Ephesus: Love Lost, Death Found (Revelation 2)
I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love (Revelation 2:4).
Greetings from John the Apostle! He sends his regrets that he can’t be with you today, but he is still a prisoner on the island of Patmos. He is deeply concerned for your well-being and faith, surrounded as you are by so much pagan wickedness and so many false teachers who even now are trying to make inroads into your congregation here at Ephesus.
Perhaps I should introduce myself. I’m sure you think me a stranger. What right do I have to come into your church and speak to you unannounced like this? Though you have never seen me before, I know you well. In fact, I am your angel. No, don’t be alarmed! I am not here to frighten you. I’m here to proclaim the Gospel, encourage you in the things you are doing right, and do some prodding in those areas that need improvement. I have been with you all along. You just didn’t know it. I serve our common Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, so you might not fall into sin. And you have kept me busy!
You can call me Zoe, a name that means “life” in Greek. I am here to remind you that life is what God wants for you, eternal life, drinking the living water from the source in Jesus, continuing firm in Christian faith and love. Jesus is the one who commanded the things John wrote for me to share with you. John would much rather be here doing the talking, but the Romans don’t give weekend passes to prisoners. So Jesus told John what to write, then said to give the letter to me. And here it is.
First, the good news: You are a remarkable congregation, the oldest and biggest in this part of Asia. This is as it should be because Ephesus is the provincial capital, wealthy and populous. Although your congregation has grown, I am fully aware that your journey in faith has not been easy. Remember your history. The apostle Paul began the work here more than forty years ago. For two difficult years he labored among you. Despite strong opposition from the synagogue, you honored the name of the Lord Jesus anyway. Miracles of healing were common among you in those early days. Many publicly repented of sin. Even sorcerers turned from evil to Christ, burning their scrolls. So many people became Christians that the silversmiths began to lose business. Few seemed interested in visiting Artemis' temple anymore. One of the seven wonders of the world, but if Artemis was not a real goddess, who cared? The silversmiths whose livelihood was disappearing felt so threatened that they started a riot. Paul barely escaped with his life. Those were dangerous times for Christians in Ephesus, but you persevered.
Your beloved John, whom I serve, came to you later. He writes these words of Jesus to you: “I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for My name, and have not grown weary” (vv2–3). Moreover, Jesus says: “You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate” (v6). People willing to compromise faith for money. People who teach that immorality is okay because grace covers sin. But you know better than to use grace as an excuse to sin. Not only are you champions of the apostolic doctrine, you do not hesitate to expose those who would mislead your brothers and sisters in the congregation.
There is only one problem, which may be imperceptible to some but is a creeping cancer that will destroy your church if it is not removed. That is the bad news I bring. Your hard work and good deeds, your doctrinal and moral purity will count for nothing without love for Christ. As His messenger, it is a hard thing I must tell you, but “you have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I [Jesus] will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place” (vv4–5).
How can I celebrate what is good in the congregation here at Ephesus then proceed to threaten that God might remove your church? Good works count for nothing without a heart that loves Christ who loves you. With His own life’s blood, He has poured out His love for you. Oh, the agony of soul and body Christ endured for you in His prayer at Gethsemane, in His trials before priests and politicians, and most of all on His cross. Oh, how He loves you! Now you are saved. Now you are declared innocent in the eyes of the Lord. Now you have been called to be part of God’s holy people.
Dear friends, Christ our Lord has loved you with an everlasting love. He has given you faith and filled you with the Holy Spirit. Respond to His love for you with your love for Him. Repent of the coldness of your hearts. As Jesus reminds us: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment” (Matthew 22:37–38).
Christ’s love gives life to the Christian. It builds and sustains the church. It is central to everything. Without it, there is no life, only death. There may be zeal. There may be a wealth of ritual and form. There may be clearly defined and fervently defended doctrine. But unless Christ’s love—received and given—fills that zeal and doctrine, there is only spiritual death, and the church fades away. Its lampstand is removed and all becomes darkness, as if Christ’s light had never shined among this people. Thank God, your lampstand is still here, still ready to shine with the sacred fire of God’s love. Thank God there is still time!
As an angel, a holy messenger of God, I have never known the darkness of sin and death, and I never will. I have never known what it is to reign with God in heavenly glory—that is reserved for you who are redeemed by the blood of Christ. I am a servant, a guardian, a caretaker. No, all these blessings in the body and blood of Christ are for you alone, human beings who are loved and chosen to be God’s children even before time began.
Remember who has loved you. Return to Him. Do not let your lamp grow dim and be taken away. “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God” (v7). Life, the greatest most precious gift, life that never perishes—this is God’s gift to all who receive His love in Jesus.
The tree of life is not God’s gift to angels. It is for people like you, people who remember and return to Jesus, their first love, something I am confident you will do. Allow me the joy of rejoicing over you as you partake of it. As the caretaker of your soul, my greatest joy would be to see you in Heaven with our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ. Amen.