Ministry in Ephesus – Acts 19
Read the Passage: Acts 19
Acts 18:23 records the beginning of Paul’s third missionary journey, which occurred between AD 53–57, and entailed Paul re-visiting many of the cities he’d visited on his first and second missions journeys. Paul began these travels in Galatia and Phrygia, likely visiting Lystra, Derbe, Iconium, and Antioch, among other cities. Eventually, Paul came to Ephesus, where he’d been earlier for roughly one week (cf. Acts 18:19–21), and where he’d left Aquila and Pricilla. Upon arriving here Paul met twelve men whom, like Apollos (cf. Acts 18:24–28) were disciples of John the Baptist, but whom had not yet heard that Jesus is the Messiah, nor had they received the Holy Spirit. Paul then shared the full gospel with these men, which resulted in them being baptized (cf. Acts 19:5), receiving the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues, and prophesying (cf. Acts 8:17; 19:6).
After Paul’s interaction with John’s disciples, which is the only explicit example of re-baptism in the New Testament, Paul followed his usual ministry pattern of sharing the gospel with the Jews. As he had done on his previous brief visit to Ephesus (cf. Acts 18:19), Paul taught in the synagogue, spending three months reasoning and persuading the Jews (cf. Acts 19:8). As was the case on his first two mission journeys, so here in Ephesus, the gospel was rejected by many, which resulted in some speaking “evil of the Way” (Acts 19:9). Note that Christianity was referred to as “the Way” (cf. Acts 9:2; 19:23; 22:4; 24:14, 22) in light of Jesus’ claim at John 14:6. This persecution caused Paul and the believers to withdraw to the school of Tyrannus, where Paul taught for two years (cf. Acts 19:9–10). Tyrannus may have been a believing philosopher who owned a building or theater structure.
Acts 19:11–20 contains an account of the miracles of Paul in Ephesus. Just as God had used Peter’s shadow to facilitate healing of the sick (cf. Acts 5:15), and Jesus’ healed via the touching of His garment (cf. Matt. 9:21), so the Lord was pleased to work healing miracles through handkerchiefs or aprons that touched Paul (cf. Acts 19:11–12). Furthermore, just as Simon the sorcerer was attracted to Peter’s ministry, with sinful motives (cf. Acts 8:9–25), so the seven sons of Sceva were attracted to Paul’s ministry with false pretenses. Luke reports that when these Jewish exorcists began to work in Jesus’ name, it resulted in their being attacked by a demon. Yet, this attack resulted in the name of Jesus being magnified. Furthermore, many of the pagans brought their magic books—signs of their former way of life—to a book burning upon their conversion.
Acts 19:21–22 marks a turning point in Paul’s ministry, as here Paul purposes to return to Jerusalem and to visit Rome. This decision was not Paul’s alone, as he was “compelled by the Spirit” (Acts 19:21). The rest of the book of Acts, including the entirety of Paul’s fourth mission journey, details his visit to Jerusalem and then to Rome. However, before heading to Jerusalem, Paul desired to visit the churches in Macedonia, including the churches in Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea, Athens, and Corinth. With this in mind, Paul sent Timothy and Erastus to Macedonia to prepare the churches for his visit, especially a planned benevolence offering for the Palestinian churches. Note that we know little else about Erastus, although he is likely the same Erastus mention at 2 Tim. 4:20, who was in Corinth, but probably not the man named Erastus, the city treasurer, mentioned at Rom. 16:23.
In Acts 19:23–41 we read that, as could be expected, after three years of Paul’s gospel ministry (cf. Acts 19:31), a riot broke out in Ephesus. This uproar was led by a certain silversmith named Demetrius, who was less concerned about theological matters than he was about the sales of his silver idols. Evidently, Paul’s ministry in Ephesus was so successful that the pagans were feeling an economic crunch, as people—including Macedonian tourists—were visiting the temple of Diana with less frequency. Of course, this would have resulted in the sale of fewer silver trinkets. Demetrius, who likely headed the local silversmith guild, sparked the riot by claiming Paul’s ministry would result in the destruction of the temple of Diana. This riot was diffused by the city clerk; however, it resulted in Paul’s departure from Ephesus (cf. Acts 20:1).
- Why did Paul remain in Ephesus more than twice as long as he spent ministering in any of the other cities he visited? How can we discern ministry longevity?
- Do you think the disciples of John, whom Paul met in Ephesus, were believers before being instructed by Paul? What was “John’s baptism” (cf. Mark 1:1–8)?
- Why do you think Paul was able to teach in the school of Tyrannus for two years, without persecution? How did Paul’s ministerial methods change over time?
- Why did God facilitate such unusual miracles, at this time, in the ministry of Paul? Why does God not utilize many supernatural sign miracles today?
- Given that Paul was imprisoned upon his return to Jerusalem, how can we accept that he was “compelled by the Spirit” (Acts 19:21) to go there?