Ephesus was a great city; a transportation and commercial hub, and the home of the great temple of Diana. We discussed its ancient significance in our study of Ephesians, and as the recipient of one of Paul’s epistles the church there had quite a rich history when this letter was dictated.
“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write:
These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands.
Jesus describes Himself here by mentioning that He has the seven messengers (angels) in His hand, the whole number of God’s messengers are in His hand, and He walks among the seven churches of Asia, and the whole of His Body. This is of special significance to Ephesus because they have had a problem with “false apostles” (2:2) and have resisted them. Jesus, in this letter, is sending them His true message.
Historical Prologue (2:2-4, 6)
I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, 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.
Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first.
… But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
Ephesus has a great history, and Jesus recognizes it here; their hard work for the Gospel, their endurance and resistance to false teaching and their sacrifices for His sake; they have been a lampstand shining forth the light of the Gospel in a dark world… but they have forgotten their first love. So many churches today have this problem; they work hard, they mean well, but in all of their toil, they forget their first love: Jesus. Jesus addresses this immediately, inserting His warning in verse 5 which we’ll cover shortly, but in verse 6 He eases His rebuke as He wraps up the historical prologue; they have hated the practices of the Nicolaitans. Opinions vary relative to this group, but it appears likely that they represent the heretical group who were followers of Baal and Jezebel; in any case, we will come across them again in Revelation.
Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first.
This takes the form of a covenant stipulation, a command that is to be kept. They are to repent and to once again put their relationship (love for) with Jesus first and foremost.
If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.
In a Biblical covenant, a curse is as much a promise as is a blessing is. A blessing is a promise for keeping the terms or stipulations of the covenant; a curse is a promise of what will happen if you don’t. Jesus has given Ephesus a stipulation, and if they don’t keep it, their lampstand will be taken away; the church will no longer be present. You are free to draw whatever conclusion from this you like, but there is no church in Ephesus today, nor has there been for many, many centuries.
Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
Notice the plural: Each of these epistles is to be read to all of the churches, and they are the witnesses to the covenant renewal, just as the people were in Joshua’s day.
To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.
If a curse is a negative promise, then a blessing is a positive promise, and the positive promise to Ephesus is that if they overcome, they will have the right to eat of the tree of life, which is to say that they will receive eternal life with Christ. Notice the conditional nature of this promise; they must “overcome” something. To overcome is to conquer, and Jesus overcame the world. We also are to overcome the world, but that doesn’t mean we will rule the world, it means that we will overcome its temptations and trials that seek to pull us away from our first love, which is Jesus.