Acts 19:1-20 – Paul in Ephesus

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Acts 19:1

  1. Ephesus, also known as the “Light of Asia”, is today a ruined city in Turkey, but in New Testament times it was the fourth largest city in the world, located on the west coast of Asia Minor. Ephesus attracted many people, partly because its geographical location made it a hub of trade, but also because many religious pilgrims made the pilgrimage to Ephesus to see one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Temple of Artemis.

Acts 19:2

  1. When Paul comes to Ephesus, he meets some disciples whom he feels compelled to ask whether they received the Holy Spirit when they came to faith. These disciples have previously been disciples of John the Baptist and have most likely heard about the Messiah, but at the same time they have a very limited knowledge of Jesus and all that he has done.
  2. Joel prophesied that in the last days God would pour out the Holy Spirit “on all flesh” (Joel 2:28), which also happened when the Holy Spirit fell on the disciples on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4).
  3. Although a number of years have passed since the day of Pentecost, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit is still relatively new and it is therefore not very surprising that these disciples have not heard about it.

Acts 19:3

  1. When John the Baptist compares himself to Jesus, he says: “I baptize you in water unto repentance, but he that cometh after me is stronger than I. I am not even worthy to take off his sandals. He will baptize you in the Holy Spirit and in fire.” (Matt 3:11)
    1. There is thus a clear link between baptism in the name of Jesus and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, a link that is not found in the context of John’s baptism. Although the disciples in Ephesus were saved by their faith in Jesus, they had not yet received the Holy Spirit, an experience and help in the Christian life that is extremely important.
  2. A similar situation is found in Acts 18, where Apollos preaches eagerly about Jesus, while he has only heard about John’s baptism. He is taught more thoroughly by Priscilla and Aquila.
  3. All these “disciples of John” are a result of the transitional phase between the Old and New Testaments that occurred because of the ministry of John the Baptist. This is not as relevant today, but can possibly be compared to people from other religions who begin to believe in Jesus without actually having read the Bible or taken part in Christian teaching.

Acts 19:4-5

  1. When you were baptized by John, you did so primarily because you repented of your sin, but not necessarily because you confessed your faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior of the world.
  2. One should only be baptized in the name of Jesus once in one’s life, but if one has been baptized on insufficient grounds, it is not wrong to be baptized a second time, since this is actually the first correct baptism.
    1. If someone who was baptized as an infant but then under no circumstances believes in Jesus or lives a Christian life, but then in adulthood repents and comes to believe in Jesus, it is my personal opinion that that person, like those disciples of John in Ephesus, should be baptized “again”. However, this will not be a “re-baptism”, since the first one was not after one’s own confession of faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior of the world, which is a necessary basis for being baptized in Jesus’ name.

Acts 19:6

  1. There is a close connection between baptism in the name of Jesus and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:37-38, Acts 8:14-17, Acts 10:44-48).
  2. Everyone who believes in Jesus and is saved is born again of the Holy Spirit and receives new eternal life (John 3:5, Romans 8:9, 1 Corinthians 12:3). But in addition to this, as a Christian you can also be filled with the Spirit of God so that you have supernatural power to be a witness of Jesus (Acts 1:8).
    1. Thus, as a Christian, one is born again of the Spirit, but does not necessarily automatically partake of the power of the Holy Spirit by being baptized in the Holy Spirit or being filled with the Holy Spirit. This “baptism of the Spirit” is something I believe all Christians should long for and pray for. While the Holy Spirit is clearly at work in and through all Christians, it is extremely valuable to also partake of this tremendous power.
      1. An example of this can be found in the introduction to the book of Acts. When Jesus leaves the earth, he says to his disciples, “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for what the Father has promised, what you have heard from me. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized in the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 1:4-5) and a little later, “When the Holy Spirit comes upon you, you will be empowered and become my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
      2. The disciples belonged to Jesus and were saved, but had not yet received the power of the Holy Spirit. Before they received this power, we read in the text that the disciples were confined to a room (Acts 1:13), but after the baptism in the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:4), they dare to testify boldly to all who want to hear that Jesus is the Messiah and that Joel’s prophecy about the outpouring of the Holy Spirit has now been fulfilled (Acts 2).
    1. The strange thing about these disciples in Ephesus is that they seem neither to have been born again of the Holy Spirit nor to have partaken of his power. Probably this was because they fell a little in between John the Baptist and Jesus Christ. Now, however, this is amply compensated for when they receive the power of the Holy Spirit in a wonderful way!
  3. It is very important for all Christians to allow the Holy Spirit to transform our inner being so that we become as much like Jesus as possible. You don’t become perfect just because you have been saved, there is a lot to work on and deal with. Putting away sin and living a life of love is a lifelong process that the Holy Spirit wants to lead us through.

Acts 19:8

  1. Paul’s mission follows the same pattern as before; he travels to a central city that serves as a hub and first begins preaching to the Jews. What is slightly different about Ephesus is that he gets to preach for an unusually long time, a full three months! After that, some people don’t want to hear any more and he is forced to continue preaching in Tyrannus’ lecture hall instead.
  2. The Son of God was born as a man into the Jewish people, and they were also the ones who had received the Bible and the covenant, so it is very natural that they heard the gospel first. But when the gospel was not received, the offer was passed on to the Gentiles (Rom 1:16, Acts 13:46, Matt 21:43).

Acts 19:9

  1. The Christian faith has not always been called “Christianity”; instead, it came to be called “The Way” early on. In Acts, for example, we see that Paul at first persecutes those who belonged to “that Way” (Acts 9:2) but later repents and begins to walk on “that Way” himself (Acts 24:14).
  2. In the Old Testament, the term “way” is often used synonymously with “a way of life” and is used to contrast “God’s way” and “the way of the wicked”. In the OT, God wants the people of Israel to walk in God’s way by doing what God has commanded Moses (Ex 18:20). In the Old Testament, “God’s way” is synonymous with “God’s will” or “God’s commands,” and God wants people to walk not “their own way” but “God’s way” by obeying God’s commands that God gave Israel through Moses.
  3. Jesus continues on the Old Testament track of two roads when he informs us that the “way of destruction” is broad and the “way of life” is narrow (Matthew 7:13-14). But even though Jesus continues on the path laid out in the OT, there is a difference in how one walks on God’s path. Instead of emphasizing that, as in the Old Testament, one should walk in God’s way by obeying the Law of Moses, Jesus instead emphasizes that the “way to the Father” is through himself. The only way to come to the Father is through faith in Jesus, and thus Jesus is the way (John 14:6).

Acts 19:10

  1. Gathering around the Word of God is at the heart of Christian discipleship, and it is no coincidence that we devote so much of our worship to this.
    1. However, it is interesting to note that Paul taught by holding conversations. So it seems that he did not preach a regular Sunday sermon as we do today.
  2. Paul would never have been able to reach all those living in Asia, i.e. the west coast of today’s Turkey, if all believers did not help each other. Paul writes about this in his letter to Ephesus (Ephesians 4:11-12).
  3. It was probably during this time that Paul’s associates founded the churches in Colosse, Laodicea, and Hierapolis (Colossians 1:7, 4:12-17).
  4. During these two years (52-54 AD), Paul wrote First Corinthians (1 Corinthians 16:8) and possibly Galatians as well.

Acts 19:11-12

  1. In the hot climate of Ephesus, cloth was often used to wipe the sweat or something similar. Probably these cloths were put on the sick.
  2. That these miracles were unusual teaches us first of all that there are miracles and wonders that should be common. It also teaches us that there are some more normal ways of curing the sick, such as laying hands on the sick person and saying a simple prayer.
    1. You don’t have to strive for the extraordinary just because it’s a little extra cool, but at the same time you should be happy and grateful when God does extraordinary miracles.
  3. In Acts 5:15, people are healed when Peter’s shadow falls on them, and in Mark 5:27, the woman with hemophilia is healed when she touches Jesus’ clothes. However, there is no magic in the garments themselves, but it says that God made these miracles. If God does not work miracles, it does not help how many garments of Paul, or even Jesus, we put on the sick.
  4. It is not surprising to me that these unusual miracles occurred in a mission situation. I believe missions is very close to God’s heart and he is often very quick to confirm his Word with miracles and signs when it is preached to unrepentant people.

Acts 19:13

  1. In New Testament times, there were many professional “magicians” or “exorcists” or the like (Acts 8:9-24, 13:6-12, 16:16-19).
  2. These Jewish exorcists do not seem to have had their own faith in Jesus as their Lord and Saviour but, probably inspired by the aforementioned unusual miracles, tried to use Paul’s God to cast out evil spirits.
    1. The problem with this is that the Christian faith is not magic, it is not possible to “learn” a spiritual technique as if it were some kind of magic formula. No, the Christian faith is based on having a relationship with Jesus, and without it it doesn’t matter how good you are at the Bible, how eloquent you are or what fancy title you have (Matt 11:25-26).
  3. It is important that all who call themselves Christians have their own relationship with Jesus. It is not enough to simply “believe in the Jesus that the pastor preaches” or to live by the faith of one’s parents. It is very important that everyone at some point in their life makes a conscious decision whether or not to believe in Jesus.

Acts 19:15-16

  1. Here we see the incredible power of the name Jesus; the evil spirits must back down for those who believe in Jesus, but at the same time we also see the danger of getting into a battle with evil spirits if you don’t have a relationship with Jesus.

Acts 19:17

  1. Although the miracles were performed through Paul, it is Jesus who is praised, and this is a lesson we must never forget. When God blesses in different ways, we must never take credit for it ourselves. We must also always be on our guard so that we do not exalt preachers or leaders so much that Jesus is no longer seen.

Acts 19:18-19

  1. A natural reaction to coming to faith in Jesus is to want to do away with your old sinful life. Someone might empty their cupboard into the sink, someone else might give back money they have stolen (Luke 19:1-10) or something similar, depending on what sin they had in their life before they were saved.
    1. Maybe there is something in your life that you need to leave?
  2. A silver drachma was worth about a quarter of a day’s wages, which tells us that the value of this bonfire was enormous!
  3. It is important to remember that the books they burned were their own. So as a Christian, you cannot burn all the books you think are wrong or pour out someone else’s alcohol. Each person must come to terms with his or her own sin.

Acts 19:20

  1. Acts 19 is a good example of what we today call “revival”, and there are four summary lessons:
    1. People gathered around the Word of God.
    2. There were unusual miracles.
    3. There was spiritual warfare.
    4. People repented of their old sinful lives.
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