Interpretation of Letter to Ephesus
In the opening letter to the church at Ephesus, Christ is pictured as walking among the seven lampstands, which represent the seven churches (1:20-2:1). This tells us he is the leader of the church and is its Savior (John 10:28). Perhaps there is an allusion here to Genesis 3:8, where the Lord is walking in the Garden of Eden with the man and woman he had created. We are to understand in each case that the Lord seeks a personal relationship with his people, and desires to interact with them and be their guide.
The statement about Jesus walking among the candlesticks recalls an Old Testament promise: "I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people" (Leviticus 26:12). This promise to ancient Israel is now made to the church, the new Israel (Galatians 6:16).Strengths of Ephesus (2:2-3)
Each letter is introduced with Christ’s assertion, "I know..." (2:2, 9, 13, 19; 3:1, 8, 15). The church is to understand that Christ is perfectly aware of the distresses and persecution the church members may be suffering. He also knows what they have achieved and where they have failed in their faithfulness to him.
The church at Ephesus had endured in the faith (2:2, 4). They had suffered for Christ’s name and had not grown spiritually tired. The church had also suffered the assault of false prophets trying to foist off heretical teachings.
The false teachers who tried to infiltrate the Ephesian church are identified under two categories. They are "those who claim to be apostles but are not" and the Nicolaitans (2:2, 6). Neither group’s practices or teachings are specifically identified. The latter group will again be mentioned in the letter to the church at Pergamum (2:15).
The Ephesian church apparently was diligent to eliminate false teaching, before and after John’s day. Assuming the late date for Revelation, about twenty years after the book was written, Ignatius praised the church in Ephesus for rejecting those who promulgated heretical doctrines (Ignatius, Ephesians 9:1; cf. 6:2; 7:1; 8:1).
Spiritual problems (2:4-6)
Ironically, the Ephesian church and its leadership may have gone too far in rooting out heresy. There was a spiritual problem in the church described as a forsaking of "first love" (2:4). This is generally taken to mean the church members’ love for one another.
If this interpretation is correct, perhaps hatred of heresy had created suspicion and intolerance of each other’s differences and weaknesses. Theological orthodoxy and tests of loyalty may have been substituted for mercy and compassion. This could have lead to an undue preoccupation with being "correct," resulting in the proverbial "straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel."
This is an important lesson to all Christians. While doctrinal purity is important to the Christian faith, it can unintentionally lead to witch hunting and an inquisitorial spirit. We can defend the faith only if we first remember to defend love for one another (John 13:34). Since the Triune God is love in his essential being, then Christians will reflect that love as they have been spiritually transformed by the Holy Spirit, who is a Person of that God.
The Ephesians’ loss of brotherly love was no trivial matter. "It is treated as though it involved a fall from the Christian life," wrote G. E. Ladd, A Commentary on the Revelation of John, p.39. If the Ephesians did not repent of their lack of love, Christ said he would remove their lampstand (2:5). This implies that they would cease to be the spiritual people of God, even though they may have claimed to do many mighty works in his name (Matthew 7:22-23). (See 1 Corinthians 13:1-3.)
Listen to the Spirit (2:7)
The entire church was admonished to listen to what the Spirit of God in Jesus Christ was saying to Ephesus (2:7). The fact that hearing rather than reading is emphasized infers that Revelation was designed to be read in public worship. The churches were to listen to "what the ;Spirit says to the churches" (2:7). Yet, it is the glorified Christ who is pictured as speaking in these letters. Christ and the Spirit are clearly equated. When the Spirit speaks it is Christ speaking.
This recalls the words of Paul, who said, "The Lord is the Spirit" (2 Corinthians 3:17). That is not to imply a heretical Modalism, where it is claimed that there is no permanent distinction between the three persons of the Trinity. The Persons of the Trinity are distinct, as the New Testament revelation of God’s nature makes clear. But each of the three persons has an intrinsic interpersonal relationship in triunity. Thus, there is one God whose three Persons are conjointly involved in our salvation.
Promise to Ephesus (2:7)
As does each of the letters, the one to the Ephesian church concludes with a note of victory and a promise to those who overcome or conquer. The conquerors in Christ in these churches are not to overcome an earthly foe by human force or will. Their struggle is both much more cosmic and personal (Ephesians 6:12). They overcome the world by conquering themselves in and through the overcoming victory that was Christ’s (Revelation 2:26). The church's victory parallels his victory – the eternal victory of the Lamb of God who overcame by living and dying in faith (3:21).
The overcomers at Ephesus are promised the gift of eternal life. The symbolism of salvation for the Ephesians is "the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God" (2:7).
These symbols stand for eternal life in the kingdom of God. The tree of life symbol is used again at the end of Revelation (22:2). The roots of both symbols go back to the beginning of the Old Testament. This demonstrates the unity of the two Testaments in their presentation of the gospel message. The centerpiece of the Garden of Eden was the tree of life, a symbol for eternal life (2:9).
If Genesis 2-3 describes a Paradise Lost to Adam and Eve because of sin, then the book of Revelation promises a Paradise Regained through the blood of the Lamb. The church resurrected to life (the New Jerusalem) will receive salvation (eat fruit from the tree of life) in the Lamb’s eternal kingdom (the Garden of Eden and Paradise of God).