The Seven Churches of Asia: Ephesus

Robert E. Surgenor

Called, The Metropolis of Asia, Ephesus was the first of all cities and the greatest, it far outstripped Smyrna and Pergamos. This prosperous city was part of a kingdom which Attalus II bequeathed to the Roman Empire in 133 BC. In John's day its population was over 300,000. It was the civil and ecclesiastical center of that part of Asia - wealthy, cultured and corrupt. Three great trade routes converged at the city, making it the center of commerce and trade. Ephesus was easily accessible from land or sea. Its artificial harbor could accommodate the largest ships of that day. All merchant ships, whose destination was Asia, landed there. Ephesus was also the civil and ecclesiastical center of that part of Asia and was known as the meeting place of oriental religions and Greek culture, famous in heathen antiquity. Its climate was beautiful and its surrounding valley fertile. One of the most striking buildings in Ephesus was the temple of Artemis (Diana) goddess of the Ephesians, measuring 220 feet by 425 feet with 127 sixty-foot pillars supporting the roof of its colonnade. This temple took 220 years to construct. It was in this beautiful and busy city that Timothy was murdered at a festival in honor of its great goddess.

As our ship docks we notice the beautifully constructed avenue thirty-five feet wide, lined with columns from the harbor to the center of the city. In the background is a major stadium, marketplace and theater built on the Western slope of Mount Pion overlooking the harbor.

Granted by Rome the right of self-government, Ephesus was a 'free city." It also was one of political importance, where the Roman governor, on a regular schedule, tried important cases and dispensed justice.

The Orthodox Assembly

Just as the city was most prominent and examined people in its court, in like manner the assembly also was prominent and examined people in its court. Every assembly seemed to manifest the same characteristics as the city in which it was located. This assembly was graced with the presence of seven great saints Paul, Apollos, Aquila, Priscilla, Timothy, Tychicus and John. Ephesus was the only assembly of the seven of apostolic origin. It was the last church mentioned in Acts (ch.20) and the first church to be mentioned in Revelation. Paul planted the assembly and labored there the longest. More is stated in scripture regarding Ephesus than any other assembly. In Acts 19 we see it planted; in Acts 20, it is charged; in the Ephesian Epistle it is taught; in the Epistles to Timothy it is encouraged; and in Revelation 2, it is judged. It is apparent that the charge given to the elders one generation before was still being heeded, "For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears" (Acts 20:29-31).

In our Lord's first words to this assembly we see the PRESENTATION OF HIMSELF. "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."

Just as the city held the place of prominence, so Christ holds the prominent men in the assembly. In the vision the elders are IN His hand (1:16). This indicates that He secures them. Then He states they are ON His hand (1:20 R.V.), indicating that He upholds them. Later He reveals that He HATH them (3:1). Thus He possesses them. To Ephesus He reveals that He is the One that HOLDETH them. Thus His is the right to control them.

Next, HE COMMENDS THEM. "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" (l:2)

What an orthodox assembly! What an active assembly! The Lord observed their works. They were working in the gospel, not engaged in the world's games. Time to them was precious and they were seeking to redeem it, endeavoring to reach the lost. He also sees their labour (toil), this word being used for shepherding. The shepherds were labouring in Word (preaching) and doctrine (teaching) (1 Tim. 5:17 R.V.). They were working to the point of exhaustion, caring for the flock. Their attitude in these avenues was patience (persistence). There was no let up, no slacking of the pace. Let me ask you elders, are you working to the point of exhaustion, pouring over the scriptures, ministering publicly and privately the Word of God to the flock that has been entrusted to your care? Do you visit them in their homes, help them with their problems, whether financial or spiritual? If not, then you fall short of the standard seen at Ephesus!

Not only this, they tried (X-Rayed) all who came their way for the purpose of ascertaining what they thought, or how they would behave themselves. They sought to preserve the assembly from strange children and they were very careful who and what was taught in their midst. This assembly was no place for lazy Christians, nor for worldly minded believers, nor for wood-hay-and-stubble-preachers.

This assembly was established and had a great reserve of strength as Christ states – "And hast borne, and hast patience, and for My name's sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted (grown weary)."

As we sit with the Ephesian saints we are amazed at all the activity and their strictness. Admiring the fact that they were very particular who was received into their fellowship, appreciating their steadfastness, their consistency and their endurance, not being swerved by trials and sufferings. However, the risen Lord had something against them and sitting in their company, instead of being warmed and delighted, we feel chilled. Alas, the furnace was there, but the flre had gone out! The service had become mechanical, and seemingly lacked reality. What was the problem? God willing, next month we shall inquire of the Lord and hopefully learn from His rebuke to them. Thank you for coming to Ephesus with me.