A Bit of Background Concerning the Church At Ephesus:
- A thriving metro area at the time of John’s writing.
- The capital and largest city of Asia (southwest Turkey) the city had a large seaport which made it an influential city of trade.
- Enjoyed much freedom as a democratically self-run city within the Roman Empire.
- The city has been described as being wealthy, cultured and corrupt (Summers, 108).
- Chiefly known as the city which hosted the worship of the goddess Diana, thus it was a hotbed for Asian-influenced dark arts, necromancy, and exorcisms (Hodge, vi).
- Acts 18-19 highlight Paul’s ministry to the city, staying for 3 years to teach the gospel. Acts mentions a who’s who of sorts of those involved in ministering there. Timothy was later placed in charge of the churches in this area.
- Church tradition holds that the Apostle John ministered there in his later years and that Mary, the mother of Jesus, passed away in the city as well.
- The church that was birthed there is thought to be quite large and influential.
2.1 “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: ‘The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands.
- “To the angel” – much has been said about the nature of this particular angel. Some hold that this is referring to the guardian spirit over each of the churches, but it seems more probable that this is a reference to the “messenger”, or lead pastor, of each church. Thus the lead pastor has the responsibility to communicate Jesus’ message to each congregation.
- “of the church in Ephesus” – “Revelation 2 and 3 contain seven letters, each addressed to a particular first-century Christian community in the Roman province of Asia.… Although their message is related to the specific situations of those churches, it expresses concerns which apply to all churches. By praise and censure, by warning and exhortation, Christ reveals what he wants his church to be like in all places and at all times.” – John Stott
- “The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand…” – Christ is identified as the author of each of these 7 letters, closely associated to his description in chapter one. For instance, compare 2.1 to 1.16 and 1.13.
- “holds the seven stars in his right hand” – remind the church of Christ’s, position, power, and protection. The stars are identified as the “angels” of the 7 churches in Rev. 1.20.
- “walks among the seven golden lampstands” – lampstands are identified as the 7 churches in 1.20. What an encouragement to know that Jesus walks among the churches, fellowshipping with them, caring for them, and not leaving them to themselves. He knows his churches and is aware of their situations.
2 “‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false.
- At the time of John’s writing, the church in Ephesus has been ministering and serving for around 40 years. They are commended for their devotion to biblical doctrine and their service to the community.
- “your works” – is probably a reference to their tangible acts of service in the city they lived in.
- “cannot bear with this who are evil” – The church is noted for taking sin seriously.
- “found them to be false” – evidently the church didn’t fall into the false teacher of gnosticism, which was plaguing the church at this time.
3 I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary.
- Evidently the church took Paul’s message to heart in Ephesians – “for by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. – Eph. 2.8-10.
4 But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.
- After such a notable flurry of complements, we find one major area which the church must address if it wished to remain viable and victorious in the environment in which they ministered.
- If we learn but one lesson from the church at Ephesus it is: LOVE IS A PRIORITY.
- The question arises, what love had the church abandoned? love for each other or love for Christ?
- “They were carrying on the active program of an aggressive church, but they had departed from the right motive for worship. When love for Christ as a motive for worship is absent, service means little” (Summers, 111).
- “Some interpreters think this refers to the love (Greek agapé) they had for Christ when they were new converts. In the context, however, it refers mainly to their love for one another which Christ had said was the hallmark for his disciples (John 13:35). In rooting out error and expelling false teachers, they had grown suspicious of one another. I once heard a preacher refer to people whose theology was “clear as ice and just as cold.” That was a description of the Ephesians. Their good deeds were now motivated by duty rather than love”(Easley, 35).
- Perhaps the church had ignored the content of Ephesians 5 and 6 where Paul may have been addressing the seeds of selfishness within the congregation by encouraging them to “walk in love” (Eph. 5.2). See also 1 Cor. 13.
- These two options are not mutually exclusive, but rather often connected in scripture. Perhaps the church is guilty of both. “If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen” – 1 John 4.20. “By this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another” – John 13.35.
5 Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.
- “Remember” – Spirit-guided self-reflection.
- “repent” – to have a change of heart and commit to live in a Christ-honoring way.
- “works you did at first” – they had been persistent in work, but had abandoned the righteous motive which prompted such work.
- “remove” – We may view the problem with the Ephesian church as something minor, but the warning of Christ here reminds us that it is of utmost importance. He takes the issue of love so seriously that the consequence for not addressing this issue would be proverbial closing of the church doors. By personal observation, unloving churches never seem to flourish.
6 Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
- We are not told the exact nature of who the Nicolaitans are. Scholars most often identify them as an antinomian, heretical Christian sect. It is said that the group developed from following the teachings of Nicolaus of Antioch, who was ironically chosen to be one of the 7 first deacons (Acts 6.5). It is thought that Nicolaus abandoned traditional doctrine and began teaching licentiousness.
- “you hate…I also hate” – It is dangerous to divorce our love for Christ from our obedience to him. So much so, that it is referenced as hate in this verse.
7 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.’
- The commitment Christ makes at the end of each of the seven letters always includes three elements: the one who overcomes (or conquers) is praised; he who has an ear is addressed; and the message is commended as one that the Spirit says to the churches.
- “He who has an ear, let him hear” – a phrase often spoken by Jesus. In Mark 4:1-9; 14-20, Jesus clarifies, “those that were sown on the good soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit…”. In other words, they hear and respond.
- APP: read God’s Word with a heart of submission and love for His Kingdom.
- “what the Spirit says” – Here, Jesus encourages His followers to listen and obey the Spirit just as they would if He were present with them.
- “conquers” – literally means, to win a victory over—‘to be victorious over, to be a victor, to conquer, victory.’ “For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” – 1 Jn 5:4–5.
- The church is in a continual state of spiritual combat against the forces of darkness and evil.
- Through the power of Christ, the church walks in spiritual victory, and should approach ministry, missions and apologetics accordingly.
- To eat from the Tree of Life symbolizes eternal life with God. Paradise is a rare New Testament synonym for heaven (Luke 23:43; 2 Cor. 12:4; Rev. 2:7), borrowed from a Persian word for “garden.” (Easley, 36).
- Seems to reference back to the Garden of Eden, where God said after the fall, “Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever” (Gen. 3.22). Jesus ultimately becomes the one who restores what was broken during the fall of man.