The Church at Ephesus

    In this episode we're talking about the letter to the Church at Ephesus in Revelation! There are three ways people interpret the passages on the 7 Churches of Asia Minor (spiritually, literally, and prophetically) so we're going to talk about all 3.


    The first of the seven churches mentioned in Revelation is Ephesus. In Revelation 2:1-7, we are told about Ephesus’ strengths and weakness.

    💪🏾 Strengths
    • Works
    • Labor
    • Patience
    • Can’t bear those who are evil
    • Tested false apostles and found them liars
    • Hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans
    😩 Weaknesses
    • Left their first love

    In this podcast episode we’re going to explore what the significance of this particular church. Different frameworks for interpreting prophecy look at the historical church of Ephesus, the spiritual church of Ephesus, or Ephesus as a church age, so we’re going to look at all three possibilities.

    Initial Questions that Came To My Mind

    Works vs. Labor

    The church of Ephesus is known for their works and their labor. What is the difference?

    I have linked the difference in the definitions of the English words, but I think it’s more important to look at the difference in the Greek words that we get the translation from.

    The Greek words are ἔργον (works) and κόπος (labor). Both are related to toil, but ἔργον references acts and deeds where κόπος references troubles and pains. Based on this, I would presume works is a reference to good deeds the Church has performed where labor is reference to the hardships they faced in performing the works. In other words, God saw both the end result and the process. He is aware that following His Word isn’t easy or popular.

    What Was Their First Love?

    The message doesn’t specify what the first love of the church, but I believe the calls to action give a hint to what the first love was. The church is called to repent and do the first works. The first works of the church was spreading the gospel, all the way back to Messiah’s ministry. Part of the gospel was doctrine and message, but another part was healing and performing miracles. Ephesus seems to be solid on doctrine, though we aren’t told if they are spreading the message to new people—it’s very easy for congregations to become complacent and only preach to their own instead of expanding. It makes sense to me, however, if a church has lost their love of Messiah or their faith, they would be unable to perform miracles. The clearest example of this is when Peter attempts to walk on water with Messiah and begins to sink because he doubted.

    Meaning of the Name

    Some say the meaning of Ephesus is desirable,[4][5] however I have not been able to verify this information anywhere. Concordances do not list a meaning for the Greek name rendered Ephesus in English.

    The Literal Church of Ephesus

    Of the seven churches, Ephesus is one of the few that are referenced elsewhere in the Bible. Not only is it the church that was written to in the book of Ephesians, it is also mentioned in Acts 18-20. In addition, reference to people going to Ephesus (or being in Ephesus) can be found in 1 Corinthians 15:32; 16:8; 1 Timothy 1:3,18; 2 Timothy 4:12. This makes it somewhat easier to get to know more about this church.

    Ephesus in the Book of Acts

    In Acts 18:18-21, we learn that Paul visited Ephesus with Priscilla and Aquila. Although he left Priscilla and Aquila there (presumably to lead), he still entered the synagogue to try to teach the Jews in the city. Gentile believers probably would not have been in the synagogue since the Jews considered them unclean. We often think of Paul as teaching the Gentiles, but it looks like he was focused on his own people during this visit. A question I would ask is if the letter was meant for the synagogue of Jews in Ephesus or for the Messianic believers—the fact that the Messiah is the one speaking and stating “for my namesake,” suggests He means the latter (re: those who believe in the crucifixion and resurrection of our Messiah). On the other hand, we are told that the Jews there wanted Paul to stay, but he left with the excuse that he had to keep a feast in Jerusalem. If the people in the synagogue were also Jews, why were they not going to the feast in Jerusalem?

    Later in Acts 18:24, we are introduced to Apollos, an Egyptian Jew who was well versed in scripture. Apollos also visits Ephesus and is taken under the wings of Priscilla and Aquila. Apollos is trained and sent out places, one of which is Corinth. While Apollos is in Corinth, Paul comes back to Ephesus. In Acts 19, we learn of all the miracles and deeds that Paul performs. It says everyone knew, not only of the miracles but also that the power had been given specifically to God’s servants—not just anyone could cast out demons even using the name of our Messiah. We are told that the name of God was exalted throughout the city.

    The next thing we learn about Ephesus is that its craftsmen made their money from the worship of Diana. Historical record shows that the city was home to the temple of Artemis, the Greek goddess of the hunt, childbirth, and the moon.[1]She was called Diana by the Romans and this temple was listed as one the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World. These craftsmen are upset that Paul has turned the people away from worshipping Diana. The pushback from these men turned in to confusion among the people; for some reason they deny Paul’s return when he offers. When a near riot erupts, the town clerk solves it by stating that the believers have not wronged nor blasphemed the followers of Diana. This is an interesting statement because by proclaiming that there is only one true God, who is not Diana, wouldn’t that be considered blasphemous by the people who worshipped her?

    Acts 20 contains Paul’s farewell to the Church of Ephesus. He warns them that false teachers from both outside and inside the body will arise once he is gone.


    The book of Ephesians is a letter written from Paul to the Church at Ephesus years after the events of Acts. He is writing to a group of Jews and converts who live is a city that was dedicated to the pagan worship of Diana. The major theme of Ephesians is relationship: relationship between the Church and Messiah, the relationship between members of the Church, and of course, the relationship between husband and wife (which is really about the relationship between the Church and Messiah). Paul speaks on unity, love, and submission. These are clearly topics that were of great importance to the people Ephesus, whether they struggled with these things or merely needed reminding and reassurance in those areas.

    The Spiritual Church of Ephesus

    Some think the churches of Revelation are symbolic of different types of believers. If that is the case, who would Ephesus represent? The people of Ephesus remind me a bit of the judgmental people you meet at Church. Hear me out, because I know the passage never calls them judgmental. The Ephesian Church is good at detecting false doctrine and booting it from their midst, but they have forgotten their first love. Often I meet (and occasionally I even struggle with being one) believers who know true doctrine that most have either eschewed or do not know, but struggle with presenting these truths in love. These people are quick to pass judgment and refer to someone as lost, but not as quick to bring them in to truth or to speak the truth to them in a loving manner. In this case, the first love is saving souls and bringing people in to the fold. This was the first image that came to my mind as I read the passage.

    In any case, I believe the first love of any believer (and therefore the Church) should be the Most High. Perfect love and the Most High are somewhat synonymous and is defined in 1 Corinthians 13. I believe these are the traits that are lacking in a spiritual Ephesus.

    The Ephesus Church Age

    Scholars have divided the time between Messiah’s resurrection and now into distinct church ages. The first of these ages mirrors the message delivered to Ephesus. The church of age associated with Ephesus would have to include the early church where the Word was spreading wildly. Scholars typically refer to this age as Apostolic Age; it generally lasted from after the resurrection (~30 AD) through the death of the last apostle (~100 AD). Although many associate this time with the “perfect” Church, this is when the first rifts within the church began. During this time false doctrine sprouted up in many sects (like the Nicolatians) and early Church leaders worked to identify mere differences of preference versus true errors of doctrine. Some of these conversations can be seen in Acts. This is the time in which the letters that would eventually become the New Testament were written and the gospel was spread from not only those descended from Abraham but to Gentiles as well.[6]

    Points of Interest

    Before each church is discussed, an attribute of the Lamb mentioned in Revelation 1 is referenced. For Ephesus we are reminded that the one who “holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks” is the one judging this church. Interestingly, part of their rebuke is a warning that if they do not repent their candlestick will be removed from its place. In Revelation 1 we learned that the candlesticks represent the churches and the stars represent the angels of each church. With that in mind, there is a strong focus on both the messenger of the church (we see them testing would-be pastors/leaders and expelling them if they are found to be liars), and the church itself (the need to repent).

    Removing the Candlestick

    A common doctrine in some churches is “once saved always saved.” The idea is that a person who is saved can never lose salvation. We could go on a whole tangent about the definition of saved which greatly impacts the idea, but I want to focus on the consequence of the church not repenting. Revelation 2:5 says the church of Ephesus’ candlestick will be removed from its place if they do not repent. The candlestick symbolizes the church itself (see Revelation 1). This means it is possible for the church to lose it’s place before the Most High. Now, just because the Church can lose its place, it doesn’t necessarily follow that individuals can too (I have heard some argue that is what this passage proves). It does seem more likely, however, that if a church can lose its salvation so can an individual.

    Who Are the Nicolaitans

    The church of Ephesus hates the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which God praises. That means its probably good to know at the very least what the deeds of the Nicolaitans are. Most sources suggest the Nicolaitans lived life in the flesh. It is thought that they separated spirit and body in the sense that they believed the body could indulge in anything without harming the spirit. As such they are linked to indulgence and fornication. Some believe they were antinomian (rejected the law, including the moral law).[2][3] The most important thing to remember about the Nicolaitans is that they followed false doctrine.

    References and Footnotes

    1. Ephesus”. Britannica; visited February 2024
    2. Nicolaism”. Wikipedia; visited March 2024
    3. Nicolaitans”. Bible Gateway; visited March 2024
    4. The Correct Meaning of Ephesus”. Verse By Verse Ministry. November 11, 2016; visited March 2024
    5. Doug Batchelor. “Jesus’ Message to the 7 Churches”. Amazing Facts. January 19, 2019; visited March 2024
    6. Apostolic Age”. Scholarly Community Encyclopedia; visited March 2024
    Published on Saturday, March 23, 2024
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