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Revelation 2 – talks about false apostles who will preach to the Ephesians. However, they will be rejected by them.

Rev is a warning from Jesus – clearly to something relevant at the time as Rev 1:10-11 John is asked to write to the churches in Asia.

Rev 2:1-3

1 To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands. 2 I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. 3 You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.

What evidence / passages are available in the bible that could provide an 'indication' to the identities of the false apostles sent (to 'Ephesians' in particular) & how will they be ‘tested’?

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  • I hope this will be reopened. The fact that Revelation takes a strong stand against food offered to idols begs the question as to whether it is consciously criticizing the customs of the Pauline churches and perhaps Paul himself. Sep 7, 2022 at 0:24
  • This is no more opinion based them most Q. Sep 7, 2022 at 8:47
  • its not letting me delete the Q to post a new one, so edited significantly. This may cause a problem as 'Dottard' A will not correspond with the 'technically' new Q. Sep 7, 2022 at 9:30
  • I removed the downvote after the question was made more objective. Thank you. It's perfectly fine to ask who the false apostles are in Rev 2, although you will still get mostly opinion based answers.
    – Robert
    Sep 9, 2022 at 22:43
  • @Robert appreciated Sep 12, 2022 at 8:57

6 Answers 6

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First, the passage in Rev 2:2 does NOT speak of a "false apostle"; it speaks of "those who claim to be apostles but are not". That is, Rev 2:2 is speaking about multiple (plural) false apostles.

Second, if Paul was one of the false apostles, then any evidence for this is completely lacking in the rest of the NT, most of which was written by the apostle Paul. That is, if Paul was a false apostle, then most of the NT is a hoax.

Third, if the Ephesians rejected Paul, they had a strange way of showing it. Consider how the Ephesian Christians received Paul's ministry:

  • Paul founded a church there
  • Some of the jealous Jews rejected Paul's message, but the Gentile Christians appear to have received it warmly - Paul's lectures in the lecture hall of Tyrannus lasted two years!
  • Many miracles were performed by Paul (Acts 19:11) - many were eager to even touch one of his aprons or handkerchiefs to gain healing.

All this suggests that Paul was anything but rejected by the Ephesian Christians, even to the extent recorded in Acts 19:17-20 -

This became known to all the Jews and Greeks living in Ephesus, and fear came over all of them. So the name of the Lord Jesus was held in high honor. Many who had believed now came forward, confessing and disclosing their deeds. And a number of those who had practiced magic arts brought their books and burned them in front of everyone. When the value of the books was calculated, the total came to fifty thousand drachmas. So the word of the Lord powerfully continued to spread and prevail.

Such effects are NOT the result of a failed preacher of righteousness! Indeed, Paul's influence was so great, and his conversions so many, that it began to affect the sale of silver idols and caused a riot (V21-41).

The quotes in Acts 21:27-28 are not evidence of Paul's failure or of him being a false apostle - "Asia" includes MUCH more than Ephesus! The same is true of 2 Tim 1:15.

Who were the False Apostles in Rev 2:2?

If the first century (Paul's time) was like any other century, there would have been a never-ending parade of charlatans pretending to be somebody significant to gain either notoriety or financial gain or both. 1 John 4:1-3 contains a specific warning about such people.

Other than this we can say nothing further - we are not told who the false apostles in Rev 2:2 were so we cannot know specifically. At least one may have been the leader of the Nicolaitans (Rev 2:6) and their adherents, but we cannot be sure.

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  • @ Dottard - He was rejected in all of Asian not sure that's a success and Acts that you use to support - at best contradictory. very specific and no one else mentioned in the bible preaching in Eph as an Apostle. You seem to be making Paul a Prophet - maybe he was 'That Prophet' mentioned in John 1:21 Sep 6, 2022 at 12:30
  • Paul surely had the gift of prophecy as he spoke several times as having a teaching "from the Lord," as opposed to from those who were apostles before him. Sep 7, 2022 at 0:36
  • @DanFefferman - agreed.
    – Dottard
    Sep 7, 2022 at 8:37
  • About your statement: "if Paul was a false apostle, then most of the NT is a hoax." Yes, if he really WAS a false prophet. But I do not consider it out of the question that John, who condemned eating food sacrificed to idols, considered Paul's teaching [which did not exactly condemn it] to be false. After all, Paul condemned Peter as a hypocrite at Antioch so we know there were strong disagreements among the apostles themselves. However, I tend to think that what John has in mind here is something else ... some kind of antimonianism. I intend to attempt an answer to the OP shortly. Sep 13, 2022 at 18:27
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The New Testament Church, which began in the 30s, was beginning to fragment in the 90s, when John wrote his epistles and the book of Revelation. The Apostle Paul indicates that this diversity of opinion had been present for some time (1 Corinthians 1:10–13), and was causing people to fall away (2 Timothy 1:15). In just over 60 years, the Church founded by Jesus Christ was already rife with division and doctrinal strife. This should be a sobering lesson for us today!

Seven Lessons From Seven Churches | Tomorrow's World

What evidence / passages are available in the bible that could provide an 'indication' to their identities & how will they be ‘tested’?

One need look only 3 verses later:

“But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.

Revelation 2:6 (NKJV)

And a few verses later, John admonishes the Church in Pergamos for tolerating these same people:

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. Thus you also have those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate.

— Revelation 2:14,15

Nicolaitans were a sect within the early Christian Church that held Antinomian views, rejecting laws or legalism and arguing against moral, religious or social norms.

These people claimed to be Christian, but clearly they were not following God's commandments.

In particular, they were even rejecting the minimal requirement for Christian novices that was decided at the Jerusalem Conference.
(See my answer to: Were there implicit laws not referenced in the Acts 15 letter to gentile believers?.

The Nicolaitanes are the followers of that Nicolas who was one of the seven first ordained to the diaconate by the apostles. They lead lives of unrestrained indulgence. The character of these men is very plainly pointed out in the Apocalypse of John, [when they are represented] as teaching that it is a matter of indifference to practice adultery, and to eat things sacrificed to idols.

— Irenaeus, Adversus haereses, i. 26, §3

Clearly the later teachings of Nicolaites, who was appointed as an apostle, can easily be tested against what is expected of true Christians:

… But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.”
— Mat 19:17

If you love Me, keep My commandments.
— Jhn 14:15

He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.
— Jhn 14:21

If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father's commandments and abide in His love.
— Jhn 15:10

For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome.
— 1Jo 5:3

Here is the patience of the saints; here are those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus.
— Rev 14:12

Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city.
— Rev 22:14

— From my answer to How can Christians be assured they are truly saved … ?.

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  • @ Ray Butterworth they way I read the passages the 'false apostles' are separate/different to the Nicolaitans as this is said in a different context. +1 Sep 13, 2022 at 9:15
  • also, the evidence that the Nicolaitians were an antimonian group is uncertain. I think this is probably the most likely reality but the NT does not say so, and even the church Fathers had to speculate about it. Sep 13, 2022 at 18:48
  • If Irenaeus is correct of the origin of the Nicolatians it is more than a little scandalous to think that this group was founded by one the 7 deacons appointed in Acts 6. Sep 13, 2022 at 19:05
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At the time the apostle John wrote his Holy-Spirit-inspired message, there were some people associated with the Christian ecclesia in Ephesus who claimed to be apostles but who were liars. Given that the writer, John, was the last of the 12 apostles (all the others having died), those false claimants could not claim to be any of the 12 apostles chosen by Jesus.

At the most basic, simplest reading of the text, it could be that any men claiming to be either one of the 12 apostles, or somehow a directly appointed 'continuation' of one of the 12 apostles, having the same unique authority, would be an easily identifiable false apostle, for only the apostle John remained alive at time of writing.

Nor had John given any instructions to appoint any man either as his 'successor' or to succeed any of the other apostles. There is nothing in the entire New Testament to suggest such a continuation of that unique apostolic role. On the contrary, John wrote further on in that Revelation that the 12 apostles of the Lamb formed the 12 foundations of the holy (symbolic) city, New Jerusalem. There were not to be 14 or 20 or 144 of those apostles upon which this symbolic 'bride of Christ' was to be founded. See Revelation 21:14. Only the 12 apostles of the Lamb had that unique status (irrespective of how anyone interprets that.)

That would mean, then, that false claimants to the title "apostles" in a more general sense would need to be 'tested' by checking that what they taught was totally in agreement with what the 12 apostles of the Lamb had taught. Only then could they claim to be following in the footsteps of the 12 apostles of the Lamb. By that time, the full doctrine of the apostles had been committed to writing, otherwise Jude could not has said to Christians to "contend earnestly for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints" (verse 3). That one verse alone shows that any new or novel teaching should not be received, so any man claiming to be an apostle who added new teaching or claimed new revelations would be found to be a liar. That answers your questions.

However, a further relevant point is required when you say that John's warning referred "to something relevant at the time." Certainly, yes, it was relevant at the time of writing (at the end of the 1st century A.D.) However, the Revelation was not just given for the benefit of Christians in and around that era. Its inclusion in the whole body of sacred scripture shows that it applies just as much to every generation of Christians from the time of Jesus on till he returns. Indeed, the entire book of the Revelation is about the build-up of woes, plagues and satanic evils on an increasingly godless world, until Christ returns. Christ has not yet returned, so all the warnings need to be heeded in every generation until he does. There have been false apostles in every generation, from the start of the ecclesia in the first century, down to this very day. And the same test applies - do they teach exactly what the 12 apostles of the Lamb taught? Is their spiritual 'building' based on the foundation of the 12 apostles of the Lamb, or are they trying to add some of their own foundational teachings, unique to them? That's the test which Christians have to constantly apply to every would-be teacher and leader in the Church, whether or not they dare speak of themselves as 'apostles' or use another term to assign to themselves apostolic authority.

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  • There are 16 men named as apostles in the New Testament. Which 4 do you conclude are not part of the foundation? And why those 4? Sep 22, 2022 at 16:50
  • @Hold To The Rod I've seen this debate before but as it does not relate to the OPs question, I won't respond here. You may feel it relates to my answer, but to deal with that properly would require a fresh question.
    – Anne
    Sep 22, 2022 at 18:02
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    Jesus, himself, is called an 'apostle'. The term has a broader meaning, in certain contexts. In other contexts, as you so rightly state, it is twelve and no more. Up-voted +1.
    – Nigel J
    Sep 23, 2022 at 17:11
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Firstly, the word apostles or disciples are sometimes used loosely, as those giving a message to others. However, it is clearly in the strictest sense that there are only 12 true Apostles – Rev 21:14 The wall of the city had twelve foundations bearing the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

The only Apostle left at the time was John – no one else could identify themselves as an apostle unless it was used as a loose term.

Also, that everything has been written and cannot be changed.

Jude 3 Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people. 4 For certain individuals whose condemnation was written about[b] long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.

Nicolaitans

Rev 2:6 are clearly identified as those not liked – but the false apostles appear to relate to others beside them. Also, they did not claim to be apostles and Nicolas and the 7 Deacons were chosen to help in the works and follow the apostles.

It appears that the Nicolaitans were already well know so it would not be hard to reject them and would have no need to test then. You would only test those who you did not know and see if they are true or false.

4 Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. 5 Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place. 6 But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.

The 7 Deacons were of the Holy spirit & with wisdom and highly respected. If they were the followers of Nicolas (1 of the 7) or another – arguably not relevant to this Q.

These letters appear to be of great importance and John has been asked to write to the churches.

Rev 1:10-11 - 10 On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, 11 which said: “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.”

1 John 4:1 Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. (many warnings in the bible)

The only other person that can be identified as an apostle who was rejected is Paul, so what evidence and if any that this could relate to Paul.

Paul

Paul calls himself an Apostle and goes to Ephesus.

Ephesians 1:1 – Salutation - 1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are also faithful in Christ Jesus:

Ephesians 1:10 - as a plan for the fulness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

Acts 19:1 While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples

Paul was forbidden to go to Asia – but still went

Acts 16:6 6 Now when they had gone through Phrygia and the region of Galatia, they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia.

Paul preached / argued – clearly no agreement

Acts 19:8-9 -8 And he entered the synagogue and for three months spoke boldly, arguing and pleading about the kingdom of God; 9 but when some were stubborn and disbelieved, speaking evil of the Way before the congregation, he withdrew from them, taking the disciples with him, and argued daily in the hall of Tyran′nus.

Paul confirms that Asia has deserted him

2 Timothy 1:15 - 15You know that everyone in the Province of Asia has deserted me, including Phygelus and Hermogenes.

Ephesians ask the elders / apostles for help

Acts 21: 27-28 27 When the seven days were almost completed, the Jews from Asia, who had seen him in the temple, stirred up all the crowd, and laid hands on him, 28 crying out, “Men of Israel, help! This is the man who is teaching men everywhere against the people and the law and this place; moreover he also brought Greeks into the temple, and he has defiled this holy place.”

James contradicts Pauls teachings

James clearly seems to be the Judge and has final decision above even Peter. It also appears that James is responding to the complaint by the Ephesians and directs points of doctrine to Paul.

Panarion 29.3.4. He says that "James having been ordained at once the first bishop, he who is called the brother of the Lord.... [W]e find as well that he is of David's stock through being Joseph's son...." 5 To the same effect is Clement of Alexandria, who said the apostles did not pick from their own number "because the savior [already] had specifically honored them, but [instead] chose James the Just as Bishop of Jerusalem."

Acts 15:19 “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.

James 2: 20: "But will you know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?"

James 2:14 14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?

J 2:17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. J2:24 You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.

Others

But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.”— Mat 19:17

Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city. — Rev 22:14

Matthew 5:17-19 - 17 Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

Genesis 17:10-12 - 10 This is My covenant, which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: every male among you shall be circumcised. etc…

Luke 16:17 It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the least stroke of a pen to drop out of the Law.

So on …..

Pauls says faith only – only a few examples

Ephesians 2:8-9 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.

Romans 3:28 For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.

Romans 4:5 "To the man who does not work, but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness".

Romans 7:6 “But now we are released from the Law.. we serve not under the old written code but under the new life of the Spirit”.

Summary / conclusion

Arguably the only person that we have enough information as a ‘possible false apostle’ is Paul.

He went to Ephesus as an apostle even though the HS forbid him (Paul seems to be stronger than the HS). Paul argued with them and they complained to the apostles regarding Paul’s teachings. He is rejected by all of Asia. James is clear about the Law which is contradictory to Paul’s teachings.

There is ample evidence that Paul could certainly fall into the category of the ‘False apostle’ as mentioned in Revelations.

For more on Paul and the Law see: https://hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/a/78251/33268

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Paul gave a general description of false apostles and false prophets. Some describers he said are: 2Co 11:13  For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ.  1Ti 6:5 Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself.

And John says there are spirits behind these guys: 1Jn 4:1 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God. For many false prophets have gone out into the world.

If you look at the next 2 churches in Revelation ch.2 you will find additional descriptions of false prophets and false apostles etc. They are the Nicolaitans, Balaam and Jezebel. The doctrines and practices of the Nicolaitans have been lost to history so we don't know what they were doing. However, we have ample biblical evidence to discern what the doctrine of Balaam and Jezebel are. It is not a mistake Christ used two figures from the Old Testament to drive the point home about what these people are teaching.

Keeping in mind what John had to say about "testing spirits" when it comes to false apostles we can safely assume that Jesus was not talking about an individual in the church of Pergamos named Balaam, nor a person in the church of Thyatira named Jezebel. These are the names of the spirits behind the scenes.

For the church of Thyatira, Jezebel's history in the Old Testament is known for her 450 false prophets that Elijah faced down and her pursuit of true prophets to kill them, and the worship of Baal in Israel. 1Kings chapters 16-21.

For the church of Pergamos, the Balaam of history is known for coveting money and getting the males children of Israel all messed up in fornication with Moabite women. Numbers chapters 22-24 and the fallout for Israel in chapter 25. Balaam's part in the rebellion of the Israelites is made known in Numbers 31:6.

What is common between the two as you look into their Old Testament stories and what Christ is saying in Revelation, is covetousness. Jezebel has an addition to this, that being her affinity for false prophets being highlighted in the Revelation narrative.

This situation among the church in Thyatira doesn’t stop with just allowing for and following false prophets. Jesus has more to say: Rev 2:20 (They, the false prophets) teach and seduce My servants to commit sexual immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols. Similar to what Balaam caused in the Old Testament story.

While there were actual deeds of offering food to idols and sexual immorality being practiced during that period, there is reason to believe that Jesus is speaking about not just the physical act, but the spiritual acts too, as the New Testament plainly states covetousness is idolatry Colossians 3:5, and worldliness by the church is tantamount to immorality James 4:4.

The overall characteristics that are the theme of the New Testament are that these guys can be identified because of covetousness, and the many that John spoke of, by their false prophecies and or things that come true yet turn a person away from God through covetousness and worldliness (Deuteronomy 13:1-3), often by making the idea that "gain is godliness" is somehow what the church should pursue. 1Ti 6:5 Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself.

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Apostle only means: "one who is sent"

Answer: Anyone claiming christian that physically dies.

◄ John 8:31 ► King James Bible Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed;

So clearly we see just because they are following now, doesnt' mean they are really his disciples, could be honorary.. they must keep his word forever to be legit.. how do we know if someone didn't keep his word that was claiming to be his people sent by him? the following teaches us how:

◄ John 8:51 ► King James Bible Verily, verily, I say unto you, If a man keep my saying, he shall never see death.

so if the person dies, they didn't keep his teaching.. no "christian" that physically dies is legit.. they are all false apostles...

You see peter had it wrong. paul had to correct him.. and paul tells you that paul is NOT A SAINT.. but less than even the least of saints.. if you were a saint you would be greater than paul.. Paul says he can only see in part.. Paul didn't have the teaching all the way correct and admits it... John was the last of the original 12 and was informed that none of them were worthy to read the book when writing revelation just before he died.. as Jesus said.. there would be weeping and gnashing of teeth, thus John weeped.. for the children of the kingdom are cast out.. they did great signs and wonder in his name, healing and casting out demons, but Jesus never knew them. Thus he has 2 flocks.. the first one is like Eusa, God hates Eusa.. a wicked and adulterous generation seeks signs and wonders.. they only came because of miracles.. were never really right with God.. the flock of the end times is the Jacob of the story.. the ones that overcome and cast death in the fire and reign for 1000 years with Christ.

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  • Hi Jackson, welcome to the site! Personal digs ("arrogant", "frauds") are discouraged on this site. See Code of Conduct Sep 23, 2022 at 1:16

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