EPHESUS (ACTS 18:19-20). The city of Ephesus lay at the mouth of the Cayster River, between the Koresos Range and four miles from the Aegean Sea, on the western coast of Asia Minor. Ephesus was connected by highways to all the important trade routes.
In Paul’s day, Ephesus was the fourth largest city in the Empire, with a population of 500,000. The Roman governor of Asia resided in Ephesus and a large colony of Jews made their home here. Its great days of economic trade had passed however.
Deepening economic depression and decline forced the city to turn to tourist trade. It had a large 24,000 seat theater carved into one of its rock hillsides. However, the city’s real claim to fame, and the mainstay of its economy, was the magnificent Temple of Artemis, once classified among the Seven Wonders of the World. It was four times the size of the Parthenon in Athens. It housed the figure of Artemis, a local fertility deity, which some believe was cast from a meteorite. The Ephesians never ceased to embellish the shrine of their goddess, continually adding new decorations and subsidiary buildings, with statues and paintings by the most famous artists.
Though religion was a great success in Ephesus and a source of pride and profit, it failed to meet the deepest need of the population. Certainly, Paul recognized this deep need in his brief ministry with the Jews in Ephesus. Finding a receptive audience in the synagogue, he promises to come back if it is God’s will.
Paul leaves Priscilla and Aquila in Ephesus instead of taking them to Syria; they will stay there for the next three years. He returns to Ephesus on his Third Missionary Journey and pastors the church of Ephesus for two years.
But bade them farewell, saying, I must by all means keep this feast that cometh in Jerusalem: but I will return again unto you, if God will. And he sailed from Ephesus (Acts 18:21 KJV).
The statement about the feast is loosely paralleled in Acts 20:16, and thought to be an interpolation by a Western text reviser since it is missing in a wide variety of manuscripts. If the reason for Paul’s hasty departure is a feast, it is probably Passover or Pentecost. The reason the apostle would want to be in Jerusalem for the feast is speculative.
Paul set sail from Ephesus across the open sea by Rhodes and Cyprus to Caesarea, where he landed. “He went up” indicates that he went to Jerusalem, sixty-five miles southeast of Caesarea. At Jerusalem, he greeted the church and then went down to Syrian Antioch, a trip of three hundred miles.
The Second Missionary Journey had taken over two years. The two churches must have heard a thrilling report from the apostle. But Paul had no disposition to rest on his laurels, and it did not take long before he set out on his Third Journey. The church of Antioch is seasoned and he is not needed.