This is the first letter from Jesus to the churches. In this series of essays the words of Jesus are pondered with a goal of maintaining the concepts that Jesus developed as documented in the Gospel of Matthew: the concepts of the Kingdom of Heaven.
The first essay in the series covers some important concepts. It is suggested to read the first essay before reading this one.
Revelation 2:1-7 Write to the angel of the church in Ephesus: The One who holds the seven stars in His right hand and who walks among the seven gold lampstands says: I know your works, your labor, and your endurance, and that you cannot tolerate evil. You have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and you have found them to be liars. You also possess endurance and have tolerated many things because of My name and have not grown weary. But I have this against you: You have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember then how far you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. Otherwise, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place — unless you repent. Yet you do have this: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. Anyone who has an ear should listen to what the Spirit says to the churches. I will give the victor the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in God’s paradise.
Jesus opens his letter to Ephesus with a very brief statement of his identity. This recalls other places where God Most High specifically identifies himself in a way that influences the concepts he intends to present. A stunning example is when God Most High interrupts the ongoing argument in Job.
Here in this letter he reminds the reader that he is the One who walks among the lampstands. In the first essay, we reviewed some of the lampstand concepts that are intended from prophecies and the “shadows of things to come”.
Jesus continues his letter to Ephesus with praise for the group of followers there. Jesus acknowledges their deeds, intensity (hard work), and diligence (perseverance).
Jesus says they do not tolerate evil. Some translations say “evil men” or “wicked men”. “What evil?” or “What kind of evil men?” is the question that must be asked.
Jesus says they have rejected the leadership of false “Apostles”. This sentence clarifies the evil.
Naturally, as followers of Jesus, we want to receive this praise also. To understand the praise, and derive goals for ourselves, we must know what deeds, what evil and several items about the false apostles. We will look at those items in the section on the Nicolaitans.
Jesus explains that they have left the Love they had at first. He encourages them to consider “how far they have fallen” and that they must repent and “do the deeds they did at first” otherwise He will remove their Lampstand.
The reference to the lampstand can be understood through the background presented in the first essay.
Since Love is key to understanding, it is time to put 1Cor13 in our minds as the definition of that term. Please take the time to read that now. Combine that with John 15 “My command is this: that you Love one another”.
With that illumination it seems apparent that the “Deeds they did at first” would be deeds according to the Law of Love, or being patient, gentle, kind, not jealous (happy when someone else is blessed instead of self), not seeking to exalt self, does not shame or disrespect others, shelters others, keeps no record of wrongs. The list goes on and may change slightly depending on the theology of the translator but the essence remains.
So the “deeds done at first” would be actions that demonstrate these qualities of Love.
Given this understanding it becomes less important to know what is meant in the praises of Ephesus at the start: deeds, intensity, and diligence. Are the deeds the ones they did at first – the love – or are they other good things to do? (remember the first section 1Cor13 that says the best deeds are nothing without Love). So it could be praise for the “first deeds” (deeds of Love) or it could be praise for other deeds that are meaningless without Love.
To clarify that last paragraph- If the “deeds, intensity, and diligence” are the “deeds done at first” then they apparently have ceased. But it could be that the “deeds, intensity, and diligence” are acts of human effort, such as abstaining from sin, or accomplishing worthy services to God and others. These deeds could be ongoing while the group at Ephesus has left their first love. But we can hold the concept from 1Cor13 that the deeds are meaningless without love. In that light we see the primacy of Love, the nature of God. The essence of the Gospel. And the urgent message of Jesus: return to Love.
False Apostles and Nicolaitans
The term “Nicolaitans” is presented without other references in the scriptures (other that its use in another letter, which is helpful as the context is similar). Choosing to believe that the Spirit gave John the correct things to write and choosing to believe that the Letters are intended for churches throughout history, we are left to work with what we have. Fortunately, it makes sense. The term “Nicolaitans” is widely held to mean “those who lord it over others”. Taken in the context here and in the gospels, we can clearly deduce who Jesus despises: not the sinners but the religious leaders that burden the people with a path to God that cannot result in success and has NO LOVE.
Here is required a firm understanding of the Gospel and the Law: the purpose of the Law and the overwhelming message of the Gospel. This essay would become exceedingly long to cover that in depth. But the Bible does cover it in depth, so please read it. As examples we have Jesus clearly extending pure grace to the worst offenders yet encouraging those who trust in their own righteousness to take it further as they are not good enough yet.
We have this conceptual representation of the perspective of Jesus shown through the Gospels. Using this foundation to interpret the role of the Nicolaitans in these Letters, we can reasonably assume that they resembled the religious leaders of Gospels, the Pharisees, Sadducees, Scribes, Lawyers, Priests, etc. Leaders representing that the path to pleasing God is through strict adherence to the rules. They are able to recognize good and evil, but unable to recognize God standing in front of them.
Are these Nicolaitans the same as the False Apostles? Seems likely, but if not they are similar. My perception is that the definition of Nicolaitans is reasonably established given the assumptions presented above. A possible understanding of the subject of Apostles was also addressed in the first essay on these 7 Letters – please review it. The False Apostles could have been teaching a system of Law and the Nicolaitans enforcing it.
As mentioned above, we can reliably look at the gospels to see the actions of Jesus. His action certainly can provide us with a basis to assist us in understanding what evil or which evil men Ephesus does not tolerate. Jesus was known to associate with various less than honorable people. When Jesus was at the religious leader’s house and the “sinful woman” anointed his feet, the religious leader did not tolerate (at least internally) Jesus’ association with the Sinful Woman, and it can be inferred that he (the leader) would not tolerate the Sinful Woman in any way. We can use this model (and others like it in the gospels) to understand what Jesus (the same Jesus) is crediting to Ephesus. Or we can at least eliminate one optional case of identification of the Evil Men: it is not people who can be described simply by their deeds in violation of the Law of the Flesh. Following this Jesus credits Ephesus with not tolerating the false apostles. This a clarification of the Evil Men or Evil.
Now reread the letter, replacing the phrase “angel of the church at Ephesus” and the word “you” with “My Darling”. The letter becomes a great model for how to communicate difficult subjects with your precious people:
Start with sincere loving praise, truthfully lauding the qualities you admire in them.
Bring up the items that need attention, but set in terms of Love.
Add some more accolades in Loving terms.
Promise an eternity of Love to come.
In the first essay on the 7 Letters, the meaning of the word “repent” was covered in depth. Repent means change of mind.
Jesus says that Ephesus must change their mind, else He will remove her Lampstand from its place of influence. Remember that the letter is to the group of believers at Ephesus. It is not written to individuals. Given the understanding we have of the lampstands, it may be reasonable to interpret this as removing the ability of that organisation to be a light illuminating His Presence. This view may have some concurrence with a historical view of the church. We see organisations (sects; denominations) rise in glory, accompanied by events that read like the first chapters of the book of Acts. Like Acts, this period is characterized by widespread Love of Jesus and each other. Then we see them devolve into debating the rules (like other parts of Acts) accompanied by infighting and lack of tolerance. Then the organisation becomes a dry well, with a promise of Hope but no resemblance to the earlier days. The thirsty pilgrim lowers his bucket into the well, desperation and hope driving his actions: without a drink of living water he will die. But the bucket comes back up containing only the sand of self righteousness. There is no Living Water in this well. The organisation no longer illuminates the Presence.
In the last section of the Letter, which is repeated in the other letters, Jesus seems to change from discussing the organisation that is the church group at Ephesus to a call to the individuals that are reading/pondering this prophecy from the Spirit. Using the same phrase he used so often in his physical ministry, he invites deeper pondering than can be had with a simple reading. The call is to understand and believe the message.
Summary from this perspective:
Jesus reminds his Darling that he is the focus of her light. Jesus admires his Darling, her loyalty and endurance. Jesus says that his Darling must change the way she thinks about Love back to her original Love for her Groom and for herself. She is on the right path by despising those who change the relationship to be about rules instead of Love. She needs to be loving her groom as illustrated in Song of Solomon, not by cleaning the house. If she does not change back to Love, she won’t be able to shine her light on her groom.