When one reads the book of Revelation for the first time it is not long until he is introduced to the problem of interpreting the book properly. Our problem becomes all the worse when we are introduced to a form of interpretation known as Premillennialism.
Premillennialism is an ideology that interprets the events in Revelation as yet being fulfilled. Premillennialists believe, “Everything in the book of Revelation looks forward to, and clusters around, that marvelous time when Christ shall come with clouds, revealed visibly to every human being on earth. Practically every book in the Bible refers to the second coming of Christ, but the book of Revelation centers altogether around that marvelous event.” (John R. Rice, Bible Lessons on the Book of Revelation, p.1)
Part of the problem with this approach is that it has obscured a proper understanding of our Lord’s words to the seven churches of Revelation, and if one seeks to understand the book with a premillennial understanding, confusion prevails.
According to premillennialism, the Lord’s address to the seven churches refers to specific time frames in human history. With regard to Ephesus, for instance, His specific words are applied to the time period of A.D. 33 – 100. Whatever is to be said of any specific application each church was to make, “It is fitting that this message, representing Christianity as it was in a great church of apostolic times, is the first one given.” (Rice, p.5)
Such an interpretation brings confusion, because the Lord said nothing about a time frame in human history! To insert (or assert) a time frame brings confusion. On the other hand, if we understand the Lord’s words as the Ephesian church received these exhortations, then an application will become obvious. Let us, then, consider the words of our Lord to the church located in Ephesus.
Historically and culturally, Ephesus was the most significant of the seven communities addressed in chapters 2 and 3 (each of these cities belonged to Rome). In fact, it was the fourth most important city in the Roman Empire. Ephesus was the center of trade in that part of the world and the home of the Temple of Artemis (Diana). It was a cultured city and very prosperous.
Ephesus is also significant in Bible history for the following reasons: first, Paul took the gospel there and established a New Testament church (Acts 19:1-22); second, we have Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus; and third, we also have Paul’s exhortations to Timothy as he was left in Ephesus to instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines (cf. 1 Timothy 1:3-8).
Jesus has a firm grasp on all His churches, just as He had a firm grasp on His church in Ephesus (2:1). He understood all the problems faced, and all the responses of the heart in addressing those problems. Our Lord identified Himself as walking in the midst of all His churches, for nothing was hidden from His sight. He was disappointed with the church at Ephesus, and sought to help them understand their problem and His solution.
First, the church in Ephesus was commended for their work and diligence (2:2-3, 6). They had a patient quality about themselves as they labored (or worked very hard) at doing the Lord’s bidding. You might say they were willing to bear the Lord’s cross as they lumbered through the various streets of the city living among people. When one carries a heavy load, fatigue sets in quickly. The church, however, willingly carried this load and did not give up.
They were not only willing to speak on the Lord’s behalf, but they were also willing to test any who spoke in the name of the Lord (cf. 1 John 4:1). Those who were faithful to the Lord shared together in the Lord’s burden, but those who spoke a contrary doctrine were opposed with much vigor. Those committed to the Lord will do as those in Ephesus did in this regard.
The church in Ephesus was also warned (2:4-5). As faithful as they were in particular works, they had lost sight of their first love.
What is (or was) their first love? When the Lord was asked what the great commandment in the law was He replied that one is to love God with all of one’s being (Matthew 22:34-40). Our love for God provides a foundation for all other matters in life.
When one leaves his first love, he has moved away from Him who first loved. Some seem to think it is a particular action (or work) the Lord has in view, but this does not seem to be the problem, for the Lord commends their works. No, this seems to be an action of the heart’s response toward the Lord, not merely a failure at some particular work.
Though the Lord does not appear to be concerned with the actions, he was quite concerned with what motivated their actions. Thus, he called upon them to take action in a different direction.
Jesus admonished them to remember and repent or He will remove. They were to remember what motivated them to respond to the Lord’s call, and as they reflected on that it would help them to change their thinking to what it once was. On the other hand, if they failed to do this, the Lord would remove His candlestick. The light that flickers on the top of the candlestick, the Lord warned was about to go out. If it went out, what purpose would the candlestick serve?
The Lord would not (and will not) remove His candlestick if the individual members of the local congregation take it upon themselves to remember their first love. He who died for each of us desires and demands that we give Him our all. This motivating love will call upon us to demand purity of teaching (doctrine) in our life and in the life of the church. Those who are faithful to the Lord can do nothing less!