Monday, July 12, 2021

15: The Revelation: The Letter to the Believers at Ephesus (Part 1) (Revelation2:1–7)


Francis Schaeffer once observed that “the meaning of the word Christian has been reduced to practically nothing.… Because the word Christian as a symbol has been made to mean so little, it has come to mean everything and nothing.” The term Christian in contemporary usage can mean anyone who claims any kind of allegiance to Jesus Christ.

Though our culture may confuse the definition of a Christian, the Bible is clear. Christians are those who are united to God through Jesus Christ (2 Thessalonians 2:13). They have exercised saving faith in Jesus (John 3:15–18; Acts 4:12; 1 John 5:1) and repented of their sins (Romans 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9). God has forgiven their sins (Acts 10:43), made them His children (Romans 8:16–17), and transformed them into new creatures (2 Corinthians 5:17) indwelt by the Holy Spirit (John 14:17).

While love for the Lord Jesus Christ will always be present in true Christians, it can fluctuate in its intensity. Christians will not always love Christ with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength. There is no better biblical illustration of the seriousness of allowing love for Christ to weaken than this letter to the Ephesian church.

The seven churches addressed in chapters 2 and 3 were actual existing churches when John wrote. They also represent the types of churches that have existed throughout the church’s history. For example, five of the seven churches were confronted for tolerating sin in their midst, a problem still seen today.

The Ephesian church was not only first on the postal route. It was also the most prominent of the seven churches. It was the church that founded the other six (Acts 19:10) and the recipient of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. The contents of this first letter form the pattern for the other six. It contains seven distinct features: the correspondent, the church, the city, the commendation, the concern, the command, and the counsel.


"The One who holds the seven stars in His right hand, the One who walks among the seven golden lampstands..." (2:1b)

Though the writer is not named, the description makes it obvious who He is. He is the One depicted as the glorious Lord of the church in 1:9–20, the exalted Jesus Christ. These two phrases are taken from the description of Christ in John’s vision (1:13, 16). In fact, Christ identifies Himself to each of the first five churches by using phrases from that vision. This reinforces the truth of His authorship through John.

The comment that Christ “holds the seven stars in His right hand” indicates that these churches are His servants. The “stars” refer to the leaders of each local congregation (1:20). Christ further describes Himself as “the One who walks among the seven golden lampstands.” As its sovereign ruler, He has the authority to examine and address the church.


"...the church in Ephesus." (2:1a)

Perhaps no church in history had as rich a heritage as the one at Ephesus. Priscilla and Aquila first introduced the gospel to that city (Acts 18:18–19). Soon they were joined by the powerful preacher Apollos (Acts 18:24–26). Together, the three laid the groundwork for Paul’s ministry in Ephesus.

The apostle Paul first stopped briefly in Ephesus near the end of his second missionary journey (Acts 18:19–21), but his real ministry there took place on his third missionary journey. Arriving in Ephesus, he first encountered some followers of John the Baptist (Acts 19:1–7). After preaching to them, he baptized them in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 19:5). That began Paul’s work of building the church at Ephesus for the next three years (Acts 20:31).

Later, on his way to Jerusalem near the end of his third missionary journey, Paul taught the elders of the Ephesian church the essential principles of church leadership (Acts 20:17–38), a message he later expanded in his pastoral epistles. Paul’s protégé Timothy served as pastor of the church at Ephesus (1 Timothy 1:3). Onesiphorus (2 Timothy 1:16, 18) and Tychicus (2 Timothy 4:12), two more of Paul’s fellow laborers, also served at Ephesus. Finally, according to the testimony of the early church, the apostle John spent the last decades of his life at Ephesus, from which he likely wrote his three epistles in which he calls himself “the elder” (cf. 2 John 1; 3 John 1). He was likely leading the Ephesian church when he was arrested and exiled to Patmos.

Paul’s ministry profoundly affected not only the city of Ephesus, but also the entire province of Asia (Acts 19:10). During this time, the rest of the seven churches were founded. Shocked at realizing the futility of trusting in pagan practices, “many also of those who had believed kept coming, confessing and disclosing their practices. And many of those who practiced magic brought their books together and began burning them in the sight of everyone; and they counted up the price of them and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver” (verses 18–19). That staggering sum, equivalent to 50,000 days of workers’ wages, reveals the magnitude of Ephesus’s involvement in the magic arts.

The striking conversions of large numbers of Ephesians threatened the economy of the city’s craftsmen. Ephesus was the center of the worship of the goddess Artemis, whose ornate temple was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. At the instigation of a silversmith named Demetrius, the craftsmen began a riot that threw Ephesus into chaos (Acts 19:23–41).

Four decades later the apostle Paul was gone, as were many of the first generation of believers converted under his ministry. A new situation called for another inspired letter to the Ephesians, this one penned by the apostle John.


"...Ephesus..." (2:1a)

Although not the province’s capital, Ephesus was the most important city in Asia Minor, and the Roman governor resided there. Its population in New Testament times has been estimated at 250,000 to 500,000 people. The city’s theater, visible today, held an estimated 25,000 people. Ephesus was a self-governing city with no Roman troops stationed there. The city hosted athletic events rivaling the Olympic games.

Ephesus was the primary harbor in the province of Asia. The city was located on the Cayster River, about three miles from where it flowed into the sea. Those disembarking at the harbor traveled along a magnificent, wide, column-lined road called the Arcadian Way that led to the city’s center. In John’s day, silt deposited by the Cayster River was slowly filling up the harbor, forcing the city to fight to keep a channel open. That battle would ultimately be lost, with today’s ruins some six miles inland from the sea.

Ephesus was also strategically located at the junction of four of the most important Roman roads in Asia Minor. That, along with its harbor, prompted the geographer Strabo (a contemporary of Christ) to describe Ephesus as the market of Asia.

But Ephesus was most famous as the center of the worship of the goddess Artemis, also called Diana (Acts 19:27, 35). The temple of Artemis was Ephesus’s most prominent landmark, and it served as one of the most important banks in the Mediterranean world. The temple also provided sanctuary for criminals. Further, the sale of items used in the worship of Artemis provided an important source of income for the city (Acts 19:24). Every spring a month-long festival was held in honor of the goddess, complete with athletic, dramatic, and musical events. Meanwhile, the grounds surrounding the temple were a cacophony of priests, prostitutes, bankers, criminals, musicians, dancers, and frenzied, hysterical worshipers. The philosopher Heraclitus was called the weeping philosopher because no one, he declared, could live in Ephesus and not weep over its immorality. Huddled in the midst of such pagan idolatry that characterized Ephesus was a faithful group of Christians. It was to them that Christ addressed this first of the seven letters.