1 “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: ‘The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands. 2 “‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. 3 I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. 4 But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. 5 Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. 6 Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. 7 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.’
One of the greatest descriptions of being in love that I have ever read is Leo Tolstoy’s description of Levin after Kitty, who he loves, expresses her love for him in Anna Kerinina. Listen to how this sensation of being in love affects Levin:
All that night and morning Levin lived perfectly unconsciously, and felt perfectly lifted out of the conditions of material life. He had eaten nothing for a whole day, he had not slept for two nights, had spent several hours undressed in the frozen air, and felt not simply fresher and stronger than ever, but felt utterly independent of his body; he moved without muscular effort, and felt as if he could do anything. He was convinced he could fly upwards or lift the corner of the house, if need be.
Does that sound familiar to you? Do you recall the first feelings of the love you realized existed between you and another? Do you remember its effect on you?
Now I ask you: how do we go from that kind of thing to sitting in a restaurant across a table from our spouses barely speaking for the better part of an hour? How do some couples go from finding one another’s quirks charming and endearing to wanting to murder the other over the cap not being put back on the toothpaste? How do we go over genuine over-the-top concern at the slightest cough from our beloved in the first blushes of love to “Could you please take some Nyquil or something, I’m trying to sleep?!”
How do we forget our first love?
I do not know, but I know this: if love is not cultivated it is forgotten.
As it goes with our love for one another, so it goes with our love for God.
The seven letters of Revelation are written to seven churches in Asia Minor and, indeed, to the church throughout space and time. They are written to us. The first is to the church of Ephesus, an extremely important city in the ancient world of which we have some amazingly well-preserved ruins today. It was a prosperous and large city with a temple to the goddess Artemis that was considered one of the wonders of the ancient world. Artemis loomed large in Ephesus, as historian Holly Beers writes:
In Greek mythology Artemis and her brother, Apollo, are born to Zeus and Leto. Artemis serves as her mother’s midwife in this origin story, delivering her twin brother, Apollo. The Ephesians appropriated this myth and transferred its geographical location to a grove outside their city, a move that served to support their special relationship with Artemis…During the period of the New Testament, the historical evidence points to the likelihood of Ephesians hosting two major festivals in her honor every year. One was a celebration of her birth, complete with music, dancers, sacrifices, feasts, and priests acting out the role of demonic protectors of Artemis during her birth, frightening away the goddess Hera. The second was the Artemisia, which likely included competitions in music, theater, and athletics. There is also some evidence for female priestesses as officials of her temple.
Along with being associated with a general focus on health and safety (as her name was often understood to communicate those values), Artemis was acclaimed as greatest, holiest, and most manifest along with the titles “Queen of the Cosmos,” “Lady” (female version of “Lord”), and “Savior.” She was a specific kind of savior to the many women who petitioned her for safety in childbirth. She was the patron goddess of Ephesus, and her temple, the Artemision, was built outside the wall, a little over a mile from the city center. The Artemision was famous in antiquity, known as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world for its size and grandeur. It measured approximately 140 by 75 yards (four times the size of the Parthenon in Athens) and included 127 columns that stood over 60 feet high. The works of many of the greatest sculptors and painters of the day decorated it, and because of its financial deposits—assets that included land and water—and ability to lend money, it functioned at the center of the city’s economic life.
In addition to this, there was also in Ephesus a temple to Domitian, the Emperor under whom John was exiled to Patmos and under whom the church of Ephesus was suffering. It was to this church in this socio-politico-religio-context that the words of Christ in Revelation 2 come.