Tuesday, September 11, 2007


Our tour group visited the ancient site of Ephesus yesterday. During its peak, Ephesus was had over 250,000 people living there making it the fourth largest city in the Roman Empire (behind Rome, Alexandria and Antioch).

Some of the important sites there are: the Church of St. John where the grave of the Apostle John is believed to be located. Also, there is a strong tradition that Luke is buried near Ephesus as well. The main tourist attractions are the ruins of the city of Ephesus. It is still under excavation with only about 20% of it having been uncovered.

According to Acts 20:31, Paul spend three years in Ephesus which would make it his longest “pastorate.” Like everywhere else, he stirred up plenty of trouble there. Because so many people turned to Christ by his preaching, the lucrative silver trade supplying sacrificial shrines for the goddess Artemis suffered. People can usually be religiously tolerant until it starts affecting their pocket book.

A mob gathered in the amphitheater to protest this trend. The same massive theater that seated 24,000 people has been excavated and can be seen today. The crazed mob chanted “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” for two solid hours (Acts 19:34) As they shouted, they could look about ½ mile to their right and see their glorious temple. Paul wanted to speak to the crowd, but cooler heads prevailed, and he escaped to preach another day.

The Temple of Artemis (also called Diana) was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Artemis was a fertility goddess and virgin huntress. She was considered the first of the “Amazon women” and the priests were young girls who dressed in Amazon-huntress fashion. The temple consisted of 117 columns that were 60 feet in height and 6 feet in diameter. It was 440 feet long, 220 feet wide and 60 feet high. Inside the temple was some kind of object that had fallen from the sky (Acts 19:35). Scholars speculate that it was a meteorite that resembled the shape of a woman, with multiple breasts to represent fertility.

Today, all that remains of the great temple is one column and the foundation. In fact, there is nothing that remains in Ephesus – it is only an archeological site – there’s nothing there but cold stones and dead memories. As I’ve traveled the world, I’ve often wondered why some cities still exist today that existed in Bible times, and why others have simply become a pile of rocks. For instance, the Athens and Rome that Paul visited are still a thriving city, but Ephesus is gone. Why?

Some say it was because the Cayster River filled with silt and it was no longer suitable for a port. True, but the city could have just shifted a few miles south to the Meander River (from which we get our English word “to meander.”) Why is the great city of Ephesus a ghost town? I believe the answer is found in 2 Ephesians. Yep, I said 2 Ephesians. Now, if you know your Bible you’re thinking, “there’s a 2 Corinthians and a 2 Thessalonians, but there’s not a 2 Ephesians.” Yes there is. It’s just not called 2 Ephesians. It’s the letter that Jesus sent to the Church in Ephesus found in the 2nd Chapter of the Revelation.

Ephesus was one of the seven churches in Asia Minor to receive a special message from the Lord. When John penned these words: “To Ephesus under the direct orders of Jesus (Rev 1:19),” he knew the church well because tradition says that he had been the pastor there before he was arrested and exiled to Patmos. By the time Jesus sent this message to the Ephesian Church, they had grown large and influential. Listen to the warning that Jesus gave them:

“I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! (Perhaps a sarcastic reference to the meteorite that had fallen from the sky?) Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.” (Rev 2:4-5)

Today, Ephesus is a dead city with no churches. It looks to me like they had their lampstand removed – just as Jesus promised.

Let this be a warning to all of us – especially at times when we’re tempted to boast about the riches and influence of the American church. We must repent and return to our first love as well – a passionate, fervent love for Jesus. If we don’t (should Jesus tarry), there may be tour group visiting the ruins of America in the year 4007, as a guide explains the past glory and beauty of our culture.