Where Is the Love? – Revelation 2:1-7 (Ephesus)


Our pilgrimage together over the last year and ½ has been a quest to deepen our spirituality.  Or to say it another way: our leadership has been encouraging us to explore our relationship with God.  Following that encouragement our worship themes began with looking at the foundations of the faith with the Apostle’s Creed.  Then we moved to Biblical Core Values – seeing that this is first of all about our submitting ourselves to God’s values.  We were all surprised how quickly this led us to being challenged to care for those in need if we are to truly worship God.   The Beatitudes led us further in our search for spiritual life in God’s kingdom, as did our study of the Lord’s Prayer.

Now we are moving to a new series: the letters to the 7 churches in Revelation.  Our goals are:

  1. To open ourselves to yet another picture of the living, resurrected Lord in this season of Easter.
  2. To hear him address some real spiritual issues in those churches in the 1st century.
  3. To take into ourselves what Jesus thinks is important in his church, especially at a time when we are so very influenced by what others think is important in the church.

Three weeks ago we began this series on GEMS Sunday as we followed their theme which was a part of the letter to the church at Laodicea.  We started with the last letter, hearing Jesus’ concern for a lukewarm church in which apathy had taken over.  This morning, before we approach the letter to Ephesus I would like to back up and begin again.

We read that the Apostle John received the visions that make up the book of Revelation while on the Island of Patmos, having been banished there by the Roman government.   These visions are apocalyptic literature – the literature of persecution and secrecy so that the Christians who read it would understand and be comforted and challenged, while others would only be confused by it.  It uses visions, symbols, Old Testament echoes and numbers which carry special meaning.  It is literature that can easily be misused by people who take it out of context and make it say what they want it to say.  We have just experienced that again with Harold Camping using Revelation as a mathematical problem to be solved by an engineer as to when the world will end.  Believe me, that was not the intention of this book.

John was writing to comfort, encourage, and challenge 1st and 2nd century Christians.  He pictured current and future historical events that demonstrated a huge battle between good and evil in the world, and God ultimately wins.  Here is the theme: Christ is Lord – not the emperor Domitian.  In John’s world of the mid 90s Domitian declared himself “God the Lord.” Every order from Caesar began: “The Lord our God commands…”  People who refused to worship Domitian were impoverished, imprisoned, or like John himself exiled to a work camp on Patmos.  Some were killed.

Domitian was the model in John’s revelation for the Anti-Christ.  John was writing to encourage Christians to faithfulness affirming that Jesus is Lord, and Jesus Christ will win.  Given their situation, John’s description of the Christ walking among the lamp stands that symbolized the churches, takes on even more power.  We read that:

  • He looked like a man, the Son of Man – God in human form.
  • He wore a robe with a golden sash – the clothing of a king.  This is Christ in glory, the Lord of Lords.
  • This is a picture to create awe, communicating authority and power.
  • His hair was radiant, bright, resplendent, glowing, as was his face – reflecting back to Daniel’s Ancient of Days (Daniel 7:9).
  • His eyes were sharp, bright, penetrating.
  • His feet were dazzling, and his voice was like the sound of the ocean.

These are all pictures to create the feeling of awe in the presence of true divinity.  He owns the church.  In his hand he holds 7 stars – the angels of the 7 churches.  “Angel” here refers to messenger and probably means the leaders or pastors or ministers of the 7 churches.  The letters are also addressed directly to them.  They were to communicate to the churches the Word from Christ.

Christ’s mouth symbolized the power of his Word or Truth – a two-edged sword that cuts deep and pierces the very soul.  What John pictures with his words was the way he felt when he looked at and heard Jesus speak.  The Christians who received these writings would have understood.  This is the Lord of the Church.  He owns the church.  He holds it in his hand.  John was overwhelmed, and Jesus’ words reinforce the vision: “I am the alpha and omega – the first and last.  (first and last letters of the Greek alphabet)  “I was dead, now I am the living one who lives forever.  I hold the keys to death and Hades.”

All of this has a simple message.  He is the Lord of the Church.  He is the Lord of Ephesus and [the Church].  It is time again for us to be reminded of whose church this is.


Revelation 2:1 “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write:  These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lamp stands:” 

Christ has some powerful compliments for the church at Ephesus.  (Vs. 2-3)  “I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance.  I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false.  You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.”  WHAT A WONDERFUL THING TO SAY ABOUT A CHURCH — this church that was probably the center and largest group of Christians in Asia.  Hard work.  Faithfulness. Perseverance. Dedicated to the truth and the Word of God so that people who are false teachers are found out.  Enduring hardship and not growing weary.  How we want to hear Christ say this to us.

Ephesus was a sea port and the chief city of Asia Minor — one of the leading cities of the Empire.  You may recall that the Apostle Paul had great success there.  Ephesus became his home base.  He was there over three years at one time.  To this church he wrote the beautiful and powerful letter to the Ephesians.  Not only that, but the Apostle John was their pastor for many years.  I cannot think of a more powerful leadership team.  Ephesus was the center of the Christian church and the cultural center of Asia Minor – what we call Turkey today.

Ephesus had two major religious centers.  There was a very strong Imperial Cult there.  A temple was built in 29 BC to the Goddess Roma.  This was Domitian’s center for claims that he was the Lord God.  Julius Caesar was deified there.  So Christians, whose Lord is Jesus Christ, were under constant pressure.

You may recall that the worship of Artimis or Diana was also there.  In fact, the 2nd temple for Diana was then considered one of the 7 wonders of the world.  Paul was so successful there that the artisans creating little silver statues of Diana rioted because he was cutting into their business.  The followers of Diana had no trouble kneeling at the same time to Caesar.

The Ephesian church worked and toiled and patiently endured suffering because of their loyalty to Christ in the shadow of these temples.  They saw their pastor exiled to Patmos because he would not bow to Domitian.  It also appears that Paul’s and John’s teaching was effective because when some false traveling preachers came along, calling themselves Apostles, they were able to test them and find them to be false.  These people were loyal to Christ — not to be led astray.

A little later Christ also commends them for resisting the Nicolaitans.  Our information is sketchy about who they were, but it is suspected that they were people who were influenced by Greek dualism and abused Christian liberty to the point of compromising with the emperor cult and justifying all sorts of immoral behaviors.  We suspect they were people who claimed Christianity but did not have a Christian ethic.  Christ says he hates them and compliments the church for resisting them.

I am struck by the fact that all of these attributes are the product of informed faith.  The work, the patient endurance, the testing of false teachers, the loyalty to Christ comes from people dedicated to the truth of the Word of God.  Informed faith! They had been taught well.  They knew the Word of God.  This kept them going, kept them from becoming weary — saying, “What’s the use?”  They opposed immoral behavior. This certainly feels right to us.  Our goal is to have an informed faith that is Christ centered and full of the knowledge of the Word of God.


All these compliments from Christ must have brought smiles of pride and self-importance.  “Isn’t this wonderful, we had it right.”  Verse 4 tells us that their problem was not their theology, it was their loss of passion.  “Yet,” says Christ, “I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love.”  What do you think that means?  They lost some of their sense of awe of the love of Christ for them.  They lost some of their deep involvement in worship.  The passion of their first love was gone.  After a generation or two, churches come to a great danger point of taking it all for granted.  It had become routine.  Church as usual.  Go to worship without expectation, without being moved by the gospel, without a sense of personal involvement.  This is church reduced to work, to ministry, to necessary attendance without personal spiritual growth and passion.  How often do we identify ourselves as people who grew up in the church — meaning — it was routine and taken for granted by us.

As a church, aren’t we about building the kingdom of God in our hearts and lives, in our community, in all that we do?  We are working with God, building an eternal kingdom.  It is like the construction of a building with all kinds of scaffolding on the outside — scaffolding to help the builders build — structures, ministries, officers, musicians, groups, classes, preachers, elders, deacons, on and on.  All of this building, all of this edifying and spiritual instruction is there to build the building that will be unveiled in all its glory by Christ.  But what if it is all just scaffolding?  What if there is no power, no real life, no heart?  What if faith is being replaced by something other than Christ?  What if it is doing all the right things without passion and heart?  The result is weakness, and ultimately it will all fall down, no real building at  all.  “You are loyal,” says Christ, “but where is the relationship, the love, the passion?”  Right rules, right theology, right leadership credentials, right worship, right ethics and no love, no passion, no joyno grace.

What happens if we get it all right and nothing happens deep inside us where Christ wants to transform us with his love into people who are whole, healthy spiritually and emotionally and relationally?  What happens if it is all about doing the right things on the outside, adamant about correct theology and worship and church order and process, while we remain small on the inside – loyal to our private sins, self-centered values, secrets, and addictions?  What if it is all just scaffolding.    How often have we seen people and churches that are all about being judgmental and right and theologically pure and superior in their understanding yet unable to love? Unable to die to self for Christ?  Unable to show grace that can only come from being in the presence of the Christ?

Jesus called the church in Ephesus to remember where they came from, to remember and relive the passion of first seeing Christ on that cross and recognizing the love that changes everything.  Jesus called the church in Ephesus to repent, to turn it around and come back to the passion of receiving his love and giving that love to others.  How ironic that Ephesus lost its love in dead orthodoxy when the Apostle John had been their pastor for so long – the gospel of love writer, the writer of letters that extolled the love of Christ and how we need to share that.  Jesus called the church at Ephesus to return – to live in the grace they had been given.

Jesus said to his church – without relationship with me, without the grace that is the power of redemption, without love that flows from our relationship into everything you do, you are all scaffolding.  I will take away your lamp stand.  You will no longer have light to give because what you have is weak and distorted.  There is not the least evidence that the church did repent.

Turkey today has a population of about 30 million people, of which 99% are Muslim and less than ½ of 1% are Christian.  Ephesus and its church are gone.  The lampstand was removed and the new center of Christianity moved west to Rome and east to Constantinople.

But Jesus promised that all who do repent will experience the opposite of what happened in the garden of Eden.  To all who love him he will invite them into paradise to eat of the tree of life that Adam and Eve were banished from.  This letter ends with a formula:  He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.  It is a formula statement that says: PAY ATTENTION.  THIS IS IMPORTANT.

Christ still walks among the lampstands.  What does the Lord who knows us completely have to say as he looks at the way we live our private lives, the way we live our communal life, they way we are church?  Like the churches that received these letters, there would be many commendations here?  The question still keeps coming: would he see the love for him in my life, in yours that would make him want to invite us to dine at the tree of life?  What does the kingdom we are building look like under all the scaffolding of doing church?  What in your life/mine is scaffolding and what is real love?