Christians still need to persevere. Enduring trials and tribulations in the name of Christ remains a Christian virtue, a commendable quality. The Lord had warned that things would not be easy for believers and that only those who endured to the end shall be saved (Mark 13:13; Matt.10:22;24:13). Even as Jesus himself endured the shame of the cross, believers are encouraged to run the race of life and faith with perseverance (Heb.12:1-2).In James 1:12 it is said that those who persevere under trial and stand the test will receive the crown of life. That the Lord commended the church in Ephesus for her perseverance is thus understandable.

Intolerance of Wicked People

A third word of commendation for the Ephesian believers had to do with their intolerance of wicked men (v.2). It is said they had tested those who claimed to be apostles but were found wanting. Although nothing more is said about this, by the reference itself it can be assumed that the church in Ephesus had problems with heresy or the teachings of false apostles. A reading of Paul’s letters to the Ephesians and Galatians would indicate very clearly that heresy and other problems associated with the claims of false apostles were rampant among the churches of Asia Minor. The church in Ephesus must have handled the problem, very well to deserve the commendation of the Lord.

False prophets and their heresies, of course, remain a problem for the Church today. Many assume bogus titles, such as “Senior

Apostle,” “Christ’s Evangelist-Apostle,” etc., only to be found wanting on basic matters of Christian life. For instance, stories abound of how some of these “Prophet-Apostles” turn mission houses into mini-brothels or elope with members’ wives. Others turned church property into private estates and have no qualms in declaring publicly that one of the goals of their public rallies or crusades is personal affluence. As these pseudo-Christian leaders seek material enrichment, power, and self-aggrandizement the flock of Christ are misled and left in disarray. This may explain why many believers, churches, and denominations today find themselves embroiled in deep internal conflicts, including legal action.

Like the Ephesian believers of old, Christians today need to be watchful of the activities of false teachers, preachers or apostles. They must be checked. They must not be tolerated. Rather, the ‘Church should expose them for what they are: wicked men who have been tested and found to be false. It is only in so doing that the Church today can earn her Lord’s commendation.

Hatred for the Practices of the Nicolaitans

Among those things found in the favour of the church in Ephesus was hatred for the practices of the Nicolaitans, which the Lord said he also hated (2:6). Incidentally, nothing else is said about the issue. The main questions would be: Who were the Nicolaitans and what were their practices? It must first be noted, however, that the letter indicates that the church was being commended for her hatred for the practices of the Nicolaitans. No indication is given that the Nicolaitans themselves as a people were hated.

Several attempts have been made to identify the Nicolaitans, but R.H. Charles states that there does not seem to be any certainty. A more contemporary and common understanding is to see the Nicolaitans as either identical with or a larger group that subsumes the Balaamites of2:14-15 and the Jezebel of 2:20. The teachings they are accused of -sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols – are explained in these later contexts and appear the same. Besides, the etymology of Balaam (which is Hebrew) and Nicolaitan (which is Greek) demonstrates a similarity of meaning. It is thus conjectured that John the Seer must have been doing some play on words, a common feature in

He argues that the immorality Balaam and Jezebel are accused of is used symbolically to talk of idolatry, a regular usage in both the Old and New Testaments. This contention finds support in the fact that “sexual immorality” and the “eating of food sacrificed to idols” are presented together in the two contexts here (2:14 and 20).

But whoever the Nicolaitans were and whatever the nature of their practices, the church in Ephesus was commended for not accepting those practices. It was enough that they hated what the Lord hated. To hate what the Lord hates and love what he loves is the most practical guide to Christian life and ministry.

The Weakness

Despite the strengths of the church in Ephesus and the accolades she received from the Lord, a major weakness was identified. In 2:4 the Lord said he had one thing against them: they had forsaken their first love. Nothing further, however, is said about this weakness. Yet whatever touches on love would have to be regarded as serious.

Could it be that the Ephesian Christians had grown cold in their love for God and his work? Or did they become so task-oriented, immersed in the demands of their labour and activities, that they no longer had time for fellowship and the expression of love and care to each other? Did they in their quest for purity of belief and practice become insensitive and indifferent to each others’ concerns? They were commended for hating the practices of the Nicolaitans. Could it be that in their hatred for the practices of the Nicolaitans, they became less loving of them as persons?

Whatever may be the true situation of the Ephesian believers, the Lord knew them very well. He judged that they had forsaken their first love and needed to renew it. The first experience of love that draws a person to God remains a crucial one in that person’s life. The nature of that initial experience usually determines the pattern of one’s commitment and closeness to God. It also affects one’s practical Christian life. That first love is all-important.

The significance of love also stems from the role it plays in every aspect of the Christian life. It is expected to permeate all Christian relations because it is at the root of the believer’s experience. So, however, a church may be concerned about orthodoxy or purity of practice, if these are not undergirded by love, they mean nothing (e.g. 1 Cor. 13).

The charge that the church in Ephesus had forsaken her first love was a serious one. Jesus had earlier warned that because of persecution and increased wickedness in the world the love of many would grow cold, promising that only those who stand firm to the end will be saved (Matt. 24:12-13).A church should never allow her love to grow cold.

Charge

A charge or exhortation follows the identification of the weakness of the church in Èphesus (2:5a). After stating their failure, the Lord presents them with a three-fold charge: Remember, repent, and practice your first love. They were urged to remember the height from which they had fallen. This indicates that this church had been in very good standing with the Lord Defore, which agrees with her reputation in Christian history.

Remembering where they were would be a good way of reflecting on themselves and reassessing their positions and practices. Then they would know how far they had gone astray. It was expected that such remembrance would also quicken their steps to the path of repentance. A person can ‘hardly repent if one is not aware of his or her state of fellness. The same goes for a church! Repentance also has to precede renewed progress. Until a church recovers her initial reason for being, she may not be able to engage in purposeful ministry.

Warning

Part of the verse urging repentance also carries a warning (2:5b). If the exhortation to repentance was not heeded, the Lord warned he would come and remove the lampstand from its place. Since the letter was ostensibly addressed to the angel of the church (2:1), and since the lampstand is said to stand for the church (1:20), it means the Lord is talking about the removal of the church here. Just as the Lord of the church can help sustain it, he can also remove it, especially if the church is not doing his will.

The gates of Hades cannot prevail against the church of Christ (Matt.16:18), but any church or branch of Christ that does not abide in him is as good as withered and thrown away (John 15:6). This is something every church must be mindful of. It is only as a church is faithful to the will and cause of Christ that it can genuinely lay claim to the protection and victory offered by Jesus Christ.

Many churches appear not to be fully aware of this fact today as they go about building on the private agenda of their human leaders. There may be a gathering of people who may call themselves a church but who may not appear in the Lord’s list of churches. This fact calls for sober reflection and repentance on the part of churches.

In Revelation 2:7a, an appeal is made for people to take the contents of the letter seriously. Whoever had ears to hear, should “hear what the Spirit says to the churches”(2:7a). The Spirit referred to here is, of course, the Spirit of the Lord. The references to “the churches” demonstrate very clearly that the Lord had it in mind that a message to one church would be a message to all the churches. So it was important for all the churches to heed this message being sent to the church in Ephesus.

If it was important for first-century believers to take the message seriously, it is even much more so today. It may also be helpful to remember that the warning Christ gave in this verse of the letter was used by him several times during his earthly ministry (e.g. Matt. 11:15; 13:9,43; Mark 4:23, etc.). This fact further authenticates the letter as coming from the Lord.

In an earlier encounter when Jesus encouraged his disciples to take heart given the difficulties they would be facing in the world, he assured them he had overcome the world (John 16:33). This same note of victory is sounded at the end of this letter as something expected from the Christians in Ephesus. But beyond this expectation, there is an offer. Anyone who joined the Lord in overcoming, he would “give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God” (2:7b). This refers to eternal life for believers who persevere to the end and emerge victorious.

The background to the symbolism of the Tree of Life can be found in the Genesis creation account (Gen. 2:9; 3:22-24). It is said that during the creation exercise, among other trees, God planted two trees in the middle of the Garden of Eden: the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Adam was warned that as much as he could eat from any of the trees in the garden, he must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. He would die if he ate it (Gen. 2:16-17). But when temptation came, Adam and his wife Eve succumbed and ate the fruit of the forbidden tree.

Their eyes became open as they fell afoul of the commandment of God(Gen. 3:1-12). Among other punishments, God decided to banish the couple from the garden of Eden, mainly so that they would not “take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever’ (Gen. 3:22). Though they now knew good and evil, they would die and not be able to live forever.

By the sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross, man gained pardon for his sins. Whoever accepts Jesus as his Saviour and Lord and abides in him will be granted the power to live eternally, that is, forever. This is what Jesus is reiterating after his letter to the Ephesians. Believers who overcome their difficulties in the world and persevere in their commitment to Christ would be granted the right to eat from the Tree of Life. Thus they would have eternal life and reign with the victorious Christ forever.

Conclusion

This letter to the church in Ephesus ends on a note of victory for faithful believers. That should not be surprising. As indicated earlier, the whole Revelation is a letter of victory for Christians. Churches and individual believers will emerge victorious as they remain in Christ despite all the difficulties and suffering in the world. The questions are: Are believers persevering in their commitments to Jesus Christ? Are they abiding by his teachings? The message of the Lord to the church in Ephesus remains relevant today. Despite all the difficulties confronting her, the Church will emerge victorious as she perseveres and remains committed to her Lord Jesus Christ.

You can read further on the next page about what all Christians should know about the victorious church. Check more here.