As discussed in my book, Eyes to See The Revelation: A Spiritual Journey, Ephesus was a very unique city. It had a population of about 250,000, the fourth largest city in the Roman Empire. As further described in the Anchor Bible Dictionary, Ephesus was the most significant commercial center in Asia Minor. In addition to being a key port city, the province had abundant natural resources and lay on the major east-to-west, over-land trade route. The city grew and prospered under Roman control.
Paul, John (the Apostle), John (the Elder), and Timothy most likely all taught in Ephesus. Additionally, tradition links Mary (the mother of Jesus) and Mary Magdalene to the prosperous city. Luke described Ephesus as having a synagogue and a significant Jewish population (Acts 18:19; 19:8-10). Ephesus was Paul’s base of operations. Paul taught for approximately three years in Ephesus, and during the latter two years, he taught from the Tyrannus lecture hall (Acts 19:8-10). In Ephesus, the residents of Asia Minor (both Jew and Gentile) heard the Word of the Lord. The way of the Lord flourished in Ephesus and Asia Minor (Acts 19:10, 20).
However, there was a pagan backlash against the Christians in Ephesus (Acts 19:21-41). Ephesus was the home of the famous Temple of Artemis (a/k/a Diana), which was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Demetrius was a silver-smith in Ephesus, who manufactured and sold silver shrines to worshippers of Artemis. However, the advance of Christianity in the region had negatively impacted the sales of the silver idols. This led to a riot at the Ephesus Theater, which had an impressive capacity of 25,000. At that time, Paul was forced to leave the city.
Later, on his way to Jerusalem, Paul summoned the Ephesian elders (Acts 20:17-38). With the elders, Paul recalled the almost continual opposition against his ministry. In addition to the pagan opposition mentioned above, the Apostle Paul faced numerous plots from the Advocates of the Old Covenant in Ephesus. Regardless of the opposition, Paul did not retreat from his mission. He preached publicly and from house church to house church. However, Paul warned that after his departure, rapacious wolves would seek to destroy the Ephesian flock (Acts 20:29). In other writings, Paul declared the he had fought beasts in Ephesus (1 Cor. 15:32). When speaking of “wolves” or “beasts,” Paul was not referring to animals. He was speaking of humans, who were oriented to the earthly as opposed to the heavenly. In other words, these were not gentle, domesticated animals. They were irrational and violent. These beasts were dominated by the lusts of the eyes, the lusts of the flesh, and the pride of life.
All of the above is a reminder that Christians should not be surprised when we face opposition and antagonism in this world. We should expect persecution in this “present evil age” (Gal. 1:4).
Jesus Christ addressed Ephesus as one of the seven churches of Revelation. Through his agent John, the Elder, Jesus commended the Ephesians for their perseverance and participation in the work of the Lord (Rev. 2:2). The Ephesians were not deceived or distracted by false teachers (Rev. 2:2). They understood Paul’s pattern of sound teaching. The Ephesians demonstrated perseverance, which is an essential characteristic of faithfulness. However, John believed that Christ was no longer the number one priority in their lives. John said that the Ephesians had left their “first love” (John 2:4). This is a potential occupational hazard for every Christian. We must keep our momentum and intensity of devotion for God. We must continue in Bible study. We must continue to draw near and always live in His presence. This is what it means to enter the Kingdom of God.
Jesus Christ (through His agent, John) encouraged the Ephesians to remember from where they had fallen. When we first believe in Jesus Christ, there is often an initial strong intensity of devotion. Sadly, most will lose that intensity over time. It is similar to the loss of intensity of devotion in some marriages. Although emotions may wax and wane, devotion to each other must stay as strong as ever before if a marriage is to thrive. There must always be a devotion to please the other. In the same way, we must always have an intense devotion to please the Lord and remain in fellowship with Him. The spiritual life can have an intensity of devotion that is not dependent on or based on human emotions. As John taught, if we do sin, we need only acknowledge our sin and get back into fellowship with God (1 John 1:9). John encouraged the Ephesians to do the works that they did at first, or otherwise, they risked losing their status as being a true guiding light to the world (Rev. 2:5). They were challenged to repent (Rev. 2:5). In other words, they were told to have a change of mind and direction.
After the criticism, Jesus once again commended the Ephesians. He commended them for their hatred of the deeds of the Nicolaitans (Rev. 2:6). It was noted that Jesus Christ also hated the deeds of the Nicolaitans. So, what deeds does Jesus hate the most? The Anchor Bible Dictionary indicates that most commentators think this referred to some type of antinomianism. However, Proverbs 6:16 lists seven things that the Lord hates. “Haughty eyes” are at the top of that list. God hates arrogance. This is the sin of Satan and most every human. In contrast, we must remain humble, no matter what we learn or accomplish. To maintain our momentum as Christians, we must maintain our humility. Proverbs 18:12 states: “Before destruction the heart of man is haughty, but humility goes before honor.” Proverbs 22:4 states: “The reward of humility and the fear of the Lord are riches, honor and life.” We should never lose our humility. The New Testament writers commended humility again and again (Acts 20:19; Eph. 4:2; Phil. 2:3; Col. 3:12; 1 Pet. 5:5). James taught believers to “in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls” (Jas. 1:21). This is another example of how salvation is a continuum. It includes a progressive state of Kingdom Living, which must be maintained. We are warned to not fall away.
As a final note of encouragement to the Ephesians, John wrote, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat from the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God” (Rev. 2:7). God will provide a special, unique, and blessed life to the Fraternity of Faithful Believers. A highly blessed life is dependent on an ongoing spiritual life. Remaining faithful and enjoying such special blessings is a product of God’s grace. However, we must seek and receive. Our free will is always an issue.
 “Ephesus.” The Anchor Bible Dictionary: Volume 2, Editor-in-Chief, David Noel Freeman, et al., Doubleday, 1992.
 The “Advocates of the Old Covenant” is the name that I apply to First Century Christians and Jews who put an undue emphasis on continuing the ritual practices of the Old Testament law. The Advocates of the Old Covenant included Jews that believed in Christ and Jews that did not accept Christ as the Messiah. Also included were Gentile believers who put an undue emphasis on the Old Covenant.
 The “Fraternity of Faithful Believers” is the name that I apply to those symbolically described as the 144,000 in the Book of Revelation. The Bible calls them victors (or overcomers). Understand that the Lord has set aside the faithful (or pious) for Himself (Ps. 4:3).