1 To the angel of the church in Ephesus1 write:
The one who grasps the seven stars in his right hand2, the one walking in the middle of the seven golden lampstands3, says this: 2 I know your deeds4 and hard work5, and your perseverance. You don’t tolerate6 evil men7, and you have tested8 the ones who call themselves apostles9 (and they are not!) and you have found them to be false10. 3 You have perseverance and carried on because of my name’s sake11 and have not grown weary12. 4 But I have something against you because you left your first love13. 5 Therefore, remember from where you have fallen!14 Repent and do the deeds that you did at first15. Otherwise16, if you don’t repent, I am coming17 to you and will remove your lampstand from its place.18 6 But you have this in your favor: you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans19, which I also hate20. 7 The one who has an ear, let him hear21 what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers, I will give to him the privilege to eat22 from the tree of life23 which is in the paradise of God.
Introduction to the Letters
Beale* (Pg. 225) lays out the literary structure that Jesus gives John to use in writing the letters to the churches in Asia Minor. Note that structure is not exact in all of the letters as some of the elements of the letter structure are not applicable to certain churches.
1. command to write to an angel of a church,
2. Christ’s self-description derived from the description in ch. 1 and introduced by the formula “these things”,
3. commendation of the church’s good works,
4. accusation because of some sin,
5. exhortation to repent with a warning of judgment or an encouragement,
6. exhortation to discern the truth of the preceding message (“he who has an ear...”), and
7. promise to the conquerors.
Note that the structure is in seven parts! Although seven is used throughout the Apocalypse to signify “completeness”, we can’t just assume that it applies here as not all of the churches receive the “seven- fold” letter layout.
There are various interpretations of these letters, but there is no mistaking the relevance for the Church today heard in these words written long ago. The exhortations and warnings apply to us just as they did for the specified congregations back then.
“Let the churches hear” rings through the years.
The letters encourage faithfulness and perseverance. The promised reward is eternal. What follows gives confirmation and assurance of that fact, which is part of the blessing contained in the reading.
Ephesus means desirable. - Hitchcock’s Bible Names.
1 Ephesus was one of four of the largest cities in the Roman Empire. The others were Rome, Alexandria, and Antioch (in Syria). It had over 250,000 people in it. It had the Artemision (temple for Artemis) and the building was considered one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. The city came under Roman rule in 133 B.C. and became the greatest city in the area. That explains why the church in Ephesus was considered to be the “highest” of the seven churches. Osborne*** (Pgs. 108-110).
2 Note the change of the verb from “hold” (1:16) to “grasps” here. This denotes Christ’s control and power over the churches. Osborne*** (Pg. 112).
3 Christ goes from being in the middle of the golden lampstands (1:13) to walking in the middle of the lampstands. This shows Christ concern for the churches and his authority over them. Osborne*** (Pg. 112). This may also be an allusion to Leviticus 26:12. Mounce** (Pg. 86).
Those of the Spirit are led by the Spirit. We are called to walk with Christ, on the pathway lit by His righteousness, for He is the way.
4 τὰ ἔργα (deeds)
5 τὸν κόπον (hard work)
6 καὶ ὅτι οὐ δύνῃ βαστάσαι (you don’t tolerate)
Greek: “and that you are not able to bear”.
7 Referring to the false-apostles in the same verse.
8 ἐπείρασας (you have tested)
or “you put to the test”.
This word can be used in a positive or negative sense, depending on the context. A negative example might be “do not test the Lord your God”. It appears in a positive light here and is commended by Jesus. It is important and incumbent on us to examine everything to see if it agrees with His word and light of the Holy Spirit.
9 ἀποστόλους (apostles)
Apostles are ones who are sent carrying a message. In this case, these
apostles were carrying false messages.
10 ψευδεῖς - psyoo-dace
untrue, that is, erroneous, deceitful, wicked - false, liar. Anyone who
does not hold to the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.
11 or “name”. The modern-day idiom “keep on keeping on” comes to mind. The Ephesian’s had endured false-teachings and persecutions while not giving up.
12 οὐ κεκοπίακες (have not grown weary)
Greek: “have not labored” as in “labored to the point of becoming
Romans 5:3-5 ESV 3 More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
The seed has been sown. If we believe and hold on to His truth we will find fruit, now and in that time to come. We will not be disappointed.
13 Osborne*** says that “first love” here refers to “the love you had at first”. They had lost the enthusiasm that they first had in the beginning of that church. He goes on to say that they had fulfilled Jesus’ prophecy in Matthew 24:12, “The love of many will grow cold.” Apparently, the churches love had faded and their love for each other and other people was very low. (Pg. 115).
It is not limited to the time sense of first, but how one’s life should be ordered. What or who is first in our lives? Jesus demands that He be first. It is the intimacy and union as depicted between husband and wife. Jesus desires this kind of relationship with the Church, with us. This is why the Church is called “The Bride of Christ”.
"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, indifference to others, love for the world, compromise with evil, judgment, and, ultimately, the death of the church altogether. Despite its outwardly robust appearance, a deadly spiritual cancer was growing at the heart of the Ephesian church." -McArthur New Testament Commentary, Revelation.
Beale* (Pgs. 230-231) says that the “first love” represents the Ephesian church’s zeal in witnessing and that they had lost some of their zeal in witnessing. This makes sense in that the lampstand is in place to place the “light of God” up high so all can see it. Christ’s threat to remove their lampstand from its place seems to back this idea up.
14 In other words, look how high you once were. Look how far you have fallen from where you used to be.
They have strayed from the path, from the side of the One Who loves them. They are some place now where they shouldn’t be, and have lost their way. Jesus says they have fallen, which seems to indicate it may be possible to know the love of Christ, to be attached to the vine, and yet, be in danger of dropping off, drying up and withering, fruitless.
15 τὰ πρῶτα ἔργα ποίησον (do the deeds that you did at first)
Greek: “do the first deeds” or “do the first works”. Repent (change what
you are doing) and get back to elevated place where you once was.
The answer to their plight is given by Jesus. It is the same requirement that allows for grace: repent and change your ways. Turn to God.
16 εἰ δὲ μή (otherwise)
Greek: “but if not” as in “but if you don’t do this”.
There is but one outcome given if they continue on the path they tread.
17 ἔρχομαί (I am coming)
The verb is actually in the present tense, but is the future tense implied? Consider 1:4 where John has “the one who is coming” in the present tense. Maybe the present tense describes John’s thought’s on Jesus’ return “in quickness” in 1:1.
It may be also that the present tense harkens back to the description of Jesus being the the midst of the church, and walking among the lamps. He knows the heart of man. Jesus, “the one who is coming”, is the one who said, “I AM”. He is near, even on our lips.
18 Most scholars believe that this means that the status of the church in Ephesus would be reduced as a result of not repenting. This view is probable as early christian scholar Ignatius wrote that the church had heeded this warning, repented, and became a great church again. Osborne** (Pgs. 118-119).
The imagery of a lampstand allows us to see that the lampstand itself holds up the lamp that produces the light. Since we know from 1 John 1 that “God is light” we can assume that God is the light from the lamp on the churches’ lampstand. It is possible that the seven Spirits represent the light of the lamps. If this is true, then the churches’ role is to lift up God’s light so all can see it and not “hide it under a basket”.
19 We know next to nothing about the Nicolaitans, but we do have some clues. We know that John’s letter (1 John) dealt much with gnostics (see one on my earlier blogs on 1 John 4:1-6 here) so, the Nicolaitans could have been gnostics. More than likely, the Nicolaitans were participating in pagan feast and rituals (Beale, Pgs 233-234). Ephesus was considered a “centerpiece” for the worship of Artemis and thousands of priest and priestesses served in the temples there.
Possibly the biggest thing they were doing was worshipping the Emperor. Under the Emperor Domitian, Emperor worship was pushed. Osborne*** (Pg. 121). Whatever it was that the Nicolaitans were doing, both God and the Ephesians hated it.
20 τὰ ἔργα/ἃ (the deeds/which)
The grammar is very specific here. The church in Ephesus hates “the deeds” not the Nicolaitans themselves. God also hates the deeds and not the Nicolaitans. This is indicated by the relative pronoun ἃ which matches the number and case of τὰ ἔργα (deeds).
21 This parallels with Mark 4:9. For greater understanding on this passage and how it was used by Jesus and why it is used here, see my blogs on Mark 4:1-9 here and Mark 4: 10-12 here.
22 δώσω αὐτῷ φαγεῖν (I will give to him the privilege to eat)
According to BDAG (Pg. 243), The “giving” here means “to grant” or
“to allow” as in “to give someone the authority to eat”.
Over-comers are those that overcome the world. This does not mean we are supposed to defeat our neighbors in battle. Our battle is with self. We are the world. That is why we are told that we must bear our cross, must die to self, and be born again.
23 ἐκ τοῦ ξύλου τῆς ζωῆς (from the tree of life)
John uses ξύλον (xulon) which really shouldn’t be considered a “tree” as δένδρον (dendron) is used in other places in the Apocalypse and its main definition is “tree”. Here, ξύλον may very well represent the cross! See my blog of Galatians 3:1-14 here.
Beale*, on the other hand, says that it doesn’t. (Pg. 235).
We have fallen from the presence of God. Getting past ourselves, or overcoming the world, we come back into the garden. The tree of life is then before us. The cross is indeed the way to life, enabling us to “cross” over into the kingdom of heaven.
NT = New Testament
OT = Old Testament
ESV = English Standard Version
KJV = King James Version
TR = Textus Receptus (A late Byzantine Greek text of the NT. A
predecessor of the TR was used in the translation of the KJV)
LXX = Septuagint (Greek translation of the OT)
The Greek New Testament with Greek-English Dictionary B. Aland (Editor), K. Aland (Editor), J. Karavidopoulos (Editor), B. M. Metzger (Editor), C. M. Martini (Editor)
(BDAG) A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd Edition Walter Bauer (Author), Frederick William Danker (Editor)
A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament Bruce M. Metzger
(Kittel) Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (VOLUMES 1-10) Gerhard Kittel (Editor), Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Translator)
*The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text (New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, Mich.).) G. K. Beale
**The Book of Revelation (The New International Commentary on the New Testament) Robert H. Mounce
***Revelation (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament) Grant R. Osborne
+Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics Daniel B. Wallace
++An Idiom Book of New Testament Greek C. F. D. Moule
+++Biblical Greek (Scripta Pontificii Instituti Biblici) Maximilian Zerwick
A Grammatical Analysis of the Greek New Testament Max Zerwick (Author), Mary Grosvenor (Author)
Ἀποκάλυψις 2·1 Τῷ ἀγγέλῳ τῆς ἐν Ἐφέσῳ ἐκκλησίας γράψον· Τάδε λέγει ὁ κρατῶν τοὺς ἑπτὰ ἀστέρας ἐν τῇ δεξιᾷ αὐτοῦ, ὁ
περιπατῶν ἐν μέσῳ τῶν ἑπτὰ λυχνιῶν τῶν χρυσῶν· 2 οἶδα τὰ ἔργα σου καὶ τὸν κόπον καὶ τὴν ὑπομονήν σου καὶ ὅτι οὐ δύνῃ βαστάσαι κακούς, καὶ ἐπείρασας τοὺς λέγοντας ἑαυτοὺς ἀποστόλους καὶ οὐκ εἰσὶν καὶ εὗρες αὐτοὺς ψευδεῖς, 3 καὶ ὑπομονὴν ἔχεις καὶ ἐβάστασας διὰ τὸ ὄνομά μου καὶ οὐ κεκοπίακες. 4 ἀλλὰ ἔχω κατὰ σοῦ ὅτι τὴν ἀγάπην σου τὴν πρώτην ἀφῆκες. 5 μνημόνευε οὖν πόθεν πέπτωκας καὶ μετανόησον καὶ τὰ πρῶτα ἔργα ποίησον· εἰ δὲ μή, ἔρχομαί σοι καὶ κινήσω τὴν λυχνίαν σου ἐκ τοῦ τόπου αὐτῆς, ἐὰν μὴ μετανοήσῃς. 6 ἀλλὰ τοῦτο ἔχεις, ὅτι μισεῖς τὰ ἔργα τῶν Νικολαϊτῶν ἃ κἀγὼ μισῶ.
Ἀποκάλυψις 2·7 Ὁ ἔχων οὖς ἀκουσάτω τί τὸ πνεῦμα λέγει ταῖς ἐκκλησίαις. Τῷ νικῶντι δώσω αὐτῷ φαγεῖν ἐκ τοῦ ξύλου τῆς ζωῆς, ὅ ἐστιν ἐν τῷ παραδείσῳ τοῦ θεοῦ.