The Church of Ephesus
Ephesus is the “pentecostal” church of Acts 2. Even as the first Pentecost under Moses (Ex. 20) was the day when God spoke the Ten Commandments, and every man heard in their own language, so also is the Ephesus Church that saw the fulfillment of Pentecost in 33 A.D. Rev. 2 says,
1 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 endure evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false.
This is the original Pentecostal Church, still moved by the Spirit, still able to discern true and false apostles. However, verses 4 and 5 tell us ominously,
4 But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. 5 Remember therefore from where you have fallen, and repent or else I am coming to you, and will remove your lampstand out of its place—unless you repent.
Rev. 2:4 says that this church had “ left its first love.” This is such a serious matter that they were in danger of having their lampstand moved out of its place. What does this mean?
Refusing to Hear God's Voice
The meaning of this becomes apparent only when we compare it with the original pentecostal church at Sinai. Under Moses, the people preferred to have a professional priest get the Word from God, and then have him tell the people what God said (Ex. 20:18 -21). All the people, no doubt, heard the Word in their own tongue, including the mixed multitude that came out of Egypt with them. The events proved to be rather frightening to the people, and so we read in Ex. 20:19,
19 Then they said to Moses, Speak to us yourself and we will listen; but let not God speak to us, lest we die.
In other words, they wanted an indirect relationship with God and did not want to approach God in person. Like the Church in the wilderness, we find that the Church of the past 2,000 years has also preferred an indirect relationship with God through a Pope and a priesthood. Roman Catholics have been taught to fear Jesus and to think of themselves as totally unworthy to approach Him. Yet the words of Moses in Exodus 20:20 still ring true throughout the centuries: “ Do not be afraid ” to approach Him and hear His voice.
Moses urged them to draw near to God and hear the rest of the Law, but “the people stood afar off ” (Ex. 20:21). The Ten Commandments were all they could stand, and it would appear that the same problem has remained to this day. The Church generally teaches its people the Ten Commandments, and this small summary of the Law seems to have been written on their hearts. But they continually refuse to hear the rest of the Law.
Since the people refused to hear the Word of God, and “faith comes by hearing” (Rom. 10:17), the people were left without the faith necessary to enter the Promised Land. The people all had sufficient faith to leave Egypt and to be justified by the blood of the Lamb; but they did not have the level of faith needed to inherit the Kingdom. Hence Psalm 95:7, 8 appeals to us still, saying (as quoted in Heb. 3:7, 8),
7 Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as when they provoked Me, as in the day of trial in the wilderness.
Thus, the people were caught in the wilderness between Egypt and Canaan. They had to remain in the wilderness for a full 40 years before entering the Promised Land. John tells us that the New Testament Church of Ephesus had the same problem, and this affected all seven Churches for the next 40 Jubilees.
Consequently, they would have to spend the next 40 Jubilees in the wilderness before God would allow the overcomers to enter the Promise through the feast of Tabernacles. There was a “church in the wilderness” under Moses (Acts 7:38) that wandered in the wilderness for 40 years, and there has also been a church in the wilderness in the New Testament sense that has wandered in its own wilderness for 40 Jubilees from 33 to 1993 A.D.
Both wilderness wanderings were for the same reason: they were too fearful to approach God directly and to receive divine revelation from His mouth. They preferred a man to tell them what God said. They thought it best to empower a professional priest to represent God to them. But faith does not come through any but God alone. That is a spiritual process, by which the Spirit of God leads us into all Truth. This may come through the preaching of men, or by the reading of the Scriptures, or even by the contemplation of nature itself. But without the action of the Holy Spirit, no man can truly hear the Word of God with ears that bring genuine faith. Hearing men brings only persuasion; hearing the voice of God produces faith.
The Problem Foreshadowed by King Saul
In our book, The Wheat and Asses of Pentecost, we showed that King Saul was a pentecostal type in the Old Testament. According to 1 Samuel 12:17, Saul was crowned king on the day of wheat harvest. This was the feast of weeks, later called Pentecost.
Saul's kingdom preceded the kingdom of David. Saul represents Pentecost, even as David represents the feast of Tabernacles. Both are legitimate kingdoms in the sight of God, but they did not have the same character. Saul represents the Church during the Age of Pentecost (33-1993 A.D.), while David represents the Church during the Age of Tabernacles in the next thousand years.
The point is that God gave Israel a king (Saul) because the people demanded a king like the nations. The people were tired of having God (Jesus Christ) rule them directly, because He held them to a high standard and would judge them for their idolatry. Instead of repenting of their idolatry, the people wanted to lower the standard of morality. We read in 1 Samuel 8:7,
7 And the Lord said to Samuel, Listen to the voice of the people in regard to all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them.
Essentially, the people preferred an indirect relationship with God. They wanted to be in submission to men, and be in submission to God only indirectly. This event set a pattern and a precedent that has characterized the Pentecostal Age almost from the beginning.
This is what God had against the church of Ephesus. This is what God had against the church during its “Ephesus” period from 33-64 A.D. In desiring men to rule them, they had rejected Christ's rule. This is why the issue was so important. This is why Christ said that He would remove their lampstand if they did not repent of this. And the implication of this prophecy is that most of the Church would NOT repent.
And so when we study Church history, we find that this problem has persisted to the present day. The Roman Catholic Church openly demands submission to their priesthood, and they teach that men can have a relationship with God only through them. It is the classic fulfillment of King Saul's reign in Israel.
This problem diminished among the Protestants who revolted in the 16th century. However, today we again see churches teaching the same doctrine of submission to men. If an ordinary Christian is not submitted to some man (pastor), then he is said to be in rebellion against God.
But Rev. 2:5 says that Christians are to repent of this thinking, because it leads to an indirect relationship with God, which is based upon the Old Covenant and Hagar, rather than the New Covenant and Sarah. Such an indirect relationship with God disqualifies a person from being a true Pentecostal.
The path to God is depicted in Moses' tabernacle as having three stages—the outer court, the Holy Place, and the Most Holy Place. The outer court is the place where the brazen altar and laver were located. It represents the experience of Passover, where the believer has come for justification and baptism. The Holy Place represents Pentecost. The Most Holy Place represents the Feast of Tabernacles.
The lampstand was located in the Holy Place —which represents Pentecost. Thus, when Christ warned the Pentecostal Church of Ephesus that they might have their lampstand removed from its place, it means if they did not repent of their desire to be in submission to men rather than to God directly, they would lose their place as true Pentecostals. Their lampstand would be removed from the Holy Place and (presumably) be relocated in the outer court with the other believers who reject Pentecost.
However, those who do repent of desiring to be in submission to men are the overcomers. These are the ones who are given a reward, as we read in Rev. 2:7,
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.
Take note that the overcomers are those who have ears to hear. True Pentecostals are those who hear and obey God. The rest of the Church prefers to hear and obey men who claim to represent God.
John speaks of the overcomers as a smaller group within that Church to whom the reprimands do not apply. These overcomers are like Caleb and Joshua, the men who did have the faith to enter into the Promised Land and inherit the Kingdom. Caleb and Joshua urged the people to obey God and enter the land of Canaan, but the people attempted to stone them (Num. 14:10). So also has the Church in the Pentecostal Age stoned and persecuted its overcomers for daring to suggest that they move beyond the wilderness of Pentecost into the experience of the Feast of Tabernacles.
While the majority of the believers in the Ephesus Church from 33 to 64 A.D. preferred to listen to what men said about God, there were some who heard God for themselves. This does not mean that they refused to listen to men preaching the Word. But when they listened to men's preaching, they were listening to hear God through those men. They had the capability of discerning by the Spirit to know what was of God and what was not.
It was inevitable that such a capacity to hear directly from God would eventually clash with accepted teachings of men. Hence, it should be no surprise when conflicts arose and when the Church would accuse its overcomers of causing division, strife, and schism.
The Spirit of the Lord
The Seven Spirits of God were distributed to the Seven Churches. These Seven Spirits mentioned in Rev. 1:4 are listed in Isaiah 11:4. These correlate with the seven churches as follows:
|NT Church||Spirit||Given Reward|
|Ephesus||Spirit of the Lord||Tree of Life|
|Smyrna||Understanding||Crown of Life|
|Philadelphia||Strength (Might)||Pillar in Temple|
|Laodicea||Fear of the Lord||Sit in Throne|
Each Church seems to have been given a specific Spirit according to the need. The Ephesus Church was given the Spirit of the Lord.
The Spirit of the Lord is given to the central shaft on the temple Candlestick, or Lamp Stand. Just as the olive oil was poured into the central shaft, and supplied the other six branches, so also was the Holy Spirit poured into the “Ephesus” Church in 33 A.D. Jerusalem was the geographical location of the sending forth of the Holy Spirit, but Ephesus was the first Church Age from 33-64 A.D.
If we compare this with the Church under Moses, we see that the Holy Spirit came down upon Mount Sinai as fire, and the voice of God was heard out of the midst of the fire (Deut. 4:26). If the people had been ready for a direct relationship with God at that time, and ready to hear His voice, the Holy Spirit would have been poured into that “Church in the wilderness.”
But most were not willing to hear, and they demanded that Moses hear God on their behalf. They were incapable of overcoming, even though they had all left Egypt by faith. Their level of faith was low. They were capable of accepting and experiencing Passover (or, Justification by faith), and so they were able to leave Egypt and become citizens of the Kingdom of God. But they were incapable of experiencing Pentecost at that time.
Without the ability to hear God for themselves, they were unable to develop the faith necessary to enter the land of Canaan. As Heb. 4:2 explains,
2 For indeed we have had good news preached to us, just as they also; but the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard.
The people under Moses were afraid to hear the voice of God, and this fear cast out faith. This is also why Rev. 21:8 mentions “the fearful” as being those disqualified to enter the Kingdom. Fear prevents men from drawing near to God and enjoying a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Fear is the underlying motive for man's demand for a religious priest to approach God on his behalf.
Priests, then, eventually see their position of power as a way of controlling people. 1 John 4:18 says,
18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.
Roman Catholic priests tend to encourage people to fear God, rather than to love Him, in order to strengthen their power over the laity. Soon Jesus became so fearsome that no ordinary person was thought to be good enough to approach Him without being incinerated. Thus, the Church elevated the Virgin Mary as a mediator between men and Jesus. No one could approach this fearsome and holy Jesus except through Mary.
Thus, Jesus was to be feared; Mary was to be loved. And by these teachings, the people were cut off from direct access to Jesus Christ and were locked into an indirect relationship with Him. This was how the Church came to fulfill the prophetic pattern of King Saul.
It is precisely this fear-driven need for a priesthood that gave rise to the problem of Nicolaitanism. Rev. 2:6 commends the Ephesus Church, saying,
6 Yet this you do have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
John says very little about the Nicolaitans. The only other verse that mentions them is Rev. 2:15 in connection to the Church of Pergamos (Greek name), or Pergamum (Latin name). It says,
15 Thus you also have some who in the same way hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans.
It is apparent from this that by the time of the third of the seven churches, this teaching had become a serious problem.
Historically speaking, we learn from Cormenin's History of the Popes, Vol. 1, p. 30,
“The Nicolaites, 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 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 (Gal. 4:24, 25). In the New Covenant, God's 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 (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 moving toward the earlier model of Hagar's Old Testament slave-relationship.
The name, Nicolaitan, literally means “conquering the laity” (that is, the common people) and refers to the rise of a priestly hierarchy that usurps the place of Christ over the people. The slave-girl, Hagar, had to hear God through Abram. He heard God for her, and she was required only to be obedient to him. So also, the priesthood in the Church became the “husband” of the Hagar-Church, and she lost the right to hear God for herself.
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, by which all things are established by law. 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.
This does not mean we should abolish Church leadership. Far from it. God raises up leaders with various gifts and callings, but every man must discern for himself whether those leaders speak under inspiration of God or not. The message to the Church of Ephesus commends them for hating “the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate” (Rev. 2:6). It would appear that the Apostles themselves, especially Paul, fought against Nicolaitanism, always pointing them to the headship of Christ.
A good example of this is found in 1 Cor. 11:1, where Paul says, “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.” Paul would not have expected anyone to follow him or be obedient to him if he were operating in his own flesh by his own carnal will and desire. The people were expected to follow him insofar as he was “ of Christ ” (that is, under the anointing of the Spirit).
If Paul (or Peter) had become corrupted and carnal, God would not have expected others to follow him at all—regardless of his original calling. In the same manner on a corporate scale, God does not require that any man follow the corruptions of any religious leader or denomination just because they started out with a genuine revelation from God. To do so would be to accept the doctrine and deeds of the Nicolaitans which God hates.
This is also proven by the fact that Jesus did not expect the people in His day to remain in Judaism, just because its founder (Moses) was inspired by God. The priesthood in Jesus' day had become corrupted and no longer reflected the views or practices of Moses. For this reason God separated the Christians into a new Church, a new body of called-out ones. But instead of being called out of Egypt, these were called out of Judaism.
The Ephesus Church had left its first love by refusing to hear the voice of God, even as Israel refused to hear the voice of God directly at the foot of Mount Sinai. In this they are reprimanded, for this is the root cause of the later problem of Nicolaitanism. Nonetheless, during the time of this earliest Church era, the leadership of the Church—under the influence of the Apostles—had recognized the problem and hated it. In other words, the problem existed, but God commended this Church for preaching against it and keeping it from developing fully during the time of the Church of Ephesus (33-64 A.D.)
The problem shifted, however, in the Smyrna Church era.