The Book of Revelation with commentary by Dr. Henry M. Morris and paintings by Ramona Lowe
The paintings are a work in progress and the finished pieces are highlighted in red on Page 2

Page 17

The Zealous Church           

Revelation 2:1.   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. 

     Ephesus was the capital and largest city of the province of Asia (modern southwest Turkey), and a great seaport.  It was also a very immoral city, dominated by the worship of the fertility goddess, Diana (Artemis).  The Apostle Paul established the church there (Acts 19) and spent more time there than at any of his other churches (Acts 20:31).  According to extrabiblical sources, the Apostle John later ministered there for many years and Mary the mother of Jesus died there.  Between Paul and John, Timothy was said to have been in charge of the churches in the area. 

     He who is “better than the angels” (Hebrews 1:4) and who, in fact, holds them all in His hand, and who walks in the midst of every church, reminds all the churches of His position and power as He begins His messages to them by way of the largest and strongest of the churches, the one from which apparently the others had been founded (Acts 19:10).

Revelation 2:2.   “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.

     The Ephesian Christians, forty years after their church was started by Paul, were still zealous in “works and labour and patience,” but they can be contrasted with the first Thessalonian believers, who Paul said exhibited a “work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope” (1 Thessalonians 1:3).  Faith, love, and hope – these three (1 Corinthians 13:13) – should “abide” in a church, or it will eventually die, no matter how great its zeal.  It was good and necessary, however, that the church had indeed been careful to reject those who falsely claimed to be apostles or successors of the apostles.  Innumerable people have been led away from God through the centuries by such false leaders.  There are no successors to the apostles, since one prime requirement of the Apostleship was that he must be one who had seen Christ (1 Corinthians 9:1, 2). 

Revelation 2:3.   And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name’s sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted. 

     Again the Lord emphasizes the zeal and steadfastness of the Ephesian church, all done in the name of Chirst.  Such characteristics were typical of the churches of the first century – the Apostolic Age.  As a result, the gospel had spread all over the known world (Colossians 1:5, 6, 24). 

Revelation 2:4.   Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.

     This also was typical of the churches of the late Apostolic period; their zeal and faithfulness were strong, but the warmth of their original love – for one another, for the lost, for the Lord – was beginning to cool.  But this sad testimony can be applied to multitudes of churches in every age, and every church needs continually to search its heart and test its love.

     It was to the Ephesians, in fact, that Paul had written as he closed his epistle: “Grace be with all them that love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity” (Ephesians 6:24).  A “first love” (or “chief love,” or “best love”) is a sincere love.  Do we love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity, or have we lost our first love?  That is the great question.

Revelation 2:5.   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.

     To the church at Ephesus, zealous and steadfast as it was, it was necessary for Christ to give a call to repentance (literally, a “changing of the mind”).  They must return to their first love, go back to their first works, rise up to their first level of spirituality.  If not, the day would inevitably come when its angel would be withdrawn and Christ would no longer remain in their midst.  A group of people would continue to assemble in Ephesus for many years, calling themselves a church, but it would no longer belong to Christ.  It would still be a “candlestick,” but it would be “out of his place” – that place being where Christ is.  Eventually, even the very city of Ephesus became a ruin.

     Ephesus, of course, represents every other church whose love for Christ and His Word and His people has cooled, and the Ephesian warning still applies.

Revelation 2:6.   But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitanes, which I also hate. 

     Does it come as a surprise that Christ can hate and that He approves of hating on the part of His followers?  Strange paradox – coming from the One who said: “Love your enemies.”  But it was the deeds, not the doers, which were hated.  An object of hatred on the part of the One who is Love must indeed be hateful, and it is vital that we know what it is so that we also can hate it – these deeds of the Nicolaitanes!

     If the Nicolaitanes were indeed some unknown sect, as most commentators assume, then the reason why Christ included this strange comment in an inspired epistle is also unknown.  There was, indeed, a sect of Gnostics later called Nicolaitanes but this was much later than the time of the Book of Revelation.  These Gnostics were bitter opponents of the writings of John, and probably adopted the name of Nicolaitanes as a direct affront to those who did accept John’s authority.

     But who were the Nicolaitanes at the time of John?  There is no reliable record of any such cult, although some have speculated that it could have been a group named after the early deacon, Nicolas of Antioch (Acts 6:5).  Furthermore there is no other biblical reference to any such sect or teaching.

     Yet we must believe that the reference here is important, understandable in its context, and profitable instruction for all churches everywhere.  The only clue in the Ephesian letter itself is the pervious reference – quite parallel, in fact --  to those who falsely claimed to be apostles and who had therefore been rejected by the church.

     The Apostle Paul spoke of such pseudo-apostles: “For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ.  And no marvel, for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light.  Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works” (2 Corinthians 11:13-15).  Christ also warned against false Christs and false prophets (Matthew 7:15; 24:5, 24).  John himself had warned: “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God” (1 John 4:1).  John certainly must have taught these Ephesians to do this during his ministry there, and they had indeed “tried them which say they are apostles – and hast found them liars.”  John also had warned that “every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist” (1 John 4:3).

     If there are any deeds that the Lord Jesus Christ must hate, it must be the attempts by men to claim divine authority for themselves – as apostles or as prophets or even as Christ Himself – and thus to deny His own nature and authority.  It is very probable that the term “Nicolaitanes” was thus a name originally applied to that considerable group of men who plagued the first-century church by their pretensions to divine authority.  The name itself comes from the Greek words nikao (“overcome” – used also several places in Chapters 2 and 3 to refer to those who “overcome” in the Christian life) and laos (“people”).  It is also possible that some prominent false apostle was named Nicolaus, and the Nicolaitan name thus became associated also with him, but probably the  primary reason for adopting the name was its meaning – “Those who conquer the people.”  This, at least, must be the reason why Christ, through John, used it here without any other identification or explanation.

     Thus, the Nicolaitanes, whose deeds Christ hates, were men who came into these early churches with the purpose of usurping the authority of the true apostles, such as John, and even of Christ Himself.  To accomplish this, they claimed to have divine unction or powers, even working pseudo-miracles.  They were eloquent and persuasive men.  Peter described them as “false teachers” bringing in “damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them,” able to succeed in this by using “feigned words” and “great swelling words of vanity” (2 Peter 2:1, 3, 18).  By such means, these false apostles, these “conquerors of the people,” sought to turn “the grace of our God into lasciviousness” (Jude 4) and to “allure through the lusts of the flesh, through much wantonness” (2 Peter 2:18) the young believers in these struggling churches.  John had warned his converts no doubt including those at Ephesus, about such deceivers in very strong language: “For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh.  This is a deceiver and an antichrist . . . If there come any [such] unto you, . . . receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed” (2 John 7, 10).  The Ephesians were well taught in doctrine – by Paul, by Timothy, and then by John – so they were able to recognize these lying “apostles,” and they “hated” their deeds, and the Lord commended them because of it.

     This danger was not unique to the early church, and Christ desires all churches to watch for, and repudiate, Nicolaitanism.  The dangers are as real today.  False prophets, false apostles, pseudo-miracles, people-conquerors, false teachers who deny the true divine/human nature of Christ, antinomian teachers who teach that God’s grace excuses deliberately licentious behavior, men who take authority and power to themselves that Christ never intended, are at least as great a problem in the modern church as in the early church.  Christ hates the deeds of such as these, and so should we.  We should not hate the men or women who practice such things, but we must hate and repudiate their deeds and doctrines.

Revelation 2:7.   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.

     It is a divine principle that only those who desire to do God’s will can know God’s will (John 7:17).  So, only those who have spiritual ears can hear the Spirit’s word.  Note that Christ and the Holy Spirit are so much one that what one says, the other says.  Also note that the message to the church at Ephesus was also the message to all the churches.

     John occasionally had used the word “overcome” (nikao in the Greek, same as in the prefix in Nicolaites) in his epistles (as in 1 John 2:13) and in his gospel (John 16:33), but in these it always has an object (such as “wicked one” or “world”).  Here in these epistles, however, the picture is one of overcoming all things in Christ – “overcoming” in general.  This is the first of these seven gracious promises to the “overcomer,” and it looks back to the primeval creation, with the life-giving tree in the midst of the garden (Genesis 2:9; 3:22, 24).  But it also looks forward to the new creation, where the tree of life will again be planted – not one tree only, but in the midst of the streets and along the banks of the river of water of life in the New Jerusalem.  Adam was barred from the tree of life but the overcomer will have free access to it eternally.

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