seven letters  ephesus part I

In the second and third chapters of the book of Revelation, we read about seven letters that were given by Jesus to seven different churches that existed during the first century. The first of these letters was given to the church that was located in the city of Ephesus  (pronounced "epp-heh-suss").

While the city of Laodicea (the location of the church that received Jesus' seventh letter) is mentioned in the book of Colossians and the city of Thyatira (whose church got letter number four) shows up in Acts chapter 16, Ephesus is the only city among the seven listed in Revelation 2 and 3 that sees any real action in the New Testament.

Today, the city of Ephesus would be located in what is now the modern-day country of Turkey and back in the first century, Ephesus was a busy place. It had an important location within the Roman Empire (which ruled most of the known world at the time) with a large harbor that was good for shipping. Ephesus also served as a kind of first-century resort town because it was a place where many rich and powerful people kept summer homes. There was also a large theatre in Ephesus that could hold 20-30,000 people (see Acts 19:29) as well as a three-story tall library.

Ephesus was perhaps best known for being the home of the then-famous Temple of Diana which was considered to be one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. At the time, Diana (or Artemis as she was also known) was worshipped as the "goddess" of the moon, hunting and wild animals. Her Temple was built from marble and stood 425 feet (130 m) long and 220 feet (67 m) wide. It was also supported by 127 columns that were 60 feet (18 m) high. Thousands of people visited this magnificent shrine and they often left with souvenirs of Diana of the temple made from wood, gold or silver. 

Finally, Ephesus was also recognized as a center for the occult and so-called magical arts that featured the first century equivalent of fortune tellers, astrologers, tarot card readers, psychic-hotline people and that sort of thing. So Ephesus was a major business, cultural and religious center in the ancient world, much like the cities of New York, London or Sydney are today. 

So with these things in mind, let's see how Jesus starts His letter to the church in the city of Ephesus...

"Write this letter to the angel of the church in Ephesus. This is the message from the one who holds the seven stars in his right hand, the one who walks among the seven gold lampstands: 'I know all the things you do'" (Revelation 2:1-2a NLT).

After a brief introduction, Jesus begins by making a simple but very important statement: "I know all the things you do." Actually, that's a statement that Jesus can make to everyone, isn't it? Jesus can say to everyone, everywhere, I know everything you do.

Consider that for a moment. Are those words scary to you? Well, if you have done something (or are doing something) that you shouldn't, those words can be very scary. In fact, these words can be especially troubling for anyone who is trying to hide something that they've done wrong or for those who feel like they can get away with doing something wrong, The fact is that Jesus has seen every secret thought, every hidden motive and everything that you've ever done- and He alone can say, "I know all the things you do."

On the other hand, let's take a situation where you did the right thing but still got into trouble somehow. Or perhaps there was a time when you did what was right even though no one else seemed to care. Or a situation where you could have lied, stolen or gotten back at someone without getting caught- but you chose not to because it's wrong to do those things. Perhaps you thought that no one was watching or that no one cared about the fact that you did what was right. But Someone is watching and Someone does care. Remember that no matter what the situation, Jesus knows all the things you do.

Happily for the Ephesian church, the words, "I know all the things you do" meant something really good...

"'I have seen your hard work and your patient endurance. I know you don't tolerate evil people. You have examined the claims of those who say they are apostles but are not. You have discovered they are liars" (Revelation 2:2b NLT).

When Jesus speaks of things like hard work and endurance here, He uses a word that implies that the Christians at Ephesus were working to the point of becoming worn out. Today, we might use an athletic term to describe the work of the Ephesian church by saying that they "left everything on the field" for God. So it appears that there weren't many slackers or lazy people in this church. In fact, it was just the opposite- they were determined to "hang in there" when things got difficult. 

Jesus continues by saying, "I know you don't tolerate evil people. You have examined the claims of those who say they are apostles but are not. You have discovered they are liars." This is especially interesting when you consider that the Apostle Paul had earlier given this same church a very important warning... 

"I know full well that false teachers, like vicious wolves, will come in among you after I leave, not sparing the flock. Even some of you will distort the truth in order to draw a following. Watch out!" (Acts 20:29-31a NLT) 

Did the people at the church at Ephesus listen to Paul's warning? Well, it certainly sounds like they did because Jesus praised them by saying, "I know you don't tolerate sin among your members, and you have carefully examined the claims of those who say they are apostles but aren't. You have found out how they lie" (TLB). So this is pretty good- it looks like this church took Paul's warning very seriously and Jesus responded by giving them His approval.

More good stuff comes in the next verse...

"'You have patiently suffered for me without quitting" (Revelation 2:3 NLT).

Judging from this portion of Jesus' letter, it appears that the church at Ephesus refused to give up even when going through some very difficult times. If the Christians at Ephesus "patiently suffered" for their belief in Jesus, then it can only mean that the Christians at Ephesus made the decision to hang tough and maintain their commitment to Him even when faced with trials, hardships or difficulties. 

So things seem to be going along pretty well here. The Christians in Ephesus were hard workers who didn't tolerate people who dishonored God. They tested those people who claimed to be leaders and representatives of God to see if they were really telling the truth. Those who weren't what they claimed to be were exposed as liars. The Christians at Ephesus stood strong in the face of trials and difficulties and refused to give up when the going got rough. In all these things, the people in the church of Ephesus provide us with a good example to follow today.

So far, so good, right? Well, Jesus hasn't finished His letter just yet- but that's to be continued next time.


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Except as indicated, all Scriptural references taken from The Living Bible, 1971, Tyndale House Publishers

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