Ephesus in the First Century
Paul, having passed through the upper regions, came to Ephesus. And finding some disciples he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” So they said to him, “We have not so much as heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.” They were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them. Now the men were about twelve in all.
—Acts 19:1-3, 5-7, emphasis added
Ephesus was second among the cities of the empire; only Rome exceeded her in wealth and power. If you were arriving in Ephesus, the center of Greek mythological worship, there was only one sight that would catch your eyes. It would not be the bustling harbor teeming with boats; nor the roads lined with the exotic spices and goods from the East. It would be the lustrous golden gleam of the Seventh Wonder of the Ancient World: the Temple of Diana (Artemis to the Greeks). It was the largest building of that period—four times the size of the Parthenon in Athens—the size of a city block, ten stories high, and covered with gold. Cities that wanted to be “rained on” with prosperity sent a gold-covered column for this temple.
Gross immorality existed in Ephesus due to the Temple of Diana’s presence. All day long, in the confines of this magnificent golden palace, thousands of male and female prostitutes gave themselves in the sordid worship of the pagan fertility deities. At dusk, they would then go into the city to earn a living in the bustling atmosphere of travelers from both land and sea.
In the midst of all this debauchery, Jesus Christ had a church planted at Ephesus, one that was well-pleasing to God. In fact, they were honored by receiving the first of Christ’s personal letters to His seven churches (Revelation 2:1-7). The church at Ephesus was the most important church in the de facto capital, the landing-place for a messenger from Patmos, and at the head of a circular road joining the seven cities in order.
Here is the best part of that city: Jesus was shining through the saints at Ephesus! The church at Ephesus was a vibrant church. Jesus Christ was preeminent: Fear fell on them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified (Acts 19:17). It wasn’t the denomination, the buildings, or the leaders that drew the attention of these saints—it was the presence of the Lord!
The Ephesian church was repentant: Many who had believed came confessing and telling their deeds. Also, many of those who had practiced magic brought their books together and burned them (Acts 19:18-19). The Ephesian Christians made public renunciation of their old lives because God’s Word was prominent in their church: So the word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed (Acts 19:20).
The Ephesian saints were heirs to the greatest and longest days of Paul’s earthly ministry—his three years at Ephesus (Acts 20:31). Having been privileged to see Paul in his finest hours of ministry, they became a dynamic church that was pleasing to the Lord.
You, too, can please God by making Christ and His Word pre-eminent, and thereby renouncing your old life. To grow in the Lord, ask Him to give you spiritual understanding so that His message to the church at Ephesus might become personal and practical. And, above all, pray that He will empower you to love Him as much at the end of your life as you did when you were first saved!