John, the recorder of Christ’s Revelation, and his first century world. The earliest Christian traditions hold that John was the beloved disciple who wrote the Gospel of John. No other man of the first century was so well-known that he could write an epistle from “John” with no further clarification of his position. This was the view of Justin (ca. 150 C.E.), Origen, Irenaeus, and other leaders in the first two centuries of the church. In the third century, Christian scholars began to question this view. Scholarscontinue to debate the identity of John. However, there is little evidence to support conclusively any other specific ‘John’.
Most scholars accept that authorities banished John to the island of Patmos (Rev. 1:9) during the reign of Domitian (81-96 C.E.). They claim that persecution of Christians so wide-spread during this reign that it would have reached to the churches addressed in Revelation. When Domitian’s campaign of emperor worship spread throughout the Roman Empire, it forced a no-compromise social situation by the dominant society that led to persecution of Christians.
Other scholars prefer an earlier date (54-68 C.E.) during the reign of Nero known for the extensive persecution of Christians within the city of Rome. Those who read predictions of the Jerusalem Temple destruction (70 C.E.) in the prophecies of Revelation favor Nero’s reign.
Christ. John locates Christ walking in the midst of the church of Ephesus holding the seven stars in his hand that were part of his royal introduction (Rev. 1). From his position of God and patron, Christ reminds them of His omniscient knowledge of their past and present and warns them to change their present or they won’t be part of His predicted future.
The angel of the church of Ephesus. The identity of the “angel of the church of Ephesus” (2:1) has several interpretations. The Bible uses the same Greek word “angel/messenger” for both angelic beings and human messengers (Matt. 11:10; Mark 1:2; Luke 7:24, 27; 9:52). Commentators have identified this “angel” variously as a guardian angel, a presiding official, and as the ‘prevailing spirit’ of the church. In the context of this passage, the angel is one subordinate to Christ, in a dominant position over the Ephesian church, yet not chosen to record Christ’s message to the church.
The church of Ephesus. The individuals of the church of Ephesus are the specifically addressed readers of 2:1-7. Christ addresses them as their “omniscient, omnipotent judge” and commends them for their past good works (2:2-3). However, they have “left [their] first love” (2:4). Yet this is same church that Paul had once praised for their love (Eph. 1:15, 16; 6:24). Now they have ignored what Christ described as the greatest commandment – loving God and others (Matt. 22:37-40). So Christ commands the Ephesians to ‘repent and do the first works’ (Rev. 2:5). If the church does not repent and return their former lifestyle, Christ will remove their “lampstand” from among the other churches. He will judge them and extinguish the church. In their favor, the Ephesian church had recognized and hated the false teaching of the Nicolaitans, one of the heretical sects—in this their beliefs were one with Christ (2:6).
All who read or hear the message. There are several schools of thought about who is included in “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Rev. 2:7). Gregg argues one of those schools – Revelation 2:7 includes all readers of the Book of Revelation (from the first century to the present and the future). Christ will reward all the ‘overcomers’ with the privilege of eating from the tree of life that grows in the New Jerusalem (22:2). This is a promise of return to the fellowship with God lost by Adam in the fall (22:14; Gen. 2:9; 3:22, 24; Prov. 11:30). What will they need to overcome? John 16:33 and 1 John 5:4-5 imply that what they need to overcome is the world and the corrupting influence of the dominant society. To do this the believer must persevere in obedience and be victorious in the predicted trials.