The Message to the Church in Ephesus
Ephesus was a noted port on the Aegean Sea. At the time of John’s writing, it was the most prominent city in Asia. Rome allowed it to be a self-governing city, meaning it could appoint its own officials without having to get approval from the Roman government.
It contained the temple of Diana, which was listed as one of the seven wonders of the world. Thus, the worship of the goddess Diana was prevalent in this city.
The city also contained an open-air theater which seated 24,500 people. The population of the city was estimated to be over 250,000 people.
The church in Ephesus was established through the efforts of Aquila and Priscilla (Acts 18:24-26). One of their converts, Apollos went to Corinth, across the Aegean Sea, where Paul had established a church (Acts 18:27-28). While there Paul traveled up and around the Aegean Sea and came to Ephesus (Acts 19:1-20:1). Paul eventually spent three years teaching in this city (Acts 20:31).
From the very beginning, this congregation showed a strong love for the truth, going so far as to burn their books of sorcery (Acts 19:19-20). They also had a strong love for Paul himself (Acts 20:36-38). When Paul wrote to them, he mentioned that love (Ephesians 1:15-16).
Jesus introduces himself as the one who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands (Revelation 1:12-13, 16). Revelation 1:20 gives the meaning of these symbols. The fact that Jesus holds the seven messengers (angels) in his right hand means that he has full control over these messengers. That he walks among the seven lampstands emphasizes that he is aware of all that is going on in the churches.
Jesus starts off with their good points. He knows about their diligent labor and how they have managed to hold on without growing weary (James 1:2-4). They also have resisted the intrusion of false teachers by putting each to the test (I John 4:1). This indicates that so far the Ephesians have heeded Paul’s warning when he left them (Acts 20:28-31).
One group that Jesus names are the Nicolaitans. The name means “followers of Nicholas.” The only other place this group is directly mentioned is in Revelation 2:14-15, where the nature of their teaching is mentioned. It appears these people tried to make compromises between idolatry and fornication and Christianity. We will talk at greater length about these teachings when we discuss the message to Pergamum.
All was not good, however, in Ephesus. They had lost their first love. The zeal and fellowship that characterized the church in Ephesus were no longer there. As Paul pointed out, having truth without love is inadequate (I Corinthians 13:1-3). This is not a minor issue. Jesus warns that if they don’t rekindle that love, he would remove their lampstand. He would no longer accept the church as one of his.
In contrast, those who give attention to Jesus’s words would be granted access to the tree of life. The tree of life was one of the two special trees in the garden of Eden (Genesis 2:9). Those who ate of the tree could live forever (Genesis 3:22). Thus, what Jesus is offering the Ephesians is eternal life. Even though they were Christians, unless they overcame their problem with love, they would be denied access to eternal life.