Revelation 2:4

Nevertheless
Despite the good works and patience, there is something lacking in the Ephesian church. How sobering it is to hear the Lord say “nevertheless” after a word of commendation!

left your first love
“Left” is ἀφῆκες [aphēkes] meaning “to send away. . . . to bid going away or depart. . . . of a husband divorcing his wife,”1 to Rev. 2:4+.”2 “Note, the word is ‘leave,’ not ‘lose.’ To love lies in the power of the will, otherwise it would not be commanded. . . . This is the beginning of that decline which ends in Laodicea.”3

The Ephesian church had fallen prey to the same fate as Israel before them (Jer. Jer. 2:1-9):

Moreover the word of the LORD came to me, saying, “Go and cry in the hearing of Jerusalem, saying, ‘Thus says the LORD: “I remember you, the kindness of your youth, the love of your betrothal, when you went after Me in the wilderness, in a land not sown. Israel was holiness to the LORD, the firstfruits of His increase. All that devour him will offend; disaster will come upon them,” says the LORD.’ ”

God reminds Israel of “the love of her betrothal,” when they sought after Him in the wilderness. Although the nation lacked many things in the wilderness, they had a zeal and hunger for the Lord. This is analogous to the zeal and hunger we had for God when He first calls us from the “wilderness” of the world. At that time, nothing else was as important as our relationship with Him!

Hear the word of the LORD, O house of Jacob and all the families of the house of Israel. Thus says the LORD: “What injustice have your fathers found in Me, that they have gone far from Me, have followed idols, and have become idolaters? Neither did they say, ‘Where is the LORD, Who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, Who led us through the wilderness, through a land of deserts and pits, through a land of drought and the shadow of death, through a land that no one crossed and where no one dwelt?’ ”

God relates the next stage in Israel’s flagging relationship with Him. They have “gone far from” Him and have begun to follow idols. They have forgotten the wonders He did when they were rescued from a desperate situation and now other things have begun to eclipse the importance of intimacy with God. God specifically mentions Israel’s having “followed idols”—the nation is turning its attention elsewhere.

“I brought you into a bountiful country, to eat its fruit and its goodness. But when you entered, you defiled My land and made My heritage an abomination. The priests did not say, ‘Where is the LORD?’ And those who handle the law did not know Me; the rulers also transgressed against Me; the prophets prophesied by Baal, and walked after things that do not profit. Therefore I will yet bring charges against you,” says the LORD, “And against your children’s children I will bring charges.”

The nation has now drifted so far apart from God that “those who handle the law did not know Me.” This is a very serious state of affairs! The very people who should know God and accurately represent Him, no longer “know Me.” How similar this sounds to the sobering words of Jesus:

Many will say to Me in that Day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ (Mtt. Mat. 7:22-23) [emphasis added]

If Jesus never knew them then they could not have truly known Him. Yet they are actively ministering in His name—attributing their activities to His character! The disturbing reality is that it is possible to think one is actively “serving God,” but without a true relationship with Him. Even in the case where we begin following after Him, time and circumstances often turn our hearts aside. When Solomon grew old, “his wives turned his heart after other gods; and his heart was not loyal to the LORD his God, as was the heart of his father David” (1K. 1K. 11:4).

Our priority must ever be relationship over service (works). This is the essential message of the incident involving Mary and her sister Martha related by Luke. Martha’s priority was serving whereas “Mary . . . sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word” (Luke Luke 10:39). Martha was so focused on serving that she missed a golden opportunity to listen to her Lord. Jesus summarized the actions of the two sisters: “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her” (Luke Luke 10:41-42).

Time spent sitting at the Master’s feet will never be taken away from us. Although some fret that such time reduces our ability to serve, the result is actually the opposite. Our devotion, motivation, and understanding of God are deepened causing an increase in the fruit of God’s ministry through us. Our ministry and service must be grounded in and out of our love for Him (Heb. Heb. 6:10-12). We are “priests to His God,” our primary focus is God-ward, only then man-ward. Instead of waning, our love for Him is to be continually increasing (Php. Php. 1:9).

The Ephesian church had lost its focus. They had taken their eyes off of Jesus and were now focusing on their works done for His name. This is the essence of idolatry.

The condition of the Ephesian church at the time of John appears considerably different to that when Paul wrote his epistle. Eph. 1:15. This epistle was written under Domitian, when thirty years had elapsed since Paul had written his Epistle to them.”4 This is evidence for a late date for the writing of the book of Revelation.


Notes

1 James Strong, The Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible (Ontario: Woodside Bible Fellowship, 1996), G863.

2 Frederick William Danker and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2000).

3 William R. Newell, Revelation: Chapter by Chapter (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1994,c1935), 38-39.

4 A. R. Fausset, “The Revelation of St. John the Divine,” in Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset, and David Brown, A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997, 1877), Rev. 2:4.

Read Revelation 2:4