Revelation 2:1-7 verse by verse Bible study. Our Bible study guides contain discussion questions, teaching points, and applications which can help you or your small group get the most out of this book as you grow in understanding and obedience.
Revelation 2:1-7 Verse by Verse Bible Study – Letter to Church of Ephesus
Revelation 2:1-7 Video Bible Study
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I. Background (1)
II. Commendation (2-3)
III. Criticism (4)
IV. Counsel (5-6)
V. Application and Promise (7)
- Who is this letter from?
- Who is this letter to?
- Since this letter is to the church of Ephesus, how does it apply to us today?
- Who is the angel of the church of Ephesus?
- How does the description of Jesus connect to the description in chapter 1?
- Why do you think Jesus emphasized these specific things about Himself to this specific church?
1. Interpretations – All of these churches were near to Patmos. They were conveniently located on a circular trade route which made it easier for the letters to be circulated and then dispersed throughout the province. These are literal churches which existed in that period in history.
It was normal in that time for churches to pass letters around so that each could benefit from the messages. And from the passage, it is clear that this is what was intended with these letters. Each letter has the phrase “let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” This indicates that all of the churches would read all of the letters.
So although these were letters to literal, specific churches, the issues (good and bad) present in those churches, exist throughout the church age. Solomon once said that there was nothing new under the sun. As a whole, the 7 letters can be taken to represent the message of Jesus to the whole church. The number 7 indicates completeness. So although these are written to specific, real churches, the lessons and principles within are timeless and universal. Much like Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians or other New Testament epistles, we can find many similarities to those churches and our situations today.
As we read study these letters, we must realize that Jesus is writing to us as well as members of His church. We must consider how they apply to us and our situation. Some local churches may tend to be more like Ephesus, which lost it’s first love. Or some may tend to be more like Laodicea, which was lukewarm. The same is true for individuals. So as we continue to go through these letters, let us meditate on them. Treat them as if you received a personal letter hand-written by Jesus.
2. Prophetic, historical, or both? – Many scholars have also noticed that these letters seem prophetic as well as historical, that although they are real letters written to specific churches at the same time they represent something more universal in application. There are a number of clues that these letters could be prophetic.
Firstly, there are seven letters. This is the first of four series of sevens. The number seven represents completeness. Could this indicate that the letters are also symbolic in nature?
Secondly, these seven churches were not all the most famous or influential churches in that region. For example, the church of Thyatira was smaller and less well-known than the church of Colossae, which was also nearby. So it may be that these seven churches were chosen specifically because they symbolized something more about what the church was going to be like moving forward in history.
Thirdly, there is a clear progression in the churches that seems to fit with what we know of church history.
- Ephesus is the first church written to. And in this first letter, is the only one of the seven that mentions people claiming to be apostles (2:2), which was a problem especially early in the New Testament period. In addition, the main focus is on losing their first love. This was especially fitting for the end of the apostolic age, which was nearing an end when John wrote.
- Smyrna – After the apostolic age, the church entered a time of persecution, which is reflected in this second letter.
- Pergammum – They started to display some syncretic leanings.
- Thyatira – The longest letter could symbolize the longest age of the church, the Middle Ages. They also struggled with syncretism, which was so common in the Middle Ages. And Jesus said the victor would rule over the nations, as we see the church in this time period which much political influence. In addition, Jesus said that their latter works are greater than their first, which could be a reference to the Reformation.
- Sardis – By this time the revival of the reformation was waning and nearing death, much the like the church mentioned here.
- Philadelphia – This church is described in a very positive light and could represent the “Golden Age of the church.” In this period of time after the Reformation the church was strong and faithful.
- Laodicea – We can see a clear similarity between the materialism and self-sufficiency of this church and the culture now which has seeped into the church. Love of money and entertainment are widespread problems. It is blind and naked. Yet Jesus stands at the door, showing how close He is to returning and “eat with him and he with me” could be a reference to the near Marriage Supper of the Lamb. Taken this way, there could also be some overlap between the remnant church of Philadelphia and the “fake” church of Laodicea.
So there does seem to be a clear progression that generally matches with history. This would only be something that could be understood and seen the closer one came to the end of these ages, which would also fit with how Biblical prophecy tends to become more clear the closer you get to it.
For more on this view you can read:
While I am not dogmatic that the letters should be interpreted in this way, it does make sense.
Application: If this interpretation is correct, we are indeed in the last part of the church age before Jesus comes. That is both exciting and challenging. It is a reminder that we must take to heart all of the warnings given to the churches, especially those to the church of Laodicea, which is so similar to our situation today. If you listen to what the Spirit says to the churches from beginning to end and obey, then you will not end up like the blind and naked church of Laodicea. So as we move forward let us pay careful attention to the warnings and take them to heart because His return is drawing ever nearer!
3. Structure – Each of the seven letters follows a basic structure:
A. Addressed the “angel” of the church
B. A description of Jesus
C. I know…
G. A promise to those who overcome
Exceptions: Philadelphia and Smyrna receive no criticism. Laodicea receives no praise.
Application: As we go through these letters, you can outline each letter using the above format.
4. The angel of the church in Ephesus – As mentioned in Revelation 1, the word for angel means “messenger” in Greek. This is then a reference to the leader in the church of Ephesus who would receive this letter and pass it on to the church.
5. Letter from Jesus – Jesus gave John the exact words to write in this letter. It is a letter directly from him to the church of Ephesus. It is a priceless treasure that we have this record of messages directly from Jesus to the churches, and by extension to us. I have often thought of the question, “If Jesus wrote to my church, what would He say?” While that answer is unclear, we can get a pretty good idea by compiling these seven letters and comparing those churches to our own today.
Application: Let us treasure these letters, inclining our ears and our hearts to understand and apply the counsel within.
6. Description of Jesus – In each of the seven letters the beginning includes a description of Jesus. These descriptions are taken directly from those which we studied in Revelation 1. Each short description in the letters is a piece of the larger description in chapter 1. One might expect that these would be taken in chronological order, but they aren’t.
That would imply that a specific quality of Jesus was shared with each specific church for a reason. In much the same way that you might tell a person who is grieving that God is the “God of all comfort,” these attributes of Jesus are directly applicable to the individual church’s own situation.
Reflect: Why was this description of Jesus shared with the church of Ephesus?
Here Jesus is described as holding the seven stars in His right hand and walking “among the seven golden lampstands.” It reminds the church of Ephesus of two things.
A. Jesus is upholding and supporting them.
B. Jesus knows their works – Jesus sees the good they do. But He is also aware of what they have fallen from. And He sees their hearts, knowing that the original love and passion is gone.
II. Commendation (2-3)
- What can you learn about Jesus from the fact that He knows their works?
- Based on verse 1, how does He know? Why is this important for believers to be reminded of?
- What does Jesus commend the church for?
- What are the key positive characteristics of the church?
- Why are these qualities important?
- What does it mean to “toil” for the Lord?
- How can you be more diligent in service to Him?
- How can you grow in discernment?
1. Endurance – Generally, the Lord’s commendation for Ephesus can fit into two categories, endurance and discernment. Jesus says that He knows their “toil.” The word literally means a “cut” or a “beating.” It is often translated as “labor.” In this context a good definition is “intense labor united with trouble and toil.”
The point is that they worked hard for the gospel. They served the Lord faithfully even in the face of difficulty.
Jesus then mentions “patient endurance” twice. When they encountered obstacles, they didn’t give up. There was no quit in them. They did not “grow weary.” The believers were stable and committed.
And what is more, they did these things with the right motives. Jesus says that they bore up “for His name’s sake.” So there was a lot to commend about the church of Ephesus.
On this point, we would do well to listen and seek to emulate that steadfast perseverance.
James 1:12 – Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.
Galatians 6:9 – And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.
In the world today many people are motivated by comfort and ease. For many hard manual labor was something that perhaps our ancestors did. But that is largely a thing of the past. We like our cushy, convenient lives. And many indulge themselves in excessive rest. Spas, massages, retreat centers, and the like are springing up to offer people ways to pamper themselves. Of course there is a time and a place for recharging your batteries. At the same time God gave us a model of 6 days work and one day rest. While it is not a strict mandate to always work 6 days in a week, we learn a key lesson from this. Working should be significantly more than resting. Now some workaholics also need to hear that resting is necessary sometimes, but far more of us need to be reminded that we need to work hard, toiling for God’s kingdom.
Application: Are you toiling for God’s kingdom? Or do you do a few small tasks and call it? Do you easily grow weary when you face challenging situations in the church or do you endure through it? When you have free time do you choose to spend it on yourselves or do you invest it in His kingdom? Most likely most of us spend far too much time resting than we do toiling for Him.
2. Discernment – The second area of commendation for Ephesus was in regards to their discernment. They “cannot bear those who are evil” and they “tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false.”
Both of these are very good character qualities. The saints were not giving in to the pressures of a wicked culture. Sin was recognized as sin. And there was no tolerance for people who came into the church and tried to sway people with immorality. The problems which ran so deep at Corinth (mixing and embracing sinful culture), were absent at Ephesus.
The church at Ephesus had faithfully obeyed the following admonition given to them by Paul.
Ephesians 5:11 – Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.
Secondly, the church tested those who claimed to be apostles. John had taught there and in the epistle of 1 John he repeatedly warned the believer to test the teaching/teacher.
1 John 4:1 – Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.
At Ephesus, the believers were obeying this instruction as well. Because the church did not tolerate evil living or false teaching, they held to a pure form of belief and practice (James 1:27).
Application: It is important for believers to be discerning. False teachers abound, especially in the internet age. We should learn to test whatever we read or hear with God’s Word (Acts 17:11). And we must be careful that we don’t allow the lax standards of morality in our culture to creep in and influence our minds, family, or churches. Unfortunately this is happening across the world as churches embrace sinful lifestyles in the name of love (when the loving thing is to encourage people to repent of their sin.)
III. Criticism (4)
- What was Jesus unhappy with about the church of Ephesus?
- What do you think it means to abandon their first love?
- Is this the emotion/feeling or the action? Why?
- So what should you if you feel like you have lost your original excitement of having a relationship with and serving God?
- Should a person continue to do ministry if they don’t “feel like it?”
1. You have abandoned the love you had at first – Jesus had some choice words of criticism for this church. They had lost their first love. It may be the most famous line of criticism given to any of the seven churches.
When we compare the criticism and the commendations a very odd picture emerges. We see a church that is doing the right things. But they lack a love for God.
We often hear it said that love is action, a decision and not emotion/feeling. But here in Revelation 2, the church of Ephesus was doing the right actions. They toiled for God. They persevered. They did not grow weary. And they did not tolerate evil. Thus they were morally and doctrinally pure. But Jesus says they lost their first love.
Reflect: If love is an action and not an emotion, then how we can understand this rebuke? If they had lost the “feeling of love” then why were toiling and working for Him?
The church of Ephesus had slipped into a type of “dry Orthodoxy.” That fervent love for Christ which they had before was being replaced by something else, a paint-by-the-numbers, mechanical approach to their faith. While they loved God’s Word and faithfully served Him, their personal relationship with Jesus was lacking.
We can often see this when we compare the enthusiasm of a new believer with those who are “mature” in their faith. New believers are generally very excited. Everything is fresh and new. So thankful for salvation, they love Jesus. They hunger for Him. They talk about Him. They tell others about Him. Somewhere along the way that passion is replaced with a more cold and methodical, “I do it because I should.”
Application: We must guard against complacency in our walks with the Lord. Each of us should ask ourselves if we have lost that fresh, passionate love for Jesus. In a marriage relationship, wise couples are intentional about rekindling that love. They plan ways to “mix things up” and “re-light the spark.” Should we do less for our relationship with Jesus? Share with your group or write down several ways you can rekindle that first love you had for Jesus.
Real love is not either action or emotion. It is both. It is not cold-hearted, rote, or external. It is warm. The action is motivated by a heart of love. Let us not approach our faith as a “tick the boxes” exercise. But let us have a lively, personal relationship with Jesus that overflows into all parts of our lives as we naturally live it out.
IV. Counsel (5-6)
- What counsel does Jesus give this church?
- If the church was already working and toiling (verse 2), then what does Jesus mean to “do the works you did at first?” What works might these be
- Are there works you used to do for Christ that you don’t do anymore? Why?
- What will happen if the church doesn’t listen and repent?
- What might the works of the Nicolaitans be?
1. Jesus’ counsel is three-fold: remember, repent, do.
A. Remember – Firstly the Ephesians were instructed to remember how they were at first. Remember their love, excitement, and passion when they first came to Christ. This in turn would motivate them to be renewed to that again.
Application: Remember. Take a moment and think back to how you felt when you first came to Christ. Do you feel that way now? If not, why not?
B. Repent – It is not enough to remember. We must do more than to say, “that was nice, but it is long gone.” Jesus tells us to repent. A lack of love for Him is sin.
Matthew 22:36-37 – “Teacher, which commandment is the greatest in the Law?” 37 Jesus declared, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’
If we want to be restored where we were, we need to confess the problem. Admit the sins that have caused it (business, selfishness, apathy, complacency, materialism, etc.). Ask for forgiveness. Petition Him to fill us with that heart of love and passion again.
C. Do the works that you did at first – Here we are reminded that although their toiling, their works were not the same as what they had done before they lost their first love. Thus a heart of love will make a difference in your actions. It may be possible to simulate love for a period of time. As a car can run on fumes for a little while so a believer can do the right action without the heart for a while. But he will run out of fuel. And those same actions will lack the enthusiasm and warmth which should typify our service to Him.
Application: Consider your past service to the Lord. Are there areas where you used to serve and don’t anymore? Have you given up some ministry or outreach? If so, prayerfully consider as to whether God will have you take it up again. There can be good reasons for serving God in different ways. For example, a parent with kids may re-focus some of his time into ministering in his family instead of outside. But if you gave up some outreach because of a lack of heart motivation and a desire for more rest, then it is time to follow Jesus’ advice and “do the works that you did at first.”
2. The Nicolaitans – Some early church fathers wrote that Nicolas (Acts 6:5) started this sect after going apostate. However, not all early church fathers agree. In any case, these people were heretics who encouraged licentious behavior. Clement of Alexandria said this about them, “They abandoned themselves to pleasure like goats, leading a life of self-indulgence.” Thus they preached license and indulgence.
V. Application and Promise (7)
- As we study through these letters, how can we make sure that we really “hear” what the Holy Spirit is speaking to us?
- What can you personally do to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s leading and conviction while studying these letters?
- To the one who conquers what? How can you be an overcomer?
- What is the reward for the one who conquers?
1. Are you hearing? – The refrain, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” is repeated to every church. It is extremely important in understanding the seven letters. Jesus wants His people to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s leading. In chapter 1 we learned that there was a blessing for those who read, hear, and keep what is written in this book.
Every believer must approach these letters with the right heart. And the right approach is a personal one. We are not to merely look at these from an academic or scholarly perspective and argue about if they were intended as prophetic or not. Instead we are to listen. Under the leading of the Holy Spirit we are to examine ourselves.
Psalms 139:23-24 Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting!
Application: Have you prayed and asked God to reveal to you your own areas of weakness as we study through these letters? Take a moment to pray now. Ask Him to show you any blind spots. Ask Him to strengthen you to take the counsel He gives. Ask Him to make you a healthy, growing member of the church.
2. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat the tree of life – In Revelation, God will reverse the curse that came about as a result of sin. One effect of this curse was that people could not eat from the tree of life. But one day all true believers can. But first, we must conquer. Conquer what? In Revelation we see the battle between good and evil, between God and Satan. We conquer him and everything he throws at us. But we don’t do it through our own strength. It is only possible through Christ. Thus a key theme of Revelation is overcoming through Christ!
7 Churches Of Revelation E-Book Study – If this study is helpful, you can download our letters to the 7 churches study in PDF or other E-book versions.
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