For most of us, martyrdom is an unfamiliar word, but for those who have been raised in a non-Christian culture, it is even more foreign. Certainly the word “martyrdom” is not a word that we often encounter in our everyday life; we feel detached and aloof from the word, for it is quite surreal for us to imagine our actual martyrdom. Nevertheless, chapters 2 and 3 of the Book of Revelation discuss this martyrdom, and from its Word we must establish the faith of martyrdom in our hearts—that is, the faith with which we can be martyred.
Roman emperors were the Empire’s absolute rulers of their people. Wielding absolute power over their domain, they could do anything that their hearts desired after. Having waged and won many wars, the Roman Empire subdued countless nations under its rule, enriching itself with the tributes paid by the conquered nations. Not having lost a single war, the small nation grew to become one of the greatest empires of the world. Only sky was the limit to the power that its emperors came to wield. So great was this power that they eventually came to be worshipped as living gods by the people.
It was not uncommon, for instance, for the emperors to build statues in their image and have the people bow before them. For the emperors who had proclaimed themselves to be gods, the spread of the believers in Jesus could not be anything but a serious threat to their absolute power. Outlawing the gathering of the Christians, they resorted to oppressive policies to persecute the believers, arresting, jailing, and eventually even executing them for their faith. It is against this historical background that the Early Christians went underground to such places as the Catacombs to escape persecution, and it is this persecution that laid the groundwork for them to embrace martyrdom to defend their righteous faith.
This is how martyrs arose in the Early Church period. The saints of that time, of course, were not martyred for simply refusing to recognize the authority of the emperors. They did recognize their worldly authority, but they no longer accepted that authority when it forced them to worship man as god and to abandon Jesus from their hearts, even at the price of their own lives. The Roman emperors commanded the Christians to deny Jesus and to worship them as not only emperors but also as gods. Unable and unwilling to capitulate before such demands, the Early Christians continued to face persecution and to be martyred to defend their faith, until the Edict of Milan in 313 AD finally brought them religious freedom. Like these forefathers of faith before us, we, too, would rather face righteous death than to abandon our faith.
The passage about the seven churches in Asia Minor is not only the description of the circumstances and situations of that time, but also the revelation about the world to come. In it is found the revelation that the servants of God and His saints will be martyred to defend their faith. Just as in the time of the Roman Empire, there will come a time when an absolute ruler will emerge as the modern-day version of the Roman emperor subjecting everyone under his tyrannical reign, making statues after his image, requiring all to bow before them, and demanding that he be worshipped as a god. This is not too far away from our own time, and when this age comes, many saints will follow in the footsteps of the Early Church believers to their martyrdom.
We must therefore keep in our hearts the Word of admonition that our Lord gave to the seven churches in Asia. In greeting, encouraging, and admonishing the seven churches in Asia, God promised them that “he who overcomes” will “eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God,” and receive the “crown of life,” “the hidden manna to eat,” “the morning star,” and more! It is the faithful promise of God that to those who overcome through their martyrdom, He will give all the eternal blessings of Heaven.
How, then, could the saints of the Early Church face their martyrdom? The first thing that we must remember is that those who could be martyred were the servants of God and His saints. Not everyone can be martyred. Only those who believe in Jesus as their Savior, do not capitulate under persecution, and hold onto their faith and trust in the Lord can face martyrdom.
The Apostle John, whom we see here rebuking the Church of Ephesus in his exile in the Island of Patmos, was the last one alive among the twelve Apostles of Jesus. All the other apostles had already been martyred, as well as other saints. Historically speaking, the saints of the seven churches in Asia were only a few among the countless Christians who were martyred until 313 AD. Fleeing the persecution of the Roman authorities, they literally went underground, digging caves to escape from their reach and gathering in underground cemeteries known as the Catacombs for worship—through all this and beyond, they never betrayed their faith and willingly embraced their martyrdom.
The servants and saints of the seven churches in Asia, including the Church of Ephesus, despite being rebuked by God here, were also all martyred. What enabled them to be martyred was their faith in the Lord. They all believed that the Lord was God, that He took away all their sins, and that He was the Sheppard who would lead them all to the Millennial Kingdom and the New Heaven and Earth. It is this faith and the conviction of hope that enabled them to overcome all their fear and pain of death entailed by their martyrdom.
We are now living in the end times. It is not too distant that the world will be united under one authority and that a ruler wielding absolute power will emerge. This absolute ruler, as recorded in Revelation 13, will threaten the lives of the saints and demand that they renounce their faith. But we, the saints of the end times, will be able to overcome his threats and coercion and defend our faith through our martyrdom, because we have the same faith that the saints of the Early Church had.
In verses 4-5, God rebuked the Church of Ephesus, saying, “Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. 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—unless you repent.” What does this mean? It means that the Church of Ephesus had left the gospel of the water and the Spirit. All the saints of the Early Church, including those of the Ephesian Church, had believed in the gospel of the water and the Spirit. This was because the disciples of Jesus had all spread and preached the gospel of the water and the Spirit. Thus the gospel that the saints of that time received from the Apostles was the whole gospel, not the false, man-made gospel that believes only in the blood on the Cross.
But it is said here that the servant of the Church of Ephesus had left his first love. This means that the servant of the Ephesian Church had abandoned the gospel of the water and the Spirit in his ministering of the church. This is why the Lord said that He would remove the lampstand from its place unless he repents. Removing the lampstand from him meant to remove the church, which, in turn, meant that the Holy Spirit could no longer work in the Church of Ephesus.
For the servant of the Church of Ephesus, returning to the gospel of the water and the Spirit was actually not such a difficult thing to do. But this was the least of his problems. What landed him in trouble was that he, while believing in the gospel of the water and the Spirit in his heart, failed to preach explicitly what he believed. He accepted into his church all those who merely confessed Jesus as their Savior, even if they did not believe in the gospel of the water and the Spirit, when in fact to confess their faith in the gospel of the water and the Spirit meant for the believers to be prepared for martyrdom.
Hence, he welcomed, in other words, all those who came to his church regardless of whether or not they had the same faith in God and His gospel of the water and the Spirit. Because entering the church of God required so much sacrifice, and because the servant of the Church of Ephesus was afraid that these sacrifices would prevent many from joining the church, he had failed to preach the absolute truth in precise terms.
But since the Holy Spirit cannot dwell where there is no truth, God said that He would remove the lampstand. It is not because of the lack of the works of the servant and saints of the Church of Ephesus that God said He would remove the church; rather, He meant that He could no longer dwell in the church because the truth could no longer be found in it.
It is an absolute requirement that a church of God follows the gospel of the water and the Spirit. The servants and saints of God must not only believe in this gospel but also preach and teach it in precise and absolute terms, for only in this gospel can we find the love of God, His grace, and all His blessings for us.
Instead of preaching this gospel, the servant of the Church of Ephesus accepted into his congregation those who only believed in the blood on the Cross. But even for a born-again servant, saint, or church, believing and yet not preaching the gospel of the water and the Spirit that has taken away all our sins with the baptism of Jesus and His blood on the Cross would render all the works of our Lord useless.
Even though we may fall short before the Lord’s eyes, if we believe in this gospel and preach it, the Lord can dwell and work in us as the Holy Spirit. Even if the servants of God or the saints are full of shortcomings, the Lord can teach and lead them through His Word. In the church of the gospel of the water and the Spirit is found the Holy Spirit, and the presence of the Holy Spirit in it means that the church is holy.
There can be no holiness for the servants of God or the saints if they do not preach the gospel of the water and the Spirit anymore. They may be able to say that they no longer have sin, but holiness cannot be found where the gospel of the water and the Spirit is not preached.
This gospel of the water and the Spirit is the gospel that the saints of the Early Church believed in, the gospel that proclaims that the Lord came to this earth to save mankind by taking upon all the sins of the world with His baptism and by taking them all away with His death on the Cross. He took away all our weaknesses and shortcomings with His baptism. God took away all our sins from our weakness and shortcomings, and He has become our eternal Sheppard.
Having been so richly blessed, how can anyone exchange the Lord for a Roman emperor and worship a mere mortal as his or her god? Because the grace of God was so great and so abundant, neither enticements nor threats of a Roman emperor could make the saints to deny His love, and they willingly and gladly embraced martyrdom to defend their faith. They defied both the threats that sought to coerce them to renounce their faith and the attempts to appoint them to public officials in order to entice them to abandon their faith for material benefits. Nothing could make them renounce their faith and abandon their God, and this undying faithfulness is what enabled them to be martyred.
The martyrs’ hearts were filled by thankfulness for the grace and love of God that had delivered them from their sins through the gospel of the water and the Spirit. Those whose faith could not betray the love of God that had eternally freed them from their sins embraced martyrdom over apostasy. The time will come when, just as the Roman emperors demanded the saints of the Early Church to recognize their divinity and worship them as gods, we, too, will be coerced to renounce our faith. When this happens, we must follow in the footsteps of the forefathers of faith and defend our faith with martyrdom.
Though we are full of shortcomings, God has loved us so much that He has taken upon all our shortcomings and sins upon Himself. Regardless of how short we have come before His glory, He has accepted us into His arms. Not only has He embraced us, but also He has solved all the problems of sin and destruction and has made us His children and His brides forever. This is why we can never betray our faith in Him and why we would willingly and gladly embrace martyrdom for His name. Martyrdom is to defend the first love that God gave to us. It is not a product of our human emotions, but rather of the faith in the fact that God has given us all His blessings despite our weaknesses and shortcomings. It is not by the strength of our will that we can be martyred, but by our faith in the greatness of our God.
There are, of course, people who die martyrs to their country or ideology. These people have unbending conviction in what they believe to be right and are even willing to give up their lives for its sake. But what about us? How can the children of God who have been born again by the water and the Spirit through their faith in Jesus Christ be martyred? We can be martyred because we are so grateful for the gospel with which our Lord has loved and saved us. Because God has accepted us despite our innumerable shortcomings, because He has given us the Holy Spirit, and because He has made us His people and blessed us to live eternally in His presence, we can never abandon Him.
God has also promised us the New Heaven and Earth, and for this hope alone we cannot abandon our faith. No matter what happens—even if the Antichrist threatens and persecutes us to death in the end times—we can never deny our Lord and His gospel of the water and the Spirit. Even if we are dragged to the feet of the Antichrist and put to death, we can never betray the grace and love of God that have saved us. As the saying goes, not even “over our dead bodies” will we betray the Lord. We may be coerced to do other things, but there is one thing that we will never succumb to: we will neither leave nor betray the love of Christ that has saved us.
Do you think the Antichrist would have mercy on us because we have shortcomings? Of course not! He couldn’t care less! But our Lord has made us whole and complete by taking upon all our problems and being judged in our place, regardless of how utterly weak and deficient we are. This is why we cannot leave the Lord’s love of salvation that has delivered us through the gospel of the water and the Spirit, and why we cannot abandon our faith in this first love. Nothing can be abandoned unless we abandon it in our hearts first.
Likewise, if we keep our faith deep in our hearts, we can defend our faith to the very end no matter how much threat, enticement, or coercion are put upon us. If we know in our hearts the precious love of God for us, and if we hold onto this love to the end, we can defend the gospel to the final days. For those who walk in faith, martyrdom is never difficult to embrace.
We must all give some serious thought to the prospect of our own martyrdom. Martyrdom is not just enduring pain and suffering. Our flesh is such that even the smallest poke of a needle can bring unbearable pains. Withstanding such pains of the flesh is not what martyrdom is about. Rather, martyrdom is about giving up your own life. Not merely suffering physical pains, but actually losing one’s life is what martyrdom is all about. When the Antichrist demands that we call him and worship him as god, we will resist to our own death. Because only the Lord is our God and He alone deserves our worship, it is only fitting that we would be martyred to defend His name. We cannot exchange this faith for anything.
Does the Antichrist, who denies God and demands to be worshipped as a god, really deserve to be worshipped so? Of course not! Only God has the power to create the world and the universe. He alone has the power over life and death, He alone is without blemish, sinless, and completely righteous before all creation, and He alone has the power to take away all the sins of the world. What about the Antichrist then? The only thing that the Antichrist has is the worldly power. This is why we cannot exchange our Lord for him, and this is why we can never betray our faith in the Almighty God.
God is the One who will surely make us eternally happy. He will resurrect those who have been made sinless by believing in Jesus Christ into glorified bodies and open the gates to the Millennial Kingdom and the New Heaven and Earth for them. But those who bow before the Antichrist will face eternal punishment and be thrown into hell along with Satan. It would be the most foolish thing to do if we were to throw away our eternal happiness by standing with the Antichrist for the fear of what would be only transient pain and suffering. Knowing this truth, those who believe in the gospel of the water and the Spirit in their hearts will bravely stand against the Antichrist, be martyred, and receive eternal happiness as the reward for their sacrifice.
You and I, we are all to be martyred. Make no mistake: when the era of the black horse ends, the era of the pale horse will arrive, and then, the Antichrist will emerge and the plagues of the seven trumpets will begin. The Antichrist will most assuredly arise, we the saints will most assuredly be martyred, and with our resurrection we will most assuredly be raptured. And we will most certainly enter the Kingdom of One-thousand Years. This is why we would all be martyred willingly when the Antichrist persecutes us and demands our death.
Quo Vadis, one of the classic movies, portrays many Christians who gave up their lives to defend their faith and sang praises even as they were put to death. The movie itself is a fiction, but the historical background to it is all true—that is, many Christians did give up their lives to defend their faith. Why did they do so? Because what the Roman authorities demanded from them—to deny God, to worship other gods instead, and to throw away their faith—was not something that they could accept.
If they had changed their God as demanded by the Roman emperors, they would have changed everything. The emperor would have become their god, subjugating them under his tyranny, and they would die in battle as his pawns. Neither would they be delivered from sin, nor would they be able to enter the New Heaven and Earth. This is why they could not betray their faith and instead chose to face their certain death in joy and praise. They could sing praises to the Lord even as they were dying because their hope was far greater than their dying pain.
It is absolutely critical for us to defend the gospel of the water and the Spirit. It is also imperative for us to live in hope, believing that beyond our death awaits eternal life in a new world filled by happiness and glory.
Have you ever suffered for the Lord? Have you ever really suffered, not because of your own shortcomings or mistakes, but for the sake of the Lord? If our suffering is for the Lord, all our pains will turn into even greater joy. As the Apostle Paul expressed this joy, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18). Because the joy of the glory that will be revealed in us is so much greater than the pain of our suffering for the Lord, all our present sufferings will be buried beneath the great joy and happiness of our faith.
In other words, the saints and the martyrs of the Early Church could overcome their pain and give up their lives for the Lord because they knew that the joy that awaits them was far greater than their immediate suffering. Their martyrdom was not a product of their ability to bear with the pain and endure the suffering, but of their hope for the glory that awaited them.
In general, people endure their pain thinking that they just have to put up with it. This is a difficult and tiring battle. When their endurance brings disappointing outcomes, their frustration becomes even greater—all that suffering for nothing! But for us Christians, what becomes greater is the joy and happiness of our perseverance, for we are secure in the certainty of our hope and rewards. If we set our minds to serve the Lord with all our hearts as His faithful servants, we know that the joy and the comfort that await us are far greater than the pain of our present sacrifices. Because all the difficulties are buried in this joy, we can all live our lives for the Lord and even embrace our martyrdom for His sake.
People have souls, emotions, thoughts, and faith. For the born-again souls, because the Spirit of our Lord is dwelling in them, being persecuted for their righteousness can only bring them unspeakable joy and happiness for the glory that awaits them. But if they were to leave the first love, the Lord will not hesitate to remove the lampstand.
If those who had been joyfully serving the gospel of the water and the Spirit with all their hearts and lives cease to do so, it could only mean that they had gradually left the joy of serving the gospel, their first love, even if they did not entirely throw away this gospel. They may still hold onto their personal faith, but if they no longer take pride in preaching the gospel and no longer have a clear understanding of what it takes to be saved—that the blood on the Cross is not enough for salvation—then their faith would be diluted, and their martyrdom would become unreachable for them. God would then remove their lampstand from its place.
Those who serve the gospel with joy and in steadfastness will be able to embrace martyrdom willingly because they would have never left their first love. Because these people were blessed by God for believing and preaching the love of Christ, they can be martyred. It does not matter how able or gifted you are; if you do not spread the gospel of the water and the Spirit, the church will be removed from its place. This is an important message that God wants us to grasp. If we realize and believe in this truth, we can renew our hearts in the end times and be able to be martyred for the name of the Lord.
What is the fundamental essence that sustains our faith? It is the gospel of the water and the Spirit. Were it not for the gospel of the water and the Spirit, what would be the use of our works of faith? The reason why we can keep our faith is because God has loved us and embraced us in His arms with His gospel of the water and the Spirit. Because this love is an unchanging love that glorifies us, we are able to keep our faith and continue to preach and spread it.
Despite our weaknesses, we can run toward God until the very end, because the gospel of the water and the Spirit has saved us, and because in this gospel is found the love of Christ. We are full of shortcomings, but because we have been clothed in the gospel of the water and the Spirit that is filled by the love of our Lord, we can love our brothers and sisters, the servants of God, and all the souls of the world. Fundamentally, perfect love is beyond the reach of man. Because there is no love among us, we are incapable of loving anyone else but only ourselves in selfishness. Many people are deceived by what appears on the surface, drawn to the glittering façade that is only skin-deep. They judge people according to what material and outward possessions they have. But among the true believers is the love of God. This is what enables us to spread the gospel, the perfect love of our Lord.
Our Lord came to this earth, was baptized to accept all our shortcomings, and cleansed us from all our sins to save us. How, then, could we ever leave His first love that has made us the children of God? We may lack in many aspects, but we must never lack in our faith in this truth. We must preach this gospel with our absolute faith. What is most needed in times of tribulation is exactly this faith in the gospel of the water and the Spirit. When we face trials and tribulations, the strength to defend our faith and overcome the difficulties will come only from the faith in the gospel of the water and the Spirit. It is by the power of this gospel that our faces can light up in joy even as we get tired from the countless struggles that we face in our everyday lives. This is the love of our Lord.
Sometimes people are prone to fall into the legalist trap. They think that God blessed them for what they have done. I would not, of course, suggest that this is entirely false, for the Lord said that He would love those who love Him. But it is not because of what we have done that God has loved us so much as to make us sinless. Because God knows all the promises that He has made to us, and because He knows all our sins, He has, in His perfect will and love, embraced us and made us whole. It is only because of His blessings that we can live in joy. It is because God has made us His people and His servants that we can work for the Lord, be clothed in His glory, preach the gospel to others, and, when the time comes, be martyred for His name. He is the One who enables us to do all these things.
Where did the women martyrs in Quo Vadis find the strength to sing praises to the Lord even as they were being put to death? They found the strength in the love of our Lord. Because the love of Christ was so great, they could embrace martyrdom with praises.
The same principle applies to our own lives. We live our lives because the Lord has enabled us to do so; it is not because of our own works that we live as the children and servants of God. We have done nothing to deserve it. It is by God’s unchanging and perfect love for us and our faith in this love that we can follow Him to the end, even as we stumble at times. This strength is the strength of God, not ours. Martyrdom is possible only by the love of God that has made us whole—by the grace of God alone can we embrace martyrdom. Remember this truth, that it is God who enables you to be martyred, and do not waste your time trying to prepare yourself for martyrdom, as if there is anything that you can do about it. Only our faith in the gospel of the water and the Spirit will enable us to praise the Lord until our very last breath.
The Lord said to the seven churches in Asia: “To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.” The tree of life is found in the New Heaven and Earth. In there is the throne of God, houses built with precious stones, and the overflowing water of life. To those who overcome, God has promised this Paradise of His, where they will live eternally with Him in perfection.
Those who overcome do so with their faith in the gospel of the water and the Spirit. Anything other than this gospel would make it impossible to overcome, which can be achieved only by the strength of God, not by the strength of man. The strength that enables us to overcome comes only from God. We must realize and appreciate just how great the gospel of the water and the Spirit is and how great the love of God and His salvation are, because it is this gospel that will give us the faith to embrace martyrdom. We may all be weak, untalented, ungifted, incompetent, foolish and ignorant, but we still have the power, for we have the gospel of the water and the Spirit in our hearts.
The names of those who believe in the gospel of the water and the Spirit are written in the Book of Life. Everyone whose name is not recorded in the Book of Life, on the other hand, will fall and capitulate before Satan. Only those whose names have been written in the Book of Life by believing in the gospel of the water and the Spirit will not bow before the Devil. You must make sure that your name is clearly and surely written in this Book of Life.
When we are martyred, it will be by our faith, the first love of Christ that our Lord has given us. We can wait for our martyrdom without worry or fear because we believe that the Holy Spirit who dwells in us will give us the strength to face our martyrdom. Because the suffering of martyrdom cannot be compared to the glory of heaven that awaits us, we do not cower before our death and instead boldly embrace our martyrdom to defend the precious gospel. We must now leave behind any wonderings on how we can be martyred, for it is not by our effort but by God that we are martyred.
I am sure the following announcement will be made through loud speakers some day: “Dear citizens, this is the last day to receive the mark. Only a few citizens have to receive the mark today. We are very grateful for your cooperation until now. To receive the mark is very good and indispensable for you, because it is to establish order of our country. So, please come to the city hall and receive the mark as soon as possible. Again I say to you, this is the last day for you to receive the mark. Those who do not receive the mark until the due time today will be severely punished. Now, to make it clear, I will call the names of those who have not received the mark yet.” Of course, this is a fiction, but such things will surely happen in the near future.
Believers of the Early Church identified each other with the sign of fish. These were the password among them. We, too, would rather make a sign that enables us to recognize our brothers and sisters, so that we can encourage each other’s faith enough to embrace martyrdom.
Because martyrdom is not something that we can achieve by our effort, we can leave aside our worries and face it in boldness. There is nothing to be feared before our righteous death. All that we have to do is to live for the Lord while on this earth. We can give ourselves to the Lord because we know that we are destined to be martyred for the name of our God. You must realize that if you were to try to escape martyrdom for the fear of losing your possessions, you would face even greater sufferings and disasters. You must become the people of faith who, knowing that they would be martyred for Christ, live their lives for the Lord until their very end.
When we realize that we would be martyred, we would become wiser in our faith, minds, and in our actual lives. This knowledge is the cure for our foolishness, allowing us to leave behind all lingering worldly attachments. It does not mean that we have to give up our lives, but that we would live for the Lord. Until the power of God throws Satan into the bottomless pit, we live for the Lord who has saved us, fight against and overcome Satan and the Antichrist, and give all the glory of the victory to God and Him alone. God wants to be glorified by us. I thank the Lord for allowing us to give, with our faith, glory to Him who has given us so much.
We believe that the Lord will soon return to take us away. When many souls return to God in the end times, God will receive them all into His arms and carry them away. As God said to the Church of Philadelphia in Revelation 3:10, “Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth.” God will most surely fulfill His Word of promise.
By “you have kept My command to persevere,” God is referring to the saints’ faithful lives. It means that they held steadfast to their faith no matter what others were saying or doing to them. When God says that He “will keep you from the hour of trial,” He is saying that those who have kept His command to persevere will be exempted from the trials of faith.
When the time of tribulation and martyrdom comes, in other words, God will simply whisk us away as we faithfully go about in our everyday lives of service and prayer. When we set in our minds that we are to be martyred, our hearts will be cleaned of all the debris, and our faith will become even stronger as a result. We must live our present lives of faith before God by remembering God’s promise that, with our martyrdom, we will all be kept from the hour of trial. We must live, in short, by our faith.
Today’s era is the era of Revelation. There are many foolish Christians who, while ignoring the Word of God, obstinately cling onto their false belief in the doctrine of pre-tribulation rapture. When the last day comes, they will find out just how wrong they had been. Their days of influence and power are numbered; all that we have to do is just live in the certainty of our hope that God will fulfill His Word of promise.
When we reach the midpoint of the Great Tribulation, we will be martyred to defend our faith, and just before the plagues of the seven bowls begin, we will be raptured to the air by God and enter the Millennial Kingdom. When our hope to reign with Christ is realized, all our sufferings on this earth will be more than compensated by the rewards that await us, and our entrance to the eternal New Heaven and Earth will then overwhelm us with unspeakable joys. Today, we live by faith, for the Lord, in the hope for the fulfillment of this promise of God. Trusting in our Lord to fulfill all His promises, we live in eager anticipation of the day when we will be able to live with Him forever in our glorified bodies.
I thank the Lord for giving us the gospel of the perfect remission of sin, for enabling us to embrace martyrdom to defend our faith in Him, and for having us stand among His blessed.
Background to the Church of Ephesus
Ephesus, a large port city in the Asia Minor region of the Roman Empire, was a center of commerce and religious activities. At the time of the Early Church, it was a booming international city; to its north was Smyrna, and to its south Miletus. According to myths, Amazon, the brave goddess of war, first built the city in the 12th century BC when she gave it to Androclus, a crown prince of Athens.
Ephesus was, materially speaking, a prosperous city, which meant that it was also a very worldly city. This is why God told the Church of Ephesus to fight to the end and overcome Satan so that it would not lose His gospel of the water and the Spirit. We must realize how important God’s Word of truth is, and we must defend our faith by all means.
Through the Apostle John God wrote to the Church of Ephesus: “These things says He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands: ‘I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars; and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary.’” The Church of Ephesus was commended by God for its works, patience, for not tolerating evil, and for testing and uncovering false apostles, for tirelessly laboring for the sake of His name in perseverance and patience.
But the Church of Ephesus was also rebuked for its wrongdoings. As the passage continues: “Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. 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—unless you repent. But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. 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.”
It is said in the above passage that God hates the Nicolaitans. The Nicolaitans here refer to a certain group of believers who had stood against God, His church and His truth. Just exactly what the Nicolaitans did is elaborated in more detail in the subsequent passage directed toward the Church of Pergamos.
The Wrongdoings of the Nicolaitans
Revelation 2:14 says, “But I have a few things against you, because you have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality.” The cross-reference for this passage can be found in chapter 22 of the Book of Numbers, where the story of Balak, the king of the Moabites, is recorded.
By the time that the Israelites had reached the plains of Moab in Canaan after their exodus from Egypt, they had conquered the seven tribes of the land, “as an ox licks up the grass of the field.” Having heard of this conquest, Balak became terrified of their God, for he feared that the fate of the Moabites would also follow that of the already conquered tribes of Canaan. In trying to devise a way to prevent the Israelites from conquering them, Balak called upon Balaam, a false prophet, so that he would curse the Israelites at his bequest.
Balaam was a false prophet, but the Gentiles thought that he was a servant of God. He was neither an offspring of the High Priest Aaron, nor a Levite. But the Moabites’ king, Balak, believed that those whom Balaam blessed would be blessed, and those whom he cursed would be cursed. At that time, Balaam, though a false prophet, was famous throughout the land as a renowned sorcerer.
Yet Balaam could not oblige what King Balak had asked him to do. The reason was that because the Israelites were the people of God, not only would Balaam have no permission from God to curse the Israelites, but also trying to do so would only end up as a curse upon himself. Overwhelmed by the spiritual power of God, Balaam could do nothing but to actually bless the Israelites. Angered by this, Balak then asked Balaam to curse the Israelites from where he could not see them.
Balaam received a great amount of treasures from Balak and in return taught him a way to bring curse to the Israelites. The scheme was to tempt them to commit harlotry by inviting them to the Moabites’ feasts and providing them with their women, so that the Israelites would be punished by God for their sins. This is how the false prophet Balaam taught Balak to bring destruction to the Israelites.
God said that He hated Balaam because Balaam was a man who loved money. There are many people in today’s Christian community who are just like Balaam. They are in fact all false prophets, but many of them are still respected and revered. But what Balaam pursued was material possessions. When he was fed money, he blessed; when he was not, he cursed. In today’s Christian community, sadly, too many of those who are supposed to be the servants of God are just like Balaam. When those who believe in God end up pursuing only material gains, they end up as false prophets. This is why God hated the Nicolaitans.
Do you know what brings destruction to the church of God and His servants? It is the love of money. Those who pursue only material gains before their eyes will face their own destruction before God.
The Churches That Follow Balaam
Today, as in the time of the Apostles, there are many worldly churches and false servants following the way of Balaam. They exhaust every means to rake in the money from their followers. For example, there is this curious drive to have the congregation compete among themselves to testify their faith not by their spirituality but by their material offerings, as if the contribution of a believer is the barometer of his/her faith. Implying that the faith of those who contribute more to the church is greater than the faith of those who give less, the only purpose in fostering this corrupting drive is the enrichment of the church.
It is, of course, a wonderful thing if the believers decide to serve God and His gospel out of their sincere hearts. But the false prophets like Balaam prey on the believers to fill their own belly. They incite their followers to a competition of material testimonies such as, “I offered the tithes faithfully, and God has rewarded tenfold blessings through my business.” Deceived by Balaam, the unsuspecting believers think that this is the way to the true faith, when in fact it is the way to their impoverishment, both spiritual and material, false pride, and ultimately their own destruction.
“The deeds of the Nicolaitans” are none other than the deeds of Balaam. Just as Balaam, in his greed, taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the Israelites, many who claim to be the servants of God in today’s Christian community are interested only in the pockets of their congregations. Those who are led astray by these false prophets end up empty handed after giving up all their possessions to these false shepherds, and what is even worse is that sooner or later they will come to their senses and realize that what they had believed is totally false. In the end, they will blame the false church and end up renouncing their faith. Unfortunately, the sad reality is that this sorry state of affairs is not that uncommon, even in the so-called evangelical churches. Deceived by Balaam, many believers are led astray by this fraud and end up leaving the church.
The Scripture tells us that God hates the deeds of the Nicolaitans. If we follow the Nicolaitans, we will lose our faith in God. We have many testimonies that God gave us, and these are all spiritually enriching treasures. But pursuing material gains by using the testimonies is something that we must absolutely stay away from, for it is the way of the Nicolaitans hated by God Himself.
Faith with Character
God warned against the deeds of the Nicolaitans to all the seven churches in Asia. In addition, He also promised them that those who overcome would eat from the tree of life. When we serve the Lord, we do so by faith, because of our thankfulness for His redemption, and because of the knowledge that spreading the gospel of the water and the Spirit is just the right thing to do. We do not serve God to show off to others, or to make us look good in any way. Doing so is neither true service nor true faith. In the church of God, we must be most careful about these deeds of the Nicolaitans. This is why the Lord warned all the seven churches of Asia about the Nicolaitans.
Do you know why many of the churches, that are not born-again churches, have grown so big and so rapidly? They grew because what built these churches were false faith and false testimonies. The servants of God must never take advantage of their flocks to fill their own belly.
The true faith is believing in the salvation that God gave us with the baptism of Jesus, His blood on the Cross, and His judgment in our place. But many churches, born-again or not alike, uses testimonies to raid the pockets of their congregations. You must be careful and wise enough to recognize that while true testimonies are edifying for your faith and glorifying to God, false ones will be your own trap.
All the richest churches in today’s world are led by the ministers who are just like Balaam. The church leaders who pursue Balaam’s path use their churches to exploit their followers to further only their material interests. The Christian leaders like Balaam snatch money from their followers by inciting them to a competition of material testimonies. I detest their deeds to the extreme.
True life of faith begins with none other than faith. We must be wise enough to avoid the traps of the Nicolaitans that Satan has set up. Everyone must know what the deeds of the Nicolaitans are, and never be deceived by the servants of Satan whose greed knows no bound. The servants of God in particular must be extremely careful in this regard. This includes the ministers. When the ministers become overly concerned with their material possessions—what cars they drive, how big their houses are, how much real estate they own, how fat their bank accounts are—they will end up corrupting their churches, leading them down to the path of the Nicolaitans.
God told the seven churches in Asia to take particular heed to this issue. The man of Balaam’s faith only seeks material gains, self-glory and eventually intends to become a founder of a cult. The church of God must not seek after material possession itself. As God has promised us that He will bless those who pursue the gospel of the water and the Spirit, we must use our material possession to preach the gospel, not to store them on this earth.
Reject the False Shepherds
Even the born-again believers will be doomed if they are caught in the traps of the Nicolaitans. At the beginning they may think that such leaders’ faith is wonderful and strong, but the deception of the false shepherds will ultimately lead them to their destruction.
God said to the angel of the Church of Ephesus that He hated the deeds of the Nicolaitans. Everyone who is trapped by the Nicolaitans will face his/her certain doom. Whether he/she is a born-again believer, a servant of God, or anyone else, destruction is a certainty when trapped by the Nicolaitans. As a bad shepherd leads the flock to death, false prophets bring upon curses.
This is why God told His servants to “feed My lambs.” The servants of God must tend the believers as shepherds tend their lambs, protecting them from danger and taking care of their needs. As shepherds, they must make sure that their flocks do not go astray, find out what dangers might lurk before them, and prevent them from nearing such dangers.
I heard from the people who actually raise sheep that they are one of the most stubborn animals. Are we not just like these obstinate sheep before God? God had a good reason when He used the metaphor of lambs to describe us, for He knows very well just how stubborn we are in our basic essence.
Why did God repeatedly speak of the deeds of the Nicolaitans, Jezebel and Balaam to the seven churches in Asia? Why did He promise that to those who overcome, He would give the tree of life to eat from? He did so to teach us to be on guard against the deceptions of the false prophets. We must meditate on the Word of God and ask ourselves, “What is the true gospel of the water and the Spirit?” Mixing the Word of God with some human lessons and systemizing it plausibly does not mean that it is the gospel. There are plenty of beautifully crafted and delivered sermons in today’s Christianity that has nothing to do with the gospel of the water and the Spirit. Many famous preachers even have their own professional speechwriters who write sermons on their behalf, and all that they do is just read from these texts prepared by someone else.
We must never be trapped by the Nicolaitans. The born-again church must be most careful not to pursue material gains; ministers in particular must be on constant guard, but so does everyone else in the congregation. Trying to extract money out of the church members, adorning the church in material extravagance, and building church edifices that look more like palaces than a temple of worship—all the while preaching that the return of the Lord is imminent!—are all the deeds of false faith, precisely the deeds of the Nicolaitans.
We must particularly take heed to the false shepherds, and must make sure that we are never deceived to follow their faith. The saints simply must not love money. Rather, what we must love and keep is the gospel of the water and the blood, the first love of God. We must live our faithful lives holding onto the truth that He has saved us by Christ’s water and blood until the day we meet Him. We must believe in the Word of God that Jesus has taken away all our sins with His baptism and His death on the Cross.
Those who follow the Nicolaitans never preach the gospel of the water and the Spirit. They are not interested in the works of the gospel of the water and the Spirit, but only in making money. These are today’s Balaam, who put a stumbling block before the Israelites and led them to their destruction. You must remember this.
Balaam was eventually killed by Joshua. As the Book of Joshua records, this false prophet was killed under the sword of Joshua when the Israelites conquered Canaan. Balaam was killed because he was not a true servant of God. All those who use the name of Christ to exploit the innocent believers and feed their own belly are today’s Balaam. We must remember that Balaam used every disposable means to feed his greed.
God told the servants of the Church of Ephesus, “To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.” To put it differently, this passage also means that those who falter and lose will die. Following the way of Balaam is losing, the path to one’s own death. God gave us His Word of warning so that we would not fall into the trap of the Nicolaitans, and I thank Him for it. It is my sincere hope and prayer that you will not succumb to the material temptations and end up being abandoned by God for your greed.