March 15, 2008

Revelation week 3a

2:1 "To the angel of the church in Ephesus, write the following:

"This is the solemn pronouncement of the one who has a firm grasp on the seven stars in his right hand– the one who walks among the seven golden menorahs:

2 'I know your works as well as your labor and steadfast endurance, and that you cannot tolerate evil. You have even put to the test those calling themselves Apostles (but are not!), and have discovered that they are false.
3 I am also aware that you have persisted steadfastly, endured much for the sake of my name, and have not grown weary.
4 But I have this against you: You have departed from your first love! 5 Therefore, remember from what high state you have fallen and repent! Do the deeds you did at the first; if not, I will come to you and remove your menorah from its place– that is, if you do not repent.
6 But you do have this going for you: You hate what the Nicolaitans practice– practices that I also hate.
7 Let the ones having ears hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers, I will permit him to eat from the tree of life that is in the paradise of God.'
The first church the Risen Jesus addresses is the church at Ephesus. There are plenty of excellent resources on the historical background of Ephesus at the end of the 1st century, so I won't attempt to reinvent the wheel here. I refer the reader to the commentaries on Revelation by Ian Boxall, Ben Witherington, Greg Beale, G.B. Caird, Eugene Boring, Justo Gonzalez and John Stott for a fuller discussion.

The Ephesian church receives a mixed review. They do some things good. They are doctrinally orthodox, full of endurance, and have a love for truth. They don't tolerate the Nicolaitans' practices (which we will look at a few paragraphs below in more detail) and they have not caved in to the pressure from their surrounding city culture to honor other gods and goddesses (Ephasus was quite idolatrous, as a reading of Acts and the book of Ephesians tell us, along with secular historians).


Like many churches that strive so hard for truth, doctrinal integrity, and theological correctness today, the Ephesian church had overlooked the most important aspect of the Body of Christ--Love! Some have used this verse to warn about not forsaking love for Jesus (one's "first love"). However, as important as that is, it is not what this verse is referring to. The commendation by Christ in the first paragraph makes pretty clear that it's not Jesus they were not loving. It was most likely one another that they had gotten away from loving! This happens when we focus so much on the vertical nature of the faith (love of God); we end up not practicing the horizontal nature very well (love of people).

But if the Ephesian believers can remember both aspects of Christian love and practice them faithfully, they will end up receiving that which humanity was originally intended to enjoy--the tree of life in the paradise of God. The very thing that Adam forfeited, Jesus promises to restore to His people...if they abide in love. Anyone doubting the importance of love for one another should reread John 14-17 and the book of 1st John in its entirety.

8 "To the angel of the church in Smyrna write the following:

"This is the solemn pronouncement of the one who is the first and the last, the one who was dead, but came to life:

9 'I know the distress you are suffering and your poverty--but you are rich! I also know the slander against you by those who are calling themselves Jews but are not (but are a synagogue of Satan!)
Do not be afraid of the things you are about to suffer. The devil is about to have some of you thrown into prison so you may be tested, and you will experience suffering for ten days. Remain faithful even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown that is life itself.
11 Let the ones having ears hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will in no way be harmed by the second death.'
The next church Jesus addresses is the church at Smyrna. The Smyrnan church is one of two churches of the seven which receives no rebuke from Jesus. In fact, they are categorically praised! However, they will continue to face persecution despite this (a main theme in Revelation!). The reference to "those who are calling themselves Jews but are not (but are a synagogue of Satan)" is not in any way an anti-semitic slander of Jews in general (as some ignorant Christians have believed), rather, it is the stating of another of Revelation's main themes--the followers of Jesus the Messiah are the true people of God, both Jew and Gentile together! Those who persecute or slander Jesus' followers, no matter what their ethnicity or religious practice, are actually doing the work of Satan, not God (the word "satan" itself simply means "one who accuses" and was a title rather than a proper name in the Hebrew Bible).

An interesting allusion is the reference to a period of testing for "ten days." This is most likely drawing on Daniel 1:12-15 where the faithful followers of God living in a pagan setting, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and
Azariah (aka. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednigo) are "tested for ten days" in order to show the faithfulness of God to their Babylonian captors. And just as these men were tested and ultimately vindicated and elevated to a status of ruling by God, the Smyrnan faithful are promised that though they may be killed bodily, they will be saved ultimately from the far worse 2nd death and they will be vindicated and elevated as well, symbolized by the mention of the "crown of life."

Two churches down, five to go!

Until next time,

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