Repent, and Do the First Works
Robert Wurtz II
Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent, and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and will remove your lampstand out of its place unless you repent. (Revelation 2:5 MKJV)
Our passage finds our Lord giving instruction to the church at Ephesus that had once ran well, but has now left her first love. He is walking in the midst of the lampstands as our Great High Priest observing the condition of the lamp and has noticed that it is not burning as it once had. Having established the lamps to be placed in the world as a light, it is essential that each one burn in its fullness as was designed. The job of the High Priest is to maintain these lamps by adding oil, trimming and replacing the wick, and any other thing figuratively that pertains to the burning. In the case of the church at Ephesus she had left the love she had at first for Christ and had turned aside after other things. We are not told what they are. So let us find ourselves in this passage. Here is a church that was burning for Christ, but now they are burning for something else. Their light is growing dim for God and excelling in brightness for other things. A lamp without a flame is good for nothing but to be a stumbling block in this darkened world. Jesus gives the diagnosis and the remedy. they have to choose. If they choose wisely they will return to their First Love and go on being what God has set them in this darkened world to be; if they chose foolishly He said plainly, I will come to you quickly and will remove your lampstand out of its place.
Remember from where you have fallen
Our Great High Priest begins by telling them to remember from where you have fallen. This means they were to go back to the very beginning of the church. Ephesus was an exceedingly pagan city built around the Temple of Artemis (Artemision). Artemis was a particularly horrid god to look upon, but people traveled from around the world to visit and work near the temple.
It was a wealthy city because of the commerce, insomuch that the temple doubled as one of the first world banks. Fortunes were made from the sale of hand-held figurines shaped in the image of Artemis. Magic arts were practiced as well as a host of other immoralities. The Diaspora brought the first light to this darkness when the Jews were scattered here by the Assyrians and Babylonians. They set up a synagogue as a place to worship and learn about the One True God (Jehovah/ YHWH). Ephesus makes its appearance in the Book of Acts when Paul passed through with Priscilla and Aquila. Paul passed on while Priscilla and Aquila stayed behind. Around this time they met a powerful preacher from Alexandria, Egypt named Apollos who had also come to Ephesus. He was mighty in the scriptures and disputed with the Jews knowing only the baptism of John. Priscilla and Aquilla took him aside and taught him of the things that happened since John the Baptist and then he took things to a new level mightily showing that Jesus was the Christ. So we see then that at this point the scriptures had come to Ephesus through the diaspora of the Jews who set up a synagogue and now Apollos who had preached John the Baptists message of repentance. these are the first seeds of the Gospel and serve as the foundation for the church at Ephesus.
The Baptism of John
The purpose of John the Baptist was to prepare the way of the Lord through the preaching of genuine repentance. When I use the word ‘genuine’ I mean it in the ordinary sense of the word. If I buy a watch or ring that has 18K stamped on the side I want to know that it is ‘genuine’ 18K gold. Christ cannot build the church with shallow experiences. John preached repentance in a way that the people had to prove they had repented with works showing their repentance. Then they were baptized. This is simple enough to understand because Jesus gave us a definition of repentance. He said that Nineveh ‘repented’ at the preaching of Jonah, but a greater than Jonah is here. (Luke 11:32) Nineveh had no Bible or instructions. They were given a hopeless message, “Yet 40 days and Nineveh shall be destroyed.” This vile people that the Bible said did not know their right hand from their left repented without any kind of direction from a minister. The king took off his robe and put on sackloth along with the rest of the people. Even the animals fasted. We need to pay attention to this story in the Book of Jonah because Jesus said that at the judgment they will be called to rise up against those that have the knowledge of Christ and yet refuse to repent. (Luke 11:32) Repentance and works worthy of repentance was Appolos’ message and it was Paul’s message even to the end of the book of Acts. (Acts 26:18-21)
Have you received since you believed?
Paul said to them, Have you received the Holy Spirit since you believed? And they said to him, We did not so much as hear whether the Holy Spirit is. And he said to them, Then to what were you baptized? And they said, To John’s baptism. And Paul said, John truly baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe into Him coming after him, that is, into Jesus Christ. (Acts 19:2-4 MKJV)
These were 12 men that had thoroughly repented of their sins in the John the Baptist sense of the word. They didn’t withhold controversies with God, they laid down the weapons of their rebellion and turned fully to God. This is the key. Many people never make it past this point because they are not willing to fully surrender to God in a way He can believe them. (John 2:23-24) God cannot be fooled. the Holy Spirit is come into the world to convince the world of sin, righteousness and judgment to come. Just as Jesus pointed out the controversy between Him and the rich young ruler, so also the Holy Spirit is moving in the ministry of Jesus Christ in the earth- pointing out controversies between us and Christ. He calls us to repent of all known sin. This means that repentance must be:
1) bold and not timid
2) total and not partial
3) permanent and not temporary.
One reason for baptism in water is to show forth our repentance before the world. If we were bold enough to sin and rebel against God in public then we ought to be bold enough to repent and turn away from our rebellion in public. God is not looking for public sinners and private repent-ers, He is looking for people to come of their sinful life with a high-hand renouncing the powers of darkness and the vileness of their past life. The key word is renounce. Some people need to deeply renounce their sins before God- agreeing with Him that they are sins- calling them by the strongest terms we can. We are not victims called to self-pity, but we are rebels against God called to come before Him in Godly sorrow. We have sinned and we need to acknowledge it. (1 John 1:9 confess is acknowledge) Once we have done this in the genuine sense receiving the Holy Spirit will not be a fuss.
Receiving the Holy Spirit
When these 12 received the Holy Spirit in Acts 19 the whole dynamic at Ephesus changed. They lived in the shadow of the Temple of Artemis, but were now temples of the Holy Spirit. This is more than speaking in tongues, it is a wholesale change of desire and spirit. They went from the power of Satan to the Power of God. They were in Christ and receiving all of the benefits of being in Him. They were dead to Sin and alive unto God. They were crucified with Christ nevertheless they lived. They were no longer in the flesh because they had begun in the Spirit. (They presented themselves unto God as a living sacrifice and the Fire of God fell from Heaven and consumed them while they liveth. They were burning for God in holy love – agape love. The love of God had been poured out into their hearts by the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5). They walked in the Spirit as the true sons of God. They were enabled to bear the fruit of the Spirit. They were on-fire for God. They were reconciling with their enemies and making restitution for past sins whenever possible. No longer would they have ought against their brother or sister and try to bring a sacrifice to God- they made it right. Suddenly everyone lived in the shadow of their compassion. They wanted to see souls saved and lived changed by the power of the Spirit.
Returning to what they remembered
If Ephesus were to come into revival they would have to go back and do the works they did at first. It was some 40 years or so between the birth of the church at Ephesus and the writing of Revelation 2. A lot can happen in 40 years. New generations can be born that do not know the Lord nor the works He had done in the past. (Judges 2:1ff) People can get cold in their love for God. They will have to travel the road of their fathers if they are to ever retain their lampstand.