned their occult books and fetishes, the value of which was 50,000 pieces of silver, equivalent to the yearly salaries of 150 men  (Ac.19:18-20). There must have been a very large body of believers in the city.

Jesus presents Himself from chapter 1, verses 13 and 16, “Holds the seven stars… walks among the seven golden candlesticks.” He establishes His position in relation to the Ephesian church. It is a depiction of one, who is personally present and in charge of the affairs. It is what this church needs to see (v.1), and we will learn the reason in the message that is sent to them.

For Jesus to say, I know your works, is to say that He sees the manifestation of the condition of their heart. Their deeds are laudable in Ephesus, and they are crowned with patient endurance, an important characteristic of a Christian. John said to the collective churches in 1:9 that he was a partner with them in this inner strength, which is a fruit of faith and leads to victory. They have a repulsion for sin and deception and possess a discernment, which detects the lack of genuineness in professing leaders. They have rejected them (v.2).

They are loyal believers, who have no intention of shaming the name of Christ. They are plodding faithfully forward against opposition and show no signs of letting up (v.3). However, there is a serious flaw in this church, and Christ, as the faithful witness, will point it out, so that they can correct it.

“I have this against you”… If the church is willing to listen, He will uncover every obstacle that might detain them from spiritual progress. A proper attitude towards rebuke is of utmost importance. People who grimace and draw back from pointed preaching are missing a necessary ingredient in the process that will bring spiritual revival. If they are offended at rebuke and find it difficult to humble themselves, they have eliminated themselves from the good that God intends to send their way. 

The following clause, “you have abandoned the love you had at first”, is frequently misquoted, “you have lost your first love”. Love has not wandered off somewhere and left the Christians to themselves. They have walked away from it and gone forward on their own. Passionate love is the only acceptable Christian motivation; a sense of responsibility, righteous zeal, and loyalty are never enough.

When the Lord informed Moses that He would send an angel in place of His person from that point on, in order to continue on their way towards the Promised Land, Moses would have none of it, “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here” (Ex.33:15). He determined that he would not take another step forward without the personal presence of the Lord. He was going nowhere without his Friend: “The Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend” (Ex.33:11).

Before the Israelites went into battle in the land that they were to conquer, Joshua had an encounter with the Commander of the Lord’s army. “Now I have come,” He said (Jos.5:13), indicating that He would be in charge from that point on and Joshua would step aside. However, at some place, the Ephesians went right on with church business, without noticing the absence of the Head of the church, and this is the reason that Jesus revealed His position in the midst of the candlesticks to them. This is why He showed them the stars (the leadership) in His right hand. They had left that, which had been an inseparable love relationship with the Lord.

Lack of love was the first flaw; pride was the second. Ephesus was a beautiful city and the Ephesians had built it from scratch. They thought themselves capable of functioning on their own as Christians (v.4). Regardless of our earthly capabilities, it takes a humble spirit in a Christian to recognize that the church cannot really progress spiritually without the Captain of salvation at the helm of the ship. He is the Head and He must personally lead. He must control the leadership and they must never act without His command. All eyes must be fixed on Him. 

This is a serious fall before the Lord and requires deep repentance. The next portion, “Do the works you did at first”, is an important step that we must observe. I have noticed that after a particular fall, God’s people will slow down, shift to a lower gear, give some advice about everyone examining their own personal life, then gradually pick up speed again, and shift back into the gear that they were running in before the fall. This will never do! Everything must grind to a screeching halt, all activity must cease, and the transmission must be thrown into reverse, in order to return to the point where the fall took place. The Lord is commanding the Ephesus church to go back to the beginning, and not stop at any point in between! That is biblical repentance. It repentance does not take place, the candlestick will be removed (v.5)

Jesus said that the Ephesians hated the works of the Nicolaitans, which He also hated (v.6). This is written in our Bibles and we must have understanding concerning this sect in order to avoid similar teaching and practices in our day. Since there are two opinions concerning them, we will take both into account. 1) One opinion is that they were followers of a man named Nicolas and his name means, one who conquers the people. It is typical that sects have leaders that are authoritarian and dominate their members. This is never acceptable in Christ’s eyes and He hates that work. 2) The other opinion is that the name stems from nicolah, a Greek word meaning let us eat. This is a term that suggests licentiousness, which is also hateful to the Lord. We do well to avoid both possibilities.

The church must hear this entire message in the Holy Spirit, before it can genuinely be received (v.7). This is up to every individual: “Take heed how you hear,” Luke records the command of Christ (Lk.8:18). Ears of the heart are necessary, in order to adequately hear spiritual principle. We cannot learn them, as we learn earthly things. In every case, each church is reminding to hear with spiritual ears, by the teaching of the Holy Spirit.

Should the church fail to pay serious attention to this message from Christ, the individual is still responsible for his own life. Jesus addresses the individual church member and gives him the opportunity to act for his own good. Joshua decided, “If it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord… as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Jos.24:14). He and Caleb had stood alone many years before, when the overwhelming majority in Israel rebelled.

The individual may conquer, when the whole church goes down in defeat. The Ephesian candlestick eventually was removed and the entire, once beautiful city of Ephesus, lies in ruins today. However, there are still individual Ephesians, who are eating from the tree of life in the paradise of God.


The disciples didn't allow Paul to enter the theater- Acts 19:31
Though in imperfect form, I believe I have laid Bible truth before you, to the point, in which people should respond, because they will be held accountable. However, as I said in the beginning of this article, I will now delve a little into what I think is a good position concerning these seven churches. You may agree with me or you may not. In any case, I do hope you will give serious thought to what I am now writing. 

Of course, the following ideas are not original with me, but I am presenting a teaching from reputable teachers that I have heard from my youth and seems to me very reasonable.  I am suggesting this first message from the Lord is particularly addressed to the church period from 70-170 A.D. These are disciples of the apostles, many of which have lost the fire, passionate love, and the sensitivity to the Holy Spirit that their founders had. They are faithful to the doctrine and the work that they learned from them, but Jesus shows them what they lack and what they must retrieve.

The dominating church in Asia Minor in the time of John was the Ephesian church. It was founded and tended by apostles, but was now entering into its second generation. Paul warned the elders in Ephesus, “After my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them (Nicolaitans?)” (Ac.20:29-30).

Not long ago, I read from a certain Second Century writer, who spoke of an acquaintance of the apostle John. The writer said that he held, not only the doctrine of the apostles, but the inner life, which they manifested. Therefore, it would seem that a contemporary in that day, saw that, generally speaking, there was a noticeable fall in Christianity from the level lived by the first generation of believers.  


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