In New Testament times Ephesus was the fourth greatest city in the world (after Rome, Alexandria and Antioch). It was located on the coast between Smyrna and Miletus. The fact that it was a strategic sea port, it is hard to imagine today as the sea is now six miles from where it would originally have washed against the harbor walls.
Ephesus had been around for a long time. It was reckoned to have been founded around 900BC. The important influence by the Roman emperors on Ephesus should not be missed. This may have a bearing on how we interpret the Book of Revelation, particularly since if John was exiled to Patmos under the cruel of Domitian (AD 81-96). John may have identified him and his empire as constituting the threat to the church of his day.
Ephesus played a significant role in the world of the New Testament Church. The most significant references are of course Pauls letter to the Ephesians, Johns letter to Ephesus in Rev 2 and the account of Pauls three year ministry in Ephesus in Acts 19. Paul saw the importance of planting churches in the main centers of the world of his times.
a) Ephesus as a centre of travel. In Acts 18:19-21 the fact that Paul traveled from Corinth to Ephesus and then on from Ephesus to the number of times the early missionaries were coming and going to from Ephesus. The three Corinthian brothers Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaius who were probably bringing Paul a letter from Corinth (1 Cor.. 7:1), came to Paul at Ephesus, 1Cor 16:17. Paul encouraged Timothy to stay in Ephesus for a while in order to keep false teachers in check, 1 Tim1:3f. And Paul wrote to Timothy in Ephesus that he was sending his trusty associate Tychicus to the city, Ephesus to allow him to come to Paul in Rome, and to carry Pauls letter to Timothy. It was also Tychicus who carried Pauls previous letter to Ephesians, Eph 6:21-22.
b) Ephesus as a centre of ministry Paul was often found heading to or from or actually working and living in Ephesus. We have already noted that in Acts 18:18-21 Paul stopped off here with Priscilla and Aquilla and left them there, perhaps to research and start a work. Pauls third missionary journey focused on Ephesus itself, Acts 19. He saw it for the capital city it undoubtedly was, the chief city of Roman province of Asia, and the most significant commercial and religious centre of the area.
Paul started initially in the synagogue. However, after three months he moved from there and taught in the lecture hall of someone name Tyrannus, Acts 19:8-9. One manuscript adds that Paul did his instructing from 11am until 4pm. The lecture hall would most likely have been free then as lectures would have taken place in the cool of the morning and evening. While many in the city would be asleep during the heat of the day, Paul was busy was work.
He stayed in Ephesus for around three years, Acts 20:31. He dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks. Acts 19:10 (NKJV). It is likely that Epaphras, a Colossian, Col 4:12, was converted at Ephesus at this time and returned to his native Colossae with the Gospel, Col 1:7. It would seem at this time that churches were also established in nearby Laodicea and Hierapolis, Col 4:13, 15, 16. Perhaps this is why Paul could write to the church at Corinth from Ephesus and talk of his plans to stay on at Ephesus until Pentecost because (a great and effective door has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.) 1 Cor. 16:9 (NKJV).
There was a door of opportunity, but there was also many opponents. Paul mentioned in his letter to the Corinthians that if there was no resurrection that would have been the worth of his many sufferings, including fighting wild beasts at Ephesus, 1 Cor. 15:32. In Acts 19 we can see that opposition probably came from a number of sources: Jewish sorcerers and of course the craftsmen and silversmiths who stirred up a riot against Paul. Ephesus then was one of the most strategic cities in the expansion of Christianity in Pauls day.
c) Ephesus as centre for significant people - Many of the characters who played a significant part in the expansion of early Christianity found their way to Ephesus at some time or other.
Paul traveled to Ephesus from Corinth accompanied by his good friends at Priscilla and Aquila, Acts 18:18-19. The couple stayed at Ephesus and a church was established in their home, 1 Cor. 16:19. They were also in the city at the right time to encourage and teach aright Apollos, the gifted and eloquent apologist from Alexandria who made his way to Ephesus to reason with the significant and influential Jewish community there, Acts 18:24-28. Priscilla and Aquila (after spending some time in Rome (Rom 16:3) could be found back in Ephesus we also meet Onesiphorus. He had often refreshed Paul and wasnt ashamed of Pauls chains, 2 Tim 1:16-18. Since Onesiphorus household is mentioned in 2 Tim 4:19, he probably came from Ephesus.
The apostle John according to well-attested tradition had a long association with Ephesus. Tradition also claims that John returned to Ephesus and probably lived the rest of his life there. According to Polycrates, Bishop of Ephesus at the end of the second century, Johns grave was in Ephesus.
The third ecumenical council, which was held at Ephesus in 431 probably met at the so-called Church of the Virgin Mary. The council met to debate Nestorius and his teaching. Nestorius believed in emphasizing the two natures of Christ in the face of heretics who had insisted that Christs divine and human natures had merged who into one. When the council at Ephesus declared Mary to be the mother of God, (theotokos) he could not accept this and was denounced as a heretic.
As previously mentioned the harbor was prone to silting up and this factor very probably sounded the death knell for the future of Ephesus. It was a port city, a centre of commerce situated on the main trade route. Some think that one of the reasons why Paul sailed on to Miletus and summoned to Ephesian elders from there was because even at that time Ephesus was beginning to silt up, Acts 20:16. As can be seen today, the same fate met the harbor at Miletus also.
The main approach to Ephesus was from the harbor and then up the Arkadian Road. It must have been an impressive sight as travelers disembarked and made their way along this column-lined road to the heart of the city.
Undoubtedly one of the most impressive structures in Ephesus. It could accommodate around 25,000. We dont know how many people rushed into theatre on that riotous day of Acts 19:23f, but they should be many.
Their wrath was terrible, and they at once frightened the men against whom they had raised their voices so that some of them ran about begging for mercy, while others threw off their cloaks through fear.
In the second century there was a further disturbance at Ephesus when the bakers went on strike:
A more serious situation occurred at Ephesus where a (strike of the brotherhood) of the bakers was attended with so much (disorder and tumult) that action was taken by an official, probably the proconsul, who in order to prevent further violence, issued an edict forbidding the organization and also commanding the bakers (to obey the regulations made for the general welfare).
In the light of the above accounts it is not difficult to imagine the ferocity of the silversmiths actions as a deadly combination of religious fervor and economic loss drove them to incite a riot against Paul and his friends.
It was in this area that the silversmiths who rioted against Paul would have had their shops. Note the close proximity to the theatre.
Houses on the Slope
These show the extent of sophisticated civilization in Ephesus around the time of Paul. There are some interesting wall paintings to look out for, depicting scenes from the most popular contemporary theatre plays. Paul actually quotes from Thais a play by Menander in 1 Cor. 15:33: (Bad company corrupts good character). This shows how important contemporary art was in society and also how willing Paul was to draw illustrations from the secular arts.
Temple of Domition
This temple, if the findings of latest archaeological research prove accurate, give us an idea as to the extent and intensity of Emperor worship in the city. The temple was dedicated to the worship of Vespasian, Titus and Domitian. Vespasian and Titus both persecuted the Jews and Titus ransacked the Jerusalem temple. There was a terrible persecution of Christians during there times too. All those who refused to worship the deified Roman emperor came under this persecution. Since Ephesus was not only the keeper of the Artemis Temple but was most probably a centre for emperor cult worship, it is not difficult to imagine that Christians here would have felt the pressure intensely.
Many scholars in the light of this, interpret Rev 13 as John denouncing the Emperor worship cult. Since worship of the emperor was system that daily life, John, in his writing was denouncing the whole system that daily life and activity rested on. Johns vision declared that Rome-the beast from the sea-was not ruled by divine emperors, it was in fact satanic. The local aristocracy-the beast from the land-led the way in worshipping the emperors. Johns vision condemned the whole Roman system as corrupt and satanic. This is one reason why Revelation would have been written so cryptically-John was writing sedition.
Assos Acts 20:13,14
Attalia Acts 14:25
Bithniya Province (Nicaea) Acts 16:7, I Pet 1:1
Cappadocia Province Acts 2:9, I Pet 1:1
Carchemish II Chro. 35:20, Isa 10:9, Jer 46:2
Cnidus Acts 27:7
Colossae Col. 1:2
Derbe Acts 14:6 - 20;4
Ephesus Acts 18:19-24; 19:1-35; 20:16-17; 21:29, 1 Cor. 15:32; 16:8, I Tim. 1:3 II Tim. 1:18; 4:12, Rev. 1:11, 2:1
Hierapolis Col 4:13
Iconium Acts 13:51; 14:1-21; 16:2, II Tim. 3:11
Laodicea Col 2:1; 4:13-16, Rev. 1:11; 3:14
Lystra Acts 14:6-21; 16:1-2, II Tim. 3:11
Miletus Acts 20:15-17, II Tim. 4:20
Myra Acts 27:5-6
Patara Acts 21:1-2
Perga Acts 13:13-14; 14:25
Pergamum Rev. 1:11; 2:12
Philadelphia Rev. 1:11; 3:7
Pisidian Antioch Acts 13:14; 14:19-21, I Tim. 3:11
Sardis Rev. 1:11; 3:1-4
Seleucia Acts 13:4
Smyrna Rev. 1:11; 2:8
Tarsus Acts 9:11; 9:30; 11:25; 21:39; 22:3
Thyatira Acts 16:14, Rev. 1:11; 2:18-24
Troas Acts 16:8-11; 20:5, 6, II Tim. 4:13 II Cor. 2:12
Troy Acts 16:8-11; 20:5, 6, II Tim. 4:13 II Cor. 2:12