Note: This is a continuing evaluation of the book The Days of Vengeance written by David Chilton. Chilton at the time of writing this was a partial preterist who later in life (after a massive heart attack) turned to full preterism. Sections will be taken from the book and commented on to the fullest extent possible. A PDF of the book can be found here.
After a thought provoking introduction to the churches, it is time to investigate their actually letters. We'll keep it short and sweet by doing only one church per blog post. All the spare time I'm saving you should be spent on reading the actual church letter from your personal Bible! :-)
First Chilton provides a bit of background information on the city of Ephesus,
The city of Ephesus was the most important city in Asia Minor, both in politics and trade. It was an important cultural center as well, boasting such attractions as art, science, witchcraft, idolatry, gladiators, and persecution. Main Street ran from the harbor to the theater, and on the way the visitor would pass the gymnasium and public baths, the public library, and the public brothel. Its temple to Artemis (or Diana – the goddess of fertility and “nature in the wild”) was one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world. St. Luke tells us another interesting fact about the city, one that has important bearing on the Seven Messages as a whole: Ephesus was a hotbed of Jewish occultism and magical arts (Acts 19:13-15, 18-19). Throughout the world of the first century, apostate Judaism was accommodating itself to numerous pagan ideologies and heathen practices, developing early strains of what later came to be known as Gnosticism – various hybrids of occult wisdom, rabbinical lore, mystery religion, and either asceticism or licentiousness (or both), all stirred up together with a few bits and pieces of Christian doctrine. (DOV, 49)
This is a church in a polluted city. This shouldn't be seen as an oppressive condition or a position for failure. The state of the culture around the church does not change the commands upon the church. And it seems that the church was working faithfully in some respects,
This was a church that did not know the meaning of compromise, willing to take a strong stand for orthodoxy, regardless of the cost. (It is noteworthy that, of all Paul’s letters to the churches, Ephesians alone does not mention a single doctrinal issue that needed apostolic correction.) The rulers of the church were not afraid to discipline evil men...The elders of Ephesus heeded well the exhortation Paul had given them (Acts 20:28-31): “Guard yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the Church of God, which He bought with His own blood. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard!” (DOV, 49)
This consistent battling for truth and conflict with heretics likely led to a jaded perspective of the church and world around them. It is likely within this perspective and condition that Christ turns to critic their love. Chilton says,
The church’s desire for sound doctrine had become perverted into a hardening-up against their brothers in Christ, so that they lacked love. It is important to note that even the most rigorous concern for orthodoxy does not automatically mean an absence of love. It is only a perversion of orthodoxy that results in hardness toward brethren. Christ does not criticize the Ephesians for being “too orthodox,” but for leaving, forsaking the love which they had at first...Christians are required to be both orthodox and loving, and a lack of either will eventually result in the judgment of God. (DOV, 50)
A love of truth should boil into a love for both God and the church. During times of persecution and great distractions, it may be assumed that the church will not be held to such high standards but nothing could be further from the truth. It is important to allow for Christ's warning here to educate us on some Biblical language.
Throughout the OT "the Day of the Lord" is used as a reoccurring theme to describe God's judgment upon unfaithful and sinful nations. This is crucial because that day is often associated with a visitation of God in judgment (Psa 97:1-6; Isa 19:1). Christ's warning against Ephesus is one of judgment and yet His word choice is incredibly crucial,
The Coming of Christ does not simply refer to a cataclysm at the end of history, but rather refers to His comings in history. In fact, He warns, He will come quickly, a term emphasized by its seven occurrences in Revelation (2:5, 16; 3:11; 11:14; 22:7, 12, 20). The Lord is not threatening the church at Ephesus with His Second Coming; He is saying that He will come against them: I will remove your lampstand out of its place. Their influence will be taken away, and, indeed, they will cease to be a church at all. For lack of love, the entire congregation is in danger of excommunication. If the elders of a church fail to discipline and disciple the church toward love as well as doctrinal orthodoxy, Jesus Christ Himself will step in and administer judgment – and at that point it may very well be too late for repentance. (DOV, 50)
With this acknowledged, we can close with a final look at the other major doctrinal concern for Ephesus. All this is to be overcome as Christ commands and this overcoming is in clear contrast to the issues of Ephesus,
According to the second-century bishop St. Irenaeus, “the Nicolaitans are the followers of that Nicolas who was one of the seven first ordained to the diaconate by the apostles [Acts 6:5]. They lead lives of unrestrained indulgence . . . teaching that it is a matter of indifference to practice adultery, and to eat things sacrificed to idols.” If St. Irenaeus is correct here – his viewpoint is certainly debatable – the deacon Nicolas (in Greek, Nikolaos) had apostatized and become a “false apostle,” seeking to lead others into heresy and compromise with paganism.
One thing is obvious: St. John is calling the heretical faction in Ephesus after someone named Nikolaos (even if we allow that St. Irenaeus was confused about his identity). His reason appears to be based on linguistic considerations, for in Greek Nikolaos means Conqueror of the people. Interestingly, in the third of the seven messages St. John mentions a group of heretics in Pergamum, whom he calls followers of “Balaam” (2:14). In Hebrew, Balaam means Conqueror of the people. St. John is making a play on words, linking the “Nicolaitans” of Ephesus with the “Balaamites” of Pergamum; in fact, he clearly tells us in 2:14-15 that their doctrines are the same. (DOV, 50)
We'll revisit this subject in the future and enjoy the synthesized package of truth being communicated by the letters to the seven churches.