Acts 19: The Ministry in Ephesus

I. Introduction

Acts 18 mainly covered Paul’s ministry at Corinth. Paul served there for one-and-a-half years. As he worked with Priscilla and Aquila making tents to support himself, Paul also reasoned (dialogued) in the synagogue every Sabbath, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks.

The Jews were largely unreceptive, as they often were, so Paul went to the God-fearing Gentiles. Even though many Jews opposed Paul, Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord Jesus.

Paul’s time at Corinth was faced with intense opposition, including his being dragged before the tribunal. However, Paul received great encouragement from the Lord in a night vision. And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people” (English Standard Version, Acts 18:9-10). This precious promise reminds us of the Lord Jesus’ promise to His people, “… I am with you always…” (Matthew 28:20).

Paul left Corinth and was going to return to Antioch. On the way he came to Ephesus. He followed his usual habit of reasoning in the synagogue. This time the Jews there wanted to hear more, but Paul declined their offer. He promised that he would return if it was in God’s plan.

After Paul left Ephesus we were introduced to Apollos who had a God-given ability to show from the Old Testament that Jesus is the Christ. Priscilla and Aquila took part in discipling Apollos. While Apollos boldly and accurately proclaimed Christ, he only knew about John’s baptism. After being instructed, Apollos left Ephesus, and Acts 19 tells us that he went to Corinth. It is clear in 1 Corinthians that Apollos had an effective ministry there.

II. Acts 19:1-7 –The Under-Informed Disciples

Paul returned to Ephesus, which was clearly the Lord’s desire for him (cf. Acts 18:21). Paul encountered twelve of John the Baptist’s followers. There is no indication that they were not genuine believers. This seems especially clear as we consider Apollos. Remember that Acts is a time of transition. It seems clear they had believed on Jesus before, but they had not heard of the Holy Spirit’s coming. Paul explained to them that John was preparing the way for Jesus, and they were baptized in Jesus’ name. Then they received the Holy Spirit, prophesied, and spoke in tongues as a manifestation of His presence.

III. Acts 19:8-10 – A New School

Paul has a consistent pattern of missions. When he arrived in a city, he would go to the synagogue (or Jewish worship center cf. Acts 16:13), and he would proclaim Jesus there. Paul did this in Ephesus for three months. However, the Jews were stubborn and would not listen to him, so Paul took those who had believed and moved to the hall of Tyrannus. He did this for two years, and the result was that all of Asia heard the word of the Lord. Paul used Ephesus as a hub, and the Gospel spread from there. This is likely how Colossae heard the Good News of Jesus.

IV. Acts 19:11-20 – Jesus’ Name Is Not Like “Hocus Pocus”

God was doing amazing things by Paul. So, itinerant Jewish exorcists picked up on the power of Jesus’ name and began trying to use it like an incantation. They were using Jesus’ name like a cheap magician uses “abra cadabra” or “hocus pocus” at an eight year old’s birthday party.

These Jews had refused to personally believe on Jesus as seen in their statement, “I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims.” They wanted to do the mighty things Paul was doing, but they had no use for the person of Jesus.

What these Jewish exorcists failed to understand was that Jesus’ name is not a magic spell. He is Lord, not a puppet to do another’s bidding. His power cannot be tapped into without a personal relationship with and attachment to Him. These exorcists had no power, because they did not know the One with all authority (cf. Matthew 28:18). As the old saying goes, “No Jesus, no power. Know Jesus, know power.” The Lord Jesus was not about to allow His name to be thrown around like “hocus-pocus.”

Unlike many in the United States today, demons can spot a counterfeit. When seven Jewish men, the sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva, tried this empty use of Jesus’ name, they were manhandled by a demon. The evil spirit mocked them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?” (Acts 19:15). Then the demon caused the man he had possessed to attack the sons of Sceva. The demon-possessed man jumped on them, overpowered them, ripped their clothes off, wounded them, and chased them out of the house.

As the news of this spread, fear spread as well. All of Ephesus heard and the greatness of Jesus’ name was made known. This also led to the church’s cleansing. Believers came confessing that they were still practicing witchcraft, and they burned fifty thousand pieces of silver worth of witchcraft books. The Word of the Lord continued to spread.

V. Acts 19:21-41 – The Riotous Response to the Gospel

Paul had plans to go to Rome, but he stayed in Ephesus for a bit. At that time a man named Demetrius, a silversmith and idol craftsman, began to stir up trouble. Ephesus was the center of Artemis (Diana) worship. Artemis was the fertility goddess, and her worship was centered in prostitution and sexual perversion. As many were getting saved you can imagine that the silversmith’s business was diminishing. Angry about their loss of profits, Demetrius and the other silversmiths had a non-peaceful protest and caused an uproar of riotous confusion. They dragged some of Paul’s travel companions into the theater. Paul wanted to go into the theater, but the disciples and some of the leaders would not let him.

As things continued escalating, Alexander, a Jewish man, tried to calm the commotion. However, the rioters would not let him speak when they learned he was not an Artemis worshiper. They shouted, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians” for two hours as a united, nearly murderous horde.

The town clerk feared that the city would face judgement from Rome for rioting, which was strictly forbidden. So, the town clerk told Demetrius and the other silversmiths to handle their issues in court before the proconsul. The town clerk then put an end to the assembly.
Paul said farewell to the Ephesian believers and went on to Macedonia.

VI. Application Thoughts:

  • There is no power for Jesus’ work without a relationship with Jesus.
  • The Gospel provokes anger in some as it disrupts their traditions, sin, and lives.
  • The response to the Gospel is not the measure of success in evangelism. The faithful proclamation of the Gospel is the measure of success in evangelism.
  • God is sovereign in moving His people to different locations to fulfill His ministry purposes for them.

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