Ephesus: the Church with a Missing Ingredient, Part 2

Revelation 2:1-4

2:1 “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: ‘The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands.

Christ assures us he knows all about us and meets our essential needs vs. 1

Christ is the One who holds the seven stars his right hand. The Greek word here is a stronger word than that in 1:16 (“to have”). “To hold” here implies a “protective grasp.” The right hand signifies power and authority.

Christ holding teh seven stars

Christ also walks among the seven golden Lampstands — He takes a protective interest in the churches. He also takes a protective interest in you and me as individuals.

Application of the Vision to Us

The risen Christ is still among His Church here below. Even though the vision takes place in the heavenly temple setting, its application is for the church below on earth.


Note the Pew Research graph above on the spread of Christianity worldwide in the hundred-year period from 1910 to 2010. If the church is “finished,” why are so many radical groups murdering Christians around the world?! Why are Christians considered dangerous, so we must not be allowed to spread the Gospel? Christianity is the largest non-coerced religion in the world still!

At present, it appears the church is losing ground and growing smaller in the West. Appearances deceive! Christ in all his risen power is with his faithful church. We must stay true to Him by obeying His Word and proclaiming it even to those who don’t want to hear it.

Christ always commends our good works vs 2-3

2 I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false.
3 I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary.

We often think of Isaiah 64:6 where it states, “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.”  These are the description of works prior to conversion and works of one who is not in close fellowship with God!

Once a person is saved his works are no longer “filthy rags” (KJV). A Christian’s works are made acceptable by the blood of Christ. I commend an excellent article by Dr. Michael Kruger on the Christian’s works — “A Word of Encouragement to Those in Ministry: God Does Not View Your Labors as ‘Filthy Rags’.” It is well worth the read! [see Kruger click here for the link to read this article.]

“I know your deeds (erga), your hard work (kopon), and your perseverance (hyomene).” Ephesus was a hard working church! They were not working to earn salvation. They were working out of gratitude to God for salvation freely bestowed on them in Christ. What could possibly go wrong with all this labor and striving?

We often do right things but lack the proper motivation vs. 4

4 But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.

Note that the proper motivation for activity is missing in Ephesus. It has been called “the church with the missing ingredient.”

Taken from the Friendly Visitor 1881

Taken from the Friendly Visitor 1881

I had a professor at Bible college who preached a memorable sermon on this text. He illustrated it from a great Southern cook who had a recipe for a delicious cake. Everyone admired her cake and asked for the recipe. She freely gave it away. However, no one could reproduce her famous cake.

Someone finally asked her why she gave it away, yet no one could reproduce it like she did.

She replied, “That’s easy! I always leave out one, crucial ingredient.”

The Ephesian Church had left out one crucial ingredient in its works. They were just “going through the motions.” They had left out the crucial motivation — love. Observe the two great commandments — Matthew 22:36-40

36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

Note carefully, love for God is always first! The second flows from our love for God.

Ephesians had not just misplaced their proper motivation. The Greek word means to “abandon.” In I Cor. 7, it is used of “divorce.” The Ephesians did not “lose” their first love. They “forsook it intentionally.” God didn’t leave them; they left God.

Some refuse to abandon their faith even in the face of death. Recently, six church members, including their pastor, were executed by radicals in Burkina Faso. (Their pastor is pictured below right.) They were urged to leave for their own safety, but the pastor and zealous Christians loved their village and wanted to see people come to Christ. We pray that “the blood of the martyrs will be the seed of the church” today as it was in the early days of Christianity! (To read more on this persecuted church see Six Executed at this link). It takes real, vibrant love for God and people to give one’s life for Christ! 


Pastor Pierre Ouedraogo chose to stay in Sirgadji out of love for his congregation. (Photo Credit: World Watch Monitor)

What the Ephesian Church had deliberately forsaken was their first love. The Greek word is agapê. It is the self-denying love of the one who loves for the sake of the one loved. It resides in the will, and not in the emotions. Love can be learned, un-learned, and re-learned.

The question is which “love” is referred to here —

(1) their love for God, or
(2) their love for each other.

In Acts 20:35 and Eph. 1:15 Paul exhorted the Ephesians to love each other. They loved God still, but perhaps did not love with the same fervency that they did at the first. This affected their love for each other. So, both objects of love are involved. Their opposition to heresy and heretics had detoured them from love for God and His people. We dare not desert our fervent love for fighting our opposition. We teach the truth and leave to God the rest. Those outside the faith will see its reality by our love for God and His people.

More on the Ephesian letter next time.


ESV. Accessed from https://www.biblegateway.com/

Kruger, Michael. (2014). “A Word of Encouragement to Those in Ministry: God Does Not View Your Labors as ‘Filthy Rags’” [Blog post] Accessed February 4, 2019 from https://www.michaeljkruger.com/does-god-really-consider-all-our-good-works-to-be-filthy-rags/

© 2019 C. Richard Barbare All Rights Reserved

Ephesus: Church with a Missing Ingredient, Part 1

Revelation 2:1-7
The Letter to Ephesus

I will cite the verses as the post unfolds. If you desire to read it all at once click on this link which will open in a new window.

Historical Focus on the City of Ephesus

The historical situation of the seven churches gives us the context of the rest of the book of Revelation.

Founding of the Church

Acts 19 records the founding of this church by Paul on his second missionary journey. Later the Apostle John made Ephesus his headquarters after the fall of Jerusalem. What a privileged church to have had two eminent pastors!


Paul Preaching In Ephesus, Historic Steel Engraving From A Bible 1860.

The city was very much pagan. It contained the famed Temple of Diana — one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Criminals used the temple for sanctuary and tourists and pilgrims flocked to it.


The Temple of Diana by Antonio Tempesta (Italy, Florence, 1555-1630)

Even though Pergamum was once the capital of Asia Minor, Ephesus became the preeminent city and seat of the proconsul from Rome. A city of some 250,000 boasted of a huge theater seating 25,000. Paul was driven from it when the silversmiths saw a decline in their idol-making business. (Click on this link if you wish to read the account in the Acts.)

Ephesus book burning

This was designed and drawn upon wood by Mr. J. Hodson, 1888 and engraved and printed. Source

21st Century Parallels

Paganism and false religions around a church doesn’t mean the door to Gospel is closed. People grow disillusioned with that which is false. Churches surrounded by paganism have an opportunity, not a problem. Suffering and sacrifice are needed to bring the Gospel to pagans and those who embrace false religions.

Unprecedented Church Growth in the Middle East Today

“In 1979, there were less than 500 known Christians from a Muslim background in Iran. Today the most conservative estimate is that there are at least 360,000 believers in the nation. Church leaders believe that millions can be added to the church in the next few years — such is the spiritual hunger that exists and the disillusionment with the Islamic regime. If we remain faithful to our calling, our conviction is that it is possible to see the nation transformed within our lifetime. Because Iran is a strategic gateway nation, the growing church in Iran will impact Muslim nations across the Islamic world.”

Vision and Strategy for Impact

“[Our] vision is that all the people of the Iran region would have the opportunity to come to know the Lord Jesus Christ and follow Him as a disciple, and that Iranians would be instrumental in taking the Gospel to other Muslims. To achieve this vision, we: 1. Train leaders for fruitful, effective ministry in the Iran region. 2. Equip the Iranian church with Bibles and resources for evangelism and discipleship. 3. Send the Gospel into the Iran region through trained evangelists, church planters and Christian media.”

“Such is the openness of the Iranian people that wherever there is a witness to the Gospel, individuals, families and even communities are coming to Christ.” [See Elam’s Mission below.]

God has placed us where we are for a reason!

Just as Ephesus had an opportunity for Christ, we in the 21st Century in the midst of the re-paganization of the West should turn our situation into an opportunity for the extension of Christ’s Kingdom! We must meet paganism with genuine Biblical Christianity, not watered down liberal church teaching and structures. 

More on Ephesus next time.


Elam’s Mission. (2019). Accessed February 5, 2019 from https://www.elam.com/page/elams-mission

ESV. Accessed from https://www.biblegateway.com/

© 2019 C. Richard Barbare All Rights Reserved

Reading the Oracles to the Seven Churches of Asia Minor

Revelation 1:11, 19

11 “Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.” (see Map below).

asia minor map public domain

Route of the Letters from Patmos (public domain)

Brief introduction to the Letters to the Seven Churches Rev. 2-3 

Jesus both knows our circumstances and spiritual condition

The letters to the seven churches of Asia Minor form a distinct unit in the book of Revelation. However, they are integrally connected to the vision of chapter one. Christ, the author of the letters, identifies himself to each church by means of a descriptive phrase taken from the vision in chapter one. The phrase for each letter is also appropriate to the need of the specific church at the time. (See the figure below).


Jesus Speaks to His Church in All Ages

Several scholars have pointed out that the messages are not letters in the sense of epistles like Paul, Peter, James, and John wrote. They are closer to “Oracles” that Old Testament prophets spoke and wrote. 

“…Oracles were prophecies since they often referred to the future; but oracles sometimes dealt with decisions to be made in the present. Usually, in the Bible the communication was from [Jehovah” KJV] the God of Israel” (see Holman below). 

OT Scholars distinguish between: (1) decision oracles and (2) pronouncement oracles (see Holman below). Decision oracles come when we seek guidance from God and receive His communication in answer. Pronouncement oracles come from God when He wants to communicate with us, and not when asked by man.

Jesus speaks to individuals in churches of all ages. 

We must not read messages from God in His Word as if they are for churches only. They are for churches, but they are addressed to individual listeners! “He (singular) who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches (plural).” The oracles to the seven churches in Revelation are pronouncement oracles to you and me.

“The great problem in the church’s interpretation of Scripture has been its ecclesiastical orientation, as though God speaks only to the church, and commands only the church. The Lord God speaks in and through His Word to the whole man, to every man, and to every area of life and thought” (see Romans and Galatians below). 

I remember in a doctoral seminar once we were discussing personality disorders. 

“[Personality disorders] involve long-term patterns of thoughts and behaviors that are unhealthy and inflexible. The behaviors cause serious problems with relationships and work. People with personality disorders have trouble dealing with everyday stresses and problems.”

For example, narcissism is an unhealthy love of one’s own self. A narcissist cannot give to others in a relationship without being the chief beneficiary of that giving. (see Medicine Plus below). 

The professor who facilitated the class was a Doctor of Clinical Psychology, in practice for many years. He said first in importance is that we ought not to look around us and diagnose others. He said we ought to see bits and pieces of these disorders in ourselves as fallen human beings. We ought to see ourselves as recovering from these distortions. They mar our ability to reflect the image of God in our lives.


Francis Schaeffer (pictured) helps us in his excellent volume, True Spirituality (see Schaeffer below). No one but Jesus was sinless. Schaeffer says perfection always eludes us in this life. However, we can and should expect substantial healing in our being as we follow Christ.  

I remember when I was younger hearing some older adults say they did not sin any longer. That is, they didn’t sin by their own definition of sin. Let me explain.

My mother confronted one such person who boasted of being sinless. Mother asked, “What about last week when you lost your temper with Gladys?” She retorted, “I make mistakes, but that’s not a sin.” Well, not by her definition, but it is by God’s. I John 3:3b says “sin is lawlessness (breaking God’s Law)” (see ESV below).

My mother’s coworker reminded me of the 5 year old who suddenly exclaimed to his mother that he was six feet tall. She asked how he determined that. He replied, “I made my own ruler and measured myself!” God has the moral ruler and He does the measuring. 

When we read John’s Seven Oracles from the Risen Christ we ought to look for bits and pieces of that communication in ourselves as individuals. After all, we say the church is people, not bricks and mortar. It would be easier to diagnose other churches than the one we attend, but there we ought to see bits and pieces of the Oracles in our congregation, too. 

The Seven Oracles are God’s word that demands a response. They are communications from the King of Kings that demand a verdict. We ought to read them and bow in confession of sin when we see it. We ought to be stirred up if we are complacent. We ought to be encouraged by commendation when it applies to us. 

General Application of Letters to Seven Churches

Seven Letters revised

Comments about the application

Each letter follows a general pattern.

(1) A different aspect of Christ’s character from Rev. 1:12-20 addresses the deepest need of that particular Church. (see Literary Links Chart above).

(2) Three areas of need are covered:

Complacency in Christian witness;
Complicity with Roman Imperial System; &
Commendation of the good works that are already there.

(3) A strategy is put forward for each need to heal that Church:

Stir-up the complacent
Correct the complicit
Commend the good

I hope this helps in our approach to the letters to the seven churches.

We’ll get into Chapter 2 next time!!!


Most of this material is drawn from my notes on Bible Survey of the New Testament which I have taught over the years at several institutions. 

Fee, Gordon D. Revelation (New Covenant Commentary Series). Cascade Books, an imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition. Insights from Gordon Fee’s Commentary on Revelation also have been incorporated into my past notes.

Holman Bbie Dictionary. (2018). Accessed March 1, 2019 from https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hbd/o/oracles.html

Medicine Plus. (2019). Accessed March 1, 2019 from https://medlineplus.gov/personalitydisorders.html

Romans and Galatians. (2019). Accessed March 1, 2019 from https://chalcedon.edu/resources/books/romans-and-galatians

Schaeffer, F. (1971). True Spirituality. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale Publishers.

© 2019 C. Richard Barbare All Rights Reserved


Response to the Vision of Christ

Revelation 1:17-18, 20

17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last,
18 and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.”

At this point in our study, it is a good idea to consider our response to Jesus Christ. We do not have a direct vision of Him. We have a mediated vision of Him through His word.

I have often meditated on Matthew 6:6 — But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Jesus tells us to engage in prayer in secret. He adds, “Your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” The KJV adds “will reward you [openly].” I believe the reward is in secret like the act of prayer. What could this secret reward be? “God’s Presence is found in secret, He sees what is in secret, and He rewards those who meet Him in that place.” (see In Secret below) As we meet with our Lord Jesus Christ in secret reading and praying over His Word, He imparts to us His conscious presence!

Encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ always leads to Fear.

I know this is contrary to “Barney-Christianity” — “I love you; you love me… .” John has the regular response recorded in the Bible to encounter with Deity—prostration and terror. See Daniel 8:16-19; and Daniel 10:7-12. (click on links to read.) Daniel’s passages are clearly the models for John’s written record here in Rev. 1.


John’s Response to the Theophany vs 17

John prostrates himself and is struck with fear (terror). Here we have the negative plus  the present imperative of phobeomai (English = phobia). This indicates that the action is already in progress and is commanded to cease (literally, “Stop being afraid!”)


Moses at the burning bush theophany

Is fear always a bad thing? No! It is our starting place in an encounter with Christ. We finish up like John strengthened by God.

The Fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom. (Psalm 111:10).

Note that there are different aspects of “fear.”

1. Sense of Terror — this is the realization of a sinful person in the presence of a Holy God. Compare Isaiah 6:1-4 Click on the link to read it in a new window.

During the Welsh revival of 1905, a coal minor noticed that lights were on in the village chapel. He opened the door and exclaimed, “Oh! God is here,” as he backed out and closed the door. Those who experience revival witness the manifest presence of God. It is overwhelming. Terror strikes the witnesses. This leads to other forms of fear outlined below. (I read this incident in an old magazine, the name of which I have forgotten.)

2. Feeling of sheer Dread  

This sense of fear takes two forms: (1) an immature form and (2) a mature form.

a. Fear of punishment — This is an immature response to God from a young child’s experience of doing wrong. He is afraid of being punished. Should a believer revert to sinful behavior and not repent, there is fear of discipline from the Lord, Hebrews 12:5-11 [Click on the link to read this in a new window].

b. Fear of marring a relationship — This is a mature response of a child grown to adulthood. I no longer fear my parent’s punishment when I do wrong. We never “get over” this in our relationship with the Lord. We shrink back from sinful behavior because we do not want to mar our relationship with our God.

3. Overwhelming impression of Awe — Bowing in reverence, respect, and wonder. This attends us every time we read God’s Word and seek his face.

Christ strengthens us as believers through our encounter with Him.

Jesus stretched forth his right hand and touched John tenderly.  The right hand that held the stars is what touched him. This is the protective hand. The one that possesses all authority.

The words, “the first and the last,” link Jesus’ saying to the “Alpha and Omega” of 1:8. He is saying that Christ is Deity. In Isaiah 44:6 Jehovah says this of himself. (Click on the link to read Isaiah passage in a new window).

John connects Jesus to Jehovah in his Christology. The phrase has been described as “the Divine self-designation.” It is the divine signature, so to speak. John has no reason to fear since he is in the presence of God who stoops to touch him in a grace-way. Do we not want that touch!


The Speaker Identified Clearly vs. 18

Christ is living in contrast to the pagan deities who were made of wood and stone or just conjured up in the mind. He experienced death once, but was raised to live forever and ever.

The Risen Christ holds the Keys — to death and hades. The risen Christ has the authority over death and beyond. We truly need not fear if we serve the one who controls the time and circumstances of our death. This is what John is saying.

Gordon Fee relates the sermon of a black pastor preaching on Easter morn

After setting up the scene of the Devil and his minions finding the empty tomb, the pastor [voicing Satan’s conclusion] exclaimed, “He’s got away! He’s got away!”

Fear immediately grips the demonic hordes whoa re disturbed by Satan’s fear. 

And, He’s got the keys!,” Satan concluded.

Sheer terror spreads throughout the dark world.

Our Lord Jesus Christ lives unlike the idols of men

We lose the impact of Christ’s resurrection often. He now holds the keys to death and hades since he entered its world and emerged victorious and alive!

Most surely, hades here refers to the fact that Jesus actually died. His soul was separated from his body. He fully experienced death for his people.

For John that is the “key” to everything that follows; having experienced death, Christ through his resurrection has stripped Satan of his means of power—death and Hades—and thus “holds the keys” for loosing from Satan’s grip those who are his own. (see Fee, p. 20, below).

Hebrews 2:14-15 reveals the impact of freedom from fear of death on those who are enslaved to sin.

14 Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, [Christ] himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.

We are indeed blessed to have images interpreted for us in the text. vs 20

vs. 20 As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands, the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.

Our Lord Jesus Christ understands all mysteries of the universe and beyond and unfolds them to us if we need it.

vs. 20: The Meaning of “Mystery” — A mysterion in the N.T. sense of the word is something that can only be known by revelation. It is not accessible to the physical senses of a person.

Angel with Abraham Rembrandt 1655

The Meaning of “Angels” Here

Remember that this is a visionary world John sees. So the implication is not that churches have guardian angels. In the vision, angels deliver the messages to the seven churches. 

What John seems most likely to have intended is not that each church had its own angel, as it were, but in keeping with the apocalyptic genre, that a different (perhaps angelic) messenger was appointed to deliver Christ’s message to each of the churches [in the vision], while at the same time each church becomes privy to the others’ mail! (see Fee below p. 21).

Next time a general introduction to the Oracles to the 7 Churches and into Chapter Two.


Fee, Gordon D. Revelation (New Covenant Commentary Series). Cascade Books, an imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition.

In Secret. (2011). Devotional Blog of Anne Restler for September 2, 2011 accessed May 5, 2019 from https://anneresler.com/2011/09/02/in-secret/#_edn1

Williams, William C. (1996). “Theophany” in Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Accessed January 23, 2019 from https://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionaries/bakers-evangelical-dictionary/theophany.html

WLC. (1647-8). Westminster Larger Catechism. Accessed January 25, 2019 from https://reformed.org/documents/wlc_w_proofs/

© 2019 C. Richard Barbare All Rights Reserved