Ephesus: Facing Religious People

Explore the Bible

August 10, 2008


Background Passage: Acts 18:23-19:41

Lesson Passage: Acts 18:24-19:10




Paulís sojourn in Antioch apparently did not last very long.After a brief visit, he set out on another missionary journey, his third and final evangelistic campaign.This time, Paul evidently did not take a companion with him, choosing to complete this work largely on his own.Luke mentions seven people who helped Paul on this journey, but no one accompanied him throughout this effort to spread the gospel.This journey began about 51 or 52 A.D., and Paul covered about 1500 miles.


After passing through Galatia and Phrygia, Paul came to the city of Ephesus, one of the great cites of the Roman Empire. The apostle reunited with his dear friends Aquila and Priscilla, and the three gospel companions labored together, in Ephesus, for about three years.As always, the work in Ephesus proved very difficult, and, in this case, the opposition arose primary from Gentile idolaters. Despite the hardships, Paul persevered, and many people turned from their superstitious idolatry to serve the living God.


Paul enjoyed a long, tender relationship with the believers in Ephesus.Some time after the events recorded in this chapter, Luke records Paulís affectionate farewell to the Ephesian elders (See Acts 20:17f), and, during the apostleís imprisonment in Rome (c. 62-63 A.D.), he wrote a wonderful letter to his friends in Ephesus. This epistle serves as a grand summary of the gospel Paul preached and masterfully summarizes many of the features of Paulís understanding of Christian ethics.He could not have left a greater legacy to any group of believers.As you study this weekís lesson, give special attention to these aspects of the narrative.

  1. Note Paulís continued manifestation of the power of the Holy Spirit.Indeed, the ministry of the Spirit seemed particularly strong in Ephesus.No gospel minister can succeed without the precious work of the Spirit, work that one can only explain by divine power.
  2. Observe the deep, loyal friendships Paul fostered.Sadly, we live in a world of failed relationships.True, faithful friends prove difficult to find in this fallen world.Paul experienced his share of heartbreaks and betrayals, but he also knew the importance of great friendships.
  3. Finally, give special attention to the continued opposition to the gospel that Paul endured.Kingdom work is hard.People seeking ease and comfort should search elsewhere.Preaching is no avocation for the cowardly or fainthearted. Christ does not promise an easy path; rather, he pledged his help and consolation in the midst of great heartache and hardship.



Lesson Outline:


I.                   The Ministry of Priscilla and Aquila to Apollos (18:24-28)

A.    Incomplete knowledge of the gospel (vv. 24-25): Apparently, the apostle Paul left Antioch alone and made his way through parts of Galatia and Phrygia.Aquila and Priscilla awaited Paulís arrival in Ephesus, and, as they waited, they encountered a gifted, godly man named Apollos.Acts tells us that Apollos was a Jew from Alexandria, Egypt, a great metropolitan area that served as the political and intellectual center of North Africa.Luke points out that he was a Jew, but he had a Greek name.Some scholars speculate that Apollosí parents were Gentiles and converted to Judaism after the birth of their son.This remarkable man knew only the baptism of John, and, as Aquila and Priscilla would discover, had some deficiencies in his knowledge of Jesus.Curtis Vaughan surmises that Apollos knew that John served as the forerunner, that Jesus was the Lamb of God, and that Jesus was the Messiah.

B.     Meeting with Aquila and Priscilla (vv. 26-28): These two friends of Paul met Apollos at one of the local synagogues, and they instructed him in the fullness of the gospel.Shortly thereafter, Apollos left to preach the good news in Achaia, and God powerfully used his witnessed to the gracious saving power of Jesus.


II.                Paulís Lengthy Ministry in Ephesus (19:1-41): Paul had briefly visited Ephesus during his Second Missionary Journey, and, no doubt, he joyfully anticipated a reunion with the disciples there and with his friends Aquila and Priscilla.The city had a large population and served as the political and religious center of the region.Like Corinth, Ephesus was notorious for idolatry and immorality.The worshippers of Artemis (Diana) dominated the religious life of Ephesus, and many people engaged in magic and other pagan superstitions.

A.    The disciples of John the Baptist (vv. 1-7): Soon after arriving in Ephesus, Paul encountered some disciples who, like Apollos, held an inadequate understanding of the gospel.The apostle instructed and baptized them in the name of Jesus, and, after the laying hands on these men, they received the Holy Spirit, with evidence of speaking in tongues and prophesying. The experience of these men parallels that of the Jews, Samaritans, and other Gentiles (See footnote in the Reformation Study Bible).

B.     Opposition of the Jews (vv. 8-10): As was his practice, Paul initiated his work in Ephesus by preaching in a synagogue.For three months he reasoned with the Jews, but many did not believe.As opposition grew, Paul withdrew from the synagogue and began to meet with the new converts in the teaching hall of a certain Tyrannus. The apostle continued this ministry for two years (See v. 10).

C.     The sons of Sceva (vv. 11-20): The Spirit did many marvelous works through Paul, even divine healing through the sweat clothes Paul used as a tentmaker. In the context of these wondrous works, the sons of Sceva, itinerate exorcists, sought to use Jesusí name as a means of casting out demons.Luke uses the term ďhigh priestĒ to describe Sceva, and Bruce proposes that this designation reflected this manís self-identification as a miracle worker.The sons tried to exorcise a demon from a man, but the plan backfired.The demon possessed man overpowered the would-be exorcists, and they fled from the afflicted man, naked and wounded.The Lord used this strange experience to spread the gospel, and many superstitious people turned from their divination, burned their scrolls (probably contained various spells and incantations), and embraced the Lord Jesus.

D.    Persecution in Ephesus (vv.21-41): Paulís labors not only transformed the lives of these former idolaters, but the gospel ruined the business of silversmiths who made images of Artemis. A man named Demetrius, perhaps the leader of the silversmithís guild, stirred up opposition to Paul and the apostleís companions, Gaius and Aristarchus. The city was immersed in confusion, and the accusers called an assembly at the local theater, an enormous, open-air edifice that seated 25,000 people.The city clerk heard the complaint of Demetrius, but he found no legitimate claim against the apostle.