A Study Of The Book Of Ephesians:
A verse by verse examination of God's eternal purpose in and through Jesus Christ.
by: Allan Turner
In 133 B.C., Ephesus came under direct control of the Romans. During the first century A.D., the city was the capital of the Roman province of Asia. It was famous for its trade, art, and science, but it was even more renowned for its Temple of Diana (Greek Artemis), which was considered one of the seven wonders of the world. It was a building of Ionic architecture, four hundred and twenty-five feet long and two hundred and twenty feet wide. It was supported by one hundred and twenty-seven marble columns that were sixty feet high. Thirty-two of these were beautifully carved. Some of the stones from this temple are on exhibit in the British Museum. In modern times this temple is in complete ruin, as is the city, and not a living soul resides within its walls.
Ephesus is located about three miles inland from the Aegean Sea in the Cayster River valley. The harbor, which frequently silted up, made an excellent seaport. Three important roads met at Ephesus. One brought trade from the east via Colossae and Laodicea. One came from Galatia via Sardis and brought trade from Asia Minor. The third important road was to the north. This system of roads, coupled with the excellent seaport, made Ephesus the fourth greatest city in the Roman Empire (after Rome, Alexandria, and Antioch) with a population of approximately 250,000.
The Origin Of The Ephesian Church
When Paul was on his second preaching journey, he was “forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia” (Acts 16:6). For some reason unknown to us, the door of opportunity for the preaching of the gospel in Asia was not yet open. The opening was in Europe, and Paul was guided there by the Holy Spirit. On returning from Europe in about A.D. 53, Paul, along with his faithful helpers, Aquila and Priscilla, visited Ephesus (Acts 18:18-21). As was his custom, Paul “entered the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews” (v. 19), but nothing is said about anyone obeying the gospel. Nevertheless, they wanted Paul to stay a longer time with them, but, pressed for time, he was not able to do so (v. 20), although he did promise to return to them, God willing (v. 21).
The Scriptures inform us that Aquila and Priscilla stayed behind in Ephesus (vv. 18,19). They are the church at Ephesus. Some time after Paul's departure, Apollos visited the city (Acts 18:24-28). Described as an “eloquent man and mighty in the Scriptures,” Apollos was an Alexandrian Jew who had been “instructed in the way of the Lord,” but “knew only the baptism of John” (v. 25). As his knowledge was imperfect, Priscilla and Aquila, upon hearing him speak publicly, “took him aside privately and explained to him the way of God more accurately” (v. 26). After this, Apollos desired to cross over to Achaia and “the brethren [at Ephesus] wrote, exhorting the disciples to receive him” (v. 27). The use of “the brethren” indicates there are others at Ephesus who are now Christians besides Aquila and Priscilla. Who these other Christians are, we are not told. The church is probably still quite small and may possibly be meeting in the home of Aquila and Priscilla.
In A.D. 54, after beginning his third preaching journey, Paul returns to Ephesus. While there, he discovers some disciples who had not yet been baptized into Christ. After these twelve obeyed the gospel, they no doubt sought to join themselves to the local church and were received with great rejoicing. Paul then goes into the synagogue and speaks boldly for three months, “reasoning and persuading concerning the things of the kingdom of God” (Acts 19:7). When strong opposition to his teaching arises, he withdraws with the other Christians to the school of Tyrannus. There he continues daily to teach the gospel for two years (Acts 19:10). Bruce, in his Commentary on the Book of Acts, provides us with some interesting information on the school of Tyrannus: “The Western text indicates that Paul had the use of the building from 11 A.M. to 4 P.M. Tyrannus no doubt held his classes in the early morning. Public activity ceased in the cities of Ionia for several hours at 11 A.M., and...more people would be asleep at 1 P.M. than at 1 A.M....so that they were willing to sacrifice their siesta for the sake of listening to Paul” (pp. 388,389).
Altogether, Paul spent three years at Ephesus with great success (Acts 20:31). Its excellent location was ideally suited for the spread of the gospel. Consequently, within the three years that Paul remained at Ephesus, the “word of the Lord” radiated throughout the whole province (Acts 19:10). This was no doubt accomplished in part through the fact of the great number of people who, for one reason or another, passed through the city, heard the gospel, and then carried it back to their homes located throughout Asia.
Ephesus and Asia were full of superstition, magic, charms, and all the other works of the occult. God, therefore, permitted “unusual miracles by the hands of Paul, so that even handkerchiefs or aprons were brought from his body to the sick, and the diseases left them and the evil spirits went out of them” (Acts 19:11,12). Furthermore, certain Jews who attempted to use as a charm the name of Jesus were utterly confounded by the evil spirits they tried to exorcise (Acts 19:13-16). As a result of all this, “the name of the Lord was magnified. And 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 in the sight of all.... So that the word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed” (Acts 19:17b-20).
Timothy and Erastus also spent some time with Paul in Ephesus, but he eventually sent them on into Macedonia (Acts 19:22). As soon as he did this, there arose a great commotion over Diana of the Ephesians. If the words of Demetrius are to be believed, she was worshipped by “all Asia and the world” (Acts 19:27). As a result, Paul's travel companions, Gaius and Aristarchus of Macedonia, were dragged into the theater. It is clear from the Bible account that these men's lives were in danger. Paul, ever the courageous soldier of the Cross, wanted to enter the theater but was prevented from doing so by the disciples who rightly feared the worst for him and his two companions if he showed his face to this chaotic assembly of goddess worshippers. After Alexander was set forth by the Jews, apparently in an attempt to defend the Jews from any association with renegade Jews (i.e., Christians) like “this fellow Paul” whom Gaius and Aristarchus abetted, pure pandemonium broke out for about two hours as the “disorderly gathering” cried out, “Great is Diana of the Ephesians” (Acts 19:34). Eventually, the city clerk was able to bring order to the theater and dismiss the crowd. After this, Paul called the disciples together, embraced them, and departed for Macedonia (Acts 20:1). He sailed to Macedonia and then traveled to Greece where he stayed for three months. Then, he, with his eight travel companions (Sopater, Aristarchus, Secundus, Gaius, Timothy, Tychicus, Trophimus, and Luke), returned to Asia via Macedonia, stopping over at Troas. Sailing on to Miletus, about thirty miles south of Ephesus, he calls for and meets with the elders of the Ephesian church (Acts 20:17-38). Lenski, commenting on this meeting in Acts of the Apostles, writes: “So small a group: a few elders, Paul, his eight companions—yet an immortal meeting! The great theater in Miletus, where the crowds gathered, which is now in ruins, is forgotten like the nameless crowds that gathered there; but the words this one man Paul spoke to a handful of men somewhere in this harbor city still throb with as much life and power as when they were uttered that day. Here are immortal truths; here throbs a heart moved with those truths to a tenderness and a love which they alone could beget. Paul's address to the Ephesian elders is a shining page even in the New Testament” (p. 836).
Timothy, a native of Lystra, was probably converted on Paul's first preaching journey (Acts 14:6-23). By the time of Paul's second preaching journey, he was well spoken of by the brethren at Lystra and Iconium (Acts 16:1,2). As we have already mentioned, he was with Paul in Ephesus on the third preaching journey but was sent to Macedonia just prior to the disturbance over the goddess Diana (Acts 16:3; 19:21,22). After Paul's release from his first Roman imprisonment, he left Timothy at Ephesus (I Timothy 1:3). While in Ephesus, Timothy received the epistles known to us as First Timothy and Second Timothy.
A letter to the church at Ephesus is included in the book of Revelation (Revelation 2:1-7). All early church tradition claims that the apostle John lived here for two decades, from about A.D. 70 until his death.
The Time And Place Of Writing
The place from which Paul undoubtedly wrote this letter was Rome during his first Roman imprisonment, which was for two years (Acts 28:30). This would make the date of this epistle somewhere around A.D. 62. It was no doubt delivered by Tychicus, who was entrusted with this epistle (Ephesians 6:21) and the one Paul sent to Colossae (Colossians 4:7).
The Purpose For Writing This Letter
Paul does not write this letter to the Ephesians to rebuke them for any irregularity of conduct, like he does the Corinthians, nor for any perversion of the gospel, as he does the Galatians. His letter was one of joyous praise for God's eternal purpose. As such, it would serve as an antidote to the pagan mystery religions which were all around them, and to the arguments of the Judaizers who would be using all their powers of persuasion to impress these former pagans, who had prided themselves as guardians of the great Temple of Diana, with the pomp and ceremony of Judaism, along with its Jerusalem Temple. But why, someone might ask, did God permit Judaism and the pagan mystery religions to exist so long before He revealed the gospel? Was the gospel simply an afterthought of God? Absolutely not! God was working out His eternal plan for the redemption of mankind in Christ Jesus. In fact, the leading thought of this letter is: “The church of Jesus Christ, in which Jew and Gentile are made one, is a creation of the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit, decreed from eternity, and destined for eternity.”
In chapters 1-3, Paul shows that the church was foreordained by God, that it has been redeemed, and that Jew and Gentile have been made one in Christ. In chapters 4-6, Paul embarks upon the practical application of the truth stated in the first three chapters. He writes of unity, love, newness of life, walking in the strength of the Lord, and the need to put on the armor of God. Consequently, there is a clear-cut division in this letter between the exposition found in these first three chapters and the exhortation found in chapters 4-6. In chapters 1-3, the truth is stated; in chapters 4-6, the truth is applied.
The work that went on in Ephesus was magnificent. The Christians there made up a great church. But, in spite of this, Paul warned the elders of this church of a coming apostasy that would corrupt the divinely ordained government of the local church. A generation later, a message from the Lord in the book of Revelation commends them for many wonderful things; nevertheless, the Lord warns them, “you have left your first love” (Revelation 2:4). They had not maintained the fervor and devotion of the love of their earlier history. If they did not repent and do their first works, the Lord promised that He would repudiate them.
The city of Ephesus now lies in ruins and there is no church meeting there. As sad as this is, we are encouraged by the words of the Lord in Revelation 2:7: “To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.” Consequently, we know that those who obeyed the gospel in Ephesus and remained faithful make up a group (i.e., the church) that will live eternally in heaven.