Revelation 2:1-7

If Jesus visited your church, what would He say about it? Would He be impressed by the things that impress others? Would He comment on your buildings? Would He mention the size of the congregation? Would He notice how much money was given last week? What would He think about the church you attend?

Reading Revelation 2–3 is like reading someone else’s email. These are real churches filled with real people who are struggling with real problems. Though 2,000 years separate us from them, their issues are not much different from ours.

So what is Jesus looking for when He comes to church? The seven letters to the seven churches provide an important answer.

The first letter went to Ephesus, a major-league city in the ancient world. It was also home to the Temple of Artemis (also called Diana), one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. The city was a bustling cosmopolitan center, a place where the apostle Paul spent over two years establishing a thriving church (Acts 19). Later, he wrote the New Testament letter of Ephesians to this congregation.


The letter from Jesus opens with a reminder that Jesus is fully qualified to write because He “holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands” (Rev. 2:1). The seven stars are the angels sent to the seven churches. The seven lampstands are those seven churches (1:20). This is a good word for beleaguered pastors and other church leaders who feel like they are constantly under the microscope. Never fear. God knows you, He sees you, and He has not forgotten you.

There was much to commend about the church at Ephesus: “I know your deeds” (verse 2). The Ephesians had great zeal for the Lord. Theirs was a busy, hard-working, service-oriented congregation. They didn’t just sit around patting each other on the back; they were eager to serve the Lord. They had a church calendar filled to overflowing with events, programs, meetings, and a whole variety of outreach initiatives to the community.

But that’s not all. They would not tolerate false teachers (verse 2).

We might call that an “Ephesians’ faith” because it’s exactly what our Lord commends in His message to this church.

What a great church it was! Hard-working, Bible-centered, courageous, filled with folks who could take the heat and never give up. Who wouldn’t want to be part of a church like that?


When Christ looks at a church, He peers beneath the surface to see the underlying reality. In this case, all the good the church in Ephesus was doing was overshadowed by a sad reality: They had lost their first love (verse 4). They didn’t love Jesus very much anymore. Somehow in the midst of all their godly busyness and all their standing for the truth, somehow, somewhere along the way, they had left Christ out of their church. Is that possible?

It must be possible because that’s what happened at Ephesus. One wonders if Paul sensed this problem 30 years earlier when he wrote to the Ephesians and prayed that they, “being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ” (Eph. 3:17, 18). How easy it is to substitute knowledge for a warm heart toward Jesus!

In verse 5, He gives them a simple yet deeply challenging prescription that can be summarized as follows:

• Remember how it used to be.

• Repent and turn from your wicked ways.

• Repeat the first works.

This strikes me as an eminently sensible prescription because it assumes an important spiritual truth: You don’t regain your first love overnight. Ask any couple that has gone through a marital crisis. A marriage doesn’t deteriorate overnight, and it is not restored overnight. Healing takes time.

Jesus’ words remind us that while healing is possible, it must begin in the heart and in the mind. Do loving actions and loving feelings will soon follow. In counseling, we often tell unhappy spouses to “act as if you love your spouse even when you don’t feel like it.” We say that because it’s easier to act yourself into a new way of feeling than to feel yourself into a new way of acting.


We must not skip the solemn words of Jesus in verse 5: “If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.” The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary says, “The church would forfeit its status as an accredited representative of Christ. The church [of Ephesus] had ‘fallen,’ but divine mercy patiently provided an opportunity to ‘repent.’”1

Let me ask a question for which I have no answer: How does a church know when its lampstand has been removed? I suggest that the church itself would never know because, in one sense, nothing would change in the sight of a human being. God would take His hand off the church, and everything would continue as usual. The preacher would preach, the choir would sing, the lights would shine, the sound system would work, the Sabbath School classes would meet, the deacons would collect the tithes and offering, and the worship teams would lead. And yet, God would not be there. It would be religion without reality, preaching without power, and church without Jesus.

It is a sad fact that the church at Ephesus eventually ceased to exist. It simply was no more. But perhaps that was better than to continue as a church when Jesus was absent.


And so we come to the ultimate question: Are we listening to what God is saying? Each of the seven letters includes this sentence: “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Rev. 2:7). Do we have ears to hear or are we already too distracted by the noise of the world? The Christian faith is a religion of the ears—of hearing the Word of the Lord. God is speaking. Are we listening?

The message to the church at Ephesus ends with this promise to the overcomers: “I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God” (Rev. 2:7). The word “paradise” refers to the personal presence of the Lord Jesus.


To those who are faithful, Christ promises continued, intimate fellowship in paradise, sustained at the “tree of life” throughout eternity. May your ears hear and positively respond to the words of commendation, rebuke, warning, and invitation from the word of God.

1 Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, 7:745.