To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: The One who holds the seven stars in His right hand, the One who walks among the seven golden lampstands, says this: I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves postles, and they are not, and you found them to be false; and you have perseverance and have endured for My name’s sake, and have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place–unless you repent. Yet this you do have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God.’
The city of Ephesus was sixty miles away from the Island of Patmos where John would have been writing.[i] It was a very wealthy city and very popular for its temple of Artemis (shrine of Diana) where many gathered in worship of pagan deities. The city boasted of an extraordinary harbour able to dock many large ships. Ephesus also connected many highways which made it a very important commercial town hence wealth was prevalent among its society. It had one of the most desired libraries in all the land and was renowned for the centrality of its pagan culture.
Paul had visited the city (Acts. 18:19-21) during his second missionary journey between 50-55 A.D. on his third missionary journey he spent approximately 3 years there (Acts. 20:31) and cared deeply for the church there. (Acts. 20:17-38) His love for the church was so great that he wrote one of the most beautiful of his epistles to the church there from prison. It had been firmly laid in the labors of Paul, assisted by Apollos, and also by Aquilla and Priscilla.[ii]
The Lord Jesus is presented to this church as “the One who holds the seven stars in His right hand, the One who walks among the seven golden lampstands”. He is referring to the description found in v.16 to which both these images denote the sovereignty of the Lord over His churches. He is fully involved and in control of them to the extent that they completely belong to Him. There are many in our churches today who treat the church as if it were their own not contemplating that they are mere caretakers of something that belongs to another. It is important to view the church as belonging to Christ and that we should care for it in such a way as to please the owner.
The idea of “knowing” their deeds, toils and perseverance should not be taken as merely knowledge but also as a full understanding of their situation. He is “intimately connected” with them in their afflictions for His name. This church had been through much turmoil seemingly due to some meddling from false teachers and there were repercussions to standing firm for the truth. They had acted in the spirit of the bereans in that they had “put to the text those who call themselves apostles and they are not”. The strength of the assembly was found in their ability to discern probably an outflow of the teaching they received from the apostle Paul. (Acts 20:28-32; Ephesians) and also a specific warning against false teachers. (1 Timothy 1:3-11; 4:1-8). Churches have long lost their desire to filter out false teaching. The apostle John exhorts us to test the spirits to see if they truly are of God (1 John 2:1-6). Strong churches have a good understanding of what these doctrines are which gives them also the ability to correct and rebuke those who are teaching falsehoods in the church. The church is responsible for doctrinal purity especially in light of their teachings on the person of the Lord Jesus and the glorious gospel of grace.
The Ephesians in their incredible ability to deal with false teachers had lost something else of great value along the way mainly their “first love”. I have found many different interpretations of what exactly this “first love” entails. Some would argue that it speaks of their love for one another while others see it as a lack of affection for the Lord Jesus Himself. It should be remembered that the text isn’t simply using the term love but defines that “love” as their first love. I would side with Beale’s interpretation of this portion seeing that it keeps with much of the messages we will see among the other 6 churches. Beale writes:
The losing their “first love” was tantamount to becoming unzealous witnesses is suggested further as we see a link with Matt. 24:12-14, which shows such an end-time expecation…this explains the loss of love as unfaithfulness to the covenantal task of enduring in preaching the gospel “for a witness.”[iii]
I would like to take this a step further and say that without a love for each other then there is no means to find a love for the witness of Christ. (John 17:21-23) These could certainly be taken together. A church that does not zealously proclaim the person of Christ to the world has truly lost its most important aspect no matter how brilliantly educated its members are.
The exhortation that the spirit gives to the Ephesians is to “remember”. They are encouraged to be mindful of who they were in the beginning when they were a vibrant witness for the Lord Jesus. The idea of “from where you have fallen” seems to give us the idea that they must get back to that fervent witness they possessed as a whole.[iv] This exhortation certainly could be relevant to alot of churches in our society today. The church needed a very quick and heartfelt repentance in order to fulfill the will of the Lord of the lampstands. A stern warning follows this command to repent in that the Lord states: “I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place. This is not speaking of the 2nd coming of Christ but probably pertaining to a soon coming judgment against them. This judgement is promised to take the form of a removal of their lampstand. The removal of the lampstand would best taken as a conditional upon their lack of repentance ect… which probably meant that their light as a witness. This is a very serious thing which I believe many churches today really don’t take seriously. Is it possible for your church to have its lampstand removed? Think of the consequences of its removal!
The Lord now returns to another commendation of these Ephesians. He speaks of how it pleases Him that they “hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans”. There are some who take the “Nicolaitans” as being synonymous to the “false teachers” in v.1. however the Nicolaitans would probably have been a group attempting to persuade the people that worship in a pagan temple such as Artemis (Acts. 19:35) was perfectly fine so long as it had no religious affections to it. They will be spoken of more in detail when we address the church in Pergamum and their function there. It is important that the churches examine themselves to make sure that they are not worshipping in a pagan or worldly way. It is the Lord who determines how He desires to be worshipped and to offer any other type of worship would be undermining His will. I also think of Christians who participate in pagan festivals such as Halloween without a second thought. This would be the equivalent to what the Ephesians despised.
The expression in v.7 is one that is common among the letters to the churches. The phrase “He who has an ear let him hear” is referring to heading a warning or for those listening to pay special attention and understand.[v] This language is used frequently in the gospels (Matthew 11:15; 13:9-17; Mark 4:9-13; Luke 8:8) from the lips of the Lord Jesus Himself. This time however it comes from the Spirit which is the power and light of the assemblies.
The second part of v.7 has brought many interpretive differences between commentators depending on their view of sanctification. The Lord of the church has promised blessings to “the one who overcomes”. The term “overcome” (νιχαω) means to conquer or persevere under strain. John has identified those who “overcome” as “he who is born of God is the one who overcomes and the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God”. (1 John 5:4-5) This is an exhortation given to all the churches and there is an expectation associated with it. It actually states a fact in that the one who overcomes will in fact receive an inheritance promise. The promise to the church in Ephesus is assured that if they overcome that they will eat of the tree of life. The words bring forward the idea that the exhortation should not be taken lightly as merely something that is recommended or some directive that they can follow without consequences. The overcomers are the ones who receive this reward and it implies that those who don’t overcome do not receive this portion of the inheritance. What we must remember is that God is the one who sanctifies and the overcomers are those who have been born of God. God does not leave His people without power and light in order for them to overcome. What is meant by the “tree of life which is in the paradise of God” takes us back to the texts in Genesis ch.2-3 and also forward to the text in Revelation 22:2-4. These texts bring us to a time when men had full, unrestricted fellowship with their creator which is a time when sin and death no longer exist. The tree of life is the very essence of our inheritance!
[i] Interestingly enough, some commentators speaks of a tradition that John had been released from Patmos and returned to Ephesus where he passed away in the presence of the Lord.
[ii] Mauro P.89
[iii] Commentary on Revelation: NIGNT, G.K. Beale, P. 230-231
[iv] It is certainly a possibility that the Lord is referring back to a previous generation since this church was most likely in its 2nd – 3rd generation at this point. Ignatius seems to point out in this epistle that the church had regained its first love through remembering and repentance.
[v] Wallace writes: “The greek is stronger than a mere option, engaging the volition and placing requirement on the individual. (Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, Zondervan, Daniel Wallace, Page 486)