“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: ‘The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands. 2 “‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. 3 I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. 4 But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. 5 Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. 6 Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. 7 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.’
8 “And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: ‘The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life. 9 “‘I know your tribulation and your poverty ( but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. 10 Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. 11 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.’
A few thoughts for meditation:
1) The church of Ephesus is well documented in the New Testament. It began under the ministry of Paul (Acts 19), continued under Timothy (1 Tim 3), and the elders were close to Paul and probably trained by him (Acts 20:17-38). Revelation was likely written about 30 years after Paul’s ministry so the church was well into their second generation. Jesus commended them for their perseverance under persecution and their doctrinal faithfulness, especially in rejecting false teachers. Often under persecution the church becomes disorganized and vulnerable to false teaching, sin, and apostasy. But Ephesus held the line. Along with Jesus, they even “hated” the works of the Nicolatians, a popular movement in the churches that still participated in pagan worship and sexual immorality. But the church’s one problem was that they lost the “love” they had at first. This generation did not have the same intensity of love as their parents. Such can often be the case in church history. They often remain faithful in duty out of a self-confident grit rather than love. But with a loss of love eventually comes a loss of faithfulness. And so Jesus called them to repent before it was too late. If they did not repent, he would remove their lampstand, meaning he would remove that congregation. The pattern Jesus gave here is helpful for all of us. Remember and repent. Remember the Savior and gospel you fell in love with. Turn back to Christ and recover that original love and understanding as the motivation for all you do. Remember the “why” behind all those duties, not just the “how”. This is good to reflect over. Are you faithful because that’s what your Christian parents taught you? Or are you faithful because you love and know Christ and the gospel like they did? Those who recover that first love are promised a place in paradise in the world to come.
2) The church in Smyrna also suffered under persecution. But they also suffered in poverty, which added another dimension to their suffering. It is likely that the reason they were so poor is that they had lost their jobs due to their Christian faith. It was common back then for various trade guilds to worship a patron deity. Christians of course could not do this, so they could not work in that trade. Pagan festivals were a regular part of community life, and Christians could not participate. So Christians, were often shoved to the margins of society and looked down upon. Becoming a Christian back then often involved serious sacrifice. Even more, some in the Jewish community there were slandering them, a common problem Paul faced in Acts. Then Jesus warned them it would get worse even worse. They would enter a short period of intense persecution and some would go to prison. But Jesus encouraged them to be faithful. Even though they were poor outwardly, they were “rich” spiritually. And Jesus promised a crown of life if they remained faithful unto death. For all these churches, the important key to faithfulness was a firm love to Christ and an eternal perspective on our troubles. This current life of testing is only a fraction of life with Christ compared to eternity. Often runners talk about the struggles of the race and how weary it can become, but when they see the finish line, they suddenly find new energy to finish strong. And here, Jesus is showing this church (and us) the finish line. Keep the eternal finish line in your sights, and the Savior waiting for you there, and you will find the strength to press on to the end.