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
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.
I. A WORD OF COMMENDATION
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?
II. A WORD OF REBUKE
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
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.
III. A WORD OF WARNING
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
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.
IV. A WORD OF INVITATION
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.