CHAPTER 2 The History of the Professing Church Revelation 2:1-29
In preparation for this chapter it is necessary to understand the meaning and the nature of the church. Explaining the origin of the word "church," Darrell W Robinson writes:
The word church in the New Testament comes from the Greek term ekklesia. Ekklesia comes from a root word made up of a preposition ek (out of) and a verb kaleo (to be called). Ekkaleo means "to call out of."1
The church, ekklesia, is made up of individuals who have been called out from sin to salvation. They have been touched by their Lord. They are set apart for Him and for His service. They are a distinctive people on a mission for their Lord in this world. In the New Testament the word church appears 115 times, out of which there are about 20 references to the general assem¬bly of born again believers. However, one needs to note that the majority (about 95) of the times it is referring to the local, visi¬ble, congregation of believers. It is through the local church that our Lord has chosen to accomplish His work. Jesus' work, the mission of the church, is to bring people to a saving knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ and into the general assembly of all true believers. The term assembly (see Hebrews 12:23) denotes the total body of redeemed people (Colossians 1:18,24). The assembly includes every believer, regardless of his nationality, culture, denomination or local church preference. Before we actually begin the study of the seven churches list¬ed in Revelation, three points need to be emphasized. First, the seven messages are written to seven literal churches (Revelation 1:11). Second, teachings found in these letters are certainly applicable to all believers today. Third, we must understand that there is a definite prophetic teaching concerning total church history that has tremendous value for the church today. Roy B. Hilton writes:
There are seven periods of church history represented by these seven churches: The Ephesian period of waning love. The Smyrnian period of martyrdom. The Pergamian period when the church is married to the world. The Thyatirian period of corrupt Papacy. The Sardian period of Protestant reformation. The Philadelphian period of the open door to missions. The Laodician period of the closed door of apostasy. However, there is not a clear point of cleavage from one peri¬od to the other. It is a gradual merging from one to another. These characteristics can also be found in every age and every church even to the present time. There are some churches that are cold, some indifferent, some worldly, some liberal in doctrine, some missionary minded, etc. The same is true of individual church members. In one church membership there will be some on fire for the Lord and others who are indifferent, some are worldly, some unsound in doctrine, some backslidden, some in apostasy, etc.2 Realizing that the seven churches give a prophetic picture of the church age, the following summarizes an approximate time line of history. Ephesus - Apostolic Church, A.D. 30-100 Smyrna - Persecuted Church. A.D. 100-313 Pergamos - State Church, A.D. 313-590 Thyatira - Papal Church, A.D. 590-1517 Sardis - Reformed Church, A.D. 1517-1700 Philadelphia - Missionary Church, A.D. 1700-1900 Laodicea - Apostate Church, A.D. 1900¬ to present In looking at the seven churches a specific pattern of study will make it easier to understand the correlation of the churches. This outline will be followed in studying each of the individual churches: The Address: To whom is the letter written? The Approval: What good can be said about this church? The Accusation: What displeases our Lord? The Admonition: What does this church need to do? The Action: What action will our Lord take? The Adherence: Will they now become obedient? The Age: What period in church history does this church best describe? As we go through the seven churches the value of the above outline will become more apparent.
THE CHURCH OF EPHESUS: Revelation 2:1-7 The Address: Revelation 2:1 "To the angel of the church in Ephesus write;..." Each of the seven letters begins in an identical manner. This one is addressed to the angel of the church in Ephesus. (Note chapter 1:16, 20 for comments on "angel.") Ephesus was a large and important sea coast city in Asia Minor on the Aegean Sea. All travel in this area by land and water converged at Ephesus where traffic in merchandise and men made it the wealthiest city in the world. It has been called the "Vanity Fair of the ancient world." It was in Ephesus that the great temple, which was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, was built to the Roman goddess Diana (Greek name Artemis); paganism was strong, seasoned, and respectable. It was in this environment that Paul established a church (Acts 19). "The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand,..." The seven stars are probably the seven pastors of the churches. Christ holds the pastors in His right hand and these pastors are the subjects of His power as they are guided by Him, sustained by Him, and kept by Him. It is believed that John once pastored the church in Ephesus, possibly following Timothy, who served the church in the capac¬ity of pastor after Paul left Ephesus. "...who walks among the seven golden lampstands." Christ is personally active in His churches, as He is not con¬fined to one, but is available to all. He is in their midst and there¬fore knows all about them. This concept is not only refreshing, but it is also encouraging to know He is available for us whenev¬er we need Him. Keep in mind that the seven golden lampstands are the seven churches (Revelation 1:20). The Approval: Revelation 2:2-3,6 "I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil:..." This church got off to a great start. Think about having Paul, Timothy, and John serving as pastors and the kind of church that would have been developed. Our Lord commends the church for their work, their labor, and their patience, which were all the result of love. Add to this, that it was a strong church, which had deep convictions; they knew what was right and what was wrong. "... but have tested those who call themselves apos¬tles and are not, and found them to be false..." This church openly condemned falsehood wherever they found it, in the world or among their own members! They were also con¬cerned about those who filled the pulpit! Visiting ministers were carefully examined by this body of believers to determine if they were genuine. "I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name's sake, and you have not grown weary." It is important to note that 'patience and bearing up' are slightly different from what was stated in verse two. The difference is between service and suffering. In verse two, works, toil, and patience are associated with service, but in verse three patience and bearing up are associated with suffering. "Yet this you have you hate the works of the Nicolaitanes, which I also hate." With the growing number of false ministers (those who claimed to be apostles and were not), there developed a faulty con¬sensus of leadership. These false ministers (II Corinthians 11:13¬-15) usurped power in a way that was never intended and, eventu¬ally, there arose a distinction between clergy and laity. What we find as "works" in Revelation 2:6 has become a teaching (doctrine) in 2:15.