Revelation 2:1-7 Part 4

1)    Write the message for the Church in Ephesus:  The One Who holds the seven stars in His hand, the One Who moves about in the midst of the seven golden lampstands says these things.

2)    I know your works, and your hardship, and your perseverance   and inability to bear evils, and putting those calling themselves apostles to the test and they aren’t and found them false,

3)    and you have perseverance and did endure through My Name and not wearied.

4)    But I have against you that you did suffer your first love.

5)    Be remembering therefore from whence you fell, and repent and do the first works; but if not, I Am coming to you and I will remove your lampstand out of its place should you not repent.

6)    But this you have, that you hate the works of the Nikolaitans which I too hate.

7)    Let the one having an ear hear what the Spirit says to the churches: to the one overcoming I will give to him to eat from the tree of life which is in the paradise of God.


As we noted last Lord’s Day, the doctrinal orthodoxy of the Church in Ephesus bespeaks a love for Jesus Christ and His atonement; it bespeaks a love for the Christ and what He was about to do; it bespeaks a love for living IN Christ Jesus in righteousness; it bespeaks a love for the apostles (two of whom had been their pastors); and it bespeaks a love for apostolic doctrine and preaching.  And, in addition, it speaks of a love for the members of the congregation, because the overseers were jealous for their safety and their faithfulness.

This is one of the true marks of our Lord’s Church, isn’t it?  It’s the heart of the matter.  Without a love of Christ and apostolic doctrine, and without jealousy for the safety and faithfulness of the whole membership, the Church isn’t what it was called into being!  The Church at Ephesus worked – toiled, under the harshest of conditions in order to persevere in The Faith.  And they didn’t “weary”; and they didn’t faint.  They received high praise from the Lord Jesus Christ because they wouldn’t put up with false doctrine and bad people.

Now, let’s just talk about Biblical love for a few minutes, because that’s where we are in the text…..verse four (which is the spot where I had the second most difficult time with this translation).

Without going into a long and complicated exegetical foray into all of Scripture, let me just say that Jude, the apostle of Jesus Christ, nailed it when he said, in his letter to the Churches, verse 21:


“Keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life”.


Since God’s love toward us is purposeful, in that, before the foundation of the world, He directed His full attention toward our eternal security, and that He even sent His Own Son to die for us, and that He preserves us, in Him, to that glorious conclusion, then our love toward God must also be purposeful, in that, from our rebirth, our full attention should be directed to Him.  “Keeping ourselves in the love of God” means life, in all of its aspects and all of its varieties, is to be lived in Him, for Him, and toward Him, and for His glory.

That “love of God” will be presented and demonstrated in the way we worship on the first day of the week; that “love of God” will be evidenced in joy and celebration of life; that “love of God” will be exhibited in passionate prayer and repentance from sin; that “love of God” will be manifested in warm, brotherly love for all others rebirthed through the sacrifice of His Son; that “love of God” will be validated and vindicated by holding firmly to apostolic doctrine; that “love of God’ will be proclaimed by our desire and prayer for mankind to hear and receive that love of God; that “love of God” will be affirmed as we exult in marital love and faithfulness; that “love of God” will be a benefit to all others in our spheres of activity, in that we do everything in truth and integrity; that “love of God” will be illustrated in the way we choose and put on our socks in the morning!

That may sound trite, but it’s the truth!  It’s life in God.  It’s where we live.  It’s purposeful “keeping ourselves in the love of God”!  Should one do a full Bible study on Biblical love, from the Hebrew text and the Greek text, that’s what the necessary conclusion would be.  And that’s why the first Commandment says what it says…..everything else flows from that.

So!  Considering what we’ve said about the Ephesian Church and its praise from the Savior regarding its great love for Jesus Christ and His Church, and considering what has just been said about the Biblical definition of love (i.e. God’s definition of love – rather than the human-imposed definition), what do we say about the English translations of verse four?  Here it is from the American Standard Version:


“But I have this against thee, that thou didst leave thy first love.”


Jesus accuses the Ephesian Church of having left its first love???  Amazing.

Well, what’s happened with the preaching of this text and the exegesis of this text and the commentaries of this text, since this translation has been allowed to stand?  Let me tell you what’s happened!

As with the preaching and commenting on this text, the preaching and commenting on the whole book has taken on an unfathomable, and almost “occultic” mystique.  It’s almost as if alchemists were at work…. mixing strange things together in order to form a magical brew of some kind.

So first we have this enigmatic, impenetrable and mystifying closed-book brain-teasing riddle!  Some take their best shots at solving this “rubrics cube” – occultic brew; but many others won’t even touch it!  That’s the first thing that’s happened to the preaching and commenting on John’s Revelation of Jesus Christ!  We should remember that Revelation was not well received among some of the Reformers. Martin Luther, the famed reformer and untiring interpreter of Scripture, originally rejected Revelation as non-canonical, complaining, "My Spirit cannot adapt itself to the book." In his German translation of the Bible, he complained in the preface to Revelation that the book was "neither apostolic nor prophetic. Fellow reformer Ulrich Zwingli of Geneva (1484-1531) refused to take a doctrinal proof-text from Revelation. Calvin himself wrote no commentary on it, despite his writing a very thorough series of commentaries on almost all of the Bible.

The second thing we can discern from the history of preaching and commenting on the text of Revelation is that the paradoxical, problematic and inexplicable translations, being seen as mysterious and secret, were interpreted and exegeted by means of “actualization”.

In actualization, the mysterious imagery of Revelation is juxtaposed with the interpreter's own circumstances, in the particular time period in which he lives, so as to allow the images to inform understanding of contemporary persons and events and to serve as a guide for exegesis and preaching!

What that means is that the veiled and perplexing language in the text can be actualized in the time period in which the interpreter lives!  For the reformers in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the man of lawlessness must have been the pope!  And our original Westminster Confession identifies “the man of lawlessness” as the pope of Romanism!  But please understand that there was no pope of Romanism for another two hundred and fifty years after this letter was received by the apostle John and sent to the Churches!

And interpreters and preachers could apply the numerous judgment scenes in the Revelation to various wars, revolutions, and socio-political and religious movements (e.g., the rising of Roman Catholicism, the outbreak of the Protestant Reformation, the French Revolution, World Wars I and II, the holocaust, the re-establishment of Israel as a state, the rise of Islam), as well as important historical events and persons (e.g., various Popes, Charlemagne, Suleiman, Napoleon, Mussolini, Hitler, Stalin, Bill Clinton, Bin Laden and Ahmadinejad!).  If the language is perplexing enough, and mysterious enough, preachers can fit almost anything into the revelatory scenario at any given point in history!  That’s what’s meant by the term “actualization”, in which the mysterious imagery can be juxtaposed with an interpreter’s own time period and circumstances!

And point three (and we move back to the text here in verse four), what’s happened to the preaching and exegesis of this text?  In the specific context of Jesus’ words to the apostle John, and with the Biblical definition of “the love of God” before us, what has happened (as one should be able to readily see), what has happened due to the mystifying translations in the English versions??

Well, the foremost damage has been done to the understanding of the purposeful love that God has for His Own people, and the love of God by His Own people, who live in Him in gratitude.  And the result has been a replacement – an alternate or surrogate – love which is best described by the term ‘warm fuzzies”!

And verse four has been interpreted (because there’s no other way, in the opinions of commentators, to understand the translation) verse four has been interpreted to say that the Church in Ephesus has lost its “warm fuzzies” for each other!  The Church is too strict; the Church is too orthodox; it’s too hard on deviations from apostolic doctrine; it won’t listen to various opinions that might stray a little bit from the “hard line”; it excommunicates people and throws them out; it won’t allow people to express themselves differently from the norm.  It just doesn’t have any love.

So the love of God (which we’ve defined Biblically) is reduced to “feelings” for the brothers, and tolerance for the others.  And that’s all! But remember what we said earlier in our Biblical definition: the “love of God” will be manifested in warm, brotherly love for all others rebirthed through the sacrifice of His Son.  Love for the brothers and sisters of the Church is living purposefully in the love of God!

So how can the Church at Ephesus, so praised by our Lord Jesus Christ for its great love for God, be without the purposeful love for the brothers in Christ?

But, as I said, it’s the translation that’s had a lot to do with that interpretation.  And (because of the translation) much of the Church today has nothing, or very little, of that for which our Lord praised the Church at Ephesus.  What it does have is an “alternate” love – warm fuzzies - for each other, and tolerance for everything else.

And what has this interpretation done for the reputation of the Church in Ephesus for whom this letter is sent?  For two thousand years that Church has been condemned for having no love in it for each other.  Having done battle with diana worship; having fought together against a satanic world order; having stood strong together against false doctrine and caesar worship and false prophets and judaists; and having received countless numbers of Christian Jews from Israel in the diaspora….. to give them places to stay and money and jobs until they got on their feet in a new country; having persevered together against all these things, they have no love for one another?  Incredible.

But that’s the scenario; that’s the preaching; that’s the commentary.  And it’s all of the commentaries!  Regardless of what the Bible says, and regardless of what Jesus said in His praise for the Church; with the commentators the first love is love for each other…… and that being a “redefined” love!

But what does the text say?  That‘s what was running through my mind the whole time.  What did Jesus say to the Church at Ephesus?  After praising them for their life, being lived  in the love of God, why would He then chasten them severely for a lack of love for each other?  It just doesn’t fit.

It was so illogical; it was so unreasonable; it was so unlikely that our Lord would do that.  Like the first problem up in verse one, I tried to find a Biblical (or Theological) reason for it, and I couldn’t.  So I finally decided that it had to be a text problem.  Otherwise I was stuck with these commentaries and all of their “mystery” and their inane criticisms of the Church in Ephesus.  And the text, or the translation of the text, turned out to be the problem.

Here’s the common English translation once again: “But I have this against thee, that thou didst leave thy first love.”

Now, I suppose that one could make the case that commentators, holding to that translation, would have to find something to say about the verse.  They couldn’t just skip it!  And the easiest thing to do (since Jesus DID criticize the Church) the easiest thing to do is write a page or two about Churches with no warmth in them.  And it’s usually orthodox Churches that they zero in on, since orthodoxy, to them, equals exclusivity and intolerance.

But, seemingly, they forgot to do their exegetical work on the word translated “leave”!  Well, either they forgot, or they couldn’t find a good reason to change it.  Maybe they thought if they changed it they couldn’t write the two pages against orthodox Churches!  But even so…..  the commentaries of Reformed and orthodox men also missed it, and they didn’t have much to say either!

The translation of the Greek word rendered “leave” in the common translations doesn’t mean “leave”!  The English word “to leave” means to depart, or to abandon (in its most frequent usage). To leave a Church (for example) means to quit, or cease to attend.  To leave a practice of some kind, or leave a theological position, means to stop thinking that way or to stop practicing that course of action.  And that’s where the commentators come up with the idea that the Church at Ephesus stopped loving one another!  (They left their first love!)

But that’s not what the Greek word means!  Its primary meaning is to “permit”, or to “allow to continue” or “to leave it be”…….. therefore the word I used: “to suffer”.  So Jesus was criticizing the Ephesian Church for permitting, or allowing to continue – or “suffering” their first love.  They were allowing it to remain, or leaving it alone, rather than discarding it!

And the reason I used “suffer” is that this word used here in verse four is the very same Greek word used in verse twenty.  That verse says:


“But I have against you that you suffer the woman Jezabel….” 


They let her be…. they acquiesced to her.  The Church “permitted” her.  As the text say, they “suffered” her.

That’s the common English translation in verse twenty!  That’s the translation in all the versions!  And it’s translated correctly!  And why the identical Greek word wasn’t translated the same in verse four – you tell me!!!  It looks as if the English translators and the commentators couldn’t find a reason for the Church in Ephesus to be criticized by the Lord Jesus Christ for “leaving in place” its “first love” (whatever that might have meant to them)!  So they changed the word in verse four to “leave”.  So the result was that it was thereafter deemed a criticism of the Ephesian Church for a lack of love for the brethren!

Anyway, the commentators and preachers pay no attention to the fact that the word appearing in verse four, and again in verse twenty, are the same Greek word, and yet it’s translated differently her in four.  They just go happily on their way through the text, commenting and preaching – commenting and preaching; and for five or six hundred years the English speaking Church has viewed the Ephesian Church, which was pastored by the apostle Paul and the apostle John, as a Church that had left its first love; so that must mean that those folks didn’t love one another.  Tragic.

But let me tell you what the real tragedy is here.

Not only has the Ephesian Church unjustly incurred the wrath of the English speaking Church for five hundred plus years because of this; and not only was the English speaking evangelical Church filled to its detriment with the theology of warm fuzzies and no substance; and not only has the English speaking Church been taught the wrong things from this text; but (and here is the tragedy), the English speaking Church, for five hundred years, has completely missed hearing what Jesus DID say to the Ephesian Church!  It’s missed being exhorted by our Lord Jesus Christ in a most important theological issue.

The criticism of the Ephesian Church by our Lord Jesus Christ for allowing something to continue; permitting something to be in the Church that should not have been:  “I have against you, that you did suffer your first love.”

Earlier in his ministry the apostle Paul wrote a letter to the Churches in Galatia.  And to those Galatian Churches he recounts an even earlier event in Antioch.

Antioch, you remember, was the first Church in which the rebirthed, covenanted people of Christ were called “Christians”.  And it was the place from whence the apostles were first sent on their journeys into all the nations of the earth.

The Antioch Church was huge.  It was probably many congregations all around the city, which was the regional headquarters for Roman governance.  On that occasion that Paul recounts to the Galatians, there was a gathering of many of the Christians of Antioch at which time Paul and the apostle Peter were both present.  And there was a delegation of prominent Jews that arrived.

The apostle Peter and others then separated themselves from the Gentiles of the group and had only to do with the Jews.  Paul writes to the Churches in Galatia that he got up in Peter’s face and accused him and condemned him for his dissimulation!  (That means “duplicity” or “guile”.)

In the next chapter in that letter to the Galatian Churches, Paul says this:


“There can be neither Jew nor Greek, there can be neither bond nor free, there can be no male and female; for ye all are one man in Christ Jesus.”


You see, even in apostolic circles there was still this leftover love for the Jewish heritage.  God’s people were Jewish; Jesus Christ was born Jewish; salvation had come out of Israel.  God’s law had been given to the Jews.  Gentiles were the “heathen” of the earth, although they were now received of the Lord.  The ancestry, and the heritage, and the birthright, and the kingdom were first theirs.  It was written in their hearts and minds.  It was their first love!

But the apostle Paul, in the strongest language possible, condemns that first love, for all who belong to the Christ are now adopted sons.  There is no more Jew and Gentile.

And as our Lord Himself said (Matt. 18), “you must not think down on even one of these little ones”.  They all belong to Him, and He is no respecter of persons.  They are re-birthed little ones, adopted into the Second Adam.  They don’t belong to any heritage – Jew or Gentile, bond or free, male or female – they are all precious little ones bought by the blood of Christ and adopted into His NEW heritage!  They all have a new heritage, and it’s not Jewish; and it’s not Gentile; and it’s not royalty; and it’s not slavery……it’s the heritage of the resurrected Christ!

Well, apparently the Church at Ephesus, even after the apostles Paul and John had pastored the Churches, still had remnants of the first love – the Jewish heritage.  And it was just “permitted” to continue.  It was “suffered”  The apostle Paul battled it in all the Churches.  And our Lord Jesus Christ, in similar strident language, thoroughly condemned it here in our text.

And that same love of heritage, or wealth, or class, or color, or status is still among the Churches.  And it is cause for His removal of the lampstand.

There are no “favored” positions or stations or seats in the Church.  There are no inherited positions of power and authority in the Church (since we’re all servants).  There are no persons who have more influence in the Church because of their wealth.  There are none with less influence because of their poverty. There are none who have elevated status due to their backgrounds or bloodlines in the Church.  The fame of persons, upon entering the sanctuary of the King of Kings, must be left to the TV set and the magazines and the newspapers.  Before the Lord of Lords there IS no former heritage.  The new heritage is all there is; and it is everything.

And that’s what the English speaking Church has not heard from this text.  And it is tragic.