This message to the Ephesians is a grieving complaint from Jesus that the congregation had left its “first love” and stopped loving Him sincerely. Our Lord’s appeal to this “insincere” church is that they would “remember” and return.
v.1 “To the angel of the church of Ephesus write, ‘These things says He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands:”
Two things in this opening address are consistent in all seven letters:
- The letter is addressed to “the angel of the church”
- Jesus speaks of Himself in imagery mostly drawn from Chapter One
The “angel of the church”, as we discussed earlier, is the pastor of the church (see notes—Rev.1:20). These letters are addressed to the one responsible for sharing the message with the members of the congregation.
The imagery Jesus draws from in these letters is consistent with the way He revealed Himself to John (in Chapter One) because it’s part of that event. Whereas, John, as instructed, described for us in the previous Chapter what he had seen in beholding Christ, he now writes what Jesus has to say concerning the things which are; namely, the Church. We will see in these letters, Jesus using components of His image to describe Himself to the particular congregation in order to speak to the nature of that church’s condition.
“He who holds the seven stars in His right hand…” This seems intended as a reminder to Ephesus that He (Jesus) is the One Who upholds and empowers the pastor, and therefore He to whom the church is subject in all things as the Head of the church (Col. 1:18).
“…who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands” continues the admonition by reminding Ephesus that He does move about the church, watchful to guard against internal and external evils, and mindful to rightly preserve its spiritual well-being.
v.2-4 “I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars; and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary. Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love.
It’s not a good sign when Jesus follows praise by rebuke. But it is worth noting, as we will see in these letters that Jesus ascribes His knowledge of the congregation’s works, good or bad, but always acknowledges the positive before the negative.
On one hand, the works of the Ephesians were great. According to Jesus, they labored hard to serve the church, persevered in their duties with patience, weeded out the unrepentant, and guarded themselves against false teachers and doctrines. Moreover, they did it gladly for His name’s sake without growing weary.
On the other hand, however, they were short of love, and Jesus rebukes them for it. Listen to His complaint:
“Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love”
The love in question here is the “early love”. That first enthusiastically warm and affectionate love following a new life in Christ, where self is denied, all that displeases God is gladly abandoned, and fellowship one with another is joyfully embraced. It is this love, the love kindled in the beginning when we first accept Christ as Savior, from which the Ephesians had strayed. As one commentator puts it, because they lacked sincerity, “they were going through the motions without emotion”.
Here’s my guess how the delinquency might have played out in the church:
Services were attended out of obligation or force of habit rather than a passionate desire to worship God as it was in the beginning; and fellowship, where earlier hearts for one another were tender, became argumentative and divisive.