Acts: For the Cause of Christ #27
Review of 18
Last time we saw Paul’s time in Corinth. How the Lord encouraged and protected him for 18 months of ministry. We saw how God uses different people in different ways for the ministry. We were reminded that God is faithful and trustworthy, He will do what He says He will do.
Paul in Ephesus – vv 1-10
Luke returns our focus back on Paul and we find him in Ephesus. We see that he traveled overland again came to Ephesus from the east. He arrived sometime after Apollos had left and was in Corinth. Paul has now arrived in Ephesus, has probably met up with Priscilla and Aquila again, and he begins his ministry in Ephesus which last more than two years.
Ephesus was the major city in Asia during Roman times. It was the Roman capital for the province, a major commercial center, and port, and boasted a quarter of a million populace. That population put them just behind Rome. Ephesus was a free Greek city so they had their own senate/assembly for self-rule, though the city held the home the Roman governor for the province.
Ephesus held a large Jewish community, partly because they were given privileges from a partisan of Julius Caesar which was later confirmed by Augustus. No wonder Paul made this city his headquarters for his third journey, and why Luke comments in verse 10 “that all the residents of Asia, both Jews and Greeks heard the word of the Lord”.
12 Disciples of John the Baptist
Apparently somewhat early in his time there, Paul comes across 12 disciples of John the Baptist. These twelve seem to be a distinct group of Jews that was unknown to Apollos or Priscilla and Aquila. They are evidently introduced to him as disciples, but something, maybe the Holy Spirit, causes Paul to ask if they had received the Holy Spirit. In his interaction with them, Paul must have noticed that their understanding of the basic Christian tenants was deficient in some way. They respond no. It is generally thought that an implied ‘given’ should be read with the text. Meaning that these disciples of John hadn’t heard that the Holy Spirit had been given, as in John 7:39 where we read, “…Those who believed in Jesus were going to receive the Spirit, for the Spirit had not yet been given…” The word given there is implied and added in many versions.
Paul then asks how they were baptized, and the answer with John’s baptism. The baptism of repentance in preparation of the coming Messiah. He explained that Jesus had come, completed his mission, returned to the Father and had sent the promised Holy Spirit. This meant the baptism these twelve undertook was no longer adequate. We’re not told, but I am assuming that Paul then baptized these disciples in Christian baptism and after laying his hands on them, they received the Holy Spirit in a way similar to the pentecost experience. These disciples may have helped form the core of the Ephesian church, may have continued on as missionaries, may have been included in the group of elders that meet with Paul in Miletus in Acts 20.
Synagogue and Lecture Hall
Paul, again, starts with the Jewish synagogue. For three months, Paul was debating and reasoning with Jews about the kingdom of God, that is the death and exalting of Jesus. It took three months before the many of the Jews became hardened and wouldn’t believe. They began slandering the Way, the name for the church, to slander the Way is to slander the gospel and the Savior. Paul could no longer teach in the synagogue in Ephesus.
Paul moves his public teaching to a lecture hall. It is unclear who Tyrannus was, as there hasn’t been any building found in the Ephesian ruins with this name attached to it. It is possible that Tyrannus was a philosopher or lecturer that used that hall regularly or the building’s owner who rented it to Paul. There is a tradition in the Western and Byzantine texts that Paul used the building from “the fifth hour until the tenth hour”, from 11 in the morning until 4 in the afternoon. There may be some truth to this as it was common in the region that that time would be used for a meal and rest, similar to the siesta culture. This means Paul could have done his leatherworking during the early part of the day like many businesses and then devoted those five hours to his teaching. This teaching arrangement continued for two years.
During these two years, it appears that Epaphras had “evangelized the cities of the Lycus valley Colossae, Laodicea, and Hierapolis-cities which Paul evidently did not visit in person…Perhaps all seven of the churches of Asia addressed in the Revelation of John were also founded about this time” (Bruce, F.F., NICNT: The Book of the Acts, © 1988, p366). The whole province was greatly evangelized during this time.
Ephesus and the Occult – vv 11-20
Since Ephesus was a major city it was like many of the other cities with its many idols and false religions, but Luke also tells us that the spiritual battle here was on several levels.
God used Paul in many ways proclaim the gospel and Christ. In Ephesus, God uses Paul to do many miracles and healings. Paul was even able to send sweat-rags and aprons to those possessed or in need of healing. This seems to parallel Peter healing those who fall under his shadow in chapter 5. The word handkerchief or facecloth here, what is meant is a sweat-rag that may have been worn on the head or wiped the sweat from one’s face. This and the apron were used by tradesman in their work, like Paul in his leatherworking. Whether these items belonged to Paul or were brought from the sick and possessed is unknown, but the power that healed was not in the items but in the name of Jesus.
Ancient practitioners held Jewish magicians in high respect as it was believed they had especially effective spells to use. “Ephesus was the hot place o ministry for a number of itinerant Jewish exorcists. This may correspond to the fact that this city had a reputation for being a center for magical and occult practices. These men apparently developed special ability in effectively dealing with evil spirits” (Arnold, Clinton E., Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary: Acts, © 2002, p193). So popular was Paul and the name of Jesus, that Jewish itinerant exorcists began using Jesus’ name in their formulas and incantations.
In this instance the Luke records, the sons of Sceva attempt to employ the name of Jesus. We do not know anything about Sceva other than what is mentioned here. He may have been the head of a priestly family or used the term chief priest or high priest as an advertising ploy to add prestige to his exorcism business. His seven sons attempted to exorcise a demon by saying, “by the Jesus that Paul preaches”. The names of Jesus and his apostle were known to this spirit, but these seven men were nothing to this spirit. The man possessed using abnormal strength attacked these men, beat them, injured them and tore their clothes. These men were fortunate to get away with their lives, having learned not to misuse the name of Jesus.
The incident with Sceva’s sons spread throughout the whole city, “and filled those who heard it with awe; this name, invoked by Paul and his colleagues with such beneficial effects, was plainly not to be trifled with” (Bruce, p369).
The power of the gospel is greater than those playing with magic. Many of the practitioners converted to Christianity and openly confessed what they did and what their spells were. In the magical theory, the power of the spell was wrapped in its secrecy, by openly revealing what the spell was and how it was used, these new disciples were making these spells worthless. Many of them also gathered their “magic books” the scrolls and papyri that held their spells and held a bonfire. “The special connection of Ephesus with magic is reflected in the term ‘Ephesian letters’ for magical scrolls” (Bruce, p369). They added up the value of the scrolls that were being burned based on the local market, and it came to 50,000 silver coins or drachmae. That is roughly the combined year’s wage of 150 people. The burning of the books was a sign of casting off, of disowning their old way of life.
Artemis of the Ephesians – vv 21-41
Paul was encouraged and decided that to go back through Macedonia and Achaia before returning to Jerusalem (it is suggested that this trip was to collect the love offering for the churches in Judea as mentioned in 1 Cor 16), he also resolved to go to Rome. Perhaps he was encouraged to see the great victories Christ was having over the idol worship and practice of the occult in Ephesus and thought Rome needed a good dose of Christianity as well, but there was still a big issue in the city of Ephesus, and her name was Artemis.
Artemis of the Ephesians was one of the most well-known cults in the ancient Mediterranean world. This goddess is not the Greek goddess of the hunt with the same name, as the Greek goddess was a chaste maiden, and the Ephesian Artemis was similar to the mother goddess of ancient Asia Minor. Artemis was the main deity of the city of Ephesus. “As a mother goddess, Artemis possessed fertility and reproductive power that caused the earth to blossom with life of all kinds. She was the goddess of childbirth and a nourishing mother to all. Animals and wildlife were also a part o her domain and under her control” (Arnold, p198). The temple for Artemis was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. The cult was woven into the daily life and culture of Ephesus. The Ephesians were very protective and proud of their patron goddess.
The silversmiths and some other craftsmen made a large profit in creating and selling small shrines of Artemis. These were more than just small statuettes but depicted the goddess sitting on her throne in the temple. The problem they were having was because of the spread of Christianity in Ephesus and the surrounding area, their profit was falling, and the demand for these idols was falling.
Verse 26 gives us an insight into the mass success the gospel was having in the city. We also see that many were turning to Christianity directly from idol worship. This is a major change in lifestyle for these new converts and it was affecting the economy of the city, or at least the wallets of some of the craftsmen. Demetrius a silversmith had gathered many craftsmen together and began persuading them that they shouldn’t let the Lady of Ephesus be slandered or their businesses fail.
Fueled by Demetrius’ words, the crowded began a riot. The enthusiasm for Artemis spread from the craftsmen to many of the citizens. Once the rest of the citizens were added to the craftsmen the theater was the natural place to go with such a large crowd. The theater in Ephesus could hold 24,000 people. We don’t know how many people were involved in this riot, but it was probably in the thousands, as Luke commented that the city was in confusion, or the whole city was in an uproar.
On their way to the theater, the crowd was able to get a hold of Gaius and Aristarchus, two of Paul’s companions, and dragged them along. Even though the crowd hadn’t grabbed Paul, when he knew what was going on Paul wanted to go the theater and try to make a defense and reason with the mob. However, some of the disciples kept him from going and even some of the influential and ruling members of the city that were friendly toward Paul sent messages to him to stay away.
So many people were there in the riot that everybody was shouting something different and many didn’t even know why they were there. But a group of the Jews were and to make sure they could distance themselves from Paul, who was a Jew and Jews were knows to not worship Artemis, sent Alexander to make their case. We don’t know who this Alexander is, we have no more direct information about him. When he got up to make his defense the people weren’t going to listen. They recognized him as a Jew, which meant he didn’t worship Artemis, he may have seemed too eager to make a defense or some of th crowd may have thought he was the cause fo the issue. Before he could speak, the crowd began a two-hour chant of “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!”
After two hours the city clerk quiets the mob down to speak. Now the city clerk was the head or executive officer of the civic city council. He was essentially the city mayor. But he was also the liaison between the Roman provincial government, which resided in Ephesus, and the city council. He would be held responsible by the Romans for this riotous assembly, and the city may receive severe penalties because of it. He tells them that there is no reason to worry or act like this. The Lady of Ephesus is known all over, and everyone knows the statue was sent from heaven. The men grabbed and dragged along weren’t guilty of any crime, they didn’t steal anything from the temple, they did nothing sacrilegious against Artemis. The clek reminds them if there were any real charge to be made, the courts were ready to hear it, or find some other legal way to get the issue taken care. He reminds them that they are endangering the city of Roman consequences for an illegal assembly that is disturbing city. After the crowd and listened to the clerk, he dismissed them, possibly in the same way he would have for a legal assembly, and they went home.
Today we were reminded of the power of the Holy Spirit. Later in Paul’s letter to the Ephesian church, he reminds them that the Spirit is the seal and guarantee of their salvation. The Holy Spirit is how God marks each Christian as His possession. (The greatness of salvation Eph 2:1-3:13)
We also how that there needs to be a sharp distinction between the new life a Christian leads and their old sinful life. What do you or I need to get out of our lives that is sinful? (The Old and New Life Eph 4:17-5:21)
We were also reminded that mob rule and anarchy are unbiblical. As citizens, we need to obey our governments and laws. And within the church, we need to have unity and not division. (Unity Eph 4:1-16)
We were reminded that as Christians we have entered into a spiritual war against Satan and his fellow fallen angels. We need to renounce all forms of spiritism, occultism, and remember that demons didn’t go away when the ancient world went away. (Christian Warfare Eph 6:10-20)