“To the angel of the church of Ephesus write: These things said He that holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands: “I know your works, and your labor, and your patience, and how you cannot bear those who are evil, and you have tested them who say they are apostles, and are not, and have found them liars; And you have borne, and have patience, and for my name's sake have labored, and have not fainted” (Revelation 2:1-3).

At first glance the Church of Ephesus looks pretty good. They are doing good works, laboring to spread the gospel, patiently enduring trials, and maintaining the purity of the Church, protecting it from evil liars and false apostles, and all this with perseverance, not growing weary. Jesus commends them for this.

But something essential is missing that spoils all of their good works.“Nevertheless, I have somewhat against you, that you have left your first love” (Revelation 2:4). This lack of love is not a minor issue; it is so serious that Jesus warns, “Remember therefore from where you are fallen; and repent and do the first works; or else I will come to you quickly and will remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent” (Revelation 2:5). The Ephesian Christians are in danger of losing their salvation because of a lack of love.

The first-love experience of the early church is described in the first chapters of the book of Acts. The early Christians loved God with all their hearts, and this resulted in love for their neighbors. The disciples “were all with one accord in one place”, continuing “with one accord in prayer and supplication” (Acts 1:14, 2:1). “All who believed were together, and had all things in common” (2:44). They had continuous fellowship with one another and took care of each others' needs.[1]

But as the years passed and most of these early Christians died, including the apostles, the Church began to struggle with the issue of love. John, the last of the apostles, wrote his epistles to the church shortly before he wrote the Book of Revelation (around 95 AD), apparently while living at Ephesus. It seems that the problem with love was serious, because one of his major themes is the need for love—just one of many examples is his thought-provoking statement, “Let us love one another—He who does not love does not know God, for God is love." (1John 4:7,8)[2] With few records, it is impossible to know in detail the conditions of the church from the time of John’s writing of Revelation into the second century, the time period represented by the message to the church of Ephesus. However, there is one love problem that is apparent from the few writings that remain: the developing hatred of the Jews by the church.

On a human level this hatred is understandable. It was the Jews who conspired with the Romans to murder Christ. The Jews carried out the first persecutions (Acts 8) and hounded the Apostles, particularly Paul, who was driven from city to city by Jews who were jealous of his ministry and zealous for their traditions.[3] However, following the teaching of Jesus to love our enemies and do good to those who hate us (Matthew 5:44), Paul could honestly say, “I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart…for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh, who are Israelites…Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved” (Romans 9:1-4, 10:1).

What a contrast with the attitude of prominent Christian writers during the “Ephesus” era of the early second century! According to the so-called epistle of Barnabas, probably written in the AD 130’s, “The Jews are ‘wretched men’ who were deluded by an evil angel and who ‘were abandoned by God’ because of their ancient idolatry.[4] Likewise Justin Martyr, a Christian philosopher who wrote during the first half of the second century, asserted that “The Jews are a ruthless, stupid, blind, and lame people, children in whom there is not faith”. In a dialogue with Trypho, a Jew, he asserted that “The custom of circumcising the flesh, handed down from Abraham, was given to you as a distinguishing mark, to set you off from other nations and from us Christians. The purpose of this was that you and only you might suffer the afflictions that are now justly yours; that only your land be desolated, and your cities ruined by fire, that the fruits of your land be eaten by strangers before your very eyes… it was by reason of your sins and the sins of your fathers that, among other precepts, God imposed upon you the observance of the Sabbath as a mark”.[5] This hatred of the Jews and the desire of Christians to distinguish themselves from them led to serious doctrinal errors,[6] and has been a blight and a disgrace on the Christian Church right up to the present time.[7]

Continue to next section: 2:2,6 FALSE APOSTLES AND NICOLAITANS

[1] “Continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart” (Acts 2:46). “Nor was there anyone among them who lacked; for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold…and they distributed to each as anyone had need” (Acts 4:34,35).

[2] The need for love is the central theme of the first epistle of John: “In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother…he who does not love his brother abides in death…By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us, and we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth….beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God, and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 John 3:10-4:12).

[3] Acts 13:45, 50, 14:2, 19, 17:5, 13, 18:12, 21:27, 23:12.

[4] These statements are quoted in Samuel Bacchiocchi, From Sabbath to Sunday, (Rome, Pontifical Gregorian University Press, 1977) P. 219.

[5] Ibid. pgs. 226-228.

[6] For example, from early times there have been attempts to characterize the Ten Commandment law as a “Jewish” institution which does not apply to Christians. The rejecting of the validity of the Ten Commandments has led in turn to the acceptance of the worship of idols and icons, which is forbidden by the second commandment and the change of the Sabbath to Sunday, a violation of the fourth commandment. As will be brought out later, the Sabbath itself was an obvious commonality with the Jews that caused Christians to be identified with them, so that the hatred-inspired desire to differentiate themselves from the Jews and “their Sabbath” was a strong motivation to reject the validity of the whole law. While it is true that our salvation is based on Christ’s perfect life and sacrifice for sinners, and that no one will be saved by keeping the commandments, it is also true that “He who says ‘I know Him’ and does not keep His commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (1 John 2:4), See Bacchiocchi “From Sabbath to Sunday.

[7] The first ecumenical council of the Christian Church at Nicea (325 AD) codified contempt of the Jews in the decision to adjust the date of Easter so that it would never coincide with the Passover of the Jews. The emperor Constantine summed up the attitude, “It appeared an unworthy thing that in the celebration of this most holy feast we should follow the practice of the Jews, who have impiously defiled their hands with enormous sin, and are, therefore, deservedly afflicted with blindness of soul…Let us then have nothing in common with the detestable Jewish crowd…who are our adversaries” Wikipedia contributors, "Constantine the Great and Judaism," http// the Great and Judaism&oldid=612077553 (accessed June 25, 2014). Persecution of the Jews through the centuries up to the holocaust has been tolerated or even approved by the Church on the basis that “it was the Jews who killed Jesus”.