Tree of Life - Ephesus

The messenger at Ephesus is commended for rejecting false apostles, chastised for leaving his first love, and summoned to return to his first works

In his exhortation to the “messenger” at Ephesus, Jesus begins by stressing his intimate knowledge of all the churches. He is “grasping” the seven messengers tightly in his right hand, and “walking” continuously among the seven assemblies. Therefore, he knows their “works and labor and endurance” – (Revelation 2:1-7).

In the first century, Ephesus is the largest city in the province of Asia and its chief seaport and commercial center. But its most prominent feature is the Temple of Artemis or Diana, and it is the provincial center for the veneration of the emperor.

[Ephesus - Photo by Deniz Demirci on Unsplash]

And the city has temples dedicated to the emperor and 
Roma, the patron goddess of Rome itself. The marginalized Christian congregation is a tiny island of righteousness in a sea of paganism.

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Jesus praises the messenger for his “works and labor and endurance.” All three nouns occur again in the fourteenth chapter of the promise for saints who overcome. “Endurance” means persevering for Jesus, especially when suffering for his sake - (Revelation 14:12-13).

That Jesus commends the messenger for his “endurance” suggests he has suffered for the faith. And because “endurance” is linked to “works and labors” it indicates he has persevered in doing the deeds that Christ expects of his servants.

Jesus commends him for his faithfulness in rooting out “false apostles.” Exactly who these men are or what they teach is not stated. But Jesus also acknowledges that the messenger “hates the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.” Undoubtedly, the “false apostles” are proponents of that group’s doctrines.

The messenger found these self-proclaimed apostles to be “false.” This rendering represents the Greek noun pseudés, the same noun applied to the “Beast from the earth,” the “False Prophet” who uses signs and wonders to deceive men, and economic sanctions to coerce them to render homage to the “Beast.”

The noun can also mean “liar” and is so used in the warning that “ALL LIARS” will be cast into the “Lake of Fire,” presumably, this will include the “false apostles” that are active in the congregation in Ephesus - (Revelation 13:11-15, 20:10, 21:8).

The teachings of the “Nicolaitans” are not described. The name is a compound of the Greek nouns niké (“victory”) and laos (“people”). It may denote “victory people,” “victory over people,” or “he who conquers people.”

The latter sense is the likeliest, especially considering the later descriptions of the “Beast” that “conquers” the saints (nikaō). The “False Prophet” will be given authority over “people” or laos.

And here, the name “Nicolaitan” anticipates the assaults by the “Beast” and its spokesman against the “saints” in the later visions of Revelation - (Revelation 13:7-10).

CRITICISMS


But the messenger is chastised for having left his “first love.” The object of this “love” is not specified, whether God, Jesus, or other men. However, since Ephesus is summoned to repent and “do the first works,” this points to something the church is failing to do rather than to its loss of love for Jesus.

Since the messenger is praised for his faithfulness in resisting deceivers and enduring “for my name's sake” without “growing weary,” the answer lies elsewhere. Moreover, his faithfulness in suffering indicates he has not lost his love for the savior.

His sin is not a gradual dampening of his love and zeal, but the conscious abandonment of his “first works.” The Greek verb rendered “left” means to “discharge, forsake, abandon, lay aside.” It points to a choice the messenger made. And the sin is serious since if he does not repent and return to his “first works,” Jesus will remove his “lampstand” from its place. Unfortunately, the passage does not identify what this failure is, at least, not explicitly.

OVERCOMERS


But the exhortation is not just for the messenger of Ephesus. It concludes with a summons for all the churches to “hear what the Spirit is saying.” All seven congregations are exhorted to “overcome,” and if they do, they will “eat of the tree of life in the paradise of God.”

This final clause alludes to the “TREE OF LIFE” from the garden of Eden. And here, “tree” translates the Greek noun xulon. The common word for a living “tree” was dendron, but xulon refers to dead wood from felled trees. Elsewhere in the New Testament, it is used for the “tree” on which Jesus was “hanged,” namely, the cross.

Church Remote - Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash
[Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash]

Thus, in the book of 
Revelation, the death of Jesus on the Cross represents the symbolic significance of the “tree of life” - (Genesis 2:9, Matthew 26:47, 26:55, Acts 5:30, 16:24, Galatians 3:13, 1 Peter 2:24).

The reference to the “tree of life” is a verbal link to the later vision of “NEW JERUSALEM” in which the tree is found. Access to what Adam lost will be restored in the “new heavens and new earth,” and the original “curse” will be reversed. That is what awaits every saint who faithfully “overcomes” - (Revelation 22:1-3).

Repeatedly in Revelation, saints are summoned to persevere in persecution and not compromise regardless of what Satan or his earthly vassals do. They must “overcome” by enduring faithfully to the end, even when doing so means a martyr’s death.



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