Revelation 2:1-7 Part 2

“Write the message for the Church in Ephesus.”

Although the primary and immediate context for Revelation of Jesus Christ is the parousia, there is some contextual relevance in the history, and in the location of the Churches.  So we want to deal with the cities to some extent as we come to them.  And, of course, a major part of that context is the Roman Empire.

As has been said a couple of times before, there were Jews in every nation on earth.  There had been several dispersions of them through the centuries due to conquering armies from Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome.  And because of judaism, and because of culture, they tended to stick together and to congregate in their respective locales on the seventh day.

Luke tells us, in The Acts of the Apostles, that Jews from every nation were there in Jerusalem at Pentecost, 30AD.  That’s when thousands were added to the Church at the apostles’ preaching of the Gospel.  They went home to their countries united to Christ; and our Lord had the first of His Churches in every nation.

In the infinite wisdom and plan of God, these little groups of God’s elect in Christ among the nations were now set to receive and assist the expatriated followers of Christ from Israel during the thirty five year period between Christ’s resurrection and the onset of His Parousia.  The elders and deacons in the Church in Jerusalem were sending them out as fast as they could find them and prepare their extrication from Israel; and the Churches in the nations were receiving them and assisting them in their re-settlement.

Our Lord had held for Himself 12,000 from every tribe in Israel – 144,000 of them – and He patiently delayed His Parousia until they were all out!

Since Ephesus was one of the great cities of the world, and since it was one of the major focal points of much missionary activity by the apostles, there was a substantial Jewish Christian community there, along with Gentile converts.  It was probably easier to get the Lord’s people out of Israel by land route than it was by sea, since it was cheaper, and since it could be done in a more clandestine manner.  Folks could leave by way of Samaria, through Lebanon and Syria, be assisted along the way by the Church at Antioch and other Galatian Churches, and reach a destination point in western Asia (or beyond).  So a number of these would have ended their search for a new home in Ephesus…..especially if there were relatives or others from their own tribes there.

Others may have been sent out by boat to places such as Cyprus and Crete and Alexandria and Macedonia, and even Rome and Spain.  There were Christian gatherings in all of those places too, along with judaistic synagogues which, as the text of Scripture indicates, were a source of terrible opposition to the Christian groups and the apostles.  But the land route would have taken them to all the Churches in Galatia, to Colossae, to the seven Churches in John’s jurisdiction, and to all points west.

But the city of Ephesus was (I use the past tense, since it no longer exists), (it was) a great city very close to the coastline of the Aegean Sea.  Over the course of several centuries it had developed, under the rulership of the world-conquering Persians, then the Greeks under Alexander, and then the Romans, (it had developed) into a major trade location by those from further west.

And roads from Ephesus into the north, south and east, drove deeply into the interior of Asia, so that overland trade routes were established throughout Asia via the port of Ephesus.  And the other six cities of John’s Revelation were all connected by decent, well-traveled roads.

I also understand, from the history and the geography, that this was an incredibly beautiful area – not only for its seacoast venue, but for its location between two mountain ranges, and with two great rivers forming the valley in between.

But all of those things were not the primary reason that Ephesus was considered such a great city.  As important as the trade was; and as valuable as the highways into interior Asia were; and as beautiful as the sea and the mountains and the rivers were, the temple of diana was the main attraction.  Diana was the foremost among many in this polytheistic world order.

Diana (also called Artemis) is said to have originated in eastern mysticism (possibly from the time when Babylon, and then Persia, ruled the world).  She was said to have “fallen from heaven” (she was said to have come from the planet Jupiter, I think it was).  And the temple historians say that what was built for her was the most magnificent temple structure of the entire ancient world.  It was more grand than anything even in Athens or in Rome.  The foundations of the temple were laid in about 500BC, and even though there were several destructive events through the next couple of centuries, the temple was complete 220 years after its beginning.

It was 425 feet long and 220 feet wide, with 120 Ionian columns 60 feet tall.  The wooden statue, adorned with priceless gold, silver and jewels, was worshipped by many from around the world, and became the source of much tourism income for tradesmen in Ephesus and all the other surrounding cities.

Diana was obviously a fertility goddess.  An ancient facsimile of the goddess is supposedly in the Naples, Italy museum, and it has eighteen breasts; and the temple service and upkeep was by a hierarchy of eunuchs and virgin priestesses.  Although there were other gods and goddesses in this satanic, polytheistic world order, diana, with her magnificent, world-class temple, was the central attraction in the city of Ephesus.  People from all over the civilized world came to pay homage to diana and to observe the world’s most incredible temple structure.  And, needless to say, there was a heavily attended brothel uniquely associated with the temple.

In addition to the temple, and in the same general location, was the stadium, which was the largest stadium in the world.  It held 55,000 people, and was the locus of animal vs animal, and animal vs human, and human vs human fights to the death.  It was also used for local events such as political and social functions.

All that brings me to the history found in the Acts of the Apostles, chapters nineteen and twenty.  As we all know, Rome had taken over the entire civilized world by the year 45BC.  Western Asia came under its military jurisdiction long before that.

So Ephesus was a city of Rome for at least a hundred and fifty years by the time Paul made it there on his third journey.  And since Rome administered the provinces militarily through taxation and by Roman law, it pretty much allowed all the locals to have their own multiple religions.

Since the worship of diana was still a popular world-wide religion, the Ephesians made a lot of money because of it.  Because of the trade routes, and because of the temple of diana, lots of folks traveled to, and through, Ephesus.  When Paul arrived on his third trip, the completed temple was over three hundred years old.  And the businesses set up all around the city, many associated with the temple, were well established and thriving.

Well, the Church in Ephesus was doing okay too!  And when the apostle Paul came to stay for a while (over two years it was), his preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ caused the local businessmen to become very upset.  Their businesses, associated with the temple and the worship of diana, were being affected.  They began losing business and money!

And a very serious situation began to take shape when a man named Dimetrius began to fan the flames of hatred against Paul and the Christian Church.

You see, Dimetrius was a silversmith.  He apparently was one of Ephesus’ famed artisans.  He made things of silver.  And some of the most popular items for those who came to Ephesus had to do with the temple and the image of diana.  Well, Dimetrius designed and fashioned silver images of the goddess and her temple; and he sold them to the tradesmen and shopkeepers.

He, of course, was one of many; but he fanned the flames of discontent among all the purveyors of diana idols and diana memorabilia all over Ephesus (and, as the Scripture indicates, all over Asia and the world!), because the Church (especially Paul’s preaching all over the area) had affected the business of vendors, peddlers and shopkeepers.

Paul’s preaching of Jesus Christ had certainly included the first and second Commandments having to do with the worship of the one true God, and the fraudulence of man-made idols.

Dimetrius’ assertion to all the tradesmen was that Paul had the mendacity to spread his hate-filled speech against diana, since the worship of the goddess was a world-wide religion!   It’s all right there in chapter nineteen of the Acts of the Apostles.

Well, all the vendors in the city of Ephesus were up in arms against Paul and the Christians of the city.  And they were able to bait the whole city into a crazed mob.  And they all gathered in that 55,000 seat stadium near the temple, screaming “diana, goddess of Ephesus, diana, goddess of Ephesus”!  The people of the city became inflamed with bitterness – especially against the apostle Paul – and it bordered on riot with murderous intent.

If it hadn’t been for the fear of Rome and the Roman armies, Paul would have been killed and the Church would have been routed and quickly dispatched.  But while they were all in the stadium a proconsul was prompt to warn the people that Rome took a very stern position against restive behavior in its governed provinces.  The armies would act quickly and mercilessly, and they would ask questions later.  So (caution being the better part of valor – at least in their minds) no riot ensued.

In the meantime, the elders of the Churches convinced Paul that he needed, for his own safety, to leave the area, which he did.  This incident happened in about 58AD.  The apostle John presumably arrived in Ephesus shortly thereafter; and his preaching among the seven Churches promptly landed him in exile on Patmos.  So, apparently the hostility of the people of the city of Ephesus (and maybe even that of the Roman government) continued into his ministry.

So, what we have here then is the Church at Ephesus existing in a thoroughly corrupt, idolatrous, pagan and satanic city, in an equally satanic world order.  And let’s not forget that that world order included the judaistic synagogues that were present in this, and every other major city of the world.

They not only infiltrated the Churches as deceiving, pharisaical frauds, as we’ll see in the text, but they were openly hostile to the apostles, deacons, helpers and Churches in the nations.  The apostles, who on many occasions went to the synagogues to preach the Gospel, were, on numerous occasions, thrown out of the gatherings, thrown out of the cities, beaten, stoned and left for dead to be eaten by vultures and wild animals.  The apostles, elders and deacons of the Churches were also pursued by judaists from Israel, as our Lord had prophesied in Matthew 24.

So the Church at Ephesus was not without constant strife and suffering and trial – from without and from within.

But that wasn’t all of it!  Not by a long shot.

We also have to see that the Churches in the nations were under the law of the conquerors of the world – the Roman Empire.  And not only were they under that law, but they were also in grave danger of brutal persecution.

What was going on in Rome and in the provinces was collusion, fraud, brutal self-serving, deceit, trickery, murder, idolatry, double-crossing political intrigue, assassinations, barbarity, and the worst examples of sexual deviations.  The ones who rose to rulership were the most conniving, savage, animalistic, feral, bestial and barbaric of humanity.  Otherwise they could not attain and retain their positions in that satanic world order.

The “best of the best” at “being the worst” were the ones who became emperor – Caesar.  To the extent that we’re dealing with the historical context for the city of Ephesus (and the other six cities), the Roman Empire is a vital constituent of that context.

So, what I’d like to do now is to give you a brief overview of the time period with which we’ve been dealing, and do so from the standpoint of the empire and its emperors.  I’m doing this because this a critical component in the translation and preaching of this letter.  This is “context” for the Churches; this is context for the letter from John to the Churches; this the context for the parousia of our Lord Jesus Christ!

Our sovereign God in His infinite and eternal plan for the divorce and execution of adulterous and idolatrous Israel, raised up a great and mighty nation to perform His will.  And its vicious and vulgar ruthlessness was exactly what was required for the abomination of desolation to take place.  And let’s not forget that this very event was prophesied by Moses, and by all the prophets of old – especially by Daniel – and by Jesus in Matthew 24, and in specifics in the Gospel of Luke.  By His mighty Right Arm, God raised up His army to accomplish His will.

In 45 BC, after the conquering of many nations, Julius Caesar became the dictator of Rome for life.  But that life didn’t last very long, for he was assassinated in 44 BC during a time which is still called “the ides of March”.

In 31BC, Gaius Julius Caesar, Julius’ nephew and adopted heir, became emperor of Rome, taking the name “Augustus Emperor of Rome in 17BC, and was called “the savior of all mankind”.  He ruled the Roman empire until his death in 14AD.

Tiberius Caesar became emperor of the empire at Augustus’ death in 14AD (he was Augustus’ adopted son), and he ruled until 37AD, letting Rome run itself for most of the time.  The Roman hierarchy didn’t like him very much, so he was in self-exile most of the time.  He was emperor during Jesus’ trial, crucifixion and resurrection.

Upon Tiberius’ death in March of 37AD, Caesar Augustus Germanicus became emperor of the Roman Empire.  We know him as Caligula.  He was insane and perverted and known for his brutality.  Four years after he became emperor, he was assassinated by the praetorian guard.  That was 41AD.  And please remember all that’s going on with the Church in Jerusalem and the nations at this time.

When Caligula was assassinated on January 24th, 41AD his uncle Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus became emperor.  Claudius Caesar.  He was a wimp of a man, with mental and physical infirmities.  His wife finally killed him with a poison mushroom for willing the emperorship to his adopted son, Nero, instead of his birth son (a very important event in history, as God appoints and sets up kings and rulers as He wills).  Claudius Caesar died in October of 54AD, about the time the apostle Paul began his third journey to the Churches.

When Claudius was assassinated by his wife, his adopted son Nero Claudius Augustus Caesar was name emperor of Rome.  Caesar Nero.  And this is when things get more interesting.  Nero was an absolute madman.  Everybody who even seemed to threaten his emperorship ended up dead.  Every uprising in the empire was put down unmercifully.  Jews and Christians alike were persecuted and prosecuted for any reason.  It was under his rulership that the huge army of the empire, (armies from every province) was sent to Israel to destroy this little “gnat” that was rebelling and causing him trouble.  And Jews were eliminated in massive numbers in every province of the empire.  This was truly the great “holocaust”.  

Christians were gathered, imprisoned and fed to the lions because they worshipped a Jew, and because they were “associated” religions!  It was Nero who is said to have fiddled while Rome burned in 64AD, and he blamed the conflagration on Jews and Christians.  The entire empire, in all the provinces, was at unrest because of him, and he committed suicide in June of 68AD, just before the final siege of Jerusalem began. 

Just by way of interest, the construction of the Coliseum in Rome was begun by Nero during the time the siege of Jerusalem was under way.  Before the Coliseum was built, it was the forum that soaked up all the blood of Christians and Jews and anybody else by whom Nero felt threatened.

Because Revelation of Jesus Christ was written and sent to the Churches during Nero’s treacherous reign as emperor, we are going to have to focus a lot of attention on him as we proceed through the text.

Next, in 69AD came four different  emperors of Rome, all within a year: emperor Galba, emperor Otho, emperor Vitellius, and emperor Vespasian.  The first three were assassinated during the year after Nero, one right after the other, as the empire was roiled in merciless intrigue.   This, too, is important to the text of Scripture!  

But it was Vespasian who survived for ten years as emperor, until 79AD.  He was the general who was secretly sent by Nero in about 66AD to lay siege to Jerusalem and annihilate the Jews.  When he assumed the throne in 69AD, Vespasian left Titus in Israel to complete the task that had been ordered by Nero.

Titus finished the job in Jerusalem, leaving no stone on another, and slaughtering every Jew there and elsewhere in Israel; and that slaughter continued everywhere in all the provinces in order to make an example to the world that rebellion against Rome would not be tolerated. 

Having fallen in love with Herod Agrippa’s daughter Bernice while in Israel, he returned to Rome with her and married her just before he was named emperor Titus in 78AD.  He lasted 26 months.

Titus’ brother was named emperor Domitian in 80AD and ruled until September 8th AD96, at which time he was assassinated and his name and memory erased from the record.

It is during the reign of Domitian that many commentators place the writing of Revelation of Jesus Christ.  All of those commentators that posit a late date for this letter are those who also place the events of the Revelation as yet to come.  They are all futurists.

Well, these are the points of context that we have to take into account as we visit the text from week to week.  And we trust God the Spirit to teach us, to enlighten us, and to embolden us as we learn more about our Lord Jesus Christ and His parousia.  There’s a lot to hold onto and remember as we move through the letter.  There’s a lot here that we need to know here for our faith, for our endurance, for our perseverance.  And I pray that the Spirit of Christ might give us great insight, from God’s perspective, into the mighty things being done here.  May the Word of God dwell richly in our hearts – to the end that our Lord be glorified.