The Letter to the Church of Ephesus
In a series of articles we will study the seven letters to the seven churches in the Book of Revelation. But, first, who is the author of Revelation (aka the Apocalypse), the most prophetic book in the Bible and who wrote the seven letters to the seven churches and most importantly why? We will start with the letter to the church of Ephesus.
The Revelation being the most prophetic book in the Scripture reveals to the readers the last three and half years of the world as we know it. The opening of the seven seals, the sounds of the seven trumpets, and the curses of the seven plagues poured out on the earth seem to be referring to last days.
But, the seven letters to the seven churches with which the Revelation begins? At first glance, it seems that the letters to the seven churches are out of place in the Book of Revelation.
Why do we need the seven letters to the seven churches?
Most definitely, the seven letters were written to real churches extant in the first century Minor Asia (today’s Turkey) about two thousand years before the actual events in Revelation. However, the seven letters to the seven churches are believed to be meant for the followers of Yeshua then and ever since. But as all commentators agree, their real addressees will be those who will witness the prophetic events that will transpire in the last 1,260 days of this world.
The common perception among the scholars is that the seven letters to the seven churches and the Book of Revelation were written by Yochanan (John) the beloved apostle of Yeshua, since most of the translations title the book “The Revelation of John” or “The Apocalypse of John.”
Others assign the book to the Messiah (the Crist), because He was the One who revealed the last day events of this world to Yochanan.
Although, it is true that Yochanan penned the seven letters and the Revelation, he is not the one who revealed it. Yeshua the Messiah did reveal the prophecy to His apostle, because it is said ‘Revelation of Yeshua Messiah.’ But, who is the author of the seven letters to the seven churches and of the Revelation?
The first verse in the book is telling us whose prophecy it is, as we read,
Revelation of Yeshua Messiah, which Elohim gave Him to show His servants what has to take place with speed. And He signified it by sending His messenger to His servant Yochanan, (Rev 1:1)
From here we understand that the Revelation and the seven letters to the seven churches are of YHVH Elohim, who revealed it through Yeshua the Messiah to Yochanan the Apostle. So, how are we to understand this impartation of the Revelation from YHVH?
In His capacity as mediator between Elohim and men, Yeshua received from His Father and showed to His servants, through His messenger the great scope of the future that would be revealed at the end of times, known to Him from the very beginning of the world.
But, who was the messenger that spoke with Yochanan we are not given to know. However, in the apocryphal book of Tobias we find that one of the seven angels (messengers) that go in and out before the glory of YHVH is Raphael. Tobias (Hebrew “Toviyah” meaning “The goodness of God”) may well be one of the seven angels that will blow his trumpet and pour out the wrath of Elohim on the earth, as seen further in the Book of Revelation.
Apocrypha is 14 books of the Old Testament included in the Vulgate (except for II Esdras) but omitted in Jewish and Protestant versions of the Bible; eastern Christian churches (except the Coptic Church) accept all these books as canonical; the Russian Orthodox Church accepts these texts as divinely inspired but does not grant them the same status.
We read from Tobias KJV Bible with Apocrypha,
I am Raphael one of the seven holy Angels, which present the prayers of the Saints, and which go in and out before the glory of the Holy one. (Tob 12:15 KJV)
Let us recall the first prophecy ever recorded since the beginning of the world.
And I put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed. He shall crush your head, and you shall crush His heel. (Gen 3:15)
This declaration of YHVH was not made to Adam and Chavah, but to satan that Elohim would do with sin in a very particular way. The Book of Revelation is all about the second coming of the Messiah when He would crush the adversary’s head as prophesied in Gen 3:15.
So, in His capacity as mediator between YHVH and men, Yeshua started revealing to Yochanan what was about to transpire in the last days concerning the contemporary generation then, all generation afterwards, but most importantly: the last generation, our generation.
The seven letters to the seven churches Yeshua begins with the opening blessing thus:
Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and guard what is written in it, for the time is near. (Rev 1:3)
Yochanan, to the seven churches that are in Asia: Favor to you and peace from Him who is and who was and who is coming, and from the seven Spirits that are before His throne, (Rev 1:4)
These seven Spirits, Yeshua refers to, must be the spirits (Heb. winds) of the set-apartness in the pattern of the menorah (Isa 11:2) in three pairs of the winds of YHVH (the central spirit is Ruach HaKodesh):
1. the wind of wisdom and understanding,
2. the wind of counsel and might,
3. the wind of knowledge and of the fear of YHVH.
These seven spirits cannot be the seven angels (also spirits) through whom the seven judgments will be brought on the earth, because the seven stars Yochanan saw in Yeshua’s right hand are the seven messengers of the seven churches and the seven golden lampstands (menorahs): are the seven churches.
The secret of the seven stars which you saw in My right hand, and the seven golden lampstands: The seven stars are messengers of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands which you saw are seven churches. (Rev 1:20)
According to the Christian theology, the seven churches in Revelation represent the one Church under different phases and possibly in successive stages of its history, and the seven letters addressed to the seven churches are therefore universally applicable. But is it so?
The present author believes that the seven letters to the seven churches have been written concerning seven types of believers or congregations, or may be even seven denominations that exist today. It is true that there were seven churches that existed in the first century to which the seven letters were written.
But it seems that the modern Church does not want to see itself in the last days rebuked and even worse threatened to be removed from the body of the Messiah, as we will see in the following articles dedicated to the seven letters to the seven churches. That is why the Christian theologians prefer to use the term “phases of the Church” instead of seeing the Messiah criticizes the Church in the seven letters to the seven churches.
And before we go any further in our study of the seven letters to the seven churches, we should note that five of the seven churches have been critically reprimanded, and two, only two of the seven churches have been found worthy by the Messiah.
But we need to clarify something important. When the translations speak of “churches” it is the Greek word ἐκκλησία, ecclesia. This word is used in the Greek translation of the Tanak (LXX) to mean “assembly” referring to Israel, but in the Apostolic Writings it is translated as “church” as if referring to a new religious body apart from Israel. This is a clear sign of the Replacement Theology of the Church that has been around since the establishment of the organized religion by the Roman Emperor Constantine. Nothing has been changed, nothing has been replaced ever since, only the Popes and the pastors.
Further, Yeshua commanded Yochanan through the messenger to write in a book what he would see and send it to the seven churches (assemblies) of Asia in this order – to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and to Laodicea (Rev 1:11) with which our study of the seven letters to the seven churches begins.
The present author is in opinion that this specific order the seven letters to the seven churches are listed in Revelation is not accidental, but for the time being he has no knowledge of why. In his series of the seven letters to the seven churches in Revelation, he takes the liberty to change the order they will be studied, but only for the sake to make his point.
We should note, as we go further in our study that each of these seven letters to the seven churches consists of three parts: 1. heading, specifying some characteristic of the Messiah from the vision of the first chapter. 2. message: a description of the condition of the assembly, and 3. promise.
The letter to the church of Ephesus. The church of the world.
To the messenger of the assembly of Ephesus write, ‘He who is holding the seven stars (the seven angels) in His right hand, who is walking in the midst of the seven golden menorahs (the seven assemblies), says this: (Rev 2:1)
We should note from the very beginning in our study of the seven letters to the seven churches, and to the church of Ephesus in particular, that in His first letter He addressed the church of the Ephesians as the church of Ephesus, as if the intent here was to associate that church to the life of the pagan city of Ephesus. The other exception is the church in Laodicea called the church of the Laodiceans, the church that belonged to the Laodiceans, not to the Messiah.
But for more on this issue of a church belonging to the people we will study in the article “The Letter to the Church of the Laodiceans.”
The message in the letter to the church of Ephesus
I know your works, and your labor, and your endurance, and that you are not able to bear evil ones, and have tried those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them false; and you have been bearing up and have endurance, and have labored for My Name’s sake and have not become weary. (Rev 2:2-3)
Yeshua the Messiah finds in His letter to the church of Ephesus that their good works and endurance, and more importantly that they are not able to tolerate evil ones among them. They have tried the false apostles and teachers, and have exposed them. And the Messiah have not found them weary in their labor. This is for the credit of the church of Ephesus.
Nevertheless, the Messiah finds something against the church of Ephesus. And this is not just something minor, but very important in their faith and in the life of their church: they have abandoned their first love.
But I hold this against you, that you have left your first love. So remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the first works, or else I shall come to you speedily and remove your lampstand (assembly) from its place, unless you repent. (Rev 2:4-5)
By saying remember from where you have fallen, Yeshua connects the abandonment of their first love with their former state of being in sin. And He quickly provides the provision for this: repentance and good works they have to bring forth. Or else, He will come and remove the church of Ephesus from its place in the body of the Messiah. This is a very serious warning to the church of Ephesus, they cannot overlook.
In other words, what Yeshua is saying is this: the church of Ephesus started their walk with the Messiah well. They did not tolerate the evil and tested the teachings of those who called themselves apostles, but they were not. They labored for Yeshua’s Name and their work brought forth good works.
However, something happened in the life of that church; something that made them forget their first love and from where they had fallen. And this is what the Messiah admonishes them for: they have forsaken their first love.
What was their first love, they have forsaken? We read,
and this people will rise up, and go astray after the foreign gods of the land, where they go to be among them, and will forsake Me, and break My Covenant which I have made with them. (Deu 31:16)
YHVH warns the children of Israel that time will come when they will go after foreign gods and will forsake Him. We should note that the phrase “will forsake Me” couples with “and break My Covenant.”
The word for break above is parar and it is found to mean to annul, void, invalidate in Isa 14:27, Neh 4:15, and Isa 8:10. This word does not mean breaking the Covenant by transgressing a command, because YHVH has provided provisions in the Torah for unintentional sins. This same word is also found in Yeshua’s statement in Mat 5:17 with the meaning to annul, to void.
Do not think that I came to destroy the Torah or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.
For more on whether the Messiah has abolished, annulled, or voided the Torah of YHVH, refer to the article “Has the Messiah Abolished the law?“
Or, what YHVH is saying in Deu 31:16, namely that the people will forsake Him by annulling His Covenant, must be the same what Yeshua is saying in Rev 2:4-5. We should keep in mind that the seven letters to the seven assemblies are the words of YHVH and the revelation of Yeshua.
The words of YHVH are the same at Sinai and in Ephesus. YHVH does not change, nor does He have double standards. If He has said something to Israel, it must have the same weight for the grafted-in converts in Ephesus. YHVH says in His Torah that there is one law for the natives and for the non-natives.
So, what was the first love the converts in Ephesus had forsaken, but the same what Israel had: YHVH Himself? They annulled, voided, the Covenant with YHVH, thus they had forsaken Him. They might have believed, they had still loved Him, but in actuality they had left their first love.
The only way to return to the Father, Yeshua says, is through repentance. The failure to do so will result in removing the church of Ephesus from its place in the body of the Messiah.
Yet, the Messiah finds something positive in that assembly. We keep on reading,
Yet this you have, that you hate the works of the Nikolaites, which I also hate. (Rev 2:6)
What the Messiah hates, they hate also: the works of the Nikolaites. Who were the Nikolaites, because as we will study the seven letters to the seven churches we will also find them in the letter to the assembly in Pergamos?
What “Nikolaites” means in the context of the letter to the church of Ephesus remains unclear. There is no reason given in the letter to the church of Ephesus as to why the Messiah and the Ephesians hate them. It could be that the leader of their group was a man called Nikolaus.
Eusebuis in his Early Church History, Vol. 3, Chapter 29 quotes Clement of Alexandria and his third book of his Stromata, concerning the so-called sect of the Nikolaitans. In Early Church History he says that they boasted that the author of their sect was Nikolaus, one of the appointed by the apostles in Act 6:5.
Eusebuis says also that Nikolaus had a beautiful wife and being accused by the apostles of jealousy, he led her into their midst and gave permission to any one that wished to marry her in accord with his saying that one ought to abuse the flesh. And those that have followed his heresy committed fornication.
But he understood that Nikolaus had to do with no other woman than her to whom he was married and his daughters continued in a state of virginity until old age, and his son remained uncorrupt. If this is so, Eusebuis continues, when he brought his wife, whom he jealously loved, into the midst of the apostles, he was evidently renouncing his passion. And when he used the expression, ‘to abuse the flesh,’ he was inculcating self-control in the face of pleasures.
In other words, Eusebuis says that Nikolaus was a righteous man extremely misunderstood. And when he says ‘apostles’ we do not know whom he means because none such incident has been recorded by the apostles; a heresy and fornication the apostles could have hardly overlooked. Therefore, we cannot say that the sect of Nikolaus was of sexual immorality and the church of Ephesus was affected by it.
However, an interesting alternative is that the name offers a Greek equivalent for the notorious prophet Bila’am (Bala’am) who was the cause for Israel’s fornication with the women of Moab. The Greek word Νικολαΐ́της (Nikolaitēs) or Νικολαϊτῶν (Nikolaitans) could be a combination of “He conquers” (νικᾷ) and “people” (λαόν), a wordplay on the Hebrew name Bila’am (master of people).
The Hebrew word for “Nikolaites” is נִיקוֹלָאִטייִם (nikolaitiyim), as found in the Hebrew text of Revelation. To read the translation of Revelation by Nehemiah Gordon visit Nehemiah’s Wall and to view the actual manuscript visit The British Library (turn to f.1v).
As with the word Yehudiyim, which is an adjective meaning “Judaic” or “Jewish” and distinct from Yehudim (members of the tribe of Yehudah), so does Nikolaitiyim is an adjective meaning “Nikolaitish” as someone who belongs to Nikolaus, or behaves like him.
In the Rabbinical work Genesis Rabbah, Vayechi, Section 97, quoted by Gordon, Yehudiyim was understood as referring to the Ten Lost Tribes who labeled themselves “Judaic” Yehudiyim, but not “Jewish” (probably the Rabbis meant Jews Yehudim, as “jewish” and “jews” are seen as interchangeable).
With that being said, who are those “Nikolaitiyim” in the letter to the church of Ephesus?
The opinion of the present author is that Nikolaitans (nikolaitiyim) might not refer to a personal name at all, but it might be an adjective (as it appears to be in Hebrew) and simply means “nikolaitish” or someone who acts like a master of people. Or, nikolaitiyim seem to be referring to masters of people.
In other occasions the present author has expressed his understanding as to why he believes The Revelation has been written in Hebrew, not in Greek. And if it is so, then the word nikolaitiyim must be a transliteration, not translation of the Hebrew “masters of people.” And why the Messiah or Yochanan has chosen to use a transliteration of a foreign word such as “nikolaitans” we do not know excepting that they were non-Hebrews and that word was used for a label for “masters of people” as its Greek meaning is.
And this opinion may not be so far stretched. The idea of submission of Yeshua’s followers to the professional religious elite is not new. We can clearly find it in the Rabbinical Judaism, in the Catholic Church, and in all Christian denominations. Nevertheless, it is a wrong doctrine and against what He taught His disciples and what His disciples taught their disciples.
But as for you, do not desire to be called ‘Rabbi’ (My great one). One is your Rabbi (My great one) and you are all brothers. And call no man ‘father’ upon the earth: one is your Father, who is in heaven. Do not be called ‘Rabbi’ (My great one), for one is your Rabbi (My great one), the Messiah. The greatest among you shall serve you. He who exalts himself shall be humbled; he who is humbled shall be exalted.
For more on what the Hebrew word ‘Rabbi’ means, refer to the article “Do not be called a Rabbi?“
And Apostle Kefa (Peter),
Therefore, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Messiah, and also a sharer of the glory that is to be revealed, I appeal to the elders among you: Shepherd the flock of Elohim which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but voluntarily, not out of greed for filthy gain, but eagerly, neither as being masters over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you shall receive the never-fading crown of glory. (1Pe 5:1-4)
So, what Yeshua and His apostle Kefa warn the leaders of the newly established congregation is, “Do not be religious overlords who would lord over the flock, leading not by example and willingness, but by ruling over them with constraint and force. Humble yourselves and do not be “great ones” because the Messiah is your Great One and you are all equal.”
One way or the other, Yeshua is very clear on this issue that the works of the nikolaitiyim have no bearing on the church of Ephesus. That is not their issue. Their issue is that they have left their first love. Their issue is the removing their assembly from its place in the body of the Messiah, if they do not return to their first love: YHVH.
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the assemblies. To him who overcomes I shall give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of Elohim. (Rev 2:7)
In conclusion, Yeshua finishes the first of the seven letters to the seven churches with the phrase to the assemblies, thus referring to all of them. And to the church of Ephesus, He encourages them to overcome their shortcomings, namely that they have forgotten their first love, in order to eat from the tree of life.
In our conclusion, we should ask ourselves whether we are of Ephesus. Have we forgotten our first love like the Ephesians have? And what does it mean to forget the first love? Let us again read the warning in Deu 31,
and this people will rise up, and go astray after the foreign gods of the land, where they go to be among them, and will forsake Me, and break My Covenant which I have made with them. (Deu 31:16)
Clearly we see that to forsake YHVH is to void His Covenant by going astray after foreign gods. These foreign “gods” could be anything that leads away from the One true Elohim and His Messiah.
We may go far in outward activity in our religious lives and yet be threatened with the removal of our candlestick from the assembly of the Messiah, because we have forgotten our first love. We may labor and pursue. We may oppose to and expose false teachers. And yet, if love for YHVH and the Messiah is what we lack, nothing can compensate the loss of our first love.
So, what is to love YHVH, as He has commanded us? Because, He has said also, ‘You shall love your fellow as yourself.’
There is a quite disturbing verse at the end of Revelation that is often overlooked. It reads thus,
They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more, neither shall the sun strike them, nor any heat, because the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne shall shepherd them and lead them to fountains of waters of life. And Elohim shall wipe away every tear from their eyes. (Rev 7:16-17)
We should ask ourselves, ‘Why will there be any people who would cry at the return of the Messiah?’
One may say that they will cry out of happiness, because they have been found worthy at the return of the Lord. And many will; but they will not need to be comforted. However, those whose tears Elohim will wipe away (comfort them) will cry because of sadness.
Why? What sadness and pain, and not joy, will one feel at the return of the Lamb?
After the Lamb defeats all enemies of YHVH’s people, brings world peace, and establishes the Kingdom of heaven here on the earth, they will turn around to seek for their loved ones, relatives, or friends from the church, and will find none. They will realize that their candlestick had been removed and will cry.
For more insight on what love is, please, refer to the article, “What is Love?“
In this article we studied the first of the seven letters to the seven churches in Revelation. In the following articles we will study all of them, if YHVH permits so. But for more insight on the end-time prophecy, please, visit Prophecy Insight and Part II The Last Kingdom of the present author’s book Reckoning of Time.
May we merit seeing the coming of our Mashiach speedily in our days.