“Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to the saints who are in Ephesus, and faithful in Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 1:1)
When was the last time you were in Ephesus? Unless you enjoy visiting ruins of famous ancient cities, you’ve probably never been there, because the Ephesus of the letter to the Ephesians is no more.
According to The Complete Word Study New Testament by Spiros Zodhiates, “Ephesus was the capital of the chief province of Asia. It was located about one mile from the Aegean Sea. The temple of Diana (Artemis) was important to the commerce of the city because the Mediterranean world considered it to be such a sacred and impeccable institution, that it became the chief banking establishment in all of Asia Minor. The great number of pilgrims that came to worship at the temple also bolstered the economy in Ephesus. In fact, the population is believed to have exceeded a quarter million.”
Ephesus was no tiny town—it was a major city in the first century. In fact, its famous Temple of Artemis was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Paul himself visited it at least twice during his ministry, during the second and third missionary journeys. Yet, it exists no more. Why?
John the Apostle recorded the revelation he received from Christ while in exile on the island of Patmos. These words were directed specifically to the church at Ephesus:
“To the angel [from the Greek word, aggelos, meaning “messenger”—according to The Complete Word Study New Testament, “Aggelos is a name not of nature but of office….” It has other meanings, but according to Zodhiates, in the preceding verse, Revelation 1:20, it refers to “a bishop or presiding elder of a particular church,” giving cause to assume that that is also its meaning here in 2:1] of the church of Ephesus write, ‘These things says He [Jesus] who holds the seven stars [verse 1:20 identifies the stars as the anggelos, the bishops or presiding elders] in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands [verse 1:20 identifies the lampstands as the churches themselves]:
‘I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars; and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary. Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand [ your church] from its place—unless you repent. But this you have, that you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.” (Revelation 2:1-7)
Despite all of the good qualities that Christ commended the church at Ephesus for, they had left their first love. The word translated “first” is “protos,” meaning “first…chief, principal.” (Zodhiates) The church at Ephesus apparently forsook the most important—the principal—love of their lives, Christ.
When asked what the most important commandment was, Jesus answered, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37) We are to love God with all of our emotions, with our mind, with our very being–in other words, we are to love God with everything we are. This does not contradict the need to survive, because God knows that we are physical beings with physical needs. It simply speaks to what we find our greatest delight in. Who is our closest friend, our greatest ally? What do we look forward to when we go to bed? Whose work can we not wait to get to once morning begins? Whom are we most concerned about pleasing?
Jesus said, “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” (John 17:3) The word used for “know” in this verse is “ginosko,” meaning “to know experientially…be acquainted with a person.” (Zodhiates) Experiencing God personally, a relationship that begins in this life, is Jesus’ definition of eternal life. Yet how can we personally know God—all that He is and does—and not respond? John said, “We love Him, because He first loved us.” (I John 4:19)
The church at Ephesus is no longer. Whether the Ephesian Christians ever reclaimed their lost first love is not recorded by history, but the fact that it no longer exists leads us to believe that they did not. God does not warn His people in vain.
James 4:4-6 teaches us, “Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be friends of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, ‘The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously’? But He gives more grace. Therefore He says: ‘God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.’”
The issue of God’s jealousy towards His people is one that is difficult for many to understand, perhaps because human jealousy is sinful. In God, however, it is a reflection of His love towards us, because knowing and loving Him is the highest good we, as human beings, can experience.
Help us to love You with our heart and soul and mind—with our very being. Amen.
ephesus ancient city Omer Genc