Ephesus: The First Century Church

To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands. I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.

Ephesus was a prominent city—the gateway to Asia Minor. The city was the center for the worship of Diana (Mother of the gods) and in 480 BC the great temple of Diana was erected here as a symbol to the world. Her temple was four times the size of the Parthenon in Athens and was counted among the seven wonders of the ancient world. The temple was destroyed in 263 AD and only the foundation stones remain.

Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write; These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks (Revelation 2:1).

Each letter is introduced with a part of the description of Christ in Revelation 1. Here, Jesus walks among the candlesticks demonstrating His abiding presence.

The name Ephesus means “desirable.” There was much that was commendable about the Christian Church here in Ephesus. It had patience and good works, and had tested the false teachers and had remained faithful to the truth. The Ephesian Christians hated the “deeds of the Nicolations,” a group who sought accommodation with the pagan world and discounted obedience to God’s law.

However, by John’s day, before the end of the century, the first stages of disunity were creeping into the Church, provoking the admonishment, “Nevertheless, I have somewhat against thee, because thou has left thy first love” (Revelation 2:4).

Ancient Ephesus Library CC Esther Lee on Flickr

The apostle Paul wrote a letter to the church of Ephesus as well. We know this letter as the book of Ephesians and we learn much about this church from his epistle. Paul beseeches the Ephesian Christians to live worthy of their calling to serve God (Ephesians 4:1-2). He explains to them afresh what it means to have put on Christ (Ephesians 4:17-24). His warning to “grieve not the holy Spirit” (Ephesians 4:30) is an indication of the intensity of the battle for the soul.

Paul calls the Ephesians back to unity (Ephesians 4:3-6), and admonishes them not to sin but to walk in love and the light of the Gospel (Ephesians 4:26). These same sentiments are expressed in Revelation’s letter to Ephesus: Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent (Revelation 2:5).

Each of the letters to the seven churches ends with an encouragement to overcome and each church is told of a special blessing they will experience in heaven. The church members of Ephesus are given one of the joys that await all of God’s redeemed when they reach heaven: To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God (Revelation 2:7).

Artemis, also known as Diana of Ephesus, with her many breasts to nurture the world

The Ephesian church represents the first century after Christ. The Church had grown into a force to be reckoned with, and Christianity was starting to challenge the religions and ideological institutions of the day.

The apostle Paul remained in Ephesus for more than two years on his third major journey, and his preaching led to a major conflict between the Gospel and the worship of Diana. This preaching turned many away from idol worship, upsetting silversmiths who specialized in the manufacture of idols (Acts 19:26).

Satan can’t stand when souls are taken from his sphere of influence. The rapid spread of Christianity in the first century AD served to escalate the conflict between Christianity and paganism and the inevitable consequence was persecution.

The great pagan religions had been set up by Satan to counterfeit the plan of salvation and to deny access to the world’s Redeemer. It has always been Satan’s strategy to either force or deceive people to accept the counterfeit rather than the true.

In Ephesus, Christianity struck a blow to the worship of Diana, the Mother of the gods. It is noteworthy that the modern-day equivalent, the worship of Mary as the mother of God, finds its root in Ephesus. In 451 AD, at the Council of Ephesus, the Roman Catholic Church bequeathed the title “Mother of God” to Mary, thus reviving the ancient cult in a modern garb. –Walter Veith, Walking Through Revelation

The time covered by this first church may be considered the period from the resurrection of Christ to the close of the first century, or to the death of the last of the apostles. –Uriah Smith, Daniel and the Revelation

Continue to: Smyrna: The Church in Tribulation