Introduction to Ephesians

By Mike Mazzalongo Posted: Sun. Jun 3rd 2012
A review of the Apostle Paul's life and ministry and the circumstances leading up to the writing of this epistle.

The Ephesian letter has been called the queen of the epistles because of the very lofty ideas contained in chapter one, and because it deals with the church as a spiritual rather than a physical entity.

  • The objectives of this book examining Paul's letter to this church are that:
  • The reader becomes familiar with the teachings contained in the Ephesian letter.
  • The reader gains a greater appreciation for the church and its centrality in God's purpose for man.

The reader becomes sensitized to the great difference between the physical realm and the spiritual realm in which we live simultaneously as Christians.

By the end of our study, I hope that everyone who reads this book will have a clearer view of God, His church and the very real blessings/powers we possess as Christians.

Paul's Ministry – 32 AD to 67 AD

We know that Paul is the author of the epistle, and wrote it as a result of his visits there. Before we actually begin the text, I thought it would be helpful if we briefly reviewed Paul's ministry since much of it is interwoven with the work he did in Ephesus.

Birth to 31 AD

Paul's early life in Tarsus and Jerusalem

Paul was born in the city of Tarsus and as a citizen of this city was granted automatic Roman citizenship (Philippians 3:5). He traced his lineage to the Jewish tribe of Benjamin (Acts 16:37).

Tarsus was a city of learning and this is where Paul became acquainted with Greek learning and language as well as various religious cults. He received his formal education at the feet of Gamaliel (the great Jewish teacher) in Jerusalem (Acts 7:58; Galatians 1:13).

As a young man he was given authority to direct the persecution of Christians, and as a member of the local synagogue or Sanhedrin (council) he cast his vote against Christians in order to imprison or execute them (Acts 26:10). We think that his family was of some prominence in Jerusalem since we see that when he himself was imprisoned he sent his nephew directly to the Roman leaders to inform them of a plot by the Jews to kill him. This could not have happened without a position of influence (Acts 23:16-20).

We have little information about Paul's early years other than he was probably a widower since he encouraged the unmarried (widows/widowers/divorced) at Corinth to remain as he was, unmarried (I Corinthians 7:8), for the sake of peace in times of persecution. We believe he was a widower because he refers to himself as such, and one had to be married to be on the council in the synagogue or Sanhedrin.

We know very little of his looks. I Corinthians 2:3 and II Corinthians 10:10 suggest that his physical appearance was not impressive. Some non-biblical but historical writings (The Acts of Paul and Thella) say that he was short and balding, had crooked legs but a healthy body and bushy eyebrows that joined along with a hooked nose. They also write that despite his humble physical appearance, he was full of grace and sometimes had the face of an angel.

32 AD to 34 AD
Conversion and early ministry

Of course, most of our knowledge of him begins with his conversion on the road to Damascus. He had received official orders to go there and arrest Christians (Acts 9:1-2). He was acquainted with Christianity and Christians but as a persecutor of the church. The Bible records his participation in two such persecutions:

  • Stephen - Acts 7:54-60
  • The church - Acts 8:1-ff

On his way to Damascus, in order to carry out attacks against Christians in that city, Paul had an encounter with Jesus Christ that left him without sight (Acts 9:3-9). He fasted and prayed for three days until a Christian named Ananias was sent to him by the Lord to heal him of his blindness. Ananias also preached the Gospel to Paul and revealed to him the nature of his future ministry, which we know would be to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 9:10-18).

After his healing and conversion, he began his ministry by preaching to the Jews in Damascus. He was quite successful at this (Acts 9:20-22). During this period he also spent time in the desert devoting himself to prayer and study (Galatians 1:17). Eventually he had to escape from Damascus because of the pressure from the Jews (Acts 9:23-25).

35 AD
Tries to associate with Apostles

After his escape from Damascus he returns to Jerusalem and tries to associate with the Apostles and be recognized by them (Acts 9:26). They were skeptical at first but with Barnabas' reference and commendation of his conversion and work, he was accepted by the Apostles and began to teach and preach there. Again he was threatened and had to escape (Acts 9:27-30).

36 AD to 42 AD
Return to Tarsus

After Paul left Jerusalem he returned to his hometown of Tarsus and spent several years preaching and teaching there (Acts 9:30). Some scholars call this his "silent period."

42 AD to 44 AD
Teaches at Antioch

The church at Antioch was the first to have a mixture of Jewish and non-Jewish Christians, having been formed as Christians escaped persecution in Jerusalem. This created a severe "strain" on the fellowship there and so Barnabas recruited Paul to come with him to teach and preach at this place (Acts 11:19-26).

44 AD
Helps with "collection" for Jerusalem

About this time Jerusalem, with the surrounding area, suffered famine conditions. A collection was taken to help out, and Barnabas and Saul were put in charge of bringing it to Jerusalem for distribution (Acts 11:27-30).

45 AD to 57 AD
Missionary journeys

Most of the last half of the book of Acts describes Paul's three missionary journeys (Acts 13). It is during the second of these journeys that he first visits the city of Ephesus where he will eventually establish a congregation (Acts 18:18-21). I will provide more details about this in the next chapter.

His three journeys took him on ever widening loops around the Mediterranean area where he would establish churches on the way out, and revisit and strengthen them on his return to Antioch or Jerusalem.

58 AD to 60 AD
Prison at Caesarea

One of Paul's ongoing problems was the attack of Jewish leaders jealous of his success, and fear that their religion would be defiled or displaced. On one of his returns to Jerusalem, the Jewish leaders created a riot and caused him to be imprisoned by Roman authorities. He remained in a Roman jail for two years while local rulers like Felix, Festus and Agrippa held him captive to appease local Jewish leaders (Acts 21:15-26:30). Ultimately, Paul appealed his case to Caesar, which he was allowed to do as a Roman citizen, and was sent to Rome for trial.

60 AD to 61 AD
Trip to Rome

The trip by ship to Rome was interrupted by a shipwreck and stay on the island of Malta. Eventually in the spring of 61 AD Paul arrived in Rome (Acts 28:11).

His arrival in Rome was ironic because one of Paul's goals was to preach in the Empire's capital city, and now he found himself there not as a preacher but as a prisoner.

61 AD to 63 AD
Roman house arrest

Luke tells us (Acts 28:30) that Paul was under a type of house arrest for two years awaiting trial. However, during this time he taught many who visited him (eventually the Jewish leaders in Rome rejected him, Acts 28:29). He did, however, have great success with many Gentiles in Rome, including the other prisoners and guards in his circle (Onesimus, Colossians 4:9; Praetorian Guard, Philippians 1:13). While in prison he wrote several letters to different churches (prison epistles). We have four of these remaining: Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon.

63 AD
Release from prison

It seems that Paul won his case when he appeared before Caesar the first time because we see him visiting other churches after his arrest and imprisonment in Rome.

64 AD to 66 AD
Revisits churches

This period is less clear than his previous activity. There is no biblical evidence, but there are some historical writings (Letter of Clement, 95 AD) that say that he did visit Spain after his first Roman imprisonment.

From his writings, however, we do find out that during this time he revisited established congregations.

  • He spent time in Crete (a large island in the Mediterranean) – Titus 1:3
  • He went to Ephesus – I Timothy 1:3
  • He travelled to Corinth – II Timothy 4:20
  • He stopped at Troas – II Timothy 4:13
  • He went to Miletus – II Timothy 4:20

During this brief period of freedom it is believed that he wrote the first letter to Timothy and the letter to Titus.

67 AD
Paul martyred in Rome

In 64 AD Nero burned down the city of Rome and to divert blame from himself, he blamed Christians for starting the blaze. They were already unpopular and so it was easy to begin this persecution. Multitudes of Roman Christians were arrested and put to death during this time. Paul, as a recognized leader, was rearrested during this period. It is from his cell, awaiting execution, that he writes his final letter to Timothy (II Timothy). He was beheaded soon after. This ended the life of one of the great servants of the Lord.

PAUL AND EPHESUS

Paul's Missionary Journeys – 45 to 57 AD

Acts 18:18-21 – Paul was on his second missionary journey on his way home from Athens, Greece. He visits briefly to an enthusiastic response and leaves Aquila and Priscilla there in order to return home to report on his work. There were no conversions at this time.

Acts 18:24-28 – Apollos comes to Ephesus and preaches to the same people that Paul did. We find the results of his preaching in the next chapter, but Luke writes that Paul's friends, Aquila and Priscilla, take Apollos aside and teach him more accurately "…the way of God." Again, only in the next chapter do we get some idea of what Apollos was taught by them.

Acts 19:1-7 – Paul returns for a second visit to Ephesus and establishes the church. He finds twelve believers who have been taught exclusively by Apollos. Paul learns that they have been incorrectly taught by asking about their conversions.

Part of the basic Christian Gospel is that through Christ and His baptism the Holy Spirit is received (Acts 2:38). Their answer shows that what Apollos taught them was the message of John the Baptist. John's message was to repent and be baptized in preparation for the Kingdom that was coming. This is what Apollos taught them.

The message of the Gospel is that the Kingdom of God has come with power and those who repent and are baptized in Jesus' name are forgiven and receive the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit that is the power of the Kingdom because He empowers us to minister and to resurrect from the dead (Romans 8:9-11).

To the Jews, the fact that the Holy Spirit was given through Christ was the big issue about the Gospel, what they had been promised by prophets (i.e. Joel). This is what Paul teaches their men and what Aquila and Priscilla taught Apollos after they heard him speak.

Note that the disciples are re-baptized. Have you ever wondered why? They were first baptized the right way (immersion) but for the wrong reasons (John the Baptist's promise of the Kingdom).

Question - Why wasn't Apollos re-baptized?

Answer - All the ones baptized by John the Baptist when he was preaching were not re-baptized when Christ's baptism was begun on Pentecost. This is because John's baptism fulfilled all righteousness at the time it was preached. There was, therefore, no need to re-baptize people who received John's baptism from John himself or his disciples at the time of John the Baptist's ministry. Apollos was one of these, as were the Apostles.

Once Peter preached at Pentecost, however, only Christ's baptism was valid and every one still receiving John's baptism needed to be re-baptized. And so, with the re-baptism of these twelve men by Paul, the church at Ephesus was established.

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Oklahoma Christian University