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In Bible blog I have just completed a look at Paul’s correspondence with the Corinthian Assembly. You can find these and all my 1772 blogs by date on my archive, or by googling: emmock.com topic, or emmock.com bible reference. My new project is an examination of The Revelation, the final book in the Christian Bible. It’s controversial but fun, offering trumpets, angels, the four horsemen, a beast from sea and the whore of Babylon. What’s not to like? It begins on 30th July. Join me. The headlines are reminders of the world we live in:
Revelation 2New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised (NRSVA)
The Message to Ephesus
2 ‘To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands:
2 ‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance. I know that you cannot tolerate evildoers; you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them to be false. 3 I also know that you are enduring patiently and bearing up for the sake of my name, and that you have not grown weary. 4 But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. 5 Remember then from what you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. 6 Yet this is to your credit: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. 7 Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. To everyone who conquers, I will give permission to eat from the tree of life that is in the paradise of God.
The seven church assemblies of Asia were real, strung along one of the great Roman roads, but these are not real letters. Rather, they are part of the revelation received and transmitted by the author, a ve. ry important part, however, because they indicate the the purpose of the the whole composition: the welfare of the Assemblies. The “letters” show the Assemblies as they are, certainly not as perfect believers; nevertheless, their trust and courage and suffering are the human reality of the victory of God revealed in the book’s visions. Whatever strange scenes are depicted, however cosmic their dimensions, they will represent the life and beliefs of these assemblies. They, in their human imperfection, are the key to understanding the visions that follow.
The letters have a consistent form:
- They are addressed to the Angels of the assemblies, that is, the messengers of God who will deliver the messages to the assemblies.
- The author of the letter is identified as the risen Jesus, by details from the description of him in chapter 1, in this case, as the one who controls the messengers ( the stars) and is present amongst his assemblies ( the lamp stands ).
- The assembly is praised, in this case for its good order and discipline in rejecting false teachers.
- The assembly is criticised, in this case for losing its first love for Jesus, which had expressed itself in enthusiastic service.
- The assembly is warned, in this case that the risen Jesus will no longer consider it a bearer of the truth (remove its lamp stand). This seems a surprisingly severe penalty for lack of love, but it expresses the surprising values of the vision.
- The assembly is encouraged to pay attention to the Spirit’s message. The spirit is the Risen Jesus and and the call to have an open ear uses a phrase also used by Jesus in his parables.
- The letter concludes with a promise to “the one who conquers” meaning all those whose trust in Jesus helps them defeat the powers of evil, although this victory may seem to worldly eyes to be a defeat. In this case those who conquer are promised the life which God withheld from Adam and Eve, life not subject to death.
I have not mentioned the mysterious Nikolaitans whom the Lord detests, as no scholar has been able to identify them. Doubtless they are some kind of sect or movement within some assemblies.
There is no reason to doubt that real pastoral concern and knowledge are contained in the “letters” Ephesos was one of the largest cities in the Empire, a centre for the cult of Artemis, and at one time Paul’s HQ. There had been an assembly there since around 50 CE. Members of its assembly are depicted in The Acts of the Apostles as showing great love towards Paul.