Exposition of Revelation: Revelation 2:1-5

Revelation 2:1-5

To the angel of the church in Ephesus, write the following:
This is the solemn pronouncement of the one who has a firm grasp on the seven stars in his right hand the one who walks among the seven golden lampstands: 2 I know your works as well as your labor and steadfast endurance, and that you cannot tolerate evil. You have even put to the test those who refer to themselves as apostles (but are not), and have discovered that they are false. 3 I am also aware that you have persisted steadfastly, endured much for the sake of my name, and have not grown weary. 4 But I have this against you: You have departed from your first love! 5 Therefore, remember from what high state you have fallen and repent! Do the deeds you did at the first; if not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place that is, if you do not repent.
(NET Bible)

NOTE: The next five posts cover Revelation 2-3, but the Bible quotes that accompany the posts will not contain all of that text.

The literary patterns of Revelation 2-3

If you have ever spent any time camping in the back-country, then you know how useful a flashlight can be. It is simply amazing how dark it can be in the wilderness, especially after the moon sets.

But if your flashlight fails in the wild lands, few things can be more useless. What would you do with a light that gives no light?

While the messages to the churches in Revelation 23 are often called letters, each of the seven messages generally conforms to an internal pattern presented by Craig Keener:

To the angel of the church in a given city, write:
Jesus (depicted in glory, often in terms from 1:13-18) says:
I know (in most instances offers some praise)
But I have this against you (offers some reproof, where applicable)
The one who has ears must pay attention to what the Spirit says
Eschatological [end-times] promise[1]

Since the seven messages fit a literary pattern, what are we to make of them? Grant Osborne suggests: It is clear from the text that the characteristics of these letters were meant for all the churches of Asia Minor [now Turkey] and indeed for all periods of church history. . . . What we are to do with these seven is to ask: To what extent does this situation fit our church? How can we maximize the strengths and minimize the weaknesses seen in these churches?[2] That is a sound approach!

The church at Ephesus

By any standard, Ephesus was a challenging spiritual environment. Robert Mounce informs us that by NT times the city had a population of about 250,000, an amphitheater seating 25,000, and the enormous Temple of Artemis (Diana in the Roman pantheon).[3] A Roman writer gave the dimensions of the Temple as 425 feet long, 220 feet wide, and 60 feet high; it doubtless employed thousands of people. Idolatry had profound clout in Ephesus.

Jesus commends the Ephesian Christians for their works, especially their vigilance in excluding false apostles (2:2). He is in a position to commend or rebuke because he walks among the seven golden lampstands (2:1), a metaphor meaning the churches. Jesus is present in every church! He walks among us unseen, which should give each of us cause to reconsider our lives.

One of the two biggest issues in this section is determining what Jesus means by your first love (2:4). Some say he means love for God and others say love for fellow Christians, but I join Greg Beale in a minority opinion: The idea is that they no longer expressed their former zealous love for Jesus by witnessing for him in the world.[4] The Lord commands repentance in Ephesus in the form of a return to what was done at first (2:5). The consequences of not doing so will be severe; they will cease to be a church! (What use is a light that gives no light?)

The next mystery occurs in 2:6 where Jesus expresses hatred for the deeds of the Nicolaitans. While more will be said at a later point, the NET Bible Notes explain, The Nicolaitans were a sect . . . that apparently taught that Christians could engage in immoral behavior with impunity.[5]

For the moment we will discuss only one element of Rev. 2:7, and that is the reward Jesus will give to the one who conquers. Osborne says, The reward for the faithful is striking ? they will participate in the blessing intended at creation but never realized by Adam and Eve ? to eat of the tree of life.[6]

Is your light shining?

Many of us were active in sharing our faith at the outset of our Christian experience. I remember having a commitment to share my testimony with a group of Marines at Quantico one night after getting stitches in my mouth from a Navy surgeon. My mouth would scarcely open. I wanted to laugh, but it hurt too much!

One who gave witness on a dark day was the thief who spoke out for Jesus from the cross next to him. To him Jesus said, I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise (Luke 23:43).

Copyright 2011 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] Craig S. Keener, Revelation, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000) 105.

[2] Grant R. Osborne, Revelation, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002) 105.

[3] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, Rev. Ed., The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997) 67.

[4] G.K. Beale, The Book of Revelation, The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999) 230-231.

[5] NET Bible Notes for Revelation 2:6.

[6] Osborne, Revelation, 123.

Do you have an opinion or a different interpretation? Let me know!

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