Ephesus, Part 2
Dec 07, 2015
Revelation 2:5 says,
5 Remember, therefore, 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.
Here the Spirit of the Lord gives the church a very sober warning. They were to remember from where they had fallen. Fallen from where? From the place where they had left their first love (vs. 4). The Old Testament patterns show that they had rejected Christ’s direct rule, desiring a man to rule over them. First they desired Moses to hear God and to tell them what God said (Exodus 20:19); later, they desired to have a man rule them as king (1 Samuel 8:5). Leaving their first love was starting a Christian denomination, which put distance between God and the people.
The purpose of a church or a preacher is to point people to Christ, not to point to men or organizations. It is not to recruit members of an earthly organization, but to lead people to Christ, so that they may be enrolled in the assembly “in heaven” (Hebrews 12:22). There is nothing inherently evil about earthly organizations, as long as they do not steal the affections of the bride of Christ by causing the people to leave their first love.
Somehow the church in Ephesus had strayed into denominationalism in their honor of men. Perhaps the people already honored John himself more than they should. It is interesting to see that John was writing to his own church, wherein he was the undisputed leader as the main apostle to all of the seven churches. The problem, no doubt, was not in John, but in the people themselves, who had inadvertently put John in Christ’s place. With John giving them the word of God, they no longer felt the need to seek the word from Christ Himself.
Later, the rest of the church would begin doing the same. As time passed, the church began to forbid men to hear God’s voice for themselves. The purpose of church organizations is to teach people to hear God for themselves. The purpose of gatherings was to allow the people to share what God had revealed to them during the previous week, so that the group might discern and make any corrections where necessary (1 Corinthians 14:26-29 says,
26 When is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification [i.e., building up or strengthening the church]. 27 If anyone speaks in a tongue, it should be by two or at the most three, and each in turn, and let one interpret; 28 but if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in the church; and let him speak to himself and to God. 29 And let two or three prophets speak, and the others pass judgment [discern].
When gatherings became too large, instead of splitting into smaller house groups, the leaders began meeting in large buildings. In such a setting fewer and fewer people were able to participate or share with others as Paul had instructed. This was when church became an organization or a building. This was when the people began to depend upon a man to hear God on their behalf, for it no longer seemed necessary to hear God for one’s self. As it evolved further, the leadership, believing that it had all necessary truth, began to suppress other revelation (along with carnal ideas), eventually forbidding the laity to hear God for themselves. This was enforced by excommunication and ultimately by death and even by torture. All was done in the name of Unity.
It all began with a simple shift in loyalty from God to men. Men thought they could serve two masters—and indeed, this was possible, as long as the leader truly followed God with his whole heart. But as Israel learned many years earlier, they wanted a king “like all the nations” (1 Samuel 8:5), and that is what they got. The church too desired a leader “like all the nations,” and so they were given the desire of their hearts.
Removing the Lampstand
The solution was to remember—to go back to the point of departure—from where they had fallen. Go back to the original point of deception, where the carnal mind conceived its desire for a man (other than Jesus Himself) to rule over them. The Spirit of the Lord issued a call for the church to repent and go back to the way things were earlier.
If they did not repent, God said, “I am coming to you, and will remove your lampstand out of its place” (Revelation 2:5). What does this mean?
The metaphor refers to the lampstand in the sanctuary in Jerusalem, which the Romans had removed earlier in 70 A.D. It is pictured on the Arch of Titus as part of the booty taken to Rome when the temple was destroyed. But this happened only because God had first removed their spiritual lampstand from the temple in heaven on account of the sin of Jerusalem. Things happen in the spirit before they happen on earth.
For Ephesus to receive such a warning was no doubt very sobering to the church. In fact, the Spirit of the Lord which issued this warning apparently did not interpret Matthew 16:18 in the way that the church did in years to come. The lampstand in heaven could retain its position only if the church returned to its first love. But if the church on earth no longer reflected the truth that was in heaven, the lampstand would be removed, Ephesus would lose its status as the church, and God would cast it aside, even as He had done already with the tabernacle of Shiloh, Solomon’s temple, and the second temple in Jerusalem.
These were not idle threats. Three precedents had already been set in biblical history. We do not know if the church in Ephesus actually corrected the problem. If so, it was only a temporary correction.
Revelation 2:6 says,
6 yet this you do have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
Historically speaking, we learn from Cormenin’s History of the Popes, Vol. 1, p. 30,
“The Nicolaitans, the disciples of Carpocratus and of his son Epiphanus, taught promiscuous concubinage, and rendered themselves guilty of a great crime in so doing in the sight of God.”
Concubines are a lesser form of marriage that renders the wife a virtual slave. Biblical law recognizes two kinds of marriage, as I explained in my book, Old and New Covenant Marriage. In the Old Covenant, God’s wife (Israel) was a picture of Hagar, the slave-wife of Abram (Galatians 4:24, 25). In the New Covenant, God wife is pictured as Sarah, the free woman.
The Nicolaitans taught and practiced concubinage, and this became a symptom of a spiritual problem in the church itself. The early church in Ephesus did indeed hate the doctrines of the Nicolaitans, but at the same time they had left their first love. They were moving away from a direct and full marriage relationship with Christ and were moving toward an indirect relationship with Christ.
Slaves are not allowed to have a direct relationship with God. If a slave bride receives revelation, she is not allowed to act upon it without the approval of her master. The master assumes veto power over his slave. Hence, when the church (i.e., the assembly, or congregation) becomes enslaved to the church hierarchy of a denomination, it is no longer Sarah, but Hagar, and it can only bring forth an Ishmael.
The name, Nicolaitan, literally means “conquering the laity” (that is, the common people). It refers to the rise of a priestly hierarchy that usurps the place of Christ over the people. This is the Nicolaitan spirit that Jesus hates, for He desires more than anything to have a personal relationship with His bride. He does not desire a slave-bride, but one who can provide a double witness in the earth. Only a “Sarah” bride, having a New Covenant marriage relationship with Him, can fulfill His deepest desire and bring the Kingdom into the earth. Only a “Sarah” bride can bring forth the children of promise.
It is appropriate, then, that the message to the church in Ephesus would bring up the Nicolaitan problem. Its very name contains the revelation of the problem, for the essence of the spirit of denominationalism is to “conquer the laity.” God wants the laity to be free, not in bondage to men. God wants the laity to have the freedom to hear God’s voice and to act upon it without fear of persecution.
The church in Ephesus apparently recognized that under the New Covenant it was not right to have concubines—or even to have multiple wives (1 Timothy 3:2). We do not know if they understood the deeper problem of Old Covenant marriages themselves, where even one wife can be treated as a bond-woman. Because the church has always lived by progressive revelation, there were many things they yet had to learn over a period of time (John 21:25). In fact, the main purpose of the Holy Spirit was to “guide you into all truth” (John 16:13).
Revelation 2:7 concludes the message, saying,
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.
The overcomers are those who have ears to hear what the Spirit is saying. This implies that the non-overcomers in the church do not have the ability to hear what God says. Let me hasten to say, however, that there are many who have the ability to hear, but yet they do not necessarily know that they hear. The word of God comes in many ways, sometimes by direct revelation, and at other times through other people, and at other times through signs. An overcomer is one who bears witness to the word of God, for it resonates within him/her.
Such overcomers are granted the right “to eat of the tree of life.” To hear the word is to eat of it. It is why the prophets were told to “eat” the book. This was a spiritual act and had nothing to do with eating paper and ink. It was an act of assimilation, because we become what we eat and assimilate.
Eating from the tree of life, then, is to be interpreted as eating the word. The word is the tree of life. On another level, Christ is the Logos, the word made flesh, whose flesh we are to eat (John 6:56). Hence, He is the embodiment of the tree of life. When Adam and Eve ate of the other tree, they were eating of knowledge, which was not bad, but yet it was not Christ. One might say that the tree of knowledge was the Bible, but it was not the word. The Bible without the word brings traditions of men, for it lacks true revelation, for it is only carnal knowledge.
It is fully appropriate that the Spirit’s message to Ephesus would end with the reward of eating from the tree of life. It is only by overcoming the denominational spirit and having a direct relationship with God that one can truly “eat of the tree of life.” This is Paradise on earth, as all know who have tasted of its fruit.
This is part 16 of a series titled "Studies in the Book of Revelation." To view all parts, click the link below.