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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Dr. Eli Lizorkin-EyzenbergTo secure your spot in our new course “The Jewish Background of New Testament” - CLICK HERE NOW

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  1. Corri Zid

    Toda, Dr. Eli,
    I attended 12 years of Catholic school. Not one nun, theology prof or priest mentioned Judeo-Koine Greek. During those times I was brainwashed into believing whatever “they” taught was Gospel. (we were taught, “There is no other church but the One True, Roman Catholic church!”) I was forced to alienate acquaintances that we “just Christian.”
    I digress; I apologize. It it wasn’t for God’s Grace 🙂 I’d still be bogged down.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Corri, God’s grace is so much deeper, bigger, taller and wider than human sins and inadequacies of theologies. I can assure you that the idea of Judeo-Koine Greek would also be new to most people aware of Jewish context of the New Testament. This idea is yet to catch. Normally people have been dealing with seeing Hebrew base to New Testament Scriptures by thinking it must have been written in Hebrew first and only then translated to Greek, which as you have gathered from the article (http://iibsblogs.wpengine.com/the-hebrew-new-testament/) is simply not the case. Welcome to the Jewish Studies for Christians! Dr. Eli

  2. jane z. mazzola

    Thank you for the info re: the painting, available when I clicked onto it.
    Jane M

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      No Problem 🙂

  3. Richard Leigh

    Dear Dr. Eli, I very much appreciate your observation of the proper interpretation of the word “love” in the text. When I read this article I felt an instant “AHAH! Yes, that’s it!” The Apostle John was big on “love” as can easily be seen in his Gospel and first epistle. I have been told that when he was very old, and still overseeing the assembly there, his sermons were all, “Love one another” only.

    Besides this, though, I’d like to point our that Paul had warned the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:29-30 about the danger of wolves marauding the flock. The congregation seems to have heeded this warning well, but apparently at the expense of acts of caring for one another.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Good points, thanks for the feedback, Richard.

  4. Deborah Lee

    For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. (Matthew 18:20) The Son of Man is in the midst (walks amongst) the seven assemblies of believers. (Revelations 2:1) God’s commandment requires that we love the Lord our God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our mind. (Matthew 22:37) The issues of our lives are a direct result of the condition of our hearts. (Proverbs 4:23). When we love The Lord with all of our heart, soul, and minds it allows for an expression of love that is greater than an emotional feeling and an expression that exudes into and affects every aspect of our lives, including our actions and deeds.

    1. Deborah Lee

      Abandoning their first love could refer to God not being first place (πρῶτος) or taking preeminence in their lives.

    2. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Can’t disagree, Deborah. Quite true.

  5. yetilived

    I am struggling to think through the question, but is repentance associated with 1st law (love God), rather than 2nd law (love your neighbor)? In other words does the Bible ever tell us to repent for sins against man or do we apply confession, forgiveness, prayer… to sins against man?

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Yes, of course there there is a need for repentance of sins against men. Mankind is God’s creation and when we sin against man we still sin against God indirectly. Any act of Rebellion against God’s order is sin and it does not matter if it is directed through sins against our fellow men.

      1. Sheila Dale

        My first thought upon reading your comment, Dr. Eli, is that of Psalm 51:4 where King David’s prayer of repentance is recorded…..”….against Thee, Thee only have I sinned…” I believe that King David was recognizing and taking responsibility for his sin against Bathsheba, Uriah, in fact the entire nation of Israel, which ultimately was his sin of disobedience to the Torah and against God. I think your comment above, “….when we sin against man we still sin against God indirectly”.

        I wonder if the reverse is true, if we sin knowingly against God…deliberately go against HIs commands…. in effect we sin against all mankind. ????

        1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

          I agree with you, Sheila. Just as sin against a human is a sin against his creator, so is any sin against God is also hurtful in one way or another on one level or another to the humanity (especially in the context of covenant community).

          1. Sheila Dale

            Thank you, Dr. Eli. As a side note, after my comments above, the Holy Spirit would not let me go. I thought about repentance and asked the Lord to search my heart … I knew that He would remind me of things in my life that needed repentance. He brought to mind a conversation I had with a cashier and her supervisor at a major chain. I was not kind to them with my complaint, sorry to say.
            All day I knew I would have to seek out the supervisor and apologize. Through a chain of events, it was after mid-night that ‘day’ that I ended up at the store. Walking in, he was standing at the first register. So, I apologized – asked him to forgive me and admitted that I had spoken harshly to him. He was so gracious saying that it was ok.
            As we talked I told him that God through His Holy Spirit had convicted me, and that was why we were having the conversation. He told me he had learned a long time ago not to hold things in, that he was a Christian and prayed every day and evening. I believe that he had given the situation over to the Lord to take care of it and that’s why he was able to be so kind and gracious to me.
            As we talked, it was interesting to find out that he, too, is a Sabbath keeper. This dear man is from Nigeria and I suspect he has had many things in his past to ‘not hold in’.
            Thank you for posting your thoughts about Losing Our First Love.

          2. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

            I am glad to hear things worked out.

  6. jane z. mazzola

    I have often wondered @ those seven original “churches”…considering that they are all in modern day Turkey, which we would hardly call a country w/majority “Christian population” today. What did happen? Were the warnings not heeded? Is there just a life/death cycle w/in faith communities, as w/all nations? Or am I getting ahead of the “story”?

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Besides the content of Revelation, Islam happened in 8th century there. But some of them have not been functioning even prior to that as far as I remember.

  7. Daphne Brown

    Dr. Eli. As per our first love, please explain Jeremiah 4: 30. My father was a minister, but he has always taught us that our salvation is a personal relationship with God through His Son Jesus Christ, NOT because he is a servant of the Lord.

    This verse of Scripture came to me as a revelation, which sort of helped to mould my decision in walking with the Lord.

    Would you say that this play a part of intigrating my first love with Jesus Christ?

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Sorry Daphne, I cannot explain, because I do not see a direct connection between the verse you shared and these verses.

  8. Roy

    Excellent rendition

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Thanks

  9. Stephen Yang Th.D

    Dr. Eli Lizovken Eyzenberg

    I respect you so much that You are choisen people but you study of the Book of

    Reveration (N.T) as I am a gentile. The seven Churches model of in this earth . Yeshua

    blame about the “first love” to Ephesus. That I feel that it was escatological point of

    view, that there are admiration Church is only the symbolic of Israel I believe so.

    Because for one thing, “For you have a little strength, have kept My word, and have not

    denied My name”(Rev.3:7f). As the same od Israel is the small country. But most strong

    with the Lord God than any other countries and it shall be stand forever(Dan2:44). That

    is you, your holy nation, and Israel ! However, there is no faithful, nor love in this last

    world. As the Lord saying that ” When the Son of man comes, will He really find faith

    on the earth?” (Luke 18:8f)

    אך כאשך יברא בן האדם היםעא את האמינה עלי אדמןת
    שלים

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Thanks for your reflection, Stephen.

  10. Anne

    Thank you for your insight into the Ephesus Kehillah. As I am now attending a messianic congregation, the light is starting to get brighter as to what you are saying. Ephesus had left its first love, the TORAH which was given to their fathers at Sinai. Yeshua (Jesus) and Saul (Paul) had both kept all the TORAH perfectly. Then the evils of the Roman Empire had kept into the church changing their once holiness into evil, and masking it as Christian. i.e. The pagan Roman holidays of Christmas, Easter, etc.,etc., which are well documented on the Internet for anyone to read. I know that we’ll meaning Christians will take offence at this, but sometimes the truth hurts.
    Anne

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Dear Anne, you are welcome. First of all the text does not say what the first love was, this is your interpretation. Whatever it was – it was not a fuzzy feeling but some deeds of kindness (imho). Second, the historic paganization of churches that you mention did not happen yet when this text was written. The context of Revelation is very Jewish. I would caution you about inserting external ideas into the text that does not teach them.

      1. Anne

        Thank you. I thought after I sent it that I might be a few hundred years early. It is hard to know what happened when. Thank you for you correction. Shalom. We are in israel at present enjoying your country.

        1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

          Then בָּרוּךְ הַבָּא, welcome to the land, and glad you read our blog. History can be overwhelming, especially traveling in Israel. Thanks for participating!

  11. 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.

  12. Arthur Krisanto

    Thanks Dr Eli,

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

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. 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.
    Christian

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Thank you for your reflection.

  17. elsie

    Perfil!

  18. 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.

  19. 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. 🙂

  20. 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.
      http://iibsblogs.wpengine.com/category/revelation/

      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.

          Blessings,

          Dr. Eli