In chapter 18 we read about the conclusion of Paul’s second missionary journey and the beginning of his third a journey that would take him back to Ephesus. We will see in chapter 19 a number of incidents that underline the trends we have already noted in Acts – the development of the new covenant, the coming of the Holy Spirit and the continued rejection of the good news by the Jews

. We see also the effect that the gospel can have on a society, an effect that is for the good, but is accompanied by fierce opposition.

  1. John’s disciples
  2. Rejection of occultism
  3. Two cities
  4. Another riot
    1. John’s disciples

Luke tells us that as Paul arrived in Ephesus he ‘found some disciples’, he asked them if they had received the Holy Spirit when they had believed. It seems that by this stage in the development of the church and progression of the new covenant that it was expected that when a person believed in Jesus that this was accompanied by the person receiving the Holy Spirit. The response of these disciples was that they had not heard of the Holy Spirit and on Paul’s question as to which baptism they had experienced they simply replied hat it had been John’s baptism. Paul explained to them that John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance but that John had told people to believe in the one who would come after him. It seems that these disciples had heard John preach and had indeed repented and undergone baptism with water this was all about preparing for the coming of the Messiah, but the disciples like Apollos were out of date, they had not heard of the developments that had taken place. These disciples though were ready and willing to but their faith in Jesus and they did! Paul baptised them and afterwards laid his hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit and spoke in languages.

We have now seen several incidences where the Holy Spirit was given in this sort of way, in each case a new group has been introduced to the new covenant as summarized in the table below.

Who      Where Reference
Jews Jerusalem Acts 2:1-4
Cornelius and friends Caesarea Acts 10:44-47
Jews, John’s disciples Ephesus Acts 19:1-7

This marks the progression of the new covenant to Jews first and then to Gentiles but it seems also demonstrate that the coming of the Holy Spirit was for every Jewish group whether they were at the start of things at Pentecost or whether they had responded to John’s preaching. In each case there was the phenomenon of ‘languages’ or ‘tongues’. Tongues were without doubt the ability to speak a language without the need to learn it. One may well ask why languages, is there some significance to this? It seems that is. In each of these cases the audience was Jewish. The phenomenon served to ratify to the observing Jews the group receiving the Holy Spirit. On the day of Pentecost the tongues phenomenon was described by Peter as being associated with the Day of the Lord (for more on this see the notes from Acts 18) – a period of judgment followed by blessing to be brought about by national repentance and the coming of the Messiah in power. In Caesarea the tongues were a sign that the Holy Spirit was available even for non-Jews and lastly the incident in Ephesus shows that all Jews whether they had heard of the Holy Spirit or not were included, this was not just for those present at Pentecost - so a sign for Jews, a sign to indicate the progression of the new covenant. But it seems there was more to it than this and it appears to be connected to the Day of the Lord idea. The Day of the Lord would bring terrible judgment on Israel but would ultimately bring great blessing – tongues was a sign to the Jews of that judgment , but it seems that it was also a reminder that one day Jesus would bring harmony to the world. The division of languages was brought about to hinder the work of the devil in spreading his lies and to prevent his attempts to form a global religion in which he would be worshipped. But in the Day of the Lord a single language will once again be in place but this time it will facilitate the spread of truth and the collective worship of the true God – see Zephaniah 3: 8 and 9.

Back to the story…Paul as was his custom entered the synagogue and presented them with the truth of who Jesus was, but as was the case elsewhere many rejected what he had to say and turned against him. It seems that just as had happened in Corinth that Paul had to stop speaking in the synagogue and instead used a neutral venue: the lecture hall of Tyrannus. Paul’s work was tireless and effective, in two years all the Jews and Gentiles in that area had heard the gospel. Paul’s message to the Jews in particular remained about the coming kingdom that the Messiah would bring and as we noted before there were some glimpses of the conditions that this kingdom would bring on earth. These glimpses seem to me to be principally as signs to the Jews but also served to authenticate the ministry of Paul and his co-workers: illnesses were cured and evil spirits departed. The message for the Jews was that the kingdom was still within sight if only they would repent and accept Jesus as their Messiah, failure to do so would bring judgment.

  1. Rejection of occultism

It seems that there was substantial interest in the occult in Ephesus, possession by demons was not uncommon. Some Jews were engaged in efforts to drive out such demons and they started to do this by calling on ‘the name of Jesus who Paul preaches’. One such group tried this approach and got more than they bargained for! The demon answered “Jesus I know, and Paul I know about, but who are you?” the possessed man proceeded to overpower them and they were severely beaten up. The demon’s response was carefully worded, ‘Jesus I know’ – the Greek word used in the original was ginosko which has the idea of knowing by experience, in contrast when the demon talked of Paul the word was epistamai which means to know about – but the demons did not know the Jews involved in the incident. So how come? Colossians 2:14-15 states the following;

(God)…having cancelled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.

God has accomplished much through the Lord Jesus. He cancelled (or obliterated or destroyed ) the written (code) – a certificate of indebtedness, code – a written record of every violation of God’s law committed by every human being, that was against us – a continual threat against us. He took this away and nailed it to the cross – it is a finished transaction. The effect of this is that the evil powers and authorities have had their weapons (that were turned against us) removed, they cannot hurt or harm. This great accomplishment of the cross was rather well known to the demons! They knew all about Jesus. They knew about Paul too! Because their weapons could not be turned against him, he was protected, they were disarmed. But the Jews involved in casting out this demon were not protected, they were not believers, the demons did now know them and the weapons of the demons were turned against them. Just as Paul was safe so we too are safe as we are under God’s protection.

This event had a big impact. The news went around rather quickly and many became fearful and Jesus’ name was held in high regard. Many believers who had been involved in the occult confessed what they had done and some who had practised sorcery publically burned the scrolls they used in this practice. What a change! And it did not go unnoticed in Ephesus – it was the talk of the town! The gospel improves lives and society, I do not think this is its purpose, but it is a pretty good side effect!

It is not long though before opposition arises to what is good, and usually there is a vested interest involved.

  1. Two cities

Luke records a simple yet profound intention and statement of Paul: 21 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.’ This seems a rather mundane statement of intent, but is there more to it? Why return to Jerusalem and why then go to Rome? On digging a bit deeper there may be a reason (with acknowledgements to E Scott Snr for this idea).

Israel were facing God’s judgment for persistent rejection of what was right and specifically for their national rejection of the Messiah and subsequent evidence at Pentecost and by the witness of the disciples. God would not bring judgment without considerable patience – he is a God who is slow to anger after all. We are about to study in 2 Kings another rather similar period in Israel’s history, a period in which the nation rejected God’s messengers and all that they knew to be right. A distinct pattern emerges in the run up to the judgment which was an ejection from the promised land for a period of 70 years. See the Table. Note the pattern is rather in the original judgment and that in progress in Acts.

Event Exodus to Babylon Judgment in New Testament times
Denunciation of misuse of Temple Jeremiah 7, 11, 29-30 By Jesus in Matthew 21:13
Desolations declared 70 Years: Jeremiah 25:11 Warning by Jesus Matt 23:37 & 38
Final warning in the Temple Jeremiah 26: 1-7 Paul’s visit to Rome: Acts 21/22
Message to instrument nation Babylon, Jeremiah 20:11-7 Message in Rome: Acts 28
Desolations Exile to Babylon for 70 yrs The Roman invasion of AD70

If this interesting parallel is the case it explains exactly why Paul was intent on getting to both Jerusalem and Rome and we see in these events the tragedy of Israel’s continued rejection. The story of Acts has this theme running right through it.

The amazing thing about God is that in spite of all of this God will not fail to keep his promises to Israel, as Paul (in Romans 11) later would quote Isaiah on this very theme “The Deliverer will come out of Zion,
And He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob; 27 For this is My covenant with them, When I take away their sins.”
What a wonderful God!

  1. Another Riot!

The Ephesians worshipped the god Artemis which was a fertility god. The original worship was associated with a meteor rock that landed in the area, the shape of the rock resembling a woman. There was money to be made in this worship system. Demetrius and his associates made silver images of Artemis and it was big business involving quite a number of craftsmen. But business was in steep decline – the gospel was having a real impact in Ephesus, who wants to worship a silver image when you can worship the God of the universe!

Demetrius soon had a crowd of very angry Ephesians whipped up into a frenzy – and soon enough the amphitheatre that held 25,000 people was filled with an angry mob. Some were genuinely angry others were carried along with the emotion and didn’t even know why they had gathered! Paul was eager to step into the amphitheatre and defend his cause, but was wisely persuaded that discretion was called for.

Eventually the chief executive of the city brought some good sense and calm to the situation and called the people to calm down! If you have a grievance – use the court system! He had quite an effect and the people were soon dismissed with a ticking off for their unseemly behaviour. This is a good example of how society benefits from God-given rule of law.

The journey continues in chapter 20.