Last year we were in the ruins of Ephesus in western Turkey where we came across an image of the goddess Nike, now better known as the symbol of the footwear giant, Nike. The word nike in the original Greek means victory and is a key word used in the letter to the seven churches in the first few chapters of Revelation. Each of the churches were told how they could be victorious.
But the reference to victory may have been particularly significant to the church in Ephesus which was one of the leading churches in Asia Minor, situated in a busy trading centre at the heart of a bustling multicultural, multi-faith society. John started his letter (read the letter to Ephesus) by saying something about the character of Jesus: “These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands.”
The lampstands represent the churches and John is assuring the church in Ephesus, and all who read the letter, that Jesus is not just present among his churches, but he walks among them personally. They could communicate with each other, the church could experience Jesus among them, and he could observe them and see what was going on for them.
In his letter, John highlights some really positive things about the Ephesian church. He commends their hard work and their perseverance. He’s aware that they can’t tolerate wicked people, and that they have tested those who claim to be apostles but aren’t. He stresses again that they have persevered and have endured hardships for the name of Jesus, and haven’t grown weary. He also notes that they hate the practices of the Nicolaitans. We don’t actually know who the Nicolaitans were, but were probably an heretical group that operated within churches.
But he then goes on to raise a particular issue with the church. “Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.”
They were a good church. They were a hard working church that stood up for the truth and maintained all that was just and right. But they had forsaken their first love.
The first love of the Ephesian Church was an overwhelming commitment to follow Jesus and to honour him in every part of their lives. Jesus was central in everything they did. But over time that first love had dwindled away. They were still faithful in their service. They worked hard and the made sure that the truth was maintained, but something was missing.
According to the letter to the church at Ephesus the solution is not just about dreaming about the good times in the past. The instruction is: Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.
The letter to the Ephesian church started with Jesus being present with his church, walking among the lampstands. In Genesis 3 we read of God walking in the garden in the cool of the day and Adam and Eve recognised the sound. Clearly it was normal for him to do that and perhaps for them to walk with him. There were trees that were planted in that garden, the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Adam and Eve were tempted by Satan and took of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil which they had been told not to eat. And God punished them for their sin.
We read at the end of Genesis 3: So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.
It was God’s plan for humanity that mankind should eat of the tree of life, but because of sin, the tree of life was put under guard and access was restricted.
As Jesus spoke to the Ephesian Church and to all who read this letter thereafter, he promised: to the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.
I just love the way the first book of the Bible and the last book of the Bible agree and complete the circle.
- God’s original plan is that we may eat of the tree of life;
- Sin has blocked access to the tree of life;
- The original plan is restored and the right to eat of the tree of life is offered once again to the one who is victorious, that is, the one who is willing to repent and return to Jesus as their first love.