Revelation 2 - Intro and Ephesus

Revelation  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  57:26
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Seven Churches

Seven Churches Congregations to whom John is instructed to write in Revelation 2–3; located in seven cities of western Asia Minor: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. Although these seven churches were actual, historical churches in Asia Minor, they represent the types of churches that perennially exist throughout the church age. What Christ says to these churches is relevant in all times.
At the start of John’s vision in Revelation, he is told to write letters to these churches—or, more precisely, to their angels (see below: “Angels of the Churches”). The content of the letters is dictated by a metaphysical figure described as “one like a son of man” who died but now lives forever—the exalted Christ (Rev 1:13–18; compare Dan 7:13–14; Rev 1:1). Together, the seven letters form an introduction to the apocalyptic prophecy that follows in Rev 4–22. The letters encourage the churches to become or remain strong so that they can persevere through the coming tribulation. Each letter concludes with a description of various eschatological blessings that will be given to “the one who conquers” (e.g., Rev 2:7.
In Revelation, there are seven spirits, angels, churches, seals, trumpets, bowls, beatitudes, and doxologies. Because the number seven is a sign of perfection, the seven letters could represent Jesus’ perfect revelation to His people (Bauckham, Theology, 26–27).
Form and Content of the Letters
The seven letters share a similar structure (Osborne, Revelation, 105–6; Witherington, Revelation 2003: 91–93; Aune, Revelation 1–5, 119–24):
1. Introductory Address
a. “To the angel of the church in …”
b. Command to “write” and christological attributes that refer to the speaker (introduced by the prophetic formula “the words of …”)
2. Letter Body
a. Strengths of the church (introduced by “I know …”)
b. Weaknesses of the church (sometimes introduced by “but I have this against you”)
c. A call to faithfulness (e.g., “remember,” “repent,” “be faithful,” “hold fast”)
3. Concluding Address
a. “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches”
b. Promise of eschatalogical blessings for “the one who conquers”
(The order of the concluding elements is reversed in the last four letters.)
The body of each letter—presenting strengths, weaknesses, and calls to faithfulness—reflects a strong pastoral emphasis, indicating that the primary intention is to encourage the churches to remain in (or come back to) Christ. Of the seven letters, only two are completely positive—those addressed to Smyrna and Philadelphia—while the letter to Laodicea is completely negative.

Church of Ephesus

At its height Ephesus was the most important city along the coast of Asia Minor. Two hundred and thirty cities dotted the coast line of Asia Minor. Many had ideal harbors, but Ephesus was the queen among these coast communities, with over 250,000 inhabitants. The city had been founded to command one of the main highways of Asia Minor. Its attraction was not only its natural harbor, but the rich, fertile land that covered the inland area.
Ephesus was, of course, a great commercial city. Its natural harbor and strategic location on one of the main roads of the world made it such. However, in the middle of the first century, the harbor had silted up so badly that trade had declined dramatically from the days of Ephesian glory. There had been attempts to drag the silt out, but the efforts were half-hearted and finally abandoned. The people’s hearts were just not in the effort. Part of the reason for this attitude was the successful and profitable trade Ephesus enjoyed from its religious cult. The great temple of Diana, or Artemis, was there. Diana was the goddess who had a grotesque head and many breasts and focused upon the sensual pleasure of the flesh. The worshipping pilgrims found their satisfaction in prostitution with a host of priestesses who plied the cult of the goddess. A great trade of silversmiths had developed over the years, and tourist commercialism boomed year-round. This accounts for the guild of silversmiths finding the crowds an easy mark for arousing opposition against Paul.
Acts 19:24 ESV
24 For a man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought no little business to the craftsmen.
As the years went by, the great harbor silted up more and more, and the Ephesians depended more and more upon the trade that came from their religion and superstition. The natural harbor of Smyrna, which lay close by, became a more suitable port and began to take away more and more of the commercial traffic of Ephesus. As a result Ephesus became a dying city, living on its past reputation as a religious and philosophical center. The great city of Ephesus had a disease, the disease of sensual unrighteousness, and the disease did its work: it corrupted the people. The people, sensual and self-centered, lost their will and willingness to ply a commendable trade. Thus, the disease of Ephesus proved mortal. The “lampstand” of Ephesus crumbled, and the light of Ephesus died out.
The church in Ephesus had a small beginning. When Paul visited Ephesus, he found only twelve believers in the city. They had been won to the Lord by the immature but impressive preacher Apollos. As a result they had been misinformed on the presence of the Holy Spirit; they seemed to lack a consciousness of the Spirit in the life of the believer and the awareness that He had already been sent into the world.
Acts 19:1–7 ESV
1 And it happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the inland country and came to Ephesus. There he found some disciples. 2 And he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” 3 And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They said, “Into John’s baptism.” 4 And Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.” 5 On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying. 7 There were about twelve men in all.
After Paul’s instruction to these twelve, he began to teach in the synagogue. He taught for three months. But the Jews were hardened and refused to believe. They murmured against the message. Therefore, Paul moved the church into the school of a philosopher, Tyrannus. There he preached Christ for two whole years. During this time it is said that the church was instrumental in sounding forth the Word throughout all Asia: “So all they which dwelt in Asia heard the Word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks.
Acts 19:10 ESV
10 This continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.
The Lord worked special miracles by Paul in Ephesus and the church witnessed some amazing things. From all evidence, the spectacular was necessary in order to get through to the people. As always, God did everything He could to reach a people. These experiences show the great love and movement of God toward man (see Ac. 19:11–20). In viewing these accounts, we must keep the background of the city in mind. Ephesus was a hot bed of Oriental magic and superstition. The people were an emotional and sensual lot, easily moved to feelings. They were a devoted people, an expressive people, a loving people, and equally a lovable people.
As Paul preached and God worked miracles, many believed and the church grew mightily. The believers gave great evidence of changed lives by living for Christ right in the middle of an immoral and pagan society. On one occasion, the church demonstrated its new found faith by building a great bonfire and setting aflame all of its pagan and magical literature.
Revelation 2:1–7 (ESV)
1 “To the angel of the church (pastor/elder) in Ephesus write: ‘The words of him (Thus says the Lord in O.T.) who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands (Christ).
2 “ ‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false.
3 I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary.
4 But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.
5 Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.
6 Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
7 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.’
The general condition of life in Ephesus was that of a wealthy, cultured, corrupt city. Just why Ephesus was selected as the first of the seven is not revealed. It could have been that it was because Ephesus was the natural starting place on the continent for a circular message from the isle of Patmos. If one grants that the book was written by John the son of Zebedee, he will find a likely suggestion in the tradition that John had been the chief leader of the Christian forces around Ephesus for a quarter of a century. The history of the founding and early operation of this church is recorded in Acts 18–20.

Ephesus: The Lacking Church

The Expository Pulpit Series: Revelation Unveiling Christ and His Prophetic Program by Dr. Glen Spencer Jr.
The message to the Church of Ephesus—Beginning of the Church to A.D. 100. Ephesus represents the Apostolic Church. The word Ephesus means desirable. It was the early church with all the zeal of its first love, burning for Christ. This church started out with a great love for Christ and truth and a burning desire to see souls saved, but toward the end of the first century she left her first love and as a result began to cool off. Our labor for Christ is to always to be based on our love for Him. We serve Him because we love Him—not simply because we have to.
Ephesus was one of, if not the most important, city in Asia Minor. It was the center of the worship of Diana, the goddess of fertility. It had the largest theatre in the world, capable of holding 50,000 spectators. It was a center of government and trade, and there was a great seaport there. It was also well known for its learning and art. Paul lived in Ephesus for almost three years, serving as the great missionary Church planter to the Gentiles.

The Praise of the Ephesians

Christ appears here as the Judge before whom every believer shall stand. Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write; These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks. (Revelation 2:1) You will notice that the seven stars are in His right hand. The right hand speaks of absolute power and authority. As the True and all-powerful Judge, He searches their hearts and he first commends all that is worthy of praise. Our Lord praises the Church of Ephesus for several things.

It was a Desired Church

The word Ephesus means desired. Ephesus was a desirable Church. The early churches were the beginning of an eternal plan and purpose. The Church of Ephesus was started by the Apostle Paul. It had begun with great fire and was marked by its missionary and evangelistic zeal, as well as its uncompromising stand for the truth. The Church of Ephesus was Fundamental, Fiery, Faithful, and Fruitful—it had been a desirable Church.

It was a Dedicated Church

Jesus said, I know thy works, and thy labour … What a sobering thought! Jesus Christ, the God of Heaven, the true Lord and Judge of all knows our works! There is not one thing in our lives that He does not know about. The eyes of the Lord are in every place, beholding the evil and the good. (Proverbs 15:3) He knows everything! He knows the sincere, loving desire of every true child of God. He knows their hurts and heart aches. He knows their works.
Likewise Jesus knows all of the hypocrisy, bitterness, malice, backbiting, and wickedness of the hypocrites. Sinful man will get away with absolutely nothing. It is a definite fact that God knows about and … shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil. (Ecclesiastes 12:14)
God knew that the Ephesians were faithful in their work and commends them for their labor. They were workers—not shirkers. They got the job done. They weren’t loafers, they were laborers. Solomon said, Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest. (Ecclesiastes 9:10) The word labour carries the idea of toiling or laboring to the point of weariness and exhaustion. It emphasizes the depth and measure of their labor for the Lord.

It as a Discerning Church

Jesus also commended them because they could not … bear them which are evil. This is almost a lost truth in this day of ecumenical Christendom. It seems as though professing Christianity has little or no discernment. We expect the natural man, that is the unregenerate man, to be void of discernment. But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Corinthians 2:14) However, the child of God is to be the opposite. Being indwelt by the Spirit of God, he can discern right from wrong. But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man. For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ. (1 Corinthians 2:15–16) Yes! We are to judge all things. The Christian life calls for discernment. John warned us, Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. (1 John 2:15) Christians are supposed to hate and stay away from the wickedness of the world. It is a sad thing that the majority of professing Christians today have no problem with associating and running with those who are evil. Paul said, And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them. (Ephesians 5:11)

It was a Determined Church

As He is always faithful to do, Jesus commends their patience and determination to continue steadfastly in service. And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name’s sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted. (Revelation 2:3) The word borne means to bear up under a load or to bear what is burdensome. The word patience speaks of endurance. It is the ability to remain steadfast under pressure. They were opposed, slandered, threatened, and persecuted—yet they stayed in the battle. They had learned from the best. Their first pastor was the Apostle Paul who had founded the Church of Ephesus thirty some years earlier. They had not become weary in well doing.

It was a Defending Church

But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitanes, which I also hate. (Revelation 2:6) Jesus praised the Church of Ephesus because they detected and detested false doctrine and error. He commended them because they hated the deeds of the Nicolaitanes, and in the same statement He announced His own Divine hatred of the same crowd. The Nicolaitan movement marks the beginning of a form of the priesthood in the church.
The word Nicolaitan comes from two words, “nikao” meaning “to conquer,” and “laos” which means “the laity.” The two words together mean to “conquer the laity.” The Nicolaitanes were those who were attempting to become lord’s over God’s heritage by dividing the Church into two groups of believers—the clergy and the laity. Peter had earlier warned about such practices. Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock. (1 Peter 5:2–3) Sheep are led, not pushed. Paul lead by example, Not because we have not power, but to make ourselves an ensample unto you to follow us. (2 Thessalonians 3:9) Paul did not operate solely by his power and authority—he was an example for others. Later Paul would instruct a young preacher by the name of Timothy to, … be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity. (1 Timothy 4:12) This is leading as opposed to lording. Shepherds go before their sheep to lead them. You will never see a shepherd driving the sheep in front of him. Pastors must lead the people of God the same way—feeding, protecting, and leading them.

The Problem with the Ephesians

Jesus overlooks nothing. He sees not only what we have, but also what we do not have. He never becomes so carried away with our assets that He overlooks our liabilities. Regardless of all the words of praise which Jesus had for the Church at Ephesus, He also had some words of rebuke. Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love. (Revelation 2:4) You say, “What stinging words, what dreadful rebuke to fall from the tender lips of the Saviour.” Yes, but look at the love and friendship behind the rebuke. Solomon said, Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful. (Proverbs 27:6) Jesus is faithful even when He has to rebuke His own children. Jesus is the friend that sticketh closer than a brother. (Proverbs 18:24)
Certainly the church at Ephesus was solid and grounded in the truth. It was a church based and built on sound doctrine. They knew what they believed and they practiced it. They were separated, both ecclesiastically and personally. Their purity of doctrine and continuance in service were unquestioned, but they had deserted their first love. They had gotten so caught up in duty that they had lost their devotion. Their Labour was Commendable but their Love was Contemptible. Like Martha, they were so busy that they had no time for Jesus. Their relationship with Christ was based on Performance rather than Passion. They were far more occupied with the work of Christ than with the person of Christ. One preacher of old use to say, People can be straight as a gun barrel theologically, and as empty as a gun barrel spiritually. This statement sums up the condition of the First Baptist Church of Ephesus. They were straight, but they were empty.
The love here is described as the first love. It is the honeymoon love of the newlywed. Jeremiah calls it the love of the espousal.… Thus saith the Lord; I remember thee, the kindness of thy youth, the love of thine espousals, when thou wentest after me in the wilderness, in a land that was not sown. (Jeremiah 2:2) Israel is pictured here as the loving bride who clings to her beloved bridegroom. Honeymoon love! The most intimate and cherished loved between the bride and groom. It is a time of absolute devotion, one to another. Notice the phrase used here, … .the love of thine espousals, when thou wentest after me in the wilderness. It speaks of the wilderness wanderings, when God’s people were separated from Egypt and totally dependant on God. This is the love that Jesus wants and deserves. Isn’t it astonishing that the Almighty God of Heaven so values our love that He misses it when we fail to love Him as we should? Their accomplishments were the results of cold, dead, and dry orthodoxy. My friend, duty without devotion does not satisfy our Lord. If your service is not carried out because of your love for Christ, your service will not amount to much.
The Church of Ephesus was getting the job done. But, regardless of the Ephesians’ great accomplishments, they had failed in their most important task. Jesus said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. (Matthew 22:37) No matter what else we may accomplish, when we fail to love our Lord with all our heart—we fail most miserably. There is no more dangerous Church or Christian than one who is operating in the flesh. A Church that does not labor out of love for the Lord will eventually become cold, pharisaical, and destructive.

The Prescription for the Ephesians

Jesus had put His finger on a problem that if left uncorrected would result in the death of the Church. This was a hard rebuke to hear, but the Loving Lord never corrects without offering a solution for the problem. Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent. (Revelation 2:5) The Ephesians were given a three-fold instruction with a warning:


Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen … The Christians at Ephesus had FALLEN. They had not committed adultery. They had not committed murder. They had not committed robbery. Yet, they had fallen! What a note of seriousness! It is a terrible fall for a Christian to become so occupied and busy that his love for Christ fails. Few ever survive this fall. They were commanded to reflect upon the precious relationship that they once had. Do you know what we as Christians need sometimes? We need to slow down and remember what Christ has done for us. Remember those wonderful honeymoon days when you were first saved. Remember what it was like when you first got saved? You couldn’t get enough of Jesus. You were in your Bible regularly, you prayed, went to Church, hung around and fellowshipped with God’s people. Why is it that you can skip Church now without it bothering you? You go through life without witnessing. When you were first saved you told everybody—now you are silent. You’ve left your first love. How sad! Like the Church of Ephesus, for many Christians, the honeymoon is over.


Jesus calls on them to repent … The Ephesians started well but they had gotten off course. They had left their first love and were laboring in the flesh. Paul said that the love of Christ constraineth us. They needed to get back to serving God out of their love and devotion for Him rather than their duty. There are too many people sitting in our Fundamental Churches today who are serving at the command of the preacher rather than out of a compassion for Christ. Dear friend, return to your first love. Return to a ministry that is motivated by love.


… and do the first works. It is not enough to simply say I repent. No! No! Repentance is a change of mind that leads to a change of direction. If there is no change there has been no repentance. Paul’s gospel message to man was, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance. (Acts 26:20) Repentance involves changing the mind, turning to God and bearing fruit. John instructs the Ephesians not only to repent, but also do the first works. Repentance produces a product. The work of genuine repentance is seen in action. John the Baptist told the religionists of his day to, bring forth fruit meet for repentance. Matthew Henry says:
They must repent. They must be inwardly grieved and ashamed for their sinful declension; they must blame themselves, and shame themselves, for it, and humbly confess it in the sight of God, and judge and condemn themselves for it. They must return and do their first works. They must as it were begin again, go back step by step, till they come to the place where they took the first false step; they must endeavour to revive and recover their first zeal, tenderness, and seriousness, and must pray as earnestly, and watch as diligently, as they did when they first set out in the ways of God.
They had voluntarily left their first love. Jesus had not left—they had and they must return. There are a lot of folks today who simply need to turn back to Christ and serve Him the way they once did—with love. If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land. (2 Chronicles 7:14)
The Ephesian Church would Remember, Repent and Return; or they would be …


Jesus warns, … or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent. If the Ephesians would not repent and return to Him, He had no choice but to remove them. His warning is strong and serious. You see my friend, if your love for Jesus is not right, you have no light for Him.
The Church of Ephesus does not stand today. The once great city of Ephesus is now reduced to mere desolation. The market place is in ruins. No more trade, no more wealth, no more art, no more learning! Scarcely a trace of the great theater of the Ephesians still remains to remind us of the ancient glories which the Ephesians once possessed. Her light has been not just dimmed, she was completely snuffed out. Why? Because she would not repent and return to her Saviour.
All over America there are cold, dead, and dried up Churches that were once great light houses for the Lord. Many no longer exist at all—the doors are closed. Their light and testimony has been snuffed out. Our Lord warned that in the last days, … because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold. (Matthew 24:12) Have you left your first love?
What does Ephesus lack?
Why would forsaking “your first love” (v. 4) be so tragic for this church?
Why do you think Christ’s judgment would be so severe if they did not repent (v. 5)?
There is a tendency for most of us to lose the initial enthusiasm and excitement we had when we first came to know Christ. If we have lost our first love, what steps can we take to renew our commitment to Jesus?
What are the 4 R’s for the church of Ephesus?
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