Things just aren’t what they used to be…
In the immortal words of Kermit the Frog, “It ain’t easy being Greek.” (paraphrase). Such, undoubtedly, was the sentiment of the goddess Artemis in the late first century, AD. All over Asia and the Middle East, gentiles were coming to faith in a strange phenomena whereby the non-Jewish were accepting the reality of the Jewish God and the salvation offered by a Jewish Messiah. These idolaters were gathering together in one accord, in the city known for the Temple of the Virgin (one of the seven wonders of the ancient world), to worship a single God, not of their own heritage, to love one another and serve in unity, accepting a salvation offered freely and without respect to national border or personal achievement. As marvelous as this may seem to us today, it was utterly novel at the time.
Until now, the Greek goddess Artemis was not just a thing to be worshiped, she was big business. Ephesus was her keeper and defender, and the gateway to Asia. Jesus represented an assault on more than the status quo, He represented a threat to the economic well-being of thousands. And the thousands weren’t too enthusiastic about it.
It was into this context that Paul, on his third missionary journey (which was more of an extended stay than a journey since he remained three years), established the church at Ephesus. Starting with 12 former disciples of John the Baptist, Paul goes first to the Jews, preaches in the synagogue and diligently does his best for two months to get himself kicked out. He succeeds and ends up teaching in the school of Tyrannus for two years. From this academic setting, the gospel went out to all the peoples of Asia (Acts 19:10). In this achievement, Paul dethrones Artemis (also called Diana, the virgin, and the source of life) and seats Jesus Christ in her place, the virgin born Son of God. This coup is most starkly reflected in the words of Demetrius, a silversmith whose business it was to create images of the false goddess Artemis, who said, “You see and hear that not only in Ephesus, but in almost all of Asia, this Paul has persuaded and turned away a considerable number of people, saying that gods made with hands are no gods at all. Not only is there danger that this trade of ours (idolatry) fall into disrepute, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis be regarded as worthless and that she whom all of Asia and the world worship will even be dethroned from her magnificence.” (Acts 19:26-27).
Later, while imprisoned at Rome, Paul writes to the church he had established in order to strengthen the foundations of this triumph over “speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God” and to “take captive every thought to the obedience of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5)
In writing, Paul will put a name to this phenomena, referring to the followers of Jesus as “the temple,” “the body of Christ,” “the bride of Christ,” “citizens of Heaven,” “the family of God,” and, in the final chapter, “the army of God.” The progression of Paul’s letter works from sitting, to walking, to standing in Christ.
The first three chapters look at your position in Christ. That He has been seated at the right hand of God in the Heavenly Places and that you are seated with Him, in Him. Paul is going to address the church as learners and offer them a glimpse of who they really are.
Chapters 4 and 5 will address the Ephesians as disciples, and encourage them to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which they have been called.
And Chapter 6 will equip the Ephesians with the armor of God and charge them to stand firm in Christ.
From learner, to disciple, to soldier.
Sit. Walk. Stand.
Over the next few weeks and months, I’ll be digging into this theology masterclass and posting my observations here. I encourage your comments and insights and welcome you to join me in searching the depths of the riches of grace to be found in the book of Ephesians!