Main point summary
The church in Ephesus was doctrinally vigilant, patiently enduring, and toiling in kingdom work – yet they were not compelled by love for Jesus. Having become rich in doctrine and impoverished in affection, the church is commanded to remember, repent, and reactivate the grace-motivated, Spirit-wrought, love-comepelled works they did at first, and so share in Christ's victory and eat of the tree of life.
“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write:
Τῷ ἀγγέλῳ τῆς ἐν Ἐφέσῳ ἐκκλησίας γράψον•
‘The words of e him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, f who walks among the seven golden lampstands.
Τάδε λέγει ὁ κρατῶν τοὺς ἑπτὰ ἀστέρας ἐν τῇ δεξιᾷ αὐτοῦ, ὁ περιπατῶν ἐν μέσῳ τῶν ἑπτὰ λυχνιῶν τῶν χρυσῶν•
g “‘I know your works,
οἶδα τὰ ἔργα σου
your toil and your patient endurance,
καὶ τὸν κόπον καὶ τὴν ὑπομονήν σου
and how you cannot bear with those who are evil,
καὶ ὅτι οὐ δύνῃ βαστάσαι κακούς,
but h have tested those i who call themselves apostles and are not,
καὶ ἐπείρασας τοὺς λέγοντας ἑαυτοὺς ἀποστόλους καὶ οὐκ εἰσὶν
and found them to be false.
καὶ εὖρες αὐτοὺς ψευδεῖς,
I know you are enduring patiently
καὶ ὑπομονὴν ἔχεις
and bearing up j for my name’s sake,
καὶ ἐβάστασας διὰ τὸ ὄνομά μου
and you k have not grown weary.
καὶ οὐ κεκοπίακες.
But I have this against you,
ἀλλʼ ἔχω κατὰ σοῦ
that you have abandoned l the love you had at first.
ὅτι τὴν ἀγάπην σου τὴν πρώτην ἀφῆκες.
Remember therefore from where you have fallen;
μνημόνευε οὖν πόθεν πέπτωκας
and do m the works you did at first.
καὶ τὰ πρῶτα ἔργα ποίησον•
εἰ δὲ μή,
n I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place,
ἔρχομαί σοι καὶ κινήσω τὴν λυχνίαν σου ἐκ τοῦ τόπου αὐτῆς,
unless you repent.
ἐὰν μὴ μετανοήσῃς.
Yet this you have: you hate the works of o the Nicolaitans,
ἀλλὰ τοῦτο ἔχεις, ὅτι μισεῖς τὰ ἔργα τῶν Νικολαϊτῶν
which I also hate.
ἃ κἀγὼ μισῶ.
p He who has an ear,
Ὁ ἔχων οὖς
let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
ἀκουσάτω τί τὸ πνεῦμα λέγει ταῖς ἐκκλησίαις.
q To the one who conquers
I will grant to eat of r the tree of life,
δώσω αὐτῷ φαγεῖν ἐκ τοῦ ξύλου τῆς ζωῆς,
which is in s the paradise of God.’
ὅ ἐστιν ἐν τῷ παραδείσῳ τοῦ θεοῦ.
tn Translator's Note The repeated mention of repenting at the end of the verse suggests that the intervening material (“do the deeds you did at first”) specifies how the repentance is to be demonstrated.
NT Background: The apostle Paul found [in Ephesus] a group that had already believed in Jesus but knew only John the Baptist’s baptism (Acts 19:1–7). For three years Paul made Ephesus his home (Acts 20:31), as well as his base for evangelizing the entire Asian province (Acts 19:10). Ephesus was also the sphere of Timothy’s ministry, according to 1 Timothy (1:3; compare 2 Tim 1:18), and the sphere of the apostle John’s ministry, according to later Christian tradition (for example, Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.22.5; Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3.31.3; 3.39.1–7). J. Ramsey Michaels (The IVP New Testament Commentary Series: Revelation; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1997), Re 2:1. 1 The opening greeting cites 1:12, 20: the Lord holds the seven stars in his right hand. This indicates that he maintains the spiritual life of the churches; he walks among the seven golden lamp-stands , and so is present with all the churches. But the power that sustains is also capable of judicial removal; the title thus prepares the hearer for v 5. G.R. Beasley-Murray (New Bible commentary: Revelation; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994), 1427. One interchangeable feature of the seven messages is the self-introduction of the divine Speaker at the beginning of each message. By this time we know that the Speaker is Jesus, but he introduces himself with a different designation each time: (1) him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands (2:1); (2) him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again (2:8); (3) him who has the sharp, double-edged sword (2:12); (4) the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze (2:18); (5) him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars (3:1); (6) him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open (3:7); (7) the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation (3:14). J. Ramsey Michaels (The IVP New Testament Commentary Series: Revelation; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1997), Re 2:1. 2-3 The deeds of the Ephesians are hard work and perseverance ; the former shows itself in efforts to overcome false teachers, the latter in endurance in face of opposition, whether from false prophets or from other sources. The wicked men are those who claim to be apostles but are not. It is likely that these are the persons named in v 6 as Nicolaitans. Their wickedness relates not so much to their doctrine as to the moral evil to which the doctrine gave rise. G.R. Beasley-Murray (New Bible Commentary: Revelation; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994), 1427. It is unclear in the present instance who the “false apostles” were and what their message was (compare Paul’s opponents in 2 Cor 11:13), but in any case the Ephesians were not deceived. A decade or two later, Ignatius of Antioch would write to them that their bishop, Onesimus, had praised them because “you all live according to truth, and no heresy dwells among you; in fact you will not even listen to anyone who does not speak about Jesus Christ in truth” (Ignatius, To the Ephesians 6.2). “I have learned,” Ignatius added, “that some from elsewhere who have evil teaching stayed with you, but you did not allow them to sow it among you, and stopped your ears, so that you might not receive what they sow” ( To the Ephesians 9.1). J. Ramsey Michaels (The IVP New Testament Commentary Series: Revelation; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1997), Re 2:1. Painting a picture of church life in Ephesus on the basis of v. 2, one can possibly affirm that the church at Ephesus was a diligent, hardworking church characterized by great patience in the apostolic endeavor, a love for moral purity, and an unquestioned orthodoxy, which made the congregation quite different from her sister churches in Pergamum or Thyatira. Paige Patterson (The New American Commentary: Revelation; Nashville, TN: B&H, 2012), 85. 4-5 That the deeds of the Ephesian congregation were works of love is clear from what follows: Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first (vv. 4–5). Such language recalls Paul’s words to the Thessalonians (“We continually remember … your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope,” 1 Thess 1:3), as well as those of another New Testament letter… (“ 10 For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do” Heb 6:10). J. Ramsey Michaels (The IVP New Testament Commentary Series: Revelation; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1997), Re 2:1. The removal of the lampstand from its place can signify nothing less than the end of Christ’s recognition of the church as a church of his. It will become as devoid of Christ as the temple of Jerusalem became empty of God prior to its destruction ( cf. Ezk. 11:22–23; Mt 23:38). So grave is the sin of lovelessness in a Christian church. G.R. Beasley-Murray (New Bible Commentary: Revelation; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994), 1428. In Matthew, Jesus had predicted that “many false prophets will appear and deceive many people” and that “the love of most will grow cold” (Mt 24:11–12). The message to Ephesus was that it was no good to avoid the first of these warnings only to fall victim to the second. Loss of your first love is not primarily the death of passion, as in a stale marriage, but the failure to maintain the commitment once made to help and serve one another. Here as everywhere in the Bible, love for God and love for one another are inseparable. J. Ramsey Michaels (The IVP New Testament Commentary Series: Revelation; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1997), Re 2:1. 7 The believer who overcomes does so by virtue of Christ’s conquest over all powers of evil; he shares in his Lord’s victory (see 12:11; Jn. 12:31–32; 16:33). G.R. Beasley-Murray (New Bible Commentary: Revelation; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994), 1428. As in each of the letters, the Spirit begins with the expression, “To him who overcomes.” The word “overcome” could easily be misunderstood in the context. Some might wish to suggest that the word relates specifically to the problem mentioned in the particular church. A better approach is to understand each of the promises for overcoming in the light of Rev 12:11, “They overcame him / by the blood of the Lamb / and by the word of their testimony; / they did not love their lives so much / as to shrink from death.” There the concept of overcoming is given definition. The one who overcomes does so based on two things. First is the blood of Jesus Christ, which alone makes it possible for God to be both just and the justifier of them who are saved (Rom 3:24). However, as Paul also says in Rom 10:9–10, an appropriation of that atonement must be made in the life of the believer, and hence one must “confess with your mouth … and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead,” which results in his salvation. Therefore, the second, appropriating basis for overcoming is the “word of their testimony.” Paige Patterson (The New American Commentary: Revelation; Nashville, TN: B&H, 2012), 89. To the overcomer will be given the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God. The term paradise is a Persian loan word, denoting especially a park surrounded by a wall. The term was used in the lxx to translate the word ‘garden’ (Eden)… G.R. Beasley-Murray (New Bible Commentary: Revelation; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994), 1428. The historical-cultural context surrounding the worship of Artemis helps illuminate the gospel implications of the “tree of life” imagery used in Rev. 2:7. Beasley-Murray (NBC) draws this out beautifully: Adam and Eve lost access to the tree of life and were driven from the garden (Gn. 3:22–23); the believer who shares his Lord’s victory [Rev. 2:7] is promised that both blessings will be restored (see 22:2). A frequent term for the cross of Jesus in the NT is ‘tree’ (especially on the lips of Peter; see Acts 5:30; 10:39; 1 Pet. 2:24). The temple of Artemis was built on a tree shrine, and a tree frequently symbolized Ephesus or its goddess. Whereas the Ephesian believers once viewed the tree of Artemis as the seat of divine life and the intermediary between that life and human nature, they now learn that life eternal in the paradise of God was theirs through the cross of him who died and rose. G.R. Beasley-Murray (New Bible Commentary: Revelation; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994), 1428. One final word needs to be said about the language of the text. What is promised to the believer is that there is a xulon of life in the midst of the paradise of God. Almost inevitably the word used for “tree” in Greek is dendron . Xulon by comparison generally means simply “wood” and is not infrequently used as a reference to the cross. Is it possible that in John’s mind, the xulon of life mentioned here is none other than the cross of the Lord? Whatever the case, the promise is rich with the potential of a life eternal in the presence of God himself. Paige Patterson (The New American Commentary: Revelation; Nashville, TN: B&H, 2012), 91.
Revelation 2:1-7 is a merciful call to true repentance. The church in Ephesus was doctrinally vigilant, patiently enduring, and toiling in kingdom work. In verses 2-3, they are commended (among other things) both for not being able to bear with (tolerate) those who are evil ( οὐ δύνῃ βαστάσαι κακούς , v2) and for bearing up for the sake of Christ’s name ( ἐβάστασας διὰ τὸ ὄνομά μου , v3). In other words, they didn’t tone down or mute their proclamation of Christ in the face of suffering – shrinking back into fearful silence. They continued to combat false teaching and the Christless ideologies of their culture, identifying themselves as followers of the Way and bearing the reproach of the gospel. Yet they were not compelled by love for Jesus. They had neglected to love Christ in their pursuit of laboring for him and had become rich in doctrine yet impoverished in affection – an ever-present peril both to the flourishing of local churches and to the ‘religious life of theological students’ alike (indeed, to anyone who professes the name of Christ). Yet in his stunning mercy, our risen and reigning Savior issues a triple imperative, beckoning them remember , repent [ μετανόησον ] , and reactivate the love-compelled works they did at first (Rev. 2:5). The Bible Sense Lexicon (Logos) captures the meaning of the verb μετανοέω in Rev. 2:5: “to have a change of self (heart and mind) that abandons former dispositions and results in a new self, new behavior, and regret over former behavior and dispositions.” The verb, used primarily in the Johannine corpus, is used twice in Luke 15 to signal the joy in heaven “over one sinner who repents [ μετανοοῦντι ] ” (15:7,10). Both references precipitate the parable of the Prodigal Son, who, in the midst of his reckless self-absorption, did not merely intellectualize repentance, but “ arose and came to his father” (Lk 15:20). Such Spirit-wrought, grace-empowered, flesh-crucifying, Christ-exalting, broken-and-contrite-hearted repentance reconciles sinners to their Savior, magnifies the supreme worth of the Lamb who was slain, and ignites the heavens in an explosion of joy (Lk. 15:7,10, 24).