The simplest answer is to say they were the people who lived in Ephesus. That would certainly be correct but what would it tell us about them? When the great Apostle Paul visited the city for the first time, he immediately divided the citizens into three separate groups. First, there were the Jews and then the Jews who believed in Jesus and finally the non-Jews, i.e., Gentiles.
How excited Paul must have been to find believers among his fellow Jews. How excited he must have been to share the good news of Jesus’ baptism with them. How disappointing to discover in just three months’ time that the Jews wanted nothing to do with him or Jesus. Yet, when a door closed, a door opened. The city was full of religious minded people.
The Ephesians were known far and wide for their worship of the goddess Diana. In spite of the fact that there was a long-standing allegiance to the goddess, many Gentiles were interested in the story of Jesus. Perhaps this was because God performed many miracles in Ephesus, perhaps the most of any place he preached. So powerful were these miracles that great fear fell among the people and the name of Jesus was magnified. Those who had been practicing magic saw real miracles and burned their books in public.
The result of all this was that the word of the Lord spread all over the area and the church in Ephesus grew from the twelve Jews who had John’s baptism. Paul left Ephesus after teaching over two years in a private house. Publically and privately he shared the good news with Jews and Greeks. The church in Ephesus appointed shepherds and continued in its work of sharing the good news of Jesus.
Jesus was very much aware of this church. One of the seven letters of the Apocolypse was written to the church in Ephesus. Jesus had lots of nice things to say about this church. They were busy doing good things which is what churches are supposed to be doing. They were hard workers who toiled to spread the word and help others. In spite of persecutions and difficulties they did not give up but kept trying. They could have given up, but they didn’t. Because they believed in Jesus, they persevered and withstood every obstacle.
Jesus only had one negative thing to say about them. They had slipped. They had forgotten their first love and zeal. They had perhaps toiled so long they were tired and that fresh enthusiasm they had when Paul was there had worn down.
In the next few weeks, I’m going to be looking at the book of Ephesians and pointing out some things that hopefully will resonate with the readers of this blog. Beginning today, I want us to look at our fellowship of believers. How do we compare with the Ephesians? Do we share any of their positive characteristics? Any of the negative ones? If Paul was writing our church today, how different might his letter be to us? He wouldn’t know us personally like he did the Ephesians but the Holy Spirit would be able to tell him all about us.
I think it is important to think about this letter because it reminds us that we are a part of the church wherever we are. It’s not them; it’s us. We can’t get by warming a pew for perfect attendance. This letter isn’t about that at all. Remember, Jesus spoke of their deeds. As we proceed, keep asking yourself how does this letter speak to me?