Do you remember your first car? My first car was a 1972 red Buick Skylark convertible. I loved driving that car. I suddenly became excited to run errands for my parents. I was thrilled to run out for a gallon of milk. I always offered to be the one behind the wheel. I have been driving now for over twenty years and do not have the same joy in running errands for the family. The initial excitement of a sixteen-year old driving his first car is like the excitement of a new Christian living out their faith. A new Christian can’t wait to talk about their faith. They can’t wait to read their Bibles and gather with God’s people. They tell anyone who will listen what has happened to them. And yet, over time the early excitement of new faith begins to fade. The initial joy slows fades away. Although it fades, it can be recovered. I can close my eyes and be transported driving down Hicks road in Palatine, IL for the first time by myself with the top down 20 years ago. As I can close my eyes and be transported on a rock in Lake Champion, NY looking up at the stars awestruck that the one who created the world loved me a sinner. We all have the moment of first loves. The love of the freedom of our first car. The love of the feeling of our first kiss with our spouse. The love of the Savior of our first hearing of the gospel.
As we approach our text this morning, I pray we would be reminded of our first love or the love we had at first. It is in the love of Christ, we approach his word today. Let us approach our text today by asking several questions. First,
Who is the Angel of the Church?
In John’s vision in Revelation 1:9-20, John sees the Lord Jesus holding seven stars in his right hand. Jesus interprets the vision in saying, “As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands, the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.” The stars are the angels of the seven churches addressed in this letter. The first letter written to Ephesus begins, “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: The words of him who holds the seven stars in this right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands.” Who are the angels in chapter 1 and who is the angel representing each church?
There is no uniform agreement among scholars who the angels represent. There are two camps of interpretations and then variations within each of those camps. Either one views the angels as a heavenly being or a human being. Those who believe that the angel is an actual person, either believe it is the teaching pastor of the church or the representative from the church who visited John to receive this letter. Although the word angel can be translated messenger as it is in other places in the New Testament, John only uses the Greek word for angel in Revelation to communicate a heavenly being. The strongest argument for an angel being a human representative of the church is that the letter requires real actions which would be hard to carry out if the main audience was a heavenly being.
The second camp views the angels as heavenly beings. Some believe that God has assigned an angel to each church to guide and protect the congregation. Others believe that the angel is a symbol of the prevailing spirit within the congregation. I believe the best interpretation would fall somewhere in this camp where the angel is connected to the heavenly places. The two main reasons I believe the angel is connected to a heavenly being is because John only uses the Greek word in Revelation to communicate something other worldly. The second reason is the purpose of John’s writing. He is trying to encourage the persecuted church by reminding them that they do not have merely an earthly existence, but a heavenly one. The Bible consistently emphasizes a future glorious heavenly hope to overcome present earthly challenges.
As we begin our study in revelation, it is important to note there will be certain concepts that we will not be able to be definitive in our interpretation. We are reminded to have humility in our interpretations and charity towards others in theirs. Although we do not exactly know who the angle is, we do not who is speaking. The one who holds the seven stars in his right hand who walks among the lampstands. The Lord Jesus Christ is speaking. The one who has all power and authority is in our midst. Jesus is present with us and Jesus is powerful for us. Those twin truths should anchor us in the raging sea of earthly trials.
What are the Works of the Church?
After the introduction, Jesus always begins with two simple words: I know. The Lord Jesus is omniscient; he knows everything. As we gather today, we can be confident that the Lord knows all. Revelation 2:2-3,
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. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary.
Jesus begins his letter to the church of Ephesus commending them for their works. The church’s works can be seen with three headings.
They have Patient Endurance
Jesus understands the trials that we face. He is one who sticks closer than a brother. Jesus patiently endured evil as he worked on the earth and now he sees his church walking in the same manner. He is encouraged that the church has held fast to sound doctrine and continued in the faith regardless of their circumstances. They are pressing on to the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. There is something to be said for patient endurance.
William Wilberforce fought vigorously to stop the slave trade in the late 18th century. He faced opposition from within and outside his own party. There are points he was left utterly exhausted and almost ready to give up. One of the encouragements that kept Wilberforce fighting against the slave trade was a letter he received from John Wesley. Six days before his death, on February 24th, 1791, Wesley wrote to Wilberforce,
Dear Sir…Unless the divine power has raised you up to be as “Athanasius against the world,” I see not how you can go through your glorious enterprise in opposing that execrable villainy, which is the scandal of religion, of England, and of human nature. Unless God has raised you up for this very thing, you will be worn out by the opposition of men and devils. But if God be for you, who can be against you? Are all of them stronger than God? O be not weary of well-doing! Go on, in the name of God and in the power of His might, till even American slavery (the vilest that ever saw the sun) shall vanish away before it.
Wilberforce endured because a letter reminded him of the presence and power of God. The church at Ephesus endured because a letter reminded them of the presence and power of God. I pray our church would endure as we are reminded of the presence and the power of God.
God is pleased when we, as the Ephesians, bear patiently with him. They did not grow weary in their fight and I pray we will follow their example.
They Hate Evil
The church also hated evil. They did not tolerate sin in their midst. In Paul’s last words to the Ephesian elders, he prophesied that there were going to come false teachers from within the church. Acts 20:28-32,
Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that 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. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears. And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.
Paul’s word proved true. There were false teachers that came to Ephesus and the church resisted them. There were two main ways they recognized and resisted these false teachers. First, they rejected their way of life. Jesus said, “Beware of false prophets…you will recognize them by their fruits.” In the Didache, a 1st century document for the church said that one can test a true prophet by if, “he have the behavior of the Lord.”
Beloved, must continue in the spirit of the Ephesians saints and fight for purity in the body of Christ. We must pursue godliness and hate evil. One of the tactics of the devil is to lessen our hatred of evil. If we laugh at sin, we are more likely to commit it. Be on guard against the subtle acceptance of sin. Train your mind to see sin in its most horrific light.
The Ephesians also rejected false teachers by their message.
They believe in True Teaching
They discovered these apostles to be false because their teaching did not accord with godliness (1 Timothy 6:3). Ephesus was a place that loved sound doctrine. They loved the truth. They would have been the church to host conferences on expository preaching and systematic theology. They loved the truth. And because they knew and loved the church, they rejected the false teachers. Including the teaching of the Nicolaitans, which we will revisit in more depth in a few weeks.
Jesus is pleased how the Ephesians loved sound doctrine. I hope Jesus is pleased with us in our zeal for sound doctrine. We are growing more and more in our love for the truth. People often ask me what I am most encouraged by in the life of our church and for last several months, it has been our zeal for the truth. It is so encouraging to see so many people desire to know the riches of God’s Word. We are a word-saturated church. Praise God for his kindness in what he has done and what He is doing in our midst. It is such a blessing to see a people built around the word of God.
And as it so often is, one of our greatest strengths can become one of our greatest weaknesses.
What is the Danger of the Church?
Jesus was so pleased with how the church loved sound doctrine and purity, but he was discouraged with their love. Revelation 1:4, “But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.” It is never a positive thing to hear the Lord Jesus say, “I have this against you.” For all the positives in the life of the church, they had abandoned love they had at the beginning of their walk with Christ. What is this love that the church had lost? John does not separate the love of God and the love of the body. Our love for God is manifested in our love for others. Or our love for others is fueled by our love for God. There are intimately connected. G. K. Beale notes that the love John is referring to is the love of the lost. The church has lost its zeal to witness to the world. Jesus presents himself as one who holds the golden lampstands and the one who has the power to remove its lampstand from its place.
This is a great danger. It isn’t though they had forgotten about God for they were zealously pursuing the truth. The danger was that they were pursuing the truth apart from a heart saturated with the love of God. You can be a word-saturated church without love-saturated hearts. Are you loving the body? Has any bitterness grown in your heart towards others? Do you have unresolved anger towards someone in the church? How is our love?
Also, how is our witness? Are we loving those outside our walls? Are we zealous to witness to the world? This past weekend, we had a campout in the backyard. I told the boys that it was their job to keep the fire going. They had to make sure there was enough wood. And if there wasn’t wood, then they had to go find it. It was their job to fan the flame to keep the fire burning. They had to tend it because it is natural for fire to go out. It needs fuel to burn. It is natural for love to grow cold. If we do not fan the flame of our love for God, his church, and the world, it will cease to burn. Has our love grown cold for the world? Have we forgotten that Christ shines through us to the world? We are the lampstand.
In the temple, there was one lampstand representing Israel. Israel was called to be a light to the Gentiles. Isaiah prophesied that Israel would not just be a light to the tribes of Jacob, but to the ends of the earth. Isaiah 49:6,
It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”
Notice in Revelation there is not one lampstand, but seven. The seven golden lampstands represent the seven churches. The church is called to be a light to the ends of the earth bringing the glorious salvation of Christ to all people.
We probably all can remember those early days of our salvation. We so loved the Lord that we could not wait to share him. We wanted to tell our parents, our friends, our neighbors, and coworkers, of what God did in our lives. He saved from hell and adopted as sons. He paid for my sins and gave me new life. One of the gifts God has given our church is new life through our young people. The zeal our students have for the lost has changed our congregation and protected us from abandoned our love for the lost. And yet, we do not fan the flame of our love for God it will grow cold. How do we continue in a white-hot love for God, his church and the lost?
What is the Response of the Church?
Jesus gives commands to his church to recover their love. Let us heed his words as they were not given only to Ephesian believers, but all Christians.
Revelation 2:5a, “Remember therefore where you have fallen.” The first task is to remember. We must remember our history. We must remember how Israel, our forefathers, had their lampstand removed because of their unwillingness to shine to the nations. They did not witness to the nations but became like the nations. God sent them to exile and disciplined them. Let us learn the history of the people of God so we do not repeat it. And not only are we to remember Israel’s history but our own. Do you remember how lost you were without Christ? Do you remember your sin and trials? Do you remember when someone first shared the good news with you? That although your sin has put you under divine judgment, God has sent forth his Son to take your punishment. You deserve hell, but Jesus has taken hell for you on the cross. How glorious is it to remember all that God had against you was swallowed up in the cross of the Lord Jesus?
Non-Christian, do you know how far you have fallen? Do you know that God created you for his glory? He created you to love him and serve and to glorify him, but you, like the rest of us, went astray. You walked away from God’s love and lived for yourself. The Bible says that every lie, every selfish act, every lustful thought, every self-righteous decision has to be punished. The wages of sin is death. We all deserve death for our sin, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ. Jesus came to die for sinners. He paid the penalty for everyone who would repent and believe in him. Friend, search your heart. If you are honest, you will realize your imperfection and your need for a Savior. Come to Jesus. He is a loving and kind Lord.
After we do the mental work of remembering, we must then follow through in repentance. To repent is to turn. It is to change your mind about the place of Jesus Christ in your life and then act upon that change. It is an “about-face” when we make a 180-degree turn. We change the direction our lives. Repentance is not merely mental but requires works. A tree will be judged by its fruit. Jesus says,
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. (Rev. 2:5b)
We show our repentance in our works. Faith without works is dead. True repentance always has actions. Our growth in the Christian life is often slow, but its aim is sure. We aim to live a life of repentance unto the Lord. Right doctrine without right living is a false religion. See the consequences if we don’t repent; the Lord will remove our lampstand.
There is probably both a present and future aspect of judgment. John does not always differentiate from present chastisement and future punishment. The Lord desires his church to be a light; a witness of his grace to the world. We must take his warning seriously. We do not want to have our light snuffed out, but to continue to shine.
To drive home his point, Jesus reminds the church of the importance of hearing and heeding his words, as he did while he was on the earth. Revelation 2:7, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Notice that Jesus does not say hear what the Spirit says to the church, but to the churches. Jesus is speaking to Ephesians as he is speaking to us. The Spirit of God has given us the Scriptures. The Bible is God-breathed (2 Tim 3:16). The words were written by men carried along by the Spirit (2 Peter 1:21). The challenge in John’s day is the challenge in our day, “Will we hear the Word of God?”
One of the reasons we make the preaching of the Word of God central to our services is we want to obey this command. God speaks. We hear. This is how the church has lived for over 2,000 years. The Word of God is declared and the people of God hear and obey. We do not need new methods, but better ears.
Jesus closes with one last picture of hope given to this church. Jesus brings them back to the Garden of Eden and then points them forward to the new and more glorious Eden,
To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.’
After Adam and Eve sinned against God, they made coverings for themselves, but there can be no covering without the shedding of blood so God took an animal and clothed Adam and Eve with its skin. Then Genesis 3:22-24 says,
Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—” therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.
There was no way to the tree life. Man had been expelled from the Garden, but in Revelation, Jesus promised that if one conquers they will be granted the ability to eat of the tree of life in paradise with God.
To conquer in the biblical sense is to overcome the world by believing in Jesus Christ. To conquer is to keep the faith in the gospel. Jesus Christ is the only one who grants access to the tree of life. The only way we can receive the tree of life in paradise is through believing in the tree of life; the cross. Jesus brought life through a cursed tree so that you and I would be granted the privilege of eating from the tree of life. The “tree” of Christ in the only way to the tree of life. 1 Peter 2:24, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.”
To conquer is to persevere. To conquer is to patiently endure with Jesus. To conquer is to believe in Jesus who began a good work in us and will carry it to completion. To conquer is love Jesus and the tree where he bored our sins to bring us life. Salvation is gift. It is granted to all who have the Son. He who has the Son has life. Beloved, let us always remember that he who is in us is stronger than he who is in the world. Let us conquer in holding fast to Christ and the tree which brings life. We let never forget to love the tree of life.