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The church that fell
An exegetical commentary

Steven P. Wickstrom

all Scriptures quoted from the ESV except where noted

Revelation 2:1-7
(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, 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.

According to www.history.com, the town of Ephesus was once considered the most important Greek city and the most important trading center in the Mediterranean region. According to tradition, a group of female warriors (Amazons) believed to be daughters of Ares (the god of war) and Harmonia founded the city of Ephesus. Ephesus survived multiple attacks and changed hands many times between conquerors. Unfortunately, much of Ephesus’s ancient history is unrecorded and sketchy. What is known is that in the seventh century B.C., Ephesus fell under the rule of the Lydian Kings and became a thriving city where men and women enjoyed equal opportunities. It was also the birthplace of the renowned philosopher Heraclitus. The Lydian King Croesus, who ruled from 560 B.C. to 547 B.C., was most famous for funding the rebuilding of the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus.

Artemis was the goddess of hunting, chastity, childbirth, wild animals, and the wilderness. She was also one of the most revered Greek deities. Modern-day excavations have revealed that three smaller Artemis temples preceded the Croesus temple. In 356 B.C., the temple burned down, and the Ephesians rebuilt the temple even bigger. It was estimated to be four times larger than the Parthenon and became known as one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Ephesus flourished as a port city during the reign of Roman Emperor Tiberius. Rome opened a business district around 43 B.C. to service the massive amounts of goods arriving or departing from the man-made harbor and caravans traveling the ancient Royal Road. According to some sources, Ephesus was second only to Rome as a cosmopolitan center of culture and commerce.1

The most popular feature in Ephesus was the temple to Artemis. In Ephesus, Artemis transformed from the goddess of the hunt to a fertility goddess. In Greece, Artemis was a huntress with her bow and arrows. In Ephesus, however, Artemis’s idols were depicted the eastern style, standing erect with numerous nodes on her chest.2 Because of the temple to Artemis, Ephesus was a city unlike any other in the ancient world, coupled with women’s equal rights and opportunities. In the ancient world, women were nothing more than property. Their status was above that of an enslaved person, but not by much. Ephesus was a different story. Women priests ran the temple rather than men. Women could be involved in politics, hold public offices, own a business, teach in schools, and exercise liturgical authority in parallel to the city’s officials’ legislative, judicial, or financial power.3 It is critical to understand that Ephesians equated women’s rights and opportunities with Artemis. It was Artemis who got the credit for a woman’s standing.


An important right that women in Ephesus enjoyed was education. Women could receive an education, as were the men in Ephesus, which was practically unheard of in the ancient world. Greek schools were very different from modern schools. Students had reading, writing, mathematics, astronomy, philosophy, and science classes. Students were encouraged to ask questions, but they had better be good ones. They did not have the philosophy that there was no such thing as a stupid question. Any student who stood up and asked a foolish question received punishment for not paying close enough attention. On the other hand, a student who stood up and asked a good question received praise for analytical thinking.

Ephesus was a unique, one-of-a-kind city. During Paul’s second missionary trip, he started the church in Ephesus (approx. 52 A.D.). A couple of years later, Paul returned and spent three years teaching in the church. Less than a decade after founding the church, Paul wrote a letter (approx. 60 A.D.) to the Ephesians commending their faith and love. The Ephesians appeared devout in their faith, well-organized, and busy spreading the gospel throughout Asia Minor. During these early years, the church grew and expanded, becoming an effective seat of evangelization.

Timothy was installed as the church's pastor at an unknown time for an unspecified period. Someone, probably, Timothy, wrote to Paul about problems in the church. The letter of 1 Timothy (approx. 63-65 A.D.) addressed these issues. As Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 1:3-4, “As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith.” False teachers with unscriptural doctrines were making their way into the Ephesian church, and Paul needed to address these issues.

1a To the angel of the church in Ephesus. Following the pattern of the other letters, this one was also to the angel of the church. What, or rather, who, are these angels? Theologians have struggled for two thousand years, trying to determine who exactly they are. The Greek word “ἀγγέλος - aggelos” (Strong’s G32, GK# 34) is typically translated as an angel or a messenger. There are several thoughts on who they are:
     1. actual angels.
     2. a human representative of them, i.e., the bishop of the church.
     3. they are a personification of the church.
In the first theory, if the angel is an actual angel, then we can infer that each church has its own “guardian” angel. There is a major problem associated with ἀγγέλος being an “angelic” angel. The problem lies in that it seems improbable that Christ would use a human to write a physical letter to an angel, rebuking it for falling short in its duties as a Christ-follower.4 If the angel is an actual angelic representative of the local church, and answerable for its failure, then the seven angels in chapters 1 through 3 failed miserably. Is that type of failure even possible for an angel? I don’t think so.

The second theory is that the Greek word aggelos is a human messenger instead of an angel. This theory deems the letter addressed to a human messenger rather than an angelic one. The main problem is that aggelos is always translated as an angel in Revelation and used in that context.5 This interpretation does not mean that aggelos cannot refer to a human being as a messenger; it is simply not typical in the book of Revelation. The problem with assigning the pastor or bishop as messengers are that they are not referred to as messengers (or angels) anywhere in the New Testament. If it were a common practice to refer to the chief person in the church as a messenger, this would be evident in the other letters in the New Testament, especially in Paul's. John did not use the appropriate word if he was addressing an elder, deacon, or pastor. The word aggelos could mean the person who delivered the letter. But that would require seven different messengers, one from each of the churches, to have traveled to Patmos to get the letter to deliver it. While this is not impossible, as John could have easily summoned a messenger from each church to receive the appropriate correspondence, it is not probable. Another problem with this theory is the letter is not written to a single person but to the entire church.

The third theory (I tend to side with this one) is that the “angel” is simply a personification of the church itself.6 A personification is an imaginary person or creature conceived to represent something. In this case, the angel represents the church. The angel of the churches was not simply touched by the faults of the church but were guilty of them as well.7 John wrote to an “angel” about the sins of the church. Since judgment is coming for those sins, it is not logical that the angel would be a heavenly being. The letter starts as if being written to an angel, but there is no doubt that the congregation is the focus of the letter. It is my opinion, therefore, that the “angel” is a symbol, or personification, of the church rather than one of the heavenly angelic hosts.

1b…these are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand. There is much controversy about what the “stars” are. The Greek word “ἀστέρας - asteras” (Strong’s G792, GK# 843) used, is typically translated as “star or stars.” However, Revelation 1:20 reveals that the seven stars are the seven angels of the churches. “As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands, the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches” (ESV). God is holding the “star” of Ephesus, or the church of Ephesus, in his hand. Stars provide light in the darkness. Before the age of global positioning technology (GPS), ships used stars to plot their course. If the church is a “star,” it provides the light and the way for sinners to come to a saving relationship with Christ. Christ is holding the star in his right hand. The Greek word “κρατῶν – kratōn” (Strong’s 2902, GK# 3195) means to be strong, to rule, to have in one’s power, and to be master.8 Throughout scripture, the right hand is a symbol of authority, strength, power, and blessing. It demonstrates that Christ is in control and rules and how much he cares for the church.

1c…and walks among the seven golden lampstands. The Deist believes that God set the universe in motion and watches from a distance without intervening. Verse one teaches that God is actively involved with the churches, walking among them. The Greek word “λυχνιῶν – lychniōn” (Strong’s 3087, GK# 3393) can be translated as lampstands or candlesticks.9 In the Old Testament, the lampstands lit the temple’s interior because there were no windows. The only light that the priests could see in the temple came from the lampstands. The priest’s duty was to care for the lampstands and ensure they were lit (Leviticus 12:1-9). Similarly, Jesus is acquainted with the needs and circumstances of His people and intercedes for them. He is in the midst of the church, constantly inspecting it, knowing its strengths and weaknesses.

The lampstands are made of gold, showing how precious and expensive they are. These are not typical household lamps made of clay but proper temple furnishings. When God gave Moses the instructions on how to make the lampstands, they were to be made of solid gold (Exodus 25:31-39 and 37:17-24). On top of the lampstand were lamps made of gold to hold the oil. Although it can be referred to as a candlestick, the “lampstand” had oil lamps and did not use candles. God even provided instructions on how to make the oil. If John’s vision was a throwback to the tabernacle’s lampstands, then it would be more accurate to use the word lampstand instead of a candlestick.

2aI know your works, your toil and your patient endurance. The word “know” is the Greek word “οἶδα – oida” (Strong’s G1492, GK# 3857) which means “to be aware, behold, consider, believe.”10 Christ has been watching the church at Ephesus and knows what they are doing. He then let the church know what he had observed. He knows all about their work, toil, and patient endurance. This “knowing” is a good thing. It demonstrates that Christ is actively watching and interested in what they’re doing. Just as the priest knew the condition of the lamps, so also Christ knows the condition of his church.

The word “works” is the Greek word “ἒργα - erga” (Strong’s G2041, GK# 2240), which means “anything done, to be done, a deed, a work, or action.”11 The word ergon also “denotes comprehensively what a man is and how he acts.”12 Who we are is how we behave. Who we are denotes the actions we will do. For example, a person with a servant’s heart will naturally want to serve others. A person with a thieve’s heart will naturally want to steal from others. The motive behind the action, or works, is essential. Why you are doing something is just as important, if not more so, than the works or deeds. Jesus told the church that He didn’t simply know their deeds; He knew the motives in their hearts. The heart’s actions, behaviors, and motives are intertwined and cannot be separated. Works, or deeds, are more than simply what we do; they are how we live. Jesus doesn't just look at our actions; he focuses on the heart. If we’re not doing things for the glory of God, then we are doing them for the wrong reason.

The Greek word “κόπον – kopon” (Strong’s G2873, GK# 3160) is often translated as “toil, labor, or hard work.” It means “to labor, toil, to become weary and tired.”13 According to Spicq’s Theological lexicon:

In the NT, kopos/kopiao, “hard work,” means (1) constant, exhausting manual labor; (2) the fatigue of long, incessant missionary wanderings; (3) blows, wounds, and suffering endured in the course of stonings and riots; (4) slanders and insults by enemies, the humiliations of imprisonment; (5) the difficulties of governing and exercising apostolic authority; (6) the preparation of sermons, speeches given in the open air, the editing of epistles; (7) care for the churches, and for each soul […], who will not be saved on the steep path except through costly endurance and violence […]. There is no Christian life, no apostolic ministry, without rough, persevering labor.14

As you can see from the quote above, the meaning of kopon is wide-ranging, however, it is easy to distinguish how much “work” the Ephesians were doing.15 I think “working hard” would be a better way to translate the word. Why is working hard important? Working requires commitment and dedication. Working hard helps you to develop self-discipline. The church at Ephesus was a busy and active church. We don’t know exactly what they were doing for Christ, we only know that they were doing things for Christ.

The phrase “patient endurance” is the Greek word “ὑπομονήν – hypomonēn” (Strong’s G5281) is translated as perseverance in the ESV. It can, however, be translated as “perseverance, endurance, patience, and bearing up under suffering.”16 yokeThe word carries the idea of a person who is not swerved from their deliberate purpose and their loyalty to faith and to God by even the greatest trials and sufferings.17 The original audience may have thought of the shoulder yoke, which were used to carry heavy loads for long distances. The person would place the yoke on his shoulders, stand up under load, and carry it to wherever they need to go. This may be the type of “bearing up under” that the Ephesians thought of. False teachers were entering the church and attempting to destroy it from the inside out. The task of rooting out false doctrine was becoming a chore. The focus of the church began to turn inward to task of staying true to gospel as preached by Paul.

The Apostle Paul readily admitted that he had many adversaries in Ephesus (1 Cor. 15:32, 15:8-9). These adversaries would have turned their attention onto the Ephesians after Paul left the city. Since these enemies of Christianity wanted to destroy Paul, they would have turned that hatred toward the church. The church had to be faithful to Christ in a city that despised them.

2b I know that 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. The word “bear” is the Greek word “βαστάσαι – bastasai” (Strong’s G941, GK# 1002) which means “to endure, tolerate, to not put up with.”18 In today’s English, I think in this verse the word “tolerate” would be a much better choice than “bear.” God applauded their refusal to tolerate “those who are evil.” We live in a world where we are told to tolerate everything (especially sin) and everybody (especially those who promote sin). Jesus would disagree with that philosophy. Evil (and sin) is often met with a gradual, slowly changing attitude. There are three basic steps down this slippery slope:
      1. tolerance. When we tolerate evil and sin, we become more desensitized and comfortable, with it.
      2. acceptance. After becoming tolerant of evil/sin, we accept it as “normal.” At this point, we stop speaking out against evil/sin since “everybody’s doing it.”
      3. embrace. After we have accepted the evil/sin, the next step is to embrace it.
Hollywood and the media have dedicated over 50 years to get people to embrace the sin of LGBT+. They have been largely successful, so much so that many churches embrace this sin.

Jesus commended the Church at Ephesus for refusing to tolerate evil. The phrase “those who are evil” is one Greek word, “κακούς – kakous” (Strong’s G2556, GK# 2805) which means “morally rotten character, behavior that is unacceptable, to do harm.”19 This rejection of “those who are evil” does not mean that they rejected sinners who needed salvation. On the contrary, they were actively engaged in converting sinners to Christianity. The “wicked people” were those who brought in false doctrine that did not line up with scripture. God commended the church for its ability to discern those who were good versus those who were false. This type of discernment is essential. It’s one thing for a bad doctrine to enter the church through ignorance (it still needs to be recognized and dealt with). However, some people know they are spreading unscriptural doctrine, which should not be tolerated. Jesus commended the church for pushing them out the door.

The word “false” is the Greek word “ψευδες – pseudeis” (Strong’s G5571, GK# 6014) which means “deceitful, lying.”20 The Ephesians had been around Paul long enough to accurately know the difference between a true apostle and a false one. Therefore, they had no problem calling out a false apostle. But, first, they had to understand the difference between discerning a false apostle from a true one. So what was a “true” apostle? The qualifications of an apostle were:
      1. to have been a witness of the resurrected Christ (1 Corinthians 9:1),
      2. to have been explicitly chosen by the Holy Spirit (Acts 9:15), and
      3. to have the ability to perform signs and wonders (Acts 2:43; 2 Corinthians 12:12).
Anyone claiming to be an apostle that did not meet all these requirements was promptly shown the door.

3I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. The phrase “enduring patiently” is the Greek word “ὑπουονήν – hypomonēn” (Strong’s G5281, GK# 5705) which Paul used in verse two. The church has carried the yoke for Jesus and was moving forward despite the weight. The phrase “bearing up” is the Greek word “βαστάσαι – bastasai” (Strong’s G941, GK# 1002) previously used in verse two. In this verse, I think the concept of “enduring” works hand-in-hand with the concept of “bearing up.” Once again, using the idea of a shoulder yoke helps to visualize these two words. The Ephesians had stood up under the weight of the yoke and were enduring and bearing up (in other words, not comprising) to not bring dishonor to the name of Jesus. In addition, the false apostles had not been able to wear down the resolve of the Ephesians. The Ephesians clung to the doctrine Paul had taught them and refused to accept what the false apostles were preaching.

4 But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. The word “against” is the Greek word “κατά – kata” (Strong’s G2596, GK# 2848) which means against, contrary to, opposed.”21 Kata is a harsh word. It may reflect hostility toward someone in the sense of warning or accusing.22 Using kata in this verse essentially means a judgment is being or will be passed down.23 This readiness to pass sentence implies that God has found the church to be guilty, and he is ready to bang the gavel. Clearly Jesus is upset, which is not a good thing. Whenever God is opposed to something we are doing, that should immediately get our attention. What caused God to become opposed to the Ephesian church? What is it that upset God about the Ephesian church? Jesus gave us the answer; they had abandoned their first love.

The word “abandoned” is the Greek word “ἀφῆκες – aphēkes” (Strong’s G863, GK# 918), which means “to send away, keep no longer, release, to give up.”24 The word implies turning your back on, and deliberately leaving something behind. Abandoning something is much different than forgetting about something. Abandoning is deliberate, whereas forgetting is accidental. The first love that the Ephesians had is now something they no longer want to do. They no longer do what they used to love to do. It no longer interests or captures their attention. In a manner of speaking, they divorced and walked from the activity they used to love.

The word “love” is “ἀγάπην – agapen” (the noun version of the verb, agape). The word “first” is the Greek word “πρώτην – prōtēn” (Strong’s G4413, GK# 4577), which means “first, principle, most important.”25 Only a few decades have passed since Paul started the church at Ephesus. Yet, in those decades, something had changed. The initial excitement of a relationship with Christ had become mundane. The church was doctrinally sophisticated yet powerless and lacking in its relationship with Christ. Therefore, this verse is a stern warning to the church today. If Ephesus could fall from being a church that transformed Asia Minor to a church that had become irrelevant, the same can happen today.

There are several theories about what the first love is that the church has abandoned. The first theory is that the Ephesians have abandoned their love for God. Another theory is they abandoned their love for fellow Christians (brothers) in the church. These two views have prompted much debate in the theological world. Which love did they abandon, the love for God or the love for each other? There are, however, several problems with both theories. If the Ephesians had lost their love of/for God, why would he applaud their enduring patiently and bearing up for the sake of his name? Suppose the Ephesians had lost their love of/for God. Why would they even care if false apostles introduced unscriptural doctrines?

The second theory is that the Ephesians lost their love for fellow Christians. However, Paul had commended them for their love of fellow Christians 40 years previously in Eph. 1:15-16, so that is not probable. Furthermore, if the Ephesians had lost their love of/for their fellow Christians, why would they even meet together? Why not wholly disband the church and get on with their lives? Another problem with these theories is that they are out of context with the rest of the text. For either of these theories to work, verse 4 must be removed from the text and looked at individually, ignoring the verses around it.

The third theory (that I agree with) is that the “first love” that the Ephesians had abandoned was that of evangelization.26 The church at Ephesus was the church that spread Christianity throughout Asia Minor. Acts 19:10 reports Ephesus's results: The word “all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.” The Ephesians took the gospel message that Paul taught them to the cities around them. They were not only working hard at spreading the gospel, but they were also very effective at reaching Asia Minor for Christ. Their zeal and fire for converting people to Christianity dissipated. I don’t think that it happened suddenly. Instead, I think their evangelism slowly came to a stop. The excitement of evangelism that the first generation had was not passed down to the second generation. Without evangelism, the church at Ephesus had become lost and purposeless. Perhaps they thought they had finished the job. Perhaps they thought they had finished the job and that evangelism was no longer needed. Maybe they saw it as someone else’s turn. Unfortunately, we don’t know why they stopped evangelizing. We can only guess.

5a Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. The phrase “you have fallen” is the Greek word “πέπτωκας – peptokas” (Strong’s G4098, GK# 4406), which means “to fall into a worse state.” The verb peptokas is in the Perfect Indicative, which has a completed aspect and present time. What that means is that Ephesus’ falling was a fully completed fall. Jesus was not warning the church that they might fall, or were falling, He was telling them that they already had fallen. To make matters worse, the church was completely unaware that they were in a “[email protected]; state. One of the Merriam-Webster definitions of fall is: “to decline in quality, activity, or quality.”27 Ephesian evangelism didn’t just “fall off,” it had completely stopped.

The Lord told the Ephesians to think back to where the church was when it started and compare that to where they are now. The word “repent” is the Greek word “μετανόησον - metanoēson” (Strong’s G3340, GK# 3566), which means “to change one’s mind, to feel sorry for having done something.”28 Repentance also signifies a change in your frame of mind and desire to sin; it requires you to change your principles and practices.29 Repentance without change is not repentance. Jesus commanded them to repent and return to what they were doing. What were they doing at first? They were a missionary church, spreading the gospel throughout Asia Minor. That was their first love. It was not that they lost their love for God or each other; they had abandoned their first love of spreading the gospel. They were no longer making disciples. Anything done for God must be with the right intentions, for the right reasons, to give God glory. Anything done for God must line up with his will; if not, it is a waste of time and energy. The Ephesians were busy, but not for God. The Ephesians were no longer growing their relationship with Christ. In other words, the church had become complacent.

5b If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. The phrase “I will come” is the Greek word “ἔρχομαί – erchomai” (Strong’s G2064, GK# 2262) and should be translated as “I am coming.”30 The term is in the present tense, indicating it could happen at any moment. It means that Jesus is on his way. The meaning conveys the continuous monitoring of one’s self for His coming, which could happen at any time. This phrase appeals to action, to be on guard.31 If the church does not repent and return to what they were at first, the consequence would be dire. Christ would remove their lampstand.

The word “remove” is the Greek word “κινέω – kineo” (Strong’s G2795, GK# 3075), which means “to move from a place, to remove.”32 We know from Revelation 1:20 that the lampstand represents the church. Verse one tells us that Jesus walks among the lampstands. But if he removed a lampstand, he would no longer be walking near or around it. Jesus would remove the church from His presence. There is a Hebrew word that aptly applies. That word is “אי־כבוד – Ichabod” (Strong’s H350), which means “the glory has departed.”33 The church would lose all of its effectiveness. The congregation had lost the vision they originally had of spreading the gospel. If they did not repent and start living out their faith again, the presence of God would depart. The light of the church would cease to shine. The expression is equivalent to saying that the church there would cease to exist.34

6 Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. What were the works of the Nicolaitans? The Nicolaitans are mentioned in the letter to Pergamum as well:

But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality. So also you have some who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans. (Revelation 2 13-15)

Balaam (Numbers chapter 25) used Moabite women to seduce the men of Israel and lead them to worship other gods. Balaam attempted to get God to turn against the Israelites by using sex to get the Israelites to worship idols. Very little is known about the Nicolaitans outside of the two references to them in the Bible. Revelation 2 13-15 seems to draw a parallel between Balaam’s seduction and that of the Nicolaitans. The Nicolaitans seem to be trying to do to the church what Balaam tried to do to Israel. The Nicolaitans committed fornication, adultery, and all uncleanness. They had their wives in common and ate things offered to idols.35 The latter probably refers to eating food sacrificed to idols in the context of idolatrous worship. The Nicolaitans were probably advocating participation in the worship service of the local church and the local pagan temple (a similar problem existed at Corinth; see 1 Corinthians 10:14-22).36

We’re not sure where they got their name from or why. But they were known for their unrestrained sexual lusts, which was in common with the worship of Artemis, the primary deity of Ephesus. The Lord spelled out at the end of the verse that sexual promiscuity is something that he hates. Sacrificing sexual purity is something that Christians need to be very wary of. When God says he “hates” something (which is very strong language), Christians must stay away from it. Unfortunately, Hollywood and the media encourage all sorts of sexual sins, and many Christians embrace that sinful lifestyle. We need to remember that to become friends with the world causes us to become the enemy of God (James 4:4).

7a He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The phrase “he who has an ear, let him hear” is used throughout the Bible, starting with Deuteronomy 29:4. Moses rebuked the rebellious Israelites by saying, "But to this day, the LORD has not given you a heart to understand or eyes to see or ears to hear." He was not referring to physical hearing. Instead, he was referring to hearing the commands of the Lord and lacking the comprehension or desire to act and follow the commands (Jeremiah 5:21; Ezekiel 12:2). Those who do not have "ears to hear" are spiritually dead. They cannot obey God until they respond to His work in their hearts (John 6:65; Romans 11:8). The act of hearing implies obedience. To hear is to obey.

The phrase “he who has an ear” qualifies everyone who will listen and obey. It is an often-used phrase that Jesus utilized when speaking in parables. Whenever Christ says, “He who has an ear, let him hear,” calls for people to pay careful heed. It’s another way of saying, “Listen up! Pay close attention! What I said was important.” Those who have “ears to hear” allow the Word to bear fruit to the glory of God. It is up to the hearer to decide whether to take the Word seriously and try to understand and obey it. The church is being called on to pay close attention and seek God’s wisdom concerning the written Word. Only a few are willing; the rest have ears but do not have “ears to hear” (Matthew 7:13–14, 24–27). How is your hearing?

7b To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God. The word “conquers” is the Greek word “νικῶντι – nikonti” (Strong”s G3528, GK# 3771), which means “to conquer, overcome, or be more than victorious.”37 Many versions of the Bible translate this as “overcomes.” In John 16:33, Jesus stated, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” The life of a Christian in Ephesus was not one of conflict and tribulation. Their problem was that Christianity had become mundane and routine. They needed to overcome the low level of Christianity they were living and get back to really “living” for Christ. Still, victory awaited them through the victory accomplished by Jesus. However, it is a victory gained by an active faith fed through fellowship with the Lord.38 Conquering, or overcoming, is not a certainty but rather an aspiration each individual should pursue. The Savior’s words are never to them (a collective group) who overcome but to him (the individual) who overcomes. Victory is not a collective right but an individual attainment. Clearly, the promises to the overcomers are rewards for obedience to the commands of the Lord of the Church.39

7cI will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God. The Christians in Ephesus received a unique promise specifically tailored to their circumstance. First, Christ applauded them for refusing the Nicolaitans’ invitation to eat food sacrificed to idols. Then he promised them the fruit from the tree of life to eat. But there was a condition they had to meet before they could eat. They must overcome. Christ promised the fruit of the tree of life when they were not guiding people into a saving relationship with Jesus. God was showing them the prize, but they must return to their first love. God grants eternal life to people when they accept Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior. The very symbol of eternal life will be theirs if they overcome. But first, they have to overcome their lethargy towards evangelizing. The question is: would they?


Now that we’ve looked over and studied Jesus’ words to the church at Ephesus, let’s look at how that applies to us. First, Christ commended them for two things (1) their deeds (works or actions) and toils, and (2) their diligence and correct doctrine. The three terms deeds, toil, and perseverance (verse 2) focus on the persistence of the church in its commitment to evangelization (deeds and toil). First, they were committed to working hard for Christ, even when it got burdensome and they faced opposition. Next, Christ heartily commended their diligence in preventing false doctrine from entering the church

Second, Ephesus was a church that was careful about sound doctrine yet judged for an absence of evangelism. It is an easy mistake to believe the right things (doctrines) about God while at the same time not spreading the good news of the gospel and making disciples. More than knowing and understanding the correct doctrine(s) (with your mind) is required. We must love people (with our hearts) enough to want to see them have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Jesus makes a strong case that there is a connection between correct doctrine, love for God and fellow, and evangelism. If any of these are missing, Jesus has a problem with our church. If any of these are missing, now is the time to repent and change. Then came the “but.”

“But I have this against you.” According to Acts 19:10, the Ephesians’ took the message that Paul had been teaching, to all of Asia Minor. Now, many years later, it is just the opposite. Ephesus was a church that teemed with ministry activity, yet they lost the ability to evangelize. The “first love” that the Ephesians had abandoned was that of evangelization. So there is a challenging but essential question we must ask ourselves. “Is my church even engaged in ministry activity (specifically, evangelizing), and if it is, are we doing it for the right reason?” What is the right reason? It is to give glory to God through our love of others. If we aren’t toiling or laboring for the right reason, then we deserve the same warning Jesus gave to Ephesus. Are we actively making disciples for Christ? The Ephesian church had stopped evangelizing and Christ considered them to be a “fallen” church. The begs the question: “What about my church?” Is your church active in evangelizing, or is it a “fallen” church?

So what exactly is evangelism? The question is more challenging to answer than you might think. A standard definition is: “to proclaim the good news of the victory of God's salvation.”40 The problem is that the definition is very narrow in scope. In Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus proclaimed what we now call the great commission, which says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” This command places the responsibility of making disciples on all Christians. All Christians, therefore, are called to evangelization. No Christian can use the excuse, “I am not an evangelist.” Every Christian is an evangelist. The question is: How do I evangelize?

Evangelizing is so much more than leading people to Christ. Evangelism is like opening a door that enables people to accept Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior. We cannot get people saved because that is a choice and decision they must make. Evangelism is more like planting, watering, and harvesting. Sometimes you plant the seed of the gospel message, sometimes, you water, and sometimes you harvest (the person accepts Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior). My point is that evangelizing sometimes leads to salvation, but only sometimes. Please do not get discouraged when it doesn’t. Just keep evangelizing.

You don’t have to “preach” to evangelize. Sometimes, evangelism is nothing more than letting people see Christ in you. Evangelism is loving people right where they are. For example, tell the cashier ringing up your groceries that you appreciate them and thank them for being a cashier. Tell the waitress/waiter that you’re about to ask God to bless the food and that you’re going to ask God to bless them as well. Ask the waitress/waiter if they have a prayer request. I trust that you’re beginning to realize that evangelism is all about who we are and how we live our everyday lives and relationships. If people can see Christ in us, we will become effective evangelists. It’s about a lifestyle and the postures and practices that reflect, embody, and proclaim who Jesus is and what God has done for the world God so loves. Evangelism is living the gospel, which opens the door so that you can share your testimony. Then you can introduce them to Jesus. And that is what evangelism is about, showing the gospel so that you can speak the gospel.

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[1] History.com Editors, "Ephesus," History.com, February 02, 2018, accessed June 09, 2021, https://www.history.com/topics/ancient-greece/ephesus).
[2] "Ephesus," The Mythology of Artemis, accessed June 09, 2021, https://www.ephesus.us/ephesus/mythology_of_artemis.htm).
[3] Marg Mowczko, "The Prominence of Women in the Cults of Ephesus," September 19, 2020, accessed June 09, 2021, https://margmowczko.com/the-prominence-of-women-in-the-cultic-life-of-ephesus/).
[4] Everett Ferguson, “Angels in the Churches of Revelation 1-3: Status Queastionis and Another Proposal,”Bulletin for Biblical Research 21, no. 3 (Jan 2011): 371-86.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Colin J. Hemer, The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia in Their Local Setting, The Biblical Resource Series (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans Pub., 2001), 33.
[7] William Mitchell Ramsay, The Letters to the Seven Churches, updated ed., ed. Mark W. Wilson (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, 1994), 50.
[8] Spiros Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament (Iowa Falls, IA: World Bible Publishers, 1992), 885.
[9] Spiros Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament (Iowa Falls, IA: World Bible Publishers, 1992), 931.
[10] W. E. Vine, Vine's Complete Expository Dictionary with Topical Index (Nashville, TN: T. Nelson, 1996), 346.
[11] Bill Mounce, “Ἔργον,” Search the Greek Dictionary (billmounce.com, n.d.), https://www.billmounce.com/greek-dictionary/ergon.
[12] Spiros Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament (Iowa Falls, IA: World Bible Publishers, 1992), 651.
[13] Moises Silva, New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology and Exegesis, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014), 2:721.
[14] Ceslas Spicq, Theological Lexicon of the New Testament, vol 2 (Peabody, MA: Hendriksen, 1994), 328; Hippocrates, Aph. 2.5; Plato, Resp. 7.537b.
[15] Beside the two occurrences in Revelation, it is also used ten other times in conjunction with missionary work (John 4:38; 1 Cor. 3:8, 15:58; 2 Cor. 6:5,10:15, 11:23,27; 1 Thess. 1:3, 2:9, 3:5). [16] Spiros Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament (Iowa Falls, IA: World Bible Publishers, 1992), 1425.
[17] Joseph H. Thayer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1985), 644.
[18] Moises Silva, New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology and Exegesis, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014), 1:495.
[19] Moises Silva, New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology and Exegesis, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014), 2:597.
[20] Fritz Rienecker and Cleon Rogers, Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1980), 815..
[21] Bill Mounce, “κατά,” Search the Greek Dictionary (billmounce.com, n.d.), https://www.billmounce.com/greek-dictionary/kata.
[22] “Κατα,” Abarim Publications Theological Dictionary (New Testament Greek) (Abarim Publications, December 3, 2015), last modified December 3, 2015, https://www.abarim-publications.com/DictionaryG/k/k-a-t-a.html.
[23] Verlyn D. Verbrugge, New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004), 291.
[24] Joseph H. Thayer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1985), 89.
[25] Spiros Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament (Iowa Falls, IA: World Bible Publishers, 1992), 1248.
[26] Ernest and Jordan Easley, “What Will Happen If the Church Continues to Ignore Evangelism?,” Lifeway Research, last modified January 2, 2021, https://research.lifeway.com/2020/02/25/what-will-happen-if-the-church-continues-to-ignore-evangelism/.
[27] Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, s.v. “fall,” accessed December 15, 2022, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/fall.
[28] Joseph H. Thayer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1985), 405.
[29] Bill Mounce, “μετανόησον,” Search the Greek Dictionary (billmounce.com, n.d.), https://www.billmounce.com/greek-dictionary/metanoeo.
[30] Spiros Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament (Iowa Falls, IA: World Bible Publishers, 1992), 650.
[31] John P. Pappas, The Greek New Testament Wordbook REVELATION, vol. 1, 2020, 85.
[32] Joseph H. Thayer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1985), 347.
[33] Warren Baker and Eugene E. Carpenter, The Complete Word Study Dictionary: Old Testament (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2003), 43.
[34] Albert Barnes, Albert Barnes’ Notes on the Bible, (www.e-Sword.net).
[35] John Gill, John Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible (www.e-Sword.net).
[36] Sam Storms, “10 Things You Should Know about the Nicolaitans,” Samstorms.org, accessed December 8, 2022, https://www.samstorms.org/all-articles/post/article-10-things-you-should-know-about-the-nicolaitans.
[37] Verlyn D. Verbrugge, New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004), 387.
[38] J. Hampton Keithley, “Revelation - Appendix 3: Who Are the Overcomers?,” Revelation - Appendix 3: Who Are the Overcomers? | Bible.org (Bible.org, February 2, 2009), last modified February 2, 2009, https://bible.org/seriespage/revelation-appendix-3-who-are-overcomers.
[39] Zane C. Hodges, Grace in Eclipse, Redencion Viva, Dallas, TX, 1987, p. 108-109. [39] Bakers Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology.

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