Today’s reading is drawn from Acts 19:17-20 and Revelation 2:1-3.
By the time of Paul, Ephesus had become enormously wealthy due to its status and position as a major port city of Asia Minor. It boasted a number of major public buildings, including gymnasiums, theaters and a triumphal arch constructed in 3 BC. In addition, the Ephesian temple of Artemis was lauded as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world and was already then a significant source of income (Acts 19:23–27).
Ephesus became a major center of the Christian faith. Although Paul probably wrote Ephesians as a circular letter and not specifically to this congregation, the church of Ephesus was a major focus of his ministry (he stayed there for over two years on his second visit; see Acts 19:1–41). The apostle John also wrote to this church in Revelation 2:1–7, and during the first five centuries AD several church councils were convened there. By the medieval period, however, silt from the Cayster River had extended the coastline so far to the west that Ephesus had ceased to be a port city and was abandoned.
The desertion of Ephesus was a boon for modern archaeology since it meant that the unoccupied city was open for excavation. Today Ephesus exists as one of the most magnificent ruins of the ancient world. According to second-century tradition, the apostle John spent his last years in Ephesus, as well as Jesus’ mother, Mary, who likely died in Ephesus.
The population of New Testament Ephesus is unknown, but it is clear that the city at that time was a thriving, cosmopolitan center of trade, religion and recreation. Its remains provide a rare look at an ancient city that was also important as a setting for the apostolic mission and the rise of Christianity. Perhaps more than any other archaeological site, Ephesus affords the reader of Acts a sense of context. Since there is no modern city there, the remains of Ephesus distinctively allow visitors to enter vicariously into the ancient world.