Why the Lord Removed the Candlestick
Today there is no church in Ephesus. Yet in John's and Paul's day, it stood as a fortress of Christianity in the chiefest stronghold of pagan idolatry. The city of Ephesus has, itself, suffered a similar fate, having long since been reduced to ruins. Once a garden of culture and refinement, it has become a desolation.
This latter fact is not, in itself, surprising. Human accomplishments are wonderfully perishable. Nothing is more certain than their eventual destruction.
The extinction of the church in Ephesus is another matter. Its demise is not so easily explained. It had neither human origin nor a human destiny. It was self edifying, self supporting, and self perpetuating (Eph. 4:12). Its existence was the direct result of the eternal purpose of God (Eph. 3:11 ). Yet, the Lord, as he threatened in Rev. 2:5, removed this candlestick ("church," Rev. 1: 20) from its place. Our purpose is to inquire WHY?
If it were our purpose to inquire When the Lord removed the candlestick, we probably could not successfully do so. We could not set a date and say--"at this exact date"-- or-- "at this precise point of apostasy"-- the Lord removed the candlestick. For our part, when a church reaches that condition in which we can no longer endorse its preaching or conscientiously support it in its work or engage with it in its worship, we must regard it as apostate. But, for God's part, who can say precisely when the period of grace in which to "repent and do the first works" will expire? This is not to say, in many cases, that there is doubt as to whether the candlestick is removed, but only doubt as to the exact moment or condition reached when the Lord removed it.
Even the question Why the candlestick was removed is somewhat hard to discover. Much about the Ephesian church was highly commendable. The Ephesians truly worked at being Christians, toiling patiently (verse 2). They could "not bear evil men" and rejected false apostles, having tried them and proved them false. They patiently bore persecution for the sake of Christ's name and did not grow weary of it (verse 3). They hated the evil works of the Nicolaitans, as Christ did. So far as we can discover, their worship was according to truth, and their organization and work were scriptural. Yet the seed that finally would bring about apostasy had been sown among them, and threatened to destroy them.
History has demonstrated that apostasy is not a sudden development. Usually it begins with attitudes that only gradually make their presence felt in outward signs. This appears to be the case here. The Ephesians had left their "first love." To the human observer who can only see what is outward and obvious that yet appear to constitute a faithful church, which would put many modern churches to shame, but Christ is not such an observer. He knew their hearts. Their love for him was gradually growing old.
How many churches have experienced a similar declension! Established by the most ardent advocates of truth, nurtured by the selfless sacrifice and toil of martyrs, defended by men of great faith and courage, yet these have in time been replaced by lesser men of little conviction, lacking in personal dedication with only light, flimsy attachment to Christ. Such maintain only the appearance of soundness. It is a pattern oft repeated through the ages.
The last century saw a graphic example of it in the gradual lessening of respect for the scriptures, which culminated in the formation of the Christian Church apostasy. A few short years saw the results wrought by the lives of many faithful pioneers washed away in a flood of digression. Under the guise of broadmindedness, tolerance, and even love, men with little true love for Christ, persuaded their followers to abandon the plea for Bible authority in all things, respect for the silence of the scriptures, calling Bible things by Bible names, and doing Bible things in Bible ways. In time their precious human arrangements, their missionary societies, their colleges, their camps, their hospitals, their historical societies, etc., claimed the affection they once showered upon Christ and his church. Apostasy was complete. The candlestick was removed.
Let us therefore look diligently, lest we confuse apparent soundness with that which truly pleases Christ. As the Ephesians were, let us be sound in all outward appearances; but as they were not, let us also be motivated by the "first love" which burned in our hearts when we were born into God's family. Christ commanded the Ephesians, "Remember therefore whence thou art fallen, and repent and do the first works; or else I come to thee, and will move thy candlestick out of its place, except thou repent" (verse 5). The elder brother in Christ's parable, like the Ephesians, fancied himself a faithful son, but his brother's return revealed his lack of love. The years he had spent in diligent service suddenly appeared for what it actually was all along; empty, loveless, slavish hypocrisy (Lk. 15: 2 5 -3 2 ) . How much of our service is of this sort? The elder brother needed to Remember Whence He was Fallen, the Ephesians needed it, and it may well be that we need it. Have we left our first love?
No other thing is so calculated to stir the fires of love as remembering. The prodigal son remembered, and "came to himself." Peter remembered when the Lord turned and looked at him (Lk. 22:61,62) and repented in bitter tears. Remembering Christ from week to week keeps Christians strong (1 Cor. 11:24). Therefore remember the joy of your first love, the good that you once did, the honor you gave to God, and the peace of mind you knew. And consider the joy you might have known, had you continued; the good you might have done; the honor you might have been to Christ; and the peace of mind you might now have.
If enough Christians remember, their love will remain strong, and they will abound unto greater faithfulness and the candlestick will remain in its place.
Truth Magazine VII: 3, pp. 10, 24