1 “To the angel of the church in Ephesus, write the following: (Rev 2:1)
The city of Ephesus was one of the most remarkable jewels of the ancient world, in fact possibly number three in population in the Asia Minor (around 150,000 people), which is located in the Modern day Turkey. When Emperor Augustus in 27 BCE moved proconsul of Asia from Pergamum to Ephesus, the great period of political and financial prosperity for the city of Ephesus has officially begun. Years later, Strabo, an important Roman historian, in his writings stated that Ephesus was a city second in greatness only to Rome itself (Strabo, Geography, Vol. 1-7, 14.1.24.) Like all cities of the ancient world this city itself was a religious institution. The Ephesians were the protectors of the cult of Artemis the Great (Acts 19:35), a Greek mother goddess of prosperity well-known and adored throughout the Mediterranean. She in turn was thought to be supremely concerned with the well-being of the city of Ephesus and by extent anyone who paid her homage from any other place in the Greco-Roman world. The Temple of Artemis was said to be so magnificent that it was counted among the seven wonders of the ancient world.
In Acts 19:8 we read that “Paul entered the synagogue and spoke boldly there for three months, arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God.” On the steps of the magnificent Library of Celsus one can even now see a picture of the Jerusalem temple menorah engraved into the stone. This shows that the book of Acts’ testimony about Jewish presence in Ephesus was accurate, even though up-to-date no Jewish synagogue has been identified among its archeological ruins.
The city of Ephesus had also a very interesting and rich history of Christ-followers connected to it. Apostle Saul (Paul) lived and worked there proclaiming the Gospel unhindered for several years (Acts 19:10). It is understood that sometime in mid-60s he wrote his 1st Letter to the Corinthians and several other letters from there. There Saul Paul stated: “…I will stay in Ephesus until Pentecost, for a wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.” (1 Cor. 16:7-9). Luke stated in Acts 19:17 that “Jews and Greeks living in Ephesus… were all seized with fear, and the name of the Lord Jesus was held in high honor.” This description was authored in response to the evil spirit’s rebuke to some Judeans residing in Ephesus who used the name of Jesus and Paul for purposes of healing and exorcism (Acts 19:15-17).
In our English translations this letter is addressed to ἄγγελος (angelos) “the angel” of the Church in Ephesus. There are two terminology issues that need to be mentioned. The use of the word “church” to translate the word ἐκκλησία (ekklesia) is a bit problematic here. We are dealing here with the first century context. In the first century there were no churches, not even Jewish churches as they are sometimes being referred to. A church as an institution is by definition separate in its essences from an Israelite synagogue. Given John’s anti-Roman Jewish attitudes in this letter, we are probably dealing with mixed Israelite and non-Israelite Jesus-following assemblies in the Asia Minor.
As such it is reasonable to suggest that these assemblies would have a shared or at least be very familiar with Jewish synagogue practice. Up until today synagogues have a person, usually called is שליח ציבור (shaliach tzibur) – lit. “a public messenger”. His job was to lead people in prayer, make congregational announcements and present any correspondence received by the assembly among other things. Is it possible that this is what is meant here by the term ἄγγελος “an angel” (angelos/malach/shaliach-tzibur/messenger). This, of course as was already mentioned in other sections, is not the only interpretive option, perhaps heavenly messengers are in fact in view.