“He that hath an ear, let him hear / respond to what the Spirit saith unto the churches.” Revelation 2:1-7
If we’re going to understand the prophetic value of these letters we need to know their historical reality.
“Unto the angel / Messenger / Pastor 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.”
This describes the actions of a regional religious leader who makes a regular circuit to support the offshoot churches, and informs us that The First Church of Asia had been successful in church planting.
Like New York, Ephesus was an international seaport city exchanging goods, services and ideas between Nations. According to some sources, Ephesus was at the time second only to Rome as a cosmopolitan center of culture and commerce. At the least it ranked third after Alexandria. Its population in Paul’s day is estimated to be 250,000 – 500,000 people, one of the largest in the Roman Empire, lesser only to Rome at 1 million permanent residents (not counting visitors) and Alexandria at ~500,000. The theater in which Demetrius raised a riot against Paul for his effective preaching against the vows / worship (ergo source of income) of Diana held 56,000 people, larger than a typical college football stadium.
Since prehistoric times the site of Ephesus was a place of pilgrimage for the worship of the Eastern mother goddess, reflected in the sexual rather than philosophical orientation of its religion, called in the Greek tongue Athena or Diana, twin sister of Apollo. This tourism and standard trading benefited greatly by a water route into the hinterland up the Meander River.
Diana’s status in Asia Minor can be calculated by the wealth poured into her temple, which was the largest Greek temple built in its day. It took 100 years to build, and was ranked among the Seven Wonders of the World. “Apart from Olympus, the Sun never looked on anything so grand,” the writer Antipater of Sid whom the on wrote of the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus. Steps soared to a 400-foot-long terrace flanking 127 60-foot marble columns and a statue of the goddess.
most people in the ancient world made vows to gods to achieve specific, well-defined, short-term goals, such as avoiding illness, ensuring a bountiful harvest, completing a voyage safely, getting rich, or attracting a desirable lover. If the goal was realized, the person who made the vow dedicated a statue or an inscription . . . to the god(s) to pay off the vow.” Rogers refers to this process as…“I give so that you might give,” creating with the gods, he writes, “a reciprocal relationship…
This standard MO is part of Paul’s teaching to Gentiles newly converted from paganism to YHVH’s Savior:
“who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things.” (Romans 11:35-36)
NYC’s nickname “the Big Apple” was officially adopted as the result of a successful ad campaign intended to attract tourists. The term has always come down to simply mean the best and biggest of places to be, and New York City has long lived up to its nickname.
Ephesus’ nickname was “Lumen / Light of Asia”. This is referenced in YHVH’s Savior’s intro to the letter to this congregation where he reminds her that he holds and keeps the lights lit. The clear message here is that they need to stay connected to him in their constant struggle to be drawn into connection with Diana. A comparable opening to a letter to a church in NYC might reference biting into beautiful appearing but wormy apple.
“I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love. 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.” (Revelation 2:4-5)
Jesus called the church of Ephesus a candlestick for good reason.
It was the New York City of Asia Minor in the New Testament era. Pliny once called it, lumen Asiae, the light of Asia.1 In the first centry, only Rome [Roman capitol], Alexandria [Egyptian capitol] and Antioch of Syria [capitol of Greek territory of Asia Minor] surpassed Ephesus in importance. It is no wonder that the apostle Paul made it the center of his ministry for three years (Acts 20:31). In fact, outside of the church in Jerusalem, one could argue that the church in Ephesus was the most prominent congregation in the first forty years of church history. [Emphasis added.] From its beginnings in Acts 19 circa 52 AD, to Rev. 2, as late as 90 AD, the church in Ephesus figures prominently in Scripture as the setting for the books of Ephesians, 1 and 2 Timothy, and possibly the epistles of John. It also enjoyed some of the greatest Bible teachers of its day, including Paul, Apollos, Aquila and Priscilla, Timothy and John. Given the number of verses written to Ephesus or from Ephesus (ie. 1 Corinthians), we know more about it than almost any other city mentioned in the New Testament.
It was through the Jews that Christianity was first introduced into Ephesus. The original community was under the leadership of Apollo ( 1 Corinthians 1:12 ). They were disciples of St. John the Baptist, and were converted by Aquila and Priscilla. Then came St. Paul , who lived three years at Ephesus to establish and organize the new church…
If we base our analysis on the biblical record, their first love can only be of Paul’s teaching.
“And [Paul] came to Ephesus…he himself entered into the synagogue, and reasoned with the Jews...they desired him to tarry longer time with them, he consented not…saying, I must by all means keep this feast that cometh in Jerusalem: but I will return again unto you, if God will…And a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man, and mighty in the scriptures, came to Ephesus. This man was instructed in the way of the Lord and being fervent in the spirit, he spake and taught diligently the things of the Lord…For he mightily convinced the Jews, and that publicly, shewing by the scriptures that Jesus was Christ…Paul…came [back] to Ephesus…and he went into the synagogue…But when divers…spake evil of that way [Jewish sect] before the multitude, he departed from them, and separated the disciples, disputing daily in the school of one Tyrannus…by the space of two years…all they which dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks…So mightily grew the word of God and prevailed…And the same time there arose no small stir about that way.” (Acts 18:19-28, 19:1-23)
Ephesus’ first bishop was Timothy, who Paul had expressly confirmed a Jew for the purpose of reaching Jews. Under Paul’s direct guidance it grew and multiplied, as in Antioch, with both circumcised Jews and uncircumcised Gentiles accepted into the assembly.
Many Christians & Jews are unaware of the fact that for the first 40 years (up to 70 AD) after Yeshua (Jesus) ascended into heaven, to sit at the right hand with all Power & Authority, believers in Yeshua were predominately Jewish. These Jewish believers still followed Torah, kept Kosher, kept Shabbat, and worship in the Temple and synagogue…
believing & non-believing Jews coexisted, sitting in the same synagogue, and attending the same temple….Jerusalem was between 1/3 & ½ believers in Yeshua before the destruction of the Temple…While many Jews did not agree that Yeshua was Messiah, they respected the believers for their lifestyle & devotion.
Then, almost 20 years later, knowing that the mother church at Jerusalem was about to be smashed and scattered, Paul wrote his literary and doctrinal masterpiece on the form and function of joint Jewish-Gentile leadership. This was the first time this doctrine was articulated. Ephesus’ location and sphere of influence made their assembly the logical one to pick up the reigns of leadership torn away from Jerusalem after 70 AD.
From where had they fallen? Their first love.
First love is an impetuous force that drives actions from the heart. This is so contrary to human nature that it needs to be continuously re-energized by actions from the heart, or it gets lost over time, gradually replaced by a cost-benefit analysis calculating what’s best for the giver or returns the highest numbers.
“Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh…aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise…But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ...For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father. Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone…In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:11-22)
But Paul’s letter went over like a lead balloon. The Ephesian church rejected Paul’s teaching, sacked Timothy, and used their influence to lead all in Asia to abandon Paul as well.
The first major split occurred between 68-70 AD/CE. As Roman armies gathered to besiege Jerusalem , Believers were able to flee the city, heeding Yeshua’s words in Matt 24…This action labeled the believers as traitors in the eyes of many Jews…
Soon after 70 AD, [Jewish] Christians returned to Jerusalem…meeting at the “Church of the Apostles” on Mount Zion, near the Roman military camp (Cyril of Jerusalem; Epiphanius, Treatise on Weights and Measures; Itinerarium Egeriae; Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History).
The destruction of the Temple and the ostracism of Messianic Jews who bailed rather than support the rebellion in 70 AD broke the power base of Messianic Judaism. Banning the practice of Judaism in Palestine in 136 finished it off.
We should also expect that the wrath of Rome against the Jews would make the average Gentile Christian shy away from any association with them. Unlike some of those suicidal pastors in Germany under the Nazis, they didn’t need to add the Jewish question to their troubles. They were experiencing their own tribulation.
From what did they need to repent?
Rejecting Paul’s doctrine.
“This thou knowest, that all they which are in Asia be turned away from me…the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses the same commit thou to faithful men…In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; (II Timothy 3)
What were their first works? “So mightily grew the word of God and prevailed.” (Acts 19:8-20)
Thirty years later the assembly at Ephesus and her satellite churches were still solidly Jewish. Would they respond to John’s letter more positively than to Paul’s?
“I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars: And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name’s sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted.
Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee…thou hast left thy first love…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.” (Revelation 2:5-6)
The primacy of this church – not the one in Rome – can be seen in the fact that Jesus sent his last apostle, John, to shore up their ministry after he was released from the nearby island of Patmos. Clement of Alexandria, writing towards the end of the second century reports “about the Apostle John…when, on the tyrant’s death, he returned to Ephesus from the isle of Patmos, he went away, being invited, to the contiguous territories of the nations, here to appoint bishops, there to set in order whole Churches, there to ordain such as were marked out by the Spirit.” Timothy was welcomed back as bishop. Various traditions report that Paul’s devoted disciple Onesimus, a former slave, became the bishop of Ephesus.
“But this thou hast, that thou hates the deeds of the Nico-laitanes, which I also hate.” Revelation 2:6)
The Nicolaitanes are the charter members of the Roman Catholic Church.
For some time the leaders of the Ephesian were sound in Paul’s doctrine, demonstrated by the First Council of Ephesus.
In 190 Polycrates, bishop of Ephesus, convened a synod to establish…the date of the Jewish Passover as the official date of Easter. Pope Victor I…repudiated the decision and separated those who disagreed from Rome.
In 200, the same Polycrates rebuked a bishop of Rome, writing to remind him of notable men who maintained church customs, “not deviating in the least but following the rule of the Faith” and quoting “We must obey God rather than men”
In the 4th century the nationalization of Christianity under Constantine paved the way for compromise, demonstrated in the complicated maneuverings at the Second and Third Councils of Ephesus in the 5th century. By the 6th century the harbor had silted up and the city faded into obscurity. In the 7th and 8th centuries Ephesus was taken by Islamic Arabs.
The city was captured in 1090 and destroyed by the Turko-Persian Sunni Moslem Seljuk Turks, but the Byzantines succeeded in retaking it and rebuilt it on the neighbouring hills around the church of St. John. In the 14th century the city was again plundered by the Turks in the first years of the fourteenth century, then by the Catalonian mercenaries in the pay of the Byzantines, and once more by the Turks. The church of St. John was transformed into a mosque, and the city was ruled by a Turkish ameer, who carried on a little trade with the West, but it could no longer maintain its Greek bishop.
The ruin of Ephesus was completed by Timur-Leng / Tamerlane in 1403 and by nearly a half-century of civil wars among its Turkish masters…in 1439 Mark of Ephesus (Marcus Eugenicus)…was the pastor of a miserable village, all that remained of the great city which Pliny once called…lumen Asiae.