Bible Passage: Revelation 2:1-7
2:1 'To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands.
2 I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false.
3 You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.
4 Yet I hold this against you: you have forsaken the love you had at first.
5 Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.
6 But you have this in your favour: you hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
7 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God. (Rev. 2:1-7 NIV)
Key OT/NT passages on how this passage fits within the Bible story as a whole
God reveals himself in the Garden of Eden as a God of love – he is the one who will care for and look after Adam and Eve. Even when they have turned away from him in the Fall and all its consequences, God’s love is still remarkably evident towards his people (Exodus 34:6). God’s relationship with his people is a love-relationship, and even the law, at its heart, it a response of love towards a loving God (Deuteronomy 6:4-5; Luke 10:27). In this context, God’s people are repeatedly pictured as God’s bride (Song of Songs, Isaiah 49:18, Hosea 2:16, Jeremiah 2:2). The New Testament picks up the analogy in Ephesians 5:22-33 and 2 Corinthians 11:2-3. The 2 Corinthians reference, particularly, warns the church in Corinth about the danger of unfaithfulness in their love-relationship with their Lord. “2 I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy.” Writes Paul. “I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him. 3 But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the snake's cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.” Revelation 2:4 picks up strongly on this warning about true love being lost, before describing the perfect ‘marriage’ between Christ and his church in Revelation 21.
Brief note on context/key themes of book
The book of Revelation is written by John to the suffering church (Revelation 1:9) under the Roman Emperor Domitian (81-96AD). It is an epistle (Revelation 1:4), about the gospel of Jesus Christ (Revelation 1:6), founded on the sovereignty of God (Revelation 1:7-8). Having presented us with a picture of Jesus in all his glory (Revelation chapters 1-3), it shows us a glimpse of heaven (Revelation chapters 4-5) and the way in which the lamb deals with God’s wrath. What follows is a series of overlapping picture that take us through from the present age to the return of Christ (chapters 6-7, 8-11, 12-14, 15-16, 17-18, 19 and 20). The final vision shows the New Jerusalem – Eden exceeded, and the temple fulfilled (chapters 21-22). This glimpse of heaven (‘Revelation’ literally means ‘an unveiling’) has a pastoral purpose. It is to show the suffering church that whatever is going on, God is on the throne, and is bringing everything to an end – his people, cared for by the risen Lord Jesus, will be safe.
Structure of the passage
Revelation 2:1-7, like each of the letters to the seven churches, contains seven main elements.
a command to write to the church’s angel
Christ’s knowledge of the church
A commendation and / or rebuke
A command to repent or persevere
A call to hear the Spirit’s message
A promise for those who are victorious
The first and last of the seven letters (to Ephesus and Laodicea) are the most negative, and while this letter contains two commendations, the rebuke in verse 4 is devastating. Three ideas emerge about what the risen Christ Jesus of chapter 1 is looking for in the local church…
A church that keeps going (2,3)
We know from Acts 19 that the church in Ephesus was born into persecution – the city was famous for (and financially dependent on) its idolatry and the temple of Artemis, one of the seven wonders of the world. This is a church commended for its ability to persevere through hard times, toil and labour away, and endure hardships (Revelation 1:2-3). Even 15 years after Paul last visited the church, they have not grown weary of working for Jesus’ name (Revelation 2:3).
A church that keeps testing (2,6)
In Acts 20:28-31, Paul warned the Ephesian elders that savage wolves would come in and try and devour the flock, and that they would have to be on their guard. And so it has turned out. False teachers, claiming to be apostles, have indeed come, and the church has rejected them. They have tested them and found them to be false (Revelation 2:2). The practices of the Nicolaitans are hated by Jesus, and rightly hated by the Ephesian church too.
A church that keeps loving (4-5)
Despite all of this evidence of right activity, the church in Ephesus receives a devastating assessment of their love – it is nothing like the love they had at first. The word for ‘forsaken’ is a strong one – they have abandoned their first love for Jesus and each other, despite the heartfelt prayers of the apostle Paul in his epistle (Ephesians 3:16-19). They are in genuine danger – their lack of love threatens their very survival. Only those who repent will eat fully and finally from the tree of life Revelation 2:7, compare Revelation 22:2,14,19).
Suggestions for any tricky bits?
Who are the Nicolaitans?
It’s not completely clear who the Nicolaitans were – they’re mentioned by some early church fathers, but there’s no real agreement about what they believed and did. It’s possible that the references in the seven letters to false teachers are all referring to the same heresy (e.g. the false apostles in Revelation 2:2, the ‘teaching of Balaam’ in Revelation 2:14, and Jezebel in Revelation 2:20. If that’s the case, it seems to be a kind of permissive teaching about food sacrificed to idols and sexual immorality. Note that this heresy is the exact opposite of the findings of the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15:29).
Summary of author’s main point
The risen Jesus, who holds the churches in his hands, longs for a church which perseveres, rejects wrong teaching, and holds to its first love – this kind of church will last.
Aim/purpose for original audience
To know that the risen Lord Jesus holds your church in his hands – persevere, reject wrong teaching, and hold to your first love, and you will last.
Aim/purpose for us today
To know that the risen Lord Jesus holds our church in his hands – and so to persevere, reject wrong teaching, and hold to our first love, knowing that we will last.
Key area of application
It is more than possible to imperceptibly lose the love we had when we first became Christians, and serve out of duty, or habit, or peer pressure. Getting older doesn’t guarantee that you’re getting closer to Jesus. Loving Jesus means obeying his commandments – it is an act of the will – but at it’s heart is a devotion to Jesus that can empty out, leaving a shell of heartless action. People like that are in imminent danger. If we’ve fallen in love with the task, and not the saviour, it’s never too soon to repent and re-establish the love-relationship that Jesus desires to have with us.