This article highlights a few details concerning the background of the church the apostle Paul planted in the ancient city of Ephesus.
Cities have always played critical roles in the history of the world. Jerusalem is the city where Jesus gave his life as the world’s substitute for sin. Athens is known as a city of intellectual influence and the birthplace of democracy. Rome is known as the city of law and justice. London is the place where mankind’s literary imagination was born. New York is the city of commerce and the catalyst for industry and trade throughout the world. And the old city of Ephesus is the city that teaches us more about the church than any other city.
The city of Ephesus is located in modern day Turkey. The Roman Empire made the city of Ephesus a provincial capital and it hosted around 250,000 residents—the third largest city in the Roman empire. Ephesus was known as a city of size, wealth, and power. The major economies of the city were rooted in trade and idol worship. The temple of Artemis, located in the heart of the city, was prized as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. From the ocean ports to the theater to the stadium to the library, Ephesus had so much to offer its inhabitants and visitors. Ephesus was a major cultural center in the ancient world.
The church at Ephesus was established 15-20 years after the death of Jesus Christ. Paul visited the city on his second missionary journey through the ancient world (Acts 18:19). After planting the church in Ephesus, Paul put a couple named Pricilla and Aquila in charge of the church. Later, a man named Apollos joined the leadership team as the main teacher of the local churches in Ephesus. Years later, Paul returned to the city of Ephesus on his third missionary journey and stayed in the city for three years, which was the longest time Paul spent with any of his church plants (Acts 19:8-10). Paul was eventually forced out of the city when the silversmith union staged a riot (Acts 19:26-41). The reason for this is that the gospel was impacting the sale of trinkets devoted to the goddess Diana.
Over the years, Paul maintained close contact with the leadership of the church in Ephesus. Paul’s farewell to the elders and leaders of the church in Ephesus is recorded in Acts 20. It is one of the most moving, emotional passages in the entire Bible. The Apostle Paul wrote to churches around the city of Ephesus. We call that writing from Paul the book of Ephesians. Paul wrote the letter of Ephesians while he was in prison in Rome. He appointed his protégé, Timothy, to pastor the church in Ephesus. Later, the apostle John took up the pastorate from Timothy and pastored the church for many years until he was forced into exile on Patmos.
We know more about the church in Ephesus than any other church in the Bible. Seven of the New Testament letters were either written to or about the church in Ephesus, including Ephesians, first and second Timothy, first, second, and third John, and Revelation. The preaching team in Ephesus was legendarily deep. Paul, Apollos, Timothy, and John all pastored the church in different seasons. In the end, Jesus pointed out that they lost their first love (Revelation 2:1-7). As we study the book of Ephesians, let us depend on God in desperate prayer that he will help us to be faithful to the end.