May 8: Revelation 2:1-7

Last week we introduced our new Revelation series with the first of John’s visions, Jesus among the seven lampstands. Those lampstands represent his worldwide Church, since the number seven was used by ancient writers to communicate completeness, but in chapters 2-3 Jesus will address messages of encouragement and renewal to seven actual, local churches from John’s own lifetime. For the rest of the series, we’ll look at four of these seven, this week starting with the church at Ephesus.
But before we get there, let’s look at the format for these seven messages, because we’ll try to observe this format in the way we do discussion. All seven start with a description of Jesus, contain some sort of command, and end with a promise to the faithful. All but Laodicea receive some sort of commendation in there, and all but Smyrna and Philadelphia receive some sort of rebuke. In the discussion questions you’ll see us hit Jesus’ commendation of the church at Ephesus (“what does Jesus celebrate?”) and his rebuke.

Now, each week we’ll try to give some background on the church to which the letter is addressed. This kind of background is obviously helpful—for example, knowing that the city of Laodicea was a wealthy merchant town helps us understand Jesus’ rebuke of the church there: “For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, I need nothing” (Rev. 3:17). However, don’t feel like you need to give a little history lesson on each city before you start discussion, because folks will be able to benefit from the discussion no matter what.

Ephesus was a port city on the coast of modern-day Turkey known for its temples to Artemis and several Roman Emperors. In fact, those things supported Ephesian identity in the Roman Empire, so much so that men who made a living off selling Artemis merchandise rioted over the presence of Christians in the city (Acts 19:21-41). However, Ephesus was also an early hub of Christian activity and was home to John the Apostle sometime after the events of Acts 8 (and maybe even Apollos, another early Christian teacher). That’s likely why the church at Ephesus is the first one John addresses.

Verse 2 tells us that Ephesus, as a hub of Christian teachers, had a passion for doctrine and truth, successfully defending (and appropriately, we might add) the church against false apostles or teachers. However, Jesus rebukes them for having abandoned their first love (2:4). Some read this as love for Jesus, others as love for others, but the two aren’t mutually exclusive—love for Christ leads to love for others. It seems as though their passion for truth has thrived while their love for Jesus and his church has dwindled, and this is a grave mistake. As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13, without love we are a noisy gong or clanging cymbal, meaning all our propounding of truth is a cacophony rather than a chorus of praise. Jesus said his disciples would be known by their love for one another (John 13:35), meaning we cannot only concern ourselves with being “right.”

Though, to be quite clear, this is not to say that one must pick between a passion for doctrine and a love for Jesus and others. The two nourish or malnourish each other, meaning deficient feelings towards Jesus and your neighbor will starve your doctrine and deficient doctrine will ultimately do the same to your love. Prayerfully, in our discussion we want to hear where Jesus would have us grow in these areas, how he would challenge us with this word to the Ephesians. And may we be a people who repent, as he called the Ephesians to do, and who grow in truth and love, in robust doctrine and fervent love for Jesus and neighbor.

And as we confront the ways we need to repent and be challenged by Jesus’ word here, let’s not overlook his promises. First, Jesus reminds Ephesus of the vision from chapter 1, that he is the Son of Man among the lampstands. Since the lampstands represent the seven churches (and the Church universal), Jesus is clearly emphasizing his role in superintending the life of his local churches and global Church. Jesus is in the midst of Vintage Church right this moment, caring for her and sustaining her by his life-giving Spirit. Every time he calls us towards obedience in his word, he does so not with a drill sergeant or judge at the bench but with a Helper (John 15:26) who is with us with a hand on our arm to guide us and a shoulder under our arm to pick us up. And second, we hold fast to Jesus with his word of promise in our ear, that his children will surely endure and taste of the tree of life, life everlasting, in the New Kingdom (2:7).

Questions for Discussion

• Could someone read Revelation 2:1-7 for us?

• What stood out to you from the passage?

• What does Jesus celebrate about the Ephesian church?

• In verse 2 we see that Ephesus is passionate about what is right, but in verse 4 we see that they have left their first love. What do you think is being described here?

• What does Jesus call the Ephesians to do here?

• In what ways do you personally need to hear what Jesus said to the Ephesians?

• How do you think Jesus is calling you to respond to his word this week?

• What are the promises in this passage and how might they encourage your response to Jesus?