"It is of great importance to straighten out this inverting of the relationship, criticizing Christ by Paul, the Master by the disciple." Kierkegaard, My Task (1855)

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What Do Jesus' Remarks In Revelation Imply About Paul?

Paul claimed to be an apostle in his letter to the Ephesians (Ephesians 1:1). However, later on, in his second letter to Timothy, Paul declared that "all those in Asia have turned away from me" (2 Timothy 1:15). In Acts 19, Luke tells us the Ephesian synagogue where Paul taught for three months and where there were substantial converts to Christ finally expelled Paul.

Ephesus was, at the time, the largest city in Procunsular Asia. So this means that at some point after Paul wrote his epistle to them, the Ephesians for some reason ceased to regard Paul as a genuine apostle. Note that he does not say that the believers in Asia abandoned the Christian faith. Paul does not say that they abandoned the original Apostles of Jesus. Paul says only that the believers in Asia abandoned himself. For some reason, the Ephesians ceased to regard Paul as a genuine Christian leader.

Renan in his famous book St. Paul in the 1870s mentioned that chapters two and three in Revelation imply that Paul was rejected in Asia Minor by the time John wrote Revelation. The book of Revelation places Paul's doctrine out of sight and implicitly rejects it. See our page on Renan's analysis.

One clear cut example is what Jesus says about idol meat to the church of Ephesus in Asia. In Rev. 2:14, Jesus clearly commends this church of Ephesus for rejecting the one who taught it was acceptable to eat meat sacrificed to idols -- something Paul three times approved eating. (For background, see our webpage on this issue.)

Thus, Renan's analysis that chapter 3 of Revelation implies the rejection of Paul in Asia completely comports with Paul saying that "all those in Asia have turned away from me" (2 Timothy 1:15).

Now turning specifically to the book of Revelation, we find it is written by the Apostle John. It starts off with the resurrected Jesus instructing John to send messages to seven churches within Asia (Revelation 1:11). The first Asian church to be given a message is the church at Ephesus.

If Paul had been a genuine apostle, then surely the resurrected Jesus would have reprimanded the Asians for abandoning his genuine apostle if Paul were a genuine apostle of Jesus. However, turn to Revelation 2:2 and read how the resurrected Jesus commended the Ephesians instead:

"I know...that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false."

So in essence, this is how the dialogue proceeded:

Paul says to the Asians: "I am an Apostle." (Ephesians 1:1)
The Asians reply to Paul: "No you're not!" (2 Timothy 1:15)
Jesus says to the Asians: "You got that right!" (Revelation 2:2)

[Adapted from Klement 2007]

Jesus' Words to Thyatira Mocks Paul's Words

Jesus condemns the prophetess, the false Jezebel, who teaches her followers to "eat meat sacrificed to idols" and to commit adultery (betray God, their husband?). Rev. 2:20. Jesus implies that this freedom from the Law proclaimed by the prophet is by appealing to a higher knowledge. Who made a similar appeal, and identically taught eating meat sacrificed to idols was ok? Paul.

Amazingly, Jesus in Rev. 2 mocks Paul's words in 1 Cor. 2:10 about such higher knowledge, and knowing the "deep things of God."

Paul in 1 Cor. 2:10 had written that "God has revealed it to us by His Spirit" and "the Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God." Then, the IVP New Testament Commentaries at this link does not even witthold from us Jesus pointed critique of Paul is "possibly" involved: 

Possibly with Paul's statement in view, the risen Jesus announces, not just to Thyatira but to all the churches (v. 23), that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds,adding that the "deep things" of such groups as this are not the profound truths of God, but the deep secrets of Satan himself (v. 24).

The IVP commentary then explains that this false prophet came into the congregation, but was not part of it. It appears this false prophet was "a separate community trying to entice away its members." (Id.) The IVP commentary does not come right out and say it, but the one with ears to hear, this means Jesus is criticizing the Church at Thyatira for being drawn to the false prophet who tried seducing them.

 

Why did Jesus not name Paul? Wouldn't that help us better?

Why didn't Jesus tell us the names of the ones at Ephesus who were tried and found to be false claimants to being Christ's Apostles?

First, God allows false prophets specifically to "test" whether we love Him with our whole, mind and heart. The test is by comparing the false prophet to the words of a prior true prophet. (Deut. 13:1-5.) By comparing Paul for example to the words of Jesus. To give us the name of Paul point blank is just too easy, frankly.

If one still believes Jesus must have a duty to tell us the name of the false apostle found at Ephesus in Rev. 2:2 or we refuse to consider the possibility, think again. First of all, we know Jesus did not give us the names. So how can we gainsay our Lord's purpose in being mysterious?

Second, if we could impose such a duty on our Lord, then Jesus's warning of the ravening wolf/false prophets to come in His name fails to be worthy of Jesus because He did not tell us their name point blank. But Jesus knew their names just as much before they emerged as He would after.

So the reason Jesus did not tell us their names before-the-fact has to be the same reason He did not tell us their names after-the-fact.

The answer is simple and in Deut. 13:1-5. It is up to us to TEST those who claim to be prophets and apostles, just like the Bereans were doing with Paul early in his ministry. That is clearly implied in the fact Jesus complimented the Ephesians for testing one claiming to be an Apostle and finding him false. It is our trial of claimants to apostleship and prophetic office, as Jesus commended the Ephesians for doing, which is what God expects us to do and is WHY God will not tell us the name point blank. It would utterly defeat His purpose in allowing such false prophets/apostles in the first place.

Further Resources

See posting of Michael Eden on Paul in Revelation of John.