“Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.” Rev 2:4
The Book of Revelation is divided into three major sections, according to the instructions of the Lord Jesus to John the Revelator:
“Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter;” Rev 1:19
- Things John saw - The vision of the glorified Jesus
- Things which are - The messages to seven churches of Asia that existed at the time John received this vision
- Things which shall be hereafter - Future events to take place after the church age ends
Our text is at the beginning of the section of this prophecy related to the “things which are” (Rev 1:19). This portion of Revelation includes messages addressed to the messengers of seven different churches of Asia. The western portion of Asia Minor was a region referred to by the Romans as simply “Asia.” This is not to be confused with the continent of the same name. Asia was a very specific area in the Roman view of the world. As such, these seven churches were in close proximity. The ruins of most of these ancient cities have been excavated and you can tour the region today.
The first church addressed is that of Ephesus. Ephesus was a wealthy cosmopolitan city and the chief city of the Roman Province of Asia. It had a bustling, multi-racial population of around 120 thousand souls. The predominant religion of the region prior to the advent of Christianity was the worship of a fertility goddess who took many forms. One of these forms was known as Diana. Being given to the worship of Diana meant partaking in rites having to do with reproduction and sexuality.
It was from this center of culture for that region of the Roman Empire that Paul focused much of his evangelistic effort on the second missionary journey. Paul continued in Ephesus “by the space of two years; so that all they which dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks” (Acts 19:10). Later the apostle John traveled to Ephesus and became the pastor of the church there. It was while he was pastor of the Ephesian church that John fell into disfavor with Emperor Domitian and was exiled to the Isle of Patmos. During his exile on Patmos, John received the prophecy we know as the Revelation. The messages to the seven churches were given by the Lord Jesus Himself to one who knew Him well, John the beloved. Each one of these messages was specific to certain needs for a local church that existed in the Roman Province of Asia at the time. And yet these churches and the messages to them were chosen to represent the universal church of Jesus Christ in seven different, distinct periods of history.
But beyond these two important applications of this portion of Revelation there is the typical application to us today. In other words, the messages to the seven churches of Asia speak to certain specific needs of Christian believers of all ages. The message to the first church, Ephesus had a double impact to John. This was the local congregation he formerly was the pastor of before being exiled. Also, John was the last living apostle and represented the last witness to the church age represented by the Ephesian Church, that being the Apostolic Church Age.
Likewise, the message to the last church holds a more poignant application to our generation due to the fact that it is a message for our church age, the Laodicean Church Age, or the Final Church Age. In each of these seven messages you will notice a pattern –
- A particular aspect of Christ’s glory is presented first.
- A commendation of the church is given (only one church was not commended).
- A reproof is given (only two churches do not receive a reproof).
- A reward is offered to those in these churches who overcome.
The Lord will always have someone to be a witness of an overcoming life. It doesn’t matter how bad things might be, there will always be someone in every situation that will have victory in their life. I want to be one of those!
The Picture of Our Savior
“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;” Rev 2:1
The picture John was shown was of the glorified Jesus walking in the midst of the seven churches. Not only that, but He has the seven stars, or the seven messengers in His hand. The seven golden candlesticks are the seven churches and the seven stars are the messengers to those seven churches. This mystery is explained in chapter one, verse twenty.
The picture of the Lord Jesus conveyed to the Ephesian Church is that the Lord Jesus is present in their midst. He is never out of touch with our situation. He addresses every one of the seven churches as one present and personally acquainted with their circumstance.
Not only that, but he holds the minister in His mighty hand. We mentioned to you that the word “angelos” (translated angel) means literally “messenger.” Far from being angels in the sense we commonly think of angels, these seven “stars” are the pastors of these seven churches. When God has a message for the church, 99 times out of a hundred it will be addressed to the pastor.
Some time ago I received a letter from a gentleman who I had reason to doubt was where he needed to be in God. He wanted to come and preach for us because God had given him a message. If God has a message for our local assembly, why would He mail that message to someone other than the messenger to this church? Certainly the message would not be sent to someone who is less than steadfast in the things of God. God’s messengers are held in His right hand. You need to be careful the voices you allow to “speak into your life.” It needs to be a message that comes from God and not man. It needs to be delivered by a messenger that is held in God’s right hand.
The point is that there are too many voices in this world to listen to them all. If you want to be blessed and hear from God, you need to go to a place where the Spirit of the Lord still walks in the midst of the golden candlesticks, and where the minister is firmly in the grasp of and under the control of God.
“I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars: And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name’s sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted.” Rev 2:2-3
First they were workers. They worked hard and were patient. Next they were true to the doctrine. They were true Apostolics. They tried those who claimed to be apostle-like and found that they didn’t measure up to the Word.
These Ephesians knew what it meant to be born again. Don’t forget how the church at Ephesus got started. You can read about it in Acts chapter 19.
“And it came to pass, that, while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having passed through the upper coasts came to Ephesus: and finding certain disciples, He said unto them, Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? And they said unto him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost. And he said unto them, Unto what then were ye baptized? And they said, Unto John’s baptism. Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus. When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied.” Acts 19:1-6
These guys were apostolic through and through. They knew that the true church is not an organization that you join but a family you are born into!
The Lord Jesus commended them because they “tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars” (vs2). They did this by putting these guys’ teaching up against what Paul, John, and the other apostles taught and what they had received. When the ones who said they were apostles didn’t measure up, they booted them out. When someone claims to be a minister of the Gospel but don’t preach the same message that the apostles preached, don’t keep listening. Give them the boot. Did Jesus get mad at the Ephesians for having such a dogmatic attitude toward doctrine? On the contrary, he commended the Ephesians for remaining true to their doctrine.
Now, here is an important truth – the church age represented by the Ephesian church is that of the Apostolic Age. If there were false apostles during the age of the apostles, there certainly will be today. If there was false doctrine being fomented during the days of the apostles, there certainly will be in the final days. How will we identify false apostles today? The same way they did it back then. Put the message they proclaim up beside that of the apostles. Weigh the experience they endorse against the experience that changed fishermen into fishers of men. If it doesn’t measure up, give them the boot!
There was another thing that the Ephesians had that the Lord commended them for.
“But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.” Rev 2:6
A few scholars have suggested that this denotes followers of an ancient apostate named Nicolas. But most historians do not agree with this assertion. The word “nicolaitans” is a Greek compound word. “Nico” means “to conquer”; “Laos” means “people.” The majority of sources believe that this was an effort to control the people by imposing an ecclesiastical hierarchy. In other words they believed in having a “ranking” system within the ministry, thereby removing the pastor-shepherd concept from Christ’s church. The main overseer or the “Papa” resides at the “main church” way over yonder and he is the one that speaks on behalf of the Lord. All the other preachers are of various different ranks underneath the big daddy.
Do you see that this concept was at work since the earliest days of the Church? Satan was trying to gain a foothold since the beginning. While Jesus was sharing the last supper with the disciples, they were so carnal as to be having an argument over which one would be greatest in the coming kingdom. Unfortunately this kind of ministerial egotism is still present in the church today. While respect for all ministers is important and scriptural, establishing an ecclesiastical pecking order could not be further from the plan of God. This is not Christ’s pattern of leadership.
Notice how the Lord feels about the “big I, little you” way of looking at the work of God.
“…thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.” Rev 2:6
The apostolic church hates an ecclesiastical hierarchy and the Lord Jesus does also. Notice that what is called the “deeds of the Nicolaitans” in the early church age, later becomes the “doctrine of the Nicolaitans” in the Pergamos church age (Rev 2:15). It starts as an action and grows up to become an official doctrine. But the Lord Jesus still hates it!
“Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.” Rev 2:4
Notice all the things a church or people within the church can have going for them and still leave their first love. We can be good workers who persevere and are patient. We can be dead on with our doctrine and our experience. We can despise the stench of politics in the Church and resist the magnetism of overblown egos. We can have all these things going for us and still leave our first love.
The simple yet profound truth is that we do not fall in love with the work of God. We do not fall in love with true doctrine or an experience. We do not have a love affair with a church that is free from egos. We fall in love with the Savior! He is the One this whole love affair is all about! All of these other things are the result of His presence and His touch among us. But He is the object of our love and devotion. It is not enough to have true doctrine; we must have the God of true doctrine. It is not enough to have a life changing experience; we must have the God of the experience.
I have had the distinct privilege of marrying several sweet couples. After pledging their love to each other for life, the happy couple begins to forge a life together. Most new husbands enjoy coming home and having a home cooked meal. There usually is quite an improvement in the housekeeping department for the groom when the two become one. But the newly married man is not in love with good cooking or neat housekeeping. You don’t fall in love with what someone does for you; you fall in love with them. Our love affair is not with what Jesus does for us – it is a love affair with Jesus.
When a church or a child of God forgets this, they can continue to go through the motions, but without the love that should animate their actions. Before they realize what has happened, they have misplaced their devotion into something that goes along with a relationship with the Savior instead of with the Lord Jesus Himself. And they have left their first love for another love.
“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.” Rev 2:5
The remedy the Lord offers is really quite simple. Remember, repent, and repeat.
Remember – from where you have fallen. Remember the way it was when you first came to God? Do you remember the way it used to thrill you to be able to hear His voice and feel His presence? Do you remember how much love God shed abroad in your heart when He filled you with the Holy Spirit? It is good to remember, but don’t stop there.
Repent – Ask God to forgive you for getting caught up in the struggles of life. Ask Him to open your heart and open your eyes to your relationship with Him.
Repeat – Do the first works over again. Do you remember how you sought Him? Seek Him again. Do you remember how eager you were to please Him? Seek to please Him again. Do you remember how excited you were to take part in the things of God, because in them you pleased Him? Well? …
As we close our study of the message to the Ephesian church, there are two important promises to take with us from this message. One is an “or else” promise and the other is a “to him” promise.
After Jesus tells the Ephesian church how to remedy their situation, He tells them to fix it “or else.” Fix it or else “I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent” (Rev 2:5). If you don’t believe He is able to do this, then you must not believe that He still walks in the midst of the candlesticks. I believe He still does.
The other promise is a “to him” promise.
“To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.” Rev 2:7
God’s promises are always to overcomers, never to underachievers.
And, oh yes – “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches;” Rev 2:7
Do you have an ear to hear today?
© 2008 Nevin Bass. All rights reserved. No part of this document may be reproduced for the purpose of resale without written permission.
Theme image at top is by Ilian Rachov. The Lamb of God in Heaven on the ceiling of the Vatican Embassy in Sofia, Bulgaria. www.ilianrachov.com