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Acts Chapter 19, verses 1-4
While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There
he found some disciples and asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”
They answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”
So Paul asked, “Then what baptism did you receive?”
“John’s baptism,” they replied.
Paul said, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.”
After visiting and working in the region of Galatia andPhrygia, Paul took the more northern route across the province of Asia to Ephesus. On his second journey his stop at that city had been very brief. “But as he left, he promised, ‘I will come back if it is God’s will’” (18:21). God willed it, and Paul worked in Ephesus for more than two years.
At Ephesus he was surprised to meet a number of peoplewho believed what they had heard concerning Jesus but who had never heard of the Holy Spirit. Paul’s question “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” was simply a friendly inquiry as to whether they had received any special gifts of the Spirit. Their answer revealed that they knew very little gospel teaching.
Further questioning made clear why they had not received or even heard of the Holy Spirit. Like Apollos, they had only an incomplete knowledge of Jesus’ saving work. They had received John’s baptism, that is, a baptism that looked forward to Christ’s coming rather than a baptism based on what Jesus did. Paul explained to them that John’s preaching had pointed to Jesus and that Jesus had come.
They had not really understood what John’s message was. Thus, they had participated in a ceremony of washing, but they had not really been baptized. That ceremony could not be a true baptism without the revelation, the “name” of Jesus. That was why they had not received the Holy Spirit.
Acts Chapter 19, verses 5-7
On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. There were about twelve men in all.
When the disciples in Ephesus learned that Jesus was the fulfillment of John’s prophecy and learned what he had done, they believed. And they were baptized into, or in, Jesus’ name. Believing in him and relying on the truth about him, they were made his own people in Holy Baptism.
Paul laid his hands on them as a sign of blessing and fellowship. They who had never heard of the Holy Spirit now received unusual gifts from him. They spoke in tongues, as the Twelve had done on Pentecost (2:4), and as Cornelius and his household did at Caesarea (10:44-46). They also prophesied, that is, spoke God’s Word in plain language.
Faith, Baptism, and the Holy Spirit belong together. The Spirit creates faith and makes Baptism a means of grace. Where the means of grace are the Holy Spirit is.
Acts Chapter 19, verses 8-10
Paul entered the synagogue and spoke boldly there for three months, arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God. But some of them became obstinate; they refused to believe and publicly maligned the Way. So Paul left them. He took the disciples with him and had discussions daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. This went on for two years, so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord.
It was remarkable that Paul was able to continue his work in the synagogue for as long as three months. In other cities opposition always arose much sooner. Luke says that the apostle’s subject was the kingdom of God—God’s gracious rule in the interest of saving people. This was not a new topic; the expression includes all that Paul preached and taught about Jesus as the focus and the fulfillment of God’s plan of salvation.
The Word of God will eventually cause a division between those who believe it and those who do not. After three months of hearing the Word from Paul, some of his hearers hardened themselves against his message. He had taught the way of salvation, and they began to speak evil of it in an outspoken manner. When God’s Word is stubbornly rejected, it is time to withdraw from those who claim to have it but will not hear it. Paul and those who were persuaded of the gospel truth left the synagogue.
Tyrannus may have been a lecturer himself, who taught the art of rhetoric or some other subject. He may simply have owned a hall that teachers and philosophers rented for their classes and meetings. There Paul carried on daily instruction, and any synagogue people who wanted to hear his message could easily find him.
During this time Paul wrote 1 Corinthians to the church at Corinth. Through people coming to hear Paul and through the work of his assistants, the Word of the Lord was spread through the whole province. The churches at Colosse, Hierapolis, and Laodicea were probably founded at this time.
Acts Chapter 19, verses 11-12
God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them.
The miracles were extraordinary because Paul himself was not present to speak or to lay his hands on the sufferers. The gospel was spreading throughout the province of Asia, and Paul could not be everywhere at once. God, who worked through the words or the touch of the apostle, could also work through the tentmaker’s clothing. He did, and that helped the progress of the gospel.
Acts Chapter 19, verses 13-14
Some Jews who went around driving out evil spirits tried to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who were demonpossessed. They would say, “In the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out.” Seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this.
People who did not trust Jesus as their Savior tried to use his name as a kind of magic incantation. They had seen Paul heal and heard him drive out spirits in Jesus’ name. Part of an ancient papyrus document evidently used by a non-Jewish exorcist reads: “I command you in the name of Jesus the God of the Jews . . .”
Either Sceva was a member of the priestly family, or “chief priest” was a title he took for himself to add to his prestige. Neither he nor his sons necessarily lived in Ephesus, since people of their type moved from place to place preying on superstitious people.
Acts Chapter 19, verses 15-17
One day, the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and I know about Paul, but who are you?” Then the man who had the evil spirit jumped on them and overpowered them all. He gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding.
When this became known to the Jews and Greeks living in Ephesus, they were all seized with fear, and the name of the Lord Jesus was held in high honor.
An evil spirit in the synagogue at Capernaum had recognized Jesus: “I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” (Luke 4:34). Also at Capernaum “demons came out of many people, shouting, ‘You are the Son of God!’” (Luke 4:41). The devil and his angels know and fear the Son of God. This evil spirit knew Jesus and knew about Paul, but he scorned those who were taking Jesus’ name in vain by trying to use it for profit. Anyone taking Jesus’ name into his mouth for earthly gain or unspiritual purposes ought to realize that even the devils look down on him.
The plan of Sceva’s sons miscarried, but God used their misuse of his name for his good purposes. Even those who did not trust the Lord Jesus as their Savior had to respect his name. Paul used that name, and extraordinary miracles took place. Sceva’s sons used it, and an evil spirit beat them up. Such a name must be treated with respect and care, thought the people of Ephesus.
Acts Chapter 19, verses 18-19
Many of those who believed now came and openly confessed their evil deeds. A number who had practiced sorcery brought their scrolls together and burned them publicly. When they calculated the value of the scrolls, the total came to fifty thousand drachmas.
Among those who were young in the faith, there were some who had not completely given up their superstitious practices. Now they publicly acknowledged their wrongdoing. The Greek word for “evil deeds” was sometimes used in the special sense of “magic spells.” That meaning seems to fit very well here.
It would have taken 160 workingmen a year of six-day weeks to earn the price of the scrolls that were publicly destroyed.
Acts Chapter 19, verse 20
In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power.
Paul’s teaching and miracles, the driving out of evil spirits, and the victory of Jesus’ truth over sorcery all made for the widespread and growing influence of the gospel.
Acts Chapter 19, verse 21-22
After all this had happened, Paul decided to go to Jerusalem, passing through Macedonia and Achaia. “After I have been there,” he said, “I must visit Rome also.” He sent two of his helpers, Timothy and Erastus, to Macedonia, while he stayed in the province of Asia a little longer.
Paul planned to visit the young churches of Macedonia and Greece. Then he wanted to go to Jerusalem. Finally, he was sure that God wanted him to visit Rome.
Part of Paul’s purpose in Macedonia and Achaia was to encourage the churches to complete the collection that they were gathering for the needy Christians of Jerusalem and Judea. Part of his purpose in going to Jerusalem was to deliver that collection. Then, he felt, he would be free to go to Rome. We know about the collection for the saints of Judea from references in 1 and 2 Corinthians and Romans.
This is the first mention of Erastus. In Romans 16:23, Paul, writing from Corinth, mentions “Erastus, who is the city’s director of public works.” If it is the same man, Paul had a very influential helper. The name was quite common, and the same person is not necessarily meant.
Paul’s reason for staying a little longer is found in 1 Corinthians 16:8,9: “I will stay on at Ephesus until Pentecost, because a great door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many who oppose me.”
Acts Chapter 19, verses 23-27
About that time there arose a great disturbance about the Way. A silversmith named Demetrius, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought in no little business for the craftsmen. He called them together, along with the workmen in related trades, and said: “Men, you know we receive a good income from this business. And you see and hear how this fellow Paul has convinced and led astray large numbers of people here in Ephesus and in practically the whole province of Asia. He says that manmade gods are no gods at all. There is danger not only that our trade will lose its good name, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be discredited, and the goddess herself, who is worshiped throughout the province of Asia and the world, will be robbed of her divine majesty.”
One of the seven wonders of the ancient world was the temple of Artemis at Ephesus. It was three times as large as the Parthenon at Athens. Silver models of the temple, with the statue of the goddess inside, were sold to visitors who came to Ephesus out of devotion to Artemis. The people of Asia Minor worshiped Artemis as a fertility goddess, and her temple was served by priestesses who were also prostitutes.
Demetrius rightly regarded the work of Paul in Ephesus and Asia as a threat to his livelihood. Where the true and living God is preached and believed, there will be fewer idolaters, fewer people willing to pay costly devotion to false gods. Demetrius’ motives and his appeal to the other people involved in the shrine business were a mixture of greed and superstitious religion.
Paul’s message in Ephesus must have included the truth that he had expressed before the Areopagus in
Athens: “We should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by man’s design and skill” (17:29). Paul’s preaching was more effective than the silversmith wanted it to be, but it had not persuaded Demetrius.
When Demetrius said that Artemis was worshiped throughout the world, he was not stretching the facts by much. In his world, that is, the eastern Mediterranean region, archaeologists have found evidence that the goddess had devotees in 30 or more places besides Ephesus.
Acts Chapter 19, verses 28-31
When they heard this, they were furious and began shouting: “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” Soon the whole city was in an uproar. The people seized Gaius and Aristarchus, Paul’s traveling companions from Macedonia, and rushed as one man into the theater. Paul wanted to appear before the crowd, but the disciples would not let him. 31 Even some of the officials of the province, friends of Paul, sent him a message begging him not to venture into the theater.
In cities such as Ephesus, the large outdoor theaters were used for public meetings as well as for dramas and spectacles. Archaeologists estimate that the theater at Ephesus seated about 26,000.
Gaius was a very common name, and three men named Gaius are mentioned in the New Testament. This is the only mention of the Macedonian Gaius. Aristarchus will be mentioned again in Acts (20:4; 27:2). He was with Paul when the latter was in prison (Colossians 4:10; Philemon 24).
The disciples were sure that Paul’s life and the lives of Gaius and Aristarchus would be in danger if he spoke. The mob would only become more violent if they saw and heard the man whose preaching endangered the city’s fame as the great center of Artemis worship.
Paul had other friends dissuading him too, friends in very high places. The officials, known as asiarchs, were elected from the most influential families of the province. They were supposed to encourage the official religion of Rome. We do not know how they became Paul’s friends, but it is difficult to imagine that Paul would ever withhold the gospel from anyone. They may not have been believers, but they were fair-minded men, and they cared enough for justice and for Paul that they did not want him to fall into the hands of a mob.
Acts Chapter 19, verses 32-33
The assembly was in confusion: Some were shouting one thing, some another. Most of the people did not even know why they were there. The Jews pushed Alexander to the front, and some of the crowd shouted instructions to him. He motioned for silence in order to make a defense before the people.
The mob’s chant “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” was intended to intimidate the Jews or anyone who would speak out against the worship of idols. The Jews wanted the mob to know that Paul did not represent them. Since most of the people did not even know why they were there, there was the possibility that the meeting would turn into an anti-Jewish riot. Alexander’s speech was not to be a defense of Paul but an assurance that Paul did not speak for the Jews of Ephesus. He never got the opportunity to speak.
Acts Chapter 19, verses 34-41
But when they realized he was a Jew, they all shouted in unison for about two hours: “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!”
The city clerk quieted the crowd and said: “Men of Ephesus, doesn’t all the world know that the city of Ephesus is the guardian of the temple of the great Artemis and of her image, which fell from heaven? Therefore, since these facts are undeniable, you ought to be quiet and not do anything rash You have brought these men here, though they have neither robbed temples nor blasphemed our goddess. If, then, Demetrius and his fellow craftsmen have a grievance against anybody, the courts are open and there are proconsuls. They can press charges. If there is anything further you want to bring up, it must be settled in a legal assembly. As it is, we are in danger of being charged with rioting because of today’s events. In that case we would not be able to account for this commotion, since there is no reason for it.” After he had said this, he dismissed the assembly.
Ephesus was the capital of the province, which was ruled by a Roman proconsul. But local affairs were decided by a people’s assembly, and the city clerk was responsible for publishing the decrees of the assembly. He also mediated between the city and the Roman authorities. He was determined to prevent any situation that would make it appear as though Ephesus could not handle local matters.
The image of Artemis did not fall from heaven. What fell from heaven at some time in the city’s dim past was probably a meteorite. What sat in the shrine of the temple was a very ugly image, the many-breasted symbol of fertility.
Robbing temples and blaspheming gods were two charges that the Gentiles often raised against the Jews. The city clerk knew that Paul and his companions were not guilty of such actions. He urged that the proper legal channels be followed, if there really was some legitimate grievance. He wanted to be sure that nothing illegal or disorderly was done, lest Ephesus lose the degree of self-rule that it enjoyed. The actions of the mob would be difficult to explain to the Roman authorities.
The master politician addressed them as though they were responsible people and they acted responsibly. They went home, worn out by two hours of shouting and sobered by his warning.