IS THE EPHESIAN CHURCH OF THE REVELATION THE SAME GROUP AS THOSE IN THE BOOK OF EPHESIANS?
by Shawn Brasseaux
“When John wrote to the 7 churches, was the church at Ephesus the same one that Paul founded? Is not the church at Ephesus in Revelation 2:1-11 the same church that Paul dealt with in the Book of Ephesians?”
Good questions, my friend! Many people have asked this over the years; it puzzled me too some years ago. Then, I engaged in a very rewarding Bible study whose profit I will share with you shortly. While it is commonly assumed that the Apostle Paul’s church at Ephesus was the same as the Apostle John’s church at Ephesus, we know this is not the case for at least seven reasons.
The first part of this study will be a cursory or simplistic examination of major differences between the church at Ephesus according to John’s ministry, and the church at Ephesus according to Paul’s ministry. The second part of this study, a compilation of related notes that I wrote some years ago, will provide more details for those wanting to “dig deeper.”
PART I. EPHESUS – HOW THE APOSTLES JOHN AND PAUL DIFFERED, IN BRIEF
1.JOHN AND PAUL HAD SEPARATE MINISTRIES TO DIFFERENT PEOPLES
Galatians 2:9 says Paul and John ministered to two different groups of people: “And when James, Cephas [Peter], and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me [Paul], they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision.” This agreement was the Acts chapter 15 meeting of the Apostles.
James, Peter, and John said they would stay with the Jewish believers from Christ’s earthly ministry and early Acts (collectively called “the little flock” in Luke 12:32). Paul, however, in Acts 9:15-16 (cf. Acts 22:21; Acts 26:16-18), was sent by Jesus Christ to minister to everyone else (all Gentiles, whether Jews or non-Jews)—national Israel had fallen in Acts chapter 7. According to Galatians 1:16, Paul’s ministry to “heathen” (lost Jews and lost Gentiles) started at his conversion in Acts chapter 9. The 12 Apostles did not realize Paul’s special apostleship/ministry and message until Acts chapter 15 years later (also recorded in Galatians chapter 2). Paul is called “the apostle of the Gentiles” in Romans 11:13. The Apostle John never claimed such a title in any of his writings.
2. REVELATION IS PROPHECY; EPHESIANS IS MYSTERY
Notice how the Book of the Revelation begins: “ The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John:  Who bare record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw.  Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand.” This is clearly part of the prophetic program, God’s plans for Israel and the Earth. John’s Ephesian believers are part of that prophetic program. Acts 3:20-21 tells us: “ And he shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you:  Whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began.”
However, the Ephesians of Paul’s ministry are part of the “mystery” program. Ephesians 3:1-6 affirms: “ For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles,  If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward:  How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words,  Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ)  Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit;  That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel:….” In contrast to Acts 3:20-21, Romans 16:25-26 says: “ Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began,  But now is made manifest, and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith:….”
3. JOHN MAKES NO REFERENCE TO PAUL, AND VICE VERSA
The Book of Ephesians makes no reference to the Apostle John, and the Book of the Revelation makes no reference to the Apostle Paul. John does not refer his group to Paul—as in, “Remember what Paul wrote to you…” or “Recall when Paul first visited you and preached Christ to you.” Neither does Paul pen in Ephesians—“John will write to you…” or “John has written to you….” This means the Ephesians in John’s audience were totally distinct from the Ephesians of Paul’s audience. We know this because, as we saw in Point #1 and Galatians 2:9, John and Paul had separate ministries. As we saw in Point #2, John and Paul were involved with separate divine programs (prophecy and mystery, respectively). Of course, it is only fitting that they would have separate converts (or audiences).
In addition, the Book of Acts, (chapter 19) says Paul, not John, founded the church at Ephesus. Had John been writing to the same group, why did he ignore Paul when writing to Ephesus in Revelation chapter 2? Would not John have exhorted the Ephesians to remember what Paul delivered to them years earlier? Yes, and yet, he did not. That means John was addressing a different group in Ephesus than the group to whom Paul ministered in Ephesus.
4. THE ANGEL AT EPHESUS IN JOHN’S WRITINGS
“Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write;….” (Revelation 2:1). This is Jesus Christ telling John to write to “the angel of the church of Ephesus.” The Bible is clear that an “angel” leads the church at Ephesus in Revelation. No angel is mentioned in the Book of Ephesians; Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians is directed to no such “angel.” More will be said about this in Part II. Suffice it to say that these are undoubtedly two groups of believers in Ephesus. John’s group is members of the “little flock” (Luke 12:32)—Galatians 2:9, and Point #1, remember. Paul’s group, as we will see in our next Point, is members of “the Church the Body of Christ.”
5. THE BODY OF CHRIST IS ABSENT FROM THE BOOK OF THE REVELATION
There is a reference to the “Body of Christ” in Ephesians 4:4 with respect to Paul’s believers at Ephesus: “There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling;….” Verse 12 qualifies that “body” in verse 4 as, “… the body of Christ.” In stark contrast, there is no reference to the “Body of Christ” in Revelation chapter 2. There is only one possibility. The Ephesian believers of John’s ministry are not members of the Body of Christ as commonly taught.
6. REVELATION’S AUDIENCE IS CALLED “KINGS AND PRIESTS”
Revelation 1:6 says, “And [Jesus Christ, verse 5] hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.” The audience of the Revelation is made of “kings and priests.” Surely, “kings and priests” points to 1 Peter 2:9: “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light….” This goes back to Exodus 19:5-6, God’s promise to make Israel His “kingdom of priests:” “ Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine:  And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel.”
The Ephesian believers of Paul’s ministry are never called by any of these titles—”kings, priests, chosen generation, royal priesthood, holy nation.” No members of the Body of Christ (including those in the Book of Ephesians) are ever identified as “kings” or “priests” in Paul’s epistles. This terminology is exclusive to Israel—Israel is a “nation.” The Church the Body of Christ is no “nation!” Notice how this is accentuated in Point #7.
7. PAUL’S CONVERTS IN EPHESUS ARE “GENTILES”
Ephesians 2:11-12 says to the Ephesians in Paul’s ministry: “ Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands;  That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world:…” And, Ephesians 3:1: “For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles,….” Finally, Ephesians 4:17: “This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind,….”
John, in the Revelation, never addresses Gentiles; in fact, as we saw in Point #6 earlier, John wrote to Jews, the nation Israel.
PART II. EPHESUS – HOW THE APOSTLES JOHN AND PAUL DIFFERED, IN DETAIL
1. HOW THE CONFUSION BEGAN
There is much confusion in Christendom today regarding the seven churches of the Book of the Revelation. Undoubtedly, the most prevalent view is that each of these seven churches represents the Church the Body of Christ at a different age. Stated another way, all seven churches are cumulatively viewed as the same Body of Christ throughout church history (the last 2,000 years, from the first century A.D. to the present-day). There are numerous flaws in this reasoning, but addressing them is beyond the scope of this study.
Suffice it to say that the above common idea often forces people to conflate (combine) the church at Ephesus that Paul founded, with the church at Ephesus to which John wrote. They want to say it is all one Body of Christ from Matthew through Revelation. People are ignoring the dispensational principle necessary for proper, profitable Bible study: “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). We must keep Peter separate from Paul, prophecy separate from mystery, the nation Israel separate from the Body of Christ, and so on. Failure to do so will result in confusion—think of the issue we are currently discussing and untangling!
Moreover, there is much misunderstanding concerning the word “church” in the “New Testament” Scriptures. It is always important to remember that the term “church” is not always a reference to the Church the Body of Christ. When people see the word “church” in Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, and Hebrews through Revelation, they usually take it to mean a reference to the Church the Body of Christ. Why? It is because they do not understand, or refuse to understand, that the Body of Christ is strictly a Pauline revelation (refer back to Romans 16:25-26, Ephesians 3:1-11, et cetera).
Jesus Christ could not reveal the Church the Body of Christ in His earthly ministry because it was not time to reveal it. It was not revealed in early Acts either. Almighty God designated Paul to be the man to and through whom He would disclose the secret of His will (Ephesians 1:9-10). That secret of God’s will was that He would glorify His Son Jesus Christ in the heavenly places. He would accomplish this by creating a body of believers who were neither Jew nor Gentile—what the Bible calls the Church the Body of Christ. Until we come to Paul’s ministry, all that God had revealed to man was that He was interested in forming a nation of people (Israel) through whom He would (and still will) reclaim Earth. The hope of believers prior to Paul was not to die and go to heaven, but rather to be resurrected to enter Jesus Christ’s earthly kingdom. (For more information about all of these differences, you can see our related studies linked at the end of this article.)
For now, we will look at what the Apostle John wrote to and about the Ephesians, and compare that to what the Apostle Paul wrote to and about the Ephesians.
2. THE CHURCH AT EPHESUS AND JOHN’S MINISTRY (BOOK OF REVELATION)
The Apostle John wrote in Revelation chapter 2: “ Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write; These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks;….” Notice how the Lord Jesus told John to write to the “angel” of the church of Ephesus. While many translators and commentators render this Greek word aggelos as “pastor” (as they do throughout Revelation chapters 2 and 3), our King James translators knew more about the original Bible languages than people often give them credit for. Only an unbeliever rejects the Bible as it reads; we are believers, so we will not adopt unbelieving positions when approaching the Bible. We will simply take the word “angel” at face value. It means an angelic being and not a human pastor. A literal angel is leading this group of believers in Ephesus.
In verses 2-3, the Lord Jesus Christ commends the believers at Ephesus for their faithful service to Him and for their stand on sound Bible doctrine. They do not tolerate false teachers and false apostles, as He notes: “ I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars:  And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name’s sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted.”
Verses 4-5 are a stark change in content. Now, the Lord Jesus Christ rebukes them. There is something amiss in Ephesus, and He has a controversy to settle. These believers have “left [their] first love.” Read it for yourself: “ Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.  Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.” These believers in Ephesus need to return to Jesus Christ. What they did exactly is unclear, but there is definitely the urge to “repent,” the Lord telling them to change their mind about what they are doing, to think differently. That renewed mind will bring about a change in conduct. Summarized, they need to “do the first works.”
In addition, there is a motivation for them to change their mind—Jesus Christ says that, if they will not repent, He will (verse 5), “come unto [them] quickly, and will remove [their] candlestick out of his place!” This is the Law system. Israel was not simply to have faith, but to have works that matched the faith they claimed to have (see James 2:14-26). Their motivation to forgive was so God would forgive them (see Matthew 6:14-15). Their motivation to be water baptized was so that Almighty God would not baptize them with fire/wrath (see Matthew 3:1-12; 1 Peter 3:21).
In verse 6 of Revelation chapter 2, Jesus Christ again commends the believers in Ephesus for their discernment of truth from error (cf. verses 2-3): “ But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitanes, which I also hate.” While the “Nicolaitanes” were a mysterious group about whom little is known, the very meaning of their name—“to conquer the laity”—shows us that they were church leaders who bullied commoners. (Are oppressive, dictatorial preachers anything new?) Peter’s first epistle speaks of those who “lord over [bully] God’s heritage” (1 Peter 5:3). Paul confessed that he refused to be of this sort of spiritual leader, bossing Christians, treating them like slaves or subjects (2 Corinthians 1:24).
The last verse the Lord Jesus through John wrote to the Ephesians is the promise of reward for those who “overcome”: “ He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.” There is no such promise to the Ephesians in Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians. However, in John’s ministry, this verse fits perfectly with how the conclusion of the Book of the Revelation. God’s earthly kingdom is established in Revelation chapters 21 and 22—Israel’s kingdom is brought to fruition, with her becoming a kingdom of priests enjoying God’s goodness throughout eternity future. “Overcoming,” as it relates to John’s ministry and the prophetic program, is surviving the end-times events (particularly the reign of the Antichrist—the majority of the Book of Revelation—and entering that earthly kingdom of God). While much more could be said here, we must stop for sake of brevity.
3. THE CHURCH AT EPHESUS AND PAUL’S MINISTRY (BOOK OF EPHESIANS)
As mentioned earlier, it was not until Jesus Christ revealed the mystery to the Apostle Paul, that the Church the Body of Christ became the agency through whom God would work in the Dispensation of Grace. If you read the entire Book of Ephesians, friend, you will notice that this Epistle is starkly different from what John wrote to Ephesus in the Book of the Revelation. For example, Paul wrote about “mystery” doctrine in Ephesians chapters 1-3. None of John’s epistle to Ephesus talks about the aspects of the mystery program—namely, the Church the Body of Christ (believing Jews and Gentiles being fellowheirs with each other) and the Dispensation of the Grace of God.
John talked about the Ephesians as “leaving their first love” (verse 4). Paul makes no reference to this in his Book of Ephesians. Paul never used the term “first love.” He never urged them to stay true to their “first love,” or to return to their “first love.” If you remember our earlier comments about Revelation 2:4-5, how Jesus Christ rebuked the Jewish saints at Ephesus: “Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.” This was a warning of punishment. When Paul mentioned how the unruly members of the Body of Christ in Ephesus needed to “Awake,” or straighten up spiritually, there was no threat involved. Paul simply urged them to be renewed in the spirit of their mind and let the Holy Spirit use the principles of grace to reform their lives (see Ephesians 5:7–6:9). In fact, Paul talked about how his audience was “sealed [or preserved] with that holy Spirit of promise” (Ephesians 1:13) and “sealed unto the day of redemption” (Ephesians 4:30). There was no “do-this-or-else” commandment in Paul’s writing to Ephesus. Legalism was not welcome in Paul’s ministry (Romans 6:14-15); contrariwise, legalism was part of John’s ministry (1 John 2:3; et cetera).
We could go on and on, my friend, but this should be enough material to demonstrate that John’s audience in Ephesus and Paul’s audience in Ephesus were two separate crowds.