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Revelation chp 3 vs 7 to 13 - The 7 churches of Revelation - Philadelphia - Surprising Origins and Unexpected Destinies - JS Gillespie - 17112021  

Philadelphia shines brightly against a backdrop of dark and dismal failure. It would be impossible to predict that unadulterated commendation of the church at Philadelphia would have followed after the preceding failures of Ephesus, Pergamos, Thyatira and Sardis. When God's Grace is operative it is impossible to predict the end from the beginning. Let us be encouraged, we may come from humble circumstances, we may have had an unpromising start in life, in the estimation of the world we may not amount to very much but when the grace of God is operative the outcomes and end point are consistent not with our limitations but with the immeasurable Glory of God's Grace in Christ. The unqualified commendation of this church after so much correction and condemnation in the other churches of Revelation, comes as a striking and refreshing surprise. It does not follow the pattern of past failure. As is so often the case, when God's grace blows afresh on glowing embers it is impossible to predict how high these glorious flames will rise.

Perhaps we have scratched our heads over the details of 1 Samuel chapter 17. Why the details of David's errand to deliver bread and cheeses to his brothers in the valley of Elah? The answer of course is very simple. 1 Samuel chapter 17 is actually all about David's errand to bring the bread, cheeses and parched corn to his brothers and their captain in the valley of Elah. David was sent on a simple errand of delivering bread and cheese to his brothers. The rest of chapter 17, the details of David's fight with Goliath, his victory over the Philistines, his gaining of a bride and his ascent to the throne of Israel is really an add on, an extra to what he had been sent to do; deliver bread, cheese and parched corn!

When the Grace of God and the power of the God of Israel is operative it is utterly impossible to predict the outcome from the beginning! It may have been a simple task David embarked upon, perhaps even a task like the foot washing of John chapter 13 that the disciples thought beneath them, but this led to David's first and greatest, that of the slaying of Goliath and the path to the throne. 

The key to the success of Philadelphia lay ultimately in their likeness to Christ. They kept His word and honoured His name; a path of truth and holiness (3:7). When the door was opened they were ready and waiting to go through that door. 

The door was undoubtedly one to mission and ministry, service and success in evangelism. As with all service, which can at times be onerous, involving sacrifice and commitment, service was the direction and not the ultimate destiny. The end point of this journey, through the open door, a door which was opened by David's anointed (Isaiah 22:22),  was the heavenly Jerusalem and God's eternal presence (Rev 3:12) just as the keys held by the typical Eliakim in Isaiah chapter 22 were keys to house of David, and to the temple; the "Father's house" (Isaiah 22:24). They too were to become pillars in the place of holiness.

From a series of bible teaching messages on the seven churches of Revelation 

Yours by


Grace in Christ


Dr J Stewart Gillespie

The 7 Churches of Revelation - Sardis - The Shame of a Name - Revelation chp 3 vs 1 to 6 - Dr J Stewart Gillespie  

The church at Sardis, the 5th of the 7 churches of Revelation is:

  • Insensitive to the Spirit
  • Unresponsive to the Scriptures
  • Unenthusiastic in service 
  • Uninterested in the preaching of the Word of God 
  • Inactive in worship

Sardis may have had a name, a reputation of being the place to be, but it was a name, like the city, based on past glory and memories of the 'good ole days' which may not have been that good after all. Sardis spiritually as a church seemed to have imbibed some of the flavour of the city of Sardis historically. Sardis living in the light of past glory, had been the capital of the Lydian Empire, ruled by Croesus, a king of legendary wealth. In the days of Croesus the Lydians of Sardis had worked out how to purify gold and separate it from silver, to a very high standard. Sardis of a by gone day was renowned for minting the highest standards of pure gold coins. 

Re-echoeing the themes of the church of Sardis in Revelation chapter 3, the secular historian Herodotus describes the fall of the city to Cyrus the Great in the 6th Century BC. Like the church the city had been caught out sleeping! Caught off guard and failing to be 'watchful' the apparently impregnable Sardis fell. One of Cyrus's troops whilst watching the ramparts of Sardis saw a Lydian soldier lose his helmet over the wall, climb down to the helmet and retrieve it. 

The Lydian soldier realised if he could find a way up to that point there was a path thereafter. This provided Cyrus and his forces with the break through they needed, That night Sardis fell, unwatched, and unguarded. A parable indeed of the church of Revelation chapter 3.

Living in the glory of the past did Sardis no favours. Such a practice tends to render us disengaged from being like David and "serving our generation." 

The path to recovery for Sardis lay not only in WHAT they knew but in returning to HOW they discovered the fresh fires of revival "remember therefore how thou hast received" (Rev 3:3). That HOW was by the experiential ministry of the 7 fold Spirit of God (Rev 3:1; Isaiah 11:1-2). God's Spirit brings the Divine into personal experience. He is the Spirit of: 

Intercession (Rom 8:26ff)

Revelation (John 16:15) 

Communication (1 Peter 4:11)

Education (1 Jo 2:27) 

Consolation (john 14:16) 

Transformation (2 Co3:18) 

Direction (Rom 8:1)

Without His ministry, Christian life becomes, dead dry and unresponsive.

It was by the work of the Spirit of God that the revival fires of the days of reformation were fanned. It is to the days of reformation that Sardis would particularly relate in the panorama of Church history. After the days of compromise under Constantine in the period of church history typified by Pergamus, following the orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism of Thyatira, truth was in part recovered in the days of Sardis as the Spirit of God once again was depended upon to reveal the truth of the Word of God to the people of God. This was "how they had received and heard" (3:3); to this they must return.


Yours by 


Grace in Christ

J Stewart Gillespie

The 7 Churches of Revelation - Revelation chapter 2 vs 1 to 7 - JS Gillespie  

The opening chapters of this great book of prophecy (Rev 1:3) describes 7 carefully arranged portraits of churches in the western part of modern day Turkey. It is possible to see in them a snap shot of the condition of the church historically. As we reflect upon them we are compelled to consider them practically; what kind of church am I in? Beyond this the challenge is surely to consider these churches personally; what am I in my church? It comes as little surprise to realise that the book of Revelation begins as it continues; that is prophetically. These 7 churches sketch out the history of the western Christian church for the past 2000 years:


Ephesus - the early Apostolic Church

Smyrna - the church persecuted under successive Roman Emperors

Pergamos - the mixed marriage of professing Christianity and paganism triggered by the professed conversion of Constantine.

Thyatira - the development of Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy

Sardis - the rediscovery of truth and reformation 

Philadelphia - the explosion of evangelism through the open door of mission in the 18th to 20th century

Laodicea - the self contented, self amused and financially prosperous western church of today 


The problems with the church began early with Ephesus. Right at the beginning Christ presents Himself as He ought to be considered and honoured; at the centre of His church; tragically from this His people have drifted in heart. Here lie the source of 2 millenia of problems.

From a bible teaching series expounding the book of Revelation.

Yours by Grace in Christ 

Dr J Stewart Gillespie

Revelation chapter 2 verses 18 to 29 - The 7 churches of Revelation - Thyatira and the Error of the Altar - JS Gillespie  

Thyatira prophetically follows on after Pergamos; the church of the mixed marriage. The period of Thyatira relates to that phase of the church during which Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy develops. Constantine after his profession of Christianity imported many pagan practices into the church; the 3 greatest of which were:


  1. The Error of the Altar
  2. The Error of the Priesthood 
  3. The Error of the understanding of God 


The error of the altar infers that the work of Christ is not complete and requires repetition or a contribution from us. This is the problem underlying the failures at Thyatira. The church is characterised by works, works and more works, motivated quite possibly by a desire to earn salvation.

In the multicultural and apathetic setting of Thyatira, to some Jesus became one amongst many Gods and His uniqueness became blurred. Unlike Apollo, the patron God of Thyatira Jesus was not 'a' Son of God but Christ is 'THE' Son of God! He is:

  • Unique in His birth
  • Unique in His death
  • Unique in His sinless humanity 
  • Unique in His resurrection 
  • Unique in His miracles
  • Unique in His claim to be the way of salvation 
  • Unique in the testimony of scripture
  • Unique in His impact on history 

Let us see the uniqueness of His Person 

Let us understand the uniqueness and completeness of His work


Part of our sermon series on the exposition of the book of Revelation 

The seven churches of Revelation - Thyatira 

Yours by Grace in Christ 

Dr J Stewart Gillespie

The 7 Churches of Revelation - Smyrna - Confidence in Catastrophe  

The 7 churches of Revelation : Smyrna : Revelation chapter 2 

Much could be said of Smyrna 

Smyrna from the Greek word Myrrh from the Hebrew word  ‘mor’ for bitterness. 

What was a fragrant perfume: 

Psalm 45:8 
Prov 7:17 
Song of Solomon 1:13; 5:5 

 was also a bitter resin. 

Myrrh was a bitter tasting perfume, both bitter and fragrant, herein is the paradox of Smyrna! 

A church that suffers! 

  • Tribulation (v9) 
  • Poverty (v9) 
  • Suffer (v10) 
  • Trial (v10) 
  • Tribulation (v10) 
  • Death (v10) 

One aspect of Smyrna perhaps not so often considered is the importance or value of understanding, insight, ‘philosophy,’ the importance of a right outlook on life, the right perspective on life. 

The power of the mind 

‘Man’s search for meaning’ – Viktor Frankyl 

Survival not only dependant on physical strength or endurance but also dependant on the mindset of the person; eg Christmas 1944 – many died. 

“everything can be taken from a man but one thing, the last of the human freedoms – to choose ones attitude in any given set of circumstances, to chose one’s own way.” 

“Ever more people today have the means to live but no meaning to live for” 

“Those who have a why to live can bear with almost any how” (Nietzsche) 

“But there was no need to be ashamed of tears, for tears bore witness that a man had the greatest of courage, the courage to suffer” 

“Life is never made unbearable by circumstances but only by lack of meaning and purpose” 

“If there is meaning in life at all then there must be meaning in suffering” 

“we who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” 

The ministry to Smyrna, highlights the importance of ministry. 

The importance of right thinking and of Bible teaching. 

The importance of looking behind the immediate set of circumstances and experiences. 

“Life is never made unbearable by circumstances but only by lack of meaning and purpose” 

“If there is meaning in life at all then there must be meaning in suffering” (V Frankyl) 

One of the great issues to which Smyrna introduces us is that subject of suffering; the problem of pain. 

Herein lies one of the great arguments against God, a problem that discourages men from faith in God and discourages the faith of those who trust in God. 

An argument formulated by Greek philosopher Epicurus: 

“Is God willing to prevent evil but not able – He is not omnipotent. 

If He is able but not willing then He is malevolent 

If He is both able and willing then whence cometh evil? 

If He is neither able nor willing then why call Him God?” 

 although perhaps most succinctly put by CS Lewis: 

If God is good He ought to desire His people to be happy. 

If God is all powerful He ought to be able to make His people happy 

If His people are not happy then: 

               God is not good 

               God is not all powerful 

               God is not 

On the surface a fairly straightforward and robust argument but one which suffers from at least 5 failings: 

It is a moral argument – if there is no God as the argument suggests you are going to have a difficult time in shoring up your idea of morality! You are going to flounder to prove that unhappiness is bad, bad for you but maybe good for me. Cutting lives short for example may well reduce the sum total suffering of that life and the effect of that life on others. 


It is a logical argument – what makes you think that a random universe can throw together a brain of atoms, undesigned and unchecked against any standard that results in being able to draw any reasonable conclusion about anything? 

The solution lies in the argument that happiness is dependent on goodness – herein is the simplest point! The argument presumes that a good God desires happiness, ie happiness is dependant on goodness; thus absolute happiness is dependent on absolute goodness; a condition we do not have. We cannot have a square circle! A square circle remains absurd even if we prefix it with the term ‘God’ or not. A fallen world is the consequence of free choice, to have no fall is to have no choice, to have no choice is to have no humanity. You cannot have it both ways. 


It limits the sovereignty of God restricting God to act in a way and using means which only ever act to result in happiness, immediate pleasure. What makes you assume that God is so small that He cannot work all things according to His own will, even the rebellion of men? 


It assumes that no ultimate good can come from sorrow, sadness and suffering. Suffering and sacrifice can ultimately bring good. 

It is these later 2 points that we see at Smyrna. 

That God is able to use the trials and the tears, the suffering and pain, sorrow and the sadness for our good and His Glory and that from the deep and difficult experiences of life there does and can emerge meaning and purpose and Glory. 


The view of God that others have of Him is at times way too small; your trials and afflictions are ordered, defined and determined cf Daniel 9:24-27 

They are all bookended within the purposes and plans of He who is the first and the last. 

The idea that suggests that if evil happens then God is not in control is wrong on so many levels; one of which is that God is so omnipotent, so in control that He is able to work the purposes of men into the fabric of sovereign purposes to bring about the fulfilment of His will! 

They have the ministry of a Person 

Their Suffering is Defined 

‘first and last’ – setting the boundaries 

There is nothing so difficult to cope with than a trial which seems to: 

Have no real meaning / origin, no definite course / beginning, no purpose, pointless. 
No prospect of an end in view 

Christ sets the limits 

There is purpose 

There is a prospect 

Time and experience are defined by the boundary conditions I set for it! 

A Person, pre-eminent and in control 

Purpose and Presidency 

A ministry of empathy 

He understands 

He ‘was dead and is alive’ 

He has been there! 

Suffering destroyed by victory! Destiny - In this there is the promise of victory! 

Death is not the end 

Suffering is not final 

“was dead and is alive” 

Suffering Discerned : “I Know” 

Define, redefine, reframe what you mean by ‘rich’ by success, don’t just judge your life by the material. 

Discouragement – don’t get discouraged by the opinion of others, take a step back and consider God’s opinion of them; what does God think about those who think about you (v9)? 
This trial is defined and limited to 10 days – 10 years of intense persecution? 10 persecuting emperors? 10 specific days for Smyrna? 
Results – from affliction comes fruitfulness (v10); from faithfulness, a crown of life, 
Do not fear the suffering (v10) – the fear can be greater than the reality! 
The story is not over until it is over (v11); “should not be hurt of the 2nd death”   

There is the prospect and promise of victory. 

Here is the antedote to despair – a correct perspective 

‘good things happen to good people’ 

What’s the point – I’ve done everything correct and now look at the mess that I’m in! 

The perspective that difficult circumstances are evidence of Divine displeasure brings despair and defeat. 

That perspective is of course not necessarily correct as is evidenced in the life of Christ. 

Let’s look a little deeper, take a glimpse behind the veil, looking behind the appearance to reality. 

This is the path the Saviour trod (v8) 
There is material poverty (v9) but spiritual wealth (v9). Behind the appearance of the material lies the eternal and the spiritual! It is a great error to conflate the two! 
Might is not right (v9) just because they are powerful does not mean that they are right. 
Satan is behind the attack (v10) 


From a bible teaching series on the book of Revelation presented at Faskally House Pitlochry, Families week.

Yours by 

Grace in Christ 

Dr J Stewart Gillespie

The 7 Churches of Revelation - Pergamos and the Virus of Compromise - Revelation chp 2 vs 12 to 17 - JS Gillespie  

The seven churches of Revelation - Pergamos and the Virus of Compromise:

The 3rd of 7 churches in Revelation chps 2 + 3 

The tactics so far from Satan have been: 

1 - Drive a wedge between the believer and Christ – Ephesus. 

Satan sought to distance from a person rather than simply from the intensity of a passion! The attack at Ephesus was not really about quantity / quality but rather about reality. The reality of the churches relationship with Christ! It’s the old error back again – substitution and distraction (v7). The same error as Eden; Satan presents something better than God! This is distraction from the true centre which at Eden was the tree of life rather than the attractive centre of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. 


2 - Persecution and attack – Smyrna 


3 - Compromise – probably the most successful tactic so far! 


Pergamos – can be translated as marriage, although some maintain that it ought not to be translated as marriage but rather as citadel. 

‘per’ – mixed 

‘gamos’ – marriage 


The fact that it could be translated as marriage is nonetheless interesting since that would fit very well with what appears to have been happening at this church; union between church and the pagan world around it! 

Pergamos would relate to that period of the church prophetically beginning with the professed conversion of Constantine and the Edict of Milan 313 AD 

With the conversion of Constantine, this created a massive problem. Constantine was himself regarded as a god and headed up the whole Roman cultic system! 

What do you do with paganism when the man at the top of the system gets converted? 

The old paganism was adopted into Christianity. 

Old pagan priests, places, practices were all Christianised. 

  • Christian buildings with altars and idols 
  • Altars 
  • Priests 
  • Holy water 
  • Rosary 
  • Mother and child cult 
  • The mysteries, sacramentum, sacraments – mystery of the mass and baptism 
  • Symbolism of saints 
  • Purgatory 

Pergamos is one of the 7 churches with serious problems, although not necessarily with a terminal prognosis. 

A serious illness but not a terminal prognosis. 

For the first time and the only time to these 7 churches Christ presents Himself as the one with the “sharp sword with two edges.” 

The sharp sword proceeding from His mouth (1:16) – the Word of God (Heb 4:12) 

Here is the sword of discernment 

Christ decides 

Christ discerns 

Christ divides 

He is able to discern and divide even when they are not. 

Here is the need of the moment met by Christ. 

“If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God that giveth to all men liberally and upbraideth not…” (James 1:5ff) 

This is a sword that will not only bring judgment but will also bring salvation by separation! 

Vs 13 – The setting, circumstances and Satan 

Sometimes Christians struggle and fail where we haven’t but perhaps they have fallen and failed in circumstances and under pressures and trials through which we have never passed! 


Perhaps we have not fallen like them 

Perhaps we have not been tested like them! 

Their circumstances, intricately linked with Satan; ‘where Satan’s seat is’ (v13) 

‘seat’ : throne: ‘θρόνος’ 

Is it a specific place at Pergamos? 

There are certainly plenty of contenders for that title: 

1 - The altar of Zeus and Athena – the great altar of Pergamon; a massive altar on the hillside. 

Zeus – the head of the Greek Pantheon of gods; the ‘god of gods’ in paganism according to Plato Paul taught the Corinthians that behind the idol are devils (1 Co 10:20); Clement made the conceptual leap that since Zeus is the head of the false gods, he must be Satan! 

The Pergamon altar was excavated by a German archaeologist and transported to Berlin in the early 1900’s. The exhibition opened in the Pergamon museum in 1930. This became the inspiration behind the design for Alberts Speir’s Nuremberg stadium from which Hitler made his first public declaration of the ‘final solution.’ 

2 - Temple of Asclepius 

This represented the second largest temple in the Asian world to the cult of Asclepius and symbolised by the serpent on the pole. A symbol of course highly suggestive of Satan. Treatment at the temple involved lying on the floor under the influence of hypnotics and allowing snakes from the temple to crawl over you. Not that hugely effective I would think, but a great way of keeping the waiting lists down. 

3 - Temples to the Emperor cult – Augustus, Roma 

This was for the Christians of Pergamos very dangerous and ominous. A pinch of incense was required to be offered on the altar to Caesar. This was a dangerous place for a Christian to be who refused to deny his faith and blaspheme the God of heaven by worshipping false gods. Some later writers suggest that it was this that Antipas fell foul of. 

Plenty of options – which one? It is impossible to say. Surely the atmosphere of the entire city is that of idolatry however, of demonism and satanic influence. Pergamon is the Asiatic stronghold of Satan; perhaps in a similar way to Jerusalem being the city of the Lord! 


Little in the way of details given of his martyrdom, but interestingly referenced externally in other Christian literature. 

Simon Metaphrastes, a Byzantine writer in the 10th century makes reference to the tradition that Antipas refused to offer a sacrifice to false gods, and refused to recant, that he was put inside a hollow brass bull and roasted alive and that he died under the persecution of Domitian. 

Antipas is also referenced by Tertullian in the 2nd century and Andrea’s of Caeserea in the 6th century 

There is also a later tradition that Antipas was challenged by his persecutors with; ‘behold the whole world is against you.’ Unphased by this Antipas is reputed to have replied ‘well that must mean that I am against the whole world!’ 

V14 – great pressure to compromise. 

The doctrine of Balaam – a doctrine of corruption and compromise 

Notice the power to overcome compromise: 


  1. Doctrine 
  2. Diet 
  3. Desires 

Of the world around you 

If it arises from a world foreign to God then its ideas, philosophies, appetite and entertainments are immediately suspect. 

Almost by definition if it is good in the eyes of the world, it is probably bad! 

The Nicolaitans appear to promote exactly this: 

Iranaeus of Lyon; in his book ‘Against the Heresis’ comments that the Nicolaitans were a group who “lead lives of unrestrained indulgence.” 

Nicolaitans could also be literally translated as ‘nico’ – over and ‘laitanes’ – people – probably a double meaning here in the name – both literal and symbolic in the context of the prophetic meaning of the church. 

The encouragement and consolation: 

Hidden manna: the manna of the Holy of Holies: 

Hidden in the sanctuary 
Hidden under the mercy seat 
Hidden in the golden pot 

Here is the Divine provision for those excluded and uncompromising – feeding on the bread of life, the bread of God, the bread that came down form heaven. 

A distant experience of the world equates with a deeper experience of Christ. 

A ‘white stone’ and a ‘new name’ 

Is this a white stone for: 

Voting – white for innocent / black for guilty? 
Invitation – to a social gathering 
Reward for running well and winning – an entitlement to be kept at the publics cost for the rest of your life? 

Such interpretations are very dependant upon the serendipitous bequests of ancient history; not too struck on that idea. 

Probably a reference to the stones on the breast plate of the high priest. 

Not only are we guaranteed an appreciation of Christ but we are brought into communion in the sanctuary. 

A new name in recognition of our faithfulness to Christ? 

Was that not the case too for Simon Peter? 

Or Cephas? (Syriac) 

Or Psephos : 5586 : stone 

He was the stone with a new name! 

This ministry from Pergamos has enormous practical implications for us: 

It is possible to live for Christ even when circumstances appear impossible! It is possible but costly. 
Contrast this with Laodicea – it is not always easy to live for Christ when circumstances are easy! 
The danger to the church in difficult circumstances when oppression and persecution is present comes primarily from compromise rather than conflict; compare verse 14. The great enemy of compromise” 

Cf Israel and idols 
Cf. Demas and the world 
Cf. Priesthood and foreign brides in the days of Ezra 
Cf. Israel and Baal Peor 

Here is proof if you need it, of the words of Jesus: “I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” 

Living out Christ in intense adversity 

Christ is able to discern and distinguish His people, all is not lost! He has the sharp two edged sword! 
Beware of Compromise in a society which is antithetical to the Word of God; the template for the Christian is that of “Antipas” – ‘against all’ ! 
Compromise is more dangerous than conflict! We are responsible for preserving the truth not for preserving ourselves! 
We must identify, define and reject: 

Doctrine from society 
Diet of that world 
Desires of that world 

Be confident that the Saviours words can be trusted; “I will build my church....” 2000 years later at Bergama – Zeus has gone, Aesclepius is but a symbol, the cult of Caesar regarded as a bizarre historical curiosity but still today there is a small Christian community in that city!

From a series of bible teaching messages preached on the seven churches in the book of Revelation.

Yours by Grace in Christ 


Dr J Stewart Gillespie

Ephesus - the 7 churches of Revelation - On Automatic Pilot - JS Gillespie  

Ephesus - the 7 churches of the Revelation: 

Within this 1st of the letters to the 7 churches of Asia we have what is arguably the most significant statement made throughout the entire 7 letters.  

‘In life the most important thing is that the most important thing remains the most important thing.’  

At Ephesus it would appear that the most important thing, or better the most important person, becomes number 2, 3 or 4 in a list of revised priorities!  

If I managed to convince you last week that these 7 churches could be viewed in 5 ways; 4 you will find elsewhere, and the 5th known only to you and me:  

Practically – ‘what kind of church am I in?’  
Personally – ‘what am I in this church?’ – in each there is the ‘overcomer’ and the exception (2:24; 3:4)  

The significance of ‘7’  
These stars and lampstands are ‘mysteries’ (1:20)  
This whole book is a book of prophecy  

Perfectly / Positionally / Eternally in Christ  

What is a lampstand on earth is also a star in heaven.  
The temporal has a link with the eternal.  
The earthy is a reflection of the heavenly; as was the tabernacle and temple of old.  
What is done of Christ on earth, before men and in time has an abiding worth and dignity in heaven, before God and eternally.  
That reward never passes away!   
All of the ministry to these 7 churches has as its goal the conformity of each church to the eternal and heavenly standard for it – its star in heaven!  
Every step of obedience to this ministry and conformity to it brings us closer to God’s glorious vision of His church in Christ.  
The star is what the church is in Christ – its perfect heavenly representative and the lampstand what that church is on earth.  

Cf Elizabeth Elliott who speaks of love as being God’s gift to allow us to see another person the way God originally intended them to be.  

If we appreciate that prophetic aspect to the 7 churches then we will see that in Ephesus that we have the PRIMITIVE church – the very first of the 7 churches, the church of the apostolic era and first century church.  

It will be appreciated that problems and errors affecting the foundation of a structure could potentially have lasting and catastrophic effects on the whole of the structure subsequently; like a bad foundation to a house or like the sin sown into humanity in Eden! So it is here. The fundamental problem identified in Ephesus resonates through the subsequent churches; an empty hunger seeking fulfilment throughout the 7 in different avenues.  

The church at Ephesus is unique in this list of 7 – it is the only one that we have any other NT letter addressed to: Ephesians, 1 & 2 Timothy. It is only Laodicea out of the others which is mentioned elsewhere in Colossians 4:16.  

That turns out to be particularly helpful in our understanding of what is actually going on here at Ephesus!  

Verse 2 – the deficit at Ephesus has often been noticed:  

“I know thy works, and thy labour and thy patience…”  


“Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father;” (1 Thessalonians 1:3)  

What has happened to:  


That is of course a very pertinent observation, however for me the more pressing question for me is not only:  

What happened to …  
How could anything happen without…  

It is absolutely astounding, that you could remove:  


Strip away the essence of Christian experience and yet everything seems to run on regardless!!  

That is a phenomenal observation!  

This is a church in a coma!  

Why? How?  

Sense of duty / expectation  

Many people find great reassurance in going through the same rituals and routines week after week month after month, never really critically examining what and why they are doing what they are doing, if anything is coming out of it.  

This church seems to have become focused upon / satisfied with:  

principles, precepts, dogma and teaching; “and hast found them liars” (v2)  
patterns of behaviour  

But not the PERSON of Christ!  

What would such a church look like?  

Boring Orthodoxy? – routine and ritual with no reality of the presence of Christ and the power of the Word of God??  
Respectably backslidden?  

As opposed perhaps to Pergamos and Thyatira:  

Exciting Heresy  

Or Laodiceas  

Entertaining Vacuum  

Ephesus seems to be dogged with the problem of:  

                              ‘Fatal Distraction’  

Ephesus has become focused on:  

Activity for Christ (v2) – Toil  
Standards of Christ (v2) – Testing  
Truth about Christ (v3) – Truth  
Persevering because of Christ (v3) – Testimony  

Ephesus strikes me as being like a bad marriage; in which one or both partners are so busy doing and working and earning that they are never present for one another!  

Ephesus is the NT church so dogged by distraction:  

1 & 2 Timothy:  

False Teachers – 1:20; 2 Tim 2:17ff  
False Teaching – 1:4ff; 4:14ff; 4:16; 4:2; Asceticism (4:3ff)  
False Gospel of works righteousness – 1 Tim1:7-9; 1:13ff  
Immorality – 1:5, 10; 1:19-20; 3:1ff; 3:9, 12; 4:2; 5:20-24; 6:5; 2 Tim 2:18-22; 26  
Materialism – 6:5-10; 6:17-19  
Lack of fervour in prayer – 2:1ff and evangelism 2:1ff; 2:8  

It is Ephesus which ultimately becomes canvas upon which is painted the fatal distraction and false desires of the other loves of the last days:  

Lovers of Self (2 Tim 3:2)  
Lovers of Money (2 Tim 3:2)  
Lovers of Pleasure (2 Tim 3:4)  

Intriguingly the Ephesians appear to have tackled many of these problems highlighted by Paul to Timothy:  

Deficit in activity – Rev 2:2  
False Teachers – Rev 2:2  
False Teaching and the Truth – Rev 2:2  
Immorality and evil – Rev 2:2  

They appear to have addressed:  

Moral Problems  
Doctrinal Problems  
False Teachers  

But they haven’t really managed to tackle the underlying problem!  

“thou hast left thy first love” (v4)  

In many ways our understanding of this statement is critical not only for our understanding of Ephesus but also for our understanding of the other 6 churches, since this error lies at the foundation of all subsequent churches and their problems!  

So what was this problem?  

It is a problem which reflects the central concern of Paul for the Ephesians in 1 Timothy 3:16:  

1 Timothy chp 1 – Law and Sin  
1 Timothy chp 2 – Sacrifice and Saviour  
1 Timothy 3:16 – The Sanctuary ark and the mercy seat  
1 Timothy chp 4 – The lamp, the loaf and the altar of incense  
1 Timothy chp 5 – The sacred  
1 Timothy chp 6 – The secular  

The deficit lies in what ought to be at the centre of our Christian life – Christ!  

What does it mean to have ‘left your first love’?  

Often times this is interpreted to mean that the church at Ephesus has left the ‘intensity of the love it had at first’.  

That this was a problem of INTENSITY of PASSION  

The problem with that is that if it primarily means the INTENSITY of PASSION it really has little meaning at all.  

The problem with setting a fail or a standard based on ‘not enough’ you need a ‘bit more’ is that this will always be true! There is always more that we could love.  

How much is enough?  

How can I have enough?  

How can I know I have enough?  

An unrealistic expectation founded on an unjustified assumption leading to an unachievable standard!  

I would suggest that the primary issue here is more concrete, down to earth and practical.  

This is not so much leaving the intensity of love but rather leaving the object of love.  

Not primarily a matter of PASSION but rather a matter of the PERSON.  

Not WHAT but WHO  

That seems hinted at by the use of the word “left” : ἀφίημι  - used approximately 167 times in NT and almost always used of leaving a person or of leaving an object eg nets, a cloak, debts.  

The solution to the problem then is not:  

How do I work up a greater passion – which will never succeed – there will always be a greater passion  

But rather  

How do I get closer to the person?  

In 1 & 2 Timothy they had got caught up with all of the distractions, here in Revelation they had got caught up with dealing with the distractions and all the activity of being a Christian!  

What now seems to hinder is not the problem but rather the solution to the problem!  

Starting with the problems won’t necessarily bring you into communion with Christ.  

Starting with communion with Christ will tackle the problems however.  

Ephesus is unique amongst the 7 churches of Asia in that we have other NT letters written to this church: Ephesians, 1 + 2 Timothy  

We know relatively so much about it  

Only Laodicea is mentioned in Colossians 4:16  

That is useful for there are some fundamental issues here:  

Ephesus is the first of 7 churches  
Error at the foundation may well make its way through the whole of subsequent church history, if you do as I do take a church perspective on the pattern of the 7 churches.  

As you travel through Europe and see the impact of Christianity on city skyline can’t help but be impressed by the impact that Christianity has had. Yet as you take a closer look you are equally struck by the amount of other things and the tangents that people have gone off on.  

Probably out of the 7 churches of Revelation I have heard more ministry from Ephesus than any of the others, with Laodicea a close 2nd. It would be and has been very easy to take this verse and to do violence to the verse and use it to berate the believer.  

That is not only an unproductive approach but is also an erroneous one.  

Over the years I have heard this text used to chasten the Christian that they have left their original intensity of affection to Christ, that their current levels of devotion and love for Christ are insufficient and that that intensity, devotion and passion must be augmented to previous levels.  

This is very misleading.  

This is almost a salvation by works.  

This is not the quantity nor even the quality of a believers devotion to Christ this is the presence or absence of it as a fact!  

Its not the kind of love but the reality of that relationship that is absent!  

Instead of a relationship with Christ being number 1, that relationship became number 2.  

Like Adam in the garden (2:7) the tree of knowledge of good and evil, deceived by Satan, crept in and became the priority; displacing the tree of life (2:9) from it’s Divinely appointed centre place.  

The beginning of the Church seems to re-echoe the fundamental problem at the beginning of creation!  

History may not repeat itself but it certainly rhymes!  

1 + 2 Timothy are so important; these letters give us the background as to what had been making inroads at Ephesus:  

Hedonism (1:19ff; 3:1ff; 4:12)  
Antinominism (1:19ff)  
Jewish mysticism and the mystery religions (1:4ff; 4:7)  
Legalism (1:7ff) and asceticism (4:3ff)  
Materialism (6:10)  
Demonic deception (4:1ff)  

This is why at the centre of 1 Timothy in 3:16 we have THE GREAT MYSTERY, far surpassing anything you could be offered in any of the mystery religions!  

They have let their first love (2:4).  

How did that happen?  

Failed to grasp the obvious  

The all sufficiency of Christ  

As the foundation and cornerstone of the building, the head of the body and the bridegroom of the church.  

Christianity is all about Christ  

Neglected the essentials  

The centrality of Christ  

Distracted by their own attainments and spirituality  

False teachers  

False teaching  

The world  

Distracted by the utterly irrelevant  

and then inevitably:  

'thou hast left thy first love' (2:4)  

What is the content to this our first love?  

His Person  
His Presence  
His Peace  
His Personal ministry  
His Prayerful communion  

This is a relationship with a person  

First the person, not the religion, not the activity but the person  

That relationship with Christ is pre-eminent  

His Person  

in the scriptures  
in prophecy  
in picture  
in patterns  
in the gospel  


His Presence  

'Jesus Himself drew near'  
'Lo I am with you'  
'There am I in the midst of them'  
'I shall not leave you comfortless, I will come to you'  
'The joy of the Lord is thy strength'  

His Peace  

That surpasses understanding  
The peace of the upper room  
'my peace give I unto you'  


Communion with Him is two way  

Personal Communion  

'God is in you of a truth'  
'let him speak as the oracles of God'  

'Thou hast left thy first love'  

Here is the first church  

Here is the first condemnation  

The first condemnation of the first church  

This becomes the primary, the root condemnation for each of the failing churches, leading to all of the condemnations thereafter.  

Leaving our first love is a prelude to disaster  

It is easy to see how that could happen when the heart of Christian experience has been removed.  


From an expository series of bible teaching messages on the book of Revelation and the 7 churches of Asia.

Yours by Grace in Christ  

Dr J Stewart Gillespie

Revelation chp 2 vs 1 to 7 - Ephesus - A Boring Orthodoxy - JS Gillespie - 24082021  

Ephesus, the first of the 7 churches of Revelation. 
Ephesus is unique amongst these 7 in that we have 3 other letters written to them in the scripture, only Laodicea is mentioned elsewhere as a footnote in the Colossian letter and Thyatira referenced in Acts. 
There may be a reason as to why we have so much on Ephesus elsewhere in the NT – that we may be given an understanding of the fundamental problem identified in Ephesus. 
The first problem of these 7 churches is the problem at Ephesus; it is this problem which is fundamental to the other 7 and critical for us to understand, fortunately we have the key to unlock the mystery! 
The fundamental problem at Ephesus: 

“you have left your first love” (2:4) 

Probably out of the 7 churches of Revelation I have heard more ministry from Ephesus than any of the others, with Laodicea a close 2nd. It would be and has been very easy to take this verse and to do violence to the verse and use it to berate the believer. 
That is not only an unproductive approach but is also an erroneous one. 
Over the years I have heard this text used to chasten the Christian that they have left their original intensity of affection to Christ, that their current levels of devotion and love for Christ are insufficient and that that intensity, devotion and passion must be augmented to previous levels.  
This is very misleading. 

It is an unachievable goal based on an 
Unjustified assumption leading to an 
Untenable exhortation 

Why do I say that? 

The assumption that passion was better and stronger in the past in anyones Christian life is clearly a presumption; what makes you so sure that it was? 
That that passion / intensity of affection needs to be increased is an unachievable standard. How much is more? How great is greater? How strong is strong enough? How far is far enough? If I don’t know how much more passion I need, how can I ever know that I have enough? 
This is an impossible ideal founded on an unjustifiable assumption. 
This is almost a salvation by works; you need to love more and enough, serve with a greater passion than the one that we presume you once had!  

This is not the quantity nor even the quality of a believers devotion to Christ this is the presence or absence of it as a fact! 

Its not the kind of love but the reality of that relationship that is absent! 

Instead of a relationship with Christ being number 1, that relationship became number 2. 

Like Adam in the garden (2:7) the tree of knowledge of good and evil, deceived by Satan, crept in and became the priority. 

That is why 1 + 2 Timothy are so important; these letters give us the background as to what had been making inroads at Ephesus: 

•    Hedonism (1:19ff; 3:1ff; 4:12) 
•    Antinominism (1:19ff) 
•    Jewish mysticism and the mystery religions (1:4ff; 4:7)  
•    Legalism (1:7ff) and asceticism (4:3ff) 
•    Materialism (6:10) 
•    Demonic deception (4:1ff) 

There appears to be so many threads to the problems facing the Ephesian church, so many that scholars struggle to bring those thread together. 
What was the challenge at Ephesus? 

•    Judaisers teaching the law? 
•    Was it an early form of Gnosticism? 
•    Do we have here in 1 Timothy the whole spectrum of problems which we could encounter as a Christian? 

This is why at the centre of 1 Timothy in 3:16 we have THE GREAT MYSTERY, far surpassing anything you could be offered in any of the mystery religions! 
False teachers had been making inroads; not so much to simply take the edge off of devotion to Christ but to present another gospel and keep believers from enjoying a real relationship with Christ and prevent unbelievers from ever knowing Christ! 

An unexpected link perhaps between Revelation and pastoral epistles 
This is the 4th epistle to the Ephesians: 

•    Ephesians 
•    1 Timothy 
•    2 Timothy 
•    Revelation chapter 2 

Decisions have consequences, a little leven, leveneth the whole lump. 
Disasters have an origin 
Problems don't just appear as if by magic and out of the blue 
It is easier to nip a problem in the bud than deal with a full blown catastrophe. 
The Ephesian epistle is an incredibly Christ centred epistle with an exhortation to be 'filled with all the fullness of Christ' 
The church is the body, the building, and the bride of Christ. 
Probably the most Christ centred of all the NT epistles 
cf. Eph 1:10 – God's purpose. 

Perhaps we have illustration of this idea in the 2nd marriages / relationships of the patriachs and others in the OT – with affections drifting and distracted and resulting in all of the contention and problems subsequently: Abraham, Sarah and Hagar, Jacob and his wifes and concubines, Elkannah and his 2 wives; Solomon and his wives! 

By 1 & 2 Timothy, the church at Ephesus is drifting quite a bit 
Paul needs to emphasise the centrality of Christ to the Ephesians in 1 Timothy 3:16, as well as addressing key doctrines: 

•    Resurrection (2 Tim 2) 
•    Salvation by justification by faith through the gospel (1 Tim 1:5ff) 
•    Moral compromise 

Now by Revelation chapter 2, they have left their first love (2:4). 

To each of the 7 churches: 

    “I know…” (2:2)  

He knows all about me, nothing escapes his knowledge and understanding. 
Cf. 1 Thess 1:3: 

‘works’ but no faith? 
‘labour’ but no love? 
‘patience’ but no hope? 

Halfway to paradise 
The problem at Ephesus is the problem since the beginning of the Bible; their added problem is their attempt at a solution to that problem; their attempt to get back to where they were; their attempt to overcome the problem they perceive they have. 
The wrong diagnosis results in the incorrect treatment. 
Sensitive enough to appreciate that something isn’t right but not spiritual enough to know what is wrong. 
They decide to run faster on the same treadmill! 
Agitation in response to inadequacy! 

More meetings 
More preaching  
Longer meetings  
More activities  

More is only the solution if less is the problem! 

•    Works without faith 
•    Labour without love 
•    Patience without hope 

•    Lots of activity 
•    Lots of intensity 
•    Lack of reality 

They have let their first love (2:4). 
How did that happen? 

1.    Failure to grasp the blindingly obvious 

The all sufficiency of Christ 
As the foundation and cornerstone of the building, the head of the body and the bridegroom of the church. 
Christianity is all about Christ 

2.    Willingness to neglect the essentials 

The centrality of Christ 

3.    Distraction to something else (2 Timothy) 

False teachers 
False teaching 
The world 
Distracted by the utterly irrelevant 

and then inevitably: 

'thou hast left thy first love' (2:4) 

The 'angel' (2:1) 

John Baptist is described as an 'aggelos' in Mark 1:2; Luke 7:27, messengers of John Baptist (Luke 7:24) 
Messengers of the Lord (Luke 9:52) 
Consider the ministering spirits of Heb 1:14 
The angel – likely to be the messenger or correspondent of the church. 
It would seem unlikely that the apostle would be writing to an angel, a physical letter to a spiritual being is a little improbable! 

2:1 'right hand' 

cf. 'sit thou at my right hand' 
Place of dignity? 
The place the church ought to have? 
The dignity bestowed on the church by Christ. 
Do I live up to it? 

2:1 'walketh in the midst of the 7 golden lampstands' 

'there am I in the midst of them' 
Christ in the midst of His people 
'golden' : marked by a sense of the Divine 
'lampstands' : shine light; Christ like 

2:2 Ephesus certainly marked by activity and labours (v2) despite drifting from Christ, we can be busy and active and yet having left our first love! 

'first love' 

First in what sense? 
First in order? 
Is Christ the: 

•    First person 
•    First object 
•    First religion 

They have ever given their affections to? 
Probably not! 
First rather in: 

•    Priority 
•    Importance 
•    Pre-eminence 

Rather than first in: 

•    Primacy 

What is this? 
Perhaps evidenced by how little it takes to distract me from Him! 

They have drifted away from: 

•    Devotion to a person 
•    Care for a person 
•    Enjoyment of that personal relationship 

to mere activity! 

In their affections. 

Ephesus had: 

•    works 
•    labour 
•    patience 

But something seems to be missing? 

“work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father” (1Th 1:3) 

what about the: 

•    faith 
•    love 
•    hope 

This is not what we do but what we are! 
This is not Christian service but Christian character. 
This is a consequence of being 'with' Christ rather than doing things 'for' Christ. 
They certainly have a sense of morality, a sensitivity to evil 

•    Activity 
•    Sensitivity 
•    Discernment 

And yet: 

•    Activity in service (2:2) 
•    Perseverance in trial (2:2) 
•    Sensitivity to evil (2:2) 
•    Discernment of teachers (2:2) 
•    Adherence to the truth (2:2) 

Is not the same as holding to and is not necessarily preventative of leaving our 'first love' (2:4) 
This perhaps causes me to ask the questions; was all of this: 

•    Activity in service (2:2) 
•    Perseverance in trial (2:2) 
•    Sensitivity to evil (2:2) 
•    Discernment of teachers (2:2) 
•    Adherence to the truth (2:2) 

Merely religious fervour? 
Merely orthodoxy? 
Merely self serving pride? 

Perhaps like the proud orthodoxy that can be seen in any religious system, defending its traditions, position and orthodoxy? 

Religious fervour but lacking personal devotion 
Religion without relationship? 
Cult without a personal Christ? 
Preaching sermons but never encountering Jesus? 

What is the content to this our first love? 

•    His Person 
•    His Presence 
•    His Peace 
•    His Personal ministry 
•    His Prayerful communion 

This is a relationship with a person 
First the person, not the religion, not the activity but the person 
That relationship with Christ is pre-eminent 

1.    His Person 
•    in the scriptures 
•    in prophecy 
•    in picture 
•    in patterns 
•    in the gospel 

2.    His Presence 

•    'Jesus Himself drew near' 
•    'Lo I am with you' 
•    'There am I in the midst of them' 
•    'I shall not leave you comfortless, I will come to you' 
•    'The joy of the Lord is thy strength' 

3.    His Peace 

•    That surpasses understanding 
•    The peace of the upper room 
•    'my peace give I unto you' 

4.    Prayer 

•    Communion with Him is two way 

5.    Personal Communion 

•    'God is in you if a truth' 
•    'let him speak as the oracles of God' 

'Thou hast left thy first love' 

Here is the first church 
Here is the first condemnation 
The first condemnation of the first church 
This becomes the primary, the root condemnation for each of the failing churches, leading to all of the condemnations thereafter. 

Departure here from their first love, results in: 

•    Distraction to false gods at Pergamos 
•    Deception at Pergamos and Thyatira 
•    Doctrinal confusion at Pergamos 
•    Defilement at Thyatira 
•    Self deception of Laodicea – quite content with what they are and yet they are a million miles away 

Leaving our first love is a prelude to disaster 
It is easy to see how that could happen when the heart of Christian experience has been removed. 

Doctrinal exposition is critical, there must be a faithfulness to the Word of God but who expounds the Word of God? 

Sound exposition of the Word of God must be with the same Spirit of God who gave it! 
Any sound exposition of scripture, any presentation of the Gospel, must be founded on a sound devotion to Christ, otherwise I am just an empty vessel, a tinkling symbol. 

Verse 5: Better days in the past “remember” 
They had put Christ first in the past 
He had at one point been their first love 

'the first works' : 

A difference between 'duty' and 'devotion' 
This is not the same as has been done 'for my name's sake' (2:3) 
This is the distinction we often see in a family setting, in family relationships, what goes wrong at times: 

•    To do things for someone 
•    To do things with someone 

There is a distinction between the two 
Works not so much 'for' Him, as many well intentioned works can be, but rather 'works' or encounters that 'focus' on Him. 

It is like the distinction Peter makes in 1 Peter 2: 

•    A Holy priesthood 
•    A Royal priesthood 

The distinction? 

•    Serving God in the temple 
•    Serving for God amongst men 

It is like the distinction between Mary and Martha: 

•    Luk 10:40-43 “But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me. And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things:But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” 

It is perhaps the distinction too, between 1 and 2nd Timothy: 

•    1 Timothy – Christ at the heart of the assembly and at the centre of Timothy's experience 
•    2 Timothy – Timothy transformed by that experience

From a bible teaching series on the book of Revelation and the 7 churches