Revelation Commentary, 2:1-7, to Ephesus.
Ephesus was a very cosmopolitan city on the west coast of Asia Minor (Turkey) with a harbour that was almost as active as Rome. The city had an amazing library, an outdoor theatre that could seat 25,000 people and the Artemision: a temple to the goddess Artemis (Diana). This temple was seven stories high, measured 55 metres by 115 metres and was known as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. At one time the female-dominated cult to Artemis was said to have seven thousand priestesses controlled by a hierarchy of virgins under whom female priestess-slaves worked in all areas of city life. Men who wanted to join this cult were castrated. There was also a thriving business amongst the silversmiths who made statues of the goddess.
The Ephesians, like all Christians, had an enemy who sought to disrupt the church as much as possible (1 Peter 5:8), even masquerading as an angel of light (2 Cor 11:4). Yet the enemy forgets that Jesus explicitly said, “I will build my church and the gates of hades will not prevail against it” (Mt 16:18). In knowing this we need to keep our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of all good things (Heb 12:2-3). No wonder Paul writes:
“I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.”
One man whose eyes were opened to the grace and mercy of God is David Berkovitz, a notorious killer. David was known as the ‘Son of Sam’ and killed six people and wounded a further seven between 1976 and 1977. He believed that he was manifesting demons yet accepted responsibility for his crimes when he was caught. After ten years in prison he placed his trust in Jesus as Lord and Saviour shortly after being given a verse of scripture by a fellow prisoner. That verse was Psalm 24:6 and said, “This poor man called and the Lord heard him’ he saved him out of his troubles.” David became even more acutely aware of his failings and the claims of Christ and was soon born again.
Despite having multiple life sentences David came up for parole in 2002 and has done so every two years since then. However he has always refused parole on the basis that he does not deserve it. Yet David fully recognises that He has been forgiven by God and having studied the Bible spends his time evangelising and teaching fellow prisoners. Because of Jesus we can all find hope even in the darkest of circumstances and as Isaiah 40:31 reads, “Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.
“The Biblical word for ‘hope’ does not carry with it the idea of wondering if something is going to happen or not, but to know that something will happen. We do not hope God will protect us, we “know” he will. In the above passage, the image of holding onto God’s arm for support can be seen. The word for the arm is ‘Zero’ah and is a Hebraic euphemism for “strength”, from the strength in the arm. This passage is saying that people will know God’s strength will save them.”
J.Benner in, The Living Words, page 107
The God in whom we find our security.
In a cosmopolitan city of many temples and the predominance of the Artemis cult, many in Ephesus would have been aware of occult powers and pagan priestesses who sought to control hearts and minds as well as the Pax Romana of the Roman Empire. What they needed to be reminded of, as do all Christians, is that Christianity is not a new power in the market-place of life.
Christ was chosen from the foundation of the world (1 Peter 1:20) as the way by which all men may find forgiveness and come to salvation and therefore the place of church was marked out (predestined) from the beginning of time (Eph 1:11) .
Many years prior to John’s letter to Ephesus, Paul had encouraged the Ephesians to see that they belonged to their heavenly Father who had done everything needed to bring them into fellowship with Him. Paul helped them to see this in saying that believers were “marked in him (Jesus) with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 1:13). So what sort of picture would this conjure up in their minds?
Ephesus was a bustling seaport and an important trade centre at the time of Paul. When orders were placed on goods arriving in the port they were checked (to see that the order was complete) and then sealed with a mark denoting a finished transaction. This seal also let others know the items had been purchased and set apart for someone. Paul speaks of the Holy Spirit as a seal because the transaction between the Father and Son concerning our salvation is complete from God’s side. The presence of God in the marketplace of life in Ephesus was not the arrival of another power which was one among the many vying for attention and servitude. This was the One true God and Paul conveyed the completion and permanence of His work through the imagery of a seal – a down-payment and a guarantee that God’s promises are true.
The Holy Spirit is spoken of as a seal because Jesus has satisfied the just demands of God’s holy Law. The transaction is complete. We are sealed in Him. We do not have His seal of ownership on us because we are perfect, but because our standing is now in the perfect work of God’s one and only Son.
Everything concerning our standing in the Lord comes about through Christ – the guarantee of the better covenant (Hebrews 7:22), who stands in our place as the second Adam (1 Cor 15:45). This is why Paul writes in Romans 8 that there is now “no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Note that the word ‘condemnation’ that Paul uses speaks of a legal transaction – a once and for all time transaction. Paul also speaks of the Holy Spirit as a down-payment (Eph 1:14; 2 Cor 5:5).
In Paul’s day, when a deposit was paid it was a strong, legally binding agreement. For us, the strength of this agreement resides in it being an agreement between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit concerning our salvation. We are called to continually receive from the giver of life and proclaim His truth in word and action to those around us. In so far as we submit to Him we stand in His authority and power.
“The only authority that any one may legitimately claim is that authority which alone belongs to God. God delegates his authority to us when he hands us His Scriptures and calls us to preach them. To the degree we speak what God has spoken in Holy Scripture, to that same degree we speak with authority. Where we speak with cleverness and cuteness we may entertain and coddle, but we do not preach with authority.”
J. Kitchen in ‘Embracing Authority’, page 155.
In the presence of the Holy Spirit (Rom 8:11, 1 Cor 3:16, 1 Jn 4:12) we have a foretaste of what is to come, as we are immersed in the finished work of Jesus and empowered by the One who was present from the very foundation of the world. This is why Paul prays that the Ephesians would become even more aware of what their heavenly Father had done as they grow through His word and the presence of the Holy Spirit (Eph 3:16-19).
“Paul knows full well the risks he is taking in Ephesus. Any foreigner who would dare enter a city like Ephesus and preach a message undermining the financial security of the “establishment” would be in grave danger. This was particularly true when the patron goddess of the city was involved. Because of Paul’s preaching, the goddess of the city was under attack and income from “tourism” was threatened. Who would complain if the corpse of the foreigner who was causing this disruption was dumped into the harbour some moonless night? Yes he is Roman citizen, and that would help him if he made it to courts. But what if he never got that far? Paul uses the language of the fights to the death with wild beats in the arena to describe his struggles in Ephesus.”
K. Bailey in, Paul through Mediterranean Eyes, page 452.
Men who would be gods.
Two of the ways that Rome sought to dominate people was through military might and imperial worship. An example of latter is the emperor Caligula (AD37-41) who publically declared that he was a god.
In AD 40 Caligula ordered a statue of himself to be put in the Temple at Jerusalem – a calculated insult to all Jews. The Roman governor of Judea realised this would more than likely cause a riot and asked Caligula to rescind the order. Caligula agreed to delay the order having been influenced to do so by his childhood friend Herod Agrippa but only if the governor of Judea killed himself. However before this happened the Praetorian Guard assassinated Caligula and so another emperor bit the dust. (All men are like grass).
As history clearly reveals, the Roman Empire was littered with would-be gods who died like men. Another notorious one was Emperor Nero (AD 54-68) who claimed to have had a miraculous and divine birth. In building a temple for the sun god (a so-called Roman ‘high god’), it is said that he put his own image on the statue! In AD64 Nero sought to extend the palace gardens, but a fire spread and guess who got the blame: Christians. They were covered in animal skins and had dogs set on them, sent into the arena and tarred and feathered on crosses and set on fire during Nero’s garden parties. Satan seeks to dominate wherever he can.
“False ideology in itself harms only those who believe it. It needs to be harnessed to the power of the state to do any real damage to the church. We need think only of Hitler’s Germany, Mao’s China, or Khomeini’s Iran. As ideologues, Hitler, Mao and Khomeini were merely embittered fanatics. As political rulers however, they led multitudes to destruction and made life misery for true believers.”
J. Richardson in Revelation Unwrapped, p 45
The church at Ephesus would have been fully aware of the persecution of Christians by Nero and of how Emperor Titus had sacked Jerusalem in 70AD. During this campaign Titus killed circa one million Jews whist sending over 100,000 into slavery in Egypt. Something of the cruelty of Rome and domination through fear is seen in one of its methods of controlling people: crucifixion. Yet the person who stood with His church at Ephesus and encouraged His people is the crucified One that death could not hold.
“Then they took Jesus out of the city to kill him. Crucifixion was a form of torture developed and sanctioned by the civilisation supposed to be the most developed of its time. Crucifixion’s only purpose was to demonstrate Roman cruelty and therefore crate fear in subject peoples. Crucifixion was a slow death and a very public death. Jesus was tormented like an exhibit at the county fair, on display for the curious and the vengeful.”
T. Stafford in Surprised by Jesus, p 201.
An Emperor who said, “You will worship me.”
The reigning Emperor at the time of John’s writing was Domitian who was the Emperor Titus’ younger brother.
Titus had reigned from 79AD, after the death of Vespasian, their father and was well known for his success in the First Jewish War. On his unexpected death in AD81, his younger brother Domitian came to the throne and reigned for fifteen years. He was to bring stability to the empire, strengthening its borders, embarking on a massive building programme and revaluing the Roman coinage.
Domitian was the first emperor to enforce a claim to divinity. It is said that he initially told his leaders to call him master and then a god and the Roman court poet Publius Statius (c45-96AD) once said, “You are Lord forever, from eternity to eternity.”
It was during the reign of Domitian that the Roman Empire received a new name: it became the ‘Imperium Aeternuim’ with the emperor as the everlasting king who would live forever. The only truth in this is that the one who said he would live forever will do so – but in everlasting condemnation in a lost eternity.
Throughout the history of the world we see mankind expressing its fallen nature in how it seeks to harness the world’s resources and make them its own. We have been called to take care of creation and support one another yet instead we continually show our wrong use of power in what we build; we continue to shake our fist at God.
“The nuclear threat expresses human rebellion against the creation mandate, both in its original form in Genesis 1:28 and its reformulated form in Genesis 9:1-7. It threatens to destroy the creation for which God has made humanity responsible It threatens to break all bounds of violence with a boast, like Lamech’s of unlimited retaliation, thereby both transgressing the limits and defeating the purpose of the strictly limited violence permitted by Genesis 9:2-6. In seizing the godlike power to destroy God’s creation, which God himself in the Noahic covenant pledged himself not to use, nuclear weapons express humanity’s refusal to fulfil the divine image in imitation of God and their determination instead to be gods in their own right.”
R. Bauckham in, ‘The Bible in Politics’, p 140.
Rebels who have become kingdom people.
Through Christ we are redeemed and as kingdom people we are called to look away from ourselves to God, who reveals Himself through the covenant. God is the true light that reveals (Isaiah 45:7; 60:1-2; John 8:12; Eph 5:8), the power that releases (Ex 9:16; Job 9:4; Eph 3:6;6:10; Rev 5:12), the love that encourages and uplifts (Ex 34:6, Deut 7:12ff; Psalm 18:11; 1 Cor 13:4-7; 1 John 4:8-9), the strength that overcomes ( 1 Chro 16:11-12; Ps 28:7, 84:7; 1 Cor 1 :25, Phil 4:13, 1 Tim 1:12) and everything that is good and right and just is found in Him.
“Sir William Osler, a famous nineteenth century physician, said, “I treat, God heals.” Without God’s continuing providential care the human race would never have survived beyond the Garden of Eden…”
Dr Q.Hyder, ‘The Christian’s Handbook of Psychiatry’, page 36
Ignoring the world around us.
In the rise of Nazism in Germany in the 1930’s, we find people being harassed for being of a different ethnicity and a government that increasingly spoke of a master race. Although Martin Niemoller, a former German Naval officer and Christian stood against this regime, as did Karl Barth and many other Christians, too little was done by the silent majority. As Martin Neimoller would say after the war, “Don’t ask Germans whether they knew what the Nazi’s were doing. Ask whether they wanted to know.” All too many did not want to know or refused to accept what was happening before their very eyes. Others had very subtly been blinded over the years and could not discern what was actually being played out in front of them.
When reflecting on the period of time leading up to the Second World War the well-known Jewish scholar Abraham Heschel wrote about how evil had gained a strong foothold in Germany. He said,
“We have failed to fight for right, for justice, for goodness; as a result we must fight against wrong, against injustice, against evil. We have failed to offer sacrifices on the altar of peace; thus we offered sacrifices on the altar of war. A tale is told about a band of inexperienced mountain climbers. Without guides the struck recklessly into the wilderness. Suddenly a rocky ledge gave way beneath their feet and they tumbled headlong into a dismal pit. In the darkness of the pit they recovered from their shock only to find themselves set upon by a swarm of angry snakes. Every crevice became alive with fanged, hissing things. For each snake the desperate men slew, ten more seemed to lash out in its place. Strangely enough, one man seemed to stand aside from the fight. When indignant voices of his struggling companions reproached him for not fighting, he called back. “If we remain here, we shall be dead before the snakes. I am searching for a way of escape from the pit for all of us
Our world seems not unlike a pit of snakes. We did not sink into the pit in 1939…we had descended into it generations ago and the snakes have sent their venom into the bloodstream of humanity, gradually paralysing us, numbing nerve after nerve, dulling our minds, darkening our vision. Good and evil, that was once as real as day and night, have become a blurred mist. In our everyday life we worshipped force, despised compassion and obeyed no law but our unappeasable appetite. The vision of the sacred has all but died in the soul of man. And when greed, envy and the reckless will to power came to maturity, the serpents cherished in the bosom of our civilisation broke out of their dens to fall upon the helpless nations…..The roar of bombers over Rotterdam, Warsaw, London, was but the echoes of thoughts bred for years by individual brains, and later applauded by entire nations.”
Dr. A.J. Heschel in, ‘Man’s Quest for God’ pages 148-149.
The church at Ephesus was in an Empire dominated by a man who demanded to be worshipped as god and in a city where occult power flourished in various ways. The season was undoubtedly a difficult one for a whole host of reasons, yet the church was not called to sit back and do nothing; they were called to focus on God. They were not to form a protest movement but stand as citizens of the Kingdom of heaven.
The church: called to be salt and light.
The church is not called to be a protest movement but salt (Luke 14:34; Col 4:6) and light (Mat 5:16) in a world where we stand against evil because of the love of God (John 3:16-17; 1 John 4:8) that indwells and compels us. Life will be difficult at times, but God is in charge.
Ephesus, at the time of John’s writing, had a population of around 250,000 people and was a city struggling due to ecological problems with soil being eroded and silting up the harbour. However the city was one of Rome’s major administrative centres for the province and many, if not all, of the government officials lived in the city. The city had also recently had a temple to Domitian constructed and it was hard to get away from the power and ideology of Rome that sought to control all areas of life. In the Roman Empire many saw Romans and Greeks as first class, Jews as second and Christians as third-class people. In the early centuries of the Roman Empire Christians were seen as the ‘enemies of humanity’ in a world that sought to define what humanity was all about – yet the Christians were never alone unless they chose to be., for nothing can separate us from God except self.
In his book, ‘A Land without Evil’ which speaks of the genocide of Burman’s Karen people (a minority group) and their fight for independence, the author Benedict Rogers quotes the words of Colonel Mya a Karen army officer who was a Christian. On one occasion Colonel Mya said, “Before I go into battle I line up the solders and I pray for them” and continued.
"If you look at Genesis and Exodus, at the story of Moses for example, people were only freed when they were led by God. Freedom for the Karen people must come from God. Man cannot do it.” Colonel Mya then goes on to say, “The real fighting is in the spiritual realms. The real enemy is in your heart. You have to overcome your mind before the enemy does. I tell the soldiers they can win a battle but they can still lose the war if they don’t’ know how to control their minds.”
B. Rogers in, ‘A Land without Evil’ page 116
Jesus: The One who holds seven stars and walks among the Lampstands.
One of the first questions we could ask ourselves here is, “Why seven stars?” In answering the question we look to the rest of scripture.
In Psalm 147:4 we read that God determines the number of stars and knows them by name. We also read that stars are referred to in relation to the number of Abraham’s descendants (Gen 22:7; Deut 10:22). Stars are also employed on occasion as symbols of people in exalted stations. Note, for example Numbers 24:17 which refers to both David and the Messiah and reads:
"I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near. A star will come out of Jacob; a sceptre will rise out of Israel. He will crush the foreheads of Moab, the skulls of all the sons of Sheth.”
In the words of Jesus to the church of Ephesus, we have the words of the creator who holds all things in His hands and John has already spoken of the stars as the angels of the churches (Rev 1:20).
The word ‘angel’ means ‘messenger; and there has been much discussion as to whether the word ‘star’ refers to actual angels or church leaders. In getting caught up in this we can miss the point. Jesus holds the stars in His hands, this speaking of heavenly provision for the church. No matter what is going or is going to happen, Jesus is present with His people.
Both angels and ordinary men and women (spoken of as stars) who are led by the Holy Spirit are called to be Gods servants. We are His messengers to a fallen world, and therein we find our high calling. Our real home in in heaven and our real hope is rooted in the unchanging One who is aware of every hair on our head (Matt 10:30), sees a glass of water given in His name (Mk 9:41) and the widow’s two small coins (Luke 21:2-3). In being spoken of as stars that are held in His hand we are reminded that our calling is of a supernatural origin, our message comes from the throne of grace and our protection from being in His hands. The number seven, as has already been said, speaks of perfection, yet again pointing to the completeness of God’s work.
God is the one who controls historical eras (Isaiah 40:6; 1 Pet 1:24) and brings in, or allows rulers to stand and fall – and He holds us in His hand. Because of Jesus we have a living hope.
The church at Ephesus, like the rest of God’s church, is seated in heavenly realms (Eph 2:6), this speaking of their position in the finished work of Christ. By way of experience and in the power of the Holy Spirit the Ephesians and all believers are called to share the life that was theirs through grace (Eph 2:8).
“I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no-one can snatch them out of my hand.”
The lampstand with its lamps is a figurative synecdoche. A Synecdoche is part of something used to refer to the whole. So, for example, “another pair of hands to help” speaks of another worker coming to help. In Revelation two the lampstand speaks of God’s presence with His people – He being a consuming fire (Ex 40:38; 2 Kings 6:7; Isaiah 42:6-8).
“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”
“When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." John 8:12
Christ stands in the midst of the church; He holds His people in His hands and is present in all that goes on. Jesus knows all things and continues to encourage His church and help them in the work He calls them to.
A few years ago a Youth with a Mission Leader from New Zealand found himself hospitalised in Australia with meningitis. After he had been in the emergency room for nearly forty-eight hours, the doctor ordered him moved to a different room, warning that it might be weeks or even months before he would be well enough to leave. As he was being moved, however, on Thursday evening at 6.15 p.m., his body suddenly felt warm. Although doses of morphine over the past forty-two hours had not significantly alleviated his pain, the pain now instantly vanished. He felt well, and within minutes, he fell asleep; when he awoke at 1 p.m. the next day he insisted that he was fine. Tests then revealed that there was nothing wrong with him physically. The doctor who examined him was shocked but confirmed that he was well and released him that afternoon. Soon after this experience, he called his father and learned that “the moment of my healing was exactly at the end of a meeting that my father had called together to pray for my healing.”
Craig Keener in, ‘Miracles’ page 295 quoting a letter from Matthew Dawson to his father, John, president of YWAM.
Sometimes we erroneously think encouragement only comes through prayer answered in the way we want answers; in reality true encouragement is in knowing His presence (Isaiah 55:6-11;Mat 28:20). In this way our confidence is not dependent on what goes on around us or what we think God should do, but on the One who is with us. For example, look at how God encouraged Stephen. If we looked at the event of his death from purely a worldly perspective it seems like the church is going to be crushed; the enemy has the victory and a deacon dies. Yet in looking at the picture from God’s perspective we see that things are radically different.
“But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. "Look," he said, "I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God."
God is the master of all history and in the stoning of Stephen, Stephen was taken into glory, the church was scattered and grew. Within a few weeks one of its major persecutors would become a shining light as God challenged Saul on a dusty road to Damascus.
“I fell to the ground and heard a voice say to me, 'Saul! Saul! Why do you persecute me?' 'Who are you, Lord?' I asked. "'I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting,' he replied.”
As a religious man Paul (then Saul) had persecuted Christians but as a man in a restored relationship with God he was a very different person. Through Gods intervention in our lives we are set free and called to be a light to those around us. One man who initially persecuted and killed Christians in the name of his God was Ghulam Masih Naaman; yet like Paul, he became born again and spent a lifetime serving God.
Ghulam Masih Naaman was a Muslim born in the north of India. In the Second World War he joined the RAF for eight years and then, in 1947 found himself caught up in the events which accompanied India’s independence. At that time Muslim leaders called for a holy war and he became a terrorist. Of that time he said.
“It was our general practice to enter a village, send everyone at the point of a gun to their houses, shut the doors securely from the outside and set the whole village alight. Somehow the inhumanity of this kind of act did not penetrate into my consciousness. I was merely doing a job and the job had to be done well. If Allah was pleased, why should I question it?
J.M. Gaudeul in, ‘Called from Islam to Christ’, page 162.
Ghulam’s conscience was challenged one day on meeting with a group of guerrilla leaders and finding a young girl prisoner who was a friend of his family. She’d been captured and raped twelve times. He said, “I became speechless. What was I witnessing? Is this the outcome of religious zeal? Does Islam produce this kind of behaviour? For the first time in my self-chosen career a big question mark was raised against my activities. When I saw what had happened to a family close to me, doubts began to awaken within me.” He freed the girl and took her home before resuming raids on villages, looking for non-Muslims to kill. One night as he was preparing to kill a Christian couple their ten-year old daughter asked to pray with her parents first and finished with the words, “In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.” Ghulam said he saw a wall of light rise up between him and his victims. He was terrified and said, “Forgive me” to which the family replied, “We forgive you in the name of Jesus.” He and his men then left without harming the family.
On another occasion he was going to kill an old woman trying to escape with a Hindu child. She threw the child at his feet and said, “If God does not like any person or thing then he is well able to put an end to it himself, why does he tell you to kill infidels or his people.” Again Ghulam withdrew. (ibid 164)
Ghulam became tormented by what he was doing and felt cheated by his religion. He started questioning his life and seeking God, whoever he was. Ghulam asked God to have mercy on him and to guide him and found the words, “My grace is sufficient for you” coming into his mind. He kept repeating the words under his breath and was heard by a road sweeper who said, “Son are you a Christian? The man then told Ghulam that the words were from the Bible and spoke of Jesus. Ghulam eventually placed in his trust in Jesus as Lord and Saviour and later became an Anglican Minister (ibid165). A man caught upon with religious zeal and the persecution had his life turned around and became a light to others testifying to the glory and power of a risen Saviour.
The light of the lampstands.
In the Old Testament Israel is called to be a light to the Gentiles (Isaiah 42:6-7) and was, at times symbolised the anointed of God (Zech 4:2, 14).
In Exodus 25 we read of God telling Moses how to design the Menorah – a lampstand that was roughly the height of an average man. The lamps on the Menorah could refer to the seven festivals of the Lord (Passover, Unleavened Bread, Firstfruits, Weeks, Trumpets, Day of Atonement, and Tabernacles) pointing to His goodness, grace and mercy, seen so clearly in Jesus (the fulfilment of all the feasts). In His light we see light (Ps 36:9) as we live by the power of the Holy Spirit.
The lampstands speak of the church and the call to be a light to the nations through the presence of the Holy Spirit. Yet how is this light seen?
Some would say that the light is seen through living a good life and learning God’s word, yet this does not go far enough. Many Pharisees, Sadducees and teachers of the Law in Jesus’ day could quote God’s word and do good works, yet were against Jesus.
The light we are to shine speaks of a personal relationship with God (Rom 8:15; Gal 4:6) as our heavenly Father and this comes before any planning or attempts to reach out to others. Plans and good intentions fall far short of the glory of God. God has not come to fill our plans but to draw us into His ways.
The picture of lampstands speaks of the power and presence of the Holy Spirit in the church but if we drift in our personal relationship with God then how can we operate in the fruit (Gal 5:22-23) and gifting of His Spirit (Rom 12:6-21;1 Cor 12:4)? It is only by the Spirit that we can stand in His strength and reach out in His power in an increasingly hurting and hostile world.
The good news is that no matter how young or old we may be, or how small and feeble we may feel, God is with us as He was with the church at Ephesus. Because of this we are able to do things which far outweigh our natural abilities to do so. One old man who showed me God’s strength despite his great age and physical weakness was Fred Coplestone.
I first met Fred Coplestone when he was in his mid-eighties and writing books to reach Muslims for Christ. On my first journey to Fred’s flat, I had wondered what I would say to an old pastor and scholar who had been teaching decades before I had been born. I soon came up with the answer: say nothing - just listen.
Fred and I became good friends and he allowed me to help him with his writing and publishing. Due to God’s grace through this man I was able to edit one of his books and add chapters to it before it went out across the world.
In Fred Coplestone I found a man who still gave out to others in amazing ways, despite his age. Shortly before I had met him, Fred had sold his house and moved into a small flat in order to finance his work for Christ. He was, right up until Jesus came to take him home, a man fired up by the Holy Spirit.
“So since we are receiving an unshakable kingdom, let us give thanks, and through this let us offer worship pleasing to God in devotion and awe. For our God is indeed a devouring fire.”
Words of encouragement.
Jesus is aware of all that the church at Ephesus had done in His name. In a world where the enemy seeks to make us feel small and insignificant, God sees a glass of water given in His name (Mat 9:41) and knows every hair on our head (Luke 12:7); be encouraged (Matt 10:29-31; Mat 13:45-46).
Jesus is aware of how the Ephesians had stood against false teaching, including that of the Nicolatians (Rev 2:6). The Nicolatians were ‘victory people’ (‘nike’ means ‘conquest, victory’ and ‘laos’ meaning ‘people’). They were those who sought to rule over others and take victory by earthly methods alone. They would have also tried to get people to submit to their hierarchy rather than to the Lordship of God. In short they were those whose sin was hated by God because they sought to undermine the personal relationship that all believers can have with God through Christ (1 Tim 2:5).
These ‘victory people’ (Nicolatians) were not tolerated by the Ephesians, yet despite all the Ephesians were doing they were forgetting something very important. They, like us were in need of constant grace (2 Cor 6:1; Eph 4:7, 6:24) and communion with God and Christian brothers and sisters. If they were not going to seek God first (Mat 6:33) then their ability to witness would be withdrawn; this being symbolised in the removal of the lampstand. Everything Jesus did was out of His relationship with His Father (John 14:10) and everything we do must come from a heart submitted to God in prayer and praise.