The evaluation, exhortation, and promises which Jesus gives to each of the seven churches provide important insights into the conditions of the early church. The seven letters to the churches also challenge us today to examine our own lives to see which attributes of the seven churches, whether good and bad, are evident in our own lives?
See the discussion concerning the identity of the angel at Revelation 1:20.
the church of Ephesus
See Seven Churches of Asia.
At the time of Johns writing, Ephesus was an important seaport city of the Roman province of Asia. Today, the site is stranded several miles from the sea on the edge of a swampy alluvial plain and the former harbor is marked by a reed-bed.1 Ephesus was famous for its Temple of Artemis (Diana in Latin), 425-feet long by 220-feet wide with each of its 120 columns donated by a king, one of the seven wonders of the world (Acts Acts 19:1).2
The presence of the temple of Artemis (Diana) added to the commercial importance of Ephesus, for two reasons. First, the temple was regarded as sacrosanct throughout the Mediterranean world and thus became the primary banking institution of Asia Minor. Second, pilgrims swelled the population and contributed substantially to Ephesian business, especially during the festivals of Artemis (March/April). So prominent was the city that during the early Christian period the population of Ephesus probably exceeded a quarter million.4The important place which Artemis held in the city, both religiously and commercially, can be seen by the riot which ensued in reaction to Pauls ministry (Acts Acts 19:24-41). One of the months of the calendar was named after Artemis and a yearly celebration was held in her honor.5 The ancient temple of the great goddess identified with Artemis stood less than a mile outside the walls of the city.6 Ephesus also participated in the imperial cult where temples were built to Claudius, Hadrian, and Severus.7 Magic was a thriving art at Ephesus. Scripture records the value of books burned by those who practiced magic as fifty thousand pieces of silver (Acts Acts 19:19).8
Ephesus also had a reputation as a seat of learning. Paul is recorded as having taught at one such established school, the School of Tyrannus (Acts Acts 19:9). Ephesus was the scene for Justins Dialogue with Trypho.9
Ephesus was probably listed as the first city of the seven to receive the letter from John due to its proximity to Patmos (see Seven Churches of Asia map) and its key location on major overland routes:
Ephesus lay at the intersection of two ancient major overland routes: the coastal road that ran north through Smyrna and Pergamum to Troas (near ancient Troy); and the western route to Colossae, Hierapolis, Laodicea, and regions of Phrygia and beyond. Ephesus can also be viewed as the starting-point of a type of postal route . . . running north to Pergamum and southwest through Sardis to Laodicea.10Although Paul ministered extensively at Ephesus: Acts 2:9 Jews resident in Asia were present in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost. And we are told of disciples in Ephesus before Pauls arrival, though they are represented as imperfectly instructed [Acts Acts 19:1ff; Acts Acts 18:24ff].11
Paul first visited Ephesus on his second missionary journey (Acts Acts 18:19-28) and on his third missionary journey taught there for a period of almost three years (Acts Acts 20:31). Paul wrote his first letter to the Corinthian church from there.12 It was at Ephesus that Apollos, a disciple of John the Baptist, was instructed by Aquila and Priscilla (Acts Acts 18:24-26). When returning from his third missionary journey to Jerusalem, Paul passed by Ephesus, but stopped in Miletus. From there, he sent for and met with the elders of the church at Ephesus (Acts Acts 20:17). The church at Ephesus had plural eldership well in advance of Johns writing this letter (which adds to the difficulties attending the identification of the angel of the churchsee commentary on Revelation 1:20). Paul asked Timothy to remain in Ephesus in his absence (1Ti. 1Ti. 1:3) and wrote his epistle to the Ephesian church in A.D. 60-62 (after his third missionary journey, A.D. 53-57) which was delivered by Tychicus (Eph. Eph. 6:21).
Tradition holds that the John left Jerusalem prior to its destruction and in about A.D. 66 relocated to Ephesus which was his main place of ministry during the closing years of his life. If Mary were still alive, she would have undoubtedly traveled with him (John John 19:27).
About 5 km (3 mi) from Ephesus was constructed the Basilica of St. John. John is supposed to be buried there. But Meinardus asks which John, since according to Eusebius (HE iii.3) Papias, the famed second-century bishop of Hierapolis, asserts there were also two tombs in Ephesus, and that both are called Johns even to this day. This church erected to the memory of John is not to be confused with the Church of the Virgin Mary in which the Council of Ephesus was held in A.D. 431, when Nestorius was condemned in the Theotokos issue. . . . The stones and pillars [of the Temple of Artemis] were used in the construction of both the great Basilica of St. Sophia at Constantinople and the early Church of St. John at Ephesus. . . . Although Ephesus lies in ruins today, the railway station nearby is called Ayasoluk, a corruption of Gk hagios Theologos, the holy theologian, a well-known reference in Eastern Christendom to the beloved Evangelist.13holds the seven stars in His right hand
The titles which Jesus assumes in each letter are primarily derived from Revelation Rev. 1:12-18+ and are tailored to the message which attends each letter. Here, The Ephesian church has lost its first love (Rev. Rev. 2:4+). Jesus reminds them that it is He Who is the protector of the starsthey are held in His right hand, secure and in a position of favor (John John 10:27-30). He has not left them, but they have left Him (Deu. Deu. 31:6, Deu. 31:8; Jos. Jos. 1:5; Mtt. Mat. 28:20; Heb. Heb. 13:5). See commentary on Revelation 1:16.
walks in the midst
He is the One in the midst of the churches and will always be with them (Mtt. Mat. 28:20), even if they have forsaken a close relationship with Him (Rev. Rev. 2:4+). See commentary on Revelation 1:13.
1 Colin J. Hemer, The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia in Their Local Setting (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1989), 35.
5 In the Ephesian calendar the month of the spring equinox was named after Artemis . . . and during that month the city celebrated a yearly festival in honour of the goddess.Henry Barclay Swete, The Apocalypse of St. John (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1998, 1906), lvii.
8 Acts Acts 19:19 hints that the church in Ephesus was very large indeed, for 50,000 pieces of silver represents 50,000 days wages, which, at a daily wage of $100, was equivalent to $5,000,000. Now, if each person burned an average of $250 worth of books on magic, that value would represent 20,000 people; and even if every second person in the church was involved in magic this would require a church of, very conservatively, 40,000 members. (Do four-member Christian families on average own $1,000 worth of Christian books?) This, too, is simply an estimate of the size of the Ephesian church before three years of Pauls ministry was completed (Acts Acts 20:31church history claims an Ephesian church of 100,000 members in John Chrysostoms day).Monty S. Mills, Revelations: An Exegetical Study of the Revelation to John (Dallas, TX: 3E Ministries, 1987).
12 J. A. Seiss, The Apocalypse: Lectures on the Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1966), 56.