Summary: Introduction to the series, then Ephesus--in spite of their orthodoxy, the spiritual vitality of the church at Ephesus was gone.
Christ Speaks to His Churchs--Ephesus
Pastor Bob Leroe, Cliftondale Congregational Church, Saugus, Massachusetts
We all dread performance appraisals; they can often make or break a career. In the Book of Revelation we read our Lord’s spiritual evaluation report to His churches. While specific local churches are singled out, the counsel and critique apply to us today.
These 7 letters tell us what Christ thinks of His church; they contain encouragement and warnings we can’t afford to ignore. The 7 letters reveal Christ-the word "revelation" means "unveiling". John walked with Jesus, but now his knowledge of our Savior is expanded as Jesus speaks to him in a vision.
Scholars estimate that this book was written around 64 AD. It was written in exile. John the Apostle was banished to the island of Patmos, a penal colony. He was cut off from the rest of the world-but he was not cut off from Christ. Paul writes to Timothy about being in prison, noting, "but God’s word is not chained" (II Tim 2:9).
Letter writing was common and very important in the ancient world. Correspondence was made possible by the system of roads and safe passage made possible by the Roman Legion. The navy drove away pirates making sea travel safe. Travel was a new freedom; people could travel with confidence. It was easier to send letters in John’s day than ever before. 21 of the 27 books of the New Testament are letters addressed to individuals and communities. There was (surprisingly) no governmental postal system, yet each trading company had a staff of letter-carriers which could be contracted to carry personal correspondence. God’s word came to a world prepared to transmit it. Epistles became the life-blood of the church.
John’s letter did not travel far; the island of Patmos is near the province of Asia Minor, or modern-day Turkey. The 7 churches form an irregular circle and are given in the order in which a messenger might visit them. Today you can see the ruins of these cities and the remains of the churches.
These letters were not private correspondence. It is likely that all 7 received all 7 letters. There were other churches as well in the area, and they probably also received copies of these letters (and the rest of Rev). Notice that each one contains the directive: "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches." The plural is significant-these are letters for all believers.
I’ve often wondered about the connection between these letters and the rest of Revelation. This prophetic book would appear to be complete without the letters, and vice-versa. They are included as cover-letters giving God’s appraisal in light of coming apocalyptic events. The point is this: Get your affairs in order in light of what is soon to come. The coming Christ critiques His churches!
Christ’s first message is to the church in Ephesus. This city, whose name means "desirable", was the gateway to Southwest Asia, and the most prominent city in the Roman province of Asia Minor. Pergamum was the official capital, but Ephesus was by far the most important and prosperous city.
Ephesus was called "the landing place". Its harbor made it a strategic center for the spread of the Gospel. However, in later times when Christians were brought through Ephesus to face death in the Roman arena, the city was called the "road to martyrdom."
Ephesus was granted by Rome the right of self-government and even its own currency. It was a prosperous metropolis with a thriving market, theater, and a stadium that seated 25,000. The main attraction of the city was one of the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World, the Temple of Diana. It was 4 times the size of the Parthenon (Athens), and was surrounded by 127 pillars of marble overlaid with gold and jewels. Diana was a fertility/ nature goddess and the center of an extensive religious cult.
Ephesus was a meeting place for many religions. You might wonder why Rome tolerated the worship of Diana-because it did not interfere with the (additional) worship of Caesar. The early Christian church was persecuted for their exclusive devotion to Christ. There was no other Lord. Believers were singled out for refusing to worship Caesar. The exclusive claim of Christ conflicted with the Roman edict to venerate the emperor.
The church in Ephesus was established by Paul during his 2nd missionary journey (Acts 18). On his 3rd missionary journey Paul remained in Ephesus for about 3 years, and the Gospel spread throughout the region. John’s letter to this same church is written some 30-40 years later.
The preaching of Christianity hurt the tourist trade in Ephesus. The city’s silversmiths were seeing a diminishing demand for their silver souvenir replicas of Diana’s image and her temple. These idol-makers stirred a riot against Paul (recorded in Acts 19).