“The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lamp-stands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lamp-stands are the seven churches.” (Rev. 1:20)
My journey through Revelation began with Jesus literally illuminating His authority. In chapter one, John says Jesus’ eyes were blazing fire and a sharp double-edged sword protruded out of His mouth. Jesus wanted it to be known His message was to be heeded and obeyed.
I used to tell my mom that she could look at me from across a busy room and just by her look, I knew I’d better stop doing what was making her unhappy. She might as well have had a double-edged sword coming out of her mouth because just by her look, I heeded and obeyed. Jesus had more than a look. Every part of His body was described from His hair (white like wool) to His feet (bronze glowing in a furnace), so we should probably listen carefully to what He has to say.
In chapter two, Jesus gets right to the point. The number seven signifies perfection, and I don’t think it was by any accident that there are seven original churches (lamp-stands) by which Christianity was spread throughout the world. The seven lamp-stands represent each church and the seven stars represent the angels of each of the churches. The Greek word angelos means “messenger,” but it is not clear exactly who is the messenger of the church. The messenger could be an actual angel (not exactly sure why a letter would have to be written to an angel. Wouldn’t they just know what Jesus wanted?), the leaders in the church, or anyone who read and relayed the message to the congregation. I’ve read various articles and everyone is in agreement that no one is sure. This is where our need to know isn’t necessarily important. It’s the content of the letter we are privy to that is described with such clarity that should be the focus of our attention. We, along with the church in Ephesus, need to take heed of their message.
I just love how Jesus starts out with a positive. That’s how I teach my students:
“Let’s talk about what you are doing right. Great job! Keep that up!”
Then we focus on the areas we need to strengthen. If I just focused on my student’s areas of strength, the weight of their areas of weakness would eventually frustrate and bring down what is working well. Growth will cease unless they are challenged to grow in every area—not just what comes easily.
This is what the church in Ephesus was doing right:
- Good deeds, hard work, perseverance
- Not tolerating wicked men
- Testing those who claimed to be apostles and proving their falsehood
- Enduring hardships in the name of Jesus without showing weariness.
- Hating the practices of the Nicolaitans (people who ate food sacrificed to idols and sexually sinned as a form of their church doctrine).
This is what the church in Ephesus was doing wrong:
“Yet I hold this against you:” (Rev. 2:4)
- They have forsaken their first love
- They have fallen from the heights of this love into a place unacceptable by Jesus
If they do not repent and turn back to their first love, Jesus will remove their lamp-stand.
The first thing that struck me was man, that’s harsh! Look at all of the great things they were doing. Then I realized what I was saying to myself. It’s that works belief again. We can’t earn salvation by what we do. They were doing great things and persevering through hardships, but where was the love? Without love, the drive will eventually fizzle out and the works will end. Their ability to be a light will fade and 2000 years later I may not be writing about my love for Jesus. It would be more like, “Jesus who?” They needed to return to their first love and remember what all of their efforts are for. A car driving 70 mph with the oil running low will eventually burn out the engine. Works without love is eventually going to die. Our future salvation depends on knowing about our great Savior! Thank you, Jesus, for being harsh and honest and demanding more from Ephesus.
Now, it’s easy to say, “Yeah! Works without love don’t really matter, Ephesus! Get with the program!” but what about our time today? How many churches have the heart beating just a little slower, the congregation too busy doing God’s work to notice the hurting member sitting right next to them, or tallying up the good deed’s points and forgetting it’s in His name we do these things? How many lamp-stands are facing the threat of being snuffed out right under their noses?
When I think of God referring to the churches as lamp-stands, the obvious reference is to spreading light. Lamp-stands cast light beyond their original source while exposing all within the proximity of its circumference. The more lamps, the more light can be spread.
During the time of Ephesus, there was much darkness. The truth of Jesus’ life and sacrifice hadn’t spread across the globe, yet. It was only illuminated within the circumference of their lamp-stand. Jesus message and truths were only concentrated among these seven lamp-stands who were attempting to shine and expose the dark within their circle of reach. Jesus is giving them instruction because through these churches, the truth will eventually spread. Without these churches, it would scatter into history as another legend or dissipate like a vapor in the wind. Our salvation depends upon these churches thriving and burning brightly.
I can’t help but to compare the then to the now. The seven churches’ purpose was to light other wicks so the truth message would spread. One by one lights have been lit, re-lit, and shared until His message found me and you in our lifetime. That was the then—a forward spreading of the flame of His Word.
In the now, it seems like our lamps are wavering and flickering. There is less oxygen to keep the flames strong and bright. Our wicks are getting smaller and our lights are getting dimmer. Instead of spreading light, we are going in the opposite direction and one by one our lamps are being extinguished. Where once the light was spreading, it’s now getting darker one puff of air at a time, one wick shortened from broken faith, one cracked globe from stepping away from our original love, one sin that is now acceptable. We are snuffing out light after light and reversing ourselves back into a time before Jesus’ life and message mattered. For a forward moving world, we are sitting in the dark and not even knowing it.
We have a lot to learn from the message in Ephesus. When Jesus said, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Rev. 2:7), I don’t think it was only their ears He was referring to. If that were so, what would be the purpose of us knowing the content of their letter?
Jesus ends with, “To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God” (Rev. 2:7). Adam and Eve were kicked out of Eden because God did not want them to eat from the tree of life. Here we are given an open invitation to come and taste if we are only willing to heed and obey.