We left off in the book of Acts with Paul starting his third missionary journey (18:23) and Apollos leaving for Greece to preach (18:27-28). While Apollos ministered in Corinth, Paul continued west through Asia Minor and came to Ephesus, where he found a group of Christians (19:1). Remember, Paul was here only briefly at the end of the second missionary journey (18:19-21). He told them he would return if God wills. Here he has returned, and has found believers.
However, these men and women, like Apollos, had not yet received the Holy Spirit (v. 2). So like Priscilla and Aquilla did for Apollos (18:26), Paul preaches Christ to them. The baptism of John pointed forward to the One Who would baptize with fire and the Spirit (v. 5). So they are baptized in the name of Christ (v. 5), and Christ baptizes them in the Holy Spirit, and they speak in tongues and prophecy (v. 6). Babel has now been reversed in Gentile territory. This reversal – signaled by the speaking in tongues – has now happened in Jerusalem of Judea (Acts 2:3-4) and Samaria (Acts 10:46),1 and now in Ephesus, that is, Judea, Samaria, and the nations (see Acts 1:8).
Paul remains in Ephesus and preaches in the synagogue for three months (v. 8). When unbelieving Jews spoke against Paul and Christianity (the Way), he stops preaching in the synagogues and instead preached at a lecture hall for another two years (vv. 9-10). We see that Paul also performed those confirmatory miracles as the Word spread throughout Asia Minor, including the removal of demonic power (vv. 11-12). That brings us to the sons of Sceva. They were Jewish exorcists (v. 13). They tried to exorcise like Paul did. But they did it in the name of “Jesus whom Paul proclaims.” In other words, they were not believers. They have no power over the powers of darkness because the reclamation of the world from the powers of darkness is given to the church.
Once the people of Ephesus realize that the church (here, Paul) has this power over the powers of darkness, the works and Words of Paul cause them to reject those dark powers. They extoll the name of Jesus (v. 17), repent of worshiping false gods (v. 18), and destroy their magic books (v. 19). This is how the Word of the Lord increased, and prevailed mightily. Just as Christ promised His church would do (see Matt 16:18 – the “prevail” there is the intensive form of the word used here).
But when the Word of the Lord is preached, persecutions arise. Paul decides to visit Macedonia and Greece again, then return to Jerusalem before going to Rome (v. 21). Luke is foreshadowing the coming events. But Paul stays in Ephesus for a while (v. 22). Because the people were turning their backs on pagan gods, the craftsmen who made idols were losing business (vv. 23-26). Also, their chief goddess, Artemis, was losing worshipers (v. 27). So they form an angry mob and grab two of Paul’s companions (vv. 28-29). Paul is restrained by others and cannot follow (vv. 30-31). Mob mentality has taken over (v. 32).
When a man named Alexander wants to speak (v. 33), the crowds cry out praise to Artemis for almost two hours (v. 34). Ultimately, a town clerk (likely an official that was the go-between for Ephesus and Rome) calms the crowd (v. 35). He, too, defends the goddess, and what literally is “the object fallen from heaven” (v. 35). In Greek mythology, the “stone” (idol) of Artemis fell to earth from Zeus. He points out that nothing Paul has said was blasphemy against Artemis (v. 38), and since this is a matter of a business complaint, it should go through the courts (v. 39). The danger of being charged with a riot in verse 40 would be danger from Rome (v. 40). That stops the riot (v. 41).
So Paul says goodbye to the Ephesians and heads to Macedonia (20:1). He encourages the Macedonian churches on his way to Greece (v. 2). Because of persecution, he cannot sail back to Syria, so he takes a route back through Macedonia, accompanied by Christians from some of the churches there (vv. 3-4). Paul eventually winds up back in Troas (v. 6). Note in verse 5 the “us” and in verse 6 the “we.” Luke has now apparently joined himself to Paul and is accompanying him. In verse 7, we see that the church in Troas came together on Sunday to fellowship (and/or possibly take communion) and hear the Word preached. Paul’s sermon did not engage the attention of a member of the younger crowd (I know the feeling) and he fell asleep, and out a window (v. 9). But Paul miraculously raises him to life (v. 10). The Word is again accompanied by mighty works.
Paul’s companions then sail to Assos (in Asia Minor), while Paul takes the land route (v. 13). When he gets there, they all sail to Mitylene, an island port (v. 14). They then island hop until reaching Miletus on the mainland (v. 15). Paul was purposely avoiding Ephesus so as not to be delayed in his trip to Jerusalem (v. 16). So he instead calls the Ephesian elders to him at Miletus (about 25 miles from Ephesus) to address them for a final time. He points them to himself as an example to imitate (vv. 18-21). Then he tells them that he is constrained (or “bound”) by the Holy Spirit to go to Jerusalem, where he expects imprisonment and/or affliction (vv. 22-23). More foreshadowing…
Paul is ready to die (v. 24), and he knows he will not see his friends and co-laborers in Ephesus again (v. 25). He did all he could for them (vv. 26-27). He now charges them to take care of the flock God has placed them over (v. 28). He warns that false teachers will arise from among them (vv. 29-30), and that they need to nip it in the bud when it starts (v. 31). Paul commends them to God and His Word (v. 32). He tells them to live like he told the Thessalonians to live: supplying their own needs so that they can provide for those who cannot (vv. 34-35). Paul here quotes Jesus, though we do not have this quote recorded in any of the Gospel accounts. Paul prays with his friends (v. 36) and they say their tear-filled goodbye (vv. 37-38).
Paul then sails for Jerusalem, sailing alone the southwest coast of Asia Minor (21:1), eventually landing in Tyre (v. 3). There they meet disciples who prophesied that Paul would, in fact, meet afflictions in Jerusalem, so they begged him not to go (v. 4). When they get to Caesarea and go into Philip’s house, we see that his daughters were prophets (vv. 8-9). Another prophet, Agabus, comes to Paul from Judea to tell him that he will face imprisonment in Jerusalem (vv. 10-11), which leads to more begging from Paul’s friends (v. 12). Luke is drawing a parallel between Paul and Jesus. Just as Jesus set his face to go to Jerusalem and meet His fate, Paul here does the same. We should expect to suffer like Christ did if we are faithful to Him. Paul was ready to face that suffering (v. 13). So they head to Jerusalem (v. 15). Thus ends Paul’s third missionary journey.
1 That Cornelius and the other Gentiles in Samaria received the Spirit, spoke in tongues, and were then baptized means that we should not associate water baptism with Spirit baptism, because here in Ephesus, it happens in the opposite order. Note also that in Samaria, the Spirit falls through the preaching, and in Ephesus, through the laying on of hands. There is no programmatic means of receiving the Spirit being described here.