Summary: Ephesus is one of the churches that got things half right, yet entirely wrong. The church must have doctrinal purity, but not at the expense of love.
Unto the Church in Ephesus, Write
Last week, we were introduced to the magnificent vision of Christ which John saw, which left him as though he were dead. This was similar to the vision that several of the Old Testament prophets had seen with a similar feeling of being undone. However, in this vision, it was more than a vision as John felt the touch of the hand of Jesus. Several parts of Jesus’ appearance were described and which will find themselves again at various points of the text, including today’s passage.
Today, we will look at the portion of the letter which is addressed to the city of Ephesus. Ephesus was considered the crown jewel of Asia Minor (modern Turkey). Even though it was not the capital of the Roman province of Asia which was Pergamum, it was the greatest city in Asian Minor. It boasted one of the largest populations of any city in the Roman Empire. It had magnificent buildings, and all the amenities of what was then modern Rome. There was running water, baths, indoor toilets for the rich, anyway, a library, a school and library complex, as well as a large theatre which could seat 25,000 people.
The city was a free city which the Romans granted the right of self-governance. This was an esteemed privilege which was granted and defended against anything which would disturb the peace. This is why the clerk of the city (mayor) in Acts 19:35 was quick to calm the disturbance which broke out as a result of Paul’s preaching there. This was a real threat. We can see that this happened to Judaea and Jerusalem who had been self-governed under the Herods. But when the peace was disturbed there, Rome took control and appointed a Roman governor. The same could have happened here.
There were several temples in the city dedicated to various gods. The biggest of these was the Temple of Artemis (Diana) which was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. It was the cause of much of the cities wealth, and many entrusted their valuables to her safekeeping in the Temple. Loans were made on these deposits, making the Temple serve as a bank. The tourists of the Artemis trade was a major boost to the economy, just as the Temple in Jerusalem was to Palestine. When Paul arrived there, his preaching there disturbed the business of selling souvenir shrines as well as those who sold magic charms. This led to the aforementioned disturbance that caused the people of the town to riot and rush to the theatre shouting “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians.”
There was also a large Jewish community there as well. The preaching of John the Baptist had arrived there which led to speculation that the Messiah was at hand. Apollos, a Jew from another great city of the Roman Empire, Alexandria, had come there with his great knowledge of the Scripture and probably the Alexandrian Jewish theology as well. So Paul and his companions had found fertile ground to expound Jesus to. And apparently, the well-educated Jews gave Paul a little more time to make his case before rising up against him. It was one of these Ephesian Jews who led to Paul’s arrest in Jerusalem.