Revelation 2:1-7 (cont’d)
While the letters to the seven churches are written to individual congregations, it is clear that Jesus’ intention was for all the congregations to have knowledge of each letter. The seven letters follow the exact same outline consisting of seven segments. While a couple of the churches may only have 6 segments, the outline is the same:
1) To which church the letter is written
2) The speaker of the words which are to be written
3) The intimate knowledge the speaker has about each church, the church’s accomplishments
4) The church’s actual condition, usually negative
5) The correction to their condition
6) The exhortation of, “he who has ears, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches”
7) The reward promised to the victor.
In actuality only three churches have the full seven. Two, Smyrna and Philadelphia, do not include item #4 and two, Sardis and Laodicea, do not include item #3.
Jesus commands John to write to the messenger of the congregation at Ephesus. Jesus defines Himself the speaker as, “He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lamp stands.” The first thing we must glean from this verse is He who holds. The Greek for ‘holds’ is kratein, and it carries with it a powerful meaning: to take hold with complete control. Jesus is telling the congregation at Ephesus that He has and is in complete control of the church. This has a positive meaning and a negative meaning, depending on how one handles it. If we recognize Jesus’ control and submit to it, then we can walk in His presence, strength, and power. The congregation can live in the security of Christ’s love, presence, and power. When we submit, we are under such protection that nothing Satan can do – and no one that Satin can send – can tear us from the protective hands of Christ. But if we rebel…..well, the answer is found in verse 5.
The imagery with kratein is Jesus has all seven stars in His hands. Jesus moves among the seven lamp stands. He holds all, moves among all. What John wants us to understand is Jesus has and is in total control of the WHOLE church. Remember, Jesus tells us the mystery of the stars and the lamp stands in verse 20 of the first chapter. The stars are the angels or the messengers, the lamp stands are the congregations. The messengers are firmly grasped in His hand and the congregations are in His immediate presence. Again, Jesus is in total control, not the messengers or the congregational leadership, not the congregation itself. Only Jesus. The stars are in His right hand. The right hand denotes authority and position. Their position is in His right hand. Their position is under His authority.
In verse 2, Jesus tell the Ephesus congregation what He sees as their accomplishments. He says He knows their works. The Greek for ‘works’ is ergon (pronounced er’-gon) and means the work of a group of people based on doing the right action according to a moral code. In this case, the moral code would be the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They labor for the Gospel, they persevere for the Gospel. They have done good works. They have cared for the sick, fed the hungry, clothed the naked, provided shelter for the homeless, and held true to the Gospel.
Their second accomplishment is that they cannot stand or endure those who are evil. The Greek for evil is kakos, (pronounced kak-os’) and is defined as wicked, viscous in conduct, heart, and character.
Their accomplishment was that they had heeded Paul’s warning 30 years earlier. Paul warned them that there would be wolves and liars and false teachers and false apostles who would come in and try to destroy the church – or at least lead them astray. Jesus said that the congregation at Ephesus had tested these teachers and self-appointed apostles to see if they were what they claimed to be. The Greek for tested is peirazo (pronounced pi-rad’-zo). It means to tempt, to prove and put to the test in order to ascertain the true character, views, or feelings of someone. They worked hard and labored long to test those teachers and apostles to make sure that they were true ambassadors of Christ. In verse 3, Jesus repeats that they have persevered and labored and bore up under pressure for the sake of His name, and that in the process of it all they had not become weary. The Greek for weary is kamno (pronounced kam’-no.) It means to be made sick by constant work. Jesus praises them that their continual battle against false teachers, false teachings, and false apostles has not made them weary or sick. They haven’t given up or quit under the pressure but are constant in this battle. I’m sure we all have battled against problems or issues in our lives for such a time that at one point we have seen no end in sight. We become weary, want to say, “Forget it!” And we sometimes do. Jesus praises the Ephesians for not becoming weary of the fight and for keeping on keeping on.
Verse 4 brings us to the charge against them. Jesus tells them they have forgot their first love. The Greek for love is agape – a word we followers of Christ know well. It means selfless love, sacrificial love. I will close tonight’s study with what the Lord means by this.
In verse 5, Jesus exhorts Ephesus to remember from where they were fallen – basically, to remember how they were in the beginning. It is interesting that the Lord is challenging them to remember what in their past it was that brought them unto salvation. What kind of love it was that enabled them to confess Jesus as their Lord. The love that enabled them to to live a life of assurance of forgiveness. Jesus calls on the congregation at Ephesus to repent. The Greek for repent is metanoeo (pronounced met-an-o-eh’-o). It is stated as showing a genuine sorrow for sin and a changing of the mind toward God with the intended action of returning to God. Jesus wants the Ephesians to stop standing on their accomplishments and return to grace, to stop depending on their good works and return to depending on the finished work of Christ on the cross. Jesus tells them that He wants them to return to their first work, their first ergon. That was proclaiming the Gospel unto salvation.
The Lord ends verse 5 with His punishment if they do not repent and return to their first work. He will remove their lamp stand. They will be cast out, no longer part of the kingdom, no longer under the power of His protection.
In verse 6 Jesus does what people in the business world call a ‘sandwich’. In verses 2 and 3 He praises them, in verses 4 and 5 He tells them what they are doing wrong, and in verse 6 He praises them again. Jesus tells them that, like Himself, they hate the works of the Nicolaitans. These were a group of gnostics who would become a bigger pain in another 50 years, but even at the turn of the first century, their diversive beliefs were rearing an ugly head. These Nicolaitans are identified with the followers of Nicolaus, the proselyte of Antioch, who was one of the seven deacons of that church. The idea is that he went astray and became a heretic. According to an early church father, Irenaeus, the Nicolaitans lived a life of unrestrained indulgence. Hippolytus says that they departed from correct doctrine and were in the habit of inculcating indifference to food and life. They confused Christian liberty with unchristian living. The Nicolaitans saw no reason for a Christian to be separated unto God. Like the church of today, the Nicolaitans believed the Christian should just blend in. There was no such thing as a Christian lifestyle. It was the spirit that mattered, not the body or a life separated unto Christ. Jesus praises the Ephesians that they hated this heresy as much as He did. We must understand that while the Ephesians may have hated the Nicolaitans, in reality Jesus did not. Jesus hated the heresy and what it did and could do to believers and His church. We will deal again with the Nicolaitans in the church at Pergamos, but it will come from less of a Greek viewpoint and more from an Old Testament Hebrew viewpoint.
In verse 7, we have the proclamation, “He who has ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” This proclamation is at the end of all seven letters. Many times this verse is misquoted because people say ears. But notice it is in the singular – ‘ear’. What the Lord is saying is let the one who has a heart after God hear, a heart after the truth of the Gospel, a heart to do Jesus’ work and rely upon His grace, His goodness, His righteousness, His mercy, His holiness, and His word. They will hear and repent and return to Christ. As Jesus puts it, they will be overcomers. They will receive the full promise of salvation. Eternal life, life with no end. They will be received into God Paradise and be allowed to do that which Adam and Eve were not allowed to do – that which their exile from the Garden of Eden prevented them from doing: eating from the tree of life. The Greek word for life is zoe (pronounced dzo-ay’). This carries a different meaning in the everyday Greek and Hebrew. To these languages, it just means a life which satisfies; but in Christian texts, it is used to mean life eternal, a life without end. Thus,we get to eat from the tree of eternal life!
Go back to verse 4. What does the Lord mean by the Ephesians leaving their first love (agape)? We read about their good works, their tirelessness, their willingness to protect the Gospel and the name of Jesus, their unwillingness to be fooled by false doctrine and false teachers by constantly testing them to see if they were true or not. Why is Jesus calling them to repent? Because they lost their first love, which was AGAPE LOVE! If we go to the 13th chapter of I Corinthians, verses 1-3 we read, “Though I speak with the tongue of men and of angel but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.” Have you ever gone to a church and heard a sermon that was so hell-fire and brimstone it scared you to death? Yet when the service was over, you thought if you went to the altar it wouldn’t really matter, because the people were about as friendly as a provoked rattle snake? They did their duty. Did they do anything wrong? No. Did you feel a need to repent? Yes. Did you feel love? Probably not. Have you ever encountered a person who could quote Scripture like they were reading it from the Bible? And if you mention a problem or make a mistake or ask for prayer, they just spout out a Scripture? These folks are great at quoting Scripture but not so good at living the life of love that Scripture talks about….
The Ephesians had become experts at testing the teachers and the teachings. They had become experts at protecting the name of Jesus. But they had stopped exhorting the name of Jesus. They could tell you what true doctrine was, but they had either forgotten how to proclaim or just ceased to do so. You see, the first love is the understanding of what the first work is. The first work is the conversion of the sinner. The Ephesians wouldn’t have a Gospel to protect if they hadn’t first been converted and brought into a new life in Christ. They had forgot that their first love was to love people and to love them to the point that they wanted to bring them into the kingdom with themselves. The first work was the saving of souls.
Now you are thinking, ‘Well, Dap, you said that they did good works. They fed the hungry, they clothed the naked, they helped find shelter for the homeless, they gave to or provided ministry to the poor. What more could they do?’ Listen here – they could love those people. They could act/behave in love. Be honest. How often do we do the same things merely out of obligation? How often do we do the same works for works’ sake? How often do we perform the same way, thinking, ‘OKAY! Now I have a bargaining chip with God’? How often do we do the same work in order to be seen and to garner praise for what a good person we are? The Ephesians had lost their heart for the sinner, their concern for the lost. You cannot offer salvation to someone you do not love. We need Revival in our world today more than anything else we could pray for. We give it lip service but not a lot of action. For us to be an agent of change, we first must be changed. We have to pray with David, “Create in me a new heart, O Lord.” A new heart that beats in unison with the heart of Christ. A heart which breaks over the same sins that breaks Christ’s heart. The Ephesians had lost that heart of love, that zeal to seek and offer salvation to the lost.
The Ephesians had gotten so caught up in testing the false teachings and teachers that they had become judges instead of evangelists. Remember how I said earlier that Jesus didn’t hate the Nicolaitans, he hated their heresy? The Ephesians had become so judgmental they hated both the Nicolaitans and their heresy. This doesn’t mean that we don’t test spirits, doctrine, teachings, actions, and teachers. These are a must to do. We are allowed and expected to judge and test those. But we are NOT allowed to judge people to the point we condemn them. We are called to love them, offer them the truth, pray for their salvation, and hope for their redemption. The congregation at Ephesus had forgotten that – THEY HAD FORGOTTEN THEIR FIRST LOVE!!
1. Jesus is writing through John to the congregation at Ephesus.
2. Jesus’ power and Authority is demonstrated by His holding of the seven stars in His Right hand and
His position among the lamp stands.
3. Jesus praises the Ephesians’ works, laboring without growing weary, patience, perseverance, and
testing in order to protect the name of Jesus.
4. The charge against them is that they have lost their first love, agape.
5. They are called upon to repent and return to their first work and their first love.
6. They are told that the punishment if they do not repent and return to their first love is being removed from the kingdom.
7. They are praised again for their not being deceived by the Nicolaitans.
8. When they do repent and return, they will be overcomers and will receive their place in paradise
where they will receive everlasting life.
Be sure to pray the 91st Psalm in the first person. If you want to be even more empowered, pray the 23rd, the 27th, and the 121st Psalms in the first person as well.