Gamma 16 – The Persevering Disciple (Study 3)

Study 3

Letter to the 7 churches..Ephesus and Smyrna


John Goh012 207
Dr Lee Fook Sin019 230
Moh Ee Lin019 273
Ng Cho Hoo012 878
Susanah Ng012



Please look at the questions and discuss the answers. The case histories are designed to let you apply what theoretical knowledge you have gleaned from the study. There are intentionally many more questions and case histories than you can manage in one session but this is designed to cover the many and varied needs of the individuals in the church hence please pick and choose which ones to discuss as long as it gets people sharing and applying the Word to real life situations. Never feel obligated to finish all the questions The answers will be posted on the web the next day.

The letter historically is written to 7 churches specifically because John writes…
Revelations 1 : 4 John to the seven churches that are in Asia:

However it is not meant to be exclusively to these specific churches because the message is equally relevant applied to the other churches because
Rev 2: 7 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

Additionally, there is the symbolic use of the number 7 which represents completion from the 7 days of creation to the 7 times Israel marched around Jericho before God brought its walls down, to the length of days from cleansing before a person who partake in worship before being clean and the number of times blood is sprinkled for cleaning in Lev 4:6, 17.

It is also relevant to us as individuals because

Rev 2: 7 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.’

Jesus says to the “One” hence it applies to each individual in church as well, this is repeated in every instance when Jesus addressed each church hence it is a message to us

Rev 2: 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.

They have been active in their ministry as a church as Jesus mentions their “works” and not only active but their works have been with toil and endurance which means they have persisted and not given up and have been doing ministry.

They have been non-compromising in their faith and theologically very sound as false apostles could not make any inroads in to their church they have tested them and reproved them. The Nicolaitians are also mentioned in Jesus warning to the Pergamum church in Rev 2:14-15 and they are like their Old Testament counterparts in Number 25 :1-3 who lead Israel into sexual immorality and idolatry.

Historically according to the early church fathers Nicolas could have been the same Nicolas in Acts 6:5 who had converted from Judaism only to apostasize to a form of Gnosticism where the belief that what is done in the body is of no relevance to one’s spiritual well being hence the participation in sexual immorality or food offered to idols in temple sacrifice which would have included sex with the temple prostitutes which was a way of life with the contemporary society. The Ephesians to their credit has resisted when their Pergamum cousins had failed in this area So they were a hard working serving church which was doctrinally pure and resilient and tested in the face of the harshest persecution at the time which is really more than we can say for many of our churches today! This was no ordinary church

Their sin was loosing their “first love”. It is the love which they are capable of because they had it before “first” which is interpreting the term in its temporal nuance. Another way to interpret this qualitatively as first can also mean a priority or the most important love but the idea of temporality is more relevant because in verse 5 the remedy is to “ Remember therefore from where you have fallen;

Hence it is the love they had before and with the passage of time and loss of focus had left behind and Jesus reminds them to go back to this. At first glance we would immediately conclude it would be like the first flush of emotion not unlike how we were floating on cloud 9 when we first fall in love. However it is more than the emotion because we need to look at the remedy and the warning.

The remedy is to ..; repent, and do the works you did at first”. The remedy is not to recapture their first love but to do the works they had done before. This might seem a little strange because the Ephesians had just been commended for their works in v 2 I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance.

It cannot be that they were not working because they have just been commended for their hard work and toil and endurance. Hence they must not have been doing the right kind of work perhaps? Hang on, isn’t all Christian ministry work important as it is all done to glorify God? There must be some work which they were not doing. Perhaps the warning given in the remedy will finally give us a clue “ If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.”

The church is described as a lampstand and in v 1 Jesus is described as walking amongs the lampstands and we know the imagery of the church as a lampstand is an imagery that emphasises the witness of the church of the gospel.

Hence it is most probable that the enthusiasm that they had at first when they reciprocated the love of Jesus was naturally expressed in terms of witnessing and sharing with others the glory and wonder of the cross, that had largely disappeared which is what Jesus meant by loosing their first love. The church was faithfully running all the activities of the church which are all important and commended by Jesus but their witness had waned and they were in danger of loosing sight of their number one calling which was to be a witness of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The seminal event where by God reveals himself to us is by the cross which is the supreme demonstration of His love and it is by that event that triggers our love which is a response.

Love involves both cognition, emotion and action.
We cannot say we love someone without any underlying basis or reason and this is cognition as we are rational creatures. Hence we love Jesus because He first loved us even though we were unloveable and we were His enemies and helpless and evil. We love Him because He created us and not as animals but supreme beings endowed with his personal Image. Everything we do we do because of that fundamental fact. We don’t do it because we want to be saved in heaven and Jesus is only a means to an end.

We cannot say we love someone without any emotion because are are creatures endowed with the ability to feel and it is our feelings that bring enthusiasm, excitement, joy into our relationships and propel our actions. Imagine a young mother and wife preparing a lovely meal..she can do it because she has to other wise her husband will give her a hard time or the children will refuse to eat and give her a hard time or she can do it because her emotions of love bring enthusiasm , tenderness and diligence. As she watches her family enthusiastically woof down the meals she so painstakingly prepared she smiles to herself with the quiet satisfaction because she has brought joy to the ones she loves. The squeals of joy from her offspring on encountering the meal is her reward. That is the emotion of love. Translate this to our relationship with Jesus, the works and ministry and endurance with which we live our lives need to be the expression of that emotion of love. It will lace all our efforts with enthusiasm and joy. We look forward to the pleasure of our Saviour as we lead bible study or feed the poor as we know that this will please Him. It is this that fuels our efforts and it is this that is our first love.

We cannot say we love him without any action …love in its totality, cognition, emotion must translate to action. Which is why in the judgement scene which Jesus paints in Matt 25 : 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’The act of ministering to the poor and sick and in prison is an act towards Jesus. He does not judge people on the basis of their feelings or their intellectual knowledge of realisation that He died for their sin and they merely agree with that statement. Knowing what He did for us will trigger the empowering emotion that will ultimately result in loving Him back in response and since all humans bear His image hence ministering to the ones that most need ministering to will be loving Him. Their greatest need will therefore be in receiving the gospel of Jesus Christ which Jesus assumes will happen as they minister.

All three cognition, emotion and action comes together right from the very beginning of our relationship with Jesus when we first found our He loved and died for us we committed our lives to Him and we very naturally began to share with others what a wonderful thing it was that had changed our live ,..we could not stop sharing the gospel.

Look at the Samaritan woman in John 4 who very naturally and excited told everyone she met about the Jesus who blew her away …John 4: 28 So the woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people, 29 “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?

Look at the results “John 4: 39 Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.”

She could not help herself.. her witnessed was enthusiastically fuelled by love and it is this that so commonly wears thin in the lives of believers with the passage of time and preoccupation with so many things in life. The love of Jesus that leads us to witness to the gospel is the one that most brings all disciples to suffer the pain of persecution which is what the churches of Asia Minor were no facing and while some did well in this area the Ephesian church arguably the largest and most established on failed in this area.

The sin of the Ephesians is a common sin for all of us as with the passage of time and gradual focus on things other than Christ we are caught up with the business of life with our careers and our worries and these take focus , become our idols and soon they dampen our love for Him. Gradually, the cross will just seem a distant memory, the thought of His sacrifice no longer triggers the feelings of awe and and wonder. The cross becomes somewhat of an entrance criteria into the religion. It does not become central to all that we are and do. Every calculation of life every decision is no longer moulded by the cross and its implications instead what Jesus wants no longer factors in the everyday decisions of life. We no longer struggle with ethical considerations or feel the pain of sacrifice.

What are the warning signs that we have lost our first love? Please share.

A. Keeping our first love must necessarily revolve around keeping our focus on the most important feature of our spiritual lives the gospel which is what Jesus did for us on the cross. Our persistent reading and meditating on the Word is paramount to this end because Jesus is described as the Word of God and in Him lies the fullness of God. Hence as we read and understand the Word in its entirety the Spirit will enable increasing levels of understanding, showing us deeper levels of appreciation as to who Jesus is and magnify to us daily the true extent of his suffering for us.

In the same way understanding Him enables us to understand ourselves, the Word reveals to us the increasing depravity of our sin and unworthiness and as we bring that to bear next to our understanding of His holiness and the depth of His sacrifice this increases our love and our worship

B. Keeping our first love also involves living a life of faith …taking decisions in the light of the gospel which may be costly in terms of progress in society and yet trusting Him to bring us through these trials. I was speaking to a visitor to our church recently who was a believer who wanted to serve God by rearing chickens for consumption but in an ethical manner with minimal adulteration with the rampant antibiotics and hormonal abuse. The resulting loss of 10-120% of his flock decimated his profits and he had to close his farm. Taking the loss and trusting Jesus builds faith and reassures the believer of the authenticity of his love and faith and actually builds him up.

C. Keeping our personal worship time

D. Praying for the Lord to increase our love and help us experience more of this love.

E. Actually witnessing the gospel to friends and family keeps our love alive as when we testify we are increasingly vocalising our commitment to Him and our love and strengthening our own faith.

The description is of Jesus holding the 7 angels in his hands and walking in the midst of the 7 churches or 7 lampstands hence the focus is on the Jesus who is holding and guiding and living and moving amongst His churches in their mission of witnessing to the gospel. He is walking amongst the churches, he is close, He is at hand, involved. The image is of a priest of the tabernacle or temple tending to the flames of the lampstands ensuring they burn brightly and not loose their light. Ensuring there is enough oil, tending to the fires holding each angel in charge of each church in His right hand, His strong arm which means providing all the power and comfort each church would need to shine brightly in the world. He is not an absent God. He is always there. It is this image that reminds the Ephesians of their primary duty to shine the gospel light to all.

The Roman persecutors normally accepted or just tolerated Judaism in their colonies and at first the Christians skated under the radar because they were being considered as Jews and got a pass. Later on especially after Emperor Nero the Jews turned against them and reported them to the authorities as they did not regard Jesus as the Messiah. They considered worship of a criminal crucified on the cross as blasphemy as anyone hanging on the tree in the OT was considered cursed by God(Acts 26:9-10). Hence Jesus condemns them as not even being true Jews as true Jews given the covenant and Scriptures would have recognised that Jesus was the Messiah and instead function as the persecutor of believers putting them in league with Satan.

The believers in Smyrna will be persecuted and Jesus encouraged them by His appearance…described as the one who in Rev 2:8 The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life.

This is their God, Jesus who overcame death , the very death that the believers in Smyrna faced. Their life and death is in God’s hands not the persecutors. Secondly “10 Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested”. There is a divine purpose behind the work of the devil so the suffering of the Smyrneans will result in blessing and ultimate deliverance for them. They will be incarcerated for 10 days which in Revelations symbolism literally means a short time and after which they will be dispatched in death because Jesus says (ESV) Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life vv 10 b He wanted them to not give up His witness even on pain of death nor fear it because He will give them eternal life and He is the one described as the one “who died and came to life”.

The famous Romanian pastor Richard Wurmbrand went through the most horrific torture behind the iron curtain wrote these words in the Midnight Bride “ Not all of us are called to die a martyr’s death, but all of us are called to have the same spirit of self-sacrifice and love to the very end as these martyrs had.” Can you share in the group what this could men for us personally?


It installs discipline to regularly witness
It teaches the skill to present the gospel clearly
It keeps the mission of witnessing as a priority


It puts evangelism in such a way that it might discourages some of us from stepping out in it. It makes evangelism unnatural and a duty rather than an act borne out of genuine love for Jesus and others.

Answers will be available on 15th October 2020.