Ephesus was a major seaport city in Asia on the western coast of what today is Turkey. It no longer exists as a major metropolis in the fashion of the past as the harbor is totally gone, but was in its prime at the time of Paul as the 3rd largest city of the Roman Empire – populated by over 300,000 people.
It was in Ephesus that the power of God in the expansion of the church and gospel message was particularly evidenced. Here, the Word of God was powerfully preached and honored.
In reading through this passage, one is struck with the way that God simply took charge by displays of his power and authority. Clearly it was God’s plan to bless and expand this church community toward the growth of the church in this entire city and region.
As at the end of the previous chapter in the account of Apollos, we see again some believers who were familiar with God’s truth to the extent of the teaching of John the Baptist. They gladly receive Paul’s additional instruction, are baptized, and the Holy Spirit comes in the same fashion as in previous examples of a new work of grace.
The powerful teaching ministry that ensues is in a place called the lecture hall of Tyrannus. This was likely a building of some substantial size, as the word for a “lecture hall” denotes a place of leisure – but for the culture of the day, a great lecture was great leisure and fun. (I like these folks and that makes sense to me!) Of course, all of this occurred following the typical scenario of getting tossed out of the synagogue.
Of all the Graeco-Roman cities visited by Paul, Ephesus was the most inhabited by magicians, sorcerers, and charlatans of all types. This therefore explains the miraculous work of God through Paul in particular, as displays of greater power than that associated with the occult powers that did exist from demonic elements of the kingdom of darkness.
You’ve gotta love this passage in verses 13-16. Someday, if I live long enough, I’m going to write a book called “The Top 100 Most Humorous Passages in the Bible.” This paragraph is going to be a part of it! Having heard Paul’s power displayed by casting out inferior demonic powers “in the name of Jesus,” some Jews went about doing the same thing with the same formula. But on one occasion, they ran into a nastier evil spirit than most. This demon answered the command by saying, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know about, but who are you?” That is hilarious! And then the guy that the spirit inhabited went berserk and beat the tar out of them!
But all of these events were orchestrated by God to expand the church. The passage goes on to speak of the way that everyone in the city and region heard the gospel – likely gaining fame and notice through these powerful displays. One in particular is that of the burning of certain magic lore books and scrolls, the value of which was 50,000 pieces of silver. If the coin being mentioned was that representing a day’s wage, the comparative value for today would be about seven million dollars!
Though we possess in our day the completed Word of God, and displays of power such as are seen in Ephesus are not the normative way God works in our world, it is appropriate to remember that this power does still lay at the root of our faith and the truth it represents.
Paul in Ephesus – Acts 19:1-22
19 While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples 2 and asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit whenyou believed?”
They answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”
3 So Paul asked, “Then what baptism did you receive?”
“John’s baptism,” they replied.
4 Paul said, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” 5 On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. 7 There were about twelve men in all.
8 Paul entered the synagogue and spoke boldly there for three months, arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God. 9 But some of them became obstinate; they refused to believe and publicly maligned the Way. So Paul left them. He took the disciples with him and had discussions daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. 10 This went on for two years, so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord.
11 God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, 12 so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them.
13 Some Jews who went around driving out evil spirits tried to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who were demon-possessed. They would say, “In the name of the Jesus whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out.” 14 Seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this. 15 One day the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know about, but who are you?” 16 Then the man who had the evil spirit jumped on them and overpowered them all. He gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding.
17 When this became known to the Jews and Greeks living in Ephesus, they were all seized with fear, and the name of the Lord Jesus was held in high honor. 18 Many of those who believed now came and openly confessed what they had done. 19 A number who had practiced sorcery brought their scrolls together and burned them publicly. When they calculated the value of the scrolls, the total came to fifty thousand drachmas. 20 In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power.
21 After all this had happened, Paul decided to go to Jerusalem, passing through Macedonia and Achaia. “After I have been there,” he said, “I must visit Rome also.” 22 He sent two of his helpers, Timothy and Erastus, to Macedonia, while he stayed in the province of Asia a little longer.