Losing Your First Love: Its Not What You Think (rev. 2:1b-5)

Thus says (τάδε λέγει) the one who has a firm grasp on the seven stars in his right hand—the one who walks among the seven golden lampstands: (Rev 2:1b)

The phrase τάδε λέγει (tade legei) “thus says” occurs eight times in the NT collection, seven of which are in Rev. 2–3, containing the letters to the seven assemblies. The τάδε λέγει (tade legei) formula in the New Testament is confirmed by its Septuagintal (LXX) use in the Hebrew Bible, where it was very often used to introduce a prophetic utterance. For example, in Jer. 22:1a we read: “Thus says the LORD…”, the phrase that the Jewish sages of Alexandria translated with the Greek τάδε λέγει κύριος (tade legei kurios). The Hebrew Bible phrase “Thus says the Lord” is also purposefully evoked here, only κύριος (kurios) “Lord” is replaced with “the one who has a firm grasp on the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands.”

2 ‘I know your works as well as your labor and steadfast endurance, and that you cannot tolerate evil. You have even put to the test those who refer to themselves as apostles (but are not), and have discovered that they are false. 3 I am also aware that you have persisted steadfastly, endured much for the sake of my name, and have not grown weary. (Rev 2:2-3)

This type of affirmation stressing the difference between the authentic and false is a recurring theme in Rev. 2-3 and may be reminiscent of the general Israelite practice of separation and distinguishing:

“… I am the Lord your God, who has separated you from the peoples. 25 You are therefore to make a distinction between the clean animal and the unclean, and between the unclean bird and the clean… 26 Thus you are to be holy to Me, for I the Lord am holy; and I have set you apart from the peoples to be Mine.” (Lev 20:23-26).

Just as an Israelite had to ask some questions about what is being received into the body by mouth (laws of kashrut being the guiding principle), the questions about the purity of the gospel messages preached by the so-called apostles needed likewise to be tested and distinguished from that which was not appropriate for consumption.

4 But I have this against you: You have departed from your first love! 5 Therefore, remember from what high state you have fallen and repent! Do the deeds you did at the first; if not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place – that is, if you do not repent. (Rev 2:4-5)

The traditional interpretation of this verse among Christians today has to do with the accusation of Jesus against the believers in Ephesus. Their original emotional excitement when they first encountered the Living God was no longer present in their lives… However, this reasoning does not match up with the line of thought in these verses. If this was truly the case, then after the words “You have departed from your first love!.. remember from what high state you have fallen and repent”, Jesus should have said something like – “Feel the excitement you once had!” Instead Jesus called them to “do the deeds they once did”. So whatever it was that Messiah was confronting the believers in Ephesus with, it was certainly not the lack of emotional engagement that once characterized their faith. It is not about their emotions or feelings, but rather about the deeds they no longer practiced, about Ephesians no longer living out their convictions as they once did.

The believers is Ephesus have “fallen” which is a Jewish euphemism for sin. Messiah calls them to repentance. What is worth noticing here is how (in which way) he calls them to repentance. This is not a mental acknowledgment of wrong but active turning  is desired and a deliberate method is also present. Consider this passage from Wisdom of Solomon on repentance,

23 But thou hast mercy on all men, because thou hast power to do all things, And thou overlookest the sins of men to the end they may repent… 26 But thou sparest all things, because they are thine, O Sovereign Lord, thou lover of souls; 1 For thine incorruptible spirit is in all things. 2 Wherefore thou dost chastise by little and little them that fall from the right way, And, putting them in remembrance by the very things wherein they sin, dost thou admonish them, That escaping from their wickedness they may believe on thee, O Lord. (Wisdom of Solomon 11:23–12:2).

These Jewish wisdom verses from 2nd century BCE explain to us that the Lord chastises them that fall from the right way little by little. God admonishes those who have sinned by bringing to their remembrance the very things by which they have sinned. This is exactly what Jesus is doing. Since their sin is departing from their former way of life, Jesus reminds them of their deeds connected to their first love. Unlike us the Ephesians know exactly what he means by that.

The congregation in Ephesus was one of the seven lights of God’s Heavenly Menorah among which Jesus the Heavenly High Priest was seen walking (Rev. 1:12-13). Hence if Ephesus assembly was no longer representing the heavenly life of God in the world, Christ threatened to come and remove their congregation from its place. This is a serious warning.

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  1. Dembie

    you got me so excited. You got so close. The first love is their spouse. Their works and devotion and enthusiasm for Jesus never wained. The key is : ever though they left their spouse ( such as the Shakers) they did not take up the doctrine of Nicholatines, which had wives in common (like Branch Davidians).

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Interesting analogy to modern times.

  2. Arthur Krisanto

    Thanks Dr Eli,

    If we loose our first love is like five foolish virgins who run out their oil Matth 25

  3. Evangelist Carroll Roberson

    After traveling to Ephesus and leading a tour group there, I believe the believers there were enticed by the beautiful city, the theatre, and the world of Ephesus got in their hearts. Same problem with many believers today! God bless you sir!

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Thanks for the feedback.

  4. Eric L

    Love for the Messiah is not love if it is only words, it is love if it is active, and this appears clear from “repent and do the deeds you did at first”. Your word brings that out – thank you

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      You are welcome, Eric, glad that stuck a chord.

  5. Kat H

    This study in Revelations has helped me to understand why I could not convert to Judaism and later become an evangelized Christian. Judaism had separated me (repentance + Exodus 19:8) and the twofold revelations (heavenly messengers) of Jesus protected me from a partial or different Jesus’. Rev 2:5 is also interesting within the Jewish background as evangelism emphasized forgetting/forgiveness of the past rather than remembering my first love (1st law or greatest commandment). I would need more space to list the negative effects of my double conversions, but I see there is enough room to say I overcame! Thank you for helping me to remember and enjoy what God did in my life rather than seeing His work and my circumstances as an admonishment. I do hope you teach those in Biblical Counseling 😉

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      I am glad the posts continue to bear fruit.

  6. Christian Antoinette

    Thank you for your insight, Eli. Our relationship with the Lord is a divine romance. Our first love toward Him must be the best love for Him. He is our briddegroom and we are the bride, being made ready to match Him in life & nature, though not in the Godhead. The degradation of God’s people begins when we no longer reserve our best love for our wonderful Saviour and Creator. Nothing but love can keep us in a proper relationship with the Lord. God so loves us that He gave His only-begotten Son so that whosoever believes into Him may receive eternal life. From the beginning, God’s heartfelt desire was to gain mankind as His bride. The Body of Christ is simply a means to obtain God’s real desire. The Spirit & the bride are destined to be one and this oneness can only be realized within a relationship of mutual love between man & God and God & man.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Thank you for your reflection.

  7. elsie


  8. catrina

    I believe He is talking about being humble/poor in spirit in the beginning because of the love and forgiveness they received even though they could not humanly earn or deserve it. It seems they have become “holier than thou” and have forgotten where they were when they received Christ’s forgiveness. Deeds in man’s eyes are not the same as His. Faith without works is dead bc we are dependent on Him to work in us, which is seen by our actions in love rather judgment. To fall from grace is to go back to thinking we deserve salvation that is a gift because of His faithfulness and cannot be earned <3 <3 <3

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Thanks for sharing your perspective, Catrina.

  9. David M. LeBlanc

    Very good little article. So great when you can tie things together with proper hermeneutics like this. Thank you!

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Yes David, when proper rules of hermaneutics are applied universally it is surprising how cohesive things become. 🙂

  10. Paul

    Thanks for the Jewish insight there. Bless you. The idea of the Menorah I had never considered nor seen the symbolism. 🙂 As a born again believer in Christ for about 48 years now that is a pleasant surprise to me. I like your focus on works as the issue at hand and not an emotion feeling. Although I go to a Pentecostal church I must whole heartily agree. As well I am not a Jew. The early gospel was very much about faith and works. Like where in James we read that faith without works is dead. Ephesians 2:10 and also in the words of John the baptist when he insists on the fruits of repentance in Luke 3:8-14. The apostle Paul reinforces such an idea again in Acts 26:19,20. Today believers everywhere need to be encouraged to DO things that please God out of the love and gratitude we have for our saviour and salvation. Anything short of that is ingratitude. 🙂

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Consider our other Revelation posts.

      1. Corri Zid

        I feel annoyed when Jesus (Eashoa) is referred to as “Christ”. It is a Greek word, I believe, and should be stricken from His name. I am reading (studying) the Aramaic Bible which is translated as closely to Ancient Aramaic as possible.
        WHAT IS SO WRONG (in caps for emphasis) in calling Him by His given Name?

        1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

          Shalom, Corri. Nothing is wrong with it. The only problem is that we don’t know for sure what his name was in Hebrew or Aramaic. Do read this article first, because I think you are assuming something that is not true and than basing your conclusions on that presupposition – http://iibsblogs.wpengine.com/the-hebrew-new-testament/

          Christos/Christ is perfectly and exclusively Jewish concept expressed in Judeo-Koine Greek. So I say there is absolutely nothing wrong with using it. Read the article (see the link above) and then write me back, let’s explore it further.


          Dr. Eli