A Letter to Ephesus: Love Grown Cold – Revelation 2:1-7

By John Bellingham on August 9, 2020
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A Letter to Ephesus: Love Grown Cold

Revelation 2:1-7


  • Revelation 2 opens up a new section of Revelation in which each one of the seven Churches of
    Asia Minor is addressed individually

    • Although addressed to individual Churches, these letters were not circulated
      independently. Each letter was meant to be received and read by all of the other
    • Although these were real first-century churches, these Churches are also representative
      of Christ’s Church in every age. There is no evidence (as is sometimes suggested) that
      each Church represents a different era of Church history
    • The 7 letters are arranged in a chiastic structure: Churches 1 &7 are on the brink of
      spiritual disaster; Churches 2 & 6 are spiritually healthy; Churches 3,4,5 have serious
      problems that need attention:

      • Ephesus
        • Smyrna
          • Pergamum
          • Thyatira
          • Sardis
        • Philadelphia
      • Laodicea
    • Each letter follows a common pattern: 1) A Greeting; 2) An Attribute of the Risen
      Christ which is taken from John’s vision in 1:12-16; 3) A Word of Affirmation; 4) A
      Word of Correction; 5) A Warning; 6) An Exhortation; 7) A Promise

I. A Word of Greeting – v. 1

  1. “To the angel of the Church”
    1. The ‘angel’ refers back to John’s vision in chapter 1: seven stars which represent the seven ‘angels’ of the Churches
    2. Because the letter is addressed to the ‘angel’ of each Church, it is likely that the ‘angel’ is a way of referring to the Church’s Pastor
  2. Ephesus
    1. One of the most prominent cities in Asia Minor with a population of ¼ million; The Roman Governor lived there, making it an important imperial city
    2. Ephesus was a harbour city, making it a key port for trade and commerce. Eventually the port was filled with silt and the city was abandoned. The ruins of ancient Ephesus are magnificent!
    3. Ephesus’ claim to fame was a huge Temple to the goddess Aretmis (aka ‘Diana’)
      • The Temple of Diana was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world – four times the size of the Greek Parthanon with 127 marble columns, each 18 meters high!
      • The Temple was serviced by hundreds of cult prostitutes → gross sexual immorality which was considered to be a form of worship
      • Paul once got himself into trouble with the idol craftsmen of Ephesus who felt that his preaching was threatening their business!
    4. Aside from the cult of Artemis, the Ephesians were deeply involved in magic and sorcery (cf. Acts 19:19) → lots of demonic activity in the city, and many miracles performed by Paul (cf. Acts 19:11-12)
    5. The Church in Ephesus was planted by Aquilla and Pricilla around AD 52. They were aided by an eloquent convert named Apollos, who later went on to serve as a Pastor in Corinth
    6. Paul visited Ephesus briefly at the end of his second missionary journey but could not stay for long
    7. Paul returned to Ephesus where he remained for over 2 years, serving the Church and teaching daily in the Hall of Tyrannus
    8. Around AD 60 Paul instructed Timothy to Pastor the Church at Ephesus and to deal with a group of false teachers – (cf. 1 Timothy 1)
    9. The Apostle John served as a Pastor in Ephesus during his later years, and is buried there in the ruined basilica

II. An Attribute of the Risen Christ – v. 1

  1. ‘Him who holds the seven stars in his right hand’
    1. The seven stars symbolize the ‘messengers’ (Pastors) of the Churches
    2. A picture of God’s protection over the Church leadership
  2. ‘Who walks among the seven golden lampstands’
    1. The golden lampstands symbolize the seven churches
    2. A picture of Christ’s Priestly work in guarding and building His true Temple (the Christian Church)

III. A Word of Affirmation – vv. 2-3, 6

  1. ‘Toil’ – labour to the point of exhaustion (ie. farmer in the field)
    1. The Christians in Ephesus were deeply committed to gospel ministry
    2. They were not slacking off or coasting
  2. ‘Patient Endurance’
    1. It was not easy to be a Christian in Ancient Ephesus
    2. Christians were persecuted by both the Jews and the Pagans
  3. ‘Cannot bear with those who are evil’
    1. ‘Evil’ in this context could be either moral or spiritual evil
    2. Exposing False Teachers
      • Unlike the Ephesian Church during the time of Timothy when false teaching was a major problem in Ephesus, it seems as though the Church had been successfully purged of these element
      • False teachers were exposed through ‘testing’ – examination of their lives and their doctrine in the light of Biblical teaching
      • ‘Nicolaitans’ – although St. Irenaeus identified this sect with the deacon Nicolas who is mentioned in Acts 6:5, Clement of Alexandria denied that this was the case. We do not know for sure who the Nicolatians were, but the sect seems to have been localized and short-lived
        1. They were active in both Ephesus and Pergamum (cf. Rev 2:16)
        2. Based on what is written later on to the Church in Pergamum, it seems that the Nicolatians were trying to blend the Christian faith with elements of pagan idolatry/ immorality
  4. ‘Bearing up for my name’s sake’
    1. Maintaining sound doctrine is not only about the elimination of false teaching, it also requires sound teaching about Christ!
    2. A Church should not just be known for what it’s against, but for what it’s for!


  • The story of the Church in Ephesus shows us that it is possible to deal effectively with
    false teaching and false teachers. It seems that Timothy was successful in
    accomplishing what Paul had instructed him to do years earlier. The Church in
    Ephesus shows us that false teaching must be continually confronted, and that false
    teachers must be methodically tested and exposed.
  • Christ’s commendation to the Church shows how deeply He cares about doctrinal
    orthodoxy (right teaching). Every local Church must strive to maintain sound
    doctrine, and in this sense the Church in Ephesus stands as a model for us to follow

IV. A Word of Correction – v. 4

  1. ‘Thou hast left thy first love’ (KJV)
    1. Older translations seem to suggest that the Church in Ephesus had abandoned their love for Christ Himself
    2. The ESV rendering is better: “you have abandoned the love you had at first”
      • The love that once characterized the Ephesian Church had grown cold
        1. Their love for Christ had grown cold
        2. Their love for one another had grown cold
        3. Their love for the non-believers had grown cold
      • If we are not actively fostering our love for Christ, all other manifestations of Christian love will begin to decline
  2. Necessary vs. Sufficient
    1. Illustration: In order to start a fire some things are necessary, but not sufficient
      • Necessary materials: wood, oxygen, spark/heat
      • Sufficient conditions: all three must be present in order to have a fire. If you have wood and oxygen, but no spark you can’t have a fire!
    2. In the Christian Church sound doctrine is necessary, but not sufficient in order to accomplish our Biblical mandate and mission – (cf. 1 Corinthians 13)


  • There is a danger for Churches to put so much effort into preserving orthodoxy, that we begin to neglect/ deprioritize other things that are essential
  • Do we love doctrine more than we love Christ? Does our hatred of heresy overshadow our love for the people of God? For those who are still in darkness?

V. A Warning and Exhortation– vv. 5, 7

  1. ‘Remember’
    1. When we have fallen into sin either individually or corporately, we need to remember back to when we were walking rightly with the Lord
    2. Knowing the Bible is crucial to ‘remembering’ – if we don’t know God’s standard, we won’t be able to tell when we’ve moved away from it!
  2. ‘Repent’
    1. Repentance = ‘metanoia’: a change of mind
    2. Repentance involves changing our minds about sin, and then turning away from it, and making appropriate restitution for any wrongs that we have committed
    3. Christ’s command to repent shows that it was not to late for the Church in Ephesus! The call to repent is a manifestation of God’s grace and kindness
  3. ‘Remove’
    1. A Church that ignores the call to repent will come under God’s discipline
    2. God will fight against an apostate (ie. a false) Church!
    3. “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” – v. 7

VI. A Promise – v. 7

  1. A Promise for the Conqueror
    1. To conquer, in this context, is to successfully fight against sin
    2. We are either conquering our sin, or we are being conquered by it! “Be killing sin, or sin will be killing you!” – John Owen
  2. The Tree of Life
    1. In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve were cut off from the tree of life
    2. Through Christ we have access once again to eternal life
    3. Those who persevere show themselves to be genuine Christians. Those who fail to persevere (ie. to conquer) prove that they were never genuine Christians.


  • The point here is not that true Christians can lose their salvation, but that true faith is
    proven by the fruit it produces. Although all Christians stand in need of ongoing
    repentance and forgiveness, a person who stubbornly refuses to repent when sin is
    exposed demonstrates that He does not know Christ. The same principle holds true at
    the level of Churches. A Church might claim to be ‘Christian’, but if they refuse to
    repent of sin, they are not a true Church of Christ.

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