As promised, our next few studies will focus on the seven letters from Christ to the seven churches in Asia Minor (present day Turkey) that are found in Revelation 2-3.
Before we begin it would be beneficial to share a few quick observations about the book of Revelation as a whole before we dive into chapters 2 and 3. Revelation is essentially broken up into three main parts:
- Past – “What You Have Seen.” This section of the book of Revelation is comprised solely in chapter 1. Jesus reveals Himself to John in a unique way and reminds John exactly who He is, what He has accomplished, and where He went (glorified in heaven). As a result of these things John is commanded to record this vision – and so we get the book of Revelation.
- Present – “What’s Happening Now.” This section is found in chapters 2 and 3 and is comprised of seven letters from Christ to seven literal churches (specifically to their pastors) in Asia Minor. Many believe that these seven churches make up seven “ages” of the church, which will play out later in the history of the church. From the text it seems more likely that these were letters to seven first century churches and their leaders. The interesting thing that we’ll see is that the first century church (that is believers who likely either had met Christ personally or knew men who had met Christ personally) struggled with some of the same things that we struggle with today.
- Future – “What is Going to Happen.” This is seen in Chapters 4-22 and shows the events that will happen prior to Christ’s return and the final judgments and creation of a New Heaven and New Earth after His return. The Christian radio pioneer J. Vernon McGee is quoted as saying, “more people care about studying anti-Christ than they do about getting to know the real Christ.” I think that is true today as it was many years ago when he was quoted. That being said, it is a good idea not to study the future or prophetic parts of Revelation until you’ve got a good grasp on at least Jesus’ work in the New Testament and ultimately the total 65 books leading up to Revelation. Study what Jesus did for this world and how the Spirit will change your life before you seek out the End Times.
With that out of the way lets dig in…
"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: I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, 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. (Revelation 2:1-3 NIV)"
The Lord starts this letter with praise for the Ephesians because they do not “tolerate wicked men.” It was common practice in the first century (as it unfortunately is today) for men to see the financial or influential power of pretending to be a teacher of God’s Word. We see this time and time again today - men who claim to serve the Lord but when we evaluate their life and ministry and teaching they fall far short of the Lord’s standards. That is not to say that the Lord expects those who serve Him to be perfect, but the faithful servant of God should do their best to verify if their teacher is either a shepherd or an abuser or enemy in shepherd’s clothes.
How did they do that? They tested them. That means weighing everything that is preached or taught with the Word of God and doing our best to challenge those who are using the church or the Word for their own personal gain. Apparently, as we see in verse 3, their adherence to the Word of God was so strong that it even put them in positions of persecution for His Name’s sake. What an awesome testimony.
Jesus Praised the Ephesians for their Faithfulness in Teaching.
Verse 4 goes on to say, “Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love.” It would appear that in their zeal to honor the Lord in their actions, at least with securing good leaders and enduring hardships for His name, that they completely forgot Who it was that they were serving, why they were serving Him, and how to have a basic relationship with Him. They were so wrapped up in serving Christ they forgot about Him.
It is sad to say but I often find myself in this category. I work hard throughout the year by driving miles and miles for ministry, studying for hours, preaching wherever I can, and ministering to individuals and families whenever I have the opportunity. Often times though, and I bet I’m not alone, I get so focused on those acts of service that I completely forget why I am serving Him. I forget to study His Word for my own life and not just for preaching. I forget to talk to Him in prayer. Essentially, I get too busy serving Jesus to love Jesus. That’s a bad spot to be in.
Jesus Rebuked the Ephesians for Forgetting their First Love.
Thankfully, the letter does not stop there. In verse 5 He gives us the recipe for reconciliation:
Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.
If you are in that category where you are saved but you have little to no daily walk with the Lord, then this advice is for you. Remember where you were. Remember the life you lived before Christ and the change that the Holy Spirit has brought to your life since you’ve placed your faith in Him. Remember the joy, enthusiasm, and boldness that the Father gave you simply by being His child. Remember the way that you served Him with your new faith. You can’t help but have a good relationship when you get back to the basics.
Jesus’ Recipe for Relationship Reconciliation is Getting Back to Where You Started.
In verse 7 we are given one last encouragement:
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.
Jesus, as we can see from this letter, not only wants a relationship with us, but He wants a great relationship with us. Just as it is with your spouse and close family and friends, an okay relationship simply does not cut it. Jesus wants us to have an honest and open relationship of dependence on Him. Jesus’ encouragement to those who overcome is a reminder that believers get to spend eternity with Him growing that relationship even further.
Jesus’ Promise for Reconciliation is Eternity with Him.
How’s your relationship with the Lord? Is it strong and healthy? Is that strength just in your actions or is it in your heart too? Seek the Lord about answering each of these questions as you study the Bible and pray this month. If you get a chance, dig a little deeper into this passage and see if there is a more personal way that you can apply it to your life.
As you are looking for a more personal application you may consider that this passage and the idea of “remembering the height from which you have fallen” is a great recipe for reconciliation not only for your relationship with Christ but for relationships in general. You can apply the concept to a broken marriage, forsaken children, or forgotten friends.