“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: ‘The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands.
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. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you that you have abandoned the love you had at first. 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. Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. 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.’”
As I have been preparing this week I have been thinking about what would Jesus say if he told John write down what I say about SonRise community church. Would Jesus have much to commend our church for? Would he say we had such a love for Him and His Glory? A love for sound doctrine and his word preached faithfully. Would he say we pursued holiness, justice, and mercy well? Do we hate what He hates? Did we labor well as a community for the sake of the gospel and His kingdom? Was our affections and love for him motivated by the vision that we wear on the back of our shirts? That His Glory would be the glory of this city.
I ask you this Son-Rise as your elder do you Remember “When we first loved the Saviour how earnest we were; there was not a single thing in the Bible, that we did not think most precious; there was not one command of his that we did not think to be like fine gold and choice silver. Again, how happy you used to be in the ways of God. Your love was of that happy character that you could sing all day long; but now your religion has lost its luster, the gold has become dim; you know that when you come to the Sacramental table, you often come there without enjoying it. There was a time when every bitter thing was sweet; whenever you heard the Word, it was all-precious to you.
Again: when we were in our first love, what would we do for Christ; now how little will we do. Some of the actions which we performed when we were young Christians, but just converted, when we look back upon them, seem to have been wild and like idle tales”
Tonight in our text I want you to see four things, A Word of Command, A Word of Commendation, A Word of Condemnation, and A Word of Confidence.
1. A Word of Command 2:1
We come to chapter 2 of Revelation The Lords letters to His Churches or to be more exact letters with in a letter. The one whom John saw and said, “When I saw him, I fell at his feet though dead”. The appearance of Christ in his glorious splendor left John falling upon his face as though dead. The one who’s is worthy to open the scroll and break its seal. He is the one who commands John in the beginning of chapter one to “Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.” These letters do refer to specific instances within these congregations. The content is meant to be read by all believers in every place and age. Because, “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.” Even the problems the churches experienced are relevant to every church and they stand in contrast to the peace that is enjoyed by the church in glory.
The first Church Christ has John pen down is to the Ephesian church. “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write” The first thing the Lord wished to impress upon this church at Ephesus was that he was the Lord of all the churches. The City of Ephesus was located on the western shore of Asia Minor. It was a seaport city. The great city of Ephesus. All trade coming by sea came through the seaport of Asia Minor Ephesus was the chief city and its Christian church the chief church of the province. Ephesus was the the home to the Temple to Artemis, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.
The City of Ephesus boasted of its coliseum and its tribute to the pagan god in which they worshiped in the great temple of Diana. Many people made their living as a part of this cult. The temple was considered one of the great wonders of the ancient world.
Paul had spent three years there building the church at Ephesus. Later Timothy had an extensive ministry there. Then late in the first century the Apostle John lived in Ephesus and made it the center of his ministry. No doubt there were many in the congregation that received this letter who knew John personally, some of them probably knew him very well, and perhaps a number who could remember the ministry of Paul among them. The Lord had walked in her midst see everything in his omniscience and like many churches; this church was doing many good things. But, they had somehow neglected and lost the most important thing: Christ and the gospel. Their condition was critical but not hopeless. The Christ who loved them and had freed them from their sins (1:5) was there to cure them if they would listen. All seven of the letters to the churches begin with the same command from Christ: “to the angel of the church” Some believe that the term angel (or messenger) is a reference to the ministers of these churches, or to the messengers who brought John’s letter to that particular congregation. Some since the letters are directed to ‘the churches’ (plural) and the fact that the Lord speaks to the whole church and not just an angle. They conclude that the angel is the church or a personification of the church. But more likely, the reference to angels is to those angels assigned by Christ to each of the churches mentioned. In Daniel 10:12-11:1, the prophet Daniel speaks of heavenly princes ruling over earthly nations, and so it might follow that God has assigned angels to particular congregations to rule them and protect them. Another clue would be to go back to chapter 1 verse 20 “As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lamp strands, the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lamp stands are the seven churches.”
The letter to the Ephesians begins with a reminder of the authority of the one speaking to them through the pen of John: “These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lamp stands.”
We can see his Commanding authority. He is Lord of all.
The meaning of this symbolism is given in the immediately preceding verse (1:20). He not only “has” the stars, he “holds” (lit, grasps) them. He not only “stands” in the midst of the lamp stands, he “walks” among them! Beloved our Lord walks among the churches with an ever-present awareness of all thoughts, deeds, and activities. Jesus holds the seven stars, the seven angels of the seven churches in his hand. In other words,
of Jesus that John beheld in chapter 1.
In this first message, Notice in verse 1 a description of Jesus that takes us back to the vision Jesus chooses to repeat what was first revealed in 1:12, 13, and 16. Jesus is in control of the churches, since he is in control of their heavenly representatives. And Jesus walks in the midst of the seven golden lamp stands as the Son of Man. The seven golden lamp stands refer to the churches. The churches are to be lamp stands that shine in the world. What John emphasizes here is that Jesus walks among the lamp stands. He has fellowship with each of the churches. He knows what is happening in every church.
So the Ephesian’s needed to understand that He who speaks to them is the Lord of the Church. The messenger is in His hand, and the recipients are in His presence. He is her bridegroom. He is the flock’s Shepherd. He is the head of the body. And when He speaks, they must listen, carefully. Next He gives a Word of Commendation, Condemnation, and Confidence
A Word of Commendation 2:2-3
As the Lord of the church who walks in there midst, Jesus has this to say to his people: “I know” Jesus will say this to the rest of the churches. In His omniscience, He knows what is happening in every church. Beloved without a doubt he knows Son-Rise more intimately then the elders. He knows the struggles the Ephesian’s have faced. He also knows their sins and their failures. Christ who is the greater shepherd of the church has an intimate knowledge of his churches, he knows their strengths and he knows their weaknesses. He says I know and what does he know 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. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. Jesus commends this church for their good works and endurance. They were concerned about pleasing God and sticking with the Christian faith.
John Stott says of them, “The church of Ephesus was a veritable beehive of industry. Their toil was famous. Every member was doing something for Christ.” Knowing the works of this church family, Jesus is able to praise them for the fact that they are a committed church. Look again at how this is spelled out: he commends them for working hard, and commends them for patiently standing firm in the midst of trials.
Ephesus was a very important city in Asia Minor. It was a city of wealth and learning. But it was a pagan city, very much devoted to the worship of the Greek goddess, Artemus or Diana. There was a very famous temple dedicated to the worship of Artemis located in Ephesus. People from all over the world would come to worship there. The temple was very wealthy and very powerful. It was a major source of revenue for the city. Indeed Christians living in this city would have faced trouble for two reasons. First, they would have refused to participate in the worship of this false goddess. Secondly, through their preaching and teaching, would have encouraged many to turn from their idolatry to the worship of the one true God.
In the Acts 19, we read of Paul’s two years spent in the city,
which came to an end after certain Jews tried to exorcize a demon in the name of Jesus, only to have the demon possessed- man turn on them and beat them up. As a result of this incident, there were so many occultists in the area who came to faith in Jesus Christ that it was not long before those making a living selling religious trinkets associated with Diana worship and the temple began to see their formerly thriving businesses dry up. Luke recounts in Acts that a near riot ensued when the local theater was filled with many merchants and worshipers of Diana. Ephesus worked hard and suffered for Christ with patience. They did not grow weary in their task. He commends this church for their good works and endurance.
In verse 3 the Ephesians are commended for “bearing up” for the sake of Christ’s name (this we have already seen). But in verse 2 they are commended for the fact that they would not “bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call
themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false”.
It is the same word both in the English and the Greek. The Ephesians would “bear up” under anything for the sake of Christ’s name. They would endure patiently. They would suffer long under persecution and stand resolutely in the face of opposition. But there was something that they would not “bear with”, namely, evil men in their midst. These they would not put up with for long. Ephesus is not an easy place to follow Jesus. And yet Jesus says of them, you have not grown weary. “You’ve been enduring patiently”. They had diligence in bearing the persecution and hostility of an unbelieving society. Despite the temptations, which assaulted them from every quarter, they stood unwavering and firm in their allegiance to Christ.
If you jump down to verse 6, he commends them again “But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.” Now we do not know much about the Nicolaitans, other than the fact that they taught that some degree of accommodation to the pagan culture around them was permissible. You can ask Pastor Adam all the questions you want on them when he preaches on the letter to the church in Pergamum.
In any case, Christ commends this congregation for their doctrinal faithfulness and perseverance in removing false teachers from among their midst. The church at Ephesus hated the deeds of this group. Thus, the church at Ephesus was very much aware of doctrinal error they where on guard against false teachers. For these things, the church is commended and praised. He commends them, because like him, they too hate the teaching of the Nicolaitans.
He commends them on their moral purity in the church and its leadership. They will not bear with “false apostles”, but they
will bear up under the weigh of persecution. The church is committed to purity in regard to healthy teaching, sound doctrine. Paul evangelized in Ephesus for nearly three years. In Acts 20 he predicted that false teachers would threaten the Ephesians. In verse 29 he told the elders of the churches in Ephesus, “After my departure, fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. And from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things to draw away disciples after them. Therefore, be alert,” he said.
First Timothy was written to Timothy while he was in Ephesus. We see from first Timothy that false teachers did indeed come into Ephesus. The Ephesians had obeyed Paul and fought back against false teachers. The Ephesians tested those who claimed to be apostles of Jesus Christ and found that they were false. Christ said they “have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false.” In other words, they were doctrinally vigilant and theologically orthodox. They thought deeply about what was being taught in their midst.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful to hear this about Son-Rise. That Son- Rise as a church is doctrinally pure and faithful that we did Christ’s work for Christ’s sake despite persecution and hardship that we persevere and are willing to suffer for Jesus’s sake. The Church in Ephesus was commended for much. Jesus says I know and I know you are. As intimate as Jesus knows the Ephesian church he knows Son-Rise because it is His church. He knows the attitude of our hearts and how we serve him. How we worship and minister. Will he say this about Son-Rise 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. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary.
He knows what goes on in every church. “His Eyes are like a flame of fire” which we have read in chapter one. Beloved can anything be hidden from him. “Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? Declares the Lord. Do I not fill heaven and earth declares the Lord?” Jeremiah 23:24 He is in the midst of his church and is near his sheep. The bridegroom knows his bride. He delights in his church and he is not walking around picking out faults.
He is like a heavenly gardener, giving himself to the cultivation of the souls of His people through His atoning sacrifice and continual interceding for his sheep. He delights and enjoys the fruit of his labor. He is the great gardener as Spurgeon says: Solomon thought of him when he described the royal Bridegroom as going down with his spouse to the garden when the flowers appeared on the earth and the fig tree had put forth her green figs; he went out with his beloved for the reservation of the gardens, saying, “Take us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines: for our vines have tender grapes.” Neither nature, nor Scripture, nor type, nor song forbids us to think of our adorable Lord Jesus as one that careth for the flowers and fruits of his church.” Yes he delights and cares for his church. Yet as a gardener he does not leave his garden to wrought and wither he attends to her pruning as a great vinedresser. Jesus says “2 Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” (John 15:2) Jesus sees and knows all these commendable things about the Ephesian church. Yet he knows more and what he knows he does not like. He next gives a word of condemnation.
A Word of Condemnation 2:4-6
But I have this against you that you have abandoned the love you had at first. 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.
Beloved would your heart sink into the depths of your chest if verse four began with Son-Rise “But I have this against you that you have abandoned the love you had at first”. What painful words to hear from our Lord a word of condemnation. It is Heart crushing. There is an area of your life where I’m in opposition. There is an area that disappoints and offends me. The Son of God with “eyes like a flame of fire” sees something He does not like, and He honestly says “I have this against you.”
I can picture them reading that for the first time and Jesus just said all these great and commendable things about the Ephesian church, which was true. Indeed did The Ephesian church have a first love – Jesus Christ. Paul prayed about this first love in his letter to Ephesus: (Eph 3:17-19) “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, (18) may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, (19) and to know this love that surpasses knowledge–that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” But the flickering flame of zeal for Jesus and His glory was beginning to grow dim.
The words of William cooper
“Where is the blessedness I knew when first I saw the Lord? Where is the soul refreshing view of Jesus and His Word? What peaceful hours I once enjoyed, how sweet their memory still. They’ve left an aching void the world can never fill.” William Cooper
They had abandoned the love that they had at first. Not love for one another, not love for the world around them, not love for the truth it was their first love. Al Martin writes about the Ephesian Christians, “Their heads were correct in their judgments, their hands were busy in service, but their hearts had become cold, lacking true affection” Not that the Ephesians didn’t love Him at all, they did, but it’s like a marriage that has grown stale. They had begun to focus on tasks and truths and have neglected the person of Jesus Christ Himself – the great Bridegroom who loves His bride, and the church he has given Himself for. Like Martha, distracted by much serving, the Ephesian’s, it seems, have forgotten the one thing they needed. We will never stop needing to sit at Jesus’ feet! This gospel community that we call church should be a foretaste of heaven. Christ is the very heaven of heaven. If our hearts are not centered on his Glory and centered on His gospel that brought us this community we have forgotten our first love. Do we love theology and sound doctrine more than Him or does it lead as it should to know and love Him more. As Paul says to The Corinthians you can be the most gifted, you can have all the knowledge but lack the most important thing. He says “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.”1 Corinthians 13:1-3 We must persevere to love one another rightly and proclaim the gospel boldly. Son-Rise has fruit that is commendable but we must never forget our first love. It is Christ.
“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.” 1 John 4:7-12 Lord willing SonRise should be know for its doctrinal purity, to stand up against false teaching and to proclaim the word faithfully. But may we be know for grace, mercy and love. As we speak the truth it should be in love. The motivation behind all of these commendable things needs to be the gospel. Was grace not extended to you and I?
When a church no longer loves Christ – when a church no longer proclaims Christ – when a church is no longer centered upon Christ she has gutted the gospel of its power! When Christ is no longer central to the church, she loses her very identity – even becoming like the world itself. When a church no longer is centered on Christ, when a church loves anything more than Christ, then she has forsaken her first love. Richard Phillips in his commentary says: “Despite good works and faithful Bible preaching, there was no fire to inflame the soul and no grace to melt the heart. John and lamp stands lamp stand. points out that the identification of Christ at the beginning of the letter is as the one who walks among the and that the threat, should they fail to repent, is that he would remove theirs.
When Jesus threatens to remove his lamp stand, he is referring to the fact that the lamp stand is the symbol of his presence and the Holy Spirit’s empowerment of this congregation to be a light to the unbelieving world around it. Jesus exhorts this congregation to go back and do those things they did at first or else, he says, his blessing will be removed and this congregation will cease to be a light to unbelievers around it.
Continuing on is verse 5. The rebuke is great: “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lamp stand from its place -unless you repent” (2:5). Jesus says to the church, I will no longer walk in your midst. Your building may still exist; your people may still gather; your programs may still continue on; you may even look strong in the eyes of the world; but I am not there – and it will be to you He says they must Remember, repent and do.
“Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first
works”, Literally in the original, keep on remembering. We must continually “remember” This is in the form of the verb that calls for an ongoing, continual act on our part. “Remember the wondrous works he has done” (Psalm 105:5)
The Ephesian’s had forgotten how the Lord had established her in the city. She had forgotten what her purpose was. She had forgotten how sinful she was and how Christ saved her out of death and hell. The church needed to remember. So, if we are to love Christ (return to our first love) then, His remedy for us is to remember. Specifically, remember all He has done for how great His forgiveness is for us. Forget not all His benefits. Remember how it was, how precious Christ was to you, when you came first to know Him. The sweet gospel should never grow old it is still refreshing and satisfying when we first heard it. Beloved do you recall how it was when you were alive with the joy of knowing Jesus, being with His people, longing for Sunday so that you would be under the preaching of the Word and the fellowship of the saints, to take His name on your lips and praise him and proclaim him. The zeal you had to proclaim Him from the mountaintops and to make His Glory the glory of the city. To share the sweet gospel message to our neighbors. Listen, you can believe correctly and not love correctly. Proper doctrine must be accompanied with proper love.
Jesus says. We’re to continually remember; and as we do, we’re to “repent”. To “repent” means to “change one’s mind”. In this case, the mindset is that of neglecting an intimate, personal and intense love for Jesus Himself – of not keep that love warm in our hearts through our gratitude. And to repent, in this case, would mean that we see where in our lives we allowed our love toward Him to grow cold, to recognize what sort of things we allowed in our lives to rob Him of our pure devotion and trust,
and to get rid of such things and stop neglecting Him. We must change our minds – we must “repent”.
We must do the first works. Listen, you can believe correctly and not love correctly. Proper doctrine must be accompanied with proper love. Right Orthodoxy in our heads leads to an outflow of Doxology in our hearts that gives us correct orthopraxy to our hands and feet. Jesus closes with this wonderful promise and it is a word of confidence.
A Word of Confidence 2:7
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.’” Notice the Savior’s desire is NOT to remove their lamp stand, but to fan into flame the love they once knew. He eagerly wants them to repent. And look at how His heart for them is revealed in the final verse, 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.’” What a promise! What a reward! Isn’t this exactly what James told his readers in James chapter 1: Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. (1:12)
He is “Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with him are called and chosen and faithful.” Yet his final victory is anchored in the past–as Jesus says in John 16:33, “I have conquered the world”–which is reflected in the final “overcomer” saying in Rev. 3:21, “To the one who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on this throne.” Our
victory is a participation in his victory. “For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world— our faith.  Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 John 5:4-5) Persevering faith conquers and persevering faith overcomes.
But the Lord’s word of rebuke and his warning about the removal of his lamp stand is not the final word to the church in Ephesus. Jesus reminds the Ephesians that it is not too late and that repentance is still possible. “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
This church can indeed go back and do what it did at the beginning and not come under Christ’s judgment. This is clear from the final promise of blessing: “To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.” The command to repent is followed by the promise of the gospel. Jesus closes with one last picture of hope given to this church. Jesus brings them back to the Garden of Eden and then points them forward to the new and more glorious Eden.
This mention of “the tree of life” not only points us back to the opening chapters of Genesis, where our first parents lost access to the tree because of their rebellion but because of Christ being the greater Adam restoring and making all things new. We recognize that Jesus will go on to explain in chapter 22 more about “the tree of life”, which is in the “paradise of God”. The word translated “paradise” means an enclosed garden or beautiful park. It’s a picturesque way of describing heaven. And in the midst of this “paradise of God” is the tree of life – the very tree that, in the Garden of Eden, symbolized eternal life, and that was denied Adam and Eve after they fell in sin.
We read in revelation 22:1-2 “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb  through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.” Jesus Christ is the only one who grants access to the tree of life. The only way we can receive the tree of life in paradise is through believing in the tree of life; the cross. Jesus brought life through a cursed tree so that you and I would be granted the privilege of eating from the tree of life.
God has provided Jesus Christ, the last Adam. He is the One Who has perfectly obeyed God and loved Him above all. His cross has become our tree of life – the tree whereby we are given life.1 Peter 2:24, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.” beloved in Christ we overcome.
In the words of one writer, “In this first letter the painful
memory of paradise lost . . . is transformed into hope, as the promise points ahead to the tree of life in the new Jerusalem, bearing a different crop each month and healing the nation through its leaves.”
Dear church the same Christ who lit the lamp of Son-Rise community church is able to remove the lamp stand. If we lack the humility required to hear our faults and repent of them, we should have no expectation of persevering. But, if God has given us ears “to hear what the Spirit says to the churches” then we must repent. You will learn to love what God loves and hate what God hates. There’s nothing more powerful in the world – no greater light in the darkness – than a church of people in whom
Adam, by his disobedience – by his refusal to submit to God’s will
for him – lost the right to eat of the tree of life. But Christ, by his
obedience – by his perfect submission to the will of God – earned
for us the right to eat of that tree.
Jesus dwells, and who are deeply, passionately, devotedly, and sacrificially in love with Him above all else – a church that’s not simply going through the motions; but rather is rendering service while being completely given over to an all consuming love to Jesus.
May we cling to Christ. May He always be our first love. May God give us ears “to hear what the Spirit says to the churches”.