To the Church in Ephesus
2 “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 favor: 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.
As I mentioned yesterday, the way we are going to tackle the book of Revelation is to understand the context when it was written. John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, is writing to 7 actual historical churches, which were located in Asia Minor (modern day Turkey). Since the believers were beginning to be persecuted, some of the believers were thinking Jesus was going to return soon. John receives this vision directly from Jesus who tells him to share it with these 7 churches.
It is important for us to keep track of the symbolic language he uses, as we go through this book. Today John mentions the "seven stars" that Jesus holds in his right hand, and the "seven lampstands" that he walks among. The stars represents angels, for each church. The lampstands are the 7 churches he is writing to. The first church mentioned is the church of Ephesus, where he stayed for quite some time before he was exiled to the island of Patmos. We will see that seven is a key number used throughout the book of Revelation. Though he writes to "the seven churches", it does not mean those were the only churches. This illustrates why a literal interpretation of Revelation will not work.
Ephesus was one of the key churches in the first century. It was the largest city in this Roman province, and at a strategic location, so that is was a commercial port. It was also the home of the goddess Artemis, who many worshipped at her temple, one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world. Paul founded the church in Acts 20, and stayed there for three and a half years. When he left them the elders and people wept.
Ephesus is the first church John addresses. Although they are working hard and doing many good things, John tells them they have "forgotten their first love". Jesus through John tells them to repent and do the things they did at first. The assumption is that things they were doing at the first were better than the things they were doing now. Perhaps the former were a result of their love for Jesus. Apparently the Ephesisans were defending the church and did not tolerate false teachers, but it appears they became more about what they were doing rather than why they were doing it.
When we first come to Christ and are transformed by His unconditional love, our ministry flows from this love and we share him with others. If we are not careful our ministry for him can flow from a sense of obligation or pride, rather an expression of the gifts and fruits of the Spirit. As Jesus reminds us in John 15:5, "Apart from me you can do nothing."
How is your love for Christ? Have you forgotten what it is like when you first experienced His grace? Does your ministry flow from that same love and grace? John has a simple message to them and to us, "Repent and do the things you did at first".