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.