Christ saw things needing attention in His Church. He instructed John to write down His words and send them to the seven “angels” of the churches. This refers to His ministers, calling them the stars in His hand (see Revelation 1:16). He is telling John, “I love these servants. I’ve called and anointed them and now you’re to deliver My words to them.”
As a pastor myself, I have to wonder: What must it have been like to open such a letter from John? “Unto the pastor of the church in New York: Thus saith the Lord, concerning your congregation.” Now imagine what those seven ministers felt.
Take, for example, the pastor at Ephesus (see Revelation 2:1-11). As he reads John’s letter, he sees Christ rejoicing over His Church. The Lord commends the Ephesians for being hardworking, patient and discerning. They hate evil, and they stand up for the cause of Christ. And through the years, they’ve never stopped doing good deeds. This pastor marvels at what he reads and thinks, “Wow, the Lord is pleased with us. This is a letter of commendation.”
But as he reads on, he comes upon piercing words: “Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love” (Revelation 2:4). Jesus warns the pastor, “Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick” (Revelation 2:5).
The Ephesian pastor must have been aghast at this. He thinks, “Repent? Or He’ll remove our witness? How could this be? We’re covenant believers. We’re justified by faith. We’ve been charitable, caring. Now we’re supposed to go back and be as we were at the beginning? What does that mean? How can this be Jesus speaking? How could I ever read this letter to my congregation?”
Keep in mind, these words are directed to a godly congregation. So this had to be a deeply serious matter in the Lord’s eyes. Otherwise, why would He speak so searchingly to such a shining example of a church? He’s telling the pastor, “Your love for Me isn’t what it once was. You’ve neglected communion with me. Now, repent!”
Jesus makes it clear that it all has to do with His presence. Yes, the Ephesians had labored diligently in doing good works but they were no longer intimate with the Lord.
SI Moderator - Greg Gordon