1. The History of Ephesus
2. The letter to Ephesus
b. I know...
i. '...your toil...'
ii. '...your patient endurance...'
iii. 'you cannot bear evil men...'
c. The problem and the solution
d. The promise
1. The History of Ephesus
Ephesus lay at the mouth of the Cayster river on the west coast of Asia Minor and was an important trading centre in the ancient world. The early Ionian colonists from Athens (which lay across the present day Aegean Sea to the west) chose it as a trade-link city for transporting goods from the west to the Asian interior due to Ephesus’ excellent port. The Greeks called these colonies ‘emporion’ meaning ‘the way in’ (that is, they were a gateway through which the economic resources of an area could be possessed) and Ephesus grew in stature being the way in to the land of Asia Minor.
There were three routes which converged on Ephesus:
a. From the Euphrates via Colossae (so the main Archaeological reports say)
b. From Galatia via Sardis (labelled by the Oxford Bible Atlas as the ‘Royal Road’ which extended through to the Euphrates valley), and,
c. From the Meander Valley to the south and East (Miletus, further south along the coast, was to silt up long before Ephesus did)
Ephesus had been bequeathed to the Roman Empire in 133BC by the king Attalus III upon his death, the last of the line of the Attalean kings who ruled over the area. The city was granted the right of self-government by Rome, a right that was similar to that of Philippi on today’s Greek mainland. By the times of the NT, it has been estimated that the population was somewhere in the region of 250,000 (the tourist books of the site state that the remains cover an area of about 2,000 acres).
Due to extensive deforestation further inland, the port had already begun to silt up by NT times and Ephesus’ trade had begun to slump even though it was still a great commercial centre - the soil erosion had been a combination of man’s quest for timber and charcoal, the result of overgrazing on the highlands and the destructiveness of the Mediterranean goat which ate the regenerating forests before they had a chance to develop and mature.
There had been repeated successful attempts to keep Ephesus’ port open (the last ruler who attempted to do this was Emperor Domitian towards the end of the first century AD) but it was only delaying the inevitable and, today, the ancient city of Ephesus lies in a reedy plain (or a wind-swept field depending on who you read) and the natural harbour that once existed has gone, though traces of it have been discovered as far as seven miles inland.
Although the harbour would still have been used, it would have become increasingly difficult to accommodate the deep-hulled merchant ships which had previously used the port carrying trade items and, on a coin of the third century AD, it is a flat-bottomed barge that is inscribed on one of the sides not the previously mentioned trading ships, showing that, by this time, Ephesus was almost disappearing as a port of importance.
However, at the time of the New Testament, the city was still a great commercial centre despite the threat of it silting up but it was living more upon its reputation and some commentators see it as outside of great economic gain and bypassed by the major movements of trade. Just how important Ephesus was as a trading port is, therefore, difficult to sure of.
But, what can be said is that the city had begun diversifying into the ancient world’s version of the tourist and pilgrim markets as trade slackened off so that it retained its popularity and importance, continuing to be the seat of the proconsul of Asia.
This diversification was the result of the existence of the great temple of Artemis which was considered to be one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.
Just when the first temple was built is difficult to be certain about - some commentators place the date somewhere between the tenth and twelfth centuries BC while others state with equal certainty that it was Croesus who built the first temple to Artemis (the Latin equivalent being ‘Diana’) in the sixth century. Whatever, the temple then in existence was destroyed by fire in 356BC and was rebuilt by Dinocrates. This second temple is given the dimensions 425’ x 220’ x 60’ high by Pliny and is said to have had 127 pillars of Parian marble of which 36 were overlaid with gold and jewels.
Artemis was a nature goddess associated with fertility rites and rituals including sexual acts (as a lot of the ancient gods were, this was nothing unusual) but, at the time of the NT, Ephesus had turned around to some degree from being a fundamentally commercial trade port to one that relied upon the tourism of the Artemis temple. It was into this situation that the apostle Paul walked and, by his actions, began to put the makers of idols out of business by the preaching of the Gospel - what Paul was actually doing would have been of great concern for the prosperity of the city had the town wholly gone over to serve Christ (hence Acts 19:25) but it would appear that Demetrius was rather over-playing his hand judging by the response that the ‘clerk’ gave (Acts 19:35).
The temple was also associated with a meteorite stone which had fallen from the sky (Acts 19:35) though the Greek text at this point is somewhat uncertain. The AV translates it as ‘the image which fell down from Jupiter’ but that is adding a bit too much to the text.
This temple survived until the city was sacked by the Goths in 263AD.
[NB - as I type this, my wife and I are planning to visit Ephesus later on this year (in about ten months time). Though the scholars’ reports concerning Ephesus link the Temple of Artemis with the amphitheatre where the rioting took place, the tourist guide books locate the Temple complex some way away from this area, and the place where Paul caused the commotion would therefore have been the port area of the city.
If we are to think of Paul as preaching the Gospel in this area where the riot took place (even though the possibilities are by no means certain, the text only comments that this is where the disturbance took place) then we need to see him as bringing the Gospel to those who were disembarking from transport before they had a chance to ever reach the Temple of Artemis and so worship there]
It is generally held that around 54AD Paul the apostle began the church here (Acts 19:1-20:1). He stayed with them around 2¼ years on his third missionary journey (see Acts 19:8-10) because, he said, ‘...a wide door for effective work has opened to me and there are many adversaries’ (I Cor 16:8-9). It was a church that had actually begun with Priscilla and Aquila - and the teacher Apollos - a little while before Paul arrived so they were not without sound teaching and leading (Acts 18:24-28, Rom 16:3-4).
When Paul came, he was fiercely attacked by the Artemis tourist industry and is probably correctly quoted as summarising the problems as ‘fighting with beasts at Ephesus’ (I Cor 15:32). Paul was under no illusion as to the dangers he faced here as the message he proclaimed seriously threatened the prosperity of the city - neither was he under any illusions as to the identity of his adversaries!!
Finally, in Acts 20:17-38, knowing that he would not see the elders of the city again when bound for Jerusalem, he encouraged them and warned them to take heed to the words he delivered to them during that evening meeting.
Ephesus was the most important of all the seven cities mentioned in the letters of Revelation chapters 2 and 3. Even though Pergamum was the capital city of the Asian province, Ephesus was the greatest city and seat of the proconsul of Asia.
2. The Letter of Ephesus
The first thing to notice about the letter recorded for us in Rev 2:1-7 is that, of all the history we now know concerning the city, there is very little - if anything - that directly relates to this letter. We will go on to see that the other letters often (though not always) rely upon a good knowledge of the city’s situation and history but, in Ephesus’ case, this letter could have been sent to just about any church in the world and still not lost its context!
Ephesus appears to have been mentioned first before all the others not because it was the most important church or the most important city but because, travelling from the island of Patmos where the Book was written with the intention of visiting all seven locations, Ephesus would have been the landing point and first city visited. The order which then follows is the traveller’s journey in a logical order. Today, we would, perhaps, have put them in alphabetical order to show that no fellowship was regarded as greater than any other - in that age, though, the Lord chose to list them in the order that a travelling evangelist or teacher would visit them.
The introductory verse repeats two descriptions of Jesus drawn from the preceding chapter - the seven lampstands (1:12-13, 20) and the possession of the seven stars (1:16, 20) - though the description at the beginning of this letter adds the detail that the He is ‘walking among’ the lampstands.
This reference back to the previous passage in chapter 1 is fairly indicative of the prologue of all the seven letters though some subsequent letters have notable additions.
John has explained the symbolism of the seven lampstands and seven stars in Rev 1:20 where Jesus speaks of them being a ‘mystery’ (in the NT, the use of the word ‘mystery’ is normally indicative of something that once was hidden but which now is made known - this is the meaning here, also).
The stars, then, are the seven angels of the churches referred to in the seven letters - I have discussed why it is best to accept the angels as real angelic beings in the Introduction under the heading ‘Common Characteristics of all Seven Letters’ and the reader should refer to these notes for an explanation. The lampstands represent the actual churches that John is told to record the letters to (Cp Rev 1:11 with 1:20).
Jesus here introduces Himself to the Ephesian church as the One who walks in the midst of His Church - though individual congregations may be scattered across the world, Jesus is at the centre of them all and walks among them. This is indicative of Ps 110:2 where we read that God says to the Messiah
‘Rule in the midst of your foes’
The Lord has created a Kingdom within the kingdoms of the world and He walks among them, ruling through His body on earth in the midst of His adversaries. The imagery here is more than that recorded from the lips of Jesus in Mtw 18:20 where He says that He is in the midst of any meeting of two or more of His followers - He is saying that He is in the midst of His entire Church, walking like a king surveying his kingdom and exercising oversight and control over all that is within his jurisdiction (see, for instance, Dan 4:29-30 where Nebuchadnezzar surveyed Babylon while walking on the rooftop of his palace, a city which he had built to reflect his magnificence).
Jesus is also pictured as holding the stars in His right hand, this part of the anatomy being a symbol of strength and protection. When God is said to deliver His people by His right hand, it is always indicative of the best of His strength and of His unswerving commitment to use the best at His disposal to bring about His purpose and will for His people (see my notes on Ascension part 3a here for information about God’s right hand).
Here, the idea is that the angels of the churches are under His sovereign control and not outside His jurisdiction.
These two phrases - walking in the midst of the lampstands while holding the stars in His right hand - both demonstrate to the Ephesians that Jesus is Sovereign and in control of His Church. It is the One to whom all authority belongs that is now speaking to them, the One who is Lord over them all but also in their midst and not someone far off who does not consider themselves to be a part of their situation.
It is as Sovereign, therefore, that Jesus is addressing His church at Ephesus.
b. I know...
Verses 2-3, 6
The letter opens with the phrase ‘I know your works’ as it does in four of the other letters (Thyatira - 2:19, Sardis - 3:1, Philadelphia - 3:8 and Laodicea - 3:15). In the other two, he begins ‘I know’ as here in the letter to Ephesus (Smyrna - 2:9 and Pergamum - 2:13).
The Greek word used here for ‘work’ (Strongs Gk number 2041) is one that is a general one used throughout the NT for all types of work, both positive and negative. In Rev 3:15, the context favours a negative interpretation of the word while here, in 2:2, the idea appears primarily positive. Therefore, there’s not much that can be inferred from the use of this verse and is more like a summary of the specific deeds that are mentioned following.
There are three things that the Lord says are worthy of praise in Ephesus if we group some of the phrases and verses together that seem to speak of the same action:
i. ‘...your toil...you have not grown weary...'
There is a parallel here in verses 2 and 3 in the phrases
‘I know...your toil’
‘you have not grown weary’
where the latter is the verb from the root Gk word that the noun of the previous phrase comes from.
This ‘toil’ (Strongs Gk number 2041) means not just work but that which resulted in weariness - that is, laborious toil. Kittels notes that the word ‘means...the “exertion” (eg of manual work) that brings on physical tiredness. [It] then, means “to tire”, “to wear oneself out”...’ and Vines states that the word ‘primarily denotes “a striking, beating”...’
The idea behind this word, therefore, is something that wears one out, that is a great exertion to and tax upon bodily resources so that weariness is the expected end result. The intention here is to say that, even though the Ephesians had toiled in work that was naturally wearying, they had, rather, not given in and continued to work hard at what was before them - they were unflagging in the zeal they had for the things of God demonstrated in their works.
The Ephesians, therefore, were probably an extremely active fellowship as they go, doing many things for the sake of Jesus and the Gospel and in which they had not fallen behind other churches - indeed, they were probably a good example to those around them as to how fervently a body of believers could be even though they had been beset by false apostles (point iii).
The church showed themselves to be active workers alongside Christ and weren’t like those who would sit back and ‘let it happen’ (if it would) - these were people who wanted to ‘make it happen’!
It is, perhaps, more serious for them that Jesus points His finger at their works and tells them that there is something lacking in them (v. 4-5 - see section c below).
ii. ‘...your patient endurance...you are enduring and bearing up for My name’s sake...’
Their exhaustive toil was a work they were achieving actively. Patient endurance outlined here speaks of an attitude that had to accompany it to make them able to achieve their objectives.
When the apostle Paul had first come here (Acts 19:1-20:1) there had been a great persecution of the Gospel because it hit at the root of the city’s prosperity seeing as it spoke out against the worship of Artemis through the idols which were being made there. It is probably not going too far to say that this opposition continued throughout the fellowship’s existence in the city.
Yet, throughout all this persecution, they had patiently endured, stood firm in their faith and continued to perform the works for which they had been commended previously.
These twin works of patience and toil must go hand in hand within any fellowship that believers might not lose heart but continue doing whatever the Lord would have them do. It is steadfastness and endurance which strengthens the hands of workers to continue regardless of the severity of what comes against them.
And, in a place like Ephesus, it was vitally important that both characteristics were present.
iii. ‘...you cannot bear evil men but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false...you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate'
I have above stated that, in the midst of external persecution, the fellowship had stood strong and endured throughout their tribulations to continue the works they had begun. But here we read of internal problems that sought to tear them apart from within and the mention of these ‘brothers’ are a fitting reminder of Paul’s final words to the elders of Ephesus when he last saw them in Acts 20:29-30:
‘I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock and from among your own selves will arise men speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them’
The main problems, therefore, lay not from attacks by those outside the church but by those who considered themselves to be within it. But the Ephesians had stood firm against them, tested them and rejected the teaching and testimony that they had borne.
The Nicolaitans are singled out for mention here but little is known about either their origin or their beliefs. There are writers in the second and third centuries AD who comment on who this sect were but, as this is over a century after the events, it seems hardly right to depend upon their testimony. They do however point us back to the appointment of the seven men who were to wait upon the believers’ widows, one of these being a ‘Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch’ (Acts 6:5).
We are probably doing this believer a great disfavour by even associating him with this group so the least said the better!
The Nicolaitans are mentioned in the letter to the church at Pergamum (Rev 2:14-15) where they seem to be paralleled by the believers who
‘...hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice immorality. So you also have some who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans’
Therefore, this sect are more likely to be immoral Greeks than legalistic Jews and would also be closely paralleled by ‘the woman Jezebel’ who was present at Thyatira (Rev 2:20). I have detailed what this woman’s teaching was, its significance and why it was so attractive to believers of the first century in the notes on the Thyatiran web page here.
Jesus commends the Ephesians because they ‘hate the works of the Nicolaitans’ which He also hates - notice that Jesus says that He hates the works of this sect and not the people themselves! It may be that these men and women were the false apostles of 2:2 but, if not, it would appear that Ephesus had been visited by other people who had the label ‘brother’ who had tried to steer the church away from the true Gospel.
This shouldn’t be surprising even if, from a natural point of view, we realise that Ephesus was a great and thriving metropolis that was visited by many people not just for the temple of Artemis but for the route the city provided from west to east and vice-versa. Of all the seven cities here mentioned in the letters, Ephesus would have been the one most likely to have been plagued by a wide cross-section of visitors who would have had some very strange views and teachings (as any multi-cultural society would even today).
Like the Ephesians, each believing church must be careful to separate and distance itself from false brethren - the warning that Paul gave to the church in Acts 20:29-30 is equally applicable to every fellowship in every age. The Church is not called to separate itself from the world physically but spiritually (I Cor 5:9-13) but it needs to test all who hold the name of brother but who deny Him by their teaching or their lifestyle.
This word is not an easy one in today’s age where we are actively encouraged to tolerate people with differing views and beliefs - but the early Church were committed to removing from its midst anyone who held the name of brother but who was not plainly ‘in Christ’.
Finally, there is a play upon words here that is not altogether apparent from the English translation.
The same Gk word is used in both verses 2 and 3 in the phrases
‘you cannot bear evil men’
‘you are...bearing up for My name’s sake’
The contrast in this letter is between what is rightfully borne with (Christ) and that which cannot be tolerated (those who misrepresent Christ).
c. The problem and the solution
The letter records Jesus’ words as ‘..you have abandoned the love you had at first’ (Rev 1:4) which poses the question as to what type of love we’re talking about here.
Hughes (my italics) emphatically pronounces the interpretation as
‘...the original spontaneous love of total commitment to the Lord; it is the logical response to His total love for us...’
But Hughes has already provided an interpretation to the words here which does not appear warranted. After all, how could their commitment really be under question when Jesus has already spoken of their ‘exhausting toil’ (see above) and said that they ‘have not grown weary’?
Mounce (my italics) states that
‘The expression includes both love of God and love of mankind at large, but seems to refer mainly to their love for one another...’
This, again, seems unlikely. The Greek word employed here for ‘love’ is transliterated ‘agape’ (Strongs Gk number 26), a noun which can summarise all different types of love even though it is used specifically for the New Testament descriptions of God’s love. If brotherly love had been the main intention of Jesus’ words here, I fail to see why ‘philia’ (Strongs Gk number 5373) wasn’t rather employed - this word means, more specifically, ‘love for the brethren’ or ‘brotherly love’.
Morris, however, notes the problem of interpretation and hits on the best solution when he notes that
‘It is not clear whether this is love for Christ...or for one another...or for mankind at large. It may be a general attitude that is meant which included all three...’
We should take the word, therefore to mean ‘love’ without reading anything in to an interpretation and application of that word. The problem with the Ephesian church, therefore, was not that they hadn’t continued to persevere patiently with arduous toil and had tested the false brethren and rejected their teaching, but that they had lost the love that they had had at the very first - either at the outset of their christian experience when they first became followers of Christ or, as is probably more likely seeing as it’s addressed to the church as a whole, the love they had had when the church was first established through Priscilla, Aquila, Apollos and Paul.
Surprisingly, Jesus does not call them to recapture the love they first had (which, perhaps, we would have expected) but commands them to ‘do the works you did at first’. In this context, perhaps we are reading too much into the preceding verses where He mentions their ‘works’ and their ‘toil’ by taking these to be positive attributes of the church.
Using the same Greek word as the one employed in 2:2 and translated the same, Jesus does call the church back to do their first works which would undermine any pride that they would have been feeling about their commendation from the Lord.
The reason why Jesus, therefore, initially mentions works and toil is to bring to their attention the characteristics of the fellowship that He must later address and show to be unacceptable in His sight. Even though I have commented in the previous section that their toil was worthy of praise in God’s eyes, this is exactly how it would have sounded to the Ephesians - they would have initially thought that Jesus was commending their works before hearing that, in fact, their works were not sufficient because they had abandoned the love they’d had at the outset.
Their works had slipped to an automatic response to their faith but which was devoid of love. They may have known what was right to be done - and done it with some style and commitment - but the underlying reason of love had not inspired it and was not contained in it.
I know I’m reading quite a bit into this but this is a danger of all individual believers and long-standing churches who, inspired by love (Gal 5:6), began serving Jesus only to find down the line that their service had become more legalistically based on what they ‘had always done’ rather than upon that first inspiration that had inspired them. Therefore, churches that continue their work regardless of the things around them, who persevere enduringly in the same way for many years, may be in a similar situation to the Ephesus church here in the first century.
Though they began working for God in love, they now only work for God, having learnt a way to serve Him that is maintained rather allowing love to be a part of everything they do (whether that love is of God, of the brethren or of mankind in general).
The solution to their problem is simple - repent. That is, turn back from what they are presently doing to their former conduct before the Lord. Even though they have patiently endured through many exhausting works, they must forsake them and return to the way they had worked for God at the beginning.
To a church who had thought of itself as fearlessly running with the torch in the society of its time, who had stood boldly against darkness and not given in when false teaching had raised its head, this is frightening and the fellowship would have been well capable of rejecting the word from Jesus as ‘false’!!
Jesus statement ‘I will come to you’ (2:5) is, rather, ‘I am coming to you’ denoting that He is already on His way. It’s something similar to having bought a train ticket but awaiting the next connection to get to the required destination.
He is seen, then, as ready to come - but did the Ephesian church repent as commanded or did Jesus actually remove their lampstand?
‘From the prologue to Ignatius’ Epistle to the Ephesians (also i.1) we learn that the church heeded the warning’
so we need to think about the evidence here presented. Ignatius (the second bishop of Antioch after Peter) was martyred in Rome at the close of the first century AD, according to Eusebius (3.34-36), during the Emperor Trajan’s reign (98-117AD).
He was brought to Rome through Asia Minor and it was while he was at Smyrna that Bishop Onesimus came to him with representatives of the Ephesian church. Ignatius composed the letter for the group’s return to Ephesus, to be read out in the fellowship.
Of course, Ignatius had no first hand experience of circumstances in the Ephesian fellowship and would have had to have relied on the reports from the leadership who had come to him.
His statements, therefore, cannot be taken as accurate representations of the situation in Ephesus but only as indications of what the leadership had told him.
His letter spends much time, initially, elevating Bishop Onesimus onto a pedestal and, then, in commending the fellowship, encouraging them to obey their leader in everything (being a ‘bishop’ himself, it’s hardly any wonder that this sort of exhortation would have been recorded from his hand!).
The letter is certainly a testimony to the Ephesian church’s continued existence but it never directly refers to John’s letter in Revelation even though Paul’s letters are mentioned. His statement concerning ‘your love for our Saviour Jesus Christ’ may mean virtually nothing when compared with the Lord’s statement in Rev 2:4-5 but this appears to be what Mounce refers to in his citing of the passage.
It needs to be determined, however, whether the existence of the Ephesian church proves that they had ‘repented’ and rediscovered their ‘first love’. We need to ask ourselves whether ‘removing the lampstand’ constitutes a physical removal of a fellowship or a spiritual one - that is, can a church continue its existence in an area even when the presence and glory of the Lord has departed?
It’s very difficult from Scripture to say whether this is possible in the NT (all the fellowships seem to have been aglow for God) but it certainly did take place in OT Israel (see, for instance, I Sam 4:22) when God removed His presence from His people as a result of their sin (Is 59:1-2). The nation retained the name of God and continued practising the ceremonies, but lost the living presence that brought life (Amos 5:21-24).
As Jesus says to another fellowship in Revelation ‘...you have the name of being alive, and you are dead’ (3:1 - to Sardis). It appears, therefore, that a church’s physical presence is not indicative of the presence of God and, as such, Ignatius’ letter tells us nothing.
All we can do is to see the clever structured wording of the letter here. Jesus uses the Ephesians estimate of their own achievements (2:2-3) before going on to show them that, despite it all, they are deficient (2:4-5). The one thing that they are doing that Jesus is pleased with however, is that they have rejected false teaching and false deeds and have held fast to what is true (2:6).
This definitely throws into a different light the contents of my previous section where I noted the ‘three’ things that were worthy of praise. That section demonstrates how the Ephesians would have thought of their works when they were mentioned by the Lord to them - it is only when this rebuke is fully understood that the first two there described are seen to be faulty and lacking.
d. The promise
Jesus promises those Ephesians who overcome that they will be granted the right to eat from the tree of life.
We need, first, to determine what Jesus means by this tree that is mentioned here as being ‘in the paradise of God’ (that is, in God’s presence - see my page here under part 5). Firstly, the ‘tree of life’ is mentioned in the OT and its presence at the beginning of the world (Gen 2:9, 3:22, 3:24) as well as the end (Rev 22:2, 14, 19) should be sufficient for us to conclude that it is one and the same tree.
Chilton notes concerning this tree of life that
‘Although the full consummation of this promise is brought in at the end of history, it is a present and increasing possession of the people of God, as they obey their Lord and take dominion over the earth. For the Tree of Life is Jesus Christ Himself, and to partake of the Tree is to possess the blessings and benefits of salvation’
but he has taken the interpretation of the tree to be other than the Old Testament says it to be.
Even at the end of the Book of Revelation (22:2) we are only told about the leaves of the tree being for the healing of the nations and that those who have ‘washed their robes’ have the right to eat of it (22:14, 19) and its usage here does not nullify the original symbolism that lies behind its mention in Genesis chapters 2 and 3.
To be a partaker in the tree of life in the Garden of Eden was to be a partaker of eternal life (Gen 3:22) and not indicative of the ‘benefits of salvation’. However, in the context of the Book of Revelation, the tree of life appears to be the final seal upon the promise of eternal life which is promised to every believer.
Mounce writes that
‘In apocalyptic thought the tree of life exists as a reward for the righteous following judgment’
but the point of Revelation’s apocalyptic imagery is to show that the tree of life exists as a reward for the righteous following repentance and that the removal of the Divine presence from the fellowship is what follows judgment (2:5 - the removal of the lampstand).
Though all christians should live in the knowledge that they have eternal life, it is not until they eat from the tree of life that that promise is sealed and the saying holds true, therefore, that a believer ‘was saved, is being saved and will be saved’ and that perseverance to the end is mandatory not optional.
Mounce cites Lilje and quotes him as writing that
‘all the promises about “victory” point beyond this world to another...’
and this indeed appears to be true. Therefore, for instance, Smyrna are told that they will not be hurt by the second death (2:11 - that is, separation from God, spiritual - not physical - death) and Sardis that they will not be blotted out of the book of life (2:5 - maybe a present event but it has eternal consequences).
All the promises to those who overcome are, therefore, statements that they will see as being their possession by the time the end of the Book arrives.
Concluding, then, if the Ephesians regained their first love they would be partakers of eternal life but their works in themselves, even though they were done in the name of the Lord, were not sufficient to save them.