Revelation 2:1-7

Sunday Morning Bible Study

May 6, 2001


One of the most significant parts of the Revelation is the section where Jesus writes seven letters to seven churches.  These letters are our instructions for living, right from Jesus’ mouth.  We don’t have to wait for some future time to apply these things because they are for today.

Layout of the letters

As a general rule, each of these seven letters follows a pattern.  Each letter may not have all these elements, but most of them have most of the elements.  The pattern goes like this:

1) Addressed to an angel – each letter is addressed to the “angel” of that church.  The Greek word for “angel” (aggelos) means “messenger”, and probably refers to the pastor of each church.

2) Description of the sender – Jesus will describe Himself to each of the churches differently.  As a general rule, His description of Himself will be drawn from parts of the vision that John described in chapter one.

3) Commendation – Jesus will tell each church what He appreciates about them.

4) Rebuke – If Jesus has a problem within a church, He will tell them.

5) Remedy – Jesus will tell the church what He wants them to do to fix the problem.

6) Listen – “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches”

7) Promise to overcomers – Jesus will share how He will reward those who follow Him.

How do we look at these letters?

1.  These are real churches in real cities that were in existence in John’s day, AD 95.  We need to be careful that we don’t ever miss this point.

2.  I think there is also a reason to the order and characteristics of these churches in that they become a picture for us of the panorama of church history.  Each church can be seen as a period within church history, with Ephesus being the early church and Laodicea as being the church of the last days.

3.  There is a sense in which in the world, at any given time, there are examples of each of these seven churches.  For example, there are churches or groups of churches that are similar in nature to the church of Thyatira, etc.

4.  There is a sense in which there is within each local church these seven types of churches, seen as seven types of believers.  For example, there are some in our church who ought to pay attention to the letter to the Ephesus, etc.

5.  There is a sense in which we ALL can have attributes of these seven churches within each of us individually.  Jesus says in each letter, “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.  We are all responsible to pay attention to the lessons for each one of the churches.  In other words, I need to learn the lessons of Ephesus, Smyrna, etc.

Ephesus – works without love

:1  Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write; These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks;

Ephesus – this is the founding church of the area.  It was started initially by the work of Apollos.  A full church was established by Paul around AD 55, forty years prior to the Revelation.  We believe the pastor of the church at the time of this letter is Timothy, who two years after this letter will die at the hands of an angry mob.


The church of Ephesus will be a picture of the church during the time of the apostles, through John's death, around A.D. 100.

Jesus’ Description

When Jesus describes Himself to the Ephesian church, He reminds them that He is the one who holds the “angels” (or pastors) in His hand, and He is the one who walks among the churches. Each church is in His presence.  Jesus is familiar with and knows the circumstances of each pastor, of each church.

:2 I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience,

The Commendation:

labourkopos – a beating of the breast with grief, sorrow; intense labour united with trouble and toil

This is a church that has worked hard for the Lord.

patiencehupomone – steadfastness, constancy, endurance; the characteristic of a man who is not swerved from his deliberate purpose and his loyalty to faith by even the greatest trials and sufferings


Keep going

There are plenty of times we want to quit.  But Jesus commends this church because they have kept going.
Everett Koop, former surgeon general of the United States and a vocal opponent of abortion on demand, tells of a family whose severely handicapped child he delivered and helped to keep alive after birth. He writes, “I asked the child’s mother, ‘What’s the worst thing that ever happened to you?’”
“She said, ‘Having our son Paul born with defects that required thirty-seven operations to correct.’
“Then I asked, ‘What’s the best thing that ever happened to you?’
“She said, ‘Having our son Paul born with defects that required thirty-seven operations to correct.’”
Koop goes on to explain: “I know what she means. It’s been terribly hard on them, but, through the experience, they’ve grown enormously as a family. They’ve had a remarkable spiritual reawakening. One of their sons is now in law school planning to defend the rights of the handicapped. Paul has now had fifty-five operations, with one more scheduled. Despite the hardships, it’s been an overwhelmingly positive experience for them.”

-- Ben Patterson, "A Faith Like Mary's," Preaching Today, Tape No. 87.

:2  and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars:

triedpeirazo – to try, make trial of, test: for the purpose of ascertaining his quality, or what he thinks, or how he will behave himself

This is a church that has learned to not put up with evil.  They have learned to put people to the test to see if a person is truly what they say they are.


Don't believe everything you hear.

When Paul said his farewell to the church at Ephesus, he warned the elders about the wolves up ahead:
(Acts 20:28-30 KJV)  Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. {29} For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. {30} Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.

This would be the problem that the church at Thyatira (Rev. 2:18-29) would have.  They had become too tolerant of wickedness.

It seems that the elders at Ephesus took Paul's warnings very seriously, and indeed obeyed him.
John himself, had been ministering in Ephesus, and he wrote:
(1 John 4:1 KJV)  Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.
We need to learn to listen with discernment, comparing what people say to what the Word of God says, and seeing how they actually live.
(2 Tim 3:16-17 KJV)  All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: {17} That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.

:3 And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name's sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted.

Before you criticize this church too much, keep in mind that they have much to be commended for. 

Every one of these things that Jesus commends the church for are things that we ought to be doing.  These are not to be seen as part of their problem.

:4 Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.

The rebuke

hast leftaphiemi – to send away; of a husband divorcing his wife; to give up, abandon

Jesus doesn’t say, “You’ve forgotten your first love”, but “You’ve left your first love”.  If you forget something, you don’t know what happened to it.  If you leave something, you know where it is.

This church has lots of motion, but no “emotion”. They have done well in works, but their motivation has gotten off track.


Leaving my first love

In a sense, good deeds without being motivated by love are worthless.
(1 Cor 13:1-3 KJV)  Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. {2} And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. {3} And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.

Even though Jesus has commended the Ephesians for their works, there’s a sense in which works are worthless if they’re not motivated by love.

There are going to be two kinds of people interacting with Jesus in this next story.  One type of person is a Pharisee, a strict, religious person.  The other is a horrible sinner woman, one who desperately needs to turn from her sin and receive God’s forgiveness.
(Luke 7:36-50 KJV)  And one of the Pharisees desired him that he would eat with him. And he went into the Pharisee's house, and sat down to meat. {37} And, behold, a woman in the city, which was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at meat in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster box of ointment, {38} And stood at his feet behind him weeping, and began to wash his feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment. {39} Now when the Pharisee which had bidden him saw it, he spake within himself, saying, This man, if he were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him: for she is a sinner. {40} And Jesus answering said unto him, Simon, I have somewhat to say unto thee. And he saith, Master, say on. {41} There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty. {42} And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me therefore, which of them will love him most? {43} Simon answered and said, I suppose that he, to whom he forgave most. And he said unto him, Thou hast rightly judged. {44} And he turned to the woman, and said unto Simon, Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head. {45} Thou gavest me no kiss: but this woman since the time I came in hath not ceased to kiss my feet. {46} My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment. {47} Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little. {48} And he said unto her, Thy sins are forgiven. {49} And they that sat at meat with him began to say within themselves, Who is this that forgiveth sins also? {50} And he said to the woman, Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace.
When you serve Jesus out of love, it’s like a sweet fragrance that fills the whole house!
Who do you identify with in this story?

Are you like the Pharisee who is quick to be critical of those around him?  Or are you like this sinner woman who only has eyes for Jesus and for whom she can’t seem to do enough?

If you identify too much with the Pharisee, perhaps you have grown too distant from your own real, continuing need for God’s forgiveness.

:5 Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works;

The remedy


Back to the First Love

Jesus tells the church to do three things:
Remember – they are to look back at where they’ve fallen from.  They are to look back to remember what it was like when they were doing things because they loved Jesus.
Has there ever been a time when you loved the Lord more than you do now? Do you remember what it was like when you had a stronger love for the Lord?
For those of you who are new Christians, pay attention!  There may be a time when you too will find your loving having grown cold.  It’s not an uncommon thing.
Repent – whatever things are being done that take you away from Jesus, turn around.
Are there things in your life that are not pleasing to the Lord?  Are there things in your life that have become a higher priority to you than Jesus?
(Luke 14:26-27 KJV)  If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. {27} And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.

This verse doesn’t mean that you are supposed to literally hate your family, but that you are not to love them more than Jesus.  Jesus wants to be your Lord.  He wants to be your highest priority.

Jesus told a parable about a farmer sowing seed on different types of soil.  In one of his fields, the farmer planted his wheat where there were a lot of weeds and thorns.

(Mat 13:22 NLT)  The thorny ground represents those who hear and accept the Good News, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the cares of this life and the lure of wealth, so no crop is produced.

Have you allowed things into your heart that have become a higher priority to you than spending time with Jesus? 

Turn away from these things.
Repeat – find the kinds of things you used to do when you were in love with Jesus, and do them all over again.
At first this seems kind of hypocritical, as if I’m not doing them out of love. 
But what Jesus is asking you to do is take a step of faith by doing them because you want to love Him.  When you do this, you will find your love being restored.
Did you use to read your Bible all the time?  Did you use to pray all the time?  Did you use to go to church every chance you could?  Did you use to tell people about Jesus?  Then do all these things, not because you have to, but because you want to love Him more.
The hand pump out on Grandma's farm. To get a hand pump going, you need to have a bucket of water to prime the pump. If you don't prime the pump, all you do is suck air. But if you pour water into the pump, out will come more water. If you want love in your heart, then do works that are done in love.



I think that this is a very practical Scripture when it comes to love in a marriage relationship.
Marriage often goes through cycles.  Love can run hot and cold.
When love grows cold, don’t bail out on the marriage, get the love back.  Follow the steps – Remember, repent, repeat.

:5  or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.

removekineo – to cause to go, i.e. to move; to move from a place

Where is the place of the candlestick?  It’s in the presence of Jesus.  Jesus will remove the church from His presence if they do not repent.


Take God’s “heart warnings” seriously

Jesus warns the Ephesians to pay attention to the issues of the heart.
So what happened to the church at Ephesus? Is it a thriving, vibrant church today? The city of Ephesus is only rubble.  There is no church in Ephesus.
A little girl got home from Sunday school, where she had been taught the verse: Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and give glory to our Father who is in heaven. She asked her mother, when she repeated the verse, what it meant. Her mom said, “Well, it means that when you are good and kind and thoughtful and obedient, you are letting Christ’s light shine in your life before all who know you.”
The very next Sunday in Sunday school, the little girl got in a bit of a fight with another student and created somewhat of an uproar—to such an extent that the Sunday school teacher had to go and find her mother to get her settled down a bit in the class. Her mother was concerned when she got to the classroom and said, “Sweetie, don’t you remember about letting your light shine for the Lord before men?” The girl blurted out, “Mom, I have blowed myself out!”

-- W. Frank Harrington, "The Love That Brought Him," Preaching Today, Tape No. 51.

I think Jesus is warning the church at Ephesus that if they don’t take the state of their heart seriously, they will have “blowed themselves out”.

:6 But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.

Jesus has one more commendation for the Ephesians, they hate the Nicolaitans.  We’ll talk more about this tonight when we finish Revelation 2.

Nicolaitans – we don’t know who these people are.  We can only propose a theory based on their name.  Their name is a compound of two words, nikao (“to conquer”) and laos (“the people”).  It has been suggested that this group got along by having a heavy-handed leadership which kept the people down.  Instead of seeing that we are all priests before God, a Nicolaitan church would have a few men who would be the priests and everyone else has to come through them.

We do have an idea of one of the things the Nicolaitans taught:

(Rev 2:14-15 KJV)  But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication. {15} So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate.
Apparently the Nicolaitans were teaching the people to do things that were abominable to God, as fornication.

:7 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.


Whether or not you are living in Ephesus, if you have ears to hear, you ought to pay attention to what Jesus is saying to the church at Ephesus.  We can all leave our “first love”, we need to pay attention.

The promise

Jesus promises eternal life in heaven to those who “overcome”.  Certainly in the context, “overcoming” includes the things that Jesus has asked them to do, but overcoming all starts with believing in Jesus –

(1 John 5:4-5 KJV)  For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. {5} Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?
Jesus Christ died on a cross in order to pay for our sins.  Because our sins have been paid for, God is able to offer to us forgiveness for every sin we’ve ever committed.  He offers us the free gift of forgiveness and eternal life if we will but receive the gift.