Unit: Acts (Part 2)
Theme: The Church Goes Global
Lesson Text: Acts 19:8-10, 23-41
Supplemental Text: Acts 18:18—19:7, 11-22; 20:17-38
Aim: Pray that “whole provinces,” states, and countries will hear the “Word of the Lord.”
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By Mark Scott
Some cities are so significant that just saying their names gets a reader’s or hearer’s attention. Some examples include Jerusalem, Athens, Rome, London, New York, Mexico City, Tokyo, Moscow, Calcutta, and Beijing. In the ancient world the same was true with Ephesus, a city with a population that rivaled Rome and Thessalonica. It boasted a library equal to the ones in Ur and Alexandria. And Ephesus was home to the Temple of Artemis, one of the seven great wonders of the ancient world. Some of the greatest ancient ruins are evident there today.
Paul visited Ephesus toward the end of his second missionary journey as he made his way back to Jerusalem and then to the church in Antioch of Syria. He promised he would return to Ephesus if the Lord willed (Acts 18:21-22). Paul kept his promise and returned there toward the beginning of his third missionary journey.
Instead of traveling by boat, Paul passed through the inland country and came to Ephesus. He found some disciples, but he also found some deficient theology. They had heard of Jesus but knew only the baptism of John. Paul instructed them about the connection between belief, baptism, and the Holy Spirit. Upon receiving the Holy Spirit, they spoke in tongues (the third Pentecost of sorts—cf. Acts 2:1-4; 10:44-48). This was more a matter of incomplete doctrine than false doctrine, a situation similar to what Priscilla and Aquila encountered with Apollos (Acts 18:24-26).
The apostle to the Gentiles typically went to the Jewish synagogue when he entered a city, if one were present. Paul used the synagogue as a beachhead for the gospel. What we know as the Old Testament was already being studied there, and Paul knew he could easily enter the conversation there. When he got to the synagogue in Ephesus, he spoke boldly (or freely) for three months. Paul did apologetic evangelism (literally, dialogued with those present) concerning the kingdom of God. (The word kingdom does not occur often in Acts, but when it does, usually a geographic or ethnic expanse of the gospel is taking place.)
The Jews living in this pagan Roman city did not appreciate Paul’s message, so they became obstinate, refused to believe, and publicly maligned the Way. Early believers were sometimes called “followers of the Way.” (The phrase occurs twice in our lesson text and probably stems from John 14:6.)
But this rejection by the Ephesians did not dissuade Paul from establishing another beachhead for the gospel. He knew how crucial Ephesus was for reaching the whole province of Asia, a part of what was known as Asia Minor (or Turkey on a modern map). So, Paul took the disciples and held discussions in the lecture hall of Tyrannus during the day when it was not being used. This campus ministry of sorts lasted for two years. This beachhead helped all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the region to hear the gospel.
Establishing beachheads for the gospel was no walk in the park. The Jews in Ephesus first opposed Paul. Then Paul encountered the spirit world through the incident with the seven sons of Sceva (Acts 19:13-16). Finally, the patrons of Artemis caused a riot in the city. A Catholic priest once said, “Wherever Paul went there was riot or revival. Wherever I go they serve tea.”
While Paul did not rob temples or speak against Artemis (v. 37), he did offer the unbelievers an alternative to every other belief system. When the people embraced the Way and thus renounced idol worship, the idol makers became furious.
Demetrius (vv. 24, 38) led the rebellion. He was a silversmith who made little idols of Artemis for profit. Demetrius claimed to be concerned for the reputation of Artemis, but it is clear he really was motivated by greed. Besides being a silversmith, he must have been a compelling speaker for he stirred up the crowd. Luke uses the words disturbance, uproar, and confusion to describe the scene.
The riot moved into the main theater of the city (a beautiful structure that held 25,000 people). Various people were put forward, some to stir up the crowd and others to quiet the crowd. Paul’s traveling companions (Gaius and Aristarchus) were used as pawns. Paul himself wanted to speak to the crowd, but officials of the province of Asia, described as friends of Paul, believed it too risky for him to do so.
For two hours the Ephesians yelled how great Artemis was (compare this with 1 Timothy 3:16 to find out how great Christianity is). Alexander the Jew was also put forward, but he could not quiet the crowd.
Finally, the city clerk gave the crowd an appropriate sanity check. The clerk was very careful not to commend Paul, but he reminded the people of their responsibilities under Roman authority and successfully dismissed the assembly (the Greek word used is the normal word translated “church”).
The gospel needs beachheads to expand, but those beachheads may create challenges.