What Are the First Works in the Book of Revelation 2:5?

The book of Revelation contains messages from Jesus Christ to seven churches in Asia Minor. In Revelation 2:5, Jesus rebukes the church in Ephesus and calls them to remember and repent:

“Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent.” (Revelation 2:5 NKJV)

This verse raises the question – what are the “first works” that the Ephesians are called to return to? Understanding the context is key to identifying their first works.

Key Takeaways:

  • The “first works” refers to the Ephesians’ former devotion, love, and service to Christ
  • Jesus rebuked them for losing their first love and zeal for Him
  • He called them to repent and return to their former faithful works
  • The “first works” likely included evangelism, discipleship, acts of love and service
  • All churches must guard against spiritual apathy and return to their first love for Christ
What Are the First Works in the Book of Revelation 2:5?

The Church in Ephesus

Ephesus was a major city in the Roman province of Asia (modern day Turkey) and home to one of the earliest Christian communities founded by the apostle Paul (Acts 19:1-41). The church was established between 52-55 AD during Paul’s second missionary journey. He later returned to minister there for over two years (Acts 20:31).

Paul’s protégé Timothy also served as overseer of the church in Ephesus for some time (1 Timothy 1:3). The apostle John likely spent his last years in Ephesus, and Jesus’ disciple John was buried there.

By the time Jesus addresses them in Revelation, the Ephesian church was well-established. They were commended for their perseverance, discernment of false apostles, and endurance in suffering (Revelation 2:2-3). At the same time, Jesus had something “against” them – they had abandoned their first love and works.

They Lost Their First Love

Jesus confronted the Ephesian church first and foremost for losing their first love:

“Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love.” (Revelation 2:4)

He doesn’t specify what exactly this “first love” was, but based on the context, it refers to their love and devotion to Christ. The Ephesian Christians were drifting from their initial passion and excitement about Jesus. Their faith had become routine tradition rather than a living relationship.

At the start, the Ephesians had fervently embraced the gospel and loved serving Christ. But over time, their zeal had cooled. They maintained sound doctrine and ministry activities but without the same fire and love that marked their beginnings. Their hearts had grown distant and distracted.

Losing their first love also impacted their attitudes toward one another, as love for God is tied to love for fellow believers (1 John 4:20-21). The absence of Christian love and unity was another issue Jesus had against them (Revelation 2:4-6).

They Abandoned Their First Works

As a result of losing their first love, the Ephesians had also forsaken their first works:

“Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works…” (Revelation 2:5)

Their “first works” refer back to what they did when they were thriving spiritually, before apathy set in. These would have included activities and behaviors that stemmed from their initial devotion to Christ.

The Ephesian church was commended for their persistence, faithfulness, and discernment (Revelation 2:2-3). They likely engaged in works of evangelism, discipleship, acts of service and love, generosity, and dedicated prayer. As their love grew cold, so did their zeal for good works. They became content with maintaining the status quo without the same fire and drive.

Jesus’ solution was for them to remember, repent, and return to doing what they did at the start. Rather than being influenced by the surrounding culture, they needed to revive their passion and work for the Kingdom as before.

Examples of Their First Works

Scripture does not provide an exhaustive list of the first works of the Ephesian believers. Based on what we know about the nature of their spiritual decline and the practice of the early church, their first works may have included:


The Ephesians were initially zealous in spreading the gospel throughout their city and province (Acts 19:10). As eyewitnesses of Paul’s ministry, they mimicked his ambition to win converts and plant new churches. Their first works likely included fervent evangelism to their neighbors, friends, and community.


Paul’s team invested substantial time in teaching and equipping the Ephesian believers to maturity in the faith (Acts 19:8-10; 20:20-21, 31). The Ephesians would have engaged in discipling new believers, training leaders, instructing children, and teaching sound doctrine. Their first works included building up others in the knowledge of Christ.

Deeds of Love and Service

The Ephesian church practiced selfless generosity and care for one another, especially the poor and widowed (Acts 20:35). Their first works would have overflowed in all manner of good deeds, charitable giving, and service within the church and to all people.

Unity and Fellowship

The early Ephesian church was marked by sincere love, peace, and unity as fellow believers (Acts 20:36-38). They met often for fellowship, communion, prayer, and teaching. Their first works included efforts to foster harmonious relationships, hospitality, and true biblical community.

Faithfulness in Suffering

The Ephesians endured hostility and persecution without growing weary or losing heart (Revelation 2:3). They remained faithful to Christ despite trials and oppression. Their first works were characterized by steadfastness, courage, and joy amidst suffering for the gospel.

The Need for Repentance

Though still doctrinally sound, the Ephesians were relying on their past reputation while losing their spiritual vitality. Jesus rebuked them to provoke repentance and rekindle their love.

Mere ritual and routine is powerless without passionate devotion to Christ. Activity without love is worthless to God (1 Corinthians 13:1-3). The Ephesians could not rest on their laurels but needed revival at the heart level.

Repentance meant humbly recognizing their apathy, remembering their first love, and taking tangible steps to return to their starting point. The goal was not to duplicate the past but to recreate the mindset that fueled their first works.

Ultimately only God could grant repentance and restore their love (2 Timothy 2:25). But the Ephesians needed to make the choice to turn away from spiritual mediocrity.

The Need for Diligence

The Ephesian church is a sobering lesson that even faithful believers can drift from their first love. Their example warns us to be vigilant over our hearts. The busyness of life and ministry can subtly erode our passion for Christ.

Like the Ephesians, it’s possible to maintain an outward form of godliness while lacking an inward love for God (2 Timothy 3:5). We must intentionally fight against complacency and nurture the fire of our first love for Christ on a daily basis.

As believers, we are called to “remember” the heights from which we have fallen, “repent” of our apathy, and “do the first works” with fresh zeal by God’s grace. May we all heed Christ’s warning to the Ephesians and wholeheartedly return to Him as our first love.


In Revelation 2:5, Jesus rebuked the Ephesian church for abandoning the love and works that characterized their beginnings. Their “first works” referred to earlier expressions of devotion, service, and ministry that flowed out of their first love for Christ.

Though commended for their perseverance, they had drifted into spiritual apathy. Jesus confronted them to remember, repent, and return to their initial zeal and passion in order to revive their church.

This passage is a sobering warning to guard our hearts against the complacency that can subtly cool our affections for Christ, even in the midst of ministry busyness. Like the Ephesians, believers today must maintain diligence to stay near to Jesus as our first love.

His call to the Ephesians is a call to us all – to humbly reflect on how we may have drifted, repent of our apathy, and rekindle the fire of our first works for the Kingdom. By God’s grace, may we fervently pursue Christ above all else until He returns.

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