Seven Churches, Ephesus

The Message to Ephesus

According to Prof. Hurmannl Above: The horizantal cut in the long run. Below: A throughtcut intersection

To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: "This is the message from the One who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks among the seven gold lamptands.

I know what you have done; I know how hard you have worked and how patient you have been. I know that you cannot tolerate evil men, and that you have tested those who say they are apostles but are not, and have found out that they are liars.

You are patient, you have suffered troubles for my sake, and you have not given up.

But there is what I have against you: you do not love me now as you did at first."

Remember how far you have fallen! Turn from your sins and do what you did at first. If you don't turn from your sins, I will come to you and take your lampstand from its place.

But there is what you have in your favor: you hate what the Nicolaitans do, as much as I.

If you have ears, then, listen to what the Spirit says to the chur­ches! To those who have won the victory I will give the right to eat the fruit of the tree of life that grows in the garden of God".

Rev. 2, 1-7

The church of Ephesus was established in the big city that bears the same name. The church was one of the most important Chris­tian religious centers. The Basilica was built here already shortly after the death of the Apostle John.

Today the ruins of this church are called: "St. John's Basilica"; they are situated on a hill near the town of Seljuk, just South of the still existing, ancient Byzantine-Seljuk fortress-castle.

Because of the conditions in which the members of the church of Ephesus lived John the Apostle wrote his first letter to Ephesus, and it is easy to see why Ephesus comes first in the list of the Seven Churches in Asia.

Though it is a fact that Pergamum was the official capital of the Province of Asia-Minor, actually it was Ephesus that was by far the greatest and most important city of the province. The city claimed to be the "light of Asia". The events that gave Ephesus its predominating position are as follows:

In the time of John, Ephesus was the biggest port city in Anatolia. All the roads alongside the Caytros River (now Küçük Menderes) and from further inland as far from the far-off Euphrates River and from Mesopotamia, reached the Mediterranean here, coming by way of Colossae and Laodicea. It was at Ephesus, too, that the road from Galatia, leading via Sardis, reached the sea.

According to the author Strabo, Ephesus was the market-place of Western Asia-Minor. The city was the gateway for all the travellers, tradegoods and merchandise that flowed into the city from the Meander Valley, from Galatia, and far beyond from the Euphrates River and all the way from Mesopotamia and Persia. It was also situated on the highway leading from Anatolia to Rome. Therefore this way was also called the Highway of the Martyrs. This situation on the crossing of main highways and deep water made Ephesus the wealthiest and most prosperous city in all Asia. In its general situation, Ephesus was the natural bridge between Asia and Europe, with a branch connection to Africa (Egypt and Lybia).

Ephesus had also some very important political significance. It was, within the Roman Empire, a free city, with self-governing rights within its own city-boundaries. With exception of the most impor­tant cases, the city dispensed of Roman justice. It possessed town courts, and a district court. Economically, it was a busy and thriv­ing city. The population of Ephesus was the original population of Anatolia that had emigrated there from the eastern and central parts of that region. From the West, Ionian Greeks had colonised the coastal area. These two different elements of the population had lead to an energetic breed of people in a prosperous city.

Now, some 3 kms South-West of the little town of Seljuk, some 75 kms South of ?zmir, lie the ruins of Efes, the ancient Ephesus. They are situated on the slopes of ancient Mount Pion, that now bears the name Panayir Dagh. The area of Ephesus was inhabited already from the third millenium B.C., and the first settlement originated on a bay of the sea where the Küçük Menderes (Little Meander), the Caytros of antiquity, flowed into the Aegean Sea, where now lies Seljuk.

When the silting-up of this original sea-inlet continued, and the harbour became unusable, a new city was built under the kings of Lydia in the eight century RC. where the ruins of Efes is now situated. It was a city with a fine harbour; for a great number of centuries the city had a good access to the open sea, though continuous dredging of the harbour was always necessary. Today, due to the continuous silting-up of the bay, the ruins of Efes lie some 5 kms inland.

This gradual deteriorating of the harbour facilities was the final cause of the fact that the city fell into decay and gradually was aban­doned by its inhabitants. Part of them moved back to what is now Seljuk. These people used the abandoned city as a quarry for their local building needs. The latter invading Seljuks, the passing of the Crusaders, the decline of the Byzantine Empire and finally the ar­rival of the Ottoman Turks in this area decided the old city's fate. It became a ruin-field, used as a quarry. This process continued until this century, but now the ruin-field is under custody of the Turkish Government as a National Archeological Monument. An Australian archeological team permanently supervises and preserves the ex­cavations.

Among the most important ruins of public buildings, etc. in these excavations are: The Vedius Gymnasium, the Stadium of Nero, the Arcadian Way, leading to the ancient harbour, the Great Theatre, that has some 25,000 seats, the Marble Road, leading to the Hellenistic Agora and the Celsus Library. Inland leads away from the Great Theatre, the Curetas Street, lined up with monuments as the. Temple of the Emperor Hadrian, near the Prytaneion, the an­cient Town Hall. Further the Odeion and the vast State Agora, the central market place. Christian relics, outside the city walls, are: the Cave of the Seven Sleepers and, near the Stadium of Nero, the "Dou­ble Church of the Virgin" (Mary), where in 431 and in 449 two im­portant Oecumenical Councils took place.

From the earliest times, Ephesus had been the center of the wor­ship of the goddess Artemis, or, according the Authorised Version of the Bible: "the Diana of the Ephesians". The temple of Artemis was one of the "Seven Wonders of the World". In it was the image of the goddess Artemis, whose cult was the center of one of the most important worships in the ancient world. It lasted for over eight hundred years until the propagating of Christianity in this area. The origin of this cult had been the age-old worship of the Mother-Goddess Kybele of Anatolia, being the real and first Goddess cult in the ancient world. For a more extensive description of this worship and the temple in which it took place, see Chapter Villi of this book.

Christianity was brought to the Ephesus Region at first by the Apostle Paul. He stayed in Ephesus from 53-55 A.D, and worked here as a missionary with great success. He first made his converts from the Jewish Synagogue, but extended his activities towards the Gentiles later on. At the end of this period of some three years, however, he was forced to leave the city due to a riot stirred up by the deacon of the silversmiths' guild, Demetrius. This group of ar­tists and craftsmen made good money in the souvenir-business by making and selling miniatures of the Artemis temple to the numerous pilgrims and other visitors of the city. But, by and by, they saw their income reduced because of the increasing number of con­verts to the new faith. So the silversmiths organised a counter-propaganda march through the city in favour of the great goddess Artemis. This march ended in a demonstration in the Great Theatre, where the multitude, stirred up by the silver smiths, shouted in a mass chorus: Great is the Artemis of the Ephesians". This riot end­ed only because the town-clerk held a speech to calm down the excited mob by warning tnem that a riot like this would be dangerous for the political rights and freedoms of the city, if the Roman authorities should hear of it. These events are described in the Bi­ble, Acts 19, 23 to 20, 1. Pat'1 then left the city, but he returned some time later to Miletus, not so far from Ephesus, to organise the local church and to install the bishop and eldermen.

According to the tradition, Paul was once more in Ephesus at ap-prox. 65 A.D, after a period of captivity in Jerusalem, Caesarea and Rome due to the hostility of the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem, who had put a trial upon him. After Paul, the Apostle John worked for some forty years in this area, consolidating the work of this predecessor. John was accompanied by the mother of Jesus, Mary "the Virgin", who, according to old traditions, spent the last years of her life in a small house, the "Meryemana", some 5 kms from Ephesus. Also according the old traditions, John completed his Gospel and his Epistles in a place on Ayasulluk Hill near today's Seljuk (where now the fortress-castle stands), at the end of the first century A.D.. He died here after his return from exile on Patmos Island. After His death a small chapel was built over his tomb. Later the Byzantine Basilica of St John was built on this place, during the reign of Emperor Justinian. This huge Basilica had six cupolas and many side-chapels. It was built in the sixth century A.D.. "Basilica of St John" is now a, partly restored, ruin. From its former magnificeuce nothing is left. Behind it, on the slope of the hill, stands the Isa Bey Mosque, one of the most beautiful specimens of Seljuk art in Anatolia. It was built by the Seljuk Turks in the 14th century, and has a beautiful marble portal.

Why was the church of Ephesus so important? According to many documents it was the first and greatest church that was built for the Christian faith. Paul founded the church, John completed his Gospel here and Mary lived and was buried here, too. The Apostle John was the leading figure not only of the local church of Ephesus, but he was also an arch-bishop of the whole province. In this function he headed the "Seven Churches in Asia" and he trained his suc­cessors, the future bishops with Ephesus as a center. Among these first diciples of John was Polycarp; the first bishop of Smyrna (Iz­mir; see also Chapter II), and Irenaeus, who founded and organis­ed Christianity in the area of Lyons in Gallia, what is now France. Later on, two Oecumenical Councils, those of 431 and 449 A.D., and several local Synods, were held here in the "Double Church of the Virgin". Ephesus was a place where a more unpromising soil for the growth of the seed of the new faith can scarcely be imagined; nevertheless Christianity showed some of its greatest triumphs here and it was the place from where the Christian faith expanded rapidly and with a conquering power. But, even in Ephesus, Christianity has disappeares. The local population now worships God in a somewhat different way. Only the humble Byzantine Chapel of Mary's Home, "Meryemana" some 7 kms from Seljuk, at the sum­mit of Bülbül Dagh (Nightingale Mountain) is a modest remnant of the Christian faith that once florished here so brilliantly.

Why did Christianity disappear here so totally? John begins his letter to the church of Ephesus with a description of one feature of the Risen Christ: He is the One who holds the seven stars in His right hand. We saw already that these seven stars stand for the seven churches. Christ holds the Churches in His hands. The Greek word for "to hold" is "kratein"; it is a strong word, for it means that Jesus Christ has full control as a ruler over the church. This word is also hidden in the word "demokrateia", which, in Greek, means: "republic" i.e. government by the people and for the people. So, "kratein" has the meaning that if the church submits to the reign by Christ, she will never go astray.

The church of Ephesus was even more open to these itinerant menaces and frauds than any other church. On the highway from Rome to the East, like the city, it was exposed to all kinds of false doctrine. But the church had faithfully met her obligations and had tested critically the false teachings and had rejected them. It had weeded out and debarred from its fellowship all evil and misguided men, who are described with the name "Nicolaitans". But never­theless, the Risen Christ blames his church in Ephesus slightly for the fact "that you do not love me as you did at first", and that the first enthusiasm had beed wasted. And then follows the warning: "Turn away from your sins and do what you did at first, but if not, I will come and take your lampstand from its place". Alas, the lamps-tand has been removed, for once flourishing Ephesus is now the ruin-field of Efes near Seljuk, and almost no traces of Christianity are found here. The church of Ephesus had the cause of real love among men and the mission to love each other. It was the first fine example of Christian fellowship and brotherhood, but it did not suc­ceed in this exalted charge.

But we may say that, when practising the good things for which the church is praised the promise of God will surely come true; the everlasting companionship with Christ in the Garden of God, i.e. in Paradise.

When death these mortal eyes shall seal,

And still this throbbing heart;

The renting veil shall Thee reveal,

All glorious as Thou art.
 

Seven Churches Revelation Message
Ephesus This is the message from the One who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks among the seven gold lamptands.
Smyrna This is the message from the One Who is the First and the Last, Who died and lives again.
Pergamum This is the message from the One who has the sharp two-edged sword.
Thyatira This is the message from the Son of God, whose eyes blaze like fire; whose feet shine like polished brass,
Sardis This is the message from the One who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know what you are doing; I know that you have the reputation of being alive, even though you are dead!
Philadelphia This is the message from the One Who is holy and true, Who holds the key that belonged to David, Who opens and none can close, Who closes so that none can open.
Laodicea This is the message from the Amen, the faithful and true witness, who is the origin of all that God has created.
I know what you have done; I know that you are neither cold nor hot. How I wish you were either one or the other!
but because you are barely warm, neither hot not cold, I am going to spit you out of my mouth!

 

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