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Paul Found Some Disciples at Ephesus
(Acts 19:1, NIV)
“While Apollos was at Corinth,
Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus.
There he found some disciples.”
During our previous lesson from the Book of Acts we learned that a Jewish believer by the name of Apollos had arrived at Ephesus, preached boldly there, received further Christian instruction from Priscilla and Aquila, left Ephesus, and journeyed to the province of Achaia where the city of Corinth was located. Luke wrote, “Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus…He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately. When Apollos wanted to go to Achaia, the brothers and sisters encouraged him…When he arrived, he was a great help to those who by grace had believed” (Acts 18:24a…26-27a…27c, NIV).
While Apollos was at Ephesus, Paul was traveling throughout the regions of Galatia and Phrygia ministering to the new believers in those areas. Luke wrote, “Paul…traveled from place to place throughout the region of Galatia and Phrygia, strengthening all the disciples” (Acts 18:23b, NIV).
After Apollos left Ephesus and travelled to Corinth, Paul arrived at Ephesus. It appears that they just missed one another. Luke wrote, “While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus” (Acts 19:1a, NIV).
During Apollos’ brief stay at Ephesus, before he was further instructed by Priscilla and Aquila, he evidently made some “disciples” and when Paul arrived he met them. Luke wrote, “There he [Paul] found some disciples” (Acts 19:1b, NIV).
II. The Disciples at Ephesus
Paul’s First Question. When Paul “found” these disciples of Apollos at Ephesus, he must have realized that there was something lacking in their spiritual experience. This is evidenced by the nature of the first question he asked them. He asked, “Did you [you all—plural] receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” (Acts 19:2a, NIV). Paul’s use of the plural pronoun “you” indicates that his question was no “Did you as individuals receive the Holy Spirit at the point of your conversion?”, but rather “Did ‘you all’ as a group receive the Holy Spirit when you heard the ‘Good News’ and believed it?”
Their reply clearly indicated that there was indeed a fundamental lack of understanding of spiritual truth—much the same as that of Apollos before he was further instructed by Priscilla and Aquila. Luke wrote, “They answered, ‘No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit’” (Acts 19:2b, NIV). Their answer was not intended to indicate that they did not know about the existence of a “Holy Spirit,” but that they did not know that He existed in a form that could be “received” by a group of disciples. By the way, when disciples join together to form a group, a church has been formed! These disciples evidently did not know that as a group—as a church—they could “receive” the Holy Spirit.
Apollos, who introduced them to the “Good News” in the beginning of their spiritual journey, did not know about the events that took place late in Jesus’ ministry. That’s why it was necessary for Priscilla and Aquila to give him further instruction. Luke wrote, “When Priscilla and Aquila heard him [Apollos], they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately” (Acts 18:26, NIV).
“When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:1-4a, NIV).
So it would be natural that his “disciples” would also be ignorant of those facts—including the Jerusalem church’s receiving the Holy Spirit, which had occurred a few years earlier. They did not know what Luke had written about earlier in this history book we call the Book of Acts. He wrote, “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them [as a group—a church] were filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:1-4a, NIV).
So what Paul found in Ephesus was a group of “disciples”—a church, that was operating without relying on the Holy Spirit to empower them as a church to impact their city and, by extension, their world for Jesus. That’s why Paul asked them, “Did you [you all—plural] receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” (Acts 19:2a, NIV).
Paul’s Second Question. Paul must have concluded that if these “disciples” didn’t know about the Holy Spirit’s ministry of empowering churches for global witnessing, they probably didn’t know that John’s baptism, which was a baptism that emphasized the need for repentance, had been replaced by a baptism that emphasized the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. We studied about that back in chapter 18 of the Book of Acts. So he asked another question. Luke wrote, “So Paul asked, ‘Then what baptism did you receive?’” (Acts 19:3a, NIV).
Paul must have suspected that they were “disciples” of Apollos who was a “disciple” of John the Baptist, and their answer to his second question confirmed his suspicions. Luke wrote, “‘John’s baptism,’ they replied” (Acts 19:3b, NIV). Apollos must have discipled them, because he too knew only about “the baptism of John.” Luke wrote about Apollos, “He knew only the baptism of John” (Acts 18:25b, NIV).
Paul’s response to these “disciples” at Ephesus is quite educational. Even though their spiritual understanding was inadequate, he continued to gently offer them God’s truth. Notice what Luke wrote: “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’” (Acts 19:4, NIV). The lesson we learn from Paul’s example is that when people have less than adequate spiritual understanding, the proper response is to continue to expose them to God’s truth!
In the case of these “disciples” at Ephesus, it worked. Luke wrote, “On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 19:5, NIV). They learned additional truth about baptism and obeyed it! They responded positively to God’s truth.
Not only that, but because they also learned additional truth about the Holy Spirit’s desire to be received by the church so He can empower it for global evangelism, they as a church received Him and He empowered them. Luke wrote, “When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied” (Acts 19:6, NIV). They were equipped with both spiritual power and the practical tools of “tongues,” the ability to speak in languages you have never learned, and they “prophesied,” were given the supernatural ability to explain Scripture!
To emphasize that this was a group experience rather than an individual experience, Luke explained, “There were about twelve men in all” (Acts 19:7, NIV). They had the same experience as a church that the Jerusalem Church had on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4, NIV) and the church in Cornelius’ house had at Caesarea (Acts 10:44-46, NIV).
When we encounter people whose spiritual understanding we think may be inadequate the proper response is not to ridicule them, humiliate them, or shun them. The proper response is to simply offer them God’s truth. Only God’s truth, as revealed in His Word, has the power to change men—the power to grow them in their understanding of spiritual things! That’s why the author of the Book of Hebrews wrote, “The word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires” (Hebrews 4:12, NLT).
A Small Beginning at Ephesus
(Acts 19:7, NIV)
“There were about twelve men in all.”
During our previous lessons from the Book of Acts we watched as Apollos arrived at Ephesus with his inadequate spiritual knowledge. Luke wrote, “A Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus… he spoke with great fervor… When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately” (Acts 18:24a…25b…26b, NIV).
After receiving further instruction from Priscilla and Aquila, Apollos decided to shift the focus of his ministry to Achaia, the region where the city of Corinth was located. Luke wrote, “When Apollos wanted to go to Achaia, the brothers and sisters encouraged him… When he arrived, he was a great help to those who by grace had believed” (Acts 18:27a…27b, NIV).
Immediately after Apollos’ arrival at Corinth, Paul arrived at Ephesus. Luke wrote, “While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus” (Acts 19:1a, NIV). They must have just missed one another!
When Paul arrived at Ephesus, the first thing he did was to search out a church—a group of disciples—with which he could worship and with whom he could work to advance God’s Kingdom in that city. So Luke wrote, “There he found some disciples” (Acts 19:1b, NIV).
I am amazed when I meet people and ask them where they go to church. Often they will say, “Well, we haven’t found a church yet.” Then I reply, “Oh, I see.” Then in the next breath I ask, “Well, how long have you lived here?” Then sheepishly they may reply, “Two years,” or “Five years,” or “Ten years.”
All I know to say is, “That’s not how Paul operated!” As soon as he arrived in a new place he “found some disciples.” These were disciples who had evidently been influenced by Apollos during his brief ministry at Ephesus. I say that because they had the same kind of inadequate spiritual knowledge Apollos had before he met Priscilla and Aquila.
II. A Small Beginning
On the surface, the beginning of Paul’s ministry at Ephesus looked small—maybe even insignificant. After all, there were only 12 men and they had inadequate spiritual understanding when he met them. But Paul evidently didn’t worry about “small beginnings.” He must have known what the ancient prophet Zechariah had written centuries before.
When Zerubbabel, governor of Israel, arrived at Jerusalem from Babylonian captivity and began construction on the Temple of God, many of his peers didn’t think that his small number of returned exiles could get the job done—it appeared that they were making such a “small beginning.” So the prophet encouraged the governor by saying, “Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin” (Zechariah 4:10a, NLT).
From “small beginnings” Zerubbabel completed the construction of the new Temple in Jerusalem that became the national monument of Israel and motivated the struggling nation to remain faithful to it God for more than a generation. That Temple stood as the centerpiece of Israel’s spiritual life from 538 B.C. until it was destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D.—a time span of 608 years!
Paul discipled a small band of twelve men with inadequate spiritual knowledge, and from that “small beginning” a church was developed that influenced everyone—Jews and Greeks alike—in the entire Roman province of Asia. Luke wrote, “All the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord” (Acts 19:10b, NIV). No wonder Zechariah said,
“Do not despise these small beginnings” (Zechariah 4:10a, NLT).
Paul’s strategy of discipleship for his “disciples” at Ephesus included taking them with him when he taught convincingly about “the Kingdom of God” in the local Jewish synagogue. Luke wrote, “Paul entered the synagogue and spoke boldly there for three months, arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God” (Acts 19:8, NIV).
I know he took his “disciples” with him to the synagogue meetings because three months later when the Jews rejected his teaching and became abusive, he left the synagogue and “took the disciples with him.” Luke wrote, “Some of them [Jews who attended the synagogue at Ephesus] 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” (Acts 19:9, NIV).
Every major Greek city of the first-century had multiple “lecture halls” owned by various Greek philosophers where they would regularly teach their various philosophies. It was in one of these halls, owned by a Greek philosopher named Tyrannus, who resided at Ephesus, where Paul preached daily for two years. That’s what Luke was describing when he wrote, “Paul left them [the Jews at the synagogue]…and had discussions daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus” (Acts 19:9a…9b, NIV).
Secular Roman history indicates that Paul used this “lecture hall” for his preaching meetings from 11:00 a.m. till 4:00 p.m. each day. If this is correct, Paul took advantage of the hottest hours of the day when most people rested after the midday meal. The hall would normally be vacant during those hours, and perhaps rent cheaper, after Tyrannus lectured in the cooler morning hours. This allowed Paul to work at his craft of tent-making during business hours. Then, instead of resting after his midday meal, he spent that time, when the citizens of Ephesus were not occupied in their own trades and businesses, preaching to them. Paul continued this preaching ministry for two years and the results were staggering. Luke wrote, “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” (Acts 19:10, NIV). What an incredible ministry grew out of such a “small beginning.”
The only logical explanation for the existence of six of “the seven churches in the province Asia” to whom the Book of Revelation was addressed is that citizens of those cities were evangelized and discipled during Paul’s two-year preaching ministry at Ephesus in the “lecture hall of Tyrannus.” Notice how John introduced the Revelation that he received from the Lord—“John, to the seven churches in the province of Asia” (Revelation 1:4a, NIV).
A few verses later, during the first of the series of visions in the Revelation, John identified the cities in which the seven churches were located. Jesus said to him, “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus [where Paul found those 12 disciples], Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea” (Revelation 1:11, NIV). Again, what an incredible ministry grew out of such a “small beginning.”
Follow the advice of the prophet Zechariah who wrote, “Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin” (Zechariah 4:10a, NLT). Incredible things can come from “small beginnings!”
About 15 people started The Open Door Church about 8 years ago. Now our attendance is routinely in the 80s and 90s and sometimes more than 100!
Just over three years ago we started ODC’s “Food Pantry” and “Close Closet” ministries with 75 families that first Saturday morning. Now we routinely feed more than 150 families each month and sometimes feed as many as 200 families.
Almost two years ago we began an outreach ministry to the residents of Dunklin County’s Probation and Parole Center by transporting 19 year old Blake Glover to church on Sundays. Now we routinely transport more than 10 men and women to ODC from the Probation and Parole Center and on a few occasions have transported more than 20. Not only that, but dozens of them have been saved and baptized!
Like Zechariah said, “Do not despise these small beginnings” (Zechariah 4:10a, NLT).
Spiritual Warfare at Ephesus
(Acts 19:11-12, NIV)
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.”
During our previous lesson from the Book of Acts we watched as God used the “small beginnings” of Paul’s ministry at Ephesus to develop a church that influenced the lives of every person—Jew and Greek—in entire region. Luke wrote, “All the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord” (Acts 19:10b, NIV).
Not only that, but significant numbers of people in the major cities of the Roman province of “Asia” so that churches were planted in those cities—in addition to the church at Ephesus there were six others, seven in all! John later addressed the Book of Revelation to those seven churches. The angel instructed him to write, “John, to the seven churches in the province of Asia” (Revelation 1:4a, NIV).
A few verses later, during the first of the series of visions in the Revelation, John identified the cities in which the seven churches were located. Jesus said to him, “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus [where Paul found those 12 disciples], Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea” (Revelation 1:11, NIV).
God must have been impressed with the ministry of Paul and the church at Ephesus, because He gave Paul a practical spiritual tool to add even more momentum to the evangelistic success of the church at Ephesus. This practical spiritual tool was the ability to do “extraordinary miracles.” Luke wrote, “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” (Acts 19:11-12, NIV).
Notice it was God who did these “extraordinary miracles.” Paul was simply the human instrument through whom God did them. Luke wrote, “God did extraordinary miracles through Paul” (Acts 19:11, NIV). Paul never took credit for what “God did” through him!
Luke described the kind of “extraordinary miracles” God did through Paul when he wrote, “Handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them” (Acts 19:12, NIV). God had done “ordinary miracles” of healing and deliverance through Paul before. Healing miracles and deliverance miracles where the person healed and delivered from demon possession had been right there in Paul’s presence, but God had never used Paul to heal and deliver people “long-distance” before. That was out of the ordinary. These healing and deliverance miracles were “extraordinary miracles.”
It is worth noting that sometimes—not always, but sometimes—physical illness is the result of demon possession. Notice that Luke wrote, “Their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them” (Acts 19:12b, NIV).
II. Spiritual Warfare
Spiritual Warfare is always about the eternal destiny of men, women, boys, and girls. Jesus wants them to spend eternity in heaven with Him while Satan wants them to spend eternity in the Lake of Fire with him. About Himself Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10b, NKJV), but He said about Satan, “The thief [Satan] does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy” (John 10:10a, NKJV).
Satan had evidently erected a spiritual stronghold in the city of Ephesus that extended throughout the province of Asia. I say that because even though “All the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord” (Acts 19:10b, NIV), nothing is said about significant numbers of those who “heard” believing what they heard.
Satan had evidently blinded their minds so they did not believe what they “heard.” That’s the way he operates! Paul wrote, “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (II Corinthians 4:4, NIV).
So, for the sake of those “blinded” souls, Jesus declared war against Satan and his demons in Ephesus and in all of Asia. And His first line of attack was to help “blinded” people see His glory through the “extraordinary miracles” He did through Paul.
However, Satan never stands still when the Lord Jesus takes the offensive. He always launches a counter attack. In the case of Ephesus and in Asia, he attempted to minimize the significance of God’s “extraordinary miracles” by using his crowd to imitate them. Luke wrote, “Some Jews who went around driving out evil spirits tried to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who were demon-possessed. They would say, ‘In the name of the Jesus whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out’” (Acts 19:13, NIV).
An important lesson to learn at this point is that it is dangerous to cross Satan if you don’t have a close personal relationship with Jesus! Notice what happened to the seven priests who were doing so. Luke wrote, “Seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this. One day the evil spirit answered them, ‘Jesus I know, and Paul I know about, 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” (Acts 19:14-16, NIV).
God used this episode to begin the process of opening the “blinded” eyes of the people in the city of Ephesus and ultimately in the province of Asia. The stronghold began to crumble and eyes began to open—people began to “believe” what they “heard.” Luke wrote, “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. Many of those who believed now came and openly confessed what they had done” (Acts 19:17-18, NIV). As I said before, spiritual warfare is always about the spiritual destiny of men, women, boys, and girls!
The reason I know that Satan had erected a stronghold in Ephesus is that a number of people “had practiced sorcery.” Paul obviously knew that in order for them to be totally liberated from Satan’s bondage, they needed to get rid of everything they possessed that had been used for his purposes! That’s why Luke wrote, “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” (Acts 19:19, NIV). When you consider that a Roman “drachma” was equivalent to a day’s wages, it becomes apparent that it was a huge sum of money! The lesson to learn here is that in order to experience total deliverance from demonic bondage you must destroy everything in your possession that Satan has been using to enslave you! Many struggling people in our day need to have a “house cleaning” and a “bon fire!”
When God’s people realize that the enemy is real, that he enslaves people in order to ultimately destroy them, and we preach the Word of the Lord to them, demonstrate by our own lives that Jesus is real, and when they “believe” insist that they destroy everything in their possession that Satan is using to enslave them, then we are engaging in effective spiritual warfare. That’s what Luke was referring to when he wrote, “In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power” (Acts 19:20, NIV).
More and more people were liberated from Satan’s slavery at Ephesus and in Asia because “the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power.” Let’s read it again: “In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power” (Acts 19:20, NIV).
In order to engage in effective spiritual warfare God’s people must learn to use His word when attempting to evangelize people and liberate them from demonic slavery. The author of Hebrews wrote, “The word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12, NKJV).
Paul’s Ministry Plan
(Acts 19:21, NIV)
“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.’”
In our previous lesson from the Book of Acts Paul watched the “Good News” spread throughout the city of Ephesus and into the entire Roman province of Asia as a result of his two year preaching ministry at Ephesus in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. Luke recorded these events when he wrote, “He [Paul]…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” (Acts 19:9b-10, NIV).
In spite of the fact that Satan had enslaved huge numbers of people and had erected demonic strongholds of sorcery in their souls, God used Paul’s ministry to bring them deliverance. Luke wrote, “Many of those who believed now came and openly confessed what they had done. A number who had practiced sorcery brought their scrolls together and burned them publicly” (Acts 19:18-19, NIV).
At that point Paul realized that one chapter of his life work was closing and a new chapter was beginning. So he began to make plans for the next kingdom-building chapter of his life. Luke it like this: “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’” (Acts 19:21, NIV). His basic ministry plan for the next chapter of his life included taking a relief offering to the believers in the church at “Jerusalem,” further discipling the believers in the churches of “Macedonia and Achaia,” and preaching the “Good News” at “Rome.” There are two important spiritual lessons we can learn from this episode of Paul’s life:
Let’s spend the rest of our time together during this lesson learning some important kingdom lessons from Paul’s ministry plan.
II. Paul’s Ministry Plan
Macedonia and Achaia. A focal point of Paul’s ministry plan was a visit to the city of Jerusalem; however, he decided to make a slight detour and travel through “Macedonia,” where the church at Philippi was located, and then travel through “Achaia,” where the church at Corinth was located. Luke wrote, “Paul decided to go to Jerusalem, passing through Macedonia and Achaia” (Acts 19:21a, NIV).
“Passing through Macedonia and Achaia” was not the most direct route from Ephesus to Jerusalem, which indicates that Paul had a ministry objective in mind which motivated him to revisit those two Roman provinces—where two of the churches he had previously planted were located; the church at Philippi in “Macedonia” and the church at Corinth in “Achaia.”
In both of these two cities it is likely that his agenda was to further strengthen the faith of the disciples who lived there. We know that was his ministry pattern, because of what Luke wrote about the ministry activities of Paul and Barnabas on the return trip of their first missionary journey. He wrote, “He [Paul] and Barnabas left for Derbe. They preached the gospel in that city [Derbe] and won a large number of disciples. Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith” (Acts 14:20b-22a, NIV).
When Luke described the first phase of Paul’s second missionary journey, he confirmed Paul’s ministry pattern of “strengthening all the disciples” when he wrote, “After spending some time in Antioch, Paul set out from there and traveled from place to place throughout the region of Galatia and Phrygia, strengthening all the disciples” (Acts 18:23, NIV). Discipleship was obviously an important aspect of Paul’s personal ministry and it should be an important aspect of both our personal ministries and the ministry of our church!
Jerusalem. Luke wrote, “Paul decided to go to Jerusalem” (Acts 19:21a, NIV). He had been collecting money as a relief offering for the believers at Jerusalem who had been adversely affected by a drought that had struck most of the Roman world of the first century. In fact, he wrote his letter to the church at Corinth while at Ephesus where he was when he made plans to visit Jerusalem after passing through Macedonia and Achaia, and in that letter he referred to his mission of collecting this relief offering from the churches. He wrote, “Now about the collection for the Lord’s people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made. Then, when I arrive, I will give letters of introduction to the men you approve and send them with your gift to Jerusalem. If it seems advisable for me to go also, they will accompany me” (I Corinthians 16:1-4, NIV).
A few years later when Paul was on trial in Caesarea before Governor Felix, he revealed his purpose for going to Jerusalem after leaving Ephesus. He said, “I came to Jerusalem to bring my people gifts for the poor and to present offerings” (Acts 24:17b, NIV). So his motive for going to Jerusalem was to deliver the relief offering to the church there or as Luke put it, “to bring my people gifts for the poor.” While in Jerusalem Paul also intended to go to the Temple and make the appropriate Jewish offerings or as Luke explained it: “to present offerings.” Paul had become a Christian by faith, but he was still a Jew by culture and heritage. So when in Jerusalem he would do what any good Jew would do. He went to the Temple “to present offerings.”
Paul realized that returning to Jerusalem would be dangerous, but he was determined to go because he believed it to be God’s will. He referred to the potential danger he might face at Jerusalem when he wrote his letter to the Romans. He wrote, “Pray that I may be kept safe from the unbelievers in Judea and that the contribution I take to Jerusalem may be favorably received by the Lord’s people there” (Romans 15:31, NIV). Nevertheless, he refused to let the possibility of personal danger prevent him from doing the will of God. What an inspiring example he is to us!
Rome. After delivering the relief offering to Jerusalem, Paul would set his sights on Rome—the imperial city of the world of his day. Luke wrote, “‘After I have been there [Jerusalem],’ he said, ‘I must visit Rome also’” (Acts 19:21b, NIV). He had just invaded Ephesus and the entire Roman province of Asia with the “Good News” of the Kingdom of God. Then he launched a disciple-strengthening ministry at Corinth and Philippi. Next he journeyed to Jerusalem to meet the physical needs of the believers in that ancient city. Now he looks toward “Rome,” knowing that if he could influence the empire ruling citizens of “Rome,” he could influence the entire known world of his day. What a vision God was giving him!
Paul did, in fact, reach “Rome.” Later God confirmed that Paul’s plan to visit “Rome” was in line with His will. Luke described an event that took place in the aftermath of Paul standing trial in Jerusalem before the Sanhedrin, Israel’s Supreme Court, when he wrote, “The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, ‘Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome’” (Acts 23:11, NIV). So Paul’s ministry plan was in line with God’s will!
Paul spent two years under house arrest in “Rome.” During that time he did indeed “testify” about the Lord Jesus. Luke described Paul’s ministry in “Rome” when he wrote, “When we got to Rome, Paul was allowed to live by himself, with a soldier to guard him…For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. He proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ—with all boldness and without hindrance!” (Acts 28:16…30-31, NIV).
Paul’s ministry while under house arrest in Rome was immensely effective. He was able to convert some of the soldiers who guarded him and also served in Caesar’s palace as body guards for the emperor. Luke wrote, “It has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ” (Philippians 1:13, NIV).
Paul mentioned the Christians in Caesar’s palace when he wrote, “All God’s people here send you greetings, especially those who belong to Caesar’s household” (Philippians 4:22, NIV). Paul’s testimony about Jesus had infiltrated the very palace of Caesar! What a story! No wonder God want him to go to Rome!
We must adopt a plan for personal ministry, but we must do everything possible to be sure that our plan is also God’s plan! That is at least part of what King David was communicating when he wrote, “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord, and He [the Lord] delights in his way” (Psalm 37:23, NKJV).
A Riot at Ephesus
(Acts 19:23, NIV)
“About that time there arose a great disturbance about the Way.”
During our previous lesson from the Book of Acts Paul had developed a ministry plan for the next chapter of his life which included further discipling the believers in the Roman provinces of “Macedonia and Achaia” where Philippi and Corinth were located, delivering a relief offering to “Jerusalem,” and preaching the Good News at “Rome.” Luke wrote, “Paul decided to go to Jerusalem, passing through Macedonia and Achaia. ‘After I have been there,’ he said, ‘I must visit Rome also’” (Acts 19:21b, NIV).
Once his ministry plan was firmly fixed in his mind, he sent two men who were serving on his missionary team ahead to Philippi to make arrangements for the arrival of the rest of the team, while he stayed at Ephesus to tie up some loose ends there. Luke wrote, “He sent two of his helpers, Timothy and Erastus, to Macedonia, while he stayed in the province of Asia a little longer” (Acts 19:22, NIV).
During Paul’s brief layover at Ephesus Satan launched another attack against Paul and the church he had planted there. Luke described this additional round of spiritual warfare when he wrote, “About that time there arose a great disturbance about the Way” (Acts 19:23, NIV). When he wrote, “There arose a great disturbance about the Way,” he was saying that a riot broke out in Ephesus designed to destroy this new “God-movement” called Christianity that was swept through the city of Ephesus and affected the entire Roman province of Asia.
First-century Jews and Romans referred to Christians as “the Way,” because as far as they were concerned Christianity was simply a new and inappropriate “way” of devotion to God. The Jews viewed Christianity as an inappropriate “way” of devotion to God because Jews refused to believe that Jesus was the Messiah. The Romans viewed Christianity as an inappropriate “way” of devotion to God because Christians refused to acknowledge that their God was simply one of many gods.
II. A Pagan Riot
A non-believing pagan businessman at Ephesus by the name of Demetrius initiated the riot for purely financial reasons, but he tried to make it appear as a religious issue. Luke wrote, “A silversmith named Demetrius, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought in a lot of business for the craftsmen there. He called them together, along with the workers in related trades, and said: ‘You know, my friends, that 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 gods made by human hands are no gods at all’” (Acts 19:24-26, NIV). It is relatively easy to see that the real motivation of Demetrius when he called this riot-producing meeting of the Ephesian tradesmen was fear of financial reversal.
At this point in his speech Demetrius began to camouflage his true motive with a religious issue. As he continued his dialogue he said, “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’” (Acts 19:24-27, NIV).
This particular pagan “goddess” was called “Diana” by the Romans and “Artemis” by the Greeks. “Artemis” was considered the “mother goddess” of the province of Asia. A magnificent white marble temple in downtown Ephesus housed the sacred many-breasted idol of the goddess surrounded by a pride of lions. The Temple of Diana was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world and people from all over the known world of that day made pilgrimages to Ephesus to worship at her temple.
The principal source of income for the people of Ephesus was the sale of “silver shrines” to worshipers of the goddess. These “shrines” were small handcrafted images of Diana and her lions standing in her temple. For decades the manufacture of these “shrines” had employed a large number of silversmiths in Ephesus.
But when Paul came to town preaching the “Good News” and declaring that, “Gods made by human hands are no gods at all” (Acts 19:26b, NIV), so many worshipers of Diana switched their allegiance to Christ that attendance at the temple fell off sharply. This substantial decline in the worship of Diana cut deeply into the sale of “shrines,” and the income the silversmiths earned from their sale dried up. The silversmiths, feeling the pain of financial loss, decided to take action…and the result was such a violent riot that “the whole city was in an uproar.”
Luke described the scene when he wrote, “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 all of them rushed into the theater together. Paul wanted to appear before the crowd, but the disciples would not let him. Even some of the officials of the province, friends of Paul, sent him a message begging him not to venture into the theater. The assembly was in confusion: Some were shouting one thing, some another. Most of the people did not even know why they were there” (Acts 19:28b-32, NIV).
This is yet another prime example of the destructive blindness of religion. Luke wrote, “The assembly was in confusion: Some were shouting one thing, some another. Most of the people did not even know why they were there” (Acts 19:32, NIV).
However, this scene also provides a shining example of the willingness of real Christians to protect one another. When “Gaius and Aristarchus,” Paul’s “traveling companions” were apprehended by the mob and taken to the theatre for possible execution, he wanted to offer a legal defense for them—at the risk of his own life. Luke wrote, “Paul wanted to appear before the crowd” (Acts 19:30a, NIV). Then in an effort to protect Paul, his disciples refused to allow him to appear before the mob. Luke wrote, “But the disciples would not let him” (Acts 19:30b, NIV). In the meantime, some of Paul friends who had political influence in Asia tried to protect him by urging him to stay out of the theater. Luke wrote, “Some of the officials of the province, friends of Paul, sent him a message begging him not to venture into the theater” (Acts 19:31, NIV). The spiritual principle that emerges from this episode in Paul’s life is: Christians protect Christians!
Some Jews had joined in the riot in an effort to help stop the growing influence of the missionaries and the new church they had planted in the city, but they must have sensed not only an anti-Christian, but also an anti-Jewish sentiment among the pagans in the crowd. So they coerced a Jewish man named “Alexander” to speak in their defense. Luke wrote, “The Jews in the crowd pushed Alexander to the front, and they shouted instructions to him” (Acts 19:33a, NIV). I find it rather humorous that his fellow-Jews didn’t want to risk speaking themselves, but they were more than happy to tell Alexander what to say. That is religion at its finest!
This “Alexander” was probably a metalworker who was Paul’s enemy. Paul mentioned him when he wrote his second letter to Timothy, which was written from Ephesus. He wrote, “Alexander the metalworker did me a great deal of harm. The Lord will repay him for what he has done. You too should be on your guard against him, because he strongly opposed our message” (II Timothy 4:14, NIV).
When the pagan mob recognized that Alexander was Jewish, they began a two-hour chant emphasizing their devotion to the goddess Artemis. Luke wrote, “When they realized he was a Jew, they all shouted in unison for about two hours: ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!’” (Acts 19:34, NIV). The mob must have viewed Christians and Jews as equal threats to their pagan religion.
False religion always opposes the truth! In fact, Paul in his second letter to the Corinthians asked a series of questions that strongly indicate that truth and false religion are mutually incompatible. He wrote, “What do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols?” (II Corinthians 6:14b-16a, NIV).
False religion is often physically dangerous to Christians. It will motivate its adherents to attack them physically. A biblical example of this is found in the Book of Acts when the non-believing Jews who were judges on Israel’s Supreme Court brutally whipped Peter and John and then ordered them to stop preaching about Jesus. Luke wrote, “They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go” (Acts 5:40, NIV).
False religion is always spiritually dangerous to its adherents. You see, false religion in Scripture is any belief system that denies that Jesus is the only way to gain access to the Father—the only way to come to Him. Jesus Himself said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6, NIV). Eternal damnation awaits everyone who attempts to enter the presence of the Father without Jesus. Obviously then, false religion is both spiritually and eternally dangerous to those who follow it!
Rescue from an Unexpected Source
(Acts 19:35a…36b, NIV)
“The city clerk quieted the crowd and said…
you ought to calm down and not do anything rash.”
When we closed our previous lesson from the Book of Acts, the pagan citizens of Ephesus were engaged in a riot. A pagan businessman named Demetrious had engineered this disturbance because Paul and the church he had planted was making such a profound impact on the city of Ephesus and the Roman province of Asia that the church was growing, other churches were being planted, and the sale of silver shrines from which Demetrious and other metalworkers made a lucrative living were in sharp decline. Luke wrote, “About that time there arose a great disturbance about the Way. A silversmith named Demetrius, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought in a lot of business for the craftsmen there. He called them together, along with the workers in related trades, and said: “You know, my friends, that we receive a good income from this business. And you see and hear how this fellow Paul… says that gods made by human hands 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…Soon the whole city was in an uproar” (Acts 19:23-26a…26c-27a…29a, NIV).
Notice how Demetrius took a financial issue and attempted to convert it into a religious issue! Observe how the “danger…that our trade will lose its good name” is coupled with the proposition that “the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be discredited.” Enemies of the truth often resort to such tactics. A financial issue had now been transformed into a religious issue.
The blind intensity of this pagan, religiously-motivated riot was described by Luke when he wrote, “The assembly was in confusion: Some were shouting one thing, some another. Most of the people did not even know why they were there” (Acts 19:32, NIV). This was one of blind religion’s finest hours!
II. Surprising Rescue
In the midst of all the pandemonium, God did what He often does. He provided rescue from a very unexpected source! Luke described the scene when he wrote, “The city clerk quieted the crowd and said: ‘Fellow Ephesians, 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 calm down and not do anything rash’” (Acts 19:35-36, NIV).
“The city clerk” was a local citizen appointed by the Roman government. Ephesus was one of the principle cities of Asia which meant that it had been granted by Rome the privilege of self-rule. Self-government under the Roman system meant that decisions affecting the city were made by the majority vote of its citizens at regularly scheduled meetings. When the citizens gathered for these meetings it was called a “demos”—from which we get our word “democracy,” which means “rule by the people.”
It was the responsibility of “the city clerk” to schedule these meetings (limited by Rome to no more than three per month), preside over them, and report the outcome to the Roman authorities. Severe penalties would be inflicted on “the city clerk” for permitting unscheduled meetings or for failing to ensure that the outcome of the meeting was within the boundaries of established Roman law. That was, no doubt, why “the city clerk” took prompt action when the riot erupted in the theater at Ephesus. Luke wrote, “The city clerk quieted the crowd and said…you ought to calm down and not do anything rash” (Acts 19:35a…36b, NIV).
He calmed the crowd by appealing to their pride—reminding them that their city was famous throughout the world as the “guardian of the temple of the great Artemis and of her image, which fell from heaven.” He said, “Fellow Ephesians, 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?” (Acts 19:35b, NIV). Common Ephesian folklore claimed that the finely crafted image of Artemis that stood in their temple actually “fell from heaven” as a gift from the god Jupiter to the city of Ephesus! As ridiculous as it may seem, the city clerk then added, “These facts are undeniable” (Acts 19:36b, NIV). With that, the crowd began to calm down.
The city clerk then continued his speech by raising some legal objections to their riot. He said, “You have brought these men here, though they have neither robbed temples nor blasphemed our goddess” (Acts 19:37, NIV). Amazingly enough, the city clerk, no doubt a pagan worshiper of Artemis himself, actually offered legal defense for the missionaries. I say he was probably a worshiper of Artemis because he referred to her as “our goddess.”
The city clerk than gave legal advice to the instigator of the riot. He said, “If, then, Demetrius and his fellow craftsmen have a grievance against anybody, the courts are open and there are proconsuls. They can press charges” (Acts 19:38, NIV).
The city clerk then warned against any further rioting in the city. He insisted that any issues that developed in the city “must be settled in a legal assembly”—at the regularly scheduled meetings of the “demos.” He said, “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 what happened today” (Acts 19:39-40a, NIV).
In his concluding remarks, the city clerk revealed the true motive behind his defense and ultimate rescue of the missionaries. It had to do with accountability. You see, it was the city clerk who would be accountable to the Roman authorities for failing to prevent or at least control a riot in the city. Therefore he said, “‘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” (Acts 19:40b-41, NIV). In short, he was willing to rescue the missionaries in order to save his own skin! You see, God can and often does use the questionable motives of non-believers to protect His people. Often, as was the case during the riot at Ephesus, rescue emerges from an unexpected source.
An incredible lesson to learn—again—from this story is that as long as God’s man is on mission for Him, he is invincible! We have seen that lesson illustrated again and again throughout the Book of Acts. For example:
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