The Seven Churches, Part II – The Church of Ephesus

In Revelation, messages are given to the churches, and in these messages, we find that Jesus is the One who is preeminent. Revelation 1:12 says, “Then I turned to see the voice that spoke with me. And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands.”

We learn in verse 20 that these lampstands represented the seven churches, but notice what was in the midst of the lampstands. There was “[One] like the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to his feet and girded about the chest with a golden band.” Verse 13. The remainder of this chapter is about Jesus and His beauties.

Verse 16 tells us that Jesus is walking in the midst of the churches, and He has in His right hand seven stars. Who are the seven stars? The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches (verse 20) or, as some translations say, the messengers of the seven churches.

Purpose of the Church

In 1 Timothy 3:15, we are told what God’s purpose is for the church. This is His purpose for your church and for every church of His throughout the land. Paul, speaking to Timothy, said, “. . . if I am delayed, I [write] so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.”

The purpose of the church is to be the mainstay of truth. The church is not sent to preserve itself. God can preserve the church. We do not have to worry, as did the Jewish leaders, about somehow preserving the church. What we have to worry about is preserving the truth. The church is the mainstay, the ground of the truth.

Character of Jesus

Jesus is to be preeminent. Verse 16 says, “Without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh, Justified in the Spirit, Seen by angels, Preached among the Gentiles, Believed on in the world, Received up in glory.” When Paul speaks of the church, he immediately turns the focus to Jesus Christ and says that He is the One Who is to be manifested in the church.

The church is a pillar of truth on earth. It is to be the mainstay of the truth, and that truth, dear friend, is, in essence, the character of Jesus. The only way the church can be the mainstay and pillar, the ground of the truth, as Paul says it is to be, is to represent the character of Jesus within its members. It is to teach the truth, but more important than teaching the truth, it is to live the truth. It is to have Jesus’ character lived out within us. That is what the gospel to the church of Ephesus is all about.

Gospel to Ephesus

“To the angel of the church of Ephesus write, ‘These things says He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks.’ ” Revelation 2:1, 2.

Jesus introduces himself in each of these churches in a way that is particularly applicable to the church to which He is writing. The first church, in a special way, applies to the apostolic church—the church that Peter, Paul, and John started—the church that began when Jesus died and continued until the death of John, about a.d. 100.

Jesus is reminding them that He holds the seven stars. Some of these churches were inclined to think that they were somehow special, because John or Paul had started them. Remember, Paul wrote to the people in Corinth and said, “Some of you are in contention because some of you say, ‘I am a follower of Paul,’ and others say, ‘I am a follower of Apollos.’ ” (1 Corinthians 3:4–6.)

The people of that time had the disciples of Jesus Christ amongst them. There were churches the disciples had actually started. It would have been something to have had Matthew as your first pastor! Or to have had Paul starting your church. Thomas and others pastored and raised up churches.

Can you not just hear the members of some church saying, “We were started by Peter himself!” That could be rather prideful. Or, “We were started by Peter; this is Peter’s church.” God reminds them, “I am the One Who holds the seven stars. None of these people belong to anyone except Me. I am the One Who is in control of the messengers. I have sent them, and more than that, I am the One Who is walking in the midst of the candlesticks of the churches. It is not Peter, Paul, or John.”

Stars in His Hands

Let us consider further the stars in the right hand of God. Who is it that the Bible says Jesus is holding in His right hand? In John 10:27, 28, Jesus said that He is holding His sheep—His people—in His hand. The Bible uses many different symbols, but God is holding us in His right hand.

When Jesus last sent out the disciples, He told them, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, . . . and lo, I am with you always, [even] unto the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18–20.

Jesus said, “I will be with you; I will hold you wherever you go. I am sending you out as my messengers, my angels. I am sending you out as my representatives; I will hold you, and I will be with you.” (The Greek word, aggelos, is translated as angels and means “my messengers.”)

All of us are to be stars in the hands of Jesus, to be His messengers, but in a special way, He has ordained certain messengers all through the ages. There were first the disciples, and down through the Dark Ages we are reminded of Wycliffe, Martin Luther, and others. The Bible tells us that ordinations were established to set apart elders and ministers as God’s special messengers.

So, the seven stars to the churches are the messengers or ministers to the churches that God holds and that He chooses and ordains. We should understand that not every humanly-recognized minister may be a star in the hand of Jesus, and not every star is recognized by mankind. The stars are held in the hand of Jesus, not in the hand of the church.

Do you think that John the Baptist was one of the stars Jesus held in his hand? Did the church ever recognize him? Never!

I do not think Caiaphas was a star in the hand of Jesus. Do you? Did the church recognize him as being a star? Oh, yes! He was the head of God’s church on earth at that time. It was His church, but Caiaphas was not a star. (See Manuscript Releases, vol. 3, 184, 185.)

The stars are held in the hand of Jesus. We need to make sure that each of us is a star. God, of course, has designated certain stars, but that does not elevate any person. God has designated that some should go as missionaries; some should go as teachers, some as evangelists, and some as apostles. He is the One Who must ordain.

Ellen White wrote: “Enoch, Noah, Moses, Daniel, and the long roll of patriarchs and prophets,—these were ministers of righteousness. They were not infallible; they were weak, erring men; but the Lord wrought through them as they gave themselves to His service.” Gospel Workers, 13. She goes on to say that these were stars in Jesus’ hands.

Would you like to be a star in Jesus’ hands? You can be. Every soul who was in the upper room became a star after Jesus’ ascension. Every one of them was filled with the Holy Spirit and went out to give the message. Today, God is preparing stars. They are not all prepared by human universities. They are not all prepared in the same way; many of them may never be recognized, just as John the Baptist was not, but God is preparing stars to shine forth to give the world His message.

Recognize the Stars

Speaking of the church, Ellen White wrote: “The days are fast approaching when there will be great perplexity and confusion. Satan, clothed in angel robes, will deceive, if possible, the very elect. . . . Every wind of doctrine will be blowing. [That is not only in the world but even among God’s people.] . . . Those who have trusted to intellect, genius, or talent will not then stand at the head of rank and file. They did not keep pace with the light. Those who have proved themselves unfaithful will not then be entrusted with the flock. [They will not be stars anymore, you see.] . . . They are self-sufficient, independent of God, and He cannot use them. The Lord has faithful servants, who in the shaking, testing time will be disclosed to view.” Testimonies, vol. 5, 80, 81.

Did John the Baptist come forth with the polish of someone from an Ivy League school? We read that “he was clothed with camel’s hair.” Mark 1:6. That was the common, workman’s clothing. I wonder if I would have recognized him as a star, or would I have gone to inquire of Caiaphas as to whether or not he believed John the Baptist to be a star. Could I have heard the voice of Jesus? Jesus said, in John 10:27, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.”

Becoming a Star

It should be our greatest desire to be under the control of Jesus, hearing His voice. Along with that, we should want to be His star, being used by Him wherever He may lead us. He has promised to keep us in His hand.

Do you know what education is needed to become a star in the hand of Jesus? In Matthew 20:20, 21, we read of two people who wanted to become stars in the hands of Jesus: “Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Him with her sons, kneeling down and asking something from Him. And He said to her, ‘What do you wish?’ She said to Him, ‘Grant that these two sons of mine may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on the left, in Your kingdom.’ ”

What did she want? She wanted her sons to be stars in the Lord’s kingdom. She wanted them to be His messengers. Jesus did not rebuke her. There was displayed a little pride, a little rivalry, and a little selfishness that was not good—and God would deal with that, but they wanted to be doing the work of Jesus. That was good!

They wanted to be associated with Jesus, but do you know what it took? “Jesus answered and said, ‘You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?’ ” Verse 22.

Every star must be baptized with the baptism of suffering. That is why the Bible says, “Count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience” or perfects your character. James 1:2, 3. The trials are what bring out the things that should not be there. They are what cause you to depend upon Jesus and not upon yourself.

We are not to bring trials upon ourselves, for that would be presumptuous. We do not have to do such a thing, because if we are living the Christian life, the devil will bring us all kinds of trials. God allows this, because He loves us, and it is through these trials that our characters are strengthened as steel. That is how Jesus’ character was strengthened.

“I Know Your Works”

Jesus said that it is He who holds the seven stars and walks in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks, and “I know your works.” Revelation 2:1, 2.

Jesus is walking amidst the churches and the first thing He says is, “I know your works.” The churches do not always know their works, but Jesus knows them. This is said regarding every church, every congregation, in the world.

Jesus said, “I am the One Who walks in the midst of the candlesticks [churches], and I know your works.” Not only does God judge individuals and know their individual hearts and the works that they do, but He also looks at them as a body, as a church family, and He says to the church, “I know your works as a family.”

We ought to think about that. What would God say if He came down to our church and said, “I know your church . . .”? What would follow? Someday we will know, because He is going to tell us when He comes. I hope that it is like the church of Philadelphia of which nothing bad is said. (Revelation 3:7–12.) That would be wonderful! I am glad there were two churches about which not a bad thing was said. Sadly, there were two churches about which not a good thing was said.

The First Church

Ephesus was in the middle; there were some good things and some bad things said about it. The first thing is good. God said, “I know your labor.” Revelation 2:2. That is good! They worked!

“I know your patience.” That is good! They were persevering and enduring—that is what the Greek word, hupomone, means there. And they “cannot bear those who are evil.” Verse 2. I do not know if that is good or not! God is saying it in a good sense here; sometimes we come to a place where we think, to be Christians, we should tolerate everything.

God does not say that about Ephesus. He said, “I know your works, that you cannot bear those who are evil.” Of course, they loved the individuals; they could not bear their evil ways, and they would not allow them to take over the church. They could not bear their evil in the church, and God compliments them.

Jesus loved the sinners with all of His heart. In fact, He spent a lot more time with sinners than with righteous people, partly because there were no righteous people. Beyond that, He spent more time with those who thought they were sinners than with those who thought they were righteous.


“You cannot bear those that are evil.” These are the evil people who thought they were good, like Caiaphas. “You have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars.” Verse 2. These evil people who thought they were apostles is speaking of preachers and leaders.

How I wish that God could say this about the Laodicean church. As I have traveled, I have found that there is one common element in the Seventh-day Adventist Church all over the world. The members are very loyal to the church and to the organization. God wants loyalty. Jesus was loyal. But many people have done so little studying that they do not know anything other than what is taught to them by the leadership. They have not tested.

Do you remember what Paul said to the people of Berea? He said, “These [the Bereans] were more fair-minded than those in Thessalo-nica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily [to find out] whether these things were so.” Acts 17:11. Whatever Paul told them, they searched out to find out whether or not what he was saying was correct. If that was true for Paul, it certainly should be true for the preachers of today!

Today, people are gullible. Put a preacher in a church, and before long, everyone in the church believes just the way the preacher does. Churches are saved or lost depending upon the preacher. That is taking a pretty big chance!

In the Ephesus church, they tested the preachers, and if they did not preach what was truth, they did not let them preach. We would not think of that today! Many would say such an action would be terrible. The Bible says we are all influenced, and if we call evil good, sooner or later we will call good evil. It always goes that way. (See Isaiah 5:20.)

Every Good Thing

Revelation 2:3 says, “. . . you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary.” God is emphasizing these characteristics. My, this church must have been ready for translation! They had every good thing going for them.

I wish that verse 3 could be said for every church of the land today. It would be wonderful if we never grew weary of doing good works!

Left First Love

After all these good things, however, in verse 4, Jesus says, “Nevertheless I have [this] against you, that you have left your first love.”

Well, with all those good things, I guess we can have a little bad. I mean you cannot expect anyone or anything or any church to be perfect, can you?

God has just told us numerous good things about Ephesus, and He emphasizes some over and over again. So they do not have quite enough love, but at least they have the purity of the gospel and all the rest, so I guess that is good enough.

He goes on to say, in verse 5, “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place.”

We can read over that pretty quickly, but all of a sudden things become very serious. God says, “For all the good things you have done, because you have left your first love, I am going to remove your church unless you come back to your first love.” And I scratch my head and say, “What?” I can think of a lot worse things than losing your first love—but God cannot.

God’s Character—Love

The passage for Ephesus is 1 Corinthians 13. It is one of the most astounding chapters in the Bible; my family and I repeat it every morning at the breakfast table. Read through it prayerfully.

God says we can do it all, but if we do not have love, we have not gained a single thing. So God says to the church of Ephesus, “Listen, you have this and this and this and this, and all these things are good, but you have not represented my character. God is love.”

The church is here to represent God’s character. We can have all the rules and regulations; we can have all the bank accounts; we can have all the fancy buildings and the organization. We can have anything in the world, but unless we have the love of God in our church and in our hearts, we might as well do away with all the rest.

I do not believe in preaching just love, love, love. I believe there is more to the gospel than just love. I believe we should preach the whole gospel, but I want to tell you, we need to preach love, too. Preaching does not do much good, unless it is lived. We need to live the life of Jesus Christ. In the end, that is what it is all going to be about.

We cannot take anything to heaven except our characters. The only thing the church can take to heaven is its members. It cannot take anything else. It cannot take the buildings, the bank accounts, or anything. It can only take to heaven its membership, and the only membership it can take to heaven are those who have the love of Jesus within in their hearts.

What Kind of Love

There are two parts to the love that God wants us to have, and we must have both. The first part of the love is that we must have love for God. We must love Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. (Mark 12:30.) Second, we must love one another. (John 13:34; Matthew 5:44.) We have to have both.

There are many people who will do a lot of humanitarian good but who will never learn to love God. They will not be saved. A lot of people have just hidden themselves away from humanity—not taking care of the poor, the needy, the suffering, or anyone else. They are cloistered away in some monastery, supposedly developing love for God. They are going to have a difficult time getting to heaven, too.

Jesus came down and showed us love for God by obeying God. He said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” John 14:15. And Jesus said that the first and great commandment is, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” Matthew 22:37. He also told us that we are to love others. In 1 John 4, we are told that if we do not love our brethren, we do not love God, because our brethren were made in the image of God, and that is whom Jesus came to save.

Matthew 5:44 tells us to “love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.”

We can talk about love all we want and have all these sentimental feelings inside, but it is not all that easy. It is not easy to love those who hate you and persecute you and say all manner of evil against you. (Matthew 5:11.)

“That you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you?” Verses 45, 46. That is not the love of God. “Do not even the tax collectors” and publicans and sinners—everyone—do that? Even Hitler loved those who loved him! He did not love the Jews, but he did love a few people; he loved those who carried out his orders.

Everyone loves someone, but that is not the love about which Jesus is talking. The love that the Bible talks about is loving those who hate us and persecute us and say all manner of evil against us falsely.

“If you greet your brethren only, what do you more [than others]? Do not even the tax collectors do so? Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.” Verses 47, 48.

Truly Converted

Ephesus had left their first love; they had become very concerned about the gospel, which they should have. They worked very hard, which they should have, but somehow they failed to be truly converted. The church of Ephesus, started by the apostles, was like some kids that are raised in Christian homes who grow up thinking they are Christians because their mothers and fathers are Christians, because they go to Sabbath School and church every week, and they have learned to pay their tithes. They have learned to do all the right things, but they do not realize that they have to be converted themselves.

The church of Ephesus grew up hearing Paul and Peter, and they thought, “We have heard it all, and we have followed it all. Certainly we are converted.” They did not realize that they had to be changed in the innermost self.

I can preach the gospel, if God helps me. I can do everything for the Lord that He asks me to do, but if I do not develop within my heart a love for those who mistreat me or whatever else they may do to me, I am not yet ready to take to heaven. I do not yet represent the character of Jesus.

Today, God is looking for a church that preserves the true gospel, a church that is very careful that a false gospel is not taught in it. He is looking for a church that tests everything that comes along, but beyond all that and with all that, they have a love in their hearts that is like the love that Jesus demonstrated when He was on earth. He is looking for a church that represents Him in their characters.

So the message to the church of Ephesus ends: “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.” Revelation 2:7.

What was it that Ephesus had to overcome? They had to overcome their feelings toward one another—feelings of indifference, of being perturbed. They had to become converted.

I pray that your church might be a church that preserves the gospel, one that hates the deeds of the Nicolaitans, “which I also hate,” as it says in verse 6. The Nicolaitans were those who believed that, as long as you had faith, it did not matter what you did. The Nicolaitans had a pseudo love; they believed that as long as you professed love to God, it did not matter whether or not you kept His commandments. May your church preserve the truth and also be filled, not only with love but with the first love—the love of Jesus, love for one another, love for God, and love for the world.

When we have that love within our hearts, we will have the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. When all of the churches have the same experience, then we will find Jesus coming, because we are told that “When the character of Christ shall be perfectly reproduced in His people, then He will come to claim them as His own.” Christ’s Object Lessons, 69.

To be continued . . .

Pastor Marshall Grosboll, with his wife Lillian, founded Steps to Life. In July 1991, Pastor Marshall and his family met with tragedy as they were returning home from a camp meeting in Washington state, when the airplane he was piloting went down, killing all on board.