1) To the angel of the church of Ephesus write, These things says He who holds the seven stars in
His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lamp stands.
2) I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil.
And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars;
3) and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have
not become weary.
4) Nevertheless, I have this against you, that you have left your first love.
5) Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will
come to you quickly and remove your lamp stand from its place unless you repent.
6) But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
7) He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes
I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.
There is a lot to know about the church at Ephesus. This will likely take more than one posting…
At the time John is writing this, Ephesus was considered the greatest city in Asia. It had the biggest and best harbor in Asia, and because it sat at the mouth of the Cayster River, it became a center for trade. Not only did the river provide a route of trade into the interior of Asia, but also the broad river valley provided routes of trade from other parts of the Empire. It was at Ephesus that the trade routes form the Euphrates and Mesopotamia reached the Mediterranean via Colosse and Laodicea. It was at Ephesus where the trade from the interior such as Galatia and produce from rich Maeander Valley reached the markets. For Asia, Ephesus was the Highway to Rome. In 50 to 60 years, when persecutions of Christians occurred daily and were wide-spread, it became known as the highway of the martyrs.
Ephesus was what they called a Free City. Because of special actions the city had afforded the Roman government, they received special benefits. They were totally self-governing within their city limits. They were a seat where the Roman Governor held court, and they did not require Roman troops to be garrisoned within the city. Ephesus was not the capital of the province of Asia, but it was where the governor lived most of the time. Much like Jerusalem was the capital of Palestine, yet the Roman Governors spent most of their time in Caesarea by the sea. Ephesus was also the host to the largest athletic games in Asia.
Ephesus was the center of worship for the goddess Artemis or as she is referred to in the scriptures, Diana. Her temple was considered one of the seven wonders of the world at the time. The temple measured 425 feet long and 220 feet wide. It had 120 columns, each 60 feet high, with 36 columns richly gilded and inlaid with gold and precious stones. One might remember in Acts 19 where Paul got in trouble with the gold, silver, and jewelry guilds of Ephesus, because they thought the young church was cutting into their profits. The cult of Diana was a fertility cult and employed over a 1000 male and female prostitutes.
There were also two large and extensive temples dedicated to emperor worship as well as pagan temples of many kinds in Ephesus. Pagan influence and worship were prevalent here. Ephesus was also know as a place where pagan superstition was very widespread. There was in John and Paul’s day a document called the Ephesian Letters. These included charms to do anything from making someone fall in love with you to healing any kind of illness or malady. People came from all over the empire to buy the charms and amulets.
The population of Ephesus was divided into 6 different groups: 1) those who descended from the original people in the area; 2) direct descendants from the original Greek colonist from Athens; 3-5) three groups consisting of Greeks from other areas of Greece; 6) Jews who had been there awhile since they were brought there by the Assyrians after the conquest of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. As a matter of fact, the Jews may have been the first refugees even before the Greeks ever appeared.
Because of the Temple of Artemis, Ephesus was not only a center of religion and a center of trade, it was also a center for crime. No matter how offensive the crime, a criminal could receive asylum in the temple. Thus, many criminal elements would operate out of the temple grounds.
Paul stayed in Ephesus longer than anywhere else during his missionary journeys. Paul’s apprentice, Timothy, was called the first Bishop of Ephesus. Apollos made his headquarters in Ephesus. Paul wrote some of his letters to other churches from Ephesus. (Both letters to the Corinthians) But Ephesus did not only belong to Paul, it was an important church in the life of the writer of Revelation.
John was as big an influence in Ephesus as Paul, maybe even bigger. While Paul visited no other cities in Asia than Ephesus, as mentioned earlier, John was the Apostle to Asia, going to the descendants of the lost tribes of Israel which had been exiled there by the Assyrians several hundred years prior. Ephesus was John’s base of operations in Asia Minor.
When Revelation was being written, Paul had been dead for over 30 years. The Temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed for 23 years. Because the Temple and the city of Jerusalem had been destroyed, there was no longer a Jerusalem church. It would be a little over 200 years before Rome, under the rule of Constantine, would begin to ascend as a center of the Christian faith. Therefore, believe it or not, the church in Ephesus along with the church in Alexandria Egypt became the centers of the Christian faith. When John is writing to Ephesus in this Revelation, he is writing to an authoritative center of the Christian faith.
We will stop here for today’s study. I thought it would be good to understand the importance of Ephesus to its world in its day as well as the importance of Ephesus to the church at the time of John’s writing. Both give us a better understanding of why Ephesus was the first of the seven letters.
Remember to pray Psalm 91 daily in the first person. If you want to be more empowered, pray Psalm 23, Psalm 27, and Psalm 121 in the first person as well.