Week 3 - The Letter to the Church in Ephesus Revelation 2:1-7
Updated: Dec 15, 2021
Authored by Jerry Marshall
In Revelation chapters two and three, we have a record of personal letters from the exalted Lord to the seven churches that existed in Asia Minor at the time when this book was composed. These seven churches serve as a prototype of churches that have existed throughout all of the history of the church age. Their commendable qualities, as well as their condemnable flaws can be found in every church in this community and every community in this world where a local assembly of professing believers can be found.
From these letters, we are able to glean what the Lord Jesus Christ considers to be priorities for His church and those deeds worthy of His compliment. We are also able to see those things He condemns which requires a genuine change of heart, mind, and conduct so that the church can be a worthy light bearer to the sin darkened world.
The Lord first addresses the church in Ephesus, which was orthodox in its beliefs, selfless in its service and persevering in the face of persecution. Yet this church had one fatal flaw that ultimately resulted in its demise.
It is important at the outset of this study to give brief consideration to the wonderful rich spiritual heritage of the church in Ephesus. At the writing of this letter, the church was about 40 years old. The Gospel was first proclaimed to this city by Paul and later Priscilla and Aquila whom Paul had left there as he continued on during his second missionary journey (Acts 18:18-19, 24-26).
This extraordinary husband and wife team was joined later by a very eloquent preacher and powerful debater named Apollos (Acts 18:24-26). These fine servants of the Lord were truly responsible for planting the church in the city of Ephesus.
On Paul’s third missionary journey, he spent three years assisting the further development of this church (Acts 20:31). Later, around the mid-fifties, Paul was making his way to Jerusalem and he assembled the elders of this church on a nearby Island called Mellitus. He wanted to warn them about the danger of the infiltration of false teachers, even from among themselves, and to exhort them to shepherd the flock of God which Jesus purchased with His own blood (Acts 20:28-31).
This church was eventually pastored by Timothy (cf. 1 and 2 Timothy). According to the early church fathers, the Apostle John spent the last decades of his life as an elder and apostle to this church.
It was from this church that the aged apostle wrote 1, 2, and 3rd John. He was arrested here and exiled to the Island of Patmos where he received the revelation of the Lord Jesus Christ. John knew the mother church of Asia Minor very well.
In Revelation 2:1-7, the letter addressed to this church with this wonderful spiritual heritage can be divided into four segments.
I. The Lord’s Compliments (Revelation 2:1-3, 6)
(1) We have already learned in our study of this book, that the angel addressed here is not a reference to a spirit being as it is normally throughout the Bible. The reference here is probably to a human messenger who served in a leadership capacity in this church as the teaching elder of this church. This is a reasonable assumption because angelos is used to refer to human messengers in other places in the NT (Luke 7:24; 9:52; James 2:25). It is also important to note that the elect angels, who serve the Lord, do not sin and therefore, do not need to repent. However, the messengers addressed at the beginning of these letters are called upon to repent along with the whole congregation.
The Lord compliments this church for four reasons.
A. Their service (1b-2a)
The Lord, being omniscient, was thoroughly aware of their deeds and their hard work. The word toil is a translation of the Greek word Kopos, which speaks of laboring to the point of weariness. It’s toiling to the point of exhaustion and it speaks of strenuous labor which is difficult and demanding. Without question, the Ephesian believers were diligent laborers in the service of the Lord. Their work was tough and demanding.
And this toiling for Christ and His church was done in a very difficult context. The city of Ephesus was the center of the worship of the goddess Diana. The temple of Diana was one of the Seven Wonders of the World. This city was dominated by a pagan and polytheistic world view.
B. Their steadfastness (3 a)
The word perseverance is a translation of the Greek word, hupomone which speaks of a patient endurance in the face of provocation. It is descriptive of an attitude of endurance when under attack for what you believe. In the NT, the word is descriptive of the characteristic of a man who is not swerved from his deliberate purpose and his loyalty to faith and piety by even the greatest trials and sufferings.
Verse 3 informs us that the Ephesian believers patiently endured and suffered hardship for the highest motive. They did so in the name of the Lord or for the Lord’s sake, so as not to dishonor His glorious name.
C. Their spiritual discernment (2. b)
This is a church that had such a workable knowledge of the faith, that the discernment born from that knowledge won the favor of the Lord. This biblical discernment was manifested in the ejection of evil men from their midst. This may be a reference to the exercise of church discipline and the fact that this church would not tolerate moral and doctrinal impurity. They were also able to discern that some who had come to them claiming apostolic authority were in fact false teachers.
This church was known for its discernment for some time. One of the early church fathers whose name is Ignatius, a leader in the church in Antioch, wrote to the believers in Ephesus saying;
You all live according to truth, and no heresy has a home among you; indeed, you do not so much as listen to anyone if they speak of anything except concerning Jesus Christ in truth.” (Letters to the Ephesians, 6)
D. Their stand (6)
The Lord compliments the Ephesian church for its stand against the Nicolaitans, which provides further testimony of their ability to be biblically discerning. Not so much is known about this sect. Based upon comments that have been made in this book and in other writings, they apparently taught that God’s grace provided a license that enabled them to marry the immoral practices of their pagan culture into the Christian faith. In other words, they believed that God’s grace would make room for pagan sinful practices.
Merrill Tenney wrote; “The teachings of the Nicolaitans was an exaggeration of the doctrine of Christian liberty, which attempted an ethical compromise with heathenism. It was for this reason that Jude had to change the purpose for writing his letter to those who were called beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ (Jude 3-4; Titus 2:11-13).
Let us now see what the early church historians have to tell us about these Nicolaitans. The majority identify them with the followers of Nicolaus, the proselyte of Antioch, who was one of the seven commonly called deacons (Acts 6:5). The idea is that Nicolaus went wrong and became a heretic. Irenaeus says of the Nicolaitans that “they lived lives of unrestrained indulgence” (Against Heresies, 1.26.3). Hippolytus says that he was one of the seven and that “he departed from correct doctrine and was in the habit of inculcating indifference of food and life” (Refutation of Heresies, 7:24).
The Apostolic Constitutions (6:8) describe the Nicolaitans as “shameless in uncleanness.” Clement of Alexandria says they “abandon themselves to pleasure like goats … leading a life of self-indulgence.” But he acquits Nicolaus of all blame and says that they perverted his saying “that the flesh must be abused.” Nicolaus meant that the body must be kept under; the heretics perverted it into meaning that the flesh can be used as shamelessly as a man wishes (The Miscellanies 2:20). The Nicolaitans obviously taught loose living.
What a church this was in Ephesus! A hard working, uncompromising, spiritually discerning church that stood in opposition to a sect that had already found a home in other churches located in other cities in Asia. That is why the next segment of this letter is so shocking.
1 Barclay, William, lecturer in the University of Glasgow (Hrsg.): The Revelation of John : Volume 1. Philadelphia : The Westminster Press, 2000, c1976 (The Daily Study Bible Series, Rev. Ed), S. 67
II. The Lord’s Criticism (Revelation 2:4)
The penetrating omniscient gaze of the Lord Jesus Christ had spotted a fatal flaw in this church. Some forty plus years earlier, when this church first began, it was driven by its love for the Lord, its love for each other and its love for the lost which all flowed from the Lord possessing their supreme affection. But now, something or someone became the possessor of their supreme love, and that would be in violation of the greatest command (Matthew 22:35-40).
The fire of its affection had died down. The glowing enthusiasm of its early days had disappeared. The Christians could look back to better days when their bridal love for Christ flowed warm, full, and free. They were still sound in doctrine and active in service, but the true motive of all worship and service was missing.
A church may have great zeal and activity, soundness of doctrine and practice, yet have its first love for Christ on the decline. It is subtle. Love looks for love, and meticulous care with doctrine and discipline will not take its place. Loss of first love can be so easily followed by evils in doctrine and practice. Christ will have all the believer’s love or none (cf. Lk 10:38–42).
To be a Christian is to love the Lord Jesus Christ (John 14:21,23; 1 Cor. 16:22). But the Ephesians’ passion and fervor for Christ had become cold, mechanical orthodoxy. Their doctrinal and moral purity, their undiminished zeal for the truth, and their disciplined service were no substitute for the love for Christ they had forsaken.
Nobody thinks they love the Lord more than those who are orthodox in their beliefs, diligent in their service, and discerning in their confrontation of those who promote falsehood.
III. The Lord’s Command (Revelation 2:5)
A. Remember (5a)
They were commanded to bring back to mind the fervency of the days of their first love from which they had fallen. They were to recall the early days of their spiritual fervency when they loved the Lord above all others, when they couldn’t get enough of His Word and when they obeyed His command to share their faith with others no matter the cost.
The first step in making any positive change in your spiritual life is to recognize that is neither where it should be nor where it was.
B. Repent (5b)
2MacDonald, William ; Farstad, Arthur: Believer's Bible Commentary : Old and New Testaments. electronic ed. Nashville : Thomas Nelson, 1997, c1995, S. Re 2:3
3 KJV Bible Commentary. electronic ed. Nashville : Thomas Nelson, 1997, c1994, S. 2659
4MacArthur, John Jr: The MacArthur Study Bible. electronic ed. Nashville : Word Pub., 1997, c1997, S. Re 2:4
The word repent is a translation of the Greek word metanoeo, which conveys the idea of undergoing a radical change of mind. A complete U-Turn in your thinking that changes your conduct. And, the fact that it is an aorist imperative emphasizes the thought of doing this right now! Make it happen! “Getter done!”
They needed to change their thinking so as to realize that labor is no substitute for love; neither is purity a substitute for passion. The church needed both if it was going to please the Lord of the Church.
C. Repeat (5c)
You don’t wait around for the intensity of first love feelings to come to you; you do the things that produced them in the first place. The Lord commands the church in Ephesus to “do the deeds you did at first.” Those deeds done first were reflective of the fact that Jesus possessed their supreme affection and no doubt included obedience to the various moral injunctions and directives given by the Lord to His disciples (John 14:15, 21, 23; 1 John 5:3).
If they would not heed this command to remember, repent and repeat, then the Lord would come to them in a sort of local judgment (not His Second-Coming), and remove their lampstand from its place. This is a metaphor for removing the church entirely. Removing from this assembly, the right to be light bearers to a sin darkened world because their motive for ministry was absent of their love for the Lord, each other and the lost. Sadly, they did not heed this warning and today the city is gone and so is the church.
IV. The Lord’s Commitment (Revelation 2:7)
The Lord speaks to those who have been enabled and awakened to understand the truth of this revelation which is addressed to this church. Not everyone has the ears to hear
(cf. 1 Corinthians 2:14).
The exalted Lord finishes His letter to the church in Ephesus by making a commitment or a promise…
Revelation 2:7 (NASB95) 7 …To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God.’
The word overcomes is a translation of a Greek word that has been transliterated into the English word NIKE. It means to conquer, to be victorious, to prevail, and to get a victory. By John’s definition, “over-comers” refers to all true believers (1 John 5:4-5).
The nature of this promise to those who are over-comers is that they will be with the Lord in paradise, the New Heaven and the New Earth, living in the New Jerusalem. It’s a promise of a certain destiny.
1. If you are a professing believer in Christ and love anyone or anything more than you love the Lord, you have left your first love. If your spiritual vitality has been depleted and your devotion to Christ has been reduced to mere functionalism, chances are you have left your first love (cf. Matthew 10:37-39; 22:35-40).
2. It’s not what you do for the Lord that matters most to Him; it’s why you do it.
3. Labor for the Lord is no substitute for love for the Lord. The true test of loving the Lord supremely is our obedience to the Lord completely (John 14:15, 21, 23, 1 John 5:3). The Lord wants our hearts was well as our heads and hands.