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The actual messages to the seven churches are recorded in Revelation 2 and 3. The first is to the church in Ephesus, where John himself ministered during the last half of his life. Did he personally give this message to that church? We are not told. We only know that he received this message while he was at Patmos. It is likely that he sent individual messages to the churches while he was in exile.
The first church age began in 33 A.D. on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1) and ended in 64 A.D. when Nero began to persecute the church. When the persecutions began, the church entered its Smyrna phase. Smyrna means “bitter” and is associated with myrrh, an oil that was used to embalm the dead.
The Ephesus phase of church history saw persecution only by the Jews, who viewed Christianity as a heretical sect of Judaism. During these years, the Christians were protected by the Roman government.
Ephesus means “Desirable.” Its name contributes to the revelation of prophecy, when we correlate this to the first Old Covenant church—the Moses Church. Though the nation of Israel was not perfect when it came out of Egypt, nonetheless, the people had witnessed God’s deliverance at Passover and again at the Red Sea. Hence, even though the Moses church often wanted to stone Moses and to return to their bondage in Egypt, it was at its height.
So also the first decades of the New Covenant church (the Ephesus era) were led by apostles and believers who had witnessed Christ’s death and resurrection at Passover of 33 A.D. Jesus Christ had come as their “Moses” on the 1480th Passover since the original feast when Israel left Egypt. The number 1480 is the numeric value of christos (Greek for “Christ”). Moses prophesied of His coming in Deuteronomy 18:18, and this is applied to Jesus in Acts 3:22.
Ephesus, then, was the “desirable” church—the church that God desired, or favored. Even so, it was somewhat flawed, even as the Moses church in earlier times. But before studying the strengths and weaknesses of the church in Ephesus, we need to see another prophetic connection.
Ephesus, the First Saul Church
King Saul was a prophetic type of the church as a whole. Saul had a legitimate anointing under Samuel, but because he was not of Judah, he did not have the lawful right to rule the House of Israel (Genesis 49:10). He was crowned king because the people “desired” a king too soon. God gave them a man of the tribe of Benjamin, because the line of Judah was still being cleansed of its sin between Judah and Tamar (Genesis 38). It took ten generations for this cleansing to be complete (Deuteronomy 23:2). David was the tenth generation, but he was not even born until Saul had reigned for ten years.
So God chose Saul as a temporary king. Though he was the best in the land from a fleshly view (1 Samuel 9:2), he could never fulfill the calling of Judah. Hence, his rule was destined to be temporary. His name, Saul, means “asked for, desired.” The people asked for a king, and God gave them the man whose name prophesied of their desire.
The underlying problem was the heart of the people themselves. Saul was a mere reflection of the people’s heart and will. They got what they asked for. They were given the desire of their rebellious hearts. God explained the problem in 1 Samuel 8:7,
7 And the Lord said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in regard to all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them.
No doubt most of the people would have disagreed with this assessment, for they did not know their own hearts. They saw no conflict between serving God and having an earthly king. So Saul was crowned king on the day of “wheat harvest,” which, in years to come, would be called by the Greek term, Pentecost, or “fiftieth day.” It was the fiftieth day from the wave sheaf offering (Leviticus 23:16). The people offered the first-fruits of barley on the first day, and wheat on the fiftieth day. After each first-fruits offering the people were able to return home and harvest their crop.
At Saul’s coronation, Samuel told the people in 1 Samuel 12:17, 18,
17 Is it not the wheat harvest today? I will call to the Lord, that He may send thunder and rain. Then you will know and see that your wickedness is great which you have done in the sight of the Lord by asking for yourselves a king. 18 So Samuel called to the Lord, and the Lord sent thunder and rain that day, and all the people greatly feared the Lord and Samuel.
Rain was rare at the time of wheat harvest (Proverbs 26:1). The rain that fell on the day of Saul’s coronation was a type of the Holy Spirit that was to be poured out later on the day of Pentecost (Joel 2:28; Acts 2:16, 17). Its purpose was to show the believers that they had done wickedly in desiring an earthly king to rule over them. Nonetheless, Samuel admonished and warned the people, telling them in 1 Samuel 12:24, 25,
24 Only fear the Lord and serve Him in truth with all your heart; for consider what great things He has done for you. 25 But if you still do wickedly, both you and your king shall be swept away.
This warning applies equally to the New Covenant church, because Saul was a type of the church under Pentecost. Not understanding this, the Roman church has misunderstood Jesus’ words to Peter in Matthew 16:18. When Jesus said that “the gates of hell will not overpower it,” that is, the church, they assume this means the church that was established at Pentecost in Acts 2. They know nothing of the feast of Tabernacles, nor of the church of the overcomers. Hence, they place their faith in “Saul,” rather than in “David,” and do not realize that Saul’s rule was destined to be temporary. The rule of the Roman pontiff, along with all denominational rulers, must give way to Christ and the overcomers in order to move forward into the age of Tabernacles that lies ahead.
All of this relates directly to the church of Ephesus, for it is not only the Moses church, but it is also the beginning of the Saul church. The first year or two of Saul’s reign was quite good (1 Samuel 13:1 KJV). Then the rebellion began to manifest openly. Saul was impatient and took it upon himself to offer the sacrifice (1 Samuel 13:9), which he was not called to do. As a result, Samuel told Saul, “now your kingdom shall not endure” (1 Samuel 13:14).
The root problem was that the church under Saul’s rule had rejected God as king and wanted to be ruled by a man who would act as their intermediary. This is the spirit of denominationalism, where the church is said to be an earthly organization with “church membership” that is under the power of men to approve or to disapprove. The true church is under the sole power of God to approve or disapprove membership (Hebrews 12:22, 23). Members “are enrolled in heaven,” and any earthly membership rolls are secondary and meaningless if they conflict with the heavenly record.
By understanding the story of King Saul, along with the story of Moses, we may know the background of types and shadows that show us why there was divine criticism of the church in Ephesus. The church had left its first love. It had followed the example of the people who had desired to be ruled by men directly and God only indirectly. This set the example for the other churches that was then followed throughout church history.
Revelation 2:1 says,
1 To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: The One who holds the seven stars in His right hand, the One who walks among the seven golden lampstands, says this:
“The One who holds the seven stars in His right hand” is Jesus Christ. He is the true Ruler of the church. He is the true High Priest “who walks among the seven golden lampstands.” Unlike Saul, Jesus Christ is the High Priest of the Order of Melchizedek, having both civil and priestly authority as a King-Priest. Saul had pretended to be of that order by offering the sacrifice, but Samuel denied him that position. As a Pentecostal King, crowned by a rebellious people, Saul was not given the Melchizedek priesthood. Only the overcomers are Melchizedek priests under their great High Priest.
Revelation 2:2 continues,
2 I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot endure evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false; 3 But I have this against you, that you have left your first love.
The church had done many good things. The church had good discernment in those days, so that they could distinguish between those who were genuine apostles and those who were not. This implies that there were more than just twelve apostles (eleven plus Paul, who ultimately replaced Judas). The twelve were obvious, although some disputed Paul’s apostolic authority. Yet Ephesus had confirmed Paul and others as well.
Yet the core problem of Ephesus was that they had left their first love. Many have speculated as to the meaning of this statement. G. Campbell Morgan understood that this was a reference to the church being an unfaithful wife. Indeed, that is certainly true. But to really understand this, Scripture gives us two stories: the first in the time of Moses, and the second in the time of Saul.
With Saul we see how the people had rejected God (Christ) as their king, as a woman may also reject her husband. Perhaps more specifically, the “woman” had desired another man, preferring his word over that of her Husband. This problem we have already discussed. The problem in Moses’ day is seen in Exodus 20, when God desired the church to meet Him in the mount after giving the Ten Commandments. The people’s reaction is given in Exodus 20:18, 19,
18 And all the people perceived the thunder and the lightning flashes and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood at a distance. 19 Then they said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself, and we will listen; but let not God speak to us, lest we die.”
This was a marriage ceremony, for the prophets later tell us that God was married to Israel (Jeremiah 3:14 KJV). In fact, the entire prophecy of Hosea pictured God’s marriage to Israel. Yet at their very wedding ceremony, with Moses as the minister of that marriage covenant, the people’s fear of God was stronger than their love. They refused to consummate the wedding on the Mount, even though Moses urged them to meet with God. Exodus 20:20, 21 continues,
20 And Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid; for God has come in order to test you, and in order that the fear of Him may remain with you, so that you may not sin.” 20 So the people stood at a distance, while Moses approached the thick cloud where God was.
The people wanted Moses to stand between them and God. Rather than hear the voice of God directly, they wanted Moses to hear God’s word and then tell them what God said. So it is with the denominational spirit, where men prefer to listen to men telling them what God said. Fearing God’s righteous nature, and thinking of themselves as sinners, they believe that the only way to survive is to maintain an indirect relationship with God.
But Jesus is the God of the Old Testament. He is Yahweh who came in the flesh. When He came to do His work on earth, He became the true Mediator between God and man. It was wrong for the Israelites to want Moses to mediate between them and God, but it was right to have Jesus as the Mediator (1 Timothy 2:5). Jesus said in John 14:6, “no man comes to the Father, but through Me.”
There is no Scripture demanding that any man must go through a man or an organization in order to come to the Father—or even to Jesus. So let us return to our first love as overcomers. Let Jesus be our true desire, placing all others in a relationship of secondary importance.