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Revelation 2:2

I know
Perfect tense, οἶδα [oida] , “I have known.” His knowledge of their past works results in the commendations and exhortations which presently follow.1 Christ is omniscient. See commentary on Revelation 1:14.

labor and patience
The Ephesian church had worked hard and born a consistent load of service.

The Christian life, though full of joy, is also attended by much labor and hardship (2Cor. 2Cor. 11:27). Continual labor requires continual patience. Believers are to persevere and not grow weary (Isa. Isa. 40:31; Gal. Gal. 6:9; 2Th. 2Th. 3:13; Heb. Heb. 12:3). Those who die in the Tribulation are said to obtain rest from their labors and their works follow them (Rev. Rev. 14:13+).

cannot bear
The Ephesian church did not bear those who were evil. This must refer to the Scriptural application of church discipline to protect the gathering from those who were not truly of them (Mtt. Mat. 18:17; 1Cor. 1Cor. 5:5; 1Ti. 1Ti. 6:3-5):

The sphere in which the Angel of Ephesus had the chief opportunity of manifesting this holy intolerance of evil-doers was, no doubt, that of Church-discipline, separating off from fellowship with the faithful those who named the name of Christ, yet would not depart from iniquity (2Ti. 2Ti. 2:19).2

A letter written by Ignatius (A.D. 98-117) mentions this commendable characteristic of the Ephesian church:

But I have learned that certain people . . . have passed your way with evil doctrine, but you did not allow them to sow it among you. You covered up your ears in order to avoid receiving the things being sown by them—Ignatius, The Letter of Ignatius to the Ephesians3

tested those
The Ephesian church was diligent in evaluating those who ministered in their midst.

All things are to be tested by the measure of God’s Word (Isa. Isa. 8:20) and the fruit which is produced (Mtt. Mat. 7:16). This is especially true of those things which are claimed to be of the Spirit of God , but are not (1Th. 1Th. 5:2; 1Ti. 1Ti. 4:1; 1Jn. 1Jn. 4:1; Rev. Rev. 2:20+). The most serious threats to the Christian assembly come from within (Acts Acts 20:29-31; 1Ti. 1Ti. 1:3-4).

Peter warned of false teachers who would pattern themselves after the false prophets of the OT:

But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed. By covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive words; for a long time their judgment has not been idle, and their destruction does not slumber. (2Pe. 2Pe. 2:1)

When the church accepts these false teachers, and fails to confront their error, then “the way of truth will be blasphemed.” A key attribute of such teachers is their deception—appearing to be what they are not. They are all the more effective in their convincing zeal since they themselves are deceived (2Ti. 2Ti. 3:13).

It is a lamentable fact in our time that the Church seems unwilling to test its own. Application of the guidelines set forth by the NT writers is seen as judgmental or quenching the Spirit. Yet it was the Spirit Himself who inspired the writers who urge us through the pages of Scripture to proactively guard doctrine! The NT makes plain how essential this testing is to the health of the assemblies. Shouldn’t we expect that Satan will concentrate his greatest efforts at the very ‘ground zero’ of God’s work upon the earth—within the local Christian assembly? We cannot say that we have not been warned: “test the spirits, whether they are of God” (1Jn. 1Jn. 4:1)!

say they are apostles
These were not apostles in the sense of having seen the risen Christ (Acts Acts 1:21-22; 1Cor. 1Cor. 9:1) since John alone survived at the time of writing.4

Paul had previously warned the Ephesian church about the need to watch for false teachers:

For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears. (Acts Acts 20:29-31)

Paul mentioned such false apostles when writing to the church at Corinth and was not hesitant to cut off their “ministry”:

But what I do, I will also continue to do, that I may cut off the opportunity from those who desire an opportunity to be regarded just as we are in the things of which they boast. For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works. (2Cor. 2Cor. 11:12-15)

A key attribute of those who are not what they appear to be is their self proclamation. In the church of Thyatira, it was Jezebel who called herself a prophetess (Rev. Rev. 2:20+). Paul says that they transform themselves , patterning their deceit after Satan who transforms himself into an angel of light. This transformation would be entirely effective if the church did not have the Word of God and gifts of spiritual discernment to expose such imposters (1Cor. 1Cor. 12:10). Spiritual discernment is necessary because the natural mind is ineffective in the spiritual realm where the seduction takes place (Mtt. Mat. 24:24; Mark Mark 13:22; 2Th. 2Th. 2:9-11; 1Ti. 1Ti. 4:1). The power of seduction by demonic spirits may be assessed by noting how easily deceiving spirits convince the kings of the earth to participate in the height of folly: going to war against God (Rev. Rev. 16:13-14+)!

Notes

1 “[The perfect tense] describes an event that, completed in the past . . . has results existing in the present time (i.e., in relation to the time of the speaker). ... the perfect tense is used for ‘indicating not the past action as such but the present state of affairs resulting from the past action.’ ”—Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics - Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House and Galaxie Software, 1999, 2002), 572.

2 Richard Chenevix Trench, Commentary on the Epistles to the Seven Churches in Asia (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1861), 72.

3 J. B. Lightfoot and J. R. Harmer, The Apostolic Fathers, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1989), 89.

4 “A wider group of authoritative apostles existed [then those which had seen the Lord]. James the Just, Barnabas, Paul, Silas, Andronicus, and Junias were also apostles (Acts Acts 14:14; Rom. Rom. 16:7; 1Cor. 1Cor. 15:7; Gal. Gal. 1:18; 1Th. 1Th. 2:6).”—Robert L. Thomas, Revelation 1-7 (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1992), 137.

Read Revelation 2:2