The Book of ACTS
James J. Barker
PAUL’S MINISTRY IN EPHESUS
- The apostle Paul took three missionary journeys. The first is recorded in Acts 13; the second in Acts 15:36ff; and the third is found here in Acts 19.
- Ephesus was one of the great cities of the ancient world, surpassed only by Rome, Alexandria, and Antioch. Ephesus was a busy trade center, strategically located at the center of commerce between the East and the West.
- As the Roman Empire stretched eastward across the Mediterranean Sea, Ephesus's large and sheltered harbor became a major communication hub.
- Tourists came to Ephesus to worship at the famous Temple of Artemis, considered one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.
- The Temple of Artemis was 425 feet long, 225 feet wide, and 60 feet high. It was surrounded by 127 huge marble columns.
- Artemis was an ancient goddess of fertility (the Romans called her Diana), and grotesque and filthy practices were attached to her worship, making Ephesus one of the most immoral cities of its time.
- Ephesus was also known for demonism, sorcery, magic, and all sorts of superstitious fakery and mumbo-jumbo.
- In Comedy of Errors, Shakespeare says this about Ephesus:
“They say this town is full
As, nimble jugglers that deceive the eye,
sorcerers that change the mind,
Soul-killing witches that deform the
Disguised cheaters, prating mountebanks,
And many such-like
liberties of sin.”
- Into this devilish, wicked city came the apostle Paul. He remained in Ephesus longer than at any other place in his missionary travels.
- About ten years later, Paul wrote an epistle to the church at Ephesus from his prison cell in Rome.
- Then about forty years after the events recorded in Acts 19, we have the seven letters to the seven churches of Asia Minor, and the first is written to the church of Ephesus (Rev. 2:1-7).
PAUL WITH CERTAIN DISCIPLES
- This passage about the “certain disciples” (19:1) has caused much debate among Christians. Scofield (and many others) assumed that these disciples were not saved (see his notes).
- Some mischief has been caused by people who misinterpret this passage. Some teach that we must only baptize in Jesus' name (Acts 19:5). But this would contradict the command of Jesus Himself, who said, "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost" (Matthew 28:19).
- The phrase, "in the name of the Lord Jesus" is not a reference to a baptismal formula, but rather a reference to our Lord's authority (cf. Acts 4:7-12). The authority of the name of Jesus is mentioned thirty-three times in the Book of Acts (cf. 19:13, 17).
- Scofield refers to these men as "so-called disciples," however, Luke always uses the word “disciples” to describe genuine believers (cf. Acts 1:15; 6:1; 9:1, 10, 26).
- Alexander Maclaren said, "They ‘believed’ in so far as John had taught the coming of Messiah. But they did not know that Jesus was the Messiah whose coming John had taught." This is a reasonable explanation of Acts 19:4 and 5.
- A person can be saved and be ignorant of the Holy Spirit (19:2). Even today, nearly two thousand years after Pentecost, there are some Christians who are ignorant of the Holy Spirit.
- This is why it is important to disciple new believers and teach them about the Holy Spirit. New believers are often badgered by people (relatives or friends, etc.) who have strange and erroneous views on the Holy Spirit.
- Recently there was a "Strange Fire conference" in California. The organizers wanted to warn Christians about unscriptural teachings.
- I believe all new believers should be taught about the Holy Spirit. We certainly would have more success in soulwinning if Christians understood the power of the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 1:8).
- There would be greater victory over sin, and more effectual fervent prayer if Christians understood the power of the Holy Spirit.
- Regarding Acts 19:2, it should be pointed out that “received” and “believed” are both in the same tense (aorist). Therefore, the question could be stated, “Have ye received the Holy Ghost when ye believed?” (Cf. margin).
- It is very possible that these disciples were led to the Lord by Apollos (cf. Acts 18:24-28). Both Acts 18:25 and 19:3 refer to John’s baptism.
- Our Lord said to the chief priests, and the scribes, and the elders in Mark 11:30, "The baptism of John, was it from heaven, or of men? answer me." The obvious inference was that the baptism of John was from heaven.
- Many Bible teachers have tried to distinguish between John's baptism and what they call "Christian baptism," implying that John's baptism was not genuine "Christian baptism."
- It should be noted that all twelve of our Lord's apostles had been baptized by John the Baptist (Acts 1:22).
- John the Baptist had the privilege of baptizing the Lord Jesus Christ. Matthew 3:13 says, "Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him."
- John the Baptist preached repentance and he pointed sinners to Christ (Acts 19:4). However, on the Day of Pentecost, Peter said, "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost." Repentance is still linked to baptism.
- John the Baptist said, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).
- John’s baptism anticipated Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection; whereas today our baptism looks back to the cross.
- This is the only record of rebaptism in the Bible. It is unusual but sometimes necessary. We had a member who told me she was saved and baptized in a Baptist church, but then she became a Roman Catholic and a Pentecostal. I told her if she wanted to join our church she needed to be baptized here.
- By the way, she did not chafe at this requirement. I baptized her and she served faithfully here for several years before the Lord moved her to a different state.
- This is the last reference to John the Baptist in the New Testament. Our Lord said in Matthew 11:11, "Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist." Before moving on, let me remind you how fortunate we are to have the complete Bible because John the Baptist didn’t have the complete Bible.
- The apostle Paul was the greatest preacher after our Lord Himself, but he didn’t have the complete Bible.
IN THE SYNAGOGUE AND IN THE SCHOOL OF TYRANNUS
- Acts 19:7 says Paul had “about twelve” men working with him in Ephesus. Much was accomplished with these twelve dedicated men! Oh if we had twelve dedicated men!
- Acts 19:26 refers to Paul’s influence in the province of Asia, but he could not have done it without good coworkers.
- The Gospel seed was sown all throughout Asia and verse 10 tells us that within two years, the entire province of Asia “heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks.”
- Verse 20 says, “So mightily grew the word of God and prevailed.”
- Whenever you have such success in soulwinning you can expect to face opposition. The devil will not sit quietly and allow large numbers of people to get saved (cf. Acts 19:8, 9).
- The word “hardened” (19:9) is found often in the Bible. It is a gradual process. Harry Ironside used to tell a story about a little girl who climbed into her father’s lap to see if his heart had hardened. The Lord used her to soften his hard heart!
- The Bible has a lot to say about how Pharaoh hardened his heart.
- Second Chronicles 36:13 talks about King Zedekiah and how he hardened his heart from turning to the LORD.
- Job asked, “Who hath hardened himself against (God), and hath prospered?” (Job 9:4).
- Hebrews 3:13 warns us that we can be “hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.”
- Because of the opposition, Paul had to seek out a new place to hold meetings, so he took the disciples with him, and started disputing (reasoning) daily in the school of Tyrannus (19:9). Interestingly, Tyrannus is the Latin word for "tyrant."
- Paul stayed there and taught the Word of God for two years (19:10). He trained many preachers and missionaries, and eventually the whole province of Asia was evangelized (cf. 16:6).
THE WONDERFUL RESULTS OF PAUL’S MINISTRY IN EPHESUS
- "And God wrought special miracles…” (19:11). These "special miracles," were just that -- special, unusual, and extraordinary.
- These mighty miracles that were done in the early church were the product of the apostolic ministry.
- They were means of confirming the ministry that the apostles were giving, and confirming the revelation of God that would come through them (cf. Heb. 2:3, 4).
- The book of Acts is a transitional book, and down through the centuries these "special miracles" have ceased. The modern resurgence of claims concerning miracles, by charlatans like Benny Hinn and others, are false.
- Some of these phony preachers send out letters with little pieces of cloth they say are "miraculous." But only if you send them back a donation! It's just like the Catholics and their "relics."
- God does perform miracles today, and God does heal the sick today, but these modern day "miracle-workers" and "faith healers" are as crooked as a dog's leg.
- The miracles recorded in Acts 19 include diseases departing from sick people and evil spirits (demons) being cast out (19:12). Demon possession is mentioned several times in the book of Acts.
- These miracles attracted the attention of certain Jewish exorcists, but their efforts failed (19:13-16).
- God’s work can only be done by God’s people. And God’s work can only be done God’s way, and according to God’s Word.
- There have always been religious racketeers and con-men.
- Daniel Defoe was an English writer, who wrote the magnificent novel Robinson Crusoe. Defoe wrote,
- Wherever God erects a house of prayer,
always builds a chapel there;
And 'twill be found, upon examination,
latter has the largest congregation.
- Before he left town, Paul warned the elders of Ephesus about “grievous wolves” (Acts 20:25-31).
- Jesus called them “wolves in sheep’s clothing." Things are so bad today, false teachers are wolves in wolf's clothing! Tattoos, body piercings, gutter language, etc.!
- Next we see the wonderful outcome in Ephesus:
- The word got out (19:17a).
- The fear of God fell upon the city of Ephesus (19:17b).
- The name of the Lord Jesus was magnified (19:17c).
- “And many that believed came, and confessed, and shewed their deeds…” (19:18, 19). This is genuine salvation.
- "Many" (19:18, 19) includes some who were already believers but were practicing witchcraft.
- This sounds hard to understand, but what about believers today who listen to hip hop or rock music?
- Revival history teaches that when Christians repent and get right with God, many sinners come to Christ (19:20).
- Verse 18 says they "came, and confessed, and shewed their deeds (praxis). This is where we get our English word "practice." They were practicing magic, but they repented.
- W. Graham Scroggie said, “The Gospel necessarily must come into collision with every form of evil. Here it collides with magic and trickery, much to the humiliation of the latter.”
- The Gospel has been colliding with error from the very beginning, and the Gospel always triumphs.
- “So mighty grew the Word of God and prevailed” (19:20).
- The power of the Gospel prevails through preaching, perseverance, persistence, and prayer.
- Notice, they did not sell or give away their magic books. Acts 19:19 says they "burned them before all men: and they counted the price of them, and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver.."
- "Fifty thousand pieces of silver" was a large sum of money. It is impossible to estimate how much money this would be in modern currency. Over 100 years ago, A.C. Gaebelein wrote that it was about "eight thousand dollars." That was only his calculation, and of course, eight thousand dollars then is worth much more now.
- Acts 19:18 and 19 can be applied in many ways – occult literature, rap music, pornography, immodest clothing, etc.