There are a few points in each of the seven letters that are mysterious or deserve special attention. In order to teach on each letter, it helps to give special attention to such points. I have selected out a few aspects of the letter to Ephesus that are worthy of attention.
Ephesus and John’s Ministry
Paul founded the church in Ephesus and he addressed an epistle to this church (Ephesians). According to church tradition, John’s ministry in Asia Minor was especially associated with Ephesus, so John would have been quite familiar with this church. Due to his association with this church, the weakness that Jesus exposes in her would not have come as a surprise to him. One can imagine that he, also, was disappointed with the trajectory of the Ephesian church. Indeed, the weakness of the Ephesian church, leaving her first love (2:4), is the most challenging aspect of this letter to interpret due to its brevity.
What is the first love?
In light of the Ephesian church’s significant strengths, it is surprising that she has allowed herself to slip into an area of weakness that could be her undoing. Revelation 2:4 says, “But I have this against you, that you have departed from your first love.” Interpreters struggle to interpret the “first love.” Although it appears to be so important to the letter, it is given little clarification. Those who want to tie it to the immediate context relate the first love to their testing of false apostles. According to this view, their testing of false teachers has led to divisions in the church and dampened their love for one another. The wider context points in a different direction. In Revelation 1-3, one finds three affirmations that Christ loves his people (1:5; 3:9, 19). In John’s writings, the people of Jesus believe in him and love him, while those who are not his people neither believe in him nor love him. More generically, the true children of God love God (John 8:42; 14:15, 21-24; 16:27; 1 John 2:5, 15; 4:20-21; 5:1-3). Now, it is also true that those who truly love Jesus will keep his commandments (John 14:21-24). His primary commandment is to love one another just as he has loved them (John 13:34-35). The Ephesian church would have been familiar with John’s teaching. They would have regarded love for Christ or God as the basic and foundational love, and God’s first commandment (Matt. 22:37-28; Deut. 6:5). If they love Christ, they must also love one another. Lack of love for one another reveals lack of love for Christ. Therefore, their “first love” is probably their love for Christ. If their love for Christ has diminished, then their love for one another would tend to diminish as well.
Two further observations from Revelation support the conclusion that love for Christ is primarily the “first love” of Revelation 2:4. First, the Ephesian church is part of Christ’s bride (Rev. 19:7-8). An essential aspect of being Christ’s bride would seem to be love for Christ. Second, Revelation reveals the continual temptations that the Beast and the Harlot employ to encourage the people of God to compromise in their faithfulness to Jesus, that is, in their obedience to his commands and the commands of his Father. The road of compromise is evident in the seven letters. Christ does not provide any details about what kind of compromises the Ephesian church is making. However, their departure from their first love suggests that they are making some compromises in their obedience to Christ, which reveal their diminished love for him.
The Tree of Life in the Paradise of God
It is important to relate the promise of Revelation 2:7 to Genesis 3:22-24 and Revelation 22:2. In the New Jerusalem, the people of God will be able to eat of the tree of life and they will live forever (22:2). They will no longer feel the effects of God’s curse upon Adam (22:3). Notice how this makes the New Jerusalem correspond to the Garden of Eden. It is the new location for the tree of life.
Suggested Resource: Find out about my free Bible study guide to the seven letters by clicking here.
These paragraphs are adapted from my book:
Paul Hoskins, The Book of Revelation: A Theological and Exegetical Commentary, pp. 72-78 (those pages provide further sources and footnotes that I have omitted above).