Ephesus! Home to one of the ancient “7 wonders of the world”; this city was turned up-side down under the ministry of the apostle Paul. Starting with only 12 disciples, Paul ministered in Ephesus until it became the revival center of Asia Minor, and it is written that from this city “all who lived in Asia heard the word of the Lord.” (Acts 19:7,10) The church was comprised of both Jews and Gentiles. (Acts 19:10) Paul’s ministry in Ephesus included teaching, preaching, miracles of healing, deliverance, and salvation. (Acts 19:8-20) As a result, society in Ephesus and the surrounding cities were being completely transformed by the power of the gospel. Revival had come to the region so strongly that its been estimated that nearly $10,000,000 worth of magic books were burned as the result of magicians turning to Jesus, and the idol industry had plumetted. Ephesus had turned to Jesus! When Paul left Ephesus he placed Timothy, his disciple, as the overseer of the church. The exhortation given to Timothy, by Paul, was to stay at Ephesus in order to “instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines.” (1 Tim. 1:3) This history of the church’s inception gives us a better framework for understanding the message written to them in Revelation 2.
JOHN’S LETTER TO EPHESUS
The Description of Jesus (Rev. 2:1)-The book of Revelation was written approximately 30 years after Paul’s ministry in Ephesus. Revival was not too far removed from their past when they received the letter from John in Revelation 2:1-7. Each of the letters to the 7 churches opens with a description of Jesus. The descriptions of Jesus given to each church are not given at random, but they are each meant to reveal a truth about Jesus that will encourage them in areas that need to be corrected, or prepare them for coming trials. To the church at Ephesus Jesus declares that He is “the One who holds the seven stars in His right hand,” and “the One who walks among the seven golden lampstands.” The 7 stars are the apostles to the 7 churches, and the 7 lampstands are the 7 churches. The message of this picture of Jesus is that He is near to the leaders of the church, and involved in with His church; He desires relationship.
The Commendation (Rev. 2:2,3,6)-Also in each letter is a commendation for the things the church is doing well. Ephesus receives many encouraging words about their acts. They are first told that the Lord knows their deeds and this is spoken in a positive tone. Among these deeds are diligence, steadfastness, and an intolerance for evil men. Later in the letter, Jesus mentions a specific group of evil men, the Nicolaitans, whose deeds He hated, and confirmed the church for their agreement with Him concerning this group. There isn’t much known about this group, but tradition holds that this sect lived with “unrestrained indulgence”, and practiced polygamy. Ephesus was also commended for testing men who claimed to be apostles when they were, in reality, false. The Ephesian church persevered and endured for the sake of Jesus’ name. They labored without growing weary.
The Correction (Rev. 2:4)-The correction brought against the church in Ephesus is only six words, but they are piercing. Jesus says to the church, “you have left your first love.” In Matthew 22:37,38 Jesus declared what the first love of every believer ought to be, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” Jesus saw all of the deeds that they did FOR Him, but they had forgotten the greatest commandment, to be WITH Him in relationship. Jesus’ initial description of Himself, as the One who walks in the midst of the lampstands, is meant to enflame the proper response of love from Ephesus. He reveals Himself as near and involved with the churches to encourage them to also draw near to Him.
The Call (Rev. 2:5)-Following each correction is the call to repentance. This is a call to action. It is not passive. Words such as “remember” and “do” are used in order to provoke the church to take the necessary steps of repentance. They are commanded to remember where they were in their relationship with Him in the past, and to do the deeds they did at first. If they don’t change their ways Jesus promises to remove their lampstand. There is nothing in the text to imply this meaning the church losing their salvation. The lamp represents the church, and therefore this means that Jesus will remove His anointing from the church and ultimately their influence in the region. He warns them that their ministry will be taken away unless they return to their first love.
The Reward (Rev. 2:7)-Jesus motivates each church, and more specifically, every individual believer, to respond to His word by presenting them with the promise of eternal rewards. These rewards are meant to stir their hearts into perseverance. To the church at Ephesus He promises that those who overcome will one day get to eat of the tree of life in the Paradise of God. This is the same tree that was in Eden. (Gen. 2:9) The implications of this are huge. This opens up the possibility that the Garden of Eden and the Paradise of God are actually the same place.