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LETTERS TO THE SEVEN CHURCHES
I. Τα αγγέλω της εν Εφέσω εκκλησίας γράψον: Τάδε λέγει ο κρατών τους επτά αστέρας εν τη δεξια αυτού, ο περιπατών εν μέσω των επτά λυχνιών των χρυσέων.
1. To the angel of the church of Ephesus write: These things saith he who holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks.
(S. TR lv 'E Éow.)
În the introductory foreword, “The Seven Churches of Asia," we have shown that the predictions were not intended for the local Churches. “Ephesus" stands for the first or Apostolic age of the Church, which began with the preaching of Jesus Christ, and ended with Nero's persecution. The Nazarene Church of Jerusalem which held the primacy until it fled to Pella, during Nero's persecution, must be taken as the first or Apostolic Church. The line of demarcation between one Church and the next, though not sharply cut, is distinct. The second or martyr's age began with Nero's persecution.
"To the Angel of the Churches of Ephesus, write." When this was written we may assume S. Simon of Jerusalem to have been the Angel of the Church of Ephesus-ie., the first Church of Christ. S. John may be looked upon as the “angel" of the local Church of Ephesus. He would not have written to himself, nor would he have written to another, who he was going to see, soon. (See his second and third Epistles.)
Our Lord identifies Himself at the head of this message, as “He who holdeth the seven stars in His right hand " (R. i. 16). Kpatwv, "holding," is much stronger than éxwv, “having," at R. i. 16. And “He who walketh in the midst," “ epitraTv &v péow," is stronger than “ év ułow," at R. i. 13, as it suggests vigilant supervision. This opening symbolism is applicable to all the Churches. It is not special to Ephesus.
2. οίδα τα έργα σου και τον κόπον και την υπομονήν, , και ότι ου δυνη βαστάσαι κακούς, και επείρασας τους λέγοντας εαυτούς αποστόλους, και ουκ εισίν, και ευρες αυτούς ψευδείς: :
2. I know thy works and thy labour and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear evil men; and thou hast tried them who say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars.
The message to the Apostolic Church opens with great praise. Oida," I know well” thy works. "Epya, “ works,” is put in this Book for any kind of works. See the works of the Nicolaites (R. ii. 6). But these are good works, the work of the Apostles, preaching "the Gospel of the Kingdom” and “teaching all nations" (Matt. xxiv. 14, xxviii. 19). They are again referred to at R. ii. 4, as “thy first charity." See also R. ii. 5. Thy “ labours "--Kórov-occurs again at R. xiv. 13. “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord . . . that they may rest from their labours.” Patience—“ ÚTouovýv"-we have had before at R. i. 9. It is specially referred to in the next verse, which is epexegetical of patience.
“Thou canst not bear evil men,” definitely," those who say they are Apostles and are not.” This remark restricts this Church to the Apostolic age. No one could pretend to be an Apostle in later times. A false Apostle was one who asserted that he had walked with the Lord, and had a commission from Him to teach. There were many such after the Ascension. Justin Martyr wrote, “And after the Ascension of our Lord into heaven, certain men were suborned by demons, as their agents, who said they were Gods” (Euseb. H. E. ii., 13). Menander gave himself out to be the Saviour returned to the world (Euseb. H. E. iii., 26). There were many others. “For such false Apostles are deceitful labourers, transforming themselves into the Apostles of Christ" (2 Cor. xi. 13). Our Lord had warned this first Church of these men. “Beware of false prophets who come to you in the clothing of sheep, but inwardly they are ravening wolves" (Matt. vii. 15). These men were a great trial to the Apostles. See 2 Cor. ii. 17, iii. 1, xi. 4-5; Gal. i. 7, ii. 4; Phil. iii. 2-3; 1 Jhn. iv. I; 2 Jhn. 10. A distinction is made between false Apostles and false prophets in this Book. The latter persisted long after the Apostlese.g., the Montanist prophets, and the heathen oracles.
Note these men are freudeis—"liars.” The word occurs again in a context less illuminating as regards its meaning. We may take liars to be false apostles and false prophets including the heathen hierarchy, and all heresiarchs." Their portion is hell.
See R. xxi. 8, 27, xxii. 15. “Who is a liar, but he who denieth that Jesus is the Christ”? (1 Jhn. ii. 22).
The works, the labours, and the patience of the local Church at Ephesus, scarcely call for comment. Founded by S. Paul about the year 54, it was still an infant Church when the Apocalypse was written, in 67. Nor is there any record of false Apostles at Ephesus. Cerinthus, who comes into view at a later period than A.D. 67, did not pretend to be an Apostle. No one could do so successfully in the presence of S. John, who was known to have been the constant companion of our Lord. Cerinthus denied the Divinity of Christ.
3. Και υπομονήν έχεις, και βάστασας διά το όνομά μου, και ουκ εκοπίασας. .
3. And thou hast patience, and hast borne for my name, and hast not failed.
(S. = ου κεκοπιακες.)
The first Church suffered many things for the name of Jesus. The apostles were scourged and imprisoned and put to death by both Jew and pagan. They bore all things with patience and without fail. Very great praise is given to this Church. No other Church, but Thyatira, gets such praise. There was no persecution of the local Church at Ephesus before the year 67. S. Paul's preaching was so successful that the sale of images of Diana of Ephesus fell off. Demetrius, a silver-smith, felt the consequent loss of trade, and caused a tumult of the people, saying that not alone at Ephesus but almost throughout all Asia, this
Paul had persuaded many that gods are not made with hands (Acts xix. 26). Owing to this disturbance S. Paul left Ephesus. Other persecution there was none.
It is possible that S. John, like S. Paul, may have been sent away from Ephesus owing to disturbances due to a falling off in the trade of silver images.
4. Αλλά έχω κατά σου ότι την αγάπην σου την πρώτην αφήκες. .
4. But this I have against thee, that thou hast left thy first charity.
'Ayatny pórnv—"first charity.” The early Church had, already, after thirty-three years, fallen away from that high standard of love and charity, described in the Acts. : “ And all they that believed were together, and had all things in
common ... their possessions and goods they sold and divided them to all, according as every one had need. . .. Praising God” (Acts ii. 44, 47). "And the multitude of the believers had but one heart and one soul, neither did any one of them say that of the things which he possessed, anything was his own, but all things were common to them” (Acts iv. 32). This remarkable charity characterised the first Christians of Jerusalem, whose fervour was inflamed by the preaching and example of our Lord and the Apostles.
There was nothing of the kind at Ephesus. See Acts, Chapter xix., and S. Paul to the Ephesians.
5. Μνημόνευε ούν πόθεν πέπτωκας, και μετανόησον και τα πρώτα έργα ποίησον: ει δε μή, έρχομαι σοι και κινήσω την λυχνίαν σου εκ του τόπου αυτής, εάν μη μετανοήσης.
5. Be mindful therefore from whence thou art fallen and do penance, and do the first works ; or else I come to thee and will move thy candlestick out of its place, except thou do penance.
"Be mindful from whence thou art fallen " argues a great falling off from fervour, in the early Church, by the year 67. “ Do penance, jetavóncov,'” is insisted upon in this Book. See R. ii. 16, 21, 22, iii. 3, 19, ix. 20, 21. “ Do the first works " explains “thy works ” at R. ii. 2, works of love and charity. Τα πρώτα έργα is not the same expression as την αγάπεν σου TŅU pótny, “thy first charity” (R. ii. 4). The first communism of primitive Christianity could not well be restored in the altered conditions of the Church; but the falling away could be stopped and recovered. “Or else I will move thy candlestick out of its place.” Its place as an illuminant is where it is visible and sheds its light around the world. Our Lord does not say that He will extinguish it. It is the light of His Church. “Except thou do penance" again shows the efficacy of penance. It seems that the first Church did not resume its first works, or did not do sufficient penance. Its light was, for a time, removed out of its place. The Nazarene Church fled to Pella where it remained for some years. The Church of Rome, the leading Church of the Gentiles, which inherited the primacy through S. Peter, was forced by persecution into the Catacombs, where also its light was hidden for a time.
The local Church, at Ephesus, seems to have made constant progress in the faith. S. Ignatius of Antioch praised it highly. It escaped the Neronian and Domitian persecutions. Finally
its candlestick was not “hidden," but extinguished, by the Turks, in the fourteenth century. Auxviav means a lamp. The lamp of Ephesus shared the fate of the lamp of the Tabernacle.
In considering these admonitions it is well to bear in mind that the penance of the early Church, which is in view here, was much more severe than that which passes for penance in our day.
6. But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaites, which I also hate.
The early Church is marked out for special praise because it hated the deeds of the Nicolaites, which God also hated. The Church, like its founder, hated the sin, but not the sinners. We take ta špya, “the works” of the Nicolaites, to refer to sin, for God hates sin (Prov. vi. 16, viii. 13; Ps. xcvi. 10). It is assumed here that the expression “the works of the Nicolaites," needs no explanation. The reference is therefore to something wellknown to the Servants of God, in the year 67. There is a general consensus of opinion that “the deeds of the Nicolaites" were immoral in kind. S. Irenæus, the first Christian writer to notice them, thought that the Nicolaites were followers of Nicolaus, the Deacon (Acts vi. 5): and that they believed in the lawfulness of promiscuous intercourse with women, and the eating of things offered to idols (Adv. Hær. i. 26). Hippolytus concurred in this view. But Clement of Alexandria denied that Nicolaus held such views (Euseb. H. E. iii. 29); and Epiphanius agreed with Clement (Hær. xxv.). Tertullian noticed that they had ceased to exist in his time, C. 230 (De Præscript Hær. č. 33).
The Nicolaites are mentioned again at R. ii. 14, in connection with the doctrine of Balaam, “who taught Balac to cast a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat and commit fornication.” Balaam is a Hebrew word signifying “ to destroy people.” Nikolaus is a Greek word derived from vikaw, “to conquer” people. The words have practically the same root idea, and refer to the destroying power of lust (see I Tim. vi. 9). The first Church was reared in the unclean atmosphere of idolatry. At the first Council of Jerusalem, touching Jewish and Gentile observances, it was decreed as follows, “ For it hath seemed good to the Holy Ghost and to us, to lay no further burden upon you than these necessary things. That you abstain from things sacrificed to idols, and from