Paul the Apostle spent many years on the road preaching the gospel and establishing churches throughout the first-century world. Upon returning from his third missionary journey, the New Testament book of Acts tells us Paul was arrested and tried before the Jewish high court and two Roman governors.
Paul’s case dragged on for over two years until he finally exercised his right as a Roman citizen and appealed his case to Caesar, the Roman Emperor (Acts 21:26-26:32). The governor presiding over his case told him, “Very well!! You have appealed to Caesar, and to Caesar you shall go!” (Acts 25:12). And so Paul was taken to Rome to appeal his case before the Emperor.
Following that odyssey, Acts 28:16 says this: “Now when we came to Rome, the centurion delivered the prisoners to the captain of the guard; but Paul was permitted to dwell by himself with the soldier who guarded him.” So even though Paul was confined under house arrest, these pre-trial conditions allowed him to receive visitors and interact with others. That enabled Paul to communicate the message of Christ to everyone who wished to hear it (Acts 28:17-31).
Two commentators pick up Paul’s timeline from that point as it relates to our look at the book of 1 Timothy…
“Paul responded with this letter, in which he instructed Timothy to remain in Ephesus, and to continue his needed ministry—until Paul could rejoin him there (3:14; 4:13).” (1)
“Since Acts closes at the point of Paul’s rather comfortable incarceration in Rome awaiting his appeal (Acts 28:30), it is almost certain that Paul was later released and was able to continue his missionary ministries for another few years. It was during that time, apparently, that Paul sent Timothy to Ephesus to lead the important church there for a time.” (2)
So it seems that Paul left Timothy in the city of Ephesus to lead the church in that area while he left to continue his missionary work. Ephesus was perhaps best known as the home of the pagan Temple of Diana, a monumental structure that was recognized as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.
Ephesus was also a center for occultic practices that featured the ancient equivalent of fortune tellers, astrologers, tarot card readers, and other, similar types of activity. With these things in mind, we can say that Ephesus represented a difficult and challenging place for Timothy to minister the Word of God and may help to explain why Paul later encouraged him to remain there.
(1) See Charles B. Williams, A Commentary on the Pauline Epistles, p. 433. Referenced in Notes on 1 Timothy 2020 Edition, Dr. Thomas L. Constable https://www.planobiblechapel.org/tcon/notes/html/nt/1timothy/1timothy.htm
(2) Institute for Creation Research, New Defender’s Study Bible Notes, Introduction to I Timothy https://www.icr.org/books/defenders/8048