What about Ephesus?

Posted: Thu. Jan, 26 2017

Name’s the same

We have been compiling a large amount of evidence that strongly suggests the assemblies in Revelation 2 and 3 are NOT churches of the kind that Paul writes to in his letters.

We still have a few more things to consider.

This week we start out by noticing one similarity between the assemblies of Revelation and the churches in Paul’s letters.

In one instance, they share the same name & location:  Ephesus.

 

Is there an Ephesus connection?

If there is any place where we would expect to find similarities between the Revelation assemblies and the Pauline churches, it would be here,  with the assembly at Ephesus.

If Revelation 2 and 3 are really about us, then there should be solid connections between Revelation 2:1-7 and the letter of Paul to the saints who are at Ephesus.

But do those connections exist?

Let’s begin with Ephesians 1:1.

EPH 1:1-2
1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,

To the saints who are at Ephesus and who are faithful in Christ Jesus: 2  Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

 

Same city, different address

How does Paul address  the believers at Ephesus?   To the saints.

This is very different from how John addresses his audience in Revelation 2:1-7.

For one thing, he never uses the word “saints” when he speaks about the members of the assemblies. In fact, he never uses the word “saints”  at all in Revelation 2 or 3.

The word “saints” will  not appear in Revelation until chapter 5.

What’s more, John never addresses the members of the assembly at Ephesus directly at all.

The entire letter is addressed to the angel of the assembly at Ephesus.

REV 2:1-7
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 tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false;  3 and you have perseverance and have endured for My name's sake, and have not grown weary.  4 'But I have this against you, that you have left your first love.  5 'Therefore remember 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.  6 'Yet this you do have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.  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.'

So the letter is addressed  to the angel of the church at Ephesus, and its contents are directed at this angel as well.

Also, John does not instruct the angel to read this letter to the assembly.

In addition, every time “you” or “your” occurs in this letter, it is in the singular.

For example, in verse 4:

‘ But I have this against you (singular), that you (singular) have left your (singular) first love.’

These three features hold for every one of the seven letters in Revelation 2 and 3.

They are all addressed to the angel of the assembly.

Why the singular? There are least two possible explanations.

It could be that the Lord is only addressing the angel, or it could be that the Lord is addressing individual members of the assembly.

Either way, this is completely foreign to the letters of Paul to the saints.

He writes directly to them, and he usually addresses the group in the plural. When Paul uses the singular, it is usually either to reprimand an individual or to speak about the unbeliever.

 

Who are these angels?

While we are on the subject, there is a great deal of speculation as to who these angels are.

They could either be angels from heaven, or human messengers sent by the Lord.

It is highly unlikely (as some maintain) that these are church age pastor-teachers or elders. For one thing, pastors and elders are never referred to as angeloi anywhere else.  Any why not simply address them as elders or overseers, if that is who they are.

John was certainly familiar with the term “elder”.

He calls himself one in 2 John 1 and 3 John 1.  But he never calls himself an angel.  In Revelation he is called a bond-servant of the Lord.

Considering all the facts, the angels of Rev 2-3 could be human messengers who had been sent by the Lord to these seven assemblies.  Or, they could be angels similar to the ones in Daniel who were assigned to nations.

But whether they are heavenly angels or earthly messengers, this use of the term “angelos” fits well with the use of the term “malak” in the Old Testament.

But neither of these match how Paul uses the word “angelos” in his letters.  Paul usually presents angels as observers rather than communicators. Several times he talks about angels  in a very negative way, be it the messenger of satan who tormented him (2CO 12:7) or the worship of the angels (COL 2:18).  A third way Paul talks about angels is in connection with the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.   But never in terms of a messenger sent by God with a message to the saints.

Paul himself is the messenger sent by the Lord to the Gentiles!

 

Contents in common?

Now it’s time to look at the messages themselves.

Do the contents of the letter to the assembly in Ephesus in Revelation 2:1-7 correspond in any significant way to Paul’s letter to the saints at Ephesus?

To answer this question, we are first going to look at what is said about the two groups.

After that, we will see whether or not the commands that Paul gives the saints are used as the basis for some or all of the evaluation given in REV 2:1-7.

 

The contents of REV 2:1-7 have to do with human activity, good or bad.

Deeds, toil, perseverance, not tolerating evil men, endurance,  leaving one’s first love, hating the deeds of the Nicolaitans.

 

What is said about the saints in Ephesians is fundamentally  different.

It’s all about what God has done for us.

He has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies.

He predestined us to adoption as sons.

He freely bestowed His grace on us in the Beloved.

We have redemption through the blood of Christ.

Our sins have all been forgiven.

God has made known to us the mystery of His will.

We have obtained an inheritance in Christ.

We were sealed in Christ with the Holy Spirit of promise.

And that’s just the first 14 verses of chapter 1.  The letter goes on from there with many more things that God has done for us!

Like the fact that the church is the fullness of Christ, and God is manifesting His wisdom through the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenlies!

Let’s now look what REV 2:7 has to say about the ones in Ephesus who overcome. Then let’s compare that to what is true about all of us already.

 

Do we get to eat of the Tree of Life?

REV 2:7
To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God.'

Here is the general principle:

Things that are conditioned on overcoming in Rev 2-3, we already have.

We are not hoping to be able to eat from the Tree of Life if we overcome …

We have eternal life! Acts 13:48, ROM 6:22-23.

Because that’s what eating from the Tree of Life is all about.

Now besides the book of Revelation, THE Tree of Life only appears in the Bible in the book of Genesis.  Proverbs has A tree of life, but not THE tree of Life.

Here’s what Genesis teaches us about the Tree of Life:

GEN 3:22-24
22 Then the Lord God said, "Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever" —  23 therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden, to cultivate the ground from which he was taken. 24 So He drove the man out; and at the east of the garden of Eden He stationed the cherubim and the flaming sword which turned every direction to guard the way to the tree of life.

You see, whoever eats from the Tree of Life in paradise - lives forever.  They receive eternal life.

The saints that Paul wrote to in Ephesus already had eternal life. And so do we!

EPH 2:4-9
4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ ( by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is  the gift of God; 9  not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.

 

But Paul gave me different marching orders!

Let’s move on to the commands Paul gives the saints at Ephesus.

 Again, if the letter to the angel at Ephesus in REV 2:1-7 is the final evaluation of the church that was started by Paul, you would expect  that evaluation to grade the saints on how well they fulfilled Paul’s commands.

But do we find that?

Paul’s commands include:

EPH 4:1-3
Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, 3 being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

Here we have the essence of things. The commands in Ephesians are about  preserving the unity and facilitating the  growth of the body of Christ.

But the body of Christ is never  mentioned in Revelation 2 and 3.  Or anywhere else in the book of Revelation for that matter.

EPH 4:15-16
but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes
the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.

EPH 4:17
17  So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk,

EPH 4:22-24
that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old man, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, 23 and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24 and put on the new man, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.

Yet none of these things are brought up in Revelation 2.  Not one!

Nothing about preserving the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

Nothing about speaking the truth in love, or walking no longer as the Gentiles walk.

Nothing about putting on the new man.

Nothing about putting away bitterness, wrath, or slander.

Nothing about being kind to one another.

Nothing about forgiving one another.

In fact, there is almost no overlap at all between the criteria in REV 2:1-7  and the commands of Ephesians.

One could argue that putting false apostles to the test, and hating the Nicolaitans, correspond to EPH 5:6

 Ephesians 5: 6  Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. 7 Therefore do not be partakers with them.

But that’s about it.

And it is highly unlikely that church Paul writes to in Ephesians had any idea who the Nicolaitans were. Paul certainly doesn’t tell them!

As a matter of fact, here we are two thousand years later, and WE are still guessing at the identity of the Nicolaitans!

But there is nothing in Revelation about being completed by the Spirit.  Nothing about husbands loving their wives, wives respecting their husbands.

Nothing about putting on the full armor of God.

Nothing about prayer.

 

Hey, Paul never warned us about that!

Let’s go at this the other way, starting with the criteria that Jesus uses to judge the assembly at Ephesus.

Why didn’t Paul counsel the saints at Ephesus to make sure that they adhered to this list of criteria?  Why doesn’t Paul warn them with the same warnings we find in Revelation?

Why is there nothing in Paul’s letter to the saints at Ephesus about the need to persevere?  Why no statements about evil men or false apostles, and how to identify them?

Why no warning about leaving their first love?

Why no call to repent?

Why no heads up that they would lose their lampstand if they didn’t remember from where they fell and repent and do the deeds they did at first?

 

A baffling situation

And again, why is there nothing about the Nicolaitans??

This could be applied to the rest of the warnings in Revelation 2 and 3 also.

Here’s the bottom line:  the Gentile saints in Ephesus who received Paul’s letter would have been totally baffled by the contents of the letter in Revelation 2.

So unfortunately, in the one place where we would most expect to find similarities between Paul and Revelation 2 & 3, we find almost none.

We have to therefore ask the question:  on what basis can anybody maintain that we, saints by calling, are subject to the critiques and warnings of Rev 2-3?

Next time, we will look at three final topics, but at this point it should surprise no one that these also will support the same conclusion.

After that, we will be ready to tackle the follow-up question: if these assemblies are not Pauline churches…. WHO ARE THEY??

 

Until the next time, we’re all ….

In His grip,

Pastor John

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