For the next several days we will look at the seven letters to the seven churches in Revelation. We will look at them first from the historical point of view (What Jesus said to this historical church) and a modern point of view (What does this letter say to the Church today).
The structure of the seven letters is very similar. They follow a consistent pattern, beginning with the address, which is always “To the angel of the church of [the city].…” This is invariably followed by the identification of Christ as the sender of the letter, usually (though not in every case) describing him in terms drawn from the vision of chapter one.
Jesus’ first message to each church is: “I know your works.” The churches’ works are sometimes commendable, sometimes requiring chastising and sometimes both
Three of the churches have commendation and criticism. Two churches have only praise and two have only criticism.
The Church of Ephesus
Ephesus – The City
The city of Ephesus was one of the largest and most important cities in the Roman province of Asia. It was a main import and export center for Asia. There were believed to have been about 250,000 people living in this area. The temple of Artemis (Diana) one of the Seven Wonders of the World was located in Ephesus. She was originally an Anatolian fertility goddess, but under the influence of Greek culture had become the focus of an extensive religious cult. It is also a city of great political importance. It had been granted by Rome the right to self-government. 
Ephesus – The Church
It is believed the Christian faith came to Ephesus with Aquila and Priscilla about AD 52. A church was planted in Ephesus by the Apostle Paul and he ministered there for two years. Some amazing things happened in Ephesus during his time one of which was a riot that Paul unintentionally instigated as a result of his preaching (Acts 19:21 – 41). Timothy (the one Paul wrote both 1 and 2 Timothy) was a resident and tradition states that he may have either been an elder or the Pastor of the church of Ephesus when Paul wrote his letters to him. According to some traditions the Apostle John and Mary the mother of Jesus resided in Ephesus. Mary may have actually died in Ephesus and it is believed John lived in Ephesus up to the point where he was banished to Patmos.
Ephesus – The Letter
Verse 2: Jesus acknowledges that he is familiar with the works of the church of Ephesus. He commends the church first because they have been faith in enduring hardships, they have not tolerated people who have an evil agenda and they have exposed false teachers and Apostles. The false teachers Jesus speaks of are probably the Nicolaitans. Jesus commends the Church in verse 6 for hating the works of the Nicolaitans just as God hates their works.
- The Nicolaitans - Nicolaus of Antioch is believed to have been the founder of this heretical group. It is believed that he encouraged Christians to compromise their faith by shamelessly mixing their Christian faith with paganism. It is probable that it their compromise was sexual in nature because as we will see with the Church of Pergamum that the Nicolaitans are mentioned in regrds to sexual immorality.The Church of Ephesus maintained integrity by denouncing and exposing the heretical teachings of the Nicolaitans. This is commended by God.
Verses 4 – 5: Jesus did have something against the Church of Ephesus. They had abandoned their first love. Jesus is not specific in detailing what that first love was but it was probably their lack of loving one another and/or their lack of loving God. Ultimately the two are directly related. Lacking love for God eventually leads to lacking love for others. The command of Jesus was very specific “Love God and love others” and apparently the Ephesians had forgotten this and they had abandoned their first love.
All is not lost though… Jesus instructs gives them a remedy to fix this problem…they are to remember, repent and return. I will speak on what this looks like in a few moments. Jesus tells the Ephesians to heed his warning. If they do not do as he instructs then He will come and remove his lamp stand from their midst. This means that if things don’t change soon the church will die; which unfortunately it did. Unfortunately the Church of Ephesus no longer exists. This should remind us that a loveless Church is a Christless church and a Christless church is a dead church.
Verse 7: The promise – To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the paradise of God. To those who endure persecution and remain faithful they will be given permission to eat of the tree of life which means eternal life and victory over death.
Church of Ephesus Applied Today
There is no Church of Ephesus today but this does not mean the letter is no longer valid or has no relevance for today. This letter does speak to us today just as it did to the Ephesians.
Good works cannot save us. The Gospel explicitly states that we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. This is the truth of the Gospel. Jesus accomplished our salvation for us. However since our good works do not save us does not mean our good works here on earth do not matter. What we do individually AND collectively matters greatly to God. God has called the Body of Christ to be the Light of the world. I think it is important for us to use this passage as a score card of sorts for whatever church you may be part of today. You should be asking…
- Does God know your works? As individuals and a church body are you known for good works for the Kingdom of God? Not for our salvation but for the glory of God. When individuals meet with you personally or attend a church are they drawn to or repelled by your actions? You are the light of the world and your light must shine brightly for the sake of Jesus Christ.
- Do you work hard for the Gospel? Is the great news of salvation proclaimed boldly and often to those who do not believe?
- Do you endurepersecution? When persecution comes do you ball up and not face it or do you face it in the confidence of Jesus Christ?
- Do you tolerate false teaching? False teaching would be considered any teach that adds to or subtracts from the works of Jesus and the Word of God. There are many false teachers out in the world. Do you know how to expose them? If so, do you expose them or do you allow their heresies to infiltrate your life and church?
- Do you hate the teachings of the Nicolaitans? Do you tolerate and overlook sexual immorality? I refer to ALL types of sexual immorality.
- Do you grow weary in bearing the name of Jesus? If so maybe you are not depending on his Spirit to work in you. Are you Spirit led and filled? When serving in Jesus’ name do you grow tired and begrudge it?
- Have you lost your first love? Is love for God and others falling low on the radar? Have you lost that loving feeling for God and for others?
If you are feeling hopeless, conflicted or convicted at this moment that is good because God is at work in your heart. As I was preparing for this message I felt all three. However I am encouraged because verse 4 doesn’t end with the problem. Jesus has given us a solution…
REMEMBER where you have fallen. Allow God to work on you today. If you have failed in any of the areas mentioned above then you are exhorted to find out where it is you have failed. This can be and often is a painful process and should lead to the next step.
REPENT – The word repent means “To think/act differently. To change one’s mind for better, heartily to amend with abhorrence of one’s past sins.” Repentance doesn’t mean being sorry. It means being sorry enough to change. This is a painfully freeing process. Repentance can hurt, it can cause tears, it can break your heart but it always leads to freedom and forgiveness.
RETURN – Do the works you did at first. This simply means to allow the Spirit to do his work in your heart. Allow the Spirit to fan into flame the passion and fire you once had for God. It’s synonymous to the words of King David, “Restore to me the joy of my salvation and renew a right spirit within me.”
The key here is you cannot return if you skip steps 1 and 2. Remembering and repentance is necessary in order for you to return to the place where God desires for you to be. You have ears and you must hear what the Spirit is saying. May God have mercy on you and may you be faithful in responding.
 Gregg, S. (1997). Revelation, four views: A parallel commentary (Re 1:20). Nashville, TN: T. Nelson Publishers.
 The New International Commentary on the New Testament: Revelation (1977) Mounce, Robert: Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdman’s Publishing. P. 86