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Marvin Rosenthal: I believe that the messages to the seven churches of Asia Minor (Rev. 2-3) are not descriptions of different periods of church history or characteristics of the church during all periods of its history, as pretribulationism is forced to conclude.  Rather, the letters to the seen churches are an urgent warning call to all Christendom – a call to make one’s salvation sure (2 Pet. 1:10) – a call to be overcomes (Rev. 2:7, 11, 17, 26; 3:5, 12, 21), not through exemption from the Tribulation by rapture, but by being willing to suffer and die for Christ, if necessary, under the persecution of the Antichrist – always, however, with the blessed hope of rapture before God’s wrath is poured out during the Day of the Lord.  In absolutely no sense does the potential for suffering before the Rapture negate the “blessed hope” (Titus 2:13).

Van Parunak: The Parallel Structure of the Seven Letters

Grant Osborne: As Sweet (1979: 77) says, “It is in fact clear that John had intimate pastoral knowledge of each congregation and was dealing with actual situations in each place.” Most others believe that they are addressed both to individual churches and to all of Asia Minor. As stated in the discussion of 1:11, the churches were natural centers for disseminating information to the other churches of the province, so the problems in those churches were also representative of the rest of the churches. Each letter ends with “hear what the Spirit says to the churches,” so all the churches of Asia Minor were to heed the promises and warnings given to each church and apply it to themselves.

Henry Morris: (The Revelation Record) Each church receives a message composed of seven arts:

(1)  salutation;

(2)  identification of Chrtist as sender;

(3)  assertion of knowledge;

(4)  comment and exhortation;

(5)  promise (or threatened) coming;

(6)  admonition to heed; and

(7)  promised blessing

Buist Fanning: Jesus commends the church in Ephesus for their faithful endurance in the true faith but calls them to repent for their failure to love God and people as they once did. . .

John previously saw Christ in the midst of the lampstands (1:13), but here Christ declares that he “walks” (περιπατῶν) in their midst, a picture of active engagement with his churches in their everyday experience of life. He knows intimately their hard circumstances (cf. vv. 2–3, 6) and their successes, as well as their failings, and is vigilant to guard their fidelity.

Kendell Easley: Jesus knows the strengths and weaknesses of each local congregation and gives them the proper compliments and challenges.


A.  Command to Write to the Church at Ephesus

To the angel of the church in Ephesus write:

Grant Osborne: One of the four most powerful cities in the Roman Empire (with Rome, Alexandria, and Syrian Antioch), Ephesus, a city of more than a quarter of a million people, lay at the harbor where the Cayster River met the Aegean Sea in western Asia Minor. In ancient times it had become a major city after being captured by Croesus of Lydia (550 B.C.), who contributed greatly to rebuilding the temple of Artemis and established the city. Alexander the Great moved the population from the temple site to the harbor, and a thriving city developed. The temple (called the “Artemision”) had been burnt to the ground but was rebuilt in the fourth century and became one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Ephesus quickly became a center of commerce and trade for all of western Asia Minor, one of the most prosperous provinces in the Roman Empire. Under the Syrian conqueror Antiochus III (197 B.C.), it became the capital of the region. It came under Roman control in 133 B.C., but at first there was considerable anti-Roman sentiment, and indeed the city joined a revolt by Mithridates VI, put down by Pompey in 69 B.C. Things settled down after that, and during the reign of Augustus, Ephesus and Pergamum were rivals for prominence as the capital of the province of Asia. Ephesus became the greatest city of the area, with major construction projects and a thriving commercial and religious life. Three great trade routes met at the city: from the Euphrates by way of Laodicea and Colosse, from Galatia by way of Sardis, and from the Maeander Valley in the southeast corner of Asia Minor.

Buist Fanning: Ephesus itself in the first century AD was the most important city of Asia Minor (with Pergamum and Smyrna as its rivals) and one of the three most important cities in the eastern Mediterranean (alongside Alexandria and Syrian Antioch). It was the Roman provincial capital and was a major port for trade and the entry point for sea travel from Italy and Greece to the west.  A system of quite serviceable roads connected it to coastal areas to the north and south and to inland regions to the east. It was a populous city (estimates range from 175,000 to 250,000 inhabitants, probably closer to the lower range) and bustling with trade as well as cottage industries and craft workshops of various kinds. Impressive public and private buildings and numerous religious structures (temples, shrines, monuments, statues) dominated the urban scene of Ephesus, especially the gigantic temple of Artemis or Diana. Other religious sites honored Roma, Julius Caesar, Augustus, and the Flavian emperors as well as more traditional western and eastern deities such as Cybele, Hestia, Serapis, and Zeus. There was a Jewish community in Ephesus from the third century BC (according to Josephus, Ag. Ap. 2.39). An important church had existed there since the time of Paul or earlier (Acts 18–20; Eph; 1 Tim 1), and Paul’s two-year ministry there in the early AD 50s was a catalyst for the spread of Christianity in the whole province (Acts 19:10). We know of other early Christians who ministered in Ephesus both before and after Paul’s two-year stay there (Priscilla and Aquila, Apollos, Timothy). Revelation 1–3 as well as the letters of Ignatius, the Martyrdom of Polycarp, and later patristic references attest to the ongoing life of the church in Ephesus.

Robert Thomas: religious life of Ephesus revolved about the worship of the Greek goddess Artemis (identified with the Roman goddess Diana) (cf. Acts 19:24, 27, 28, 34, 35), for whom it served as the center of worship. Her 425-foot long by 220-foot wide temple was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Each of its 120 columns was donated by a king. The image of Artemis was one of the most sacred objects of worship in the ancient world, but it was not beautiful. It was a grotesque, squat, black, many-breasted figure that was reputed to have fallen from heaven (cf. Acts 19:27, 35). Nevertheless, the citizens were fanatically devoted to worshiping the image. Besides being a religious center, the temple was a gathering place for criminals and the scene of widespread immorality. Criminals came there in droves because it provided them an asylum where they were safe after committing a crime. Prostitution thrived there because the immoral activities were looked upon as sacred, and the prostitutes themselves were viewed as priestesses.

The population of the city was of diverse backgrounds. One group was the original natives who inhabited the area before the arrival of the Greeks. Added to these were the direct descendants of the original colonists from Athens. A third group was composed of three other tribes of Greek lineage. Finally, the city had a substantial Jewish population.

Gordon Fee: Nowhere in these documents are “angels” thought of as anything other than angels. What John appears to do, therefore, is to keep the apocalyptic genre alive by the use of this word, since what follows in each case is the least apocalyptic material in the entire document. Most likely it is John’s need to address the seven churches in a basically straightforward manner, accompanied by his desire to keep intact the apocalyptic nature of the book as a whole, that has brought about this unusual way of speaking to the seven churches. After all, angels reappear throughout the book as presenting or carrying out the divine plan.

B.  Control and Concern Exercised by the Sovereign Head of the Church

  1. Sovereign Control over the Churches

The One who holds the seven stars in His right hand,

Robert Mounce: The two participles are instructive: Christ holds the angels (they are in his control) and walks among the lampstands (he is present in their midst and aware of their activities).

  1. Shepherding Concern for the Churches

the One who walks among the seven golden lampstands,

Grant Osborne: The imagery of “walking” combines the ideas of concern for and authority over the church.

Robert Thomas: His constant movement among and watchful eye over the churches have more to do with control than with protection. This involves His knowledge of the circumstances and, in the Ephesian situation, may very well relate to the removal of the church’s lampstand from its place (cf. 2:5). His constant vigil of the churches determines whether or not the churches as lampstands are shining as they should (Scott). This activity is reminiscent of the OT priests who tended the lamps of the holy place of the Tabernacle to keep them trimmed, oiled, and burning.

C.  Communication from the Sovereign Head of the Church

says this:

Buist Fanning: This is the Christ then who authoritatively speaks to his own in what follows. As mentioned earlier, the introductory phrase “says this” (τάδε λέγει) is a formula used to communicate an inspired message. It was used hundreds of times in the Old Testament to introduce God’s words to his people spoken through his prophets (e.g., Isa 29:22; Jer 2:2; Ezek 11:5; Amos 1:6; Mic 2:3; Zech 1:3). Using such a resonant phrase for these messages from Christ reflects the divine status that Revelation regularly assigns to Jesus himself.


A.  (:2a) Perseverance in Good Works

I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance,

Gordon Fee: “Work” in this case most likely refers to every form of labor that directly involves ministry (= service to others) of any kind, while “perseverance” means that they have not flagged in doing so.

Robert Thomas: The Ephesian church was engaged in slavish toil to the point of exhaustion and endured with lasting patience every burden it encountered. These qualities represent two sides of erga, an outward activity of labor (kopon) and an inward disposition of perseverance (hypomonēn). Kόπoς (Kopos) originally meant “a beating accompanied by wailing and grief.”  It developed into the connotation of hard work to the point of perspiration. The word is frequently connected closely in Revelation and in the rest of the NT with Christian work, carrying with it the idea of the weariness resulting from hard work (cf. 1 Thess. 1:3; Rev. 14:13) (Charles; Moffatt). Hypomonē expresses patience with respect to circumstances, whereas a synonym μα oθυμία (makrothymia, “longsuffering”) is patience that relates to people.  Perseverance triumphs over all opposition, as illustrated in the history of the Maccabean martyrs who are praised for their courage (4 Macc. 1:11) (Moffatt). This Christian quality of endurance in the midst of hard labor has the highest ethical standards. It is the brave patience through which Christians contend against hindrances, persecutions, and temptations that come in their conflict with the world.

B.  (:2b) Discernment in Exposing False Apostles

  1. Tolerance of Evil Imposters Is Anathema

and that you cannot endure evil men,

Buist Fanning: It was all too common even in the earliest eras of Christian history for teachers and prophets to travel from community to community under a claim of legitimacy while misleading believers with false doctrine (cf. 2 Cor 11:13–15; 1 Thess 5:20–21; 1 John 4:1–3; as well as Did. 11.1–12; 13.1–2).  At earlier stages in their history Paul too warned the leaders of the Ephesian church against the threat of false teachers from outside and inside the church and the need to guard against it (Acts 20:28–32; 1 Tim 1:3–7). All churches must heed this call for vigilance (Rev 2:7a).

  1. Testing of Evil Imposters Leads to Exposure

and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not,

and you found them to be false;

William Barclay: More than once, the New Testament insists on the necessity of testing. John in his First Letter insists that the spirits who claim to come from God should be tested by their willingness to accept the incarnation in all its fullness (1 John 4:1–3). Paul insists that the Thessalonians should test all things and then hold on to that which is good (1 Thessalonians 5:21). He insists that, when the prophets preach, they are subject to the testing of the other prophets (1 Corinthians 14:29). Individuals cannot proclaim private views in the assembly of God’s people; they must conform to the tradition of the Church. Jesus demanded the hardest test of all: ‘You will know them by their fruits’ (Matthew 7:15–20).

Van Parunak: Recall that designating a messenger as an apostle emphasizes that they carry the authority of the one who has sent them. We have seen that many people passed through Ephesus. Some of those who visited the church sought to bolster their prestige by claiming falsely to represent some respected individual or congregation, perhaps churches such as Antioch or Jerusalem. It is likely that such deception would be invoked to support further false teaching, such as that against which Paul warned the elders when he met them at Miletus (Acts 20:28-30), and later warned Timothy (1 Timothy 6).

Perhaps because of Paul’s warnings, the church was diligent in examining those who came to it. Consistent with the theological maturity we see in Ephesians, it did not tolerate such error. We have other, even later testimony to this diligence.

Ignatius was bishop of Antioch about AD 100, who was martyred in Rome sometime early in the second century. While being transported there, he wrote seven letters, three of which were to churches among these seven (Ephesus, Philadelphia, and Smyrna). He commends the Ephesians for this same virtue.

C.  (:3) Perseverance without Quitting

and you have perseverance and have endured for My name’s sake,

and have not grown weary.

Robert Thomas: They had so persevered dia to onoma mou, “because of My name,” says Christ. Here the name of Christ has in view the gospel revelation through which He makes Himself known (Lenski). The identical phrase occurs in Matt. 10:22 and 24:9 in contexts where Christ’s persecuted followers were engaged in spreading the gospel (Hort). Before leaving earth Jesus had predicted the very thing that Ephesian Christendom was now experiencing. They persevered for the sake of the purity of the message they preached.In spite of toil to the point of weariness (see kopon, v. 2) they had not grown weary (ou kekopiakes). This is a great paradox. Never did they entertain any thought of giving up (Scott). It was labor to the point of weariness without weariness setting in (Hort). Their loyalty to the Lord preempted weariness.


A.  (:4) Complaint

But I have this against you, that you have left your first love.

Buist Fanning: It is a veneer of busy outward activity without the inward motivation of sincere love in response to God’s great love for them in Christ and without the grace and love toward others that is needed. They have “abandoned” (CSB, ESV, RSV) or “forsaken” (NIV) the heartfelt love that once characterized their Christian conduct.

Robert Mounce: Good works and pure doctrine are not adequate substitutes for that rich relationship of mutual love shared by those who have experienced for the first time the redemptive love of God.

Richard Phillips: This rebuke is understood in two ways. Many commentators hear Jesus saying that in their zeal for correct doctrine, the Ephesians have become unloving toward people. In earlier days they warmly embraced all who named the Lord in faith, but their zealous orthodoxy has made them suspicious and harsh. The second view sees this rebuke as charging the Ephesians with growing cold in their love for Jesus and their zeal for a close relationship with him. It is likely that both are involved, especially since loss of love for God will result in less fervent affection for fellow Christians. This poses a serious challenge for doctrinally minded people: Jesus’ rebuke does not say that zeal for truth must always make our love grow cold, but it certainly indicates that it is possible. This is why Paul warned: “If I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing” (1 Cor. 13:2).

Robert Thomas: Johannine literature gives great prominence to love for fellow Christians. In fact, brotherly love was very early regarded as authentic proof of faith in Christ (v. 19; John 13:34-35; 1 John 3:13-14; 2 John 5-6; 3 John 6). At the same time, brotherly love cannot be separated from love for Christ, because it is proof of that love (cf. 1 John 4:20). An example of love that serves also as a definition is given in 1 John 4:10: “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son [to be] a propitiation for our sins.” Love is not a reciprocation. It takes the initiative, is sacrificial in nature, and meets the needs of its object. In addition, love is inseparable from obeying God’s commands (1 John 5:2; cf. Rom. 13:8-10). Love and moral purity go together (Moffatt).

Something was missing in the relationships among these Ephesians, but this only reflects a deeper need. Most basically, their love for Christ had grown cold, causing the relational problems, and it is this root problem that is primarily addressed. “The love of first conversion had waxed cold, and given place to a lifeless and formal orthodoxy” (Alford). Some vital element that had characterized their initial relationship to the Savior had now disappeared.

Kendell Easley: In their pursuit of truth and their patience in persecution, these Christians had allowed a tragic flaw to infect their fellowship. Christ’s criticism surely stung: You have forsaken your first love. Some interpreters think this refers to the love (Greek agapé) they had for Christ when they were new converts. In the context, however, it refers mainly to their love for one another, which Christ had said was the hallmark for his disciples (John 13:35). In rooting out error and expelling false teachers, they had grown suspicious of one another. I once heard a preacher refer to people whose theology was “clear as ice and just as cold.” That was a description of the Ephesians. Their good deeds were now motivated by duty rather than love.

B.  (:5a) Call to Repentance

  1. Remember

Remember therefore from where you have fallen,

  1. Repent

and repent

  1. Reboot

and do the deeds you did at first;

Richard Phillips: Remember, repent, and return—this is Christ’s call to reformation for churches that have grown dim and Christians who have abandoned their first love.

C.  (:5b) Censure

  1. Accountability at Christ’s Soon Return

or else I am coming to you,

  1. Possibility of Rejection

and will remove your lampstand out of its place—

Buist Fanning: The metaphor of “lamps” as shining witnesses to Christ’s salvation for all to see is a central theme here as well as later in Revelation (cf. the two witnesses as “lamps” in 11:3–4), and it expresses the larger principle that Christians are lights in a dark world, testifying to God’s love in Christ only in so far as they live in love themselves (John 13:34–35; Phil 2:14–16). Consistent failure to exhibit this cardinal Christian virtue forfeits their right to bear the name of Christ. Just as some individuals claimed to be apostles but were not (Rev 2:2), so churches that fail to bear the identifying mark of Christian love will be exposed as counterfeits.

  1. Necessity of Repentant

unless you repent.

III.  (:6)  CAVEAT

Yet this you do have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.

John MacArthur: We want to ask, What are the deeds of the Nicolaitans? What were they doing? What was their doctrine? What was their error? What were they all about? There are a number of possibilities. But we find this heresy in another location. The letter to the church at Pergamus, down in chapter 2 we find it again – verse 15. “Thus you also have some who in the same way hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans.” That’s hard to day. What do you mean the same way? Go back to verse 14, “I have a few things against you because you have there some who hold the teaching of Balaam who kept teaching Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit acts of immorality.” Balaam we understand. Right? Back to Numbers 22 and following, Balaam came along and seduced God’s people into idolatry, seduced God’s people into immorality. He posed as a prophet, which he was, and he came along and instead of leading people to godliness, he led them to sin, to idolatry and to immorality. That’s what Balaam did.

Verse 15 then, “Thus you also have some who in the same way hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans.” It seems to me that whatever Balaam did, the same thing was being done by the Nicolaitans. Let me take it a step further. The word Nicolas comes from two Greek words: nikē, from which you get the word today Nike, which means to conquer; and the word laos. Nikos – to conquer, laos – people. The word means conqueror of the people, one who conquers the people. Listen to this. The Hebrew word Balaam means destroyer of the people – the Hebrew word Balaam means destroyer of the people. What you have here with Nicolas in the New Testament appears to be the same as you had with Balaam in the Old Testament. This is someone who by false teaching leads people into destructive sin. . .

So that’s probably the best guess at who these people were. For sure we know that those who followed Nicolas were involved in immorality and uncleanness and they plied the church with sensual temptations. Clement of Alexander says, “They abandoned themselves to pleasure like goats, leading a life of self- indulgence.” They were involved in immorality, loose living. Liberty was replaced with license. They were involved in teaching perverted grace. They were probably a pre-gnostic group, thinking that through their sexual activity and their superior knowledge they had ascended to the deities. They may even have perpetrated on the church a classical hierarchical structure which found its final form in Catholicism. But whatever, verse 6 says Christ hates them – I hate what they do and so do you.

Robert Thomas: the word Nicolaitan comes from the Greek compound ν oς (nikos) and λαός (laos) and means “conqueror of the people.” Its Hebrew counterpart is “Balaam,” “devourer of the people.” These were forerunners of the clerical hierarchy.

Craig Keener: The most reasonable guess is that they offer views similar to (but not identical with) those of “Balaam”—hence condone immorality and the eating of food offered to idols (2:14–15), apparently common areas of assimilation among early Christians (cf. 1 Cor. 6; 8–10).


A.  Pay Attention

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

Buist Fanning: The command to hear is very similar to Jesus’s words describing the purpose of his parables (Matt 13:9; Mark 4:9; Luke 8:8), where he acknowledges that some are unreceptive and will not comprehend the spiritual truths veiled within the parable, but he calls all those to whom God has granted understanding to obey what they hear. This fulfills what is seen in Isaiah 6:9–10 about stubborn people continuing to resist even a word from God. While these circumstances are different (the messages to the churches are not cryptic), the command of v. 7a acknowledges that some will be receptive and some not, and it calls on individuals within the community to respond (“anyone who has an ear”). There will be some in the churches who are not prepared to heed the message, who will go their own stubborn way.  However, the clear intent is to provoke an active response by those who are receptive: they must pay attention and obey.  It is a wake-up call for the faithful in the Ephesian church, but in this way it is a positive encouragement for them to heed the exhortations of vv. 5–6 and so receive the promised blessing of v. 7b (cf. also 1:3).

B.  Persevere to Receive the Blessing

  1. Condition

To him who overcomes,

Buist Fanning: The message closes (v. 7b) with a promise that points beyond current difficulties to God’s future consummation (Rev 21–22). Again, the individual Christian is addressed (“the one who overcomes”), but the action referred to has a corporate, even cosmic, dimension. “Overcoming” alludes to the universal and age-long struggle of all that is evil, including the devil and the world system that he controls (1 John 2:13–17; 4:2–4), against God Almighty and the saving purpose he is bringing to fulfillment in his entire creation. Christians are caught in the middle of this conflict and are called to faithful endurance even if it means suffering and martyrdom (John 16:32–33a; Rev 1:9; 13:10; 14:12). However, Christ has already won the decisive victory (John 16:33b; Rev 3:21; see comments on 5:5), and his followers will be victorious not by their own efforts but by their faith in him (1 John 4:4; 5:4–5; Rev 12:11; 15:2; 17:14; 21:5–7).

Because of these parallels in the rest of Revelation and in the wider Johannine literature, it is clear that “the one who overcomes” is the one who genuinely believes in Christ and who by virtue of God’s new birth finds the ability to endure in that faith against idolatry and persecution (1 John 4:4; 5:4–5; Rev 13:10; 14:12; 21:5–7). This victory is not limited to those who suffer martyrdom for their faith or to a group of more committed or obedient Christians over against other believers who are less spiritual.  Another argument against these views is the benefits promised in Revelation 2–3 to the overcomer, since according to the rest of Revelation these benefits accrue to all believers in Christ, not only to a limited group of them (e.g., 22:2–3, 14, 19).

  1. Promise

I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the Paradise of God.

Van Parunak: The big lesson of the church of Ephesus is the warning not to let our love for the Lord stagnate, but to stand for him, even if we are excluded from this world’s pleasures, knowing that a paradise far greater than that of any pagan temple awaits us.

Robert Thomas: The tree of life stands in “the Paradise of God.” Paradeis is derived from a Persian word describing a pleasure garden and park with wild animals built for Persian monarchs.  Two other NT uses of the word (Luke 23:43; 2 Cor. 12:4) with the present verse show it to be a name for the abode of God, a permanent home of the redeemed with Christ. What was originally a garden of delight has taken on the connotation of the new heavens and the new earth.

The beauty and satisfaction of such a future existence furnish ample incentive and more for those in this church to overcome by heeding the words of Him who holds fast the seven messengers and walks in the middle of the seven churches (2:1).

John Schultz: The promise connected to this victory is wonderful and glorious. Jesus puts us back in paradise in front of the tree of life. We may stretch out our hand, eat of its fruit and live eternally. History repeats itself although not on the same level. This is not the Garden of Eden on earth but the paradise of God. The garden in which Adam found himself was a shadow; this is the reality. If I understand this correctly, the conditions in paradise were a picture of a sublime choice man could make. Adam stood between two trees: the tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Eating from the tree of life would have meant an unconditional, loving surrender to God. We all know what happened when the first two human beings ate from the tree of knowledge. The fact that the tree of life is found in the paradise of God means that we will be able to constantly surrender ourselves to God in love. Evidently, this surrender is not “once for all,” it stands to be repeated. The first surrender may be a crisis experience for us more than the following ones, but real love always keeps on surrendering. Jesus Himself gives us the example in that, when the last victory is won, He will submit Himself to the Father. The apostle Paul writes: “When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.”   The fact that the tree of life that is found in the New Jerusalem bears fruit every month makes us understand that eternal life is not an automatic process. We will live eternally because we eat eternally.