Tuesday, July 13, 2021

16. The Revelation: The Letter to the Believers at Ephesus (Part 2) (Revelation2:1–7)

We continue our look at the letter from Jesus Christ to the church in Ephesus (Revelation 2:1-7)


"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 apostles, 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.… Yet this you do have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate." (2:2–3, 6)

Before rebuking them for their failings, Christ commended the Ephesians for their positive actions. Specifically, Christ first commended the Ephesian believers for their “toil.” The Greek word denotes labor to the point of exhaustion. The Ephesians were diligent workers for the cause of Christ. In the midst of the pagan darkness that surrounded them, they were aggressively evangelizing the lost, edifying the saints, and caring for those in need.

“Perseverance” denotes patience in trying circumstances. This commendation indicates that despite their difficult circumstances, the Ephesian believers remained faithful to their Lord.

Another praiseworthy aspect of the Ephesian believers was that they refused to “tolerate evil men.” They held to a high, holy standard of behavior and were sensitive to sin. Nor was the Ephesian church lacking in spiritual discernment, since it “put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and … found them to be false” The Ephesians never forgot the admonition Paul had addressed to their leaders so many years earlier to “be on guard for yourselves and all the flock” against “savage wolves [trying to ravage] the flock” (see Acts 20:28–31). Through all the difficulties the Ephesians faced over forty years, through all their hard labor and patient enduring of trials, and their refusal to tolerate evil, they maintained their perseverance. They endured, Jesus declared, for the highest of motives: “for My name’s sake.” And they had done so without having grown weary. They remained faithful to the Lord, loyal to His Word and to the work to which He had called them.

Verse 6 adds a final commendation: “Yet this you do have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.” The Nicolaitans, mentioned also in 2:12–15, cannot be clearly identified. The few references to this heresy in the writings of the church fathers link it to Nicolas, one of the seven men appointed to oversee the distribution of food in Acts 6. Some argued that Nicolas was a false believer who rebelled, but retained influence in the church because of his credentials. Others suggested that the Nicolaitans misrepresented his teaching. Whatever its origin, Nicolaitanism led people into immorality and wickedness. Revelation 2:12–15 links it with Balaam’s false teaching that led Israel into sin.

Unlike the church at Pergamum, the Ephesian church did not tolerate the Nicolaitans but hated their heretical teachings. For that the Lord commended them. Hatred was an appropriate attitude and exactly the opposite reaction to the tolerance of the Pergamum church (2:14–15).


"But I have this against you, that you have left your first love." (2:4)

Despite the positive highlights of the Ephesian church, Christ had spotted a fatal flaw. Though they maintained their doctrinal purity and served Christ, that service had turned mechanical. Forty years after being marked by love (Ephesians 1:15; 3:17–19; 6:23), the affection had cooled. The current generation was maintaining the church’s teachings, but it had left its first love. They had sunk to the place where they were carrying out their Christian responsibilities with diminishing love for their Lord and others.

The grave danger of that situation is illustrated by the disaster that ensued when Israel’s love for God cooled (Jeremiah 2:2–13; Ezekiel 16:8–15). God eventually brought judgment against His people when their love disappeared. As it had in Israel, the honeymoon had ended at Ephesus. The loss of a vital love relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ opened the doors to spiritual apathy and indifference to others. Despite its outwardly robust appearance, a deadly spiritual cancer was growing at the heart of the Ephesian church.


"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." (2:5)

The Great Physician issued a prescription to the Ephesians that would cure their spiritual malaise. First, they needed to literally “keep on remembering” from where they had fallen. Forgetfulness is frequently the initial cause of spiritual decline, and the Ephesians needed to recognize the seriousness of such a lapse. Second, they needed to repent in an intentional turning from their sins, because to fail to love God fully is sin (Mark 12:30). Finally, they needed to demonstrate the genuineness of their repentance and return to their original deeds. They needed to recapture the richness of Bible study, devotion to prayer, and passion for worship that had once characterized them.

Underscoring the seriousness of the situation, Christ warned the Ephesians to take the necessary steps to recover their first love for Him. He demanded that they change or be chastened: “I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place—unless you repent.” The coming He refers to is not His second coming, but His coming to them in local judgment on that church. Failure to obey the warning would cause Him to remove their lampstand (symbolic of the church; 1:20) out of its place. Tragically, Christ threatened divine judgment that would bring an end to the Ephesian church.


"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." (2:7)

The letter closes with an exhortation and a promise. Christ’s exhortation “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” closes each of the seven letters. It emphasizes the serious responsibility believers have to obey God’s voice in Scripture. The use of the plural noun “churches” signifies the universal nature of this invitation each time that it appears. This call cannot be limited just to a group of overcomers in a single church. It must apply to all churches. Every church needs to hear every message.

The promise, as are those associated with the other six letters (2:11, 17, 26; 3:5, 12, 21), is addressed to “him who overcomes.” The term does not refer to those who have attained to a higher level of the Christian life, but to all Christians. The apostle John defines it that way in his first epistle: “For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 John 5:4–5). All true believers are overcomers, who have by God’s grace and power overcome the power of the evil world system.

Christ promises the overcomers at Ephesus that they will “eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God.” The tree of life is first referred to in Genesis 2:9, where it stands in the garden of Eden. That earthly tree was lost due to sin. Adam was forbidden to eat from it (Genesis 3:22). However, the heavenly tree of life (Revelation 22:2, 14, 19) will last throughout eternity. The tree of life symbolizes eternal life. The “Paradise of God” is heaven (Luke 23:43; 2 Corinthians 12:4).

The example of the Ephesian church warns that right beliefs and outward service cannot make up for a cold heart. Believers must carefully follow Solomon’s counsel: “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life” (Proverbs 4:23).