Visiting Jerusalem – Acts 21

Read the passage: Acts 21

Travels and Warnings (21:1–14)

Acts 21:1–14 records the travels of Paul from Miletus to Jerusalem. Note that this marks the end of Paul’s third missionary journey. This trip to Jerusalem would have taken several weeks. Recall that Paul was accompanied by Luke and at least six other brethren from Macedonia (cf. Acts 20:4). Continue reading Visiting Jerusalem – Acts 21

Toward Jerusalem – Acts 20

Read the Passage: Acts 20

Travels in Greece (20:1–12)

In Acts 19 we studied Paul’s three-year ministry in Ephesus, which filled up most of the time on Paul’s third missions journey, which lasted from AD 53–57. Toward the end of Paul’s ministry in Ephesus, before the civil riot that is recorded in Acts 19:23–41, Luke reported that “Paul purposed in the Spirit, when he had passed through Macedonia and Achaia, to go to Jerusalem” (Acts 19:21). Paul had even sent Timothy and Erastus into Macedonia to prepare the churches there (i.e. Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea, Corinth) for a relief offering for the churches in Palestine. Acts 20:1–6 records that Paul spent three months traveling and ministering in Macedonia, before eventually having to depart on account of his knowledge of planned persecution by the Jews. Note that seven of Paul’s traveling companions are listed in this passage, which included Luke, who had likely been ministering in Philippi.

Continuing to show parallels with the ministry of Peter, who had raised Dorcas to life (cf. Acts 9:36–43), in Acts 20:7–12 Luke reports that God used Paul to bring about the raising of a young man named Eutychus who had tragically died during one of Paul’s messages. Early churches met in homes. Apparently Eutychus had fallen asleep due to fumes from multiple oil lamps, Paul’s lengthy message, and the late hour of his teaching. While this was an extraordinary event, this passage contains two other important pieces of information—namely, (1) that believers were worshiping “on the first day of the week” and (2) that believers were together “breaking bread” (Acts 20:7). Note this is the first mention of Christian worship on a Sunday (cf. 1 Cor. 16:2; Heb. 4:9–10; Rev. 1:10) and the first mention of Gentile believers observing the Lord’s Supper (cf. Acts 2:42, 46).

Ministry in Asia (20:13–16)

Acts 20:13–16 records Paul’s stops in Galatia on his way to Jerusalem, as he ministered in several coastal towns on the way to Jerusalem. Recall that when in Philippi in Macedonia Paul had intended to travel straight to Jerusalem in Syria, probably in order to be there for the Passover; yet, because of the Jews’ plot against his life, a longer route through Galatia was a more practical and wiser course. Paul, however, still wanted “to be in Jerusalem, if possible, on the Day of Pentecost” (Acts 20:16). Therefore, Paul passed by Ephesus, knowing that a stop there would have necessitated a lengthy stay and further delay his reaching Jerusalem. However, Paul was compelled to minister to the believers in Ephesus. Thus, Acts 20:17 reports that Paul disembarked in Miletus, a city roughly 30 miles south of Ephesus, and summoned the elders of the church to briefly meet with him.

Exhorting the Ephesians (20:17–38)

Paul summoned and met with “the elders of the church” (Acts 20:17) of Ephesus, who are later referred to as “overseers” (Acts 20:28) who shepherd the church. Clearly, these men whom Paul met with in Miletus were pastors of the church in Ephesus. In Acts 20:17–24, Paul’s message to the elders touched upon two main themes. First, by way of encouraging the church leaders in right conduct, Paul reviewed his own example in Ephesus, as he reminded them that he served God with humility, faced trials and persecution, and proclaimed the gospel publicly and privately (cf. Acts 20:18–21). Second, Paul told the elders of his plans to travel to Jerusalem and informed them that he knew that persecution awaited him. Yet, Paul stated he was “compelled by Spirit” (Acts 20:22) and went to discharge “the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus” (Acts 20:24).

As he continued instructing the Ephesian elders, in Acts 20:25–38 Paul reminded the church leaders of his general ministerial example. Paul’s rationale here was not to give a personal self-defense, but to encourage the elders to imitate him. Paul reminded them that he had faithfully preached the gospel (cf. Acts 20:25–26), that he had taught the Bible (cf. Acts 20:27), that he had warned believers and unbelievers alike (cf. Acts 20:31), that he had not coveted money (cf. Acts 20:33), and that he had labored for his own support and for the care of others (cf. Acts 20:34–35). Further, in concluding his teaching, Paul told the Ephesian elders that he would not see them again (cf. Acts 20:25, 38), exhorted the leaders to faithfully shepherd the church (cf. Acts 20:28), and warned them that false teachers would arise within the church to attack believers (cf. Acts 20:29–30).

Application Questions:

  1. Why did Paul face persecution in every city in which he ministered? What is it about the gospel message that provokes a hostile response from some people?
  2. Why was Paul so desirous to repeatedly re-visit the cities in which he had earlier ministered? Given the constant persecution he faced, was this a wise practice?
  3. Given the infinite possibilities for ministry, and the finite availability of resources, how do we decided when, where, and to whom we should minister?
  4. Why do you think Paul was determined to visit Jerusalem, since, as he told the Ephesian elders, he knew that persecution awaited him there?
  5. How could Paul be sure that false teachers would both attack the church, and arise from within the church? Is this still happening today?

Ministry in Ephesus – Acts 19

Read the Passage: Acts 19

Ministry (19:1–10)

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.

Miracles (19:11–20)

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.

Uproar (19:21–41)

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).

Application Questions:

  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?
  2. 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)?
  3. 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?
  4. 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?
  5. 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?

Paul’s Continued Journeys – Acts 18

Read the Passage: Acts 18

Corinth (18:1–17)

As Acts 17 concluded, Paul was still in Athens. After teaching at the Areopagus, Paul departed Athens and made the short 65 mile westward trip to Corinth. While Athens was the cultural capital of Macedonia, Corinth was the commercial capital. Corinth is located on an isthmus that connects northern and southern Greece. Both land travelers going north and south in Greece, and sea travelers going east and west from the Aegean Sea to the Adriatic Sea, would pass through Corinth. Among other things, the city of Corinth was known for its transient population, the sinful vices available, and the temple of Aphrodite, which is said to have  housed 1,000 temple prostitutes. In Acts 18:2 Paul met a couple named Aquila and Pricilla, who shared both his occupation and his Christian faith. Aquila and Pricilla would become Paul’s close friends, and are mentioned by name 5 additional times in Scripture.

When in Athens, at Acts 17:15 Paul had sent for Silas and Timothy from Berea. Paul had then sent Timothy back to Thessalonica (cf. 1 Thess. 3:1–2) and Silas to the same general area, possibly to Philippi. They then re-joined Paul in Corinth. As was his pattern, Paul began his ministry in Corinth by reasoning in the synagogue (cf. Acts 18:4). When his message was rejected, Paul declared his intent to minister to the Gentiles (cf. Acts 18:6). This is a significant event in Paul’s ministry, for we only read of one additional time when Paul reasoned in a synagogue, and that was at his next stop in Ephesus (cf. Acts 18:19). Paul lodged with a Gentile convert named “Justus,” who may be the same man whom Paul calls Gaius at Rom. 16:23. Through Paul’s effective ministry, the ruler of the synagogue, whose name was Crispus believed and was soon baptized (cf. 1 Cor. 1:14).

At Acts 18:9–10 we read that Paul received a vision from the Lord, directing him to continue on with his ministry in Corinth. Note that this is the third of six visions Paul received, which are mentioned in the book of Acts (cf. Acts 9:3–6; 16:9–10; 22:17–18; 23:11; 27:23–24). This event also signifies a change in Paul’s ministry pattern. Earlier, Paul’s general pattern was to stay in a city for a relatively brief period. After this vision, however, Paul resided in Corinth for 18 months (cf. Acts 18:11) and would later stay in Ephesus for three years (cf. Acts 20:31). At Acts 18:12–17 Luke records an occasion when Paul was brought before the proconsul, by the Jews, and charged with unlawful acts. The case was dismissed, which resulted in the Greeks assaulting a Jewish man named Sosthenes, who was later converted and became a friend of Paul (cf. 1 Cor. 1:1).

Antioch (18:18–23)

After the public unrest in Corinth, Paul departed the city—although not immediately—and headed toward Jerusalem. Luke records that Aquila and Pricilla accompanied Paul, and that he cut his hair off at Cenchrea. This was likely an indicator that Paul had earlier taken a Nazarite vow, perhaps related to his ministry in Corinth (cf. Num. 6:5, 18). The traveling party then arrived in Ephesus, the largest city in Asia Minor. For the last time on his mission journey, Paul entered the city synagogue and reasoned with the Jews. Luke does not record the effect of Paul’s ministry in Ephesus; however, he does indicate that Paul’s stay here was brief, as he desired to reach Jerusalem before the Passover. Apparently, Aquila and Pricilla remained in Ephesus, for a church later met in their house (cf. 1 Cor. 16:19). Paul traveled to Jerusalem, and then Antioch, marking the end of his mission journey.

Ephesus (18:24–28)

Acts 18:23 marks the beginning of Paul’s third missions journey, the details of which are reported through Acts 21:16. This journey occurred between AD 53–57 and would entail Paul re-visiting many of the cities he visited on his second mission journey. After traveling though Galatia and Phrygia, Paul eventually arrived in Ephesus (cf. Acts 19:1). Aquila and Pricilla had been ministering in Ephesus since Paul’s earlier visit to the city. Luke reports that in Ephesus they had encountered an eloquent speaker named Apollos, who had been instructed in the way of the Lord, yet was a disciple of John the Baptist. Aquila and Pricilla furthered Apollos’ theological education. Apollos then departed for Achaia and eventually taught in the church in Corinth (cf. 1 Cor. 1:12). He would later become one of Paul’s ministry companions (cf. Titus 3:13).

Application Questions:

  1. In what ways are Paul’s mission trips in the book of Acts an example for believers? How ought we to determine if we should participate in a missions trip?
  2. Like Paul, have you ever had the experience of having a fellow believer in your place of employment? If so, how did this affect your work?
  3. How can we know when, if ever, it is appropriate to cease or to redirect gospel ministry? What are the determining factors in regard to effective ministry?
  4. As is reported in Acts 18:17, why do you think the Greeks attacked the ruler of the synagogue after the failed attempt to charge Paul with civil crimes?
  5. Given that Apollos was an eloquent speaker (cf. Acts 18:24), and Paul was not a good speaker (cf. 1 Cor. 2:1), how were they both effective ministers?

Macedonian Journeys – Acts 17

Read the Passage: Acts 17

Thessalonica (17:1–9)

After Paul and Silas were released from prison in Philippi, they and Timothy headed southwest along the coast of Macedonia, traveling through the cities of Amphipolis and Apollonia, and settling in Thessalonica. Note that Luke likely stayed in Philippi, as he is not mentioned again until Paul returns to Philippi at Acts 20:5–6. As Paul had done on his first missionary journey (cf. Acts 13:14; 14:1), once he arrived in Thessalonica, Paul preached the gospel in the local synagogue, speaking on three separate Sabbath days. Paul’s reasoning from the Scriptures about Jesus’ death and resurrection resulted in many of the Greek proselytes, as well as some of the women coming to faith. However, just as had happened at Antioch (cf. Acts 13:42–45) and Iconium (cf. Acts 14:1–2), so here in Thessalonica, after some of his hearers believed, the unbelieving Jews stirred up trouble.

Acts 17:6–9 records the trouble caused by those who heard Paul’s message and did not believe. As was the case at Antioch (cf. Acts 13:45), so here Luke notes that the persecution was caused because the unbelieving Jews were “envious” (Acts 17:5). The uproar instigated by those who rejected the gospel message resulted in a mob attacking the house of Jason, who is otherwise unknown, but whom later became a traveling companion of Paul (cf. Rom. 16:21). Church tradition identifies Jason as one of Jesus’ 70 disciples (cf. Luke 10:1); however, there is no proof of this identification. Ironically, the unbelieving mob accused the Christians of doing exactly that of which they themselves were guilty—that is, “turning the world upside down” (Acts 17:6). However, since the crowd was unable to locate Paul, the rulers ultimately had to let Jason and the other believers go.

Berea (17:10–15)

Following the uproar in Thessalonica, Paul and Silas continued traveling southwest, arriving in Berea. As was his pattern, Paul taught in the synagogue in Berea. Luke reports that the Jews in Berea “were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica” (Acts 17:11). Luke records three characteristics of the Bereans that led him to this conclusion. First, he notes that “they received the Word with all readiness” (Acts 17:11a). Second, Luke observes that the Bereans “searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether” Paul’s teachings were true (Acts 17:11b). Third, and most importantly, Luke writes that “many of them believed” (Acts 17:12). As was the case in Thessalonica (cf. Acts 17:4), it seems that the majority of converts in Berea were Gentile proselytes and prominent women. Unfortunately, though, certain unbelieving Jews arrived in Berea and caused trouble.

Athens (17:16–34)

After the uproar in Berea, Paul was ushered away, via boat, to the Greek metropolis of Athens. While he had initially left Silas and Timothy in Berea, once he saw the opportunity for ministry in Athens, Paul sent for them to join him. Luke records that when Paul witnessed the rampant idolatry in Athens “his spirit was provoked” (Acts 17:16). As was his pattern, in Athens Paul began to teach in the synagogue; however, he also took the new step of teaching daily in the marketplace (cf. Acts 17:17). Perhaps this change in ministerial tactic was the result of Paul’s awareness that those who responded to his teaching in the synagogues were largely Gentile proselytes, not Jews. In any event, Paul’s street-preaching was heard by certain philosophers, which resulted in Paul receiving an invitation to speak to the leading philosophers in Athens at the Areopagus.

Acts 17:22–34 records Paul’s message in the Areopagus, as well as the philosophers’ reaction to the gospel. Several facets of Paul’s message are worth noting, as here Paul did not appeal to the Old Testament, but argued within the Athenians’ own context. First, Paul builds a bridge to the gospel, by appealing to the religious culture of Athens (cf. Acts 17:22–23). Second, Paul identifies the nature of God, mentioning that God is the creator and sustainer of all things, as well as noting His imminence and transcendence (cf. Acts 17:24–28). Third, after quoting an Athenian poet, Paul delivers the gospel message, specifically mentioning the need to repent of sins and the fact of Jesus’ resurrection (cf. Acts 17:29–31). As was the case in Paul’s earlier mission work, so at the Areopagus, many rejected his message, some wanted to hear more information, and others believed.

Application Questions:

  1. In his mission work, why was Paul not deterred by physical hardship, personal violence, and rejection of message? What discourages you in ministry?
  2. How would you explain the details of the gospel message, as Paul did, using only the Old Testament? Have you ever been envious of the ministerial success of another?
  3. Why do you think the majority of converts in both Thessalonica and Berea were Gentile proselytes and prominent women (cf. Acts 17:4, 12)?
  4. Like Paul, when you witness rampant idolatry and false religion in the world, is your spirit provoked? How have you interacted with other religions?
  5. What can we learn from the way in which Paul shared the gospel in Jewish synagogues, versus the way in which he spoke to Gentiles at the Areopagus?

Paul’s Second Missionary Journey – Acts 16

Read the Passage: Acts 16

Galatia (16:1–10)

In Acts 13–14 we studied Paul’s first missionary journey, which occurred in AD 46–48. Paul’s second missionary journey, which occurred in AD 50–52, is recorded in Acts 16–18. In Acts 15:36–41, after delivering the news from the Jerusalem council, Paul and Barnabas planned to embark upon a second missionary journey, in order to strengthen the churches they had planted earlier. Continue reading Paul’s Second Missionary Journey – Acts 16

Conflict in the Church – Acts 15

Read the Passage: Acts 15

Conflict Described (15:1–5)

Paul’s first missionary journey, which is recorted in Acts 13–14, occurred in AD 46–48. From AD 50–52 Paul embarked upon a second missionary journey, which is recorded in Acts 16–18. In Acts 15 we find the account of the first church council (cf. Gal. 2:1–10), which convened in Jerusalem. Continue reading Conflict in the Church – Acts 15

Perils of Ministry – Acts 14

Read the Passage: Acts 14

Opposition (14:1–7)

Acts 13 records the beginnings of Paul’s first missionary journey, which occurred in 48 AD. This journey took Paul and Barnabas first to Crete and then to Pisidian Antioch. While Paul had ministerial success in these locations, Acts 13:42–52 records the first significant conflict Paul faced during his missionary work, as certain Jews grew envious of Paul’s success and opposed his message. Continue reading Perils of Ministry – Acts 14

Paul’s Ministry – Acts 13

Read the Passage: Acts 13

Calling of Paul (13:1–12)

Acts 12 narrates several important events in the life of the early church, including the martyrdom of James, the freeing of Peter, and the death of King Herod. Following these events, and the delivery of a famine relief offering from Antioch to Judea (cf. Acts 11:29–30), Acts 12:25 records that Paul and Barnabas returned to Antioch of Syria, taking with them John Mark, who was Barnabas’ cousin (cf. Col. 4:10). Continue reading Paul’s Ministry – Acts 13

Peter’s Ministry – Acts 11–12

Read the Passage: 

Gentiles’ Conversion (11:1–26)

Word of Peter’s preaching of the gospel to Cornelius and his household reached the church leaders in Jerusalem. Upon visiting Jerusalem, Peter gave an account and defense of the Gentiles’ conversion (cf. Acts 11:1–18). Chronologically speaking, Acts 11:19 brings us back almost ten years to Acts 8:4 as it notes that after the martyrdom of Stephen “those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the Word.” Continue reading Peter’s Ministry – Acts 11–12